Freight boost seen as northern rail lifeline

By Mike Dinsdale


KiwiRail is continuing to see if it can increase volumes on the Northland-Auckland rail line but has set no deadline for a decision on whether to keep the line open, downgrade or mothball it.

And the national rail operator is urging anybody with ideas on how to increase freight on the line to get in touch.

The possibility of the rail line between Northland and Auckland being mothballed first emerged in 2010 when KiwiRail announced it was reviewing the link, causing widespread concern across the region.

KiwiRail announced that as part of its $4.6 billion "turnaround plan" it was considering mothballing four under-used railway lines, including the link between Auckland and Moerewa.

Since then Northland local body and business leaders have been working with KiwiRail to try to find a way of keeping the line open, with KiwiRail saying freight volumes carried on the railway needed to increase to ensure its survival. A KiwiRail spokeswoman said this week that the lines were still under review.

"We are continuing to work with all relevant parties as we do see some opportunities to increase volumes carried by rail. In the meantime we continue to run our usual services," KiwiRail senior communications adviser Jenni Austin said.

The company is working with Northland's councils, business leaders and the NZ Transport Agency on the issue. KiwiRail said it had not set any deadlines for a final decision and, as it was such an important issue, it wanted to take its time and explore all options to make the right decision.

It was also keen to hear from any member of the public if they had ideas on how to increase freight on the railway. People could email ideas to kiwirail@kiwirail.co.nz.

One of the fears of a mothballed or downgraded rail line is that it could stymie plans for a rail link to the deep water port at Marsden Point. The NRC has already designated the route - and bought land - for the rail link, which is seen as vital if Northport is to expand to its full potential.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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