The enterprise of three Wanganui businesses has found an ally with Port Taranaki to see the creation of an inland container terminal in Wanganui's industrial belt.
Expected to be operational in about a month's time, the inland port will see the mothballed Castlecliff rail branch line back in service and thousands of containers transported to the New Plymouth port.
Initial projections have 3000 high cube containers moved from the Balgownie facility in the first year, but Port Taranaki expects that to increase to at 10,000.
And the port company was also hoping to piggyback the growing log trade through the city as well.
The inland port has been pulled together by principals of Molten Metals, Port Taranaki and Ali Arc Logistics and KiwiRail.
Port Taranaki is leasing a block of land, between Heads Rd and Gilberd St, that is owned by Molten Metals. The branch line runs between that land and Ali Arc Logistics warehouse on Heads Rd, which is the storage facility for milk powder produced at the Open Country factory further along Heads Rd.
Olaf Numssen, commercial manager for Port Taranaki, said milk powder production was a catalyst for the creation of the inland container terminal here.
In the peak of the season, Open Country is producing about 160 tonnes of milk powder daily. Currently it has about 6300 tonnes of powder stored in the Ali Arc Logistics warehouse.
Mr Numssen said the terminal would be know as Westgate Wanganui, picking up on the Westgate name already branding the New Plymouth port facility.
Currently milk powder is trucked from the factory to the warehouse where it is loaded into containers and then trucked to the railhead on Taupo Quay.
But under the new regime containers will be stored at the new terminal, loaded from the warehouse and then hoisted on to rail wagons by a 75-tonne mobile container crane and ferried by rail to Port Taranaki.
Brendon Bartley, manager of Ali Arc Logistics, said they expected the branch line to be operating within about a month and they expected physical work to start on the line next week.
Bruce Tunbridge, Molten Metals owner, said Open Country was the key to the deal and having the warehouse and rail line side-by-side was ideal.
More room was available if it was needed in future and it would not only be handling Open Country dairy product.
The terminal would also operate as an empty container depot, which meant containers could be upgraded on site.
"The advantage of that is importers and exporters can drop off any sort of container here and we can upgrade to whatever standards are required, rather than going back to a port like New Plymouth or Wellington to be upgraded saving a huge amount in transport costs," Mr Numssen said.
He said his company already had commitment from one shipping company to use the Wanganui terminal once it was running and there were others lined up to be involved later.
"Port Taranaki is dealing with the logistics while KiwiRail is providing the rail transport."
He said he was aware Palmerston North had been talking up its chances of creating an inland port but he said the influence of Open Country and Ali Arc Logistics had been decisive, along with high land prices in that city.
"We were targeting Open Country as a major exporter so it came together from that," he said.
Mr Numssen said Port Taranaki was also hopeful of getting petfood manufacturer Mars Corporation on board, shipping export product from its Castlecliff plant.
"Once the momentum starts, others will come on board because we have been talking to producers about this project.
"Wanganui provided the opportunity that we couldn't afford to lose and it provides options to expand the in future," he said.
"What we can do here could easily expand to other commercial interests well beyond this region. We have budgeted on Open Country's container numbers first, but that could double really quickly.
"The volume is there, but it's just the matter of capturing that market."
Mr Numssen said Port Taranaki had been actively pursing new customers since it lost a big portion of the output from dairy giant Fonterra.
"But the upside is we've gained a good amount of Australian cargo and our turn around as a transtasman port is hard to beat. We're now targeting anyone in the lower North Island who trades with Australia."
The biggest growth through New Plymouth lately had been with logs and the company was looking at a fivefold increase in that traffic.
Deputy Mayor Dot McKinnon said the council had been working on the concept for about six years and saw it as an economic opportunity that would spread well beyond the city's borders.
Mrs McKinnon said it will take a significant amount of heavy traffic off the district's roads as well.
"We've been talking to KiwRail and Port Taranaki for about six years to get this going. But it wouldn't have happened without the brokering done by Open Country, Molten Metals and Ali Arc Logistics," she said.
"These guys brokered the deal and it's going to be great for Wanganui."