Trains should be up and running between Napier and Wairoa by the end of the year, KiwiRail says.
Just two months after work started on a multimillion-dollar project to reopen the Wairoa-Napier a rail line track gang from Palmerston North today started work on the physical line itself.
"This is an important milestone," KiwiRail group general manager network services Henare Clarke said.
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"We've had structures staff working on the bridges, and contractors clearing vegetation, but this is the first time we've had track staff on the line.
"They will be re-sleepering the track. This is a vital part of getting it ready to go again."
Severe weather in March caused some extra damage to the moth-balled line but KiwiRail was still confident it would have the line ready for trains to run by the end of the year.
The line is being reopened by KiwiRail using funding from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund, and will be used to transport logs to Napier.
The Government allocated $5 million to get the project off the ground in February, after the Hawke's Bay Regional Council had already set aside $1.5m for the project.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Napier Port and KiwiRail entered into a commercial agreement in 2016 to reopen the line for the first time since it closed in 2012. The line was mothballed after a section of track at the Beach Loop area was badly damaged in a storm earlier that year.
As part of the agreement, Napier Port intended to run a dedicated log service from Wairoa to Napier Port. That was expected to start in the last quarter of last year but the regional council last year said it had not been possible to source enough logs make the line economically viable.
KiwiRail has estimated that using the Wairoa-Napier line to move the logs could take up to 5714 trucks a year off the road, and reduce carbon emissions by 1292 tonnes.
"This is an important project for the region, and for KiwiRail, and we are committed to getting it done," Clarke said.
Clarke reminded people of the need to take extra care around the line now that work was moving into full swing.
"The work will see an increase in movements along the track. Everyone needs to expect trains and other rail vehicles using the line at any time from either direction.
"They should only cross the line at level crossings – to cross the line anywhere else is both dangerous and illegal."
While trains should be running by the end of the year, work on the project would take about two years to fully complete.