Creating a successful rail system and developing a container terminal in Northland would be a catalyst for growth in the agricultural, horticultural and forestry industries in the region, KiwiRail Group chief executive Greg Miller said.
State Owned Enterprises Minister Winston Peters and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced a further $109.7 million rail investment through the Provincial Growth Fund at the KiwiRail yard in Whangārei yesterday.A total of $69.7 million will be spent lowering tracks in the 13 tunnels between Swanson and Whangārei; reopening the currently mothballed rail line north of Whangārei - between Kauri and Otiria - and building a container terminal at the Otiria rail yard, near Moerewa.
As part of the announcement, $40 million will be used by KiwiRail to buy land along the designated rail route between Oakleigh and Northport/Marsden Point.
It would also enable hi-cube container freight to be transported by rail in the region for the first time.
This is the second PGF investment in Northland rail, following the $94.8 million provided to make significant improvements to the Northland Line between Swanson and Whangarei, announced last year.
Miller said currently 18 million tonnes of cargo was moved in and out of the region every year and of that about 30,000 containers left Northland by road.
"Most aren't able to fit through the tunnels but this investment will change that, opening up a whole new market to rail," Miller said.
He said reopening the line to Otiria and building the container terminal will catalyse the growth of agriculture, horticulture, dairy and support forestry in the far North.
"The "North of Plenty" has dairy forestry, agriculture and horticulture capital coming we need the infrastructure to support that for the decades ahead."
A 4ha site at Otiria, with an asphalt yard, would allow exporters and importers to bring their cargo to and from a marshalling yard catering for general containers refrigerated containers that were MPI export certified, as well as bulk logs.
About 220 people would be employed on the Northern rail corridor with about 15 work fronts operating simultaneously.
Recruiting workers and contractors had started and KiwiRail were working with Ngawha prison and its Second Steps programme to see if they could provide workers.
Peters told those gathered it was about restoring a reliable, resilient and safe freight and tourism network.
"The exciting thing is that north of Kauri it's not grass that we're going to be growing on the track but alternative transport, the type of which the rest of the rest of the world has sought to promote, and we sadly have allowed to be neglected, particularly in our province.
"It's not grass from here on in, it's trains. Successful trains, to ensure that as far north as Kaitaia we speed up the process, cut the costs and get Northland back in the main central focus of New Zealand politics. After all we were once the capital you now."
He said, for decades, the investment in rail had not come close to what it should have been and the government was committed to rebuilding Northland's rail network and making trains reliable and a real option for Northland businesses to get their goods to port and market.
"None of this is an attack on alternative transport but the dichotomy of Northland's roads and land means we can not afford to have one option that is roading. It doesn't make economic sense.
"As agriculture and horticulture develops in Northland rail will be there to support that growth ... it's about getting ahead of the curve."
Northland Freight Group chairman Daron Turner welcomed the investment in rail, saying it would stimulate international investment in the Northland economy.
Another benefit of a rail system was it reduced the number of trucks on the roads and allowed operators to better use those that were on the road.
"Intermodel transport is the key to improving our economy and getting more efficient movement of freight in and out of our region."
In a joint statement the mayors of the Far North, Whangarei and Kaipara councils welcomed the Labour-New Zealand First coalition's commitment to Northland.
"These are historic investments, the start of a decade-long economic transformation for Northland to make an ever-greater contribution to the prosperity of the Upper North Island and all of New Zealand," Mayors John Carter, Sheryl Mai and Jason Smith said.
"Too often, Wellington has behaved as if New Zealand ends somewhere just north of Albany, with Northland missing out on the infrastructure necessary for Te Tai Tokerau to reach its full potential."
Northland Rail $109.7 investment
Reopening the rail line from Kauri–Otiria:
• 60km of track to be refurbished
• About 8km of track to be replaced
• 20,000 sleepers to be replaced
• 15,000 cubic metres of ballast to be replaced
13 tunnels (south of Whangārei):
• Track lowering only – 3 tunnels
• Track lowering and tunnel modifications – 6 tunnels
• Track lowering, re-profiling and structural improvement – 4 tunnels
• Involves replacing 5km total of track and ballast
Building a new road-rail exchange terminal at Otiria:
• 4000sq m of hard seal initially, with potential to grow up to 15,000
• Capable of handling 50,000 to 60,000 containers movements per annum
• Container repair facility
• MPI certified as an export zone
Land purchase along the designated rail route
to Marsden Point/Northport ($40 million)
• Secures the rail corridor for potential future development
• Follows $2.2 million PGF investment for geo-technical investigations along the designated route