It would cost about $300 million to upgrade the rail line to Auckland and build the rail link to Marsden Pt and New Zealand First would make sure both were done if it were part of the next government, NZ First Leader Winston Peters said yesterday.
Mr Peters, the guest speaker at the goodGround Business Breakfast at Ruakaka's Outboard Restaurant, said after decades of Northland voting in National MPs the region's future had been derailed by National.
The audience was made up of real estate agents, business leaders, Northland Regional Council chairman Craig Brown, Whangarei Deputy Mayor Phil Halse and Bream Bay ward councillor Shelley Deeming.
Mr Peters said upgrading the rail line between Northland and Auckland and putting in a rail link to the deep water port at Marsden Pt were crucial for the region's economy.
But "unfortunately for Northland and New Zealand, the National Party is clearly anti-rail. It has long had a clear agenda to undermine and dismantle much of New Zealand's rail infrastructure."
National's rail sins included selling NZ Rail in 1997 in a private deal; allowing the buyers to asset strip and run the railways down; closing the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin last year; selecting overseas tenders to manufacture rolling stock rather than accept bids from Hillside and continuing to refuse to support the Auckland City Rail Link.
Mr Peters said it would cost about $200 million to upgrade the line to Auckland and another $100 million for the spur line to Marsden Pt, both "drops in the ocean" when compared with the $10 billion National was spending on its Roads of National Significance (RONS) project, which includes upgrading State Highway 1 in Northland.
"The $100 million is over $20 million less than the sort of money the government spent on consultants and PR merchants to promote the sale of Mighty River Power. The costs are not excessive in terms of transport infrastructure projects and the potential benefits are huge.
"Whangarei has a great advantage of a deep water harbour that doesn't require dredging like nearly everywhere else does and there's plenty of flat, easily developed land for expansion. But the potential of the Port of Northland for the region, as well as for the country as a whole, is being strangled by lack of an effective rail link."
He said NZ First's position was clear - upgrade the line to Auckland and develop the link to Marsden Pt.
Mr Halse said the Whangarei District and Northland Regional councils were working with other councils in the Upper North Island Strategic Alliance on an integrated transport plan that included road and rail.
Mr Brown said all the councils in the alliance recognised that Port Marsden would be needed well into the future and was important nationally.