The future of rail in Northland is a hot topic, if last night's public forum on the issue in Whangarei was anything to go by.

Organised by Grow Northland Rail, the public meeting at Forum North was called after KiwiRail announced Northland's sole surviving railway line is to be mothballed north of Kauri, saying it is no longer viable. The meeting was still going on at edition time last night, but by the 6.30pm start more than 400 people had packed into the Capitaine Bougainville Theatre to listen to the high-powered panel of speakers.

The North Auckland rail line starts in Auckland and passes through Helensville and Whangarei to the dairy plant at Kauri, ending at a log-loading yard at Otiria, near Moerewa, but leaked documents show KiwiRail plans to mothball the section north from Kauri in September. The only customer north of Kauri, the woodchip company Marusumi, was told its contract would not be renewed after August because of poor commercial returns and "life-expired wagons".

Among the speakers last night were Northland MP and NZ First leader Winston Peters; Labour's Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis; National's Whangarei MP Shane Reti and Jon Reeves, from Better Public Transport. Organiser Alby Barr said the meeting was to discuss the need for integrated management and funding of rail, road and shipping and the need for a rail link to Marsden Pt.