The Northland rail project is already providing jobs for locals, with 200 contractors and KiwiRail staff needed over the coming months.

The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has pledged $204.5 million for the project - $164.5m to upgrade the Northland rail line and $40m to buy land.

PGF architects NZ First leader Winston Peters and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones visited the KiwiRail yard in Whangārei to meet some of the new rail workers.

Jones said more than 200 contractors and KiwiRail staff will be needed to undertake the upgrade work over the months ahead and KiwiRail is using Northland contractors and suppliers where possible.

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Northland suppliers include Clements Quarries, which is supplying ballast, and Busck Prestressed Concrete, which will be supplying sleepers.

The project has meant that KiwiRail has been able to employ 12 additional track staff to work alongside its existing team on the project. Eight of those will be based in Whangārei, with two in Maungaturoto and two in Helensville.

Two of the Whangārei trainees are Riki Shelford and Shaun Tau.

Shelford, 18, is from Portland, and left Whangārei Boys' High School at the end of last year. He told the Northern Advocate he is stoked to get the job - as were his parents.

Shelford had done a variety of labouring jobs, before getting this role and he is enjoying working with the gang, and looking forward to a future in rail learning "a trade".

Tau, 43, moved to Whangārei from Auckland about three years ago and said he hadn't found it easy to get permanent work, so he was very interested in the role, which he found through Winz last October.

While he did get other work in the meantime, he remained focused on getting this job. Tau worked for many years in demolition so says he is now very happy to be building something.

His grandfather worked in rail in Helensville and he sees the job as "being part of history rebuilding the Northland lines".

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Jones said the work will allow freight trains to travel faster between Northland and Auckland.

Currently 30,000 containers leave Northland each year by road and lowering tracks in the tunnels means many could be transported by rail, which would mean fewer trucks on Northland's roads.

The Whangārei to Swanson upgrade includes:
• Renewing or replacing 54km of track (sleepers, ballast, etc.)
• Lowering the track in 13 tunnels, so standard shipping containers will fit through
• Replacing 5 bridges
• Replacing rail and sleepers, ballast and improving drainage.

The Kauri to Otiria upgrade includes:
•Reopening the mothballed line (renewing or replacing some track, sleepers, ballast, etc.)
•Building a new road-rail exchange terminal at Otiria.