Freight services on the Auckland to Northland rail route are expected to start later this week after the line was re-opened following months of upgrade.
The line between Swanson and Whangārei opened yesterday after an early morning blessing and a test train carrying trial hi-cube export- sized containers successfully run along the length of the line.
KiwiRail chief operating officer for capital projects and asset development, Dave Gordon, said yesterday's run was a great first step in the re-opening of the line to freight traffic, with major works replacing bridges, and increasing the size of the tunnels completed.
"While we still have a full year in front of us to further improve speed and axle weight on the line, which mainly involves further rail and sleeper replacement plus some intricate work to the roof of one of the tunnels, this section of the line is now open for business."
With lowered tunnels and new bridges, he said the North Auckland line would be more reliable and have the capacity to take hi-cube containers.
Gordon said as well as reducing truck numbers, every tonne of freight carried by rail produced 70 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the equivalent freight carried by road.
"Our plan is for freight services to start later this week with increasing numbers of services as freight volumes increase," he said.
The Government allocated $165 million towards the line upgrade and Northland contractors including Clements Quarries supplied ballast and Busck Prestressed Concrete provided sleepers used in the works.
In 2019, the Government pledged $204.5m for the project— $164.5m to upgrade the Northland rail line and $40m to buy land.
The upgrade includes use of sleepers and ballast to renew or replace 54km of track, lowering the track in 13 tunnels so that standard shipping containers can fit through, replacing five bridges, and improving drainage.
Currently 30,000 containers leave Northland each year by road and lowering tracks in the tunnels means many could be transported by rail.
KiwiRail said although the North Auckland line has re-opened, there may still be rail maintenance vehicles on the tracks at times so motorists were being urged to take care at level crossings.