The major upgrade of Northland's rail line can't continue until the coronavirus lockdown ends, but to keep the plan on track more than 100km of new rail line has landed in Whangārei for when work can restart.
The Government is putting more than $205 million into the region's rail network, including upgrading the line to Auckland and building a spur line to Northport, the deepwater port at Marsden Pt.
Now, 107.7km of rail track has landed at Northport, where it will be stored until the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are lifted.
All physical work on the upgrade is suspended due to the lockdown but KiwiRail is focused on progressing the project wherever possible, group chief executive Greg Miller said. However, unloading the rail track is not without its problems.
"The Northport team is doing an outstanding job working to unload the rail in smaller teams under social distancing requirements, which both Northport and KiwiRail take extremely seriously given the current pandemic," Miller said.
"Unloading goods from ships is an essential service as New Zealand needs to remain connected with global freight movements and keep the flow of domestic freight moving. Once the current alert levels drop, we will be able to collect and distribute the rail, ready for it to replace worn-out sections of track."
KiwiRail teams continue to work from home to co-ordinate the massive project and finalise design details.
"Tunnels will be lowered to enable hi-cube container freight to be transported on the line, which will have a huge impact on how freight is moved in and out of Northland," Miller said.
"We're also replacing up to five aging bridges so we can run heavier trains, with these larger containers on the line.
"Having the materials, like the new rail delivery, is crucial for delivering this upgrade for the region."
Improvements to Northland's railway lines are being made with almost $205 million of funding from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).
A portion of the newly arrived rail will be used for other essential track replacement work throughout the North Island.
Most of the rail will be used to replace existing medium-weight rail, rail in tunnels, and sections of heavily worn rail in Northland.
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Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, who is in charge of the PGF, welcomed the rail track delivery.
"I'm really heartened to see the 107,000 metres of heavy-weight rail arriving at Northport, most of which will be used to upgrade the rail line between Swanson and Whangārei,'' Jones said.
"The Government is investing almost $205 million into Northland rail – including purchasing land for a potential spur line to Marsden Point - which will help create local jobs and see tens of millions of dollars fed in the regional economy.
"We're in a very fluid situation with Covid-19. It's too early to say exactly when work will start but we are getting ready to hit the ground running as soon as it is safe.''
He said when New Zealand emerges from the impacts of Covid-19, the investment in Northland rail will be a welcome boost to the region's economy.