Long sections of replacement railway track have been delivered to the western end of the Onehunga branch line, signalling full steam ahead for the return of passenger and freight trains.
Government agency Ontrack ran a specialist train along the decaying 4.3km line at the weekend between Penrose and Onehunga, where a wagon with seven on-board cranes lowered 76m lengths of heavy new track into the rail corridor.
The organisation intends resurrecting the full line for about $10 million, with passenger trains to start running from 2009, and for freight operations to resume well before that.
Although Ports of Auckland is still considering a request from the Pacifica shipping company and rail operator Toll to restore a freight terminal on the Onehunga wharf, Ontrack project director Ted Calvert said the Government had bankrolled his organisation to rehabilitate the line as far as the waterfront boundary.
Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, who worked with the Campaign for Better Transport in pushing for the line's reinstatement, said yesterday that the port company must heed Government policy by making rail an option for moving freight from the wharf.
"We have made it very clear to the port that it is in the national and regional interest to replace the tracks that they covered up about 15 years ago," he said.
Although the location of a passenger station remains unclear, after an apparent impasse in tough negotiations over a site near the southern end of Onehunga Mall, Mr Calvert said there was nothing to stop an early start on the line itself. That would allow freight trains to start running from as early as next year, leaving the council and its Auckland Regional Transport Authority subsidiary to provide for passenger services.
He said that even if the port company decided against establishing a railhead on the wharf, the southern extremity of the line could be used to park waiting passenger trains, and may eventually form part of a link to the airport.
Mr Calvert said much of the line's foundation was in good order, although drainage needed improving. The eastern junction with the southern line needed to be realigned to intersect the existing Penrose station. Discussions were also continuing over a possible intermediate station, and what to do about the many level-crossings.