Below Rail Infrastructure, Freight Rail

Reopened Northland line already shifting freight onto rail

Work to improve the Northland line to allow containers to be hauled by rail from Northport to Auckland are already bearing fruit.

KiwiRail has received shipping containers from ANL vessel Tianjin Bridge which berthed at Northport on Friday, January 15 and will transported to Auckland via the newly reopened line.

The containers are being taken from Northport to Whangārei by truck, where they will be loaded onto trains.

The reopened Northland Line is the result of just seven months of work that included replacing bridges and lowering tracks in 13 tunnels to allow the passage of hi-cube shipping containers.

KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said the Provincial Growth Fund project was rapidly completed.

“We procured, designed, and delivered the project in a year, which is an extremely short timeframe for such a large-scale, complex project,” Miller said.

“At its peak, more than 600 people were working on the project at one time. In addition to the new bridges and improved tunnels, the team laid 30,000 new sleepers and nearly 63,000m3 of ballast to provide a more secure base for the track.”

To complete the project and gain maximum value from the investment, smart construction techniques were used.

“In the tunnels, KiwiRail built on the experience and relationships forged in the Kaikōura recovery and included tested construction firms and key individuals from the outset,” Miller said.

“All the bridges have the same modular design which gave us economies of scale, and speed in construction.”

Adding extra clearance in the tunnel will enable electrification in the future, further building in resilience. Work will be ongoing to continue improving the line.

“While we are delighted that this section of the line is up and running, there’s some more intricate work to the tunnel linings required. Additionally, to allow greater train speed and axle weight, over time we will be replacing another 10km of rail and laying more than 100,000 sleepers,” said Miller.

To complete the link between Northport and the rail network, KiwiRail has been purchasing land for a spur line direct to Northport with Provincial Growth Fund funding.

With congestion at Ports of Auckland a major issue, the line upgrade will continue to strengthen KiwiRail’s freight business.

“The re-opening signals that we’re open for business, ready to support importers and also building resilience and sustainability into our transport network,” said Miller.

“It also ties in with our ongoing efforts to address the freight backlog. Freight is core to KiwiRail’s business and moving more freight by rail is a key objective.”

Not only will KiwiRail benefit, but the community is starting to see fewer truck trips between Northland and the rest of New Zealand, reducing congestion for motorists and road maintenance required, improving safety, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Local businesses were also involved as suppliers and subcontractors.

Having completed the works, the line’s future is assured, a major difference from just a year ago, said Miller.

“In addition to lowering the tunnels, we undertook essential repair works. As we progressed, it became apparent that had this major investment not been made, the line would have closed.”

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