Freight routes key to Northland Rail expansion

A business case for the Northland Rail project in New Zealand has stated that it will provide value if freight links are built between Auckland and Marsden Point at Northport.

The report said that without “increased and ongoing investment” rail services on the North Auckland Rail line could cease within the next five years.

The current plans for the 40-year, $1.3 billion North Island project include upgrading the main line from Auckland to Whangarei; reopening lines from Whangarei to Moerewa in the north and Whangarei to Dargaville in the west; and constructing an easterly spur to the deep-water port of Northport.

The report also said there was a “strong strategic case” for renewal and upgrade of the North Auckland Rail line, including the construction of a spur link to Marsden Point based on potential changes to freight flow within the upper North Island.

Over 55 per cent of New Zealand’s freight moves through the Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions, and the business case estimated that freight demand in the North Island will grow significantly over the next 30 years. As such, the creation of a high-quality rail connection to Northport would be “a critical pre-condition” to facilitate the increased movement of containers in future.

“The development of a rail connection to Northport, and the potential development of substantial container handling capability at the port will also provide significant resilience value for this important trade,” the report said.

The business case also showed that investment would return $1.19 for every dollar spent, with over half of the benefits related to the ensuing decongestion of Auckland’s road freight.

Only 1.4 per cent of Northland freight is delivered by rail, compared with 7 per cent nationally.

NZ Associate Minister for Transport Shane Jones welcomed the findings of the report, stating that it helped present “a bold vision for investment in how freight moves around the upper North Island”.

“This business case will play a major role in government decision-making about major investments in Northland rail after the final report from the Upper North Island Supply Chain Study is completed in September,” Jones added.

Rio Tinto signs $20m rail deal with Aboriginal-owned contractor

Western Australia-based contractor Yurra has been awarded a contract to provide maintenance services to Rio Tinto Iron Ore’s Pilbara rail network in Western Australia.

The contract with Yurra, which is majority owned by the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC), is the largest yet for the Roebourne-based company, being valued at $20 million over a five-year period.

The contract is intended to grow Yurra as a business (providing 20 new local jobs for Aboriginal workers), while also bringing benefits to the wider Roebourne community.

Rio Tinto has held an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with YAC since July 2013, and has previously awarded contracts totalling $15 million in value to Yurra.

“Through ongoing contract opportunities we will continue to push the boundaries to improve and raise the living standards of Indigenous peoples of the region,” said YAC chief executive officer Michael Woodley.

“This opportunity shows that we are collectively looking to the future and that Yurra has become a trusted contracting partner.”

In addition to the rail contract, Rio Tinto also announced the award of a $10 million deal with Yurra sister company GBSC Yurra to refurbish worker accommodation at its Paraburdoo iron ore mine.

Ivan Vella, Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director for rail, port and core services commented that Yurra had demonstrated a strong ability to deliver a range of services through its work with the mining major.

“Yurra’s ability to maintain high levels of efficiency and low overheads despite their continued growth is a credit to their management and leadership team,” he said.

“This contract is one of the first of its kind for Rio Tinto Iron Ore and one which we hope will prove a catalyst for many others like it in the future.”

Rio Tinto’s Pilbara network is Australia’s largest privately owned-and-operated rail system. It runs a total length of 1,700km, incorporating 16 iron ore mines and four port terminals.