$100 million northern railway upgrade spurs controversy

MERRA committee member Stuart Windross says the railway upgrade is “just the ticket.”

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones last week announced a nearly $100 million investment to revive the railway between Auckland and Whangarei, but the response has been mixed.

The planned work will include replacing or upgrading almost a third of the line, maintenance work on 13 tunnels, replacing five aging bridges and improving numerous drains and culverts.

The 181km line runs from Auckland to Helensville, through Kaipara Flats, Wellsford, Topuni, Kaiwaka, Maungaturoto and up to Whangarei.

KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said decades of decline had caused damage that would have closed the rail line for business within a year.

“Currently, 95 per cent of the freight in Northland is moved by road and the improvements to the North Auckland line (NAL) are the foundation for addressing that imbalance.”

Logistics industry magnates Don Braid, of Mainfreight, and former Whangarei Mayor Stan Semenoff, of Semenoff Transport, both came out in support of the upgrade, saying their companies would investigate using rail transport solutions.

But Northland MP Matt King says the announcement shows the government doesn’t have its transport investment priorities straight.

“Rail is not commercially viable, and to throw money at it when 99 per cent of freight movement in the north is by road shows a complete disregard for common sense. Rail cannot compete with trucks, and businesses demonstrate this by voting with their feet,” he says.

“It’s pretty telling that despite much-needed state highway improvements, road is still the first choice for transport in and out of Northland. Unlike the Government, National is prepared to invest in a four-lane highway from Warkworth to Whangarei.”

Rodney Local Board member Colin Smith, whose town of Wellsford sits directly on the line, also says investment in rail is not practical.

Mr Smith points to the fact that cargo transported on trains still has to be loaded and unloaded to be moved by trucks on either end, which is inefficient and not necessarily an improvement on the industry’s carbon footprint.

“If they had any brains they would pull the rail out and turn that corridor into a highway for trucking. It would take all the trucks off the road and, thanks to a flatter incline, could have goods transported to and from Auckland within two hours.

“We are talking about the 21st century, not the 18th century. That rail was put in 100 years ago during the war when we didn’t have decent roads.”

But the rail upgrade has been welcomed by the Mahurangi East Residents and Ratepayers Association (MERRA), which has been lobbying for rail solution for transporting waste to and from Waste Management’s proposed Dome Valley landfill.

MERRA committee member Stuart Windross says the railway upgrade is “just the ticket.”

“Given the upgrade, we expect Kiwirail and Waste Management to work together to help take 451 return trips worth of trucks off the road.”

Stuart says once an application for a resource consent for the landfill has been made, MERRA will advocate for rail in subsequent hearings.

“The fuel burn is 20,000 litres per day for the rubbish trucks on the road. It’s my understanding that rail could reduce that by 65 per cent.”

KiwiRail says it aims to complete the majority of the NAL work within the next year.

Moana Chief – media release from Pacifica

Pacifica are proud to announce that our new vessel Moana Chief, sailed into Auckland this week on her delivery voyage to begin a new life dedicated to the NZ coast.
We plan to phase her into service this week commencing with voyage 4132 departing Auckland Friday 20 September which will coincide with the departure of Spirit of Canterbury.
The Moana Chief brings over 50% greater capacity than SPOC (1700 teu Vs 1100 teu) and will operate on the same fixed day weekly schedule ;
rotating Auckland →Lyttleton →Nelson →Tauranga .
Pacifica’s introduction of additional capacity is a significant investment and commitment from our parent company Swire , and is a response to the growing demand for reliable access to the “Blue Highway” connecting key North & South Island ports .

As N.Z’s only dedicated weekly coastal carrier Pacifica are uniquely placed to offer a sustainable year-round solution for your wharf/wharf or door/door FCL shipments.
We also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the mighty SPOC for years of dependable service ; she never missed a beat during the hundreds of voyages around N.Z and we wish her continued smooth sailings in her next deployment.

Naval Architects appointed for new Interisland ferries

KiwiRail’s project to replace its aging Interislander ferry fleet with two new rail-enabled ferries has entered a new phase with the appointment of naval architects.

KiwiRail Chief Operating Officer – Capital Projects & Asset Development, David Gordon says Danish naval architects, OSK ShipTech AS will develop the design of the two new ships to meet KiwiRail’s requirements well into the future.

“The two new ferries will have a greater capacity for rail and road freight, and passengers than the existing three-ship fleet.

“We have also recently appointed the French-based BRS Group as our ship broker to help in the international search for potential suppliers of the vessels.

“The target is for the new ships to be ready for service in 2024.

“The first stage of the procurement process, a request for Expression of Interest in supplying the ships has just closed.

“The request for Expression of Interest is the first stage of what is expected to be a multi-phase, open competitive procurement process to supply the new ferries.

“In this year’s Budget the Government allocated $35m for progressing procurement of two new, rail enabled ferries that will replace Interislander’s aging Aratere, Kaitaki, and Kaiarahi ferries.”

Northland MP: Rail plan ‘a white elephant’, PGF funding a waste of money

This northward bound train took KiwiRail bosses, dignatories, regional development heads and business leaders for a ride after Friday's $85m announcement.
This northward bound train took KiwiRail bosses, dignatories, regional development heads and business leaders for a ride after Friday’s $85m announcement.

Among benefits from an upgraded railway line between Swanson, Auckland and Whangārei are Northland jobs, import and export growth, reduced heavy road traffic, lower emissions … and the list goes on.

That’s according to KiwiRail, which has been given $94.8 million from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) to get the 181km Auckland Northland Line (ANL) back on track and build its freight capacity.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, who doles out the PGF ”putea” – after input from other ministerial committees and a dedicated panel of economic development heads – made the announcement on Friday.

If reaction to the news was anything to go by, plenty of sitting local government councillors, election candidates, economic agencies, transport companies and Northland businesses are thrilled.

But Northland’s National MP Matt King is not.

King said the Government has not got its transport investment priorities straight, and said the railway is a white elephant.

“Rail is not commercially viable, and to throw money at it when 99 per cent of freight movement in the North is by road shows a complete disregard for common sense. Rail cannot compete with trucks, and businesses demonstrate this by voting with their feet,” King said.

“This is a lacklustre attempt to shore up a dilapidated transport link that is way past its use-by date.

”National recognises this, and unlike the Government, is prepared to invest in a four-lane highway from Warkworth to Whangārei. As the local MP I hear it from everyone: Northlanders want and need safer and more modern roads.”

KiwiRail’s Miller would agree the line is dilapidated and past its use-by date, which is why nearly $95m is being spent on it, following detailed investigation into the work needed, costs and business case.

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Shane Jones, left, and Greg Miller at the mouth of the first tunnel, north of Kaupapapa, to be upgraded. Photo / Niall Robertson
Shane Jones, left, and Greg Miller at the mouth of the first tunnel, north of Kaupapapa, to be upgraded. Photo / Niall Robertson

The line would close in a year or two without an extensive upgrade. Miller said he has no doubt the improved line and more trains will be profitable for KiwiRail, producers and other businesses.

Economic development agency Northland Inc agreed it meant a “significant boost” for the region.

“It is imperative that we keep upgrading our infrastructure, and the work on the North Auckland Line will undoubtedly make Northland a more reliable, more connected region for our community,” acting chief executive Vaughan Cooper said.

“It is vital that we also take steps to address our over-reliance on the roads in Northland and reduce congestion and lower emissions.”

The improvement of transport infrastructure and services was identified as a key priority in the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan (TTNEAP) launched in 2016 and refreshed in 2019.

Shane Jones promised work on the rail line will mean Northland jobs.

The work:
■ Track, sleepers and ballast: $53.1m
■ Replacing five of the 88 bridges: $16.2m
■ Repairs to 13 tunnels: $7.3m
■ Clearing drains and culverts: $9.5m
■ Stabilising nine embankments:$4.7m
■ Vegetation control: $0.8m
■ Review and improve Whangārei Rail Yard: $3.2m

Train on track for Northland with $95m Provincial Growth Fund ticket

Shane Jones puts his mark in concrete to commemorate the planned $95m rebuild of North Auckland Line. Photo / Lindy Laird
Shane Jones puts his mark in concrete to commemorate the planned $95m rebuild of North Auckland Line. Photo / Lindy Laird

Shane Jones wore a conductor’s cap and blew a whistle three times to get everyone on board the party train.

But the hundreds of central and local government politicians and hopeful candidates, KiwiRail bosses, business people, Māori representatives and rail lobbyists were already well on board with the news the Auckland to Whangārei line will be upgraded to the tune of $94.8 million.

The upgrade will be complete and freight trains back on the line by next September.

Jones, the Minister of Regional Development and conductor of the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), and KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller made the announcement at the Helensville railway station yesterday.

Some of the 181km line between Swanson and Whangārei is more than 150 years old, and the “newest” sections are more than 100 years old.

The line could not stay financially viable with maintenance work alone, Miller said; it needed a total upgrade or nothing. He predicted that, without the nearly $95 million from the PGF, the line would close in a few years.

Miller said there was no doubt the line would be profitable and good for shifting Northland’s produce.

In 2001, before the line’s “managed decline”‘, 1 million tonnes of cargo was railed along it.

Miller described in woeful tones today’s “worn-down track, tunnels falling apart, culverts sinking…”

“The North Auckland Line [NAL] has been in decline for decades and without this investment would have had to close in the near term. KiwiRail has already had to start strengthening one of the tunnels which could have closed the line within a year,” he said.

That tunnel, north of Kaukapakapa, was the destination for yesterday’s party train.

Jones made his mark on a concrete slab at the northern end of the 600m-long bridge.

While his indelible hand mark and signature testify to the Government’s provincial support policy, its commitment to helping things get on track in the regions, no one could talk up the significance of taking “a train up the motu” quite like Jones.

While the Northland-based politician was keen to see the Marsden Point rail link come on track as soon as possible, this $95m was “stage one,” he told the Northern Advocate.

“We’d have loved to include it this time around but KiwiRail told us you can’t have that link unless the main line is working. You can’t build the ribs unless the spine is strong.”

Miller also said the Marsden Pt link was likely to be “back to the table” before Christmas, once the much-awaited Upper North Island Transport review committee’s report was in hand.

“But today’s down-payment is an awesome one, thanks.”

He also said if the Marsden Pt link became “stage two”, the next move would be to get up to the railhead at Otiria, near Moerewa, to get the logs on the rail.

Earlier, by the quaint old Helensville station, hundreds of people had revelled in the announcement, in a marquee where stays fought furiously for freedom, aided and abetted by a strong wind racing over the flats beside the Kaipara Harbour.

The song at the end of Jones’ and Miller’s speeches, sung by KiwiRail kaumatua, bosses and staff, was a version of Woody Guthrie’s train riding anthem, Spirit of New Orleans, with a new chorus: “Good morning Aotearoa, how are you? Don’t you know me I’m your native son. I’m the train they call The Northern Explorer, I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”

And while the North Auckland freight train is unlikely to travel 500 miles or kilometres in a day, the line’s upgrade will enable trains to speed up from the 40km/h the current condition dictates to 60km/h, shaving 1.5 hours off the five-hour trip from Whangārei to Swanson.

The extensive upgrading will include replacing 56km on a bed of 50,000 new sleepers, repairing 13 tunnels and lowering the floor level of some so taller, modern rolling stock can get through. Five of the 88 old, mostly wooden, bridges will be replaced, along with about 237 of the 950 culverts, embankments bolstered and safety and efficiency improvements made at the Whangārei rail yard.

The majority of the large crowd had travelled south from Northland to hear the news many say will be a game-changer for the region. They could have filled a few train carriages, had there been such a thing — but the message from KiwiRail was not to get too excited yet about passenger trains, they would come further down the track.

Upper North Island Transport committee chairman Wayne Brown was all smiles, repeating the often heard “game-changer” tag.

Kaipara District Deputy Mayor Peter Wethey said he was excited about business growth and community development that would occur in places like Maungaturoto, where there already was already infrastructure, railyards and room for growth.

“Who knows what’s going to spring off this? We’re already looking at an east-west connection to the main line.

“If we can take trucks off that highway and provide and efficient passenger and freight service, well, the sooner it can happen the better.”

Tony Savage, chair of the Great Northern Railway Charitable Trust, said in the future Whangārei would become a satellite of Auckland, a northern city where people lived but travelled on fast commuter trains to work in Auckland. In the meantime, the rail line would play an important role in growing Northland’s economy and its people’s quality of life, he said.

Northland rail line: KiwiRail boss says rail track would have closed within a year without Crown cash

The railway line from Auckland to Whangārei would have closed within a year without a $95 million injection announced on Friday, KiwiRail’s chief executive has revealed. 

But the funding still falls well short of the $1.3 billion needed to make Northland’s rail fully functional for freight, including a connection to Northport, Whangārei’s growing port at Marsden Point.

At a glitzy event at Helensville Railway Station on Friday, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced $94.8m through the Provincial Growth Fund for upgrades on the 181km line between Swanson and Whangārei.

Jones told media the funding was “incredibly important”.

“We need a viable rail connection for the current and future growth of the north, because we are not in a position to completely rebuild the roads with the new freight coming out of the north,” he said.

“If you want more economic activity, investment, expansion and further growth in Northland we have got to invest in infrastructure.”

The work includes replacing or upgrading almost a third of the 100-year-old line, maintenance work on 13 tunnels, replacing five ageing wooden bridges, plus improvements to drains, culverts and embankments.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller announce funding to maintain the Northland to Auckland rail line.
CHRIS MCKEEN/STUFFRegional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller announce funding to maintain the Northland to Auckland rail line.

The funding also includes $3.2m to improve the Whangārei Rail Yard, making it safer and more efficient.

The funding is part of the Government’s $1b funding commitment to KiwiRail.

A business case released by the Ministry of Transport back in May noted the poor state of the Auckland to Northland line meant without significant investment it could become unsafe and have to close.

It also noted the line could generate more freight if Northport, at Marsden Point, expanded significantly.

A preferred upgrade pitched in the business case covered the North Auckland line as far as Otiria, north of Whangārei, with a branch line called the Marsden Point Link out to Northport.

However, the work announced Friday stopped short of Otiria and carried no mention of a link to Northport.SharePlay VideoSTUFFUpgrading the Northland rail line would cost $1.3 billion.

“We took some advice from KiwiRail, despite my megaphone approach,” Jones said.

“They were adamant – spend your initial pūtea on rehabilitating the spine and then, once the Wayne Brown report has been worked through by ministers and officials, make your second decision in terms of the branch out to Marsden Point.”

Former Far North Mayor Brown is chairman of the Upper North Island Supply Chain working group, which was reviewing freight and logistics in the area.

State Owned Enterprises Minister Winston Peters pulled no punches about the investment, saying it was needed to keep the rail line open.

Without the investment, the line to Whangārei would have become unsafe and closed within five years, Peters said.

“That’s unacceptable and unfair to the people of Northland.”

The improvements will see tunnels upgraded.
CHRIS MCKEEN/STUFFThe improvements will see tunnels upgraded.

However, KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller indicated the line was in a worse state than that.

“This railway line would’ve closed inside 12 months, some of these tunnels are that old – 80 years with no funding whatsoever.”

KiwiRail had already had to start strengthening one of the tunnels, which could have closed the line within a year, Miller added.

“The north Auckland line has been in decline for decades.”

Miller added “quite a lot” needed to be done before commuters could use the link.

“The first thing you’ve got to do is establish a rescue plan, and until we build the infrastructure and set it up for freight transport we won’t be able to determine that,” he said.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says the $94.8m rail investment will help improve freight services on the line and have direct benefits for Northland’s economy.
CHRIS MCKEEN/STUFFRegional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says the $94.8m rail investment will help improve freight services on the line and have direct benefits for Northland’s economy.

Currently, KiwiRail runs just one service on the line each weekday. The freight train runs from Auckland to the Fonterra dairy factory at Kauri, north of Whangārei.

The rail journey takes seven hours each way, compared with three to four hours by road, according to a Ministry of Transport business case.

Miller said the line improvements would cut train travel times and make the line more resilient to weather events. 

“It gives more certainty for our customers and will make rail an option for Northland businesses and exporters to get their goods to market,” he said.

Northport, New Zealand's northernmost deep-water port at the mouth of Whangārei Harbour, is still awaiting a rail link.
NORTHPORTNorthport, New Zealand’s northernmost deep-water port at the mouth of Whangārei Harbour, is still awaiting a rail link.

“Transporting more freight on trains will reduce congestion on Northland roads, road maintenance costs and transport emissions for customers.”

Northland’s roads have the worst crash statistics in the country and more than 99 per cent of the region’s freight is moved by road.

Friday’s investment was welcomed by local transport operators, including former Whangārei mayor Stan Semenoff, who ran Northland’s largest transport company.

“It’s great to see a revival of rail taking place, following the long-term under-investment in the rail line.

“This will be significantly beneficial to the Northland local economy.”

Semenoff called the investment a “first great step forward”.

Brian Corban appointed KiwiRail Chair

The Minister for State Owned Enterprises Winston Peters and Minister of Finance Grant Robertson have announced the appointment of Mr Brian Corban as Chair of KiwiRail Holdings Limited and the New Zealand Railways Corporation (NZRC).

“Mr Corban is an able and experienced Chair who will bring strong Crown governance and senior commercial experience to the KiwiRail Board at a time of significant investment in rail,” said Mr Peters.

Mr Corban steps up from his previous role as Deputy Chair of the KiwiRail Board. He has been Acting Chair since the resignation of Mr Greg Miller who became Chief Executive.

He has experience in leading Crown companies through restructuring and deregulatory changes having been Chair of Genesis Energy, Chair of Radio New Zealand Ltd, and the Foundation Chair of Television New Zealand Ltd.

Mr Corban previously served as Deputy Chair of NZ Railways Corporation and KiwiRail in 2008, when it was in transition back to Crown ownership. Mr Corban has been awarded a CNZM and QSO and is a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Directors in New Zealand.

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to lead KiwiRail during a period of transformation for New Zealand rail,” said Mr Corban.

Marsden Point pitches for vehicle import trade

Northland’s port company says it will “move mountains” to win a major part of the vehicle import trade.

Marsden Maritime Holdings is floating the idea of purpose-built vehicle storage, preparation and distribution facilities at the port near Whangārei, in what appears to be a direct challenge to Ports of Auckland.

MMH’s pitch comes weeks before a major Government report looking at possibly moving the vehicle trade away from Auckland, in a possible re-organisation of three Upper North Island ports.

The future of vehicle imports through Ports of Auckland has become a hot political topic
JOHN SELKIRKThe future of vehicle imports through Ports of Auckland has become a hot political topic

Marsden said it wanted its idea weighed alongside a plan promoted by Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff, to move vehicles off the city’s wharves on barges, to a nearby processing centre. 

“This would replace multiple movements in Auckland, both under the current model and under the proposed one,” said MMH in a statement.

MMH, which owns the port operator North Port, said it could already handle the largest car transporters which visit Auckland, and had 700 hectares of port and commercially zoned land that could be used for a vehicle import hub.

The chair Murray Jagger said moving vehicles south could be handled either by rail upgrades and new links currently under investigation, or by a dedicated heavy vehicle lane on State Highway 1.

“We’re talking here about revolutionising the way the vehicle import industry is structured and logistics would be part of this discussion,” said Jagger.

“There is huge opportunity at this very moment to change the model of vehicle importation and distribution in the upper North Island, and to future-proof the vehicle industry.”

The release of MMH’s plan on Tuesday, also comes ahead of a Government announcement on upgrading the North Auckland rail line, which is understood to be imminent.

The proposal is the latest in a highly-politicised debate about the future of the vehicle imports, 75 per cent of which currently enter through Ports of Auckland.

Goff is fighting to retain the trade in the council-owned port, but trying to find ways to reduce the space it occupies, and how vehicles move off the port land.

His main challenger in October’s mayoral race, John Tamihere, wants to split the port operation from the land it sits on, and sell it.

At the same time, a New Zealand First policy created a working party looking at whether all or some of Auckland’s port trade could be handled through Northport.

The Upper North Island Supply Chain working group is expected to release its final report in early October, looking at the future of Auckland, Tauranga and Marsden Port.

The group was assembled after New Zealand First became a coalition partner in the Government formed in 2017.

NZF leader Winston Peters had pledged a “cast iron commitment” that would see Auckland port operations move to Northport by the end of 2027.

A report commissioned by Goff soon after he became mayor in October 2016 found the gain of reclaiming part of Auckland’s waterfront for public use to be $115 million, but the net cost of losing the trade would be around $1 billion.


Ports of Auckland’s $60m cranes that arrived last October haven’t been used yet with company saying ‘challenges’ during commissioning are ‘nothing more than you’d expect in a project of this size & complexity’

The three cranes the Ports of Auckland paid $60 million for that were built by Chinese multinational engineering company ZPMC.

The Ports of Auckland says three cranes it paid $60 million for haven’t been used for any actual work since they were delivered from Shanghai in October last year.

Chinese multinational engineering company ZPMC built them and the Ports of Auckland originally said it hoped to have them up and running within five to six months.  

Spokesman Matt Ball says while there have been some minor issues with the cranes, despite rumours to the contrary, there is nothing wrong with them.

“We found some malware on the cranes back in January, but that was eradicated a while back,” Ball says.

Peak exports

He says the main reason for the delay in getting the cranes up and running is largely due to the timing of when they arrived and when they could be tested.

“At the time the cranes were delivered we thought we might work a few trial ships with them around the middle of the year, but we decided not to, for two reasons. We changed the timing of automation so that going live didn’t happen during the export peak, and because of the amount of infrastructure work going on for automation, like pavement work in the area behind the cranes.”

Ball says the Ports of Auckland is still trialling them.

“We are currently using them in automation testing and they’ll be coming into operational service when we go live with automation in February 2020, as planned. So yes we’ve had some challenges during commissioning, but nothing more than you’d expect in a project of this size and complexity.”

Future proofing the port

Standing 82.3 metres high and weighing 2,100 tonnes each, the cranes can lift four 130 tonne containers at once.

In a statement from the Ports of Auckland in September last year, just before the cranes first arrived by ship from Shanghai, Ball said they were needed to meet the growing levels of freight the port was handling.

“We need bigger, faster cranes so we can keep up with Auckland’s growth.  More people in the city means more freight.  The ships that bring our goods from overseas are getting bigger, so we need to make sure we can handle them.  With these new cranes, and the new deep water berth they will sit on, we’ll be able to handle the biggest ships coming to New Zealand.” 

Capital costs

The Ports of Auckland has increased its debt by 30% since last year as part of an investment programme to increase its capacity and returns, despite the fact its long-term future hangs in the balance.

A report released earlier this month shows the Auckland Council’s dividends from the port will be slashed in 2020 and 2021. The Ports of Auckland Statement of Corporate Intent (SCI) covers the period from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2022. It shows the council will receive projected dividends of just $8.7 million in 2020 and $9.4 million in 2021 before increasing again to $64.3 million in 2022. Auckland Council currently has 100% ownership of the port and it received an annual dividend from its shareholding of $51.1 million in the 2017/18 financial year.

The lower dividends are because the port is in a ‘capital expansion’ period and the projected returns are now expected to dip slightly in 2019/2020 before recovering in 2020/2021.

The Ports of Auckland says the expansion work is designed to improve the port’s capacity, automate some of its operations and reduce the impact of car imports on Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves. This investment, which also includes the construction of a new Waikato Freight Hub, has resulted in an increase in the ports debt from $368 million to $479.7 million.

In 2016 the Auckland Council formed a working group to look at the long term options for the Ports of Auckland. The resulting Port Future Study said that the port would face problems going forward due to its location. The report identified two potential locations for a new port at either the Manukau Harbour, or the Firth of Thames, which it said should be investigated.