MPS TOLD $200M NORTHPORT RAIL LINK ‘CRITICAL

14/2/19

Economic growth in Northland is akin to that in Waikato and the Bay of Plenty during the 1970s and 1980s and will need investment in rail to support the region’s growing export industries, MPs heard today.

KiwiRail acting chief executive Todd Moyle said Northport is the only port in the country without a direct rail link. He says it is “critical” the government builds a 20-kilometre spur extension to link the Auckland-to-Whangarei line to the port at Marsden Point.

This potential new line is only an element of a wider project. KiwiRail is feeding into a business case the Ministry of Transport is aiming to complete by May on options for upgrading the rail link from Auckland northwards, Moyle told Parliament’s transport and infrastructure committee.

KiwiRail chair Greg Miller told MPs the development of dairying, forestry, pulp and paper and horticulture in Waikato and the Bay of Plenty 40 years ago was matched by government investment in road and rail to get that production to port.

Those same activities and industries are “migrating” to Northland and now is the time for the Crown – through KiwiRail – to put in place the infrastructure to support the considerable growth underway.

“The ‘North of Plenty’ is kind of like the Bay of Plenty for the next decade on,” he said.

KiwiRail has spent the past three months on geotechnical studies for a potential route from Oakleigh, on the North Auckland Line south of Whangarei, to Northport at Marsden Point. But the cost, estimated at about $200 million, is only a fraction of the expected $2 billion bill that could be required to bring track, tunnels and bridges on the rest of the Auckland to Northland line up to standard to handle major freight volumes.

Funding for the spur line study was provided from the government’s Provincial Growth Fund, overseen by NZ First member and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.

NZ First has also driven an investigation into the feasibility of relocating Ports of Auckland to Northport. That is being considered by a five-member working group tasked with developing a broader strategy to better integrate transport logistics chains in the upper North Island.

Challenged on the prioritisation of the Northland project, Moyle told National MP Paul Goldsmith that the funding of a business case for a third heavy rail track on the main line between Wiri and Westfield in South Auckland is being separately funded through the National Land Transport Fund. Adding capacity to this section of the southern line is considered critical to meeting both freight and commuter growth through Auckland. 

MPs were briefed by the Auditor-General’s office before the meeting. Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross said that briefing didn’t leave him with a lot of confidence that the broader machinery of government understands how Provincial Growth Funds are being allocated and accounted for.

He particularly questioned a $50 million working capital allocation KiwiRail has received and $80 million provided for tourism opportunities.

Moyle said $135 million has been received for specific projects, including a regional freight hub at Palmerston North and upgraded rolling stock for the company’s TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific tourism services.

The $50 million of working capital will be used to restore track on regional routes that are otherwise in decline.

David Gordon, group general manager for investment and planning, said the PGF funding was enabling the company to bring forward investments that had a “compelling” business case.

“These were items which didn’t just come out of the ether. These are things we’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

KiwiRail, bought back by the government in 2008, has been hamstrung for decades by a lack of capital to maintain the country’s 4,000-kilometre track network and invest in new engines and more flexible rolling stock to remain competitive.

Ageing trains and tracks have seen speed restrictions placed on many routes, further reducing the competitiveness of freight services.

The previous government provided additional capital in two-yearly blocks – $450 million for the period through to mid-2019 – while it struggled to find a longer-term funding solution.

While the company’s financial performance is improving, Moyle said capital injections from the Crown being essential for the foreseeable future.

Miller said rail globally is enjoying a renaissance, both in tourism and because of the considerable returns rail freight provides by reducing road congestion and emissions.

KiwiRail’s growth plan for the next decade will be a critical part of delivering those benefits here, he said.

However, decades of under-spending will take a long time to correct. How that is funded is up to the government, he said.

“What matters to us is that it is a long-term funding model for the benefit of our primary exporters and domestic freight customers. Sustainable funding, rather than being a political football, is the ideal outcome for us.”

KiwiRail pleased with early Northland studies

KiwiRail says it is pleased with work undertaken to date on a potential extension of its rail network to Northport at Marsden Point.

The firm began geotechnical work in late October on a route for a 20-kilometre spur line from Oakleigh, running east toward Marsden Point.

The final drilling was completed today and further exploration work will continue this year, acting chief executive Todd Moyle said in a statement.

“Our investigations have focused on areas where the most significant engineering works would be needed,” he said.

“Concurrently we are looking at how we can upgrade the North Auckland Line between Auckland and Oakleigh. The tunnels on that line are old, low and narrow. We have had two significant derailments on the line in recent months due to a lack of funding for maintenance. It has been unable to carry passengers for the past year and freight options are restricted.”

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones visited the drilling site today.

New Zealand First has driven an investigation into the feasibility of relocating Ports of Auckland to Northport. That is being considered by a five-member working group tasked with developing a broader strategy to better integrate transport logistics chains in the upper North Island.

The cost of the new spur line was estimated at $100 million a decade ago. Bringing the Auckland to Northland line up to standard to handle major freight volumes has previously been estimated at more than $2 billion.

Jones, a list MP, lives in Northland and is a fan of rail. Tourism and freight projects of state-owned KiwiRail have so far received close to $90 million from the Provincial Growth Fund he oversees, including funding for the Northland spur study.

KiwiRail chair Greg Miller says significant agricultural and horticultural investment going into Northland will require an efficient supply chain.

The Provincial Growth Fund will allow a renewal of regional rail and there is a growing acceptance of the wider benefits rail brings by taking trucks off roads, reducing road maintenance costs and improving road safety, he says.

“There is a long way to go in Northland but we are heartened by what we have found so far.”

An aerial view of Ports of Auckland from the west.
SUPPLIED
An aerial view of Ports of Auckland from the west.

A rift has opened up between Auckland Council and the Government over how the future of the city’s port will be decided.

Mayor Phil Goff says there’s a risk that a Government-appointed working group looking at the upper North Island ports might have pre-determined whether Auckland’s council-owned port could move, and if so where.

Goff said he put a “robust” view to the working group’s chair, former Far North mayor Wayne Brown, in a private meeting last week.

A council commissioned study found shifting the vehicle import trade, could lose Auckland $1 billion
BEVAN READ/STUFF
A council commissioned study found shifting the vehicle import trade, could lose Auckland $1 billion

He said Brown’s public rejection of two potential locations identified by a council study didn’t give confidence, and the group didn’t appear to have enough time or resources to do a proper job.

The council on Tuesday approved a blunt letter to be sent to Brown, ahead of the council’s first formal meeting with the working group in just over a fortnight.

Goff favoured the eventual shift of the port from its current location on the downtown waterfront, but was unhappy with the approach being taken by the working group.

The council will tell the group that its priorities include protecting the value of Ports of Auckland, which last year paid it a $51.1 million dividend.

It is also telling the working group it wants a transparent, objective and evidence-based approach to reviewing the future of the ports in Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei.

Auckland Council has conducted the most detailed work so far on the future of its port.

Previous mayor Len Brown funded out of his office budget the Port Future Study, which in 2016 found the port might not outgrow its current site in 50 years, but that work should begin on identifying alternatives, in case it did.

Before the 2017 elections New Zealand First advocated an early shift of the vehicle-import trade from Auckland to Northland’s port.

The coalition government including New Zealand First took a bigger picture approach, setting up the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy working group, in line with a request from Auckland Council.

New Zealand First MP and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones who oversees the working group, has since been vocal on matters relating to the future of Auckland’s port.

At the start of November Jones said he would do all he could to head-off a planned multi-storey carpark building planned by Ports of Auckland, to house vehicles arriving in the port.

“Public statements have created the impression of pre-determination,” said the council in a letter to the chair of the working group Wayne Brown.

Brown has made public comment favouring a move to Northland, including an opinion column published in November 2017 before being appointed to chair the group.

“Imagine the Auckland waterfront without used cars getting the best views,” Brown wrote.

“Watch for self-justifying job-saving promises from Ports of Auckland to fend off any sensible moves like Sydney has made keeping the harbour just for cruise liners and sending cargo to Wollongong and Newcastle.”

The council’s letter pointed to comments by Brown.

“Indicating a strong preference for relocation of some or all of POAL activities to Northport prior to any analysis is unhelpful,” said the letter which Goff will sign.

“Any plans to move all or some of the Port’s functions requires the concurrence of its owners, the people of Auckland, through Auckland Council,” said the letter.

“I’ve already said to the chair, we’ve put a lot of work into two future options (Manukau Harbour and Firth of Thames) and you’ve dismissed this out of hand, which gives us no confidence,” Goff told today’s planning committee meeting.

The council has spelled out 10 areas it wants the working group to examine closely.

These include the feasible capacity of all upper North Island ports, as well as the climate change impacts of moving freight to and from the ports.

It wanted work done on the social and community impacts of any change, and how and when a future new port would be funded.

The council will have its first meeting with the government’s working group on December 13.

 

New railway line to Marsden Point being investigated by KiwiRail

KiwiRail to investigate Marsden Point railway – Photo / File

KiwiRail has started work on geotechnical investigations along a section of the new route for the proposed rail-link to the port at Marsden Point in Northland.

KiwiRail Acting Chief Executive Todd Moyle says the scoping work will inform the business case for Northland rail currently being developed by the Ministry of Transport.

“We’ve held a designation for this rail spur for several years, and are very pleased to be now taking steps to determine how the line would be built,” says Moyle.

“These investigations will provide us with more detailed information about the design and potential construction methods for the link, as well as costs and timeframes.

“To begin with, we’ll be working at Mata Hill over the next few weeks, using a drilling rig to take samples from a number of locations,” he says.

These will bore up to 30 metres into the ground to remove samples for analysis.

“We are also investigating what associated works would be needed on the North Auckland Line to allow for more freight to be carried by rail to and from Northland,” says Moyle.

“The Government has indicated its strong support for the value rail delivers in the regions and the benefits it brings for New Zealand by taking trucks off the road, improving safety and reducing carbon emissions.

“The work we are doing in Northland is one of a number of projects underway to ensure we deliver stronger connections for a better New Zealand,” he says.