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.”