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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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.
■ 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