Next steps under way to unlock Northport’s freight supply chain potential

KiwiRail expects the pace of land purchase for the Marsden Point rail spur to pick up now Government funding has been allocated for the freight link expected to unlock the potential of Northport.

In response to Herald inquiries, KiwiRail said it had purchased 60ha or 45 per cent of the 133ha of designated land required for the rail connection between Northport at Marsden Point and the main rail line at Oakleigh, south of Whangarei.

The Government has allocated about $700 million for the rail spur, other Northland rail work to lift the Whangarei-Otiria section of the Northland line to 18 tonne axle loads, and SH1 improvements. However in a controversial announcement last week, the Government said the proposal for a new Northland state highway had been dropped.

Northport is one of the few ports in New Zealand not rail connected.

KiwiRail said land for the 19km rail spur was designated for rail use in 2012.

Negotiations with the remaining landowners was ongoing, said the state-owned enterprise.

With funding for the spur now allocated, KiwiRail would now talk to iwi, other stakeholders and the community about the rail link project, expected to take up to five years to deliver.

There had been general engagement with iwi around Northland rail, including during geo-technical investigations on the spur route in recent years. More recently, engagement had been with directly affect landowners, the company said.

It expected iwi input to be significant.

Northport, a joint venture between listed companies Marsden Maritime Holdings and the Port of Tauranga, has welcomed the Government’s instruction last week for construction of the new rail link, taking the opportunity to remind again it is preparing to be, and keen to be considered, part of a resilient upper North Island supply chain, supporting the work of the Port of Tauranga and Ports of Auckland.

The minor container port has helped ease shipping congestion at the Auckland port in the past six months by accepting and unloading much bigger container import vessels than it is accustomed to handling.

“While current supply chain issues impacting the country might be unprecedented, they demonstrate clearly the need for a resilient and geographically-astute upper North Island supply chain strategy that makes best use of three existing ports that already serve the region,” the company said in a statement.

“This in turn calls for continued central government investment in, and upgrading of, road, rail and coastal shipping infrastructure. Development of supply chain alternatives will take time, collaboration and considerable investment in all modes of freight transport to achieve an outcome that has both regional and national significance.

“Northport has a greater role to play in the development of resilient and geographically-astute upper North Island supply chain alternatives. It has a vision for growth which takes advantage of significant development opportunities and available land holdings.

“We have the ability to relieve the pressure on the Ports of Auckland and the increasing demands on the Auckland waterfront. We see realising Northport’s significant growth opportunities as a staged and complementary process to supporting POAL, rather than a short-term complete relocation of the Auckland port.”

Freight volumes in Northland are expected to increase from 18 million tonnes a year currently to 23m tonnes by 2042. KiwiRail said each tonne of freight carried by rail has 70 per cent fewer carbon emissions than freight carried by road.

Rail freight also reduces road congestion and road maintenance costs.

KiwiRail said its next steps are to deliver a case for the rail line, confirming costs, exact scope and when construction will start; finalising the route design; completing land acquisition and consultation with iwi and other stakeholders.

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