Northland Gives Puhoi Big Tick


The Northland Regional Council this afternoon will give the Holiday Highway a big tick, significantly after hearing in person from the KiwiRail CEO about the potential for the Northland rail line not being saved.

KiwiRail’s Jim Quinn will address the Northland Regional Council before the Council is expected to rubber stamp a report from its transport committee giving its “strong support” to the project especially in view of the rumoured but yet to be confirmed  ”downgrading” of rail services to the North.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce hinted in Parliament last week that he had met with Northland local body representatives and had strong support for the Puhoi link.

Northland’s popular MP National John Carter is retiring after 23 years in Parliament and getting a nice post as the NZ rep in the Cook Islands.

Support for improving Northland’s lot  with such a highway and expressing confidence in the future economic possibilities for the region are seen by National as extremely helpful in election year for Carter’s potential successor (amid rumours Joyce may himself seek the relatively safe North Shore seat being vacated by Defence minister Dr Wayne Mapp).

Curiously- or hopefully -  the region’s transport committee does not rule out the Northland rail line being continued and encouragingly doesn’t buy into the assumption the rail news is going to be all bad.

“The commitete along with the regional council is currently engaging in discussion with KiwiRail over the future of ther North Auckland Line,” it says.

Although unlikely, it has been rumoured that this line may be downgraded in the near future and therefore cause a significant increase in the volume of freight being moved by rorad between Auckland and Northland.

“It’s critical that NZTA takes this into consideration in terms of traffic counts and heavy traffic movements along with the additional road wear that may be encountered from a significant increase in heavy vehicles.”

And that is exactly what critics of the plan are saying. Shifting all the freight to road will just cause more motorway headaches.

Will any rail freight go north in the future?

The regional council in its strong rubberstamp of the motorway project says:

  • The economic development benefits are critical to Northland especially reducing travel time between Northland and Auckland
  • It’s concerning that “relatively small communities” such as Puhoi and Mahurangi want “significant expenditure” on interchanges that don’t match with the strategic view of connecting Auckland and Northland and an interchange should be provided only at Warkworth
  • The council wants to know the costs associated with creating a new 4-ane alignment from Warkworth to Wellsford compared with the cost of 3-laning (i.e. an additional lane) and whether this would create improvements past Wellsford
  • The committee wants to work with the NZTA to identify a suitable route around the Brynderwyn’s so that regional planning can identify and protect this route
  • The Te Hana bridges are a low risk in terms of collapse or damage but would be a significant issue if such an event occurred that there was no alternative access. The Puhoi to Wellsford planners are investigating a second crossing of this area.

In strongly supporting the Puhoi project, members are “encouraged by the progress that has been made in identifying the Puhoi to Wellsford indicative alignment. The committee believes the project will have nationally significant benefits to Northland’s economy and its connection with Auckland and the rest of NZ.”




  1. DanC says:

    Should freight be by road? No. Why? Road wear. Pollution. Truck vs car accidents (usually fatalities). Keep NZ green! Not covered in black tar and trucks!

  2. Vote National - Kill Rail says:

    Again, Northland Regional Council fails the ratepayers there.

    This will see a lot more trucks on Northland roads and more truck related accidents. It will also make Northland reliant on trucks in the future. Trucks suffer from being very fuel inefficient, therefore susceptable to oil price hikes - which are closer now than ever.

    Is this future planning or planning for the “now”?

    Northland’s decision to support the Joyce Puford Extension is completely opposite to it’s long term plans to move more freight onto rail. Why the suddent change? Has Joyce and co been lobbying hard for support?

    And the time saving quoted? Currently that is in debate, but 3 to 10 minutes (max) for $2 billion is ridiculous.

    We can have rail upgraded for a fraction of the cost. Oops, I forgot, National Party hates rail and wants to close as much of it down as possible.

    Vote National - Kill Rail

  3. mark says:

    Well, the “funny” things is that they are going to be screwed once the fuel prices rise, and no one has the money to reopen the rail line in a hurry.

    But hey, those rare few that can still afford to drive (or ship their goods via road) will get a clean empty run into Auckland in their flight from Northland.

  4. Matt L says:

    Its funny how they complain about Puhoi wanting “significant expenditure” on an interchange but then don’t complain about the significant expenditure needed just to build the road which only saves 5 minutes off the current road, time savings which could mostly be achieved by bypassing the towns and fixing up a few of the trouble spots.

    Doing a simpler upgrade to get 80-90% of the benefits could probably be done for less than $300m leaving more money to be spent on other transport projects including ones that might actually be in Northland.

  5. Jeff says:

    okay guys, let’s put a little perspective on this.
    rail is slow, and is only practical in this country, with this topography in linehaul situations.

    the fact of the matter is that rail to northland is too damned slow.

    there’s enough time constraints trying to get freight out of northland and through auckland to meet connections down-country on the roading network as it is.

    rail would simply slow this down by a factor of hours, which would cause major network disruptions further down country.

    the only practicality i would see for rail in northland would be in areas of large logging. the area simply doesn’t have the density or commerce to support this kind of network

  6. Matt says:

    Jeff, rail to Northland is slow because the track condition is so awful. A fraction of the cost of Puford could turn it into a mostly dual-track (some bridges would be too costly to replace, but that’s manageable), high-quality line that could handle high-speed freight trains.
    If some money were invested in the line, travel time would be reduced because trains would be able to go faster. Right now there are parts of the Northland line that’re so appallingly maintained that trains are reduced to walking pace.

    Using trains to deliver freight into Whangarei, or even further north, for unloading onto trucks for final delivery, would remove trucks from the highly-dangerous stretches of SH1, reduce the maintenance costs for those roads, and reduce the kilometres travelled by fuel-inefficient (relative to trains) trucks at a time when fuel prices are projected to head in only one direction: up.

  7. Jeff says:

    I’ve spent my last 8 years working in the transport industry.
    one of the biggest problems is trying to get freight out of northland to meet transport connections. the slow turn around times of trains (loading, unloading), despite track conditions, will always kill rail on provincial lines, unless cornerstone customers are present (fonterra, forrestry) etc, which doesn’t look to be the case here.

    at one point, one of nz’s biggest transport operators actually resorted to flying freight out of Whangarei.

    I’m obviously not going to change anyone’s mind here, but to claim i don’t understand the facts (Anon) is extremely incorrect.

    in order to strengthen the main trunk line for more competitive linehaul, the network needs to be rationalised.

  8. Matt says:

    Jeff, if freight trip times can be got down to being competitive with road (faster should be achievable) then the efficiencies of moving 100-ish containers in a single consignment make up for any perceived loss in turnaround time.
    Plus, trains should be able to get the freight from Whangarei to Auckland more cheaply than a truck can, which is a plus. Especially with diesel prices going up, and trains being able to move more tonnes per litre of diesel than a truck ever could.

  9. Jeff says:

    yes, in theory that is correct.
    and to operate effectively, you need a trip in during very early AM, and one out around 7-8pm.

    however there isn’t the population density in northland to justify ~100 containers in, then ~100 containers out.

    while more than ~200 trucks obviously move between there and auckland each day, aligning all of these operators into one network instead of relying on their own network infrastructure/expertise, which would be cheaper for the operator, remembering these are often owner-drivers, that would be a competitive impossibility.

    imagine a train breakdown, and 100 different transport companies can’t compete because of their reliance on Kiwirail

  10. Jeff says:

    all this said, don’t get me wrong here. I’m a big fan of trains as a passenger and linehaul provider, but commercially, transport companies will do a combination of:

    what’s most cost effective
    what’s most competitive
    what’s most versatile

    and that’s running your own network.

    that said, if kiwirail can cut down the trip times on the main trunkline to WLG, i can see a lot more commercial interest coming their way, but unfortunately, it’s still quicker to move a B-Train or T&T via SH1

    Northland’s a unique area for New Zealand (aforementioned pop. density, reliance on Auckland’s infrastructure etc), which doesn’t make rail as commercially competitive.

    of course, everything i’ve just said can easily have rule #11 of the internet applied to it :D

  11. richard says:

    One point Jeff about the speed of using a BTrain or T&T is that the authorities fail to have enough spot checks to see drivers’ breaks are being complied with etc.

    Also, the speed limit for these monsters on our mostly two lane roads is too high. When the Heavy vehicle and towing speed limits were rationalised they went to 90kph when they should have gone the other way to 80kph. We are having more and more truck rollovers because most of our roads are not designed for the vehicles lengthy configuration and the speed they drive at.

    I know this will lead to all sorts of reasons being expressed disagreeing with the above but I have multiple reasons for stating above from the accident prevention angle.

    The speed change was another case of Government being persuaded by the RT Forum etc and not common sense.

  12. Matt L says:

    Jeff – My understanding is that much of the freight is moved by freight forwarding companies already, in those cases they aren’t doing trips directly from the factory to customer (so to speak). They are taking the product to a freight yard when they put it on line haul trucks to shift it around the country. Most of this is overnight delivery anyway so it makes no difference if it takes 4 hours or 6 hours but the main thing is that it is at the customers doorstep in the morning.

    My understanding is that some freight is limited by a few of the tunnels in the region, the rail line is currently unable to carry standard high cube containers which limits potential traffic.

    In Kiwirails submission to the Northland RLTS last year they said it would cost $80m to build a line to Marsden point and that by doing so would generate enough traffic to be able to justify upgrading the rest of the lines. Fully upgrading the existing lines to a decent standard was costed at $240m and by doing so their would be more than enough traffic to make the line sustainable including the maintenance needed to keep it to that level.

    On another forum a commenter who obviously knows much more than I do made the following comment which indicates that there is definitely enough suitable freight for the line if we can just get that Marsden link built:
    “Key to the survival of Northland’s branch lines is to get Marsden Point built. A good indicator of what would be carried is to look back to 2003 when the logs and chips still went to the old Whangarei Port instead of Marsden Point. 18 trains a week from Otiria (logs), 10 a week from Dargaville (logs), 10 a week from Wellsford/Helensville (logs) and 25 a week from Portland (woodchips). Most of that was lost to road when they switched to Marsden Point.

    So build that line and you make Otiria and Dargaville busy again, and have 62 trains a week to Marsden Point with forestry traffic alone.

    Any Auckland tonnage to/from Marsden Point would just be a bonus.”

  13. Alan Preston says:

    Establishing and maintaining alternative transport infrastructure is first and foremost an issue of national strategic security - THE fundamental responsibility of any government.

    Forget about all the arguments as to how road stacks up against rail - under present day conditions.
    Present day conditions are a passing phase.
    ( google> the nex oil shock : NZ parliamentary support research papers )

    If we allow our transport options to be limited, we increase our vulnerability to outside variables ( e.g. the price of oil ) and decrease mobility, resiliance , AND our economic competitiveness.

    ( Not to mention ignore our commitment to be reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. )

    We simply cannot afford to lose our rail infrastructure.

    The Northland Regional Council’s Transport Strategy was drafted ( in 2009) to cover the next 30 years.
    Their submission supporting the NZTA’s investing in the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway extension completely ignores the vulnerabilities that are inherent in doing so.

    Is New Zealand being governed by intellegent,well-informed decision makers using research-based best practice methodologies - or by the dynamics of the National Government’s relationship with the trucking,roading and auto-petro lobby?

  14. Jeff says:

    Good call on Marsden Point, if that can be established, then it’s reason alone to have the entire rail line in place.

    But Richard - I must disagree with you completely about speeding drivers & lack of checks being the reason road freight is competitive.

    almost all bulk transport operators (let’s talk the big ~4 here) speed limit their vehicles, and they’re fitted with Navman, which send email alerts to transport managers if trucks to manage to break any speed limits.

  15. richard says:

    Another point with road v rail going north. The line via Newmarket must be getting more congested with frequent suburban movements. Apart from goods direct from the wharves much goes from South Auckland and further south. From the central city the road is much shorter because of the Harbour Bridge. Before 1959 both were more comparable with a slow road going via the top of the harbour.

    If the Avondale - Southdown line was built this perhaps would balance things up a little south - north.? The land has been reserved for “Railway Purposes” for over half a century. (unless relinquished in recent times)

    Every problem has a solution if you want to solve it here there seems to be a case of rolling over and giving up?

  16. Vote National - Kill Rail says:

    Every 1st world country RIGHT NOW is investing and opening MORE rail lines including the USA.

    The National Party Govt is forcing bad decisions on transport infrastructure on our country.

    Vote National - Kill Rail

  17. malcolm says:

    Its such retarded thinking. For a fraction of the cost of these mega motorways, they could upgrade the railway line and get a lot of freight off the roads. This would only increase travel times for other road users. Seems like a no brainer to me.


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