Northland Rail Decision 18 Months Away


A decision on the future of the Northland rail line is some way off.

KiwiRail CEO Jim Quinn made a presentation to the Northland Regional Council this afternoon and said the consultation process was only just beginning and won’t formally commence until next month.

At the outside it was expected to have a decision and be in a position to make a recommendation to the board and government  by the second half of 2012.

The comprehensive commercial review of its rail operations in Northland to determine the longer-term future of those lines will identify current and future business opportunities for rail, and likely economic trends and developments in transport that may influence future rail traffic.

The KiwiRail presention says that while the primary focus of KiwiRail’s review will be the commercial viability of rail in Northland, it recognises that there are wider social considerations that also need to be taken into account. “KiwiRail will work closely with those organisations and agencies responsible for consulting and making determinations on those aspects, to ensure they are fully understood and incorporated into the final report going to Government”.

  • There are 270kms of operational track.
  • The distance between Westfield and Whangarei by rail is 215km, compared with 185 km by road
  • Travelling time between Whangarei and Auckland is five hours by train, two hours by truck
  • Current rail traffic is two return week-day freight services and occasional passenger charter services between Auckland and Whangarei; and local services within Northland for forestry and dairy customers
  • Commodities moved by rail are predominantly dairy and forestry
  • The Northland to Auckland portion of the rail network earns revenue of $8-$9 million a year, however it costs approximately that much to operate the trains
  • Northland’s rail lines are old, some dating back to 1880s and have been maintained to low standards in recent years because of the low traffic levels and funding constraints.
  • Considerable investment is needed to allow for faster train speeds, and larger modern sized containers
  • There are 13 tunnels between Auckland and Whangarei and work is needed at six of them to create enough space for larger containers.

KiwiRail’s Turnaround plan says minor lines that carry little or no traffic and thus operate at a loss will only survive if they have proven future potential and or an imminent anchor customer.  As such KiwiRail has signaled to Government it intends to review their commercial future and make recommendations about future rail operations.

“The rail network north of Helensville falls into this category.

“The opening of the new port at Marsden Point, and subsequent closure of the old Whangarei Port, led to a significant reduction in rail-freight volumes. Some work has already been done to identify and protect a future rail link to the new port.

“However construction of this link is likely to be very expensive (in excess of $100 million) and significant additional work would also be required on the existing network.  Thus investors in this would need to be assured it would generate enough business to recover those costs over time before it proceeded.”

The process means that over the coming months we will work through the process of trying to identify more commercial opportunities for the line, and alternative funding from other sources to maintain the line.

“KiwiRail will conduct the review in good faith and will maintain regular contact with key stakeholders - Northland’s local and central Government representatives, and its business and community leaders. Once our investigations are completed we will consolidate the findings and present the outcome to our staff, the community, our board and our shareholder, the Government.

“We are very conscious of the uncertainty this situation creates for many stakeholders, particularly our staff.   Thus while we will be ensuring sufficient time to conduct a thorough review, we do want to bring the process to a timely conclusion.”




  1. Matt says:

    If they look to the Marsden Point link to pay for itself over, say, 10 years, which is considerably less than the build life of the asset, it only has to generate $10m/year to break even on construction cost. If they can get $20m/year, which should be possible given figures posted in another thread of 62 forestry trains a week, then the line pays for itself and turns a nice profit.

    The traffic is there, the line just needs to be of a quality that makes using it feasible. Right now, it’s not.

  2. Nick R says:

    Two return weekday freight services hmm, how many truckloads does each train carry?

    How many new truck trips will there be needed on SH1 to replace them?

    …and what about all this freight growth they keep using to justify the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway? Wouldn’t it be better to spend a few hundred million on the rail line to avoid a two billion dollar motorway?

  3. Matt L says:

    Perhaps Kiwirail know that there is a good use for this line but are being forced into the closure by the government who wants to be able to justify P2W. By taking 18 months to do the consultation they might be betting that petrol and diesel prices will increase so much during that time that people and businesses will be clamouring for better and more efficient rail services.

  4. dj says:

    To think about 10 years ago there used to be 2-3 trains a night between Westfield & Whangarei. Trese were quite large trains too. Even north of Whangarei there were 2 shunt a day to Otira and they could be big at times.

  5. Alan Preston says:

    ( Please forward this message on to others who may be concerned. )

    Kia ora !
    To join a broad network of people working to save Northland’s railways, to offer your skills, knowledge or time,
    or just to be kept informed of what’s happening,
    please send an e-mail to : [email protected]
    and sign up to Save the Auckland to Northland Rail Line ( on Facebook )
    To learn more,go to our web-site :
    and read the Local Matters Newspaper article : Railway campaigners mobilise to save northern line (2nd February, 2011)
    If you know someone who’s likely to want to get involved but who doesn’t use the internet, please give them my number.
    Our input into this will be crucial in deciding the best way forward for Northland’s future.

    Thanks !
    Contact: ALan Preston ( a campaign co-ordinator )
    Mangawhai Village, Northland , New Zealand
    tel: (09) 431 5389
    mob/txt: 02102377242
    [email protected]

  6. Luke says:

    kiwirail seems to be talking down the line. Trucks dont travel from Auckland City to Whangarei, they travel from Onehunga/Penrose and South Auckland. From Penrose it is 167km to Whangarei. Given we keep hearing how bad the road is surely a 2 hour time is unrealistic for trucks. Plus trucks have to deal with north shore traffic during the day.

    Anyway it doesnt matter much for alot of traffic on offer. Sure rail wont be carting to supermarkets in northland but logs, containers, gravel, cement, oil, dont really mind if they take 3 or 5 hours. I bet this rail transit time could be bought down to closer to 4 hours with less money than is being spent investigating puhoi wellsford

  7. ejtma2003 says:

    I drive from Auckland to Whangarei a few times a month, at different times of the day and whilst I can do it under 2 hours (just) if I get caught behind some trucks the time can be 2.5 hours. I would suggest that 2 hours by truck is not accurate, and if it can be done, would love to know how. 3 would be closer to the truth, and as @luke says most trips are south of the CBD where I start my trip from.

  8. Eric says:

    The type of freight that goes on rail is normally off peak goods and can be easily subtituited for off peak trucking, there by not really making much difference to congestion. The fact of the matter is that upgrading the line doesn’t instantly mean that everyone’s going to start using it again. Faster times don’t really mean that much considering the type of freight that is being hauled.

  9. Ian says:

    5 hours by train!!!!!!! I’m sure the train can do quicker than this?

  10. Luke says:

    the trucks wont be off-peak, they ll be all day and all night. on a piece of road like sh1 to Whangarei getting stuck behind one truck can make big difference to a journey. Closure would add a couple of hundred extra trucks a day which would slow a lot of people down.

  11. richard says:

    Two hours to Whangarei by truck from Auckland. Absolute nonsense, you are pushing it to do that from the North Shore at most times in a car which has a 100kph speed limit compared with 90kph for a truck.

    Would the Avondale- Southdown link speed up the train time?

    Even on the present alignment a large chunk of the five hours quoted for a train is due to poor track.

    Interesting they have put the decision off until after the next election

  12. DanC says:

    Northland people should be fully against the closure as they’ll loose an important transport link. I hope Joyce hasn’t told them a bunch of £$%^&* to get his pet project going.

  13. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rimutaka Incline Rly, AKT. AKT said: Decision on whether Northland rail line will survive not until 18 months #trains #rail #northland [...]

  14. Vote National - Kill Rail says:

    If National wins this year you can say goodbye to Northland rail.

    Make sure you vote Labour/Greens/NZ First if you want to save rail and tell your friends to do so.

    These decisions are being made by Joyce and the trucking lobby. Quinn is the “fall guy” for the National Party.

  15. Patrick R says:

    So hang on, this line breaks even?!! After decades of no maintenance or investment, failure to take it with the port when it moved, hundreds of millions invested in its competition, it still breaks even? Two thoughts: 1. clearly then it already has a platform for revival through extension to the port and upgrade, and 2. how upsetting for those how have actively run this asset down in order to kill it off. Only the RFT and its lackeys could see the loss of this amenity as a good thing for the country. 100million? Joyce dropped that on consultants for his pet Road of Regional Destruction just last year. Making this line work through improvment is a small investment for something that will increase our durability and prevent road deaths and increased oil dependency.

  16. Matt says:

    Patrick, yes, that was quite the stunning revelation. Though at least in part the zero-maintenance strategy contributes to that because if you spend nothing on maintenance it costs a lot less to run a service.

  17. mickeymouse says:

    @ richard says”…….Would the Avondale- Southdown link speed up the train time?’

    The problem is north of Helensville where there are many speed restrictions due to the terrain and track conditions. Added to this is the fact that the tunnels north of helensville cannot accomodat 9’6″ containers which are now the ISO standard shipping container.

  18. But surely the point of rail is that it can take heavy traffic flows, such as would be generated by a Marsden link. Pure speed is not vital for freight but freight would be kept off the roads. Surely that would be a massive gain? There are two trains weekly now but with Marsden all that would change, so courage and political imagination is needed to go ahead and develop that new line. Building a motorway-type road to Whangarei would then be unnecessary. Difficult though it is for any politicians to see beyond the next election, (we have the same problem here in the UK,) that is exactly what is needed here. Even though the Government is National just now they still have a responsibility to create liveable road conditions; that is not done by closing useful freight railways. Why should the roads be dominated by vast, stinking lorries with their trailers?
    Incidentally in the course of our 5 visits to NZ since 2001 we have noticed an enormous increase in the number of these enormous juggernaut lorries which has made driving much less agreeable. The very idea of scrapping the Northland railway at least as far as Whangarei is madness. We pray that sanity and LONG-sightedness may prevail.

  19. Nick R says:

    John Gilbert, thats actually two trains *daily*, return.

    Indeed it makes a lot of sense to utilise the existing infrastructure to carry the freight demand, rather than destroying the existing infrastructure and spending two billion on a new motorway for trucks… but this is National we are talking about here, they don’t care about sense they only care about their ideology and their campaign funders.

    The Minister has said “we will have a new road, this road will be a motorway, and it doesn’t have to stack up to any regular evaluation process”, all in the name of nation building.

    From the start there hasn’t been an opportunity to develop the best option for freight and transport needs, there has only been the Ministers personal option.

  20. Eric says:

    Luke, I didn’t realise that people actually considered night and day (outside of rush hour) to be peak times. Looks like I have no idea how Northland works!

  21. Robincole says:

    What annoys me is that the Northland Line carries similar amounts of freight to other secondary lines, and far more than the Gisborne Line, yet its been put in more or less the same category as Gisborne.
    Not that the Gisborne Line is beyond help.


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