A freight train crosses the new Bridge 100, on Hellyer Road, 15km from Helensville. The new bridges each have a concrete ballast tray deck, which requires less maintenance than the old bridges and can carry up to 25-tonne axle loads.
Containers from the ANL vessel Tianjin Bridge, berthed at Northport, were the first to head south on the recently re-opened rail line between Whangārei to Auckland.
The line has been closed for the past year for maintenance.
Funded by the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), the work included replacing five bridges and lowering tracks in 13 tunnels to allow the passage of hi-cube shipping containers.
KiwiRail Group chief executive Greg Miller says completing the work to re-open the line is a big achievement and a significant milestone for KiwiRail.
“It signals that we’re open for business, ready to support importers and also building resilience and sustainability into our transport network,” he says.
“It also ties in with our ongoing efforts to address the freight backlog.
“Fewer trucks on roads also means less congestion, lower road maintenance costs, greater road safety and fewer emissions. Every tonne of freight carried by rail produces 70 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the equivalent freight carried by road.”
The intention is to run one return service a day between Whangarei and Auckland while work on the line is being completed.
“People need to be aware that as part of the ongoing upgrade work, there will be vehicles operating on the line. The public should take special care around level crossings. Those crossing the tracks should expect trains or other rail vehicles at any time and from either direction.”
All the new and rehabilitated structures on the line have clearance through the tunnels for electrification to be added later. At its peak, more than 600 people were working on the project at one time. In addition to the new bridges and improved tunnels, the team laid 30,000 new sleepers and nearly 63,000 cubic metres of ballast to provide a more secure base for the track.
Mr Miller says that while KiwiRail is delighted that this section of the line is up and running, there is some more intricate work to the tunnel linings required. Additionally, to allow greater train speed and axle weight, over time KiwiRail will be replacing another 10km of rail and laying more than 100,000 sleepers.
“The reopening is an opportunity to remind people to take care around the railway line and to always look for trains before crossing the tracks.”
KiwiRail does not yet have a spur directly to Northport but the PGF funding has allowed it to begin buying land along the route. In the meantime, freight is trucked from the port to the rail line in Whangārei.
“With freight volumes in the region expected to increase from 18 million tonnes a year currently to 23 million tonnes by 2042, rail is a crucial part of developing an efficient, integrated transport system for Northland,” Mr Miller says.