The new government’s Regional Development Fund was the highest profile part of the coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First. Improving the country’s rail network in areas outside the main cities was highlighted as key area where the fund could be targeted:

They agreed to create a $1 billion regional development fund that would invest significantly in regional rail and plant 100 million trees per year in a billion trees planting programme.

One obvious early area to target some of this money would be to reopen some of the regional railway lines that were mothballed (track still in place but trains no longer running) under the previous government.

Northland Lines

Late last year I wrote about the potential upgrades that could occur for Northland rail which included:

  1. Re-opening the track to Dargaville Branch which was mothballed after a 2014 derailment;
  2. Re-opening the line north of the Fonterra factory at Kauri to Otiria (near the Bay of Islands) which was mothballed 2016 after KiwiRail cancelled the contract with the customer due to lack of suitable wagons;
  3. Work with the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway who wish to relay the track to Opua Wharf which was partially closed in 1985 with some sections used for local tourist trains over the years.

Re-opening parts one and two will be mainly for freight purposes which coupled with building the Marsden Point rail link could result in mode shift back from truck to rail, especially around logging.

One of the last trains to leave Otiria in 2016 https://nzrailphotos.co.nz/

Re-building part three as written about by Nick here would allow a scenic train similar to the Northern Explorer from Auckland to the Opua Wharf in the Bay of Islands. This would be a fantastic addition to KiwiRails Great Journeys of New Zealand. However, this would likely involve significant wider upgrades to tracks and bridges to ensure they are at much higher stages, so this is likely best suited as a longer-term project.

Napier – Gisborne 

After washouts just north Wairoa in 2012, the line north of Napier was also mothballed. While the Napier to Gisborne line had been struggling for a while, about 6 months before the washout the line was open to ‘high cube’ containers which is made it much more attractive for export freight companies. As a result, the line was busy again for a few months, but Kiwirail’s shortsightedness & fiscal straight-jacket meant the line was closed. The cost to repair the washout will be about $5 million.

Image from the brief period when the line was busy in 2011/12

Interestingly the Napier to Gisborne line has strong community support, and Hawkes Bay Regional Council has been wanting to reopen the line ever since it was closed. Strong support has also been shown from local from local food and log export businesses and Weatherall Transport who are a major Gisborne based freight operation. A local company known as the ‘Napier Gisborne Railway Company’ was even formed as an operator for the rail line given Kiwirail’s reluctance to be involved. This group had intended to take over the lease of the line and run themselves but so far they have been unsuccessful in their negotiations with Kiwirail and progress seems to have stalled over the last year. If you’re interested in further background this is useful long read from a local magazine. The original plan was to run log trains between Napier and Wairoa (avoiding the washout) which would have minimised investment, though a new log sorting & transfer yard would have been required at or near Wairoa.

It should be noted that all three parties that make up the Government either promised an investigation or to re-open the line all the way to Gisborne, so there is strong political will for this reopening to occur.

Stratford–Okahukura Line

Another line that was mothballed was the Stratford–Okahukura Line a 144km line running from Stratford in Taranaki to Okahukura (just north of Taumaranui) where it joins the North Island Main Trunk. The line follows a similar to the well known Forgotten World Highway through Whangamomona.

Due to deferred maintenance, this led to a lot of speed restrictions. A derailment death occurred in 2002 and in 2009 was mothballed because of a serious derailment which damaged 9.5km of track. The cost to repair was estimated at that time at $450,000 to fix and KiwiRail had just spent $750,000 to upgrade tunnels along the line.

Since the mothballing freight from Taranaki to Tauranga and Auckland (mostly Fonterra exports from their large Whareroa site) now travel via Palmerston North. However, the slow travel time means rail is not competitive for many types of freight that require overnight delivery. The line is currently only used for rail carts by a local tourist venture. Costs to reopen the line are expected to be much higher than the initial estimate due to the need to catch up on deferred maintenance along the line. In 2010 a cost of $7 to $10 million was quoted to cover essential maintenance over the next 3 years.

Current use of the Stratford-Okahukura Line

Re-opening this line would be a win for the Government while also providing resilience as an alternative route to the North Island Main Trunk.

Summary

While the simple costs to reopen the lines are often only a few million dollars, the actual figure required will probably be two or three times higher than this. All the lines would have suffered from deferred maintenance for many years before they were mothballed and will have a low quality of track and other infrastructure overall.

Some of the lines also have low axle loads, which means they cannot handle fully loaded modern container wagons. The lines would also benefit from providing new modern freight handling and transfer facilities, notably for containers and logs. These corresponding investment will ensure the reopening of any line sis commercially viable in an operational sense on a day-to-day basis. Overall this means we should allow $10-15 million dollars for the reopening of each line, though of course more exact figures should be determined in the Regional Fund applications with input from Kiwirail and future customers.

Overall re-opening these lines would still be relatively cheap but could be really good short-term wins for the Government and a great use of the Regional Development Fund given we expect that these lines could all be easily reopened in the next 2 years. The Government could also consider adding the Wairarapa upgrades to the Regional Fund list as well.

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123 comments

  1. And here I was thinking that after all the talk from Labour and their mates they would go large on regional rail.
    Turns out that’s not the case.

        1. According to The Herald:

          “The first round of projects – totaling $61.7 million” of “the $1 billion a year Provincial Growth Fund”….

          That’s only 2% of the three year fund allocated to date, and then:

          “There is also likely to be a closer investigation of a commuter rail link between Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland – the so-called Golden Triangle.”

        2. ““These are just the initial shovel-ready rail projects that are ready to go and have been in the pipeline for some time,” Mr Jones says.”

          You obviously aren’t paying much attention to the announcements.

        3. Yeah Whal…er I mean Vance; this from the announcement you obviously did not read, yet felt able to comment on.
          “Shane Jones has today announced the first of many regional rail initiatives the Government is looking to support.”

    1. It wouldn’t make sense for the amount of use they will get. There are many lines with much higher use that are not electrified, makes for sense to electrify these first. Auckland to Tauranga being the most obvious.

      1. So with the figures you have given it should then cost around $86m – $172m to electrify the 85km between Papakura and Hamilton instead those large amounts that have been mentioned elsewhere and cheaper than the 2billion or there about’s it cost for Auckland . There are costings
        mention in this item for the price of the eletricfication of that short section of track so why not do it
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Island_Main_Trunk

  2. Having glanced at a map, it would appear that there is not shortage of existing rail infrastructure all over the country. What needs to be looked at is reinvigorating the entire network, so that it becomes not only economical and efficient for freight, but also for passengers. I for one cannot wait to be able to catch a train alla Europe to almost anywhere. Surely we have the tourism to more than support the passenger services, and once these destinations are hooked up, I can envisage catching the train to WOMAD, among other events around the country. If nothing else, trains are quintessentially cool, why are so many big movies based on or around trains? Because they are awesome of course! Let’s do this (you said you would after all, Jacinda and entourage).

    1. Never going to happen, NZ simply doesn’t have the population to make large scale passanger rail work. Even in much wealthier, with a similar sized population Norway rail doesn’t go everywhere, it’s the same problem not enough people to make it viable.

      1. Actually in Norway rail does go pretty much everywhere, even right up into the artic. The exception is a number of towns nestled deep into fjords up the coast, but many of those barely have roads.

        Of course they have the oil fund to pay for it.

  3. The Stratford–Okahukura Line reopening needn’t close down the tourist cart operation either – freight trains on the line would only be 1-2 each direction per day so could be timed with the tourist operator to not interfere. If KR did need to send a train through as a random train then with a little bit of notice it wouldn’t be hard to get the carts off the rails. The train operates slowly on that line anyway, a few precautions and both can run as viable operations.

    1. You cannot allow any vehicles to use mailine railways that do not meet mainline crash and safety standards.
      If your scheme ever was allowed and there was a breakdown in communication and a resulting collision between a freight train and that tourist cart: There wouldn’t be much left of that cart and any poor soul on it.

      1. Quick law change would solve that. As for this particular line as mentioned it had very limited use but was useful as a backup. It would be quite simple to only allow trains at certain times. No risk of collision. Should the line be needed randomly then it could only be used once all carts are clear of the track for certain.
        In case you don’t know there are plenty of vehicles on the tracks around the country doing maintenance etc that would be annihilated if hit by a train…

        1. Those “vehicles on tracks” around the country are operated by Kiwirail/ONTACK, are within their internal communication channels and only operate within a strict set of internal protocols.

          Oh they’re going to change the the entire long-standing mainline regulations so some people can continue to joy-ride a golf cart on one line?! Oh yes that’s a good idea that might not open a legal can of worms for people anywhere in the country who might get dopey ideas about using rail corridors (en sarc).

          How can you honestly confidently say there is “no risk of collision”? The fact the line is not frequently used if anything raises the risk of collision as it would be more open to human carelessness.

          1. Yes, and in the SOL they operated TWC for control of the mainline. So a private operator in such a situation would have to obtain, and maintain a rail operators licence from the rail regulator to operate under and obtain a Track Warrant from the National Train Control centre.

          2. Again you obviously just read the parts you wanted to and carried on repeating yourself.
            This line was hardly used. We are talking about this ONE specific line. There is no reason that this operation can’t be in contact with KR. They will know when the trains are operating. If the morning train has gone and there’s isn’t another until night time then there is no reason why it couldn’t be used during the day to help cover the costs of the tracks. If KR needs to get a train through they call up the operation and don’t send a train through until the tracks are definitely clear – not hard to do! Once the train has passed they can go back to using it. Put some GPS trackers in if needed. So many ways to do this. You sound like you just want to say no for the sake of it rather than getting use out of this infrastructure.

            By the way are those Ontrack vehicles built to withstand an impact from a train?? No? Thought not!

          3. *laughs*

            Do you know what?
            All of what you’ve typed (which is the actual repetition here) was totally pointless.

            This line is coming back into commission. The authorities will not allow any people to drive a modified golf cart along it anymore. Nobody is going to change any regulations and laws to allow it. What you like to think will not change a thing.

            I think that’s all that needs to be said about this. I didn’t even bother wasting my time reading your reply beyond the second sentence and won’t read anything of any reply you post beyond this.

          4. I have to ask akldude when would you do regular track inspections. When would you do regular maintenance, re tamping, sleeper replacement, re-railing. I thought you may know a little better than posting crap like that in your position in regards to safe working on the mainline. This just shows how little people know about the condition of the SOL. It would cost many many millions of $$$ to run trains over this route again. And the investment simply wouldn’t be worth it without at least 3 trains each way per day. Even then it will cost through the tooth to do so. Its been 8 and a half years since the last freight went over that route…. Gee, the whole thing would be very rotten by now in regards to running even a single freight train over it. It would take many years to even get one train over it. Many many years, i can assure you that!

    2. There is much more to the closure of the SOL than just all this. Communication was a big reason. Peruvian sleepers another (that most wouldn’t know about), The remoteness and isolation of the route. A substantial amount of bridges and tunnels to maintain. I see a mention of a derailment death in 2002. The only death i can recall from that year was a derailment of a speeding freight train that derailed around a sharp curve which involved alcohol. How does that have anything to do with the line closing?

  4. So Daphne’s answer to dissenting views is to call for poster’s to be banned and accuse them of running National Party propaganda? That’s a typical leftie response.
    The intelligent thing to do would be to refute my point.
    I’m very happy that the line to Wairoa.
    However, I don’t see Labour and their mates putting our money where their mouth is and doing more.
    In the meantime I await the announcement of the Auckland to Rotorua Line reopening.
    After all, with all the cruise ships coming here, a steam train trip from Auckland to Rotorua would be a winner.

    1. ‘The intelligent thing to do would be to refute my point.’

      Agree, like most of us were able to do without much trouble. I think your comments are more guilty of not being thought through than propaganda.

      1. At this stage they’re spending more on a roundabout than rail.
        Any further spending over $1m will have to be signed off by Robertson according to Stuff.

        1. Agree, that roundabout is a safety improvement not a regional development initiative. It should be coming out of the NLTF, it’s unfortunate the previous government tied up so much of this with PPP motorways, which we will be paying for years.

          I think it makes sense for the finance minister to sign off significant expenditure, doesn’t mean it wont happen. It is important for the success of the current government that there is transparency in how this $1 billion is spent.

          1. “Agree, that roundabout is a safety improvement not a regional development initiative. ”

            Never mind that the council will be able to open up a large industrial park once the roundabout goes in, right?

    2. It would be very difficult to reinstate passenger rail services to/from Rotorua. Some time ago the Rotorua local government approved of removing their former railway terminus, allowing a retail park to be built on the former site and even ripping up the tracks for about a kilometre. Rotorua no longer has a station and that’s not looking like changin any time soon.

      If you didn’t know that; you’re not very informed on NZ rail topics.

      1. It was actually the New Zealand Railways Corporation which made the decision in the late 1980s to sell the former Rotorua station and yard site to try and profit from with redevelopment. This backfired when a treaty claim was put on the rail land after rail operations were removed from it as the land had originally been gifted by the local iwi when the line was built in exchange for some of their people being employed to build the line. The former land was subsequently returned to Ngati Whakaue and they have redeveloped the site through their company Pukeora Oruawhata Holdings.

        The Rotorua District Council at the time wanted the station and line removed out of the central city to remove the level crossings across Ranolf Street and Pukuatua Street.

        In recent years the former Lake Road rail overbridge at Koutu has been demolished when the road was four laned and has now been built over the track.

          1. Yes the Rotorua station and yard was removed by the NZRC in the late 1980s as the Rotorua District Council had been wanting the station removed from the city centre since the mid 1980s. The issue with long freight trains blocking the busy Ranolf and Pukuatua Street crossings being one of the main reasons for this.

            The main reason why NZRC probably decided to relocate the station was because they thought they could make a tidy profit from selling the prime land in the CBD for redevelopment (such as NZRC was doing in other cities around the country at the time), but as already mentioned, a treaty claim was subsequently put on the land after the station had been relocated to Koutu and the tracks had been lifted.

            It was unfortunate timing as just two years later in 1991 the Geyserland Express railcar service was started by New Zealand Rail – most likely due to the Intercity coach operation part of NZRC having being sold off by the Government that same year and the newly created New Zealand Rail Ltd wanting to try and retain some of the passenger market on this prime route (NZRC should have done this in 1987 when they launched ‘Intercity’ with putting on a decent high standard tourist train to Rotorua using some of the 31 former Silver Star carriages which could have been fully refurbished and divided up to provide two 10 car mixed sleeper and day sitting car trains to replace the Northerner and Silver Fern between Auckland and Wellington, and two 5 car trains to run a daily Rotorua service in each direction from Rotorua and Auckland. The Silver Ferns could have been relocated to operate to their full potential speed on the fast section of line between Christchurch and Invercargill replacing the Southerner carriage train, with the Southerner train sets relocated to operate the Wellington-Gisborne Endeavour service which needed more capacity at the time, and the smaller Endeavour train sets used for a new Picton-Christchurch train and to start a new service between Auckland and Mount Maunganui. But New Zealand was in the midst of Rogernomics at the time with one of its main champions being Minister of Railways Richard Prebble, so such investment did not eventuate unfortunately to the detriment of rail passenger services and the country as a whole).

          2. Thanks for the info’ Robin.

            But I didn’t realise that the line was used to transport much freight. I was long under the impression that it was more for passenger operations.

          3. So where exactly was the original Rotorua Station, what is on that now? Not sure how far it would of gone in? Can’t seem to find this info, may have been mentioned before by someone. Specifically just before the 1980s removal.

          4. This video on Youtube shows what the Rotorua station and yard looked like in 1990 when it was being demolished, as viewed from the rail platform of the Travel Centre, which itself survived a little bit longer with serving both long distance and local buses until the present Tourism Centre opened. The Travel Centre was demolished in 1997 after it fell into disrepair and was vandalised beyond repair:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufDlnFur2xc

  5. stratford – okahukura line should have never been closed. Why lengthen the rail distance between an export province and the main export ports to the north. Very political decision that will have seen a large modal shift from rail to road from the North Taranaki area. Great for the truckies I suspect.

      1. That was the impression they gave. However they did have money for the route set aside. They also had been upgrading the route at the time. Little do most know that the upgrade included decking out many bridges with Peruvian sleepers … Which would have cost oddles to fix as well. So they spent the remaining funds elsewhere.

        1. Yeah but obviously the damage from this derailment made those intended improvements impossible.
          Remember; Kiwirail was hamstrung by getting not very much financial assistance from the govt.

        2. And little do many people realise how shocking those Peruvian sleepers are – they crumble just like Weet-bix, You can literally just kick them or stand on them and they can crumble. Makes your hair stand on end thinking that there are still lots of them in place all over the rail network around New Zealand with trains still running over them..

          1. Yes Robin, exactly. The derailment wasn’t the real reason in the end. It was the recently decked bridge’s that done the damage at the time. Not saying that the derailment itself wasnt the final nail. But when they inspected the track and found excess damage to bridge deck sleepers that shouldnt have been for that type of derailment…. And it became apparent that 15km of freshly decked bridges were a major problem.. .

  6. While it is good that this line is re-opening I am not really excited by pork-barrelling politics. The big issue I have had with the NZTA and AT is that their decision-making process. Rather than reforming that we have Winnie’s slush-fund backing winners and his pet projects.

  7. Interesting that one of the “upgrades” announced today is the Whanganui line, which I think is currently a “shunt”

    Its major customer is the Talley’s owned Open Country Dairy,

    Peter Talley was a large donor to Shane Jones’s election campaign..

    1. Nah KR planned to upgrade this section pre-election however, now on this fund frees KR to invest in something else they need.

        1. Forget doing just a third main, the line between Westfield and Papakura needs to be quadruple tracked, which KiwiRail mentioned could be done for $200m in their Third Main Business Case report. With the amount of disruption and work involved with just building a third main, it would make far more sense to quadruple track to completely separate freight movements from the suburban EMU operations. Having two extra lines would also enable new long distance passenger services and potentially new express suburban services to operate on them between Papakura and Otahuhu, which are much needed to speed up rail travel times from Papakura / Pukekohe into the city.

          1. Well put. $200m is nothing compared with motorway plans, and most US and European cities would consider 4 tracks a minimum for a commuter rail system, with freight having additional tracks

  8. Harriet – a well-researched breakdown of the current state-of-play with these mothballed lines.

    However a few you left out:-

    – Rotorua. That this was ever allowed to run down and close is reprehensible. It serves a major destination and I believe is being considered as a candidate for regional funding. Another rail-cart operation currently over part of it would need to vacate.

    – Eastern Bay of Plenty (Taneatua Branch). Nothing currently runs east of Hawkens Junction so places like Edgecumb and Whakatane are now remote from rail. Hard to see much scope for reopening just to these places. It would need to be part of a grander plan to connect through to Gisborne. This was the original aim when the long-defunct Gisborne-Moutuhora branch was built. However recently there was talk of a Chinese company interested in building a railway round the East Cape. http://gisborneherald.co.nz/localnews/2702272-135/chinese-investors-eye-east-coast-for

    – Thames branch. Now a cycleway, but I believe the corridor is still owned by KiwiRail (/New Zealand Railways Corporation). The future rail-passenger gateway to the Coromandel perhaps? Problem is the route is far from direct for the Auckland market.

    And of course there are other lines which are long-closed rather than recently mothballed, but with corridors largely intact such as the Karagahake Gorge (Paeroa-Apata), The Otago Central Branch (Rail Trail), and even the Rimutaka Incline which is also currently a rail-trail with a local group pushing to reopen it as a heritage/scenic railway, but with trail users plus the council opposing this.

    But with Labour/Green/NZF in govt, the future for these sorts of projects has looked brighter than it has for a long time.

  9. I’m a bit confused as to why this story is being discussed on a website about greater Auckland.
    I would think that only the reopening of some Northland lines are of much if any significance to Auckland. Becuase they could lead to an increase in traffic on Auckland’s network.
    And that they may pave the way for a Marsden point branch which would probably mean a rail link between Avondale and Onehunga and the third main between Westfield and Wiri.

    I guess the line in Taranaki could lead to some more traffic in Auckland too.

    As for Napier-Gisborne: What I’ve seen reported is that rail services are only being funded between Napier and Wairoa, with anything further north, including the washout, remaining untouched (if only for now).

    1. ‘Which would probably mean a rail link between Avondale and Onehunga’
      Thats the Avondale-Southdown link keeping northern NAL freight, such as car imports from Marsden point, away from the busy lines in Ak central metro.
      GA seems intent on using up the KR owned pathway for a crosstown New Lynn to Onehunga passenger only light rail, hence letting freight take its chances through the busy Mt Eden junction to Newmarket onwards to Southdown.

      1. Oh yeah I’m well aware of this light rail scheme (in my opinion a VERY dopey idea) and I’m rather annoyed that this Phil Twyford has even jumped on the bandwagon.

        But surely: Kiwirail have the final say if they own a safeguarded route? At least; unless an incompetent idiot minister of Transport makes them give it up….

        1. As has been mentioned on here before there is plenty of room on that designation for both HR and LR tracks, after all Kiwirail had no problem giving up part of the designation for motorway works.

          Personally I think the Avondale-Southdown line is unlikely to over happen.

          1. If part of the alignment was sacrificed for the motorway; wouldn’t there be less room left for a railway track? And thus less chance of both mainline and light rail fitting?

  10. Reopening the Rotorua Branch would not be worth the expense due to the reasons it closed in the first place in that:
    – it was a very steep line which limited the tonnage which could be hauled over it,
    – it had no major anchor customer on the line and no easy way of connecting the nearest potential one at the Waipa mill just south of Rotorua,
    – the line didn’t extend far enough south to serve all the forests south of Rotorua and around Taupo and there is no easy way of extending the line now to Taupo,
    – the line into the central city was lifted in 1990 and now terminates around 3km out of the city at Koutu in the industrial part of Rotorua with the old corridor now sold and developed over.

    A much better option with far more benefits for both freight and passenger traffic would be to build a new line from Kinleith, east across to Waipa Mill at Rotorua and then south to Taupo via the dairy factory at Reporoa. This route would have:

    – better grades more suited to long heavy log trains
    – would link all the forests and major mills in this region (Taupo, Waipa, Kinleith)
    – would enable freight between Auckland-Hamilton-Rotorua-Taupo to be carried by rail and help to ease traffic on the busiest section of State Highway 1.
    – would have considerable potential for tourism rail with linking Rotorua and Taupo together with the rail network.

    1. Isn’t that Waipa mill a considerable distance south of Rotorua?
      If this is going to be built; any connection to the city of Rotorua would have to be via a spur northwards from the main line.

      1. No, the Waipa Mill is just on the outskirts of Rotorua city, just behind the major tourist attraction at Whakarewarewa.

        A rail station on the corner of State Highways 5 and 30 at Waipa would still be closer to Rotorua than the airport at Rotorua, and would be close to all the motels and hotels along Fenton Street. All the coaches heading in and out south of Rotorua all pass through Waipa as well.

        1. A new line on that alignment would be a order of magnitude more expensive than relaying the mothballed branch to Pukuatua Street, which is less than a kilometre from the middle of downtown.

          1. Yes but it would part of a much bigger picture project for all the original reasons stated in my original post.

            It would be a waste of money to completely relay the entire Rotorua Branch and extend it to Pukuatua Street for just a passenger service when this location is still not in the CBD itself and there would be no other realistic or viable use for the line and it would still have all the original issues, as per the reasons in my original post.

            With the Kinleith-Rotorua-Taupo line, yes it would be expensive to build, but it would be an investment with all the potential the line would have, not least the never ending supply of logs the line could carry, helping to remove the high number of large heavy logging trucks off the roads in this region -and- providing a rail connection to two of New Zealand’s biggest and most popular tourist centres.

          2. The old station location looked like a very good spot to me; just on the edge of the town centre and from the looks of things easy to extend beyond by using a curving alignment southwards.
            I had a friend from Rotorua and when I visited him in Rotorua so time in the late year 2000 I (strangely enough) asked him about why there was an old train station building in the town centre but no actual rail link. He told me that they got rid of it because line was seen as undesirable to a lot of Rotoruans. And they thought that the two crossings held up traffic. I couldn’t imagine Rotorua ever getting too many traffic problems at all and it all seeemd like small town mentality to me (although I kept those thoughts to myself).

            However, it is clearly true that there was not any industrial customers for the line, which immediately makes its profitability questionable. It would make sense that the line had steep gradients that would limit freight given that it was built purely for passenger services.

            But having said all that: Kiwirails newest DL locomotives can handle the gradients of the NIMT to keep the same timetable the EF’s had, so surely they would handle the gradients in the old Rotorua alignment.

            I think the best option would be to return the original line and old station but this time extend it southwards to the Waipa mill. Maybe this time spend a few extra million and put the lines within Rotorua in trenches and have level overbridges to remove those level crossings?

          3. It would still be far cheaper, shorter and more direct to reopen the Rotorua Branch and build a 15km freight branch around the west of the city to the mill, say along the Ngongotaha valley, than to build a 50km new line from kinleith.

        2. Having the railway terminus on the corner of two state highways sounds like a recipe for disaster. You want termini to be as close to the CBD as possible, within walking distance of the town centre & accomodation and not surrounded by busy roads.

          1. The terminus of the line would be in Taupo either on Tauhara Road between AC Baths Avenue and Spa Road which is near all the tourist attractions along the Waikato River in this area, or run the line down the middle of Rifle Range Road with its very wide corridor for much of its route which could be rebuilt as a boulevard with the track running down the centre to a passenger station alongside the Kaimanawa Reserve next to the Taupo Fire Station which overlooks Lake Taupo in Taupo’s CBD.

            The station at Waipa for Rotorua would primarily be for a freight / log loading yard and would be an intermediate station for passengers where buses, taxi-vans, friends and family could collect passengers from to take them to either their hotels/motels or to attractions etc, as would still be the case if the station was still in Amohau Street in Rotorua’s CBD – no different to the way the Northern Explorer currently operates with terminating at The Strand station in Auckland.

            A great mode of public transport which could be built out to a rail station at Waipa would be to build a tramway along Fenton Street running from the Rotorua lakefront to Whakarewarewa and terminating at the rail station at Waipa. The four lane boulevard style Fenton Street would be ideally suited for a tramway with tram lines able to be laid in the lanes nearest the island in the middle of the road, where tram stops could be built.

            There were actually plans to build a tramway along this street in the early 1920s and this was one of the reasons this street was built as a long straight wide level road. Another potential regional development project.

          2. My mistake; I should have said station instead of terminus.
            Although clearly the initially terminus would be the Waipa mill, with the dairy factory and Taupo being later extensions.

            I’m sorry but your of idea of buses, taxis, etc then transporting the passengers further is what they thought would happen when they relocated the Palmerston North station. Look at how that turned out. Having the station beyond walking distance of the town centre has always led to disaster.

          3. @ Robin, Yes, I had noticed, when looking into this how wide that Fenton St is. A simple virtually straight light rail line right from the Lake all the way to the HR station around the SH5/30 intersection would actually work well surely. Local traffic along here is getting pretty full on even when I used to visit more so ~9 years ago. Te Puia is right here a good LRT end point. You can then intersect with a line from the airport all the way to the city along SH 30A. Which makes me think that a HR & LRT project here would work really well together, the possibility to instead have the original HR line from north simply terminate at SH 30A. Transfer to LRT, both roads are so flippen wide it surely wouldn’t cost the earth to do this running it down the ctr. The LRT could built before our Auckland one.

    2. I remember reading up this idea, from you I think Robin, before & with my limited understanding of these things it seems a good idea. It would obviously take some serious investment but makes sense. Linking with Taupo would be fantastic. All our iconic tourist areas don’t have any rail to them it seems; Rotorua, Taupo, Queenstown?! Ideally you would want the passenger rail right into the heart of Rotorua. In any case reinstating the old line to Rotorua for passenger only services could perhaps be done after or alongside this other more perhaps freight orientated option. The two lines could link via a new link along SH5, perhaps elevated but used for a passenger only line, heavy freight through the residential area here wouldn’t go down to well. This corridor seems pretty wide to start with so wouldn’t take much land grab either side.

  11. Consideration should be made to re-opening part of the Taneatua Branch between Hawkens Junction and Awakeri and relaying the line to Whakatane, which would be a relatively straight forward, easy ‘quick win’ project which could serve the board mill at Whakatane and the dairy factory at Edgecumbe.

    A road-rail freight terminal could possibly be established at Awakeri which is ideally located strategically at the junction of State Highways 2 and 30 leading to Whakatane, Gisborne and Rotorua.

    Establishing a rail link to Whakatane would also be a potential new tourist train route along the scenic stretch of track which runs along the beach much of the way between Paengaroa and Matata. A tourist train could either be a KiwiRail Great Journeys of New Zealand service between Auckland and Whakatane, or perhaps a steam train operation between Mount Maunganui and Whakatane – either would be great for helping bring more tourists into this part of the region and help improve the local economy. An ideal regional development project!

    1. Put some container handling gear at Kawerau and install a local trucking company to deliver in the eastern bay and through to Gisborne in the first instance. Any new traffic can piggy back on the existing forestry trains. If sufficient tonnage can be generated then look at reopening the line to Awakeri or even back to Taneatua depends where the freight is coming from as to where the terminal would be.But in the first instance spend the money on sidings and road rail transfer equipment. It stuff all use relaying lines and then looking about for customers. New freight for rail will only come if it makes practical sense to load it on rail its not all about costs service matters as well.

  12. Another line which could be relaid as a regional development project is the former Waimea Plains Railway from Gore to Lumsden and part of the former Kingston Branch between Lumsden and Kingston, which would provide the nnewly resurrected Kingston Flyer steam train a decent length of line to operate a proper A to B service from State Highway 1 / Main South line at Gore through to The Earnslaw steamer ferry across Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown.

    This line would also provide a connection to the rail network for the Kingston Flyer and would also enable the proposed new ‘Antipodean Explorer’ luxury touring train to have an almost direct rail line connection to Queenstown (with the connection from Kingston to Queenstown being made either by steam ferry or luxury coaches).

  13. Pleased to see money being spent to reopen the Wairoa section of the Napier Gisborne line. Why not reopen it too at least Nuhaka and build a log yard there as well as Wairoa to tap into the Whaterata forests.
    Before we reopen anymore lines lets us open some container handling sites at Kawerau , Te Kuiti and upgrade the Tokoroa site.
    Wairoa is to be reopened for logs I hope consideration is being made to handle other freight there as well.
    I suppose any work on the Northland line will have to wait for a decision on the port at Marsden point however money could be spent on wagons for the chipping plant at Portland. This would allow for trains to run to Otiria which was technically never closed. Money could also be used to reopen the siding into the cement plant at Portland. This would allow for cement to be railed to Auckland and wood waste and old tyres to be railed to site and burn’t in the kiln instead of coal. The othe one is building a siding into the Mainfreight site at Whangerai. There is plenty to go on without opening any of the old lines or building new ones.

  14. The biggest issue for the new government is that KiwiRail has become a Downer fiefdom under the guise of being an SOE for the public good. What KiwiRail have done and hasn’t done since Peter Reidy was selected to be CEO in 2013 and aided and abetted by Dave Gordon GM Assets and Investment; and son of JB Gordon (Minister of Transport/ Railways in the Holyoake and Muldoon governments and who closed some the railway lines mentioned in the 1970’s); have been to prepare the NZ railway network to be Downer Rail by stealth. Downer only want the profitable lines. And those lines have to be profitable using Chinese made, old technology rolling stock and equipment bought through Pacific Power Developments Ltd owned by Walter Huang, son of a high ranking government official in the Chinese Communist Party and major political donor here in NZ. This preferencial treatment aids the trade balance with China but destroys NZ skilled jobs. Fonterra are a major KiwiRail customer.

    The new government knows this and the deceit from KiwiRail. This government is not going to throw millions at KiwiRail like the previous government.

    I think the new government will either give KiwiRail a chance to reform itself or establish a new Ministry of Railways to takeover and upgrade mothballed lines and lead major progressive railway projects. Wether KiwiRail is forcibly reformed is moot.

    1. Agreed KiwiRail does need to be restructured and needs to have the infrastructure separated out from the operating business, with vesting the infrastructure into the existing rail land holding company New Zealand Railways Corporation which could report to a new Minister of Railways (Shane Jones?) to oversee and direct rail infrastructure projects, and opening up the rail network to allow other operators fair and equal access with paying rail user charges, with the profitable KiwiRail remaining as a State-owned rail operating company and likewise paying rail user charges.

      1. I totally agree with you. The track, signalling, etc infrastructure should be a under Crown ownership under New Zealand Railways Corporation under ‘Ontrack’ or similar brand and open up to other freight and/or passenger rail operators.

        New Zealand Railways Corporation currently owns 18,000 ha of railway land.

        Kiwirail should be a freight and/or passenger operator only on a PPP basis.

          1. The active lines are probably too run down and therefore too risky for the Crown to take them off KiwiRail’s hands just now. The Crown will have its hands full dealing with the already mothballed and marginal lines that KiwiRail cant make work. The Crown need to develop them as modern (very heavy) short haul railways. It is essential the Crown hold KiwiRail to account for maintaining safety and ethical procurement in the meantime – NZTA as rail regulator don’t really have a clue, and MoT are dealing with their own corruption.

            As government pressure begins to mount on KiwiRail then Im guessing the higher-ups will take flight; so by default the Crown may well take back the entire network. A tragedy on the network will hasten this.

            KiwiRail as an above line operator are equally doomed in the longer term because their Chinese rolling stock is so outdated it won’t be able to compete with trucks and newcomers with modern rolling stock. I’m still of the view the Crown needs to procure modern rolling stock and rail ferries to ‘king hit’ trucks before inviting newcomers. In the past this has been avoided thanks to lobbying from the Road Transport Forum who quite like not having to fully pay for the road damage/congestion/accidents/pollution they cause.

  15. Darn lost my comment….but this is a great post & the announcement by Shane Jones yesterday is a great move in the right direction.

    Excerpt from that Stuff article: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1802/S00228/rail-8m-injection-to-reboot-regional-rail.htm

    “The Government is making safety a higher priority when it invests in transport and taking logging trucks off challenging roads contributes to that.”

    “KiwiRail’s financial result released this week showed an 8 per cent revenue increase in its overall forestry business in the six months to December – a result being driven by strong growth in the volume of logs.

    “Rail generates 66 per cent fewer carbon emissions compared to heavy trucks – the sort of reduction we need to meet our country’s ambitious climate change targets.”

    “We’re providing $250,000 for three feasibility studies on KiwiRail projects in Kawerau, Southland and New Plymouth – $750,000 in total.”

    So seems the primary focus is on forestry to start with which makes sense.

    1. Agreed. All the more reason for the need to build a Kinleith-Rotorua-Taupo line to serve all the forestry in this region, including the world’s largest man-made plantation pine forest – the Kaingaroa forest, as well as the large mills at Taupo, Waipa and Kinleith.

      1. +1 Robin. Not to mention that Rotorua and Taupo are 2 of our larger tourist towns so a passenger service linked in with the RRR would be amazing.

  16. I was under the impression with all the talk over the years, that Napier to Gisborne line was a priority under this government for regional development, as it would have reconnected Gisborne with rest of the national rail network. Jacinda made an election promised when she was campaigning in the Gisborne region, this was on Labour priority list for regional development, to allow logging, milk and other bulk freight to go by rail, as State Highway 2 was not coping with high volumes of freight being carried by trucks. She also mentioned there are plans to build factory in Gisborne to manufacture homes for Kiwibuild to be shipped by rail.

    So, I am somewhat confused to why Napier to Wairoa line was given funding when all talk was to get Napier to Gisborne line reopened.

    1. Yes it does seem strange that the announcement wasn’t for the full reopening of the line given the political rhetoric in the election by all parties now in power. However it may be that Napier-Wairoa is ready to go and can be up in running quite quickly and is seen as an initial ‘quick win’. Once it is up and running and can be shown to be a success (which it will be), opening the remainder of the line may then be announced (hopefully).

      1. I don’t believe the new government has confidence in the KiwiRail/Downer fiefdom.

        Napier to Wairoa is a modest upgrade of the very limited 18t axle line. It’s not going to break the bank and doesn’t involve much contracted out work to Downers and others.

        Yesterday’s announcement by Minister Jones was a ‘slap in the face’ for deceitful KiwiRail. The new government is pro-rail but KiwiRail are not.

        As previously mentioned I’m not sure if the new government will give KiwiRail a chance to reform itself or sweep clean. The same KiwiRail management that mothballed the northern ends of the PNGL and the NAL are unlikely to transform them in an efficient modern single line freight railway. KiwiRail have already crippled themselves with disastrous procurement decisions during the past government.

        Rather than sweeping clean and creating a vacuum I think the new government is more likely to hold KiwiRail to greater account on safety and procurement, in parallel with looking at a new Ministry of Railways to modernise the current KiwiRail mothballed and marginal lines.

        The rest of the world is enjoying a railway renaissance but unfortunately KiwiRail that let past political imperatives trump well proven railway engineering and modernisation.

        We are all waiting to see what happens.

        1. I never believed it was just the National Government who were anti regional railway. I always thought Kiwirail didn’t want it as well.I haven’t heard about a Downer connection though. Although I am sure the national govt had deals with the Chinese suppliers which they used to shut the Hillside workshops. In my view they just wanted to get at the union. Good idea to have a Ministry of Railways to reinstate the mothballed lines. It would ring fence the money and rolling stock and stop it being used elsewhere.

          1. I think you’re being pretty harsh on Kiwirail.
            They were fighting for their very survival. Maybe it was more a case of couldn’t provide regional rail than wouldn’t?

        2. Just before the last election I remember Winston Peters being interviwed on TV and he was very irratated with Kiwirail and said if he was in govt he would sack the whole kiwirail board.
          He wanted a board that was pro-rail

          1. The only thing Kiwi about KiwiRail is their name. The higher-ups are deceitful, unethical and corrupt – and the new government knows it. The guys in the field do their best and sctratch their heads at the managerial merry go round. No one employs anyone better than themselves and above all – obedient.

          2. Your not far wrong there Taumarunui. Take it from one of your brotherhood that originates from your town. Unfortunately the damage was really done a long long time ago now. (before it was first privatised).
            Little do most know how long it takes to bring a run down rail route back up to scratch. 16yrs so far by my calculations. As ontrak was formed about 2002. Now it is 2018 an they still have a very very long way to go on the NIMT. But waitw that attention is now shifting elsewhere!

          3. Aging, tired infrastructure + wilful negligence = well you don’t have to be rocket scientist to work this one out, but KiwiRail higher-ups haven’t.

            They are relying the NPB mentality as they are off when the heat comes on.

            NPB = Next Poor Bast..d

  17. crazy that a tourist country doesnt have trains to & from one of its major tourist destinations. A rehabilitated rotorua branch and multiple geyserland expresses daily would be fantastic. The golf carts can go somewhere else

  18. The new government has backed away from even conducting a feasibility study on reopening Gisborne, instead talking up a SH2 upgrade and coastal shipping.

    The “promise” of $800m for Northland & Marsden is now “we are committed to conducting a feasibility study”.

    So, the fight continues.

    1. The government hasn’t seen a solid proposal for reopening Wairoa to Gisborne which major compared with the very achievable Napier to Wairoa reopening. It had been like pulling teeth to get such a proposal for the latter from KiwiRail.

      Ultimately the government will need to take control of Wairoa to Gisborne and transform it into a heavy short haul railway that will connect with the lower section from Wairoa south. The Gisborne to Wairoa section could be built on the back of heavy log trains from sidings near forests to the Port of Gisborne using modern container wagons converted to log wagons using 20’ and 40’ log cradles with container corner castings. Thereby enabling shipping containers of horticultural produce to travel south from Gisborne and fertiliser travel north to Gisborne. And then there is the tourist and public transport potential with passenger wagons or rail cars.

      With regard to the northern NAL and spur line to Marsden Point I think the feasibility study is a forgone conclusion. As with Wairoa to Gisborne, then Waitakere to Otiria (and maybe to Opua) can be modernised and upgraded to a heavy short haul railway that will take mainly logs first to Oakleigh and then to NorthPort when the spur line is finished.

      It will be important for the government that development and upgrading of the northern sections of the PNGL and NAL be started and well progressed before 2020. They won’t be waiting for KiwiRail to take the initiative after they were so steadfastly resolved to keeping them closed and neglected.

    2. A reopened line from Wairoa or Nuhaka to Gisborne anyway is only as good as the next ex tropical cyclone. While they are doing feasabilty studies they should do one on a ship out of Gisborne.with say two round trips to Napier and one trip to Tauranga per week. Kiwirail is into shipping.maybe they could run it. RO RO or container ship ? I suppose it would have to be small enough to not require Gisborne Ports only large vessel berth.A natural event that puts the port out of business would bring the log exports to a sudden stop.
      Does anyone know what the projects are at Kawerau, New Plymouth and Southland.

      1. Think of all the jobs it will create making Wairoa to Gisborne weather proof and suitable for heavy log trains. That will win votes in 2020 and beyond.

    3. When did the new government backed away from reopening Napier to Gisborne line when there is company – Napier Gisborne Railway Company was and is still keen to get things moving after doing their research but Kiwirail has dragged its feet on getting things moving.

      Whilst the new government has talked about SH2 upgrade but it wasn’t for trucks. Yes, coastal shipping is on the Government’s agenda, hence the Whanganui and Gisborne ports upgrade but rail will still be back bone of bulk freight tied in with coastal shipping.

  19. One point that has been largely overlooked is that Shane Jones is proceeding with the feasibility study of moving some of Ports of Auckland activities to Marsden Point without consulting with Auckland Council the owners of Ports of Auckland. That study, the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy, will no doubt justify the rail line to Marsden Point and upgrading Northland rail network. And eventually free up access to Ports of Auckland land for waterfront development.
    No sign of Phil Goff at last weeks launch.

  20. I fully agree with the comments that the Government should be working on building rail links to our biggest tourist centres – Rotorua, Taupo and Queenstown (Kingston). I would certainly use train services to these destinations for holidays, particularly when the roads are very congested during public holidays and Christmas / New Year. Crazy that there aren’t lines / trains to these places.

    1. Not so crazy when you look a the fact that Railway lines are horrendously expensive to build. The cost benefit ratio of purely passenger lines is not high unless they gave high service frequency and patronage.

      Railways make more monetary sense when they can be used for freight. Of course Rotorua are both in the geographic vicinity of considerable forestry operations. But as is outlined above: Rotorua itself decided it didn’t want any railway lines running through it anymore during the 1980’s. The old line to Rotorua now terminates in a post-industrial zone in a poor sport to the east of the town centre and the old alignment and station location are now built-over.

      As for Kingston; the old alignments of the Kingston flyer are still intact. But its old Terminus in Invercargill has itself not seen any regular passenger rail service for a long time and as I understand it: The Invercargill station building itself has been sold (and as a sidetone: was one of the most hideous buildings I ever saw).
      I believe that the Kingston Flyer also had services that terminated at Dunedin and connected to the SIMT near Gore. I’m not sure if such an elongated route would hold too much commercial attraction.

      In my opinion: The best place to look at beginning tourist passenger trains again would be Tauranga, reviving the Kaimai express that became uneconomical about 15 years ago. Although I’d only run it between October and the beginning of March and it would not be of daily frequency. I’m not certain if this is too possible though given the high amount of freight traffic along the line

      1. Surely you would run 2 or 3 services a day to Tauranga? If the more expensive bus, which takes longer than a rail service would , manages a few hundred passengers a day, surely a train service can too!

        1. A train service would be seasonal and would take some period to get established and known. I’m pretty sure that the coach service gets a lot more busy during the summer months and that Friday and Thursday services are more popular.
          Once again; the former Kaimai express could not be made economical. Now I accept that things will have changed in the 15 years since with the further growth of the Tourism industry, but if one new Kaimai express train caters for about 120-180 passengers; that’s a fair chunk of the existing market.

          And how much (if any) more desirable would a train to Tauranga be over the coach give that the Train has to go through Hamilton first?

          1. The direct bus service takes almost 4 hours. The attraction of rail is the reliable journey time and smoother ride.

            The Kaimai express service didn’t make a profit, that is very different to being uneconomical and much has changed since then.

            When the service stopped in 2001, the populations of Auckland Hamilton and Tauranga were 1,074k, 166k, and 95k. The 2017 estimates were 1,534k, 234k, and 138k. All 3 centres are at least 40% bigger.

            In all three centres, there is far more congestion than in 2001, which makes rail more time competitive.

            Particularly for Auckland, there is a public transport network that would do a far better job of supporting an inter-regional service. There is a station in the actual city centre and more than twice as many jobs in that city centre.

            A service several times a day would support travel between centres along the route and be time competitive between city centres most of the day. The following groups would be particularly likely to use the service:
            -International tourists; transfer at Puhinui to regional rail service to Rotorua or The Mount
            -Domestic tourists; skip traffic on long weekends, send the kids away early and meet them at the train station or those without kids have a stress free trip
            -Business travel; get to meetings in other centres along the route, and actually use travel time to work
            -East Waikato commuters and students to Tauranga, Hamilton, and Rotorua; Self explanatory

          2. I’d be surprised if a tourist train to Tauranga would be viable. It’s not a massively scenic trip compared with the existing tourist trains and it goes somewhere that is not a major tourist destination.

            The future of rail between Auckland and Tauranga will be trains running multiple times a day and doing the trip quicker than it can be done by road. It won’t happen tomorrow but I’d say it’s a certainty in the next 15-20 years.

          3. I think the western side of the Kaimai tunnel is quite scenic.

            But one thing that needs to be factored in is how passenger trains can be scheduled in amongst the high number of freight services along the line. The Kaimai tunnel will always be a bottleneck and of course the existing one track tunnel cost a lot of money and time to build during the 60’s so it won’t be duplicated.

          4. The current tunnel has capacity for 4 tph, so a freight train and a passenger train each hour in each direction, more freight at night when there would be no passenger trains.

            This is far above the current number of freight trains using the tunnel and I think it is safe to say if there is demand for more than one passenger train an hour then a second tunnel would be viable.

      2. A rail service to Tauranga would likely be viable now as the populations in Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga have increased significantly in the time since the Kaimai Express, as well as traffic congestion, particularly in Auckland and Tauranga, and there is a stronger demand for public transport now compared to the 1990s.

        The rail journey time between Auckland and Tauranga is competitive with coaches and even private cars during holiday periods to this popular destination.

        The service could be made much more attractive with running it right through to Mount Maunganui where the rail line runs right into the heart of downtown Mount Maunganui.

        The cheapest, easiest and quickest way to get the service initially started to test the market would be to refurbish the Silver Fern railcars and get it running with these.

  21. I have a question I know there are a lot of paper roads around this country , how many rail lines are there that are only on paper that have never been developed . That doesn’t included Avondale to Southdown , Oakleigh to Waipu and the one on the south side of the Bombay’s which I think goes to Thames and Tauranga ?

  22. I will wait until I see coin on the table regarding Northland. So much has been promised and nowt delivered in railway terms.

    The announcements are a start. However large chunks of the network have faced “managed decline” so even getting them up to a basic spec will cost a few million $$$.

    There were a whole list of potential improvements which have gone begging such as upgrading the NIMT through the Swamp, Greatford Bank/ Levin deviation, Forest Lake Curves realignment which would make more sense in the short term than reopening large chunks of disused lines in the Cape.

    1. Regarding the section of the NIMT through the Whangamarino Swamp, serious consideration and investigation should be made into perhaps re-routing this section to run along the centre of the new Waikato Expressway with its very wide grass median between the two carriageways between Meremere and Rangariri. Would likely be a much faster route and most of the engineering work has obviously already been done.

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