Marsden Point Branch
|Marsden Point Branch|
|Status||Proposed, subject to funding|
|Owner||New Zealand Railways Corporation (land)|
|Track gauge||3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)|
The Marsden Point Branch is a proposed branch line railway in the Northland Region of New Zealand's North Island. It would diverge from the North Auckland Line south of Whangarei and serve Northland Port at Marsden Point. The proposal has existed since the 1970s and as of 2007, land is actively being purchased for a rail corridor.
Early 20th century
The Marsden Point proposal has been preceded by two earlier lines: the Onerahi Branch of 1911-33, and a proposed Waipu Branch that was partially built and then abandoned. The former was built for the same purpose as the Marsden Point Branch: better harbour access for Whangarei. In 1885, the government officially acknowledged that the wharf serving the Whangarei to Kamo railway line (later part of the North Auckland Line) was inadequate for the purpose it served and an alternative in deeper water was necessary. This was found at Onerahi, but construction was not approved until 1899 and the branch opened on 2 October 1911. The port served coastal shipping between Whangarei and Auckland, and when the North Auckland Line was completed in 1925 and provided a quicker overland route, traffic switched from ships to the railway and the wharf suffered a decline. The Great Depression further ruined the port's fortunes, and with insubstantial traffic the Onerahi Branch closed on 30 June 1933.
Although the Onerahi Branch mirrors the Marsden Point Branch in purpose, the Marsden Point proposal more closely follows the route of the proposed Waipu branch. The branch was intended to serve agricultural interests and was surveyed in 1914. After World War I, work began and formation was established. At least 25 men were at work on the line's construction in 1920. However, a lack of government will doomed the line, and before any track was laid it was cancelled in 1924.
After the oil crisis of October 1973, a proposal was made that the Marsden Point B power station could use coal from the Waikato rather than oil. The railway is used elsewhere to carry high volumes of Waikato coal, and the quantity required if the conversion took place would have almost certainly required coal to be carried by rail. However, the proposal was abandoned. In 1979, another proposal was made to establish a deepwater port at Marsden Point to export forestry products and the plan was resurrected. The branch to the port would have been an approximately 14 km long, and was shelved due to a lack of development of the port.
In the early 2000s, the 1979 proposal was revived. In 2003, a feasibly study was undertaken, and it estimated that a 16 km line to Marsden Point from a junction with the North Auckland Line 25 km south of Whangarei in Oakleigh would cost NZ$86.5 million. Environmental issues include the need to cross a portion of wetland, and some substantial earthworks would be required for a cutting through a hill, but the line would remove a large number of trucks from local roads and provide a boost to local employment. The proposal was delayed in June 2006 when ONTRACK (now KiwiRail Network) declined to approve land designation for the line. ONTRACK wanted greater certainty about potential freight tonnages from potential users of the line such as the Marsden Point Oil Refinery and Carter Holt Harvey. By August 2006 both the Northland Regional Council and ONTRACK had entered into talks with interested parties. The result of these talks was positive and in August 2007 the Council began work to purchase land for the proposed route. ONTRACK subsequently confirmed that once the land is acquired it will designate the route as a rail corridor. On 27 November 2007 ONTRACK and the Council confirmed that they were entering into a joint venture arrangement to progress the land designation process and share the costs of land acquisition. A commitment to build the line will be made once the corridor is designated.
In addition to freight traffic, there is also the possibility of passenger traffic. The last passenger trains to service Whangarei were mixed trains that were cancelled in 1976. Helensville railway station at the western extremity of Auckland's commuter network was New Zealand's northernmost main-line passenger railway station until services were reduced to Waitakere in 2010. However, Northland Regional Land Transport Committee chairman Bill Rossiter suggested in February 2006 that passenger trains may be introduced for commuters between Ruakaka and Whangarei. This is being considered as a long-term option. The population of Ruakaka and surrounds is expected to grow by 15,000 in the ten years from 2007, and proposals for commercial precincts, residential subdivisions, and a tertiary education centre have called for a commuter rail and industrial development would require a rail-road freight transit centre.
In late 2008, ONTRACK served a notice of requirement to Whangarei District Council for the route's rail designation, seen as an important legal step towards the eventual line. This process began in January 2009 and was completed later that year.
Construction of the line featured in the Northland by-election, 2015. New Zealand First candidate and leader Winston Peters argued the line should be built to carry containers from NorthPort to Auckland. In response the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union claimed that Peters had never visited NorthPort, confused the port with the closed Port of Whangarei, and that Northport's CEO had stated that NorthPort "does not want a rail link" and that the line "does not feature in the Port's 30 year plan."
NorthPort responded to these claims by stating that while the line "is not a short-term priority" for Northport, the company supported "the designation of the rail corridor" as it fits with the company's strategy of long-term growth. The company confirmed Peters had never visited the port.
- H. J. Hansen and F. J. Neil, Tracks in the North (Auckland: H. J. Hansen, 1992), 80-3.
- Geoffrey B. Churchman and Tony Hurst, The Railways of New Zealand: A Journey Through History (Auckland: HarperCollins, 1991), 100.
- Graham, Pam (29 October 2007). "Northland port signals big future". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
- "Rail Link Decision Disappoints", Whangarei Leader, 27 June 2006.
- "NRC, Ontrack Assess Support for Potential Rail Link", Whangarei Leader, 29 August 2006.
- Northland Regional Council, "Negotiations for Rail Link Land Under Way", posted 9 August 2007, accessed 29 October 2007.
- ONTRACK, "Marsden Point Rail Line Designation Will Follow Land Negotiations", posted 9 August 2007, accessed 29 October 2007.
- Northland Regional Council, "Joint Venture to be Formed to Advance Marsden Point Rail Link", posted 27 November 2007, accessed 28 November 2007.
- Churchman and Hurst, The Railways of New Zealand, 97.
- "All aboard for Ruakaka", Whangarei Leader, 21 February 2006.
- Sandra K. Bogart, "Planning for the Future: Marsden Point City Centre and Northgate Park", Coastal Focus Northland, accessed 28 November 2007.
- http://www.ontrack.govt.nz/news/2008/Pages/ONTRACKservesnoticeforMarsdenPointraildesignation.aspx ONTRACK serves notice for Marsden Point rail designation] (ONTRACK website press release, 22 December 2008)
- "Designation of rail link under way". Whangarei Leader. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-02.
- "Rejuvenating Rail – Planning for the Marsden Point Rail Line". Beca Infrastructure. 1 July 2010. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
- "NorthPort answer to port expansion". 23 March 2015.
- New Zealand Taxpayers' Union (19 March 2015). "Northland Port doesn't want Winston's rail link". scoop.co.nz. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
- "Response to statement by the NZ Taxpayers' Union". NorthPort.