Frustrated by years of delays and the increasing costs of what they say is a project vital to Northland’s future economic success, Regional Councillors recently agreed on a three-part course of action to try to add impetus – and a degree of certainty - to the project.
Bill Rossiter, Chairman of the Northland Regional Council’s Regional Land Transport Committee says the Council now intends to itself develop a proposal to designate land for a roughly 16km long rail link to Marsden Point and to investigate funding options for that link.
Councillors are to send a political delegation to Wellington in a bid to gain a Government commitment towards advancing both the proposed designation process and funding for the rail link itself. Councillors will also meet with ONTRACK, the Government agency that since September 2004 has owned, maintained and operated the nation’s 4000km rail network in behalf of the Crown.
Mr Rossiter says in the wake of those two meetings, the NRC intends to hold discussions with the Far North and Kaipara District Councils about options for gaining regional backing for the multimillion dollar project.
Regional Council Chairman Mark Farnsworth says Regional Councillors have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of any real progress on the rail link and the ballooning costs of developing it, which have risen from an estimated $88 million in 2003 to $100 million-plus today.
“While Government has set aside $200 million to upgrade the national rail system, this money has already been committed to the existing rail network. Therefore, to progress the Marsden Pt rail link, alternative funding is needed.”
Mr Farnsworth says a great deal of money and time has already been invested in the process to date and his fellow Councillors are not interested in another “talk-fest” over the link, instead wanting to see tangible progress.
“As a region we simply cannot afford to wait any longer. Marsden Pt offers what is arguably the best deepwater port in New Zealand – a vital current and future contributor to our regional economy - and yet there is no rail link to it.”
Mr Rossiter says an $800,000 feasibility study completed in 2003 for the Northland Regional and Whangarei District Councils found that developing the link would offer a host of benefits.
“As well as helping to ease forestry-related traffic volume and congestion problems on the region’s roads, that study found development of the rail link could create the equivalent of more than 200 fulltime jobs during the construction period and inject millions into the local economy. It could also help attract other big businesses to the Marsden Pt area.
“If anything, the benefits that Northland would gain today from a rail link will have increased still further.”
Meanwhile, Mr Farnsworth says with ever increasing land prices, further delays will simply add even more cost to the project.