The Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy Working Group, an
independent working group established by Cabinet last year to
undertake a comprehensive review of NZ’s freight and logistics
sector for the upper North Island, has released its second report of
three planned. It recommends that Ports of Auckland undergo a managed
closure and that Northport at Whangarei be developed as a new major
freight port for the Upper North Island, along with options for
continued investment in Port of Tauranga as an alternate port for the
UNI freight task.

base assumption in the report is that public pressure in the City of
Auckland will force the Port to eventually relocate to a new site
outside the City. Whilst Auckland Council has desired to keep the
Port within its regional boundary by touting a possible development
in the Firth of Thames, the report found on the basis of a Benefit
Cost Ratio (BCR) analysis, the development of Northport as the main
alternative had a much higher BCR – 2.0 – compared to the Firth
of Thames option’s BCR of only 0.2. The option for Northport and
Tauranga sharing the existing POAL traffic has a lower BCR of 0.6
than the Northport main alternative scenario,, due to the costs of
additional investment at Tauranga, whilst the option for closing POAL
and shifting all of its current freight to Tauranga has a BCR of only
0.1. Thus, moving all of the existing freight from POAL to Northport
yields by far the strongest financial case in the scenarios that
involve closing Ports of Auckland.

proposal to develop Northport as a main or shared alternate to POAL
would require a substantial investment in the North Auckland Line,
which has so far had $94 million of upgrade work approved by
Government. A much more significant business case that is currently
under consideration for Northland’s rail network involves the
likely scenario of building the long-mooted spur line from Oakleigh
to Marsden Point, an essential missing link in establishing rail
freight services to the Northland Region’s major international
port. Rail haulage of freight to and from the port has not been
possible since it took over from Whangarei around 20 years ago.
Significant development of the spur route was undertaken by the Clark
Labour Government and Northland Regional Council in the late 2000s
but was stopped by the incoming National government, and resumed in
2017. The geotechnical analysis of this route has been completed, and
detailed engineering scenarios and costs are currently being

working group has a third report due out shortly to consider other
issues and there are many questions relating to this proposal. The
most significant one is that the costs of moving freight into and out
of Auckland would be increased. Large volumes of containers can be
moved more efficiently by sea than by any form of land based
transport. Therefore the onus would fall upon the rail network to
develop the most cost effective means of running trains between
Northport and Auckland, a distance of around 225 km (port to port).
This would entail the development of the highest capacity capability
to run the largest trains operated in New Zealand and likely require
the full doubling of the existing route over time, and possibly
future electrification. Currently the line has numerous tunnel
clearance problems and there are some steep grades in a few places
that could benefit from easing to increase capacity. The biggest
questions of course are political ones, that the Government will need
to weigh up before deciding whether to proceed with the overall
scenario, or other possibilities.

scenario overall is more realistic than one that has been floated in
some circles, that Northport should be the sole international
terminal in NZ with all other locations served by land transport
links or coastal shipping. However the number of international
container terminals presently in NZ is excessive. The NZ Shippers
Council has suggested four ports (two in each island) would be ideal
for NZ’s needs. The UNISC scenario reduces the international
container ports in the upper half of the North Island from three to
two and is a step in the right direction from that perspective at

more information about the Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy,
visit their website at
 The North Auckland Line – 280 km from Auckland (left) to Otiria
(right). The former terminus, Opua, is the northern most railway
station ever opened in NZ.

Proposed route of the Marsden Point spur between Oakleigh, near
Portland, and Northport.