Further investment is to be made in the busy East Coast Main Trunk (ECMT) rail line between Hamilton and Tauranga to ensure it can continue to meet increasing customer demand for additional rail freight services.
KiwiRail and the Waikato Regional Transport Committee have confirmed investment of an additional $500,000 in development of the Tamihana passing loop. It will be extended from its current length of 900 metres to 2.2 kilometres, providing invaluable flexibility and additional capacity for rail operations along the line, which has seen a sharp increase in services in the last month.
A passing loop allows opposing trains to pass each other on a single track railway line such as the ECMT - the more there are along a rail line the more trains can run along it.
The project is the final element in a series of improvements to rail infrastructure over the past five years to deliver additional capacity and improved reliability and safety in the Waikato region. The works have been funded by the $13 million Joint Officials Group (JOG) fund allocated to the region by Government in 2006.
The passing loop is at the halfway point between Tauranga and Hamilton and at the junction of the Kinleith branch. It is one of two new passing loops along the route. A further three have been extended to allow for longer trains as part of the JOG series of projects.
Once work on all the passing loops is completed later this year, the line’s capacity will double from two trains an hour (one in each direction) to four trains an hour (two in each direction).
KiwiRail last month increased the number of freight train services running between Auckland and Tauranga in response to customer demand, adding an additional 15 return services a week.
JOG funding of $235,000 has also been confirmed to upgrade the facilities at the Wawa Road public rail siding near Kinleith to enable growth in containerised freight from the south Waikato.
The improvements will include extending the siding to cater for 12 wagons (up to 24 containers) and laying down paving to for heavy vehicles up to 30 tonnes, fencing and signage.
Initiatives to improve existing rail facilities at Putaruru, Tokoroa and Te Kuiti had been investigated by Waikato Regional Council and KiwiRail. However, as there was still uncertainty around potential future business opportunities in these towns it was decided to defer any investment and prioritise investment in the East Coast Main Trunk where there is existing demand, says KiwiRail’s Infrastructure and Engineering Northern Regional Manager, Stephen Collett.
“Wider improvements across our business in the past 12 months, particularly the expansion of our rolling stock fleet, give us the ability to service new business in these areas with existing infrastructure. We will continue to keep in touch with existing and potential customers in those areas, and if business demand is strong enough we would look at infrastructure investment then.”
JOG funding has also been used to upgrade level crossings in the Waikato region and to reduce trespass at known ‘hot spots’ around the region.
Regional transport committee chairman and Waikato regional councillor Norm Barker said the central government funding was an investment in the Waikato’s economy.
“The work approved for the Tamihana passing loop will improve the carrying capacity of the ECMT rail line which runs between Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, in particular to the Port of Tauranga. Once this final stage of works has been completed, we will also see improved safety around problem areas on the rail corridors.
“The investigations undertaken jointly by Waikato Regional Council and KiwiRail involved extensive consultation with the Huttloc Drive industrial area businesses and helped to prioritise the final allocation of funding for South Waikato,” Cr Barker said.
Meanwhile, South Waikato District Council Mayor Neil Sinclair welcomed the $235,000 investment in the Kinleith rail terminal. “There has been considerable investment in Tokoroa and Putaruru along State Highway 1 over the last year or two and the upgrade of these rail terminal facilities will further contribute to economic development for the district,” he said.