The Government of New Zealand has revealed plans to invest NZ$94.8m ($60.9m) to upgrade the North Auckland Line between Swanson and Whangarei in Northland.

The investment is aimed at improving freight services on the line, as well as further opening up Northland’s economy.

The money will be used to replace or upgrade around 54km of the 181km rail line. The scope of the work includes replacing rail sleepers, rehabilitating five ageing bridges and maintenance work on 13 tunnels.

Additionally, the work package includes improving drains, culverts and embankments along the route, as well as upgrading the Whangarei rail yard.

New Zealand State Owned Enterprises Minister Winston Peters said: “Without our investment, this rail line to Whangarei will become unsafe and have to close within five years, leaving Northland cut off from rail services most other regions have.

“That’s unacceptable and unfair to the people of Northland. That’s why the government is addressing decades of under-investment and neglect in the rail line, to support the future growth of rail in Northland.”

The investment will be provided through the Provincial Growth Fund. It was also welcomed by KiwiRail, the state-owned rail operator in the country.

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New Zealand Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said: “The maintenance work will make the line more resilient to weather events and freight services more timely and reliable.”

KiwiRail aims to complete majority of works on the North Auckland Line next year.

Currently, the rail operator runs a freight service to and from Kauri, located north of Whangarei, on weekdays.

In May, the New Zealand Government allocated NZD1bn ($651m) in the latest national budget to strengthen railway infrastructure.