Push for rail service to proposed landfill

MERRA committee member Stuart Windross says rail is essential if the landfill goes ahead.

Mahurangi residents have put together a comprehensive plan to solve major environmental and traffic hazards if permission is granted for a controversial landfill, just north of the Dome Valley.

A major concern with the landfill, proposed by industry giant Waste Management is that it would see an extra 300 heavy trucks a day on a stretch of State Highway 1 that is already notorious for accidents and fatalities. But the Mahurangi East Residents and Ratepayers Association (MERRA) says this problem could be solved if the bulk of the waste was transported by rail, not road.

In a paper on its proposal, MERRA says it does not support the establishment of a landfill in such a “sensitive and beautiful spot”, but concedes such projects are “driven by powerful needs and interests” and they can be both difficult and expensive to stop.

The paper goes on to point out that the “much under-used” Auckland to Whangarei railway line passes within 2km of the landfill site.

It proposes construction of a short spur rail line to the site where waste could be unloaded from trains.

The paper envisages the creation of truck-to-rail compacting stations close to the source of the waste, such as metropolitan Auckland.

Rubbish would be loaded into standard shipping containers adapted to be top loading and self-closing.

Trains could be scheduled to avoid peak commuter times, possibly travelling at night.

The paper argues that the rail proposal fits well with Auckland Transport’s regional land transport planning, which is wrestling with the problem of moving goods efficiently on congested roads. Roads currently handle more than 85 per cent of Auckland’s freight.

It would also bolster government moves to upgrade the Auckland to Whangarei railway, adding significant benefits for the money invested.

The paper says the alternative prospect of hundreds of trucks travelling through the Dome Valley is unacceptable. In addition to posing a traffic hazard, they would burn close to 20,000 litres of fuel daily, adding to carbon emissions.

KiwiRail group general manager, sales and commercial, Alan Piper says KiwiRail has been in discussions with Waste Management to service the landfill site via rail.

But he says so far, these talks have been general rather than detailed.

“Further work would be needed before the economic and practical viability of shifting waste by train to the landfill site in Dome Valley can be assessed,” he says.

Considerations would need to include the impact on existing services, the capacity of the North Auckland line and the costs of any upgrades or extensions to the line. But he stresses that rail had an important role to play in reducing congestion on roads and cutting emissions.

“Freight on rail has 66 per cent fewer carbon emissions compared compared to heavy road freight.”

Waste Management managing director Tom Nickels says the company remains open to a rail option if existing rail infrastructure is upgraded.

This may well occur if a proposed relocation of Ports of Auckland to Northport takes place, as it will require upgrading transfer infrastructure at Wellsford.   

But Mr Nickels says Waste Management has previously trialled sending waste by rail to its landfill site at Redvale, but unfortunately it was not viable “for various reasons”.

“Therefore, at present we are proposing transport by road for the proposed landfill,” he says.

Meanwhile, Fight the Tip: Tiaki Te Whenua chair Dave Sawyer remains unimpressed by the rail option because he says the major problem with the landfill is that it will poison local waterways.

“By bringing up this new conversation about whether we should transfer waste by road or by rail is a total side tracking of the issue,” he says.  

Waste Management is aiming to apply to Auckland Council for a resource consent for the proposed landfill next month.


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