Rail environment

Rail in New Zealand

The railway runs the length of the country, from north of Whangarei as far as Bluff in the south.  

There are over 4,000 kilometres of track and over 2,800 level crossings.

KiwiRail is responsible for freight and long distance passenger trains and is also responsible for managing the infrastructure, including rails, bridges and level crossings.  Some level crossings may have a deed of grant in place where responsibility for maintenance and upgrades belongs to a third party, ie a local council or private landowner.

Urban Passenger Trains


Each week Transdev operates 2,200 suburban passenger services in Wellington under contract to Greater Wellington Regional Council.

In 2010/11 a significant amount of investment went into the Wellington rail network.  KiwiRail has extended the double tracks from McKay’s Crossing to Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast.

Other projects, such as an upgrade of the Johnsonville line and a new line into Wellington Station were also undertaken to improve the reliability of Wellington’s passenger services.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has also introduced 48 new Matangi trains from Korea into service.


In Auckland, Transdev operates over 3,300 passenger rail services per week under contract to Auckland Transport.  Metro patronage has increased in the past two years and Transdev has delivered over 17.2 million passenger journeys in the past year alone.

A comprehensive public awareness and education campaign was implemented in 2015 when electric trains were first introduced to the metro network. This was to alert Aucklanders to the safety risks associated with electrification, including the ‘quietness’ of trains, and the potential dangers from contact with overhead electric wires.

More information about electrification and the associated safety risks is available here.

Long Distance Passenger Trains

KiwiRail operates long-distance passenger trains under the Great Journeys of New Zealand brand. These include:

  • the Northern Explorer (Wellington to Auckland),
  • the Tranz Alpine (Christchurch to Greymouth),and
  • the Coastal Pacific (Christchurch to Picton).

Freight Trains

Every week over 900 freight trains move around the country, transporting general freight and goods such as coal, milk and diary products, wood and timber products, iron, steel and meat. 

A report by the Ministry of Transport in 2009 forecast overall freight volumes to rise by 75 percent over the next 20 years.

Changes in use of lines

The Onehunga and Manukau Branch Lines in Auckland were brought back into use in 2010/11, after a 37 year absence.

The Castlecliff Industrial Line in Wanganui also reopened in 2011 to meet a need to transport dairy products to the Port of Taranaki for export.  In 2012 the Rotorua Branch Line reopened after a 10 year hiatus.

Some railway lines have been mothballed in recent years due to a lack of commercial viability. These include the Napier to Gisborne line and the Otiria Line in Northland.

When railway lines re-open, there is a need to raise public awareness about the increased safety risks due to the renewed movement of trains around level crossings.


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Near misses still take toll at level crossings

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Close calls at level crossings are taking a huge toll on train drivers and those who narrowly miss death.  Read more

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