Repairs to the Main North Line railway after November's Kaikoura earthquake have progressed more quickly in recent weeks and the first freight trains may run within a month, KiwiRail says.
In June it was hoped repairs would be completed by Christmas, but just nine months on from the quake, KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy says it's very close to being on the move again.
"This has been a mammoth task. When the repair job is complete it will represent one of rail's biggest rebuilds in New Zealand since World War II."
Almost 60 major sites were damaged including tunnels, bridges, embankments, and the rail line had been buried under more than 100 slips and landslides.
Approximately 60 bridges were damaged and repairs were being carried out at more than 750 sites, he said.
The initial opening will be a restricted one, with low-speed, low-frequency services.
"A sizeable amount of work remains to return the line to its pre-quake state," Mr Reidy said.
The risk of ongoing seismic activity will continue to present challenges, as well as bad weather which could delay the opening date.
The line carried around 1 million tonnes of freight annually before the earthquake.
"Reopening the line will not only lower the cost to customers of moving freight between the islands, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as every tonne of freight carried by rail is a 66 percent emissions saving for New Zealand," Mr Reidy said.