Freight delays expected to ease after Auckland to Whangarei railway upgrade

If you've been waiting months for ordered furniture or whiteware to arrive the delays could be about to ease up.

The Christmas rush is over and an upgrade to the railway line from Auckland to Whangarei will mean a faster flow of imports to the whole country.

Stock is finally filling up again at Auckland appliance store Magness Benrow. COVID-related international supply chain woes last year made getting goods a nightmare.

"Where there might've been 50 models that we had nothing, we're probably now looking at seven or eight," says John Magness.

But with new stock comes new challenges.

John Magness ordered 20 Fisher and Paykel fridges to arrive in batches - but port delays meant they all arrived at once, without any warning.

"Nobody could tell you what was on each boat, because all the suppliers got frightened to say. So that made it more difficult," he says.

While Auckland's port isn't under the relentless slam it was before Christmas, it's still got a backlog to clear.

"We feel the pressure, it certainly hasn't dropped for us," says Ports of Auckland spokesman Matt Ball.

Staff shortages played a big role in the pre-Christmas delays - the port's now trying to hire skilled overseas workers and train more New Zealanders.

"The key pinch point now is crane operators, and it can take 12 to 18 months to get people fully skilled in a crane operator role," Ball says.

A small number of ships continue to wait in the harbour, while the Tianjin Bridge is now the second vessel to divert to Northport.

But instead of hundreds of trucks having to make the return trip along State Highway 1, this time the cargo can use the upgraded railway.

"Any reduction is significant for road users. People get frustrated, [it's] a very dangerous road til we get that four-lane highway but that's a long time away," rail advocate Alby Barr says.

Tunnels have been expanded and the track has been lowered to fit larger containers, with trains able to take around 50 per trip.

Barr says the next step is rail to Northport itself.

"It just shows with the current issues at the Port of Auckland how vital that rail line to the port will be for Northland's economy, to Auckland's economy, to the whole country's economy," he says.

The next battle for the ports - getting rid of the huge number of empty containers filling up the yards.

A ship's set to arrive in Auckland on Monday to take some away - and free up much-needed space.