South Island rail line could open for freight within the month

3 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 3, 2017

Work on repairs to the Main North Line railway following November‘s Kaikoura earthquake has progressed quickly in recent weeks and the first freight trains may run within a month, says KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy.

“We are getting very close to being able to move freight again on rail in the South Island, just nine months after that 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake.

“I am proud of what has been achieved and how our KiwiRail people working together with our NZTA partners in the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) alliance have responded to what had been a devastating blow to the network.”

Reidy says it has been a mammoth task, and when the repair job is complete, it will represent one of rail‘s biggest rebuilds in New Zealand since World War II.

There were close to 60 major damage sites including tunnels, bridges and embankments, and the line had been buried under more than 100 slips and landslides. Approximately 60 bridges were damaged and repairs are being carried out at more than 750 sites.

The initial opening is a restricted one, with low-speed, low-frequency services, as Reidy says a sizeable amount of work remains to return the line to its pre-quake state.

“We still face challenges, with the ever-present risk of ongoing seismic activity, and bad weather which could delay the opening date.

“Freight services will initially run at night so that work on the rail and road networks can continue during the day. KiwiRail‘s award-winning passenger service, the Coastal Pacific, will remain on hold until 2018 for the same reason.”

Reidy says getting the line open, even on a restricted basis, will ease pressure on the alternate road, which has been the main route to shift freight south since the earthquake. It is expected to take up to 2000 trucks per month off the roads.

“It will also help with the reinstatement of State Highway 1 and the railway by moving materials to worksites along the route.

“The line is a critical part of the New Zealand‘s transport network, carrying 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% emissions saving for New Zealand,” Reidy says.