Engineering, Freight Rail, Passenger Rail

$2bn price tag to restore NZ’s damaged road, rail corridor

New Zealand’s Cabinet has agreed to rebuild the rail and road corridor to the north and south of Kaikoura, on NZ’s South Island, at a cost of up to $2 billion.

Transport minister Simon Bridges on December 15 said additional funding would speed up the process, after an earthquake last month did substantial damage to the infrastructure.

Bridges said the road and rail corridor would be rebuilt, with additional improvements to increase safety and resilience.

“Since the day of the earthquake, restoring access to Kaikoura has been our number one priority,” the minister said.

“Agreeing to restore the coastal route demonstrates our ongoing commitment to getting this region back on its feet as quickly as possible.

“To provide certainty, the Crown will fund the work required. Exact costs are still being determined, but the current estimate is between $1.4 billion and $2 billion.”

In addition to funding, Cabinet said emergency legislation passed through Parliament last week will cut through red tape, and ensure repairs to the existing route can be accelerated.

Bridges warned, however, that even with an accelerated process, there is a long way to go.

“The precise work required to repair the route is still under investigation and it will be a very complex job,” he said. “However, the Government is confident that limited access via the coastal route can be restored in about 12 months.

“Rebuilding a stronger, more resilient coastal route will give Kaikoura residents the security of a second connection to the rest of the South Island.”

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy welcomed the announcement, saying the operator would work to restore freight services for customers on the Main North Line from Picton to Christchurch as soon as possible.

“Today’s announcement that the Government has committed to restoring road and rail services is welcome certainty for South Island communities and New Zealand’s freight movers,” he said. “Our job now is to try to make that happen as quickly as possible, to keep New Zealand moving and help grow the economy.”

KiwiRail plans to look for temporary fixes in some parts of the line to allow for restricted, freight-only rail services in the first instance while the permanent road and rail lines are completed.

“This will ease pressure on SH7 and SH63, as the roads have struggled under the influx of freight trucks during the peak period,” Reidy explained.

“KiwiRail will use the latest technology in slip identification and movement to allow our train drivers to safely navigate areas while permanent repairs are made.

“While there will be time delays on the route once opened, it will offer a reliable, cost-effective service with fewer emissions for our customers while taking heavy vehicles off the roads. Every tonne of freight moved by rail delivers a 66% reduction in emissions for our customers, and the country.”

He said KiwiRail’s scenic journey, the Coastal Pacific, would eventually return to the route.

“International tourists are increasingly attracted to New Zealand’s spectacular train journeys and this is an important plank of our tourism growth strategy.

“Safety is always our number one concern and so we won’t rush the necessary measures that need to be taken but we will be working intelligently at speed. Even without any other unforeseen events, this is an enormous job. We have 21 tunnels, 80 bridges, and a lot of twisted or broken track to fix.”