The earthquake-damaged line between Picton and Christchurch has finally been linked up, as the last weld in the track was completed this week, bringing closer its eventual reopening for freight.
Transport minister Simon Bridges said KiwiRail staff held a small ceremony near Rakautara, north of Kaikoura, to mark the occasion.
“This is an important milestone in getting the line open again, and in easing the pressure on upper South Island roads,” the minister said.
The Main North Line, which runs between Picton and Christchurch, is a major link in New Zealand’s transport supply network, with over 1 million tonnes of freight travelling between the North and South islands every year before the earthquake.
Work teams have been at work on the line since the November earthquake, replacing damaged track, rebuilding bridges, repairing tunnels, and clearing the large slips along the route.
KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy praised those involved in working on the numerous sites along the line, including engineers and construction workers from KiwiRail, NZTA and other contractors in the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance.
“On the rail side, 150 kilometres of line has been tamped and made ready for trains. Five thousand new concrete sleepers have been laid, the formation under 12 km of track has been rebuilt, and 5km of track has been realigned,” Mr Reidy said.
“This has been a mighty effort, and the reward is that the track should open to freight within a month, well ahead of schedule.”
The line is soon to be open again to freight, but will initially be restricted to low-speed, low-frequency services, as further repair work remains to be completed before the route is back to its pre-earthquake state.
“A lot of work still remains to be done, but the workers from KiwiRail and its partners in the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) alliance have done a great job getting it to this stage,” Bridges said.
“The government is committed to restoring the road and rail services along this important coastal corridor, and it is great to see the significant progress being made.”