Freight trains have started servicing New Zealand’s Main North Line for the first time since last year’s devastating earthquake, with the first train making its way from Picton to Christchurch last Friday.
The milestone marked the start of low-frequency freight services that will run five nights a week. This will allow repair and rebuilding work to continue during the day while also helping to take 2000 trucks a month off the inland road freight route.
“We’ve had a remarkable 10 months to get to this point, and what it has highlighted is the importance of rail to our economy, and how critical it is that road and rail work together,” said KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy.
“Before the earthquake, KiwiRail was carrying one million tonnes of freight on the line for our customers per year. After the quake, freight has had to be moved south by road, which has put pressure on the inland route.
“It’s meant additional costs for freight forwarding companies and it hasn’t been easy for truck drivers.”
New Zealand’s transport minister lauded the efforts over the past ten months in getting the line running again, which included intensive and extensive repair work at over 750 sites.
“Over 1500 workers from KiwiRail, the NZ Transport Agency and their partners in the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance (NCTIR) have done a fantastic job in what have been challenging conditions,” Bridges said.
The first service to travel on the repaired track on Friday carried general domestic freight from KiwiRail customers Bascik, Toll, Mainfreight Group and Maersk, and was driven by KiwiRail Locomotive Engineer Wayne Sullivan, who was also driving a train on the line when the earthquake struck.
KiwiRail held special celebratory event on Friday morning at Kaikoura as the train passed through, organised to acknowledge community support for the operator and North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance and their efforts to rebuild the line.
“The earthquake had a major impact on Kaikoura, and the past 10 months has not been easy for them. KiwiRail appreciates the co-operation the community has given us over that time,” Reidy said.
“That support has helped us get freight trains running ahead of schedule, and that in turn will help take pressure off the alternate route.”
During the event, a sculpture by local artist Ben Foster was unveiled to mark the occasion and to acknowledge the rebuild effort.
“As an artist living in Kaikoura, I felt a great sense of pride in being involved with the creation of a sculpture recognising the November 2016 earthquake event and its effects on the wider community,” Forster said.
The sculpture features pieces of twisted track salvaged from IronGate, north of Kaikoura, and incorporates key place names of the Main North Line along the Kaikoura coastline, which Forster said was a way of honouring the history of the construction and reconstruction of the line over the decades.
“More importantly,” Forster remarked, “this sculpture reminds us that change is very much a constant, the twisted rail communicating the raw power of Mother Nature, and may stand as a constant reminder of how resilient we all are as it reaches upward.”