Restore the Christchurch-Picton Rail Link

Major earthquake disruption to transport

Damage in Picton (Photo: stuff)
Damage in Picton (Photo: stuff)

By Bruce Taylor, a Kapiti-based rail transport writer

The 7.8 magnitude Culverden Earthquake of 14 November, caused significant damage in North Canterbury and Southern Marlborough.

It has also seriously impacted on the movement of freight and passengers by KiwiRail and its ferry business, Interislander, across Cook Strait and between Picton and Christchurch.

In particular, the key freight corridor between Auckland and Chistchurch has been affected badly.

Changes to the movement of freight from Picton

According to an ltl freight website, Interislander carries the bulk of freight across Cook Strait having in 2015 over 80% market share for freight compared to its competitor Strait Shipping, which has smaller vessels and fewer scheduled sailings.

kiwirail-ferryThe ferries sailings were initially reduced due to damage to the port facilities, but will be back to normal by next week when “Aratere” resumes the carriage of rail wagons.

Rail freight will be taken to the Spring Creek rail freight terminal near Blenheim and transferred there to trucks which will carry the goods south to Christchurch and also west to Nelson.

Shipping adjustments

It is unlikely that an Interislander ferry will be used to sail between Wellington and Lyttelton, as this takes about 10 hours and the ferries are set up to make short three hour voyages across the Cook Strait.

kiwirail-freightInstead, KiwiRail has already turned to the ANL shipping line’s North to South Island line to carry containerised freight from Auckland to Lyttelton that would previously have gone by rail and ferry.

This will ease the pressure on South Island roads as fewer truck movements will be required on the lengthy diversion route to Christchurch through the Lewis Pass route.

Sea transport is relatively cheap and environmentally friendly, but it is slow.

This means that urgent and “just in time” cargoes, which have been an important market for the rail ferries will still have to be carried south by ferry and onward road freight. Such cargoes include courier freight, mail and refrigerated fresh produce.

Restoring the Christchurch – Picton line

The restoration of the Christchurch to Picton railway line will clearly be a huge undertaking. KiwiRail will be surveying the damage.

The massive slips north of Kaikoura will have to be cleared and, it is believed, about six bridges repaired.

(Photo: stuff)
(Photo: stuff)

The slips over the rail line can generally be cleared at the same time as the road slips. Tunnels are unlikely to be badly affected.

An estimate of the cost of getting the line back into operation is not available at this time.

Government will obviously be asked to contribute to restoration of this key national infrastructure.

At a post-Cabinet press conference this week the Prime Minister said that it was the government’s intention to restore the rail line.

The Green Party petition

The Green Party fears that the National will not stick to its promise to restore the rail line.

They have launched an online petition to “Save the Christchurch to Picton Rail Line”. Already some groups like the Taxpayer’s Union are questioning the need for the rebuild.

If you wish to sign the Green’s petition can be found at