‘Get out of the gorge’ says Massey aca­demic

Feilding-Rangitikei Herald - - Out & About - MIRI SCHROETER

An al­ter­na­tive route to the dam­aged high­way through the Manawatu¯ Gorge should avoid the trou­ble­some gully com­pletely – and the rail­way should be moved too, a se­nior ge­og­ra­pher says.

The NZ Transport Agency has re­leased 13 al­ter­na­tive-route op­tions for the main high­way be­tween Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu¯ , as the old State High­way 3 through the gorge is closed in­def­i­nitely af­ter un­sta­ble rock was dis­cov­ered.

The transport agency pre­dicts up to 630,000 cu­bic me­tres of fur­ther ma­te­rial could fall, which is 170 times more rock­fall than the two slips that closed the road in April.

Three of the 13 op­tions run through the gorge, which Massey Univer­sity phys­i­cal geog­ra­phy se­nior lec­turer Sam McColl said should be avoided. The rail­way track through the gorge, on the Ruahine Range side, should also be moved, as it was prone to land­slides, McColl said.

Al­though that would sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease costs in the short term, it would have long-term ben­e­fits, he said. ‘‘If there was any cost ef­fi­ciency to be gained from re­align­ing road and rail at the same time this might be an op­tion worth con­sid­er­ing.’’

Ki­wiRail spokesman Todd Moyle said there had been 19 re­ported slips or de­bris on the rail line through the gorge in the past five years, but most of those were mi­nor. Only one slip led to the clo­sure of the rail cor­ri­dor, for about three hours, Moyle said. ‘‘We have no plans to shift or close the line.’’

A ma­jor slip in 2010 closed the rail­way line for about a week. Be­fore that, the last train through the gorge to hit a slip was in 1998. In Au­gust 1946, en­gine driver Basil Craig­head and fire­man R Hoskins were killed when their 140-tonne steam en­gine hit a slip and crashed into the flooded Manawatu¯ River.

Hori­zons Re­gional Coun­cil chair­man Bruce Gor­don said the gorge was still an good op­tion as a viaduct sim­i­lar to the one at Arthur’s Pass in the South Is­land could work.

Gor­don didn’t say which op­tion he pre­ferred, but he said a flat route would be best.

Gor­don was sur­prised at the num­ber of op­tions and said it should have been nar­rowed down be­fore it went to pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion. Transport agency re­gional transport sys­tems man­ager Ross I’An­son has said the pub­lic asked the transport agency to share the in­for­ma­tion as it was de­vel­oped.

Manawatu¯ District mayor He­len Wor­boys said peo­ple were quick to crit­i­cise the transport agency. ‘‘In this in­stance, I know they’ve dropped every­thing and fast­tracked it.’’

Open days to dis­cuss the op­tions will be held at the Palmer­ston North Con­fer­ence and Func­tion Cen­tre and the Woodville Sports Sta­dium on Oc­to­ber 11 and 12.

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