Quake road set for Christ­mas rush

The Southland Times - - NEWS - MICHAEL DALY

Peo­ple plan­ning their Christ­mas hol­i­days can count on the Kaiko¯ura coastal high­way be­ing open in time, as the first train passes through the town since the Novem­ber earth­quake.

About 1500 work­ers are fran­ti­cally work­ing along the main route be­tween Pic­ton and Christchurch in some­times harsh con­di­tions to re-open State High­way 1 be­fore Christ­mas.

The main rail line be­tween Pic­ton and Christchurch yes­ter­day re­opened to limited freight traf­fic af­ter the 7.8-mag­ni­tude quake in Novem­ber sent vast hill­side crash­ing on to the line and clos­ing SH1 along the coastal cor­ri­dor.

A sec­tion of the high­way north of Kaik­oura re­mains closed, while to the south the road to Goose Bay is open only some of the time.

The tar­get of hav­ing the road re­opened by Christ­mas was re­peated two weeks ago in a spe­cial edi­tion of North Can­ter­bury Trans­port In­fra­struc­ture Re­cov­ery’s (NCTIR) reg­u­lar bul­letin.

‘‘We are . . . well on the way to re-open­ing the en­tire length of SH1 be­fore Christ­mas this year,’’ the bul­letin said.

Re­open­ing the rail line, al­beit only to limited freight ser­vices, just 10 months af­ter the gi­ant quake ripped up the coun­try­side of the northeast of the South Is­land is a ma­jor achieve­ment. Hav­ing the high­way re-opened by Christ­mas will be re­mark­able.

Ac­cord­ing to the NZ Trans­port Agency (NZTA), which is part of NCTIR, 194 kilo­me­tres of SH1 be­tween Lei­th­field and Blen­heim were dam­aged in the earth­quake.

There were 85 land­slides across the high­way, and it wasn’t un­til last month that heavy machin­ery was able to travel the length of the coastal cor­ri­dor. That was made pos­si­ble by the build­ing of an ac­cess track around the edge of a mas­sive slip at Ohau Point, north of Kaik­oura.

Ohau is one of the largest and most chal­leng­ing land­slides still to be cleared, NZTA said. It stretches 630 me­tres around the fa­mous fur seal sanc­tu­ary and in­volved more than 100,000 cu­bic me­tres of ma­te­rial.

To clear the slip at Ohau, crews had to build ac­cess tracks around the other nine ma­jor land­slides along the route.

He­li­copters sluiced the land­slide to bring down loose ma­te­rial, then earth­works teams spent two months bench­ing the land­slide to make it safe enough so that more than 8000 truck and trailer loads of ma­te­rial could be carted off the south­ern side of the point dur­ing a two-month round-the-clock op­er­a­tion.

Through win­ter, teams worked on build­ing the foun­da­tions for a new sea­wall at Ohau Point where the new road is to be built. Sea­wall teams are work­ing at Ohau and closer to Kaiko¯ura at Iron­gate to build 2.5km of sea­walls. More than 7000 blocks are needed for the work, each weigh­ing more than five tonnes.

Dur­ing the work at Ohau Point, the seal colony also had to be looked af­ter, with pups and adult seals moved out of the con­struc­tion site, NZTA said.

NZTA re­cov­ery man­ager Steve Mut­ton said it was hard to un­der­stand the scale of the work be­ing done along the route.

‘‘At Site 1 just north of Kaik­oura, for ex­am­ple, the two slips were 104m and 153m high and it took five months for us to re­move more than 10,000 truck­loads of ma­te­rial. And that is just one of the slips at nine main sites north of Kaik­oura.

‘‘We are lit­er­ally mov­ing moun­tains to get the high­way re­opened – it’s ar­du­ous work in of­ten atro­cious con­di­tions.’’

Work was go­ing on around the clock, where pos­si­ble, to get the high­way re-opened by the De­cem­ber tar­get.

Bridges were also dam­aged dur­ing the quake, and in July the first ve­hi­cles crossed the re­stored crit­i­cal bridge at Oaro, south of Kaik­oura.

In re­cent weeks, trucks have been car­ry­ing bridge beams up to 25 me­tres long to Iron­gate, north of Kaiko¯ura, as well as to smaller bridge sites to the north of the town.

The 140 beams needed for the bridges north of Kaiko¯ura are hav­ing to be brought in from Ro­torua, Hast­ings, Christchurch and Tau­ranga.

This all costs lots of money. In the 2017 Bud­get, the Gov­ern­ment said the to­tal cost of re­in­stat­ing the road and rail cor­ri­dor was es­ti­mated to be be­tween $1.1 bil­lion and $1.33b.

The value of work done up to late April was put at $45 mil­lion, while the bud­get in­cluded $812m for the high­way, with some of that money to be spent af­ter the road re-opens.

In July the NZTA board ap­proved a fur­ther $231m for the 60km sec­tion of SH1 be­tween Clarence and Oaro, with the money to be used to help ‘‘im­prove safety, jour­ney re­li­a­bil­ity, ac­cess and pub­lic ameni­ties such as stop­ping ar­eas and some cy­cle fa­cil­i­ties’’. That in­cludes a new sep­a­rated cy­cle­way and walk­way be­tween Okiwi Bay and Manga­maunu.

De­spite the phe­nom­e­nal amount of work be­ing done and the pre-Christ­mas open­ing tar­get, when Kaik­oura MP Stu­art Smith re­cently said the high­way north of Kaiko¯ura would re-open on De­cem­ber 15 he was just mak­ing what he later called an ‘‘ed­u­cated guess’’.

PHOTO: PIPPA BROWN/STUFF

Hun­dreds of peo­ple yes­ter­day wel­comed the first freight train through Kaiko¯ura since the earth­quake last Novem­ber.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Con­struc­tion of the 80-me­tre Iron­gate bridge, south of Ward on State High­way 1.

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