Passenger trains to return to Kaiko¯ura
Passenger trains along the east coast of the South Island are expected to be up and running before the end of the year.
KiwiRail has announced plans to reinstate the passenger service between Christchurch and Picton in time for summer.
The passenger service, which has been out-of-action since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in November 2016, is expected to return to pre-quake timetables, in time for the busy summer period.
Main north line project director Walter Rushbrook said most of the work on the rail had been completed and there were only ‘‘isolated repairs’’ to be completed.
While the date as to when the first passenger train will disembark has yet to be finalised, the service is ‘‘likely’’ to take off before the end of the year, a KiwiRail spokesperson said.
‘‘The date for Coastal Pacific’s much-anticipated return is still to be confirmed, but is likely to be in time for the peak summer season towards the end of this year,’’ they said.
Freight trains have been operating along the railway since September 2017 at night time, however, passenger services have been out-of-action since earthquake.
‘‘For the track, there’s still some isolated repairs that we need to do; replacing culverts, fixing drainage systems and doing other stabilisation works,’’ he said.
Some of the work involved ensuring the railway would be upto-scratch in the heat of the summer, Rushbrook said.
‘‘We do this thing called destressing, that’s the process to prevent track buckles from taking place.’’
‘‘In hot weather metal expands, that can lead to track buckles.
‘‘There’s an engineering process which is called de-stressing and essentially what happens there is the rail gets pre-stretched so it thinks it’s sitting there on a hot summer’s day even though it might be the middle of winter so that just means that when there is a hot sunny day, no buckles occur,’’ he said.
KiwiRail was restricted to night services to allow road crews to continue working safely during the day.
‘‘Currently there is two return trains per night, six days a week and the reason why we don’t run trains through the day is so we can keep going at high speed to repair the road and the rail, it just becomes really impractical,’’ Rushbrook said.
Most of the freight carried on the main north line is general merchandise and commodities including malt and grain.
Loss of earnings and repair work on the line have been one of the causes of KiwiRail’s recent $193 million loss, with a revenue shortfall of about $25m attributed to the main north line.
Crews were still working on sections of road and rail along the coastal corridor, north and south of Kaiko¯ura.
Project manager Zach Knutson said crews at Waipapa Bay, a major slip site north of Kaiko¯ura were working to build a new embankment, which moved the road and rail further away from the slip.
Work on the 540m embankment at Waipapa Bay started in January and since then 46,000 cubic metres of slip material had been laid which equated to 4600 truck and trailer loads of material, he said.
Knutson said the section of rail at Waipapa Bay was going to be shifted away from the slip and closer to the sea ‘‘hopefully’’ within the next month.
The Marlborough Flyer, known formerly as Passchendaele, was the only ‘passenger-train’ operating along the coast of the South Island at the moment.
The century-old steam train travelling between Picton and Blenheim embarked on its first trip on December 1 2017 and has proved popular.
Passenger numbers for the inaugural 2017/18 season were sitting over 12,000.
Kiwi Rail Coastal Pacific passenger trains are expected to be up and running before the end of the year.