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Key says main road and rail route from Picton to Christchurch may need realignment or re-routing in long term at huge cost; English highlights damage to main transport links and says Govt finances can handle repair costs

Key says main road and rail route from Picton to Christchurch may need realignment or re-routing in long term at huge cost; English highlights damage to main transport links and says Govt finances can handle repair costs
Prime Minister John Key talking to reporters in Parliament on November 15, 2016 after the Hanmer earthquakes. Photo by Lynn Grieveson for Hive News.

By Bernard Hickey

The Government and the Opposition are open to completely re-routing or realigning the main road and rail route from Picton to Christchurch at a cost of billions of dollars because of the massive earthquake damage done to the current coastal route north and south of Kaikoura.

Transport and logistic operators face delays and blockages to the key route linking Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch that could last months and possibly longer, forcing them to look at using coastal shipping in a way that transforms the economics and structure of the national transport network.

State Highway 1 and the railway through Kaikoura was engulfed or wiped out by slips at many points north and south of the town.

Last night NZTA said it re-opened an alternative route from Blenheim to Christchurch via State Highways 6 and 7 through Murchison and Lewis Passes that can handle trucks, but it was down to one lane in places and the route adds three hours to the journey. NZTA said it was also working to re-open the old State Highway 70 linking Culverden to Kaikoura to provide some road access to Kaikoura "within days."

Prime Minister Key said repairing the damage to State Highway 1 and the rail line could take many months and cost billions. He compared the task to the NZ$40 million spent over 13 months to reopen the Manawatu Gorge road after a slip in 2011.

"The roading and rail issues north and south on State Highway 1 are horrendous. If you turn your mind back to the Manawatu Gorge plus some. I saw at least six of that size north of Kaikoura," Key said in Kaikoura yesterday, adding he had not flown south of the town, where he had been told there were more slips of a similar size.

"It's a massive clean-up job," he said.

"You've got to believe it's in the billions of dollars to resolve these issues. They're huge slips. I'm not sure how long it will actually take to move this level of rubble off the road, not to mention the damage to the railways. It's a very, very big job for both the Transport Agency and KiwiRail," he said.

Move the road and rail?

He suggested in an RNZ interview this morning that NZTA and KiwiRail may even have to consider realigning the road and rail route along the coast north and south of Kaikoura.

The longer-term prospect prospect for the route is particularly challenging for KiwiRail, given it is losing around NZ$200 million a year and faces constant questions about the long-term viability of its main-trunk network -- of which the Picton to Christchurch route is a crucial part.

"When people have a chance to reflect on the scale of it and the damage to the rail network, you can't help but wonder whether the Transport Agency won't say that some sort of realignment programme (is needed)...or at least question whether the road might be in the right place," he said.

He denied the entire road would have to be abandoned.

"But it's not just about taking the rubble away. It's about future proofing the road to a certain degree," he said.

This leaves open the question about whether the Picton to Christchurch rail route is ever re-opened, given KiwiRail does not have access to the National Land Transport Fund, which has a contingency for this sort of natural event damage.

Key told a news conference in Parliament that the viability of the current State Highway 1 route was being questioned.

"The slips are of a scale that are very meaningful so one of the questions ultimately will be is it absolutely in the right place, is rail in the right place, and how susceptible is it to a future earthquake or slip," he said.

Finance Minister Bill English said night that the Land Transport Fund had the contingency funds to deal with the road repairs.

Big disruptions to Transport

English told the same news conference in Parliament the Government had the financial capacity to pay for the rebuild and repair of the transport route, and he agreed with Key that it could cost billions.

"Probably there is going to be a significant disruption from the transport links. You can see from Christchurch dealing with large landslips, dealing with issues like Picton and Wellington Port both having significant issues around damage and disruption -- these things are all a pretty hard fix," English said.

"I think that's probably the highest impact on the economy. This is the main arterial route from the North to the South Island and it is going to be significantly disrupted, in parts, for quite some time," he said.

"And the cost of that, some of it will fall to the Government, quite a lot of it, but some will also fall to the relevant ports in particular."

English said the business that would be most directly affected is Kiwirail.

He agreed with Key the cost would go into the billions.

"The combination of significant infrastructure damage in Wellington, obvious damage in Kaikoura -- all roading and rail issues -- this is going to add up to something fairly significant. We also know that those estimates change over time. The important point about the estimates is we've got the capacity to deal with it."

Opposition Leader Andrew Little also later said a Labour-led Government would be open to shifting the main route, and the attendant cost.

Freight operators eye coastal shipping

The closure of the main road and rail routes is particularly problematic for freight companies and businesses supplying and receiving goods to warehouses and supermarkets in Christchurch because it is the main way that imports into Auckland are moved to Christchurch, particularly Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs) in logistics systems using 'just-in-time' delivery.

The Wellington to Picton link was also cut off yesterday because of damage to the loading ramps for KiwiRail ferries at Wellington and checks to the berthing facilities for Bluebridge Ferries in Wellington. Bluebridge said it had resumed sailings late last night.

KiwiRail said this morning the Kaiarahi and Kaitaki ferries were scheduled to sail between Wellington and Picton today, while the Aratere would remain anchored in Wellington Harbour until a berth became available. KiwiRail said the sailings would carry freight and vehicle passengers only, while foot traffic passengers would not be carried because of damage to its terminal.

Mainfreight said late yesterday it was actively looking at using coastal shipping to move goods between Auckland and Christchurch.

"We are recommending to our Inter-Island customers to consider increasing stockhold in either our Christchurch or Auckland warehouses as an option to mitigate ongoing Inter-Island transit delays during this challenging period," it said.

"Under-cooked" coastal shipping

Road Transport Forum CEO Ken Shirley said the blockages to the main route to Christchurch would disrupt usual logistics systems for FMCG goods imported through Auckland and transported to Christchurch. He acknowledged New Zealand's coastal shipping system was "under-cooked" and the quake damage to the route through Kaikoura would force a re-think about the nation's transport infrastructure, including coastal shipping.

On the insurance front, Gerry Brownlee said he rejected suggestions EQC would be financially stretched to cope with the damage. "EQC is guaranteed by the Crown," he said.

(Updated with fresh pictures.)


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New Zealand needs SH1 and the rail line through there. While it may be useful to change where it is in places, any relocation would be just as vulnerable, given the terrain. Kaikorai is the unlucky one this time, but it could have been many places in New Zealand. Think Kaimai's, Gisborne, Rimutaka Hill or even central Auckland as a transport hub. We live on wobbly islands.

We still haven't had the big one on the Alpine fault.

Thank God we have a rock star economy and visionary prime minister. We wouldn't want to end up like Haiti?

Is there any Ministry bank a/c to which we can make donations directly towards the rebuilding efforts ? Thanks.

I only know that Red Cross taking donations, so far.

Prefer to deal directly with the rebuilding agencies, without any intermediary. May be there are others who would like that too. Don't know.

Do not worry, I hear that Mr Key and all his cronies, will be donating their excess residences to help pay for the rebuilds. They have way more than they will ever need.

I am sure they could donate half their worth and never miss it.

They must have???..Surely. They live so high on the hog.

The way they throw our money down the drain of their inclinations and in support of billions in rentals and millions away on a flag too.

That was a joke...I think. Sick, but true. But I can add up, even if they cannot.

We must have leaders who are in tune with their Nation, not at odds with it.

A smile and a wave does nothing for me and those who suffer fools gladly are a joke.

The simple thing is there should be enough money in the kitty to rebuild the entire Nation, we just have to work together, not for our own ends, but those without a home of their own, and I am afraid that has just increased through natural means, not the design of our "Dear Leader' and his machinations.

I cannot say anymore on this subject, as I might get banned.

The Red Cross is a safer bet, than giving it to those who will waste it. Ask some of Christchurch, they know what I mean.

Pulling together like the young people of Christchurch did worked wonders in the short term. This one will be longer that.

Having a plan is easy....paying for it....will be mostly the problem. They are already saying they will borrow more...than they, sorry we.....have.

Just in case anyone, including sitting members, wants to donate via Red Cross..

How about relocating the shipping from to somewhere near Mana and Nelson. Railway through the centre. However anywhere across the full width of the north of the south island is very earthquake prone and we are getting due for a full blown transalpine fault earthquake. Whatever you build will suffer badly when that happens.
Or we could look at it completely differently an ask why we need so much north/south freight. Are we just relocating goods that are going or coming from overseas via Auckland or Taurang?

Shipping direct to CHCH makes more sense, given the vast bulk of cargo is destined for or immediately surrounding the South Island's main city.

Well when they flew over the terrain they may have paused to notice that there is not exactly much "flat" land on hand in that stretch of our country. The very large complicated and prolonged restoration of the Manawatu Gorge is a good pointer, as Mr Key has noted, and even though our tenure in this land is minuscule so to speak, it's a wonder this has not happened earlier in our history, it will certainly happen again.It's a hard one. If Kaikoura is cut off from the south it is virtually doomed so the inland route 70 is probably all that can be done. But getting that up to state highway standard will be beyond economic reason. Heck,look at all of the fuss of getting a highway into Wellington. Send for President Trump, does he want to buy New Zealand?

Trump? he'll build a great big beautiful wall...

The existing location of SH1 (and the railway) was always just a bare minimum. It struggled to handle the traffic type and volume, and really was always just a second or two from disaster.

That disaster has now happened, both SH1 and the Rail are gone permanently. The terrain is hostile and it was never suitable in the first place. Reading between the lines it is clear both Little and Key agree on this fact - although they still seem to be hesitant to say that SH1 is finished outright.

The Ferries no longer do roll on/roll off for train cargo. It was all switched to truck at Picton, and was also relatively under utilized (as is the main trunk line in the North Island). So I can't see the justification for repairing or building a new rail line anyway. Kiwirail should get the insurance payout and develop the Chch to Dunedin for Cargo and Chch to Greymouth for Tourism.

That provides an even greater incentive for a road, which although the Terrain is annoying (it is still better than a coastal route), it is possible to cut a path down though many of the valleys. So we might need to put in some first world tunnels/bridge spans etc... it is all possible and has been done in worse places that the South Island of NZ.

Put in a proper first world dual carriage from Picton to Chch, with a couple of scenic "A" roads running off of it to access Kaikoura, Hamner, The West coast and anywhere else important.

Kaikoura can then branch out it's airport and boat operations to cover the scenic landscape that used to be part of the drive there.

The main thing is - just do it. A year or two of dilly-dallying around and pretending like we have other options is just going to lead to more pain and more cost, and probably the complete destruction of the Malborough tourism industry. Learn from Transmission Gully - Don't do something in 30 years that should be done now.

Having been up and down that road dozens of times (I used to live north of Clarence) - the coast is the only real option (unless you want to go via Molesworth.....) . Anything else would be prohibitively expensive. In reality the only stretch that is the a problem is that between Oaro and Clarence - the bit that hugs the coastline.

Agree north of Kaikoura is relatively easy but maybe time has dimmed your memory of the Hundalee hills terrain south of Oaro? Not the same sheer cliff faces as further north but a still very winding and slip prone stretch of SH1.

Quite aware of the Hundalee hills - they have straightened parts of the road but it is easier south of Oaro - which is mainly hill country not a road hugging the side of a cliff.

How about St Arnaud to Hamner Springs BadRobot? There is some sort of a road through there which would be a shorter deviation. Would give great access from Tasman Bay via Golden Downs or Marlborough via Wairau valley. Could open up a potential shipping route from Foxton to Motueka linking with Palmerston Norths important freight hub.

Either that or could we bridge the worst sections of the Kaikoura cost just off-shore in the tidal zone? Surely the seals would adapt!

25 year ago I mountain biked that route -I think I needed to throw the bike over some locked gates as from memory I think it is in St James station. It is very steep the Jacks pass section between Hanmer and the Clarence valley. Otherwise nice river flats. A bit steep at the very top end and quite high. Higher than Arthur and Lewis Passes. But you are right it is a much more direct connection for Nelson to Christchurch.

The problem is that it would be impassable in winter.

It's difficult to make a sows ear into a silk purse. NZ will allways have these on going costs with earthquakes and difficult topography. The more expensive infrastucture and million dollar houses you build , the higher the repair costs. Sell the country quickly before the foreign buyers realise it's flawed.

Noncents - you make good sense. By the time the roads finished, driverless trucks will be using it. Better have a look at moving the Picton ferry terminal south at the same time, though.

Moving the ferry is also an option. However with good roading it is far quicker to move things by truck - particularly if they are driverless.

If you are interested in the earthquake watch John Campbell on Radio New Zealand. Go to Freeview and find the channel. Fantastic. With moving pictures as well ! Because RNZ don't have all the pomp and circumstance of TV they have reporters on the ground, and time to talk to them. They just run rings around the TV channels. Real news like we used to have.

I've only just latched onto this and agree with you. Dear old jolly gosh John does a pretty good job I reckon and as you say, you get much more depth.

I agree completely, and would also like to say the middle of the night RNZ broadcasting was just fantastic. Suzie Ferguson jumped out of bed and into the studio backing up Vicki McKay with calm, informative coverage. Kim Hill also in early out of usual programming slot. I dont know how RNZ does it but they are running rings round the TV channels with their journalism.

Totally agree with these comments. RNZ journalism is a shining light in the darkness that is the Main Stream Media in NZ.
They run on the smell of an oily rag to produce quality news and the only in depth follow up inquiry - in contrast to the sound-bite-ratings-driven-social-media-Clickbait rubbish of the other lot.
Sigh...if only this quality was mirrored in their music these is quite weird and disjointed at best, often distinctly unpleasant. One to two items is the most I can endure, and I sign off.......shame really...

On the insurance front, Gerry Brownlee said he rejected suggestions EQC would be financially stretched to cope with the damage. "EQC is guaranteed by the Crown," he said.

That's right, you and me - do taxpayers have the capacity to service more debt?

Brownlee is not on shaky ground giving an assurance EQC will easily cope, given the low population areas involved - he knows their exposure to this one is moderate. The big debt servicing will be in respect of infrastructure, most of which is uninsured.

I was referring to the guarantor - the Crown, which has many new potential liabilities.

Yes. But highly unlikely the Govt will have to bail EQC on this one so a bit of grandstanding from the big guy I think.

Yes, they (EQC) struggle to resolve the previous event and here we are with a whole new set of financial demands for the taxpayer to resolve.

If you wait long enough people eventually give up and go away - so take your time

It seems that this government waits for time to heal and sort things out, but, at nearly every turn, events keep happening faster than this dripping tap government can cope

Yup. NZ falls in a burning ring of fire. Not like we have any choice about that. Just as well Crown debt is at a manageable level.

Well, I suppose everybody who said that we couldn't rely on the earthquake rebuilds to keep sustaining the economy, were wrong?
Will add to our insurance premiums in the long run, I guess.
Builders will be happy with another round of rebuilds, and now we need a decent set of road workers added to the mix, too.
I suppose it is a form of stimulus.....