The impact of Sunday’s earthquake and its aftershocks have been astonishing to see, especially the damage caused by slips along State Highway 1 and the rail line around Kaikoura. They are numerous and many are absolutely massive. I suspect the impacts of this quake will be felt for some time, and not just to the areas physically impacted. Here are a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head in response to the event.

There’s a road under there somewhere

Firstly, the size and scale of damage suggests it is going to take many months, maybe even more than a year, and likely hundreds of millions of dollars to repair. As a comparison, the huge Manawatu George slip in 2011 took 13 months and over $20 million to fix (yesterday Simon Bridges suggested it was actually around $35 million). Some of these slips look just as big, if not bigger and of course there are a lot of them. On top of that there are about seven of road and rail bridges that need repairing.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has already said that both the road and rail lines will be repaired simultaneously which is a good sign. I had wondered if there was a real chance the government might have just cut that rail line but I guess given the rail line is right next to the road, they’ll be having to dig it out anyway. I do like the fact that the NZTA and Kiwirail will be working closer together and hope it’s something we see more of in the future. Below is a video of Bridges talking about the various issues yesterday.

One of the interesting comments he makes is that the agencies plan to not just put the road back as it was but where possible improve it too. I presume that could mean there’ll be some localised realignments but I also wonder if it means structures like rock slides – as seen in Arthurs Pass. It certainly doesn’t seem like a cheap option given how much might be needed.

Image by Greg Hewgill

The biggest barrier to substantial changes to the road is likely to be the sheer cost of it all. To put things in perspective, in the year to the end of June, the NZTA spent just $2.1 billion on new or improved state highways and on road maintenance ($1.67b on new & improved and $461m on maintenance). Assuming a similar level of spend this year, fixing this road is likely to take up a decent chunk of that spending and the big question is where that money comes from.

Bridges said that up to around $500 million might able to be found within existing budgets and a decent chunk of that comes from emergency works budgets. For example the National Land Transport Programme has a budget of $154 million over the 2015-2018 period for emergency works on State Highways. Unfortunately, the snapshot data is a bit old but indications are that a lot of that funding might still be untouched. There are also local road emergency works buckets too. But even combined these budget buckets don’t seem like they’ll be enough and so it appears inevitable that the improvement and maintenance buckets will need to be looked at too. This raises the obvious question of what projects get delayed as a result, although I can think of a few I’d like to see delayed *cough*East-West Link*cough*.

Former Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also said that he felt Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 were a factor in government taking so long to support the City Rail Link, although there’s more to it than just that. While the scale of  the damage to infrastructure doesn’t seem as extreme as Christchurch following its large quakes, could dealing with this quake have flow on effects in getting the government to fund their share of ATAP. Similarly, what does it do to the chances of light rail down Dominion Rd moved up the priority order.

One thing we can be thankful for with these slips is that at least it appears no one has been caught in them. I guess that’s a function of it being at midnight and the fact the road only carries very low volumes of traffic with fewer than 3,000 vehicles per day traversing the road, of which about 20% of them being heavy vehicles.

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  1. John Key and Bill English are playing both sides of the Kaikoura disaster -just like they did with the Christchurch earthquakes. John Key gets to make warm fuzzies by vaguely promising to rebuild the road/rail corridor better (announcement made as part of the initial disaster assessment tour with our Andrew Little present also vaguely agreeing with the sentiment), while Bill English gets to be all Mr sensible Finance Minister-man.

    A major upgrade of the Picton to Christchurch coastal/Kaikoura road/rail transport corridor to modern first world standards would be expensive. It would be a significant drain on any future Roads of National Significance budget and the government has made no indication they will reconfigure projects to include Key’s vague promise of making the Kaikoura -road/rail route better. It is also not consistent with the government’s strategic direction -if the government wanted to improve the top of the South Island road/rail corridor, then they would have proceeded with moving Picton port to Clifford bay -as that had huge time savings for both road and rail. The government chose not to upgrade the route in 2013 when it rejected the Clifford Bay Port proposal despite it having a positive BCR.

  2. Hopefully progress to clear SH1 will be faster than the 7 year yet to be completed project to fix the Sumner to Lyttleton Road.

    Over promise and under deliver -that is this governments motto when it comes to disasters.

    I am not expecting anything more than a clearing away of the rubble. Look at the routes on a topographic map there is no easy options.

    What is most likely to happen is that an overnight frieght and ferry service between Wellington and Lyttleton is restarted. That would seem like the sensible route while we reassess our options and the amount of funding that can be committed to infrastructure upgrades.

  3. Rather than just clearing away the rubble (digging at the base of a giant sliding slope is a fruitless endeavour), you’d have to say they should consider the alternative: elevating the replacement road on piles driven through the rubble, and placing it further out (nearer the sea) on the newly raised land from the sea. Engineers will have their work cut out on this one. Either way it will be closed for months, if not years. The rail line could, quite possibly, never be repaired. Cars can take an alternative route, the long way round, but freight services should just be rerouted via Littleton.

    The crucial thing is time. Some of the smaller slips can be dug out fairly easily and cleared away, just pushing the fallen debris into the sea. But the bigger slips, like the one pictured above, will need weeks or even months of planning. And then costing. And then the doing. Meanwhile, NZ’s trade suffers. Surely the main winner will be the coastal shipping routes?

  4. They should use this opportunity to take out at least one set off road tunnels. NZTA want to do it earlier but the railway objected.

    1. Your source for that, John? And since when have anyone’s objections stopped NZTA doing what it wants? (With the notable exception of the Basin Board of Inquiry.)

  5. Perhaps we need to start recognising the signs that Pachamama (Mother Nature) is giving us? By sea is far less ecologically damaging, and of course we are sending and consuming far too many non-necessities, and we are also personally far too mobile. If we address our largesse, we may survive. The writing is in the tremors.

  6. well, I don’t know what’s going too happen. But I do know:
    1. This is a fantastically beautiful stretch of coastline; and
    2. I’ve had a whale of a time everytime I’ve visited the area.

    So my suggestion to all of those who wish to support the area is to wait a few months, and then plan a little holiday there or thereabouts so as to put some extra tourist dollars back into the local economy.

    1. I’ve been thinking along the same lines – once the local people are back on their feet (obviously priority one), that coastal uplift would be amazing to see in person via tour boat.

    2. Agreed, Stu, and it’s important to note that the Kaikoura economy is heavily dependent on the sea. I think that means letting the natural order settle down – what will the whales, seals (& their gorgeous pups), crayfish etc do? – before doing things like bulldozing slips (of whatever size) into the sea. That would be just stupid (If not vandalism): potentially a classic rural example of putting movement above placemaking.

  7. I can only see that the first ferry operator who switches a vessel to RoRo service to Lyttelton will have the big market advantage.
    Container traffic between the islands will make a rapid adjustment using foreign vessels and Pacifica Shipping (owned now by Swires).
    Strait Shipping and Kiwirail both have vessels well suited to switch to a RoRo truck service for freight Wellington to Lyttelton return.
    The looser will be the Kiwirail Cook Strait rail service vessels as I believe they cannot unload in Lyttelton.
    The earthquake will be another nail in the railways coffin…

    1. One of the things that killed the Wellington-Lyttelton ferry was poor utilisation – each ship spent half its time tied up, earning no revenue and losing capacity. To improve on that, ships need to be able to make a return (rather than just a single) trip in 24 hours, which means averaging at least 20 knots. I think current ferries average 16 or 17 or so, so they would be uneconomic beyond a short-term capacity-reducing fix.

    2. Strait Shipping has the Strait Fernoia and Interislander has the Kaiarahi which are roll on/roll off ramp loading ships with cabins for the drivers, which would minimal infrastructure requirement except marine diesel bunking facilities for these vessels. Both of them can operate 2 daylight and 2 night time sailings between both them but it is not enough for the amount of freight that is transported between the North and South Islands. Strait Shipping has the Straitsman which is a roll on/roll off ramping loading but that would be required for the Wellington to Picton service. Interislander’s Kaitaki and Arahura need special infrastructure to be available in Lyttleton. Interislander did look into the possible of operating the Kaitaki between Wellington to Wellington but scrapped the idea.

  8. The head of Mainfreight was calling again for better rail support from KiwiRail to allow more freight to be sent on rails.
    Or a sea of trucks will be needed to carry all that freight instead.

    Now that the rail network north of Christchurch is toast for the foreseeable future, that sea of trucks is going to be coming.
    As if rail wagons ave to be unloaded at Wellington to be carried on truck the rest of the way to the south island, why use rail for any part of the journey?

    So its coming, whether we or NZTA like it or not.

    The only way to stave it off from ruing SH7 and the inland route roads (SH70) is to use this event to re-institute Christchurch-Wellington freight services by sea. Not going to suggest the exact form, but Roll-On Roll-Off type is the logical choice.

    Although the seas off Kaikoura had a reputation for being nearly as bad as Cook Strait when it came to roughness.
    And the sea journey is the best part of 12 hours. So if the sea is rough its going to feel interminably long.

    1. The Ashurst Saddle road is the example of the road ruinination you speak about. It literally fell apart while the Manawatu Gorge road was repaired.
      I guess it is possible that the rail link might be resotored first. It could play a major part in transporting the debris – that’s what railways are good for!

  9. I guess this puts an end to the tax-cut bribing (I mean plan) National had for next year (which just coincidentally an election year).

    Also cut the East-West Link, and Penlink, as well as tolling sections of the new road to help pay for rebuilt of the State Highway or creation of a newer South Island key route.

  10. The biggest lesson is buy yourself an ugly rectangular house that has a timber sub-floor- the kind of house urban designers and aesthetes sneer at. Preferably get one built before the requirement for 12KN connections between the piles and bearers so if you are unlucky enough to find yourself directly on top of a fault, the piles will let go of the bearers allowing the floor tp remain attached to the walls. Try to avoid heritage buildings. Don’t buy in an apartment building and especially avoid an apartment in a Tsunami zone where at 1am you get a choice of reentering a potentially damaged building during aftershocks or waiting in the street for the wave.

    1. Or, alternatively, don’t live in New Zealand at all!

      The apartment building thing is a nice bit of nonsense – Japan has plenty of earthquakes and tsunamis, and plenty of apartment buildings. However, I do think we urgently need to design and build safer buildings in general. Sad to say, but that probably means accepting the loss of some heritage buildings.

      1. Peter I fear you are running out of countries! We bought an old villa in Newtown a few years ago as a rental. Mrs mfwic went through the Council’s GIS maps to find somewhere outside their 3 levels of Tsunami zone but close to public transport and walking distance to the CBD in case the PT stopped running, while I made sure it was a timber frame building with a light roof (which we then had put onto new timber piles.) Problem is there are not many houses like that in Wellington, at least not enough for everyone. Tall buildings are great for everyday living but in a disaster you get a whole bunch of extra problems. That image of a plain old house still intact after the ground beneath it going 10m in different directions really is telling. Houses are supposed to survive and earthquake but nobody has ever designed one to survive directly on top of a rupture- yet it stayed whole and the man got out. We need to rethink our ideas of quality in this country. Timber subfloor, timber walls and a light iron roof are the best choice. Strong and light with no shared party walls. (I also paid to have the brick chimney completely removed so it wouldn’t ever fall on my tenants- very pleased I did.)

        1. I guess I’m happier with tectonic risk than political risk! And good on you for sorting out the safety issues on your rental.

  11. Yes, I also thought that National might try and use this opportunity to further scupper rail by not re-opening the line (like they did on the East Coast line after slips), so very relieved to hear otherwise.

    I really hope that whatever the rebuilt road looks like, they have the foresight to include a segregated cycle/walkway that follows the coastline. The coastal route is fantastic, and a dedicated cycleway (with campsites en route) connecting Blenheim with further south would be a boon for Kaikoura.

    1. The east coast line scuppering was, at least, consistent with their rail policy. That policy basically says “focus on main trunk from Auckland to Christchurch plus ECMT to Tauranga, forget about the rest”.

      However, dumping the SIMT between Picton and Christchurch would be at odds with their primary rail policy goal.

    2. Yes, great suggestion. A cycleway and walkway down the coast would be fantastic. I’ve gone cycling around Blenheim a few times and thought that the upper south island would be an ideal place for cycle touring – relatively flat, spectacular scenery, and several towns with distinct identities and attractions.

  12. Not so fast. I still think National will use this opportunity to torpedo rail for good. Road has ready access to the rebuild funds, rail doesn’t.

  13. I think Matt’s right, that this will potentially have a knock-on effect due to the cost, with other projects being delayed or cancelled. Potentially that’s a blessing in disguise – far better to spend $ repairing this road than on developing climate and community destroying white elephants like the East-West link or most of the RONS.

    1. Yes, you would think that RONs or the East-West link scheme would have their funds diverted but I’d bet the projects that get delayed or cancelled will be NS rail, Dom Rd rail, harbour tunnel if its for rail and South West plus further Isthmus rail proposals.
      And there goes KR funding for the 3rd main as that gets diverted too…

  14. The coastal route through Kaikoura is one of the more spectacular roads in the country and a key route. This is a real conundrum because as you say the damage to the road is massive and these huge slips are a logistical nightmare to “fix”.

    I put fix in inverted comma’s because let’s be honest, this may not be the last big earthquake in the area.

    But there is a silver lining. I bet American’s trying to escape Trump’s impending Presidency are having second thoughts about moving to New Zealand.

    1. It certainly is a spectacular route, both by car and by train. Surely one of the best rides in the world – I took the train from Picton to Christchurch last summer and one of the unexpected highlights was the cicadas en route. Their song was deafening – even over the noise of the train – and standing out back on the tourist caboose you would regularly get bombarded with stunned cicadas, till the floor of the carriage was littered with them, 20-30 at a time till they staggered to their feet and flew off again. Highly entertaining, and combined with the tunnels, the seals on the rocks nearby, etc, certainly highly memorable. It’d be a shame to lose that.

    2. It certainly is a spectacular route, both by car and by train. Surely one of the best rides in the world – I took the train from Picton to Christchurch last summer and one of the unexpected highlights was the cicadas en route. Their song was deafening and standing out back on the tourist caboose you would regularly get bombarded with stunned cicadas, 20-30 at a time till they staggered to their feet and flew off again. Highly entertaining, and combined with the tunnels, the seals on the rocks nearby, etc, certainly highly memorable. It’d be a shame to lose that.

  15. NZTA has said to fix the worst effect section of damage being the 14 kms south of Kaikoura is going to be very, very expensive and wouldn’t resolve the ongoing problems. NZTA believes that a new road is necessary hence incorporating the the rail line is the better option but the price is conservatively $2-3 billon. The Christchurch/Picton/Christchurch road/rail link is of national importance, so the Government has to do something about it, unless a lot of freight ferries are going to be purchase to operate freight only services between Wellington and Christchurch

  16. Talk appears to be turning to building an entire new road through the the route currently traversed by the Kaikoura inland road. The route certainly looks like it doesn’t pose any real engineering issues.

  17. Fixing both the road and the rail line is going to be mammoth task. However, after looking at a number of photos and videos, it may appear that repairing the rail line would be easier than the road. The reason I state this is that the rail line between the Conway and Seddon which covers the impacted area has a significant number of tunnels, totalling over 5 km long. Given the geography, these tunnels are through the steepest terrain, and therefore through some of the areas that have had the worst slips. As an example, if you look at the slip in the linked picture from stuff, you can see the entrance to the rail tunnel on the centre left of the picture, well clear of the worst of the slip.×349.1fgbf8.png/1479256193095.jpg If the tunnels themselves are structually sound, then this may present a somewhat simpler option to get an essential link to Kaikoura up an running.

    This does still remain a significant task with still significant slips outside of the tunnels and significant ground deformation in some areas. It will also be a challenge to get large earthmoving equipment into the affected areas without a working road. Along with this, the line will need to be completely relaid in a number of areas.

    If it then becomes possible to get the rail line up and working, then this could provide both passenger and freight links between Nelson, Picton, Blenheim, Kaikoura and Christchurch. Would a combined car/passenger train be an option to allow people to take their vehicles on the train, whilst enjoying the journey in the passenger carriage, collectingn their vehicle at the other end and contrinuing their journey?

  18. Running the ferries to Lyttelton reduces capacity, as it means fewer crossings. To maintain the same amount of trips, you would need a number of additional ferries.

    I don’t think any major rebuild of the road involving elbaorate tunnels and bridges will happen. It’s only 3,000 vehicles per day. They’ll clear the rubble, repair the bridges, and do a few small realignments, and that’ll be it.

    Let’s hope the railway is repaired. New bridges are required, new grades need to be built, and 14km of track needs to be put back on its formation, on top of all the landslide clearance projects.

  19. As lovely as the Lyttelton-Wellington route would sound (I would support it 100%) there are several major issues that KiwiRail and Strait Shipping has…

    A) Only one ferry can handle the rail wagons, and that is the Aratere which is a ferry with a very high vehicle deck and the rail deck below that. If the Aratere was built then Lyttelton would have to hastily build a road/rail bridge to connect it up to the ferry.
    B) The Kaitaki is probably the best option, but will require only truck trailers and despite being our biggest ferry. It will only be able to carry a very limited number of trailers. AND it would need a complete renovation because it isn’t suited for a 10 hour journey.

    I think the best option is to quickly lease a truck RORO ferry to take the majority of the trucks off the alternative route.

  20. A bit depressing reading the above.
    From a tourist perspective there needs to be at least some way of keeping the coast road/rail link open. At the same time how is it we have relied on such a road/rail link as being the primary freight route. Decades of piss-poor ‘planning’ and underinvestment coming home to roost, and the answer is for the same clowns to do more ‘planning’.

    If the tunnels have held up, perhaps the answer is more tunnels, not less? Especially given modern tunnels can be of a high engineering standard. Something along the lines of the the train line linking the Cinque Terre in Italy which is mostly in tunnel springs to mind.

    Get somebody else in here and see what they ‘can’ do. I fear all we will get from NZ authorities is the ‘you can’t do this’ and ‘you can’t do that’ attitude that prevails. No money for anything, but $500million/week for welfare.

  21. What about thinking differently on this. What would happen if the country was to only restore the train line, and leave the road covered by slips? As tourist boom, people would have to take the train. As MrV says, more tunnels, less rockfall.

    Passengers: go by rail. It’s a great trip. Freight – would have to go by rail. No more wasteful car trips, no more head on crashes from sleepy drivers. Massive saving on repair bill, massive decrease in carbon emissions. Public transport win, all the way. What’s not to like?

    1. Guy I think public outrage makes it politically impossible for any Government to refuse to re-instate the Kaikoura Highway and rail route. Whether that re-instated route will be commercially viable by 2018 is another question entirely. Kiwi Rail is on its knees.

  22. An Alternative North to South Island Link.

    News articles regarding alternatives for freight started my thought process.

    Sundays 7.5 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks whilst it has had a detrimental effect on people’s lives and possessions it has also highlighted the failings in our transport network. It’s a stark reminder of how important coastal shipping services are to the NZ transport network.

    Since the major earthquake on Sunday it’s fair to say Christchurch and many other South Island areas are cut off from receiving major quantities of freight as the road and rail networks to Christchurch are severely damaged and unusable. Therefore, sea routes are the only ones open to carry major volumes of freight into our city for distribution.

    With the catastrophic effects the seismic events have had on the road and rail network between Picton and Christchurch combined with the Kiwi Rail review and re tonnageing exercise it gives the current Government a real opportunity to lead the change required to Inter Island transport.

    This change should provide alternatives so in future we are not as reliant as we currently are on road and rail.

    So what needs to be done?

    In my view the rail link between Picton and Christchurch could be made redundant by the introduction of a superior coastal shipping service. This would halt any further capital expenditure on current or new rail capable ferries or reinstating the damaged rail network between Picton and Christchurch.

    Today’s freight is almost exclusively containerised, a highly efficient method for ships to stack and carry cargo in three dimensions – high, wide and long.
    Trains and rail ferries cannot move goods this way, with only one dimension typically available plus the additional length and dead weight of rail wagons.
    Put bluntly, moving unitised freight by sea on rail wagons is a clumsy, costly and an obsolete concept.
    Therefore, investment would be required in container carrying vessels that can utlise existing ports and crane facilities. These types of vessels are plentiful and can be chartered or purchased. These vessels in the first instance can operate between Wellington and Lyttelton but expansion to other North or South island ports should also be considered.

    Services for passengers, cars and trucks can be adequately provided by the current alternative provider who may in fact increase their own services.

    Changing rail freight flows from Cook Strait to direct sea links around the coast will not handicap users, as extra vessels will provide similar service and network frequency.
    Importantly, this shift in inter-island links will not only cut costs and improve freight efficiency, but will assist KiwiRail to develop more productive intra-island routes.
    The growth of inland freight hubs near major ports is tailor-made for rail to provide commercially viable services linking main centres within each of the North and South Islands.

    This devastating event has given the Government the opportunity for serious attention to be paid to resolving the dilemma facing rail and road and to give the country a coastal shipping option as an alternative to the current failed network.

    Clearly road and rail infrastructure need huge capital to build, are costly to maintain and as we’ve experienced can be destroyed. Sea lanes are free, require no ongoing maintenance and importantly unlikely to be destroyed, and will give Christchurch an alternative supply for freight and opportunities for freight distribution centres to be set up for other South island cities and towns.

    Rod Grout
    [email protected]

    1. You make some good points. However, I think people have been very quick to forget the damage to Lyttelton Port in the 2011 quake. All modes can be impacted by quakes.

  23. You would wonder if this might be the killer blow for both the Picton-Chch rail and the NIMT as well. That would save much of the $250M odd losses that railfreight makes. Remnants of the line could be used for a cycleway?

  24. One of the difficulties about container transshipment is that currently southbound freight is predominantly break bulk palletised freight on curtain sider B-trains. This comprises Foodstuffs & General Import Consumer Merchandise from Auckland warehouses.

    Northbound freight is predominantly containerised export cargoes like meat & milk powder.

    Historically logistics supply chains from Auckland have demanded the flexibility of overnight trucking so eschewed use of containers southbound. Naturally at the moment they have no other option, but it is not as simple as saying, let’s sling everything in containers.

  25. The visit of 9,640 TEU Aotea Maersk to Tauranga in October 2016 is the real problem for South Island exporters. Whilst it drives down the unit cost of shipping containers to Asia to something like $300 per box down from almost double that previously, it also renders redundant international shipping from Lyttleton.

    Thus when a massive earthquake destroys transport infrastructure it is almost as if New Zealand’s carotid artery was severed. Personally I cannot believe this National Government is offering tax cuts when the country is in such deep crises?

    Either John Key & co have no grasp of the facts or they are recklessly ignoring the reality.

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