Last Friday the NZTA finally reopened the section of State Highway north of Kaikoura. It was immediately clear after the earthquakes that the repair was going to be a huge job and it’s taken one year, one month and one day just to get to this point. This comes after the rail line was partially reopened a few months ago. All up an impressive achievement.

One of the larger slips just over a year ago

For both modes there’s still a lot of work to be done and by the time it’s all finished, it is expected to cost $1.2 billion (some of which comes from insurance). That would make it one of the largest transport projects in New Zealand.

And this video gives some more details and numbers on it all

As disruptive and costly as the earthquake has been, it has likely played a useful role in highlighting the value of rail along the corridor. Kiwirail say that even with their limited re-opening of the line for the last few months that they’ve moved over 67,000 tonnes of freight and that it has meant about 4,500 fewer truck journeys on the alternate road route.

I do wonder if what has been achieved should raise questions about other projects. As they note in the video, a project of the scale of what’s been achieved would usually take years of planning before any dirt was moved. Compare that to Auckland’s much needed Eastern Busway. Auckland Transport are now into their 8th year of existence and it’s a project all agencies and political parties have supported yet progress has been glacial. Granted, most projects like busways will often require buying land have other issues that need to be resolved but working out how we can get projects delivered faster will be crucial if we’re to make an inroad into our infrastructure debt.

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56 comments

  1. No indication yet on when the passenger rail service is going to re-open. It’s great the freight is getting through – but we need the passenger trains there too!

        1. It’s a bit of a moot point. The track has not been repaired to passenger standard yet and at the speed freight trains are currently travelling it would be too long for a viable passenger service.

          Like the road, the railway line still has a lot of work to go. The main purpose of getting it open early with limited capacity was to at least get some of the trucks off the Lewis Pass road.

        2. In this case a better experience for however many thousands of tourists is ‘pipped’ by the many avoided costs (financial and environmental) of moving stuff more efficiently, yes.

        3. In general the freight services have not been running at the times the passenger service used to run, so there would not be any direct conflict if it were to run now. The main issues are that the daytime slots are still being used for work activities and the repaired section of route still has many temporary speed restrictions which would significantly impact on passenger timings.

          But it does beg the question, why are we allowing private cars including joyriders and tourists to use the “limited highway service” as this must also compromise “more important activities”. Too often in Kiwi-land passenger rail services are treated as “dispensable”, because there is usually the option having road to fall back on, albeit in this case the inland alternative route. In countries where rail is taken more seriously and where it is much-more the mainstay of the transport system, maintaining passenger services is given far higher priority.

          1. In those countries where rail is taken “much more seriously” it is not for that reason alone. It is because the population density or other factors are much more significant that more people would want to travel.

          2. Patrick I fear population-density is an excuse all-too-often trotted out in New Zealand.
            Have a look at Norway, Sweden and Finland. You will see similar population densities to ours, but a much healthier attitude to passenger trains. Even the rural and mountainous South eastern corner of Switzerland comes into this category, and yet it provides a comprehensive and reliable rail service.

            One difference is that these countries have not recently suffered 9 years under a government unenthusiastic for rail, like we have.

        4. I wonder how much cheaper the project would have been if they had not put the road back, and just got the rail running on its own? Would it have been so bad to say – from now on, this route is to be rail only, so all freight and all passengers, can go only by rail. No more road. Several billion saved? I’ve driven the route and i’ve railed the route, and the scenery is so stunning that all you want to do is look out the window. Better you do that from a train than from a car…

          1. Not sure how much the residents of Kaikoura and other places along the coast would appreciate that.

            While it would be great to have more freight and passengers going by train, I personally would prefer to have to option to either train or drive depending on the nature of my holiday.

          2. Having multiple transport options for holidaying is a luxury. Moving forward, there are places that might be better served by having only rail and circuitous road, or rail and good coastal connections. Not every community needs or even wants direct road connections, and where eco-tourism could be a big part of the local industry, the point of difference could play to their advantage. If we’re serious about protecting the environment and minimising climate change, and if we can put aside corporate economics in favour of local businesses, then the “must always reinstate the road” same-same thinking doesn’t really have a place.

          3. We are a first world country, I think the luxury of being able to drive or catch PT while on holiday is quite reasonable. Of course it would be better if the cars didn’t burn hydrocarbons.

            I think it would be great if train and bus services good enough that many people chose to use them instead of driving. However, if I wanted to go for a surf at Clarence or a dive at Goose Bay I’d probably take a car as I could get me and my gear to exactly where I wanted. If I just wanted to go to Kaikoura and relax I’d take the train.

            I think not-rebuilding the road would be disastrous for Kaikoura businesses as I think most self-drive tourists would just bypass the town rather than catch the train. I don’t think treating a small community as a laboratory experiment for our urban ideals is the way to win friends and have these ideas succeed in the long run.

          4. But Jezza, have a look at one of Switzerland’s most successful tourist destinations – Zermatt. Car-free, except for electric shuttle buses and horse-drawn cabs! Most people get there by train. They banned cars (ages ago – not sure when) because the place was becoming a traffic-sewer. Since then business has boomed!

            https://www.zermatt.ch/en/arrival

          5. I’ve actually been to Zermatt and I agree it is great! I assume when Zermatt went car-free it was decided by the community, not by urban liberals in Geneva and Zurich.

            I imagine Kaikoura would not want to go down this path in the immediate future given the way visitor travel is structured in NZ at the moment, but could well in the future. I was replying to Guy’s comment about not rebuilding the road at all.

            Zermatt still caters for people travelling by car, you just park at a giant Park N Ride at the next station down the line. Zermatt is also at the end of the line so a decision to remove cars does not impact on people’s choice to drive from Geneva to say Brig. Not rebuilding the Kaikoura coast road also impacts on anyone driving between Chch and Blenheim and to other points along the coast.

            Switzerland still has a good road network and plenty of people drive, however it has found a better balance between roads, PT, and people space than NZ has.

          6. When I travel, I seek out the places where cars cannot go. It’s like suburbs and small towns. We have no choice now. Everywhere in NZ you must have access via car, and – what is it, a B-train? – must have access too. This flies in the face of valuing diversity and allowing new patterns to unfold. There is no choice. Sure, it’s the minority who want the car-free option. But if the minority can have it, and it proves economic, and healthy, and preferred, the demand will grow.

          7. Why do we have roads? Because road transport was invented 100 years ago and has taken over and become superior to rail. And that’s why most of the railway network in NZ was completed by that same timeframe. It’s hard to argue against 100 years of history.

          8. Who needs a railway line? All the freight can go by sea, with a few trucks to move it from the nearest port to all those settlements along the coast. Just build a couple of freight ports between Christchurch and Picton. No rail line is needed to move freight between Wellington and Christchurch because it can all go by sea (and until 1945, it did)

  2. This is a great point – any indication of how our major project timelines compare with other first world countries? I’d like to think Auckland will have the infra we need now within my life time but I’m not so optimistic any more.

    1. Same here, I commute western line to CBD and I feel disappointed there is no start to the CRL works at Mt Eden. Seems there is just no interest in progressing this project, instead it just keeps getting extended, now 2024, whats next 2026?
      The planners. management in CRLL should be shamed for their feet dragging.

      1. The CRL proper was never due to start before 2018 as it is a pretty serious piece of design and procurement. The work at the moment, which is classified as enabling works was brought forward to allow Commercial Bay to get on with their development.

        A similar thing happened with Britomart, the entrance tunnel was built in 1998-99 before the project had even been finalised to allow development above to proceed.

        I agree though, sneaking out beyond 2023 is concerning.

      2. Interesting how in Wellington, former PM John Key announced a completely out-of-left-field road project – the Arras Tunnel – in August 2012. The deadline was to get it finished including the park on top of it by Anzac Day 2015.

        In the event the tunnel was opened to traffic in Sept 2014 – barely more than 2 years from the project’s inception.

        Just goes to show that things can happen quickly when the politicians get behind it, even for vanity projects such as this was. Unfortunately the much-more important CRL has yet to have such a resolute push from government.

        1. Apparently Australia told John Key that they were not prepared to build the the new Australian WWI memorial beside a road in Wellington so this galvanised him into fasttracking the Arras Tunnel Project so it would be completed by Anzac Day 2015

          1. Good on Aus for shaming NZ into action then. It made for an interesting day in Parliament – somehow the Gov held a gun to the heads of all the politicians and they agreed – Nats, Labour, NZ First, and the Greens, all voted to do away with due process such as the RMA and proceed direct to give Gov powers to act.

            They had 9 years to do the tunnel properly, but farted around for 7 years, and then under urgency, they did it in 2. Seems like a true NZ way to act. Imagine what would happen if we actually planned things out instead of leave it till the last minute and then panic like a cat seeing a cucumber.

            But it is not exactly surprising. We have no planners in government – no architects, no visionaries, no project managers, no Ministry of Works.

          1. Complete vanity project Patrick, in that the traffic benefits achieved are virtually zero, over and above what simply closing off Tory Street and Tasman Street would have achieved for about 0.5% of the price. And this route is all-but de-trafficked now anyway.

            OK, we got a nice-to-have park covering-over a 200m-stretch of pre-existing highway, but $124 million was massive price to pay for a park.

  3. Very impressed. I hope the engineers involved get a generous Xmas bonus.
    It makes one wonder at the abilities of our Victorian forebears who built railways and roads without GPS and giant earth movers and sometimes faster than we build today.
    How can the full social and economic value of 4,500 truck journeys be calculated? It is heavy trucks that cause all the wear and tear maintenance costs on roads and how can you put a value on the tourist experience of driving on SH1 when it is empty compared to the same in the middle of a truck convoy?

      1. A total of 73 workers died during the construction of the Forth Bridge, the rail bridge that opened in 1890, while 7 workers died during the construction of the Forth Road Bridge, which opened in 1964.

          1. Exemplar: “serving as a typical example or appropriate model” everyone would have to agree but a rational person should be in awe of Victorian achievements.
            It depends on how you look at things: how for example how could they tolerate slavery and no rights for women. On the other hand slavery existed in every known historic empire in Europe and Asia and South America and it was the arrogant Victorians who actually acted on the long known concept that ‘God made us all’ and used their navy to eliminate it (last country to officially abolish slavery was Mauritania in 1981). And which was the first civilisation to actually discuss the rights of women: not ancient Greece, or mighty Rome or the vikings or any Chinese, Indian, Japanese civilisation. However this could create a major discussion on a different blog. So for transport take my late brother’s example – the Victorians built a railways from Perth to Inverness crossing the most difficult mountains in the UK and almost a century later they decided they wanted a new marshaling yard in Perth. The former took 8 months and the later 6 years and was closed a few years later.
            I’m still waiting to see a building in NZ as inspiring as the Dunedin railway station.

      2. Yet we continue to tolerate 300+ deaths on our roads each year, and we resist the sort of drastic reformation of our transport strategy necessary to eliminate this.
        I wonder how many horse+cart fatalities our Victorian forefathers tolerated?

          1. Or it could be a safe transport system. Sweden manages 80% fewer fatalaties per capita. That technology is invented and proven.

          2. The underlying technology that is used in AVs and exists today could easily by used for a collision avoidance system in cars with drivers. Of course that might not be so popular with drivers when it makes you stop at an orange light you were planning to run or slows down to 20kmh when passing a kid riding a bike.

          3. +1, driving legally is so unpopular that on any one trip only a rounding error’s worth of motorists do so.

  4. Ironically NZTA announced a review of the resilience of SH1 between Blenheim and Chch just a few weeks before the Kaikoura earthquake.

  5. The previous government passed legislation under urgency to circumvent the consenting process for Kaikoura. Admittedly it’s not always the best approach, but should be considered for other nationally urgent projects.

    1. Sometimes needed, for example this project. But there are environmental risks when taking this approach.

      I’d hate to see a free for all on projects ignoring the consenting process, it should only be done for very nationally urgent projects. As has happened here, let not make it a common scenario.

    2. I can think of two nationally urgent projects. Providing housing and reducing car dependency. How about they pass legislation to block all rat runs in Auckland with clusters of tiny houses?

  6. Be careful what you wish for. The Kaikoura project involved a hell of a lot of earthworks in a coastal environment without much in the way of mitigation or monitoring. If you could do that anywhere then NZTA could have left out the Manukau Harbour part out of the East West link application and just sent some bulldozers in to build it instead.

    1. +1, if we want to look at fast tracked projects then NCI is probably the better example. 7 years from conception to completion despite huge capacity issues in the industry

    2. +1 My son is fascinated by the wildlife on that coast (sadly from DVD’s not real life experience.) I hope there’s not going to be a sequel showing the loss of species and diversity…

      1. +1. Fortunately wildlife have shown to be pretty resilient around the area and I think the natural damage the earthquake did dwarfs any damage the reconstruction work could do.

  7. An astonishing achievement by the NZTA-Downer-Kiwirail-FultonHogan-HEB-Higgins alliance, and the huge hours that they all put in to make it happen.

    I’m really sorry that it took massive earthquakes to force the state to gear up and form purpose-built alliances. But the organisational outcome is the kind of goal-driven cooperation that we are going to consistently need to get more road+rail transformations done. And there are so many to do.

    The state needs to learn the lessons of urgency and cooperation and governance machinery that made SCIRT happen, and take that right across the NZTA portfolio.

  8. It’s also worth noting that this project is nowhere near finished. The milestone they have reached is making the road passable, which is a pretty big achievement. There is still a lot of work before this is a completed two lane sealed road open 24/7.

  9. For all that amazing level of work. Which everyone involved with NCTIR needs to be applauded and thanked for, especially for their many personal sacrifices made in getting this link more or less open again.
    So yes, a big thank you to all.

    And yet…

    All NZTA et al have done is basically replicated what we already had built, which was a highway and railway adjacent an exposed and rough sea coast, with poor access and which was, and is, still continually prone to slips, erosion and sea inundation even in “normal” times.

    So we have made the old, better – but we have not removed the need to spend a lot more money over the coming decades keeping that road and rail corridor operational.

    Yes major bridges like Irongate [akin to the Newmarket viaduct in length/complexity] don’t get built every day or even this quickly. Nor usually even built in the way it was, where the “top” half of the bridge design is still happening even as the bridge foundations are being poured.
    So extraordinary responses were the order the day here.
    [shame we didn’t get this same approach in Christchurch 7 years ago though].

    But it does also raise in my mind the thoughts about what would have happened if the ‘quake peculiarities had meant that the road was less damaged and thus way more easily fixed but the railway was buggered? Would we have seen the degree of massive response we have here for fixing “just” a rail link, no matter how important it was?

    I can well have imagined the Trucking lobbyists would have been out full time whispering in Joyces and Bridges ears, arguing the case that rail was a dead duck and to spend the insurance money on fixing up/bettering the roads instead.

    We got a bit of that going on in the early days if I recall right – before it emerged that KR had wisely put in place insurance. When suddenly NZTA seemed to have an about face about their plans for “just” fixing their road – separately from KRs trackbed and rails – as I presume somewhere someone thought they could arrange for NZTA to “drink for free” from KR’s insurance money trough.

    But you still have to ask the question, when the next major natural disaster strikes [and there will be at least one if not several of those in our life times], – will we [NZ Inc] be any better off along this coast with a more resilient infrastructure for all that money that was [and still will be] spent?

    In many cases they have moved the road closer to the sea, utilising the coastal uplift and making use of the former beach area for roading. It will only be a temporary benefit, as sea level rise will eventually reclaim back most if not all that land that the earthquake gave us. It wont happen tomorrow, but it will happen. So we will have to revisit that road and railway alignment again [and again] no doubt in decades to come.

    I think so far we got off very lightly from this ‘quake, but that was mostly down to luck, not good management here. Example: the fact that the tide was out/low when the ‘quake hit meant that the tsunami damage which could have been severe – was minimal – but there was some tsunami damage in Kaikoura and elsewhere. Just not very much. We won’t always be so lucky.

    The Manawatu gorge road is in a similar damaged situation right now, how we respond to that will determine whether we get yet more “Kaikouras” semi regularly there or not.

    But this, like our current approach to the Road Toll shows, and also our “earthquake engineered” buildings – we clearly do need to adopt a different approach. We need to re-engineer our thinking about buildings as well as infrastructure – where we do a lot better than “at least don’t kill people” to start with, and do it so that they are actually (re)usable after most forseeable events.

    Same with cars and roads, you want to do everything you can to make it easy to avoid being in an accident to start with, then and only then do you rely on the safety systems in the car to protect people from harm.

    We can do this here with infrastructure by being very careful how and where we put our roads, railways and power lines, and don’t put all our transport links in the one basket [as we clearly have here, and in Wellington too], so that the next ex-tropical cyclone, weather bomb or severe rain event or doesn’t undo all the hard work.

    As the video clips mentioned – those two rain weather events in April did a lot of slip damage, yet they involved no new “ground shaking” types of events. Or things we had not dealt with before. It was only that they just happened closely together, at an inconvenient time.

    We can and will get more of those, and more closely spaced “inconvenient events” – we just need to design and build better than we’ve been able to get away with in the past.

    If, and only if, we can learn and apply this lesson, then we will be reaping those dividends during the natural disaster events that will occur in the years and decades to come when our infrastructure is still usable.

    Failure to apply this lesson will see us merely repeating the same mistakes of old, yet bizarrely, still expecting a better outcome to those that went before.

    1. Agree, Greg. One approach to readjusting our over-investment in and development of the coastlines might be regulation around insurance practices. In the private property sphere, insurance companies are not fully charging coastal properties for the risk they are taking because expensive overdeveloped coastal properties are often part of a larger portfolio. Without regulation, the insurance companies won’t reduce the premiums for risk of losing the client’s whole portfolio.

      What other concrete changes can you think of that would change mindset around this?

    2. “The Manawatu gorge road is in a similar damaged situation right now, how we respond to that will determine whether we get yet more “Kaikouras” semi regularly there or not.”

      NZTA should be adding up the additional travel time costs of the gorge closure. It would be a strong incentive to get cracking on an efficient and effective alternative.

    3. Let’s not have a highway or railway then. Everything and everyone can go by sea. Until 1945 when the railway was finished, that was what everyone did, the highway was a goat track in that era.

  10. What a load of politically correct claptrap. Lovely self-congratulatory videos. So how come it takes three years to add one lane each way to the North-West Motorway between Lincoln Rd and Royal Rd. Must be all of 2km and probably takes as much traffic daily as Kaikoura all year! Our contract process is hopeless.

  11. My parents own a motel in Picton and they’re hearing from customers that the road is already starting to break up from all the traffic.

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