Transport Minister Simon Bridges says the Government is tending towards a complete realignment of the Seddon to Cheviot section of State Highway One and the adjacent rail line which has been destroyed by the Kaikoura earthquake.
The downside of that will be that the job will take longer and it will be more expensive.
Bridges says even a minimal “fix up” job would see the road and the rail out of action for at least six months.
Obviously, a complete rebuild and realignment would take longer, possibly much longer.
“There is a time trade-off, but we would try to open at some level and try to work around that,” he told POLITIK last night.
Bridges is being briefed twice daily by the CEOs of Maritime New Zealand, the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and KiwiRail on the situation one the ground.
And he is confident that he can get the money for what might turn out to be a very expensive rebuild.
“Obviously there is the issue of cost.
“But I don’t think that is so much of a problem here.
“There is a genuine willingness from the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister to use this as an opportunity to build a more resilient, safe and hopefully efficient transport network.”
Meanwhile, there is the question of how freight for Christchurch and further south can be moved.
Not only is the direct road route out but so is rail and around 50% of freight moving to Christchurch and south goes by rail.
Therefore Bridges has asked for an urgent assessment of the capacity of the alternative road routes via State Highway 7 and Maruia Springs.
But that’s around 50% as long again as the direct coastal route which has been destroyed.
Complicating things is the fact that from now till Christmas is the annual peak for freight to move south.
And added to that will be the pressure over January and February from tourist vehicles.
And the new heavyweight limits for so-called High Productivity Motor Vehicles (HPMVs) restrict the roads the big truck trailer units can operate on.
For that reason, the Government is exploring coastal shipping options to take some of the rail freight.
“it already does a very good job.
“it;’s a bit of an unsung hero because it doesn’t require the infrastructure investment of road or rail or even air.
“So it doesn’t get talked about as much.”
Bridges told POLITIK that options here included using the inter-island ferries and other forms of coastal shipping to go to Lyttelton or Timaru and even placing some freight on foreign ships travelling around the New Zealand coast.
What’s clear is that rebuilding the road and rail is likely to be a lengthy process.
One South Island contracting source said the first big problem would be finding a way to dispose of the debris which has slipped down on to the road and rail and then getting a resource consent to dump it.
Bridges said he had spoken to South Island contractors and they were confident they had the capacity to do the job.
There is a large amount of idle earth moving machinery in the South Island not working because of the shut down of the Stockton and other coal mines.
One of the big questions arising out of the earthquake will be the financial impact on KiwiRail.
Not only will it lose the direct revenue from the loss of the Picton to Christchurch line but that will have a domino effect on its revenue across the rest of the South Island network.
Added to that will the capital requirement for what could prove to be a highly expensive rail line rebuild.
But Bridges says the absence of the rail link actually highlights the importance of rail to the transport network.
So is the commitment to rebuild absolute?
“Yes, there is no question that we will be rebuilding State Highway One or that railway line.
“I think the only issue will be the changes to the road and the line.”
Bridges says the Government now faces a very practical set of issues.
“We are motivated to solve them not just for the South Island but for New Zealand.”