Monday, 11 December 2017

Repairs on Napier-Gisborne Line Bridge 290 (Waipaoa River)

This article was clipped from the FRONZ journal No.169 September 2017.

This may well have been overtaken by the change of government and focus on possible re-opening of the Gisborne line by the Labour-NZ First-Green coalition government.

Labour's policy for this line stated it could re-open if found to be sustainable. There is no real information that I can find on what the policy being adopted by the coalition government is.

The situation for the line is that with its low level of viability almost since the day it opened the condition at any one time has been at a relatively low standard and this is simply a fact of reality of the priority for resourcing within the national railway network. If the new government chooses to increase funding to enable the line to be restored and maintained further, they also need to accept that the work does not simply consist of repairing the washouts which have occurred in multiple locations. This blog details the original four locations that were reported on when the line was mothballed in 2012 and more recent aerial photography has shown up quite a lot of other damage in places.

To ensure the line can continue operation, if it is fully reopened, the future maintenance needs will need to be addressed also. For the last 30 years long-term maintenance has been patchy, resulting in extended periods of closure to remediate problems. This makes it difficult to keep customers happy when the services can be disrupted for a long period of time. The areas that would need to be addressed include weatherproofing over a large section of the Whareratas part which needs extra maintenance due to being on unstable land, and the general condition of Bridge 290 which has been allowed to deteriorate since it was damaged by Cyclone Bola in 1988. The underlying background to all of these things is insufficient revenue if there is not enough freight being hauled to cover costs.

The question of forestry slash flowing down off the hillsides and blocking culverts also needs to be addressed with the forestry industry and there should also be a review of whether forestry over the Wharerata Hills should be commercially exploited, given the poor condition of some of this land the forests should be put into the conservation estate.

GCVR has had to undertake maintenance of the section they are allowed to run on over the last few years. The reality is that this situation is the same as for any heritage railway in the country, few of whom can expect to have their maintenance costs paid for free of charge.

The coalition government has suggested rail tourism is a means of helping to increase the viability of the rail network. It remains to be seen if this is the case. Certainly the services being operated would probably have to be put onto a much more commercial footing with more frequent operation to capture a volume of tourist traffic. The market for long distance trains travelling the entire length of the railway is probably going to be limited, compared to a daily train operation over a shorter distance.