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Thousands of slips blocked State Highway 1, the Inland Kaikoura Road and the Main North Line railway following the November earthquake, effectively cutting off all land routes into Kaikoura and disrupting the main freight route south – Photo courtesy of KiwiRail

Editorial – February / March 2017

The Kaikoura earthquake graphically demonstrated how vulnerable our transport networks are to natural disasters, and while the infrastructure might be fragile in the face of an earthquake, the people who operate our transport links are resilient.

Two minutes after midnight on 14 November last year will be etched into the consciousness of many living in the top half of the South Island and the lower North Island. GeoNet was to later report that much of the northeastern coast of the South Island was raised between 0.5 m and 2 m, graphically illustrated by the many photos of newly-exposed rock platforms covered in seaweed and unfortunate crayfish and paua who found themselves living high and dry.

That degree of uplift wreaks havoc on transport infrastructure, with roads torn apart and new ‘speed bumps’ created on state highways, some of which would tax even the likes of Evel Knievel. State Highway 1 and the Main North Line railway – already sited on a tortuous route – were practically destroyed. Wellington’s port was also badly damaged, with the container terminal rendered inoperable.

Living in New Zealand means living with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the associated dangers that come with these, including tsunamis, lahars and ash clouds – all of which disrupt our transport infrastructure. As Dr Ken Gledhill, the director of GeoNet, put it, we can’t stop the earth from shaking, and more earthquakes will come; earthquakes are why, in part, our country exists.

Following the Kaikoura earthquake, our principal transport providers acted rapidly and with agility to reconfigure essential links to keep freight moving inter-island. The NZ Transport Agency sent engineers and contractors at first light to assess the damage. With Kaikoura effectively cut off, the first priorities were to re-establish an inland route to the township and define a new state highway route for traffic travelling from Picton to Christchurch.

The ports of Auckland and Lyttelton should be commended for their rapid response to the disaster, working with KiwiRail and coastal shipping operators to establish a direct freight connection between the two ports using their inland hubs and rail connections.

I asked Iain MacIntyre, one of FTD’s regular writers, to look at the issue of our vulnerable transport infrastructure, but instead, he said, the story developed into one of resilience. You can read Iain’s story, plus other coverage of the earthquake, in this edition of FTD.

Until next time …
Lynne Richardson, editor


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