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KiwiRail’s tamper and crew in the yards at Picton ready to start work on the Main North Line

Restoration of the Christchurch-Picton rail line progressing well

A KiwiRail ballast tamper is assisting with the restoration of the Main North Line (MNL) railway linking Christchurch and Picton.


KiwiRail and NCTIR (the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery team) have reconnected the Main North Line between Christchurch and Ferniehurst so that massive work trains can help finish the repair.

“The damaged section of rail line, including major bridges, has been made ready to take the 1000-tonne-plus ballast and ‘tamper’ trains to complete the repair,” says KiwiRail group general manager of network services, Todd Moyle.

“The MNL is a critical part of the network for moving freight between the North and South Islands. Before the earthquake, more than 1 million tonnes of freight was moved on the MNL each year,” he adds. “Repairing the earthquake-damaged line has been a huge challenge for KiwiRail and NCTIR crews, and this scale of rail reconnection hasn’t happened here since the lines were built.”

Mr Moyle says several bridges, culverts and large areas of the railway embankment needed serious repair. “This is a difficult job in the narrow rail corridor and they now have been repaired on the track between Waipara and Ferniehurst, just north of Cheviot. The next phase will be to replace the huge amount of ballast shaken loose during the quake, and then tamp it.”

Packing ballast

The ballast tamper, along with its crew of six, is normally based in Palmerston North, but arrived in the South Island in mid-March after being shipped across Cook Strait on the Aratere. It consists of three units weighing a total of 230 tonnes.

“Bringing a tamper down from the North Island helps us to work on the line from both ends at once, and that will help us get the line up and running as soon as possible,” says Mr Moyle. “There are two tamper units that are based in the South Island, but they are both south of where the line was cut. One of those tampers is now working north.”

The tamper follows the maintenance trains, which are replacing ballast that was lost during the November earthquake. It packs the ballast under the sleepers and corrects the track alignment. “The work it does is vital to preparing the line to re-open,” adds Mr Moyle.

Care needed

Now that these massive work trains are working on the lines, KiwiRail says care is needed by those crossing the tracks. “The public and KiwiRail’s neighbours will need to be careful around level crossings again. Hi-rail vehicles – trucks that go on rail – and work supply trains will be moving up and down the line constantly,” warns Mr Moyle.

“We are urging those travelling in the area to treat the corridor as ‘live’ and to take care on both the road and rail as we come into winter, as the entire transport corridor between Blenheim and Waipara is a rail and road construction site,” he adds.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’re making. Getting to this point means the thousands of hours of design and construction work by the crews has paid off.”

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