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Freight stop....A lot of freight going nowhere at the Timaru railway station on Tuesday afternoon. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

The main trunk rail line between the South Island’s two major centres, Christchurch and Dunedin, is likely to be shut for two weeks, KiwiRail says.

“We are working hard to reinstate services as quickly as possible for our customers,” KiwiRail executive general manager operations Siva Sivapakkiam said.

Although water levels were still high, KiwiRail was completing a full assessment of the damage caused by the weekend’s devastating Rangitata River flood.

“Around 350m of track has been affected by flooding at the weekend, and an initial assessment is that it has suffered significant damage.”

Around six services a day were affected, he said.

Last week, Timaru District Civil Defence started monitoring Rangitata River levels after heavy rain inundated the headlands. On Wednesday it issued a public warning.

On Friday evening and into Saturday morning thunder and lightning over the district were a portent of the massive flows of water which surged down the Rangitata River and broke its banks.

In the weekend’s destruction, Transpower had nine towers on a transmission line crossing the Rangitata River damaged and one tower was swept away.

A state of emergency was called in the Timaru district and homes bordering the river were evacuated.

State Highway 1 at the Rangitata River bridge was closed and traffic diverted via inland route SH72 to cross the Upper Rangitata River bridge at Arundel, where traffic queued. Heavy traffic has congested roads leading to the bridge and Geraldine since then.

Waiting game . . . Traffic travelling south on the Hinds-Arundel road has been backed up. This road links with State Highway 72. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

On Tuesday, changing river flows meant the evacuation area around Rangitata village had to be extended as Environment Canterbury staff and contractors worked in the river at Arundel and upstream of State Highway 1, diverting flows above the breakout point.

Big flows were expected to continue down the river’s south branch channel.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) said the flooding highlighted an urgent need for councils and central government to ramp up investment in New Zealand’s river management and flood-protection schemes.

Investment in river management and flood-control assets, such as stopbanks and weirs, stalled after the 1989 local government reforms, when central government withdrew capital funding for river management and flood-protection projects, LGNZ said.

“Communities, largely through regional councils, have continued to invest $200million a year in these schemes, but without central government support this critical infrastructure has not kept pace with growing flood risks,” LGNZ president Dave Cull said.