A transport perspective on the Kaikoura Earthquake

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A reader, who is connected to the transport industry sent this to me which explains the enormity of the damage from the Kaikoura Earthquake

What a day for the good folk of Kaikoura. It took only seconds to reshape their world completely.

A popular tourist town, on a main highway was turned from a business success story to an isolated outpost, with dwindling food and resources within those few seconds.

Kaikoura is reachable only by air, and one of what I consider to be the best drives in the world is hidden underneath what is estimated to be a million cubic metres of earth. To put that into perspective, that equates to about 750,000 tonnes of soil and rock and trees. That truly is awesome power, in the proper, not popular, use of the word.

For Kaikoura and the small towns of northern Canterbury things are pretty grim. Towns which were benefitting from people moving north out of Christchurch, to avoid earthquakes, have been stuck down. This is a huge mental strike into the minds of these people, and into their deepest, innermost insecurities. A huge blow to their mindset.

There is now nothing to do but to start again and rebuild what has been destroyed and damaged. Some things will never be repaired. Farms and rivers will be scarred forever. Roads and rail will be rebuilt.

The task of rebuilding the transport infrastructure will be dealt with first, and is undoubtedly the most important in national terms. That is not to diminish the efforts to repair personal property, but it is indeed personal property, and not essential for the nation as a whole.

It is easy to forget that Wellington also took a hit, and while the damage appears superficial to those outside, there will still be considerable damage to be repaired in the capital.

Nice gestures from people add some pleasure to the pain.

The Thai lady in Kaikoura who was unable to run her restaurant took all her food and gas cookers to the local campsite, and used it all feeding the people trapped there.

Parliament Buildings were opened to people in Wellington evacuated from their hostels and back packer accommodation to provide food and shelter.

There will be hundreds if not thousands of kind acts done without publicity and for only the good of the people affected by loss.  

The Ferry services resumed in a reduced manner last night. Both services managed to make some sailings and slowly people and freight will start to move again. At this point there has only been one passenger sailing, and there is a build-up of freight and people. I can see the Ferry companies having to prioritise freight so that food and water supplies take priority. Potentially this will affect some of our customers. Currently both ferry companies cannot run to capacity as there are engineering limitations that have allowed them to only partially resume services.

There will be no rail freight, on rail, for some time.

The railway has been destroyed along the coast, and the fix will not occur until after the road has been repaired. Repairing the road will be the fastest way of repairing the rail, and access for heavy machinery will be by road, as it is cleared.

Rail freight will become road freight, and this will increase the load on road.

Limited access between Picton and Christchurch has now been restored. SH7, through the Lewis Pass is now open, with advice that the road is damaged, and extreme care is required. This will present lots of issues for motorists, and for freight access. There are only limited hours of access also, further compounding the build-up of freight and people.

Arthurs Pass route is open.

The amount of traffic will increase way above normal levels. SH1 used to carry 3000-4000 trucks per day along the Kaikoura Coast. This will have to transfer to the much longer Lewis Pass route if Christchurch and Dunedin, Queenstown, Invercargill and all of the surrounding towns are to be supplied at the levels that they expect.

There will be inevitable delays. First from the additional distance required to be travelled. Previously the trip from Picton to Christchurch was about 330km, and 5½ hours by truck. It was an easy return day trip.

The longer Lewis Pass route is about 580km (75% longer in distance) and will take about 10 ½ hours by truck. This will effectively double the time it takes to move freight, and require additional vehicles to meet the demand. This at a time when, approaching Christmas, there is not much additional capacity available.  This will mean stuff doesn’t get through.

The even longer Arthur’s Pass route is around 600km (similar to Auckland to Wellington), but around 11 ½ hours truck travel time.

For North Island people the change is like going from Auckland to Turangi and back, compared to Auckland to Wellington and back.

This is a very different situation to the Christchurch earthquakes. There the demand for goods increased, but the transport network remained a reliable constant. In this case the demand for goods will not increase significantly, given the different nature of the bulk of the damage. In this case, the network to deliver the goods has been severely damages, and the reliability, and dependability has been seriously altered. The network and transport industry will struggle in a way that will make South Island supply quite uncomfortable until the SH1 is opened to normal traffic.

Realistically that will take months, if not years to return to normal.

Odd side benefits will be the extra accommodation and meal requirements for travellers and transport operators travelling through areas not so frequently travelled. Jill’s Café in Outer Nowhere will become very busy, and so will hundreds of other cafes and motels.

A truck trip to Picton will now take two days from Christchurch. That effectively means that double the number of drivers and trucks will be required to shift the same amount of goods. That resource does not exist, so supplies will be reduced. Higher Productivity trucks will assist this, but the road through SH7 is a lot slower, and lot more challenging for a driver. This will, and I stress will, lead to delays. It will also lead to increased cost of transport, and increased pressure on the already damaged infrastructure. The challenge will be in how customers, suppliers and consumers react to these additional costs and pressures.

We have shipped two trucks to Christchurch yesterday, and they will both be there by Friday. That will add to our ability to service, but won’t increase capacity because of the distance demand. We believe we will be able to meet the current demand, and will add additional resource as the situation becomes clearer.

Logistically it will best be described as “a giant balls up”, but that is nothing compared to the hearts and souls of the private people whose lives have been ripped to bits by this calamity.

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