Kaikoura Earthquake – Transport Update

Our transport correspondent emails again:

And on Day 3 work continues.

Thanks to our, and other countries, military helicopters, private helicopters and the navies of NZ, USA, Australia, Singapore, and Canada many of the tourists trapped in Kaikoura will be evacuated by the end of the day. There are many smaller settlements who have suffered damage and are trying to put their own lives back together, but without the media attention given to Kaikoura. All of them will struggle to deal with this.

However there will not be the media attention focused on the logistics issues that we now face as it doesn’t create the sort of news that the media thinks they need to sell advertising space.

The logistics task is immense (that is IM bloody MENSE), and is destined to burden the pockets of South Island residents for at least a year. The burden will be felt through increased logistic costs in getting goods to and from the South Island without a reliable transport network.

The enormity of this task is yet to hit home, and I rate this as the biggest logistical challenge New Zealand has faced for as long as I can remember. Worse because the reality hasn’t hit yet.

Freight Challenges:

Freight can only move through 3 ways to the South Island. By air, by sea, or by a mix of sea and land.

Air is expensive relative to the other modes. It is very fast, but has no infrastructure (either flying or land based) to support high volumes, and there is no financial ability to fly most freight as weight or size make air freight unaffordable.

Sea is already a well-used mode. We no longer have any New Zealand owned shipping companies in New Zealand, and this has been a blessing in some ways. The opening of our coast to foreign vessels has greatly reduced the costs of domestic sea freight (despite the delusional dreams of some reactionary folk who have distant memories of when times were good, and want to return to the days of Muldoon and government control. As they’ve aged they have failed to remember that times really weren’t that good) Coastal sea freight is efficient and effective, but is not fast or frequent, although it is generally cost effective.

The Sea/Land mix has land operations where there is land, either by Road or Rail, and ferries for the blue bits between the Islands. This is the bit that is broken

All of these modes have different degrees of infrastructure required to support them. Arguably Rail has the greatest requirement as it is laid out all over the country, followed by Ports and Airports together with considerable fixed infrastructure, and last in the pack is road, which has far less concentrated infrastructure, and is spread in unconnected bits all over the country, and then runs on rubber tyres when it can. The level of complexity of the infrastructure dictates the flexibility in times of change and disaster. In this road is the most flexible by a significant margin.

In this mix Wellington Port has been seriously hit, as has the Rail network. Neither of these can go anywhere, and their services are diminished as a result. Road has been hit also of course, but it has the flexibility to change the route it travels, although costs increase in direct proportion to the time and distance travelled.

Wellington Port has suffered immensely. As it sits now it cannot handle conventional and container vessels until a full survey is completed to ensure that operations are safe. Currently the survey is underway, but will probably take four more days to complete. Hopefully it finds that operations can continue. If not CentrePort will be out of commission in some areas until rectification is completed. We know from the work in Lyttelton that this work takes time, resource and money. Also out of commission currently are the refuelling facilities for marine vessels. That means that ships cannot be “bunkered” until this equipment is certified and approved. It is not easy to tow a ship into a “petrol station”.

The ferry areas are different to the “main” port as their demands are for space rather than weight, and their cargo rolls in on rubber tyres and can be moved around more easily and it generally has a person who moves it. Their berthage and loading requirements are different, and the vessels are smaller. Currently Bluebridge have 50% capacity running for freight, and InterIslander have 60%. Both will have more as soon as engineering work to repair damage is completed. There are space constraints as some areas of the wharf have been found to be unsafe for heavy vehicles, and this means that the areas required for vehicle marshalling are reduced. The reduction in capacity for freight translates directly into passenger reductions, and there is already a significant backlog which both companies are addressing. Carrying passengers reduces Dangerous Goods capacity, and currently there is a backlog of DG to catch up on.

While this “choking” is occurring at the Ferry Terminals, there is also a “choking” of the two freight modes. KiwiRail have now got their freight system working to Spring Creek (near Blenheim) but from there south the only option is road transport, via the longer inland route.

The road industry is moving along the 30% longer Lewis Pass route, and freight is moving both North and South, but it is “choked” by the ferry constraints and the productivity loss through the extra distance that is now travelled. For us today a run from Christchurch to Picton took us just on 12 hours (including deliveries). Under the old State Highway one rules it would have taken 5 hours one way, 6 back and a full round trip would have been completed. So far we have only done half of the trip, and our driver is staying in Picton overnight. That equates to a 50% productivity loss in simple terms.

So with the 50% loss of Ferry capacity only half the stuff is coming South, and then the capacity to move goods from Picton to Christchurch is reduced by another 50% through longer travel. Nett result is that only 25% of freight is able to move effectively. That is a significant reduction, and is not sustainable for people in Christchurch who like to eat or wear clothes.

Other options are to increase the goods sent by coastal shipping. This is already happening, and will assist, although not in a timely manner.

This will require bigger shipments and more storage of goods prior to sale as a result. This will increase warehouse costs, in a city still recovering from an earthquake itself. Warehousing will be at a premium. This will add costs which were saved by using “Just in Time” methods.

Ferries will consider shipping direct from Wellington to Lyttelton. The major impediment is that Lyttelton does not have the infrastructure for RoRo ferries, although this is being worked on. Many people see this as a good solution. Few have considered that the one way sailing time will be roughly 12 hours, compared to a current 4 hour sailing. That means the ferry efficiency (if measured in tonnage delivered from one Island to the other) is reduced by about 70%, and costs will increase in direct relation to the distance and time taken for the longer voyage. While it appears to be a good solution, it reduces capacity more than it gains.

The solution to this is to apply additional ferries, but they are as scarce as rocking horse shit, and would require a lot of work and time to get them to our home at the bottom of the world.

So then another suggestion is to increase the weights that each truck can carry to increase efficiency. While that sounds good it would have roading engineers falling over with worry. The reality of this suggestion is that we are already at the limits that our roads can cope with. Recent HPMV and 50Max productivity gains have been calculated on the maximum weights carried without causing unreasonable road wear. There is no room for this at all as it would cause accelerated wear on a network suffering reduced capacity with SH1 closed.

Another suggestion was to change the current driving hours rules to allow drivers to work more hours than the 13 hours they currently work. From a concerned employer’s viewpoint I feel this suggestion is somewhat bloody stupid, as we are asking people to drive through difficult terrain on unfamiliar roads that are narrow and damaged, and want them to drive longer hours. There could be more flexibility with breaks and times to suit the geography in some cases perhaps, but longer hours would be hard to justify in this OSH world.

So that begs the question: What is the solution? And there is not just one. There will be a myriad of options and combinations taken up by suppliers and freight providers, and provided Wellington wharf can operate  fully the freight will get through, albeit slowly.

The people who will suffer from this will be those in the South Island; both in a time and money penalty. The time penalty is not easily fixed, and the money penalty depends on how the increased costs are charged and calculated.

This of course tells some of the freight story, but spare a thought for the telephone cables that traditionally travel alongside the rail corridor. These carry telephone, data and Rail signal data. Half of this capacity was swept away as the fibre optic cables alongside the Main Trunk line were damage. Currently there are a number of repairs needed, and access is needed to make those repairs. Half the capacity goers through Greymouth, and half down the Kaikoura Coast.  It is possible that YouTube may run slower.

And then we have those well meaning folk who consider that a road that has existed for over 100 years, built through incredibly tough (read scenic) terrain, and running parallel to maybe 5 fault lines which originally squeezed the mountain ranges of rock up from the centre of the earth can somehow be miraculously replaced using modern technology. Good luck, that won’t take long.

I’ll leave NZ market size, on-road communications, driver fatigue, weather, future alternative routes, and other troubling subjects for another day.

New Zealand faces an enormous task and isn’t at all helped by tin-eared idiots like Phil Goff.


–via email


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