7 months and one winter until SH1 reopens

Another guest post from our Trucking industry insider

The issues of Kaikoura won’t go away, and can’t until Kaikoura has restored road access from both North and South, with State Highway 1 fully restored. I was certainly under the impression that it was a mammoth job, with people working long hours to set things right.

Apparently that is not the case, and one politician figures that the efforts are a joke, and that a competent government could have had the roads open already. I wish he were right, but regrettably he is left behind on this issue, and clearly doesn’t understand what is going on.

Make no mistake this is a mammoth task, and last week I was among a group that was briefed by the two work groups looking after the roading and rail repairs on the coast, and the maintenance and enhancement of the Alternate Route inland.

On the coast KiwiRail repairs are moving well, helped by the protection that most of their tunnels gave. While that was a gain there are more bridges to repair, and they are making great steps in using existing beams and structures to facilitate the repairs. As noted earlier the first train will likely run from Blenheim to Christchurch sometime in July, and will continue daily once the route is open.

Millions of dollars will run into billions of dollars before this disaster is resolved.

The road along the coast has been seriously moved by an army of diggers, helicopters, dump trucks, abseilers, and explosives experts. A village has been built to house the construction teams, which have the unique situation of being destructors before they can be constructors. Things are moving well, but don’t forget winter is approaching. There are interesting methods being deployed, and unlike the days gone by there is a much greater emphasis on safety and technique. This inevitably slows progress, but when considered in the costs of human lives it is a fair price to pay. Look at the media storm that was created around getting “permission” to do things which “might” injure a seal. I can’t bear to think what would happen if a seal really did get a bloody flipper.

As a point of interest some 12 helicopters have been deployed for months sluicing loose and unstable material off the work faces to allow men and machines to have access. In many cases the terrain is so dangerous that machine operators are running their machines from remote control units hundreds of metres away, like some kind of huge computer game.

On the alternate route a huge effort has been made to prepare the road for winter. Don’t forget that this is an Alpine Road, subject to mountainous winter conditions. Ice, snow, freezing temperatures and rain, hail and sleet are all invited to the winter party. On average the road closes 9 times per year, and at the same time Arthur’s Pass will most likely be closed also. Millions of dollars are being spent on road improvements to allow winter to have a minimal effect, at least in so much as that is possible when dealing with Mother Nature. That means for that time the South Island will be cut in two, and Canterbury and point south will be isolated from the rest of the country.

This will also mean increasing reliance of sea links, and we will all be depending on coastal shipping for continuity.

For those of us in the vehicle delivery business that is not going so well right now. Increased volumes recently have seen both Auckland and Lyttelton Ports unable to berth vessels through berth congestion. While Auckland is over their peak currently Lyttelton is struggling right now, and also had vessels waiting to berth. Vehicle Transporter trucks have had to queue to get on to the wharf this morning, and once on there, there is no room to work in sorting out loads. The current vessel being unloaded is just putting vehicles in front of the cars from previous vessels, and the situation is a mess.

Don’t expect a prompt resolution, and vehicles in Lyttelton off the newer vessel (Trans Future 7) will be delivered before the previous one (Marvellous Ace) at this rate. It is a bit of a shit fight in the mud to be honest.

Both ports could, in my humble truckies view, benefit from discussing discharges with road carriers to achieve the fastest delivery, rather than just dumping stuff on the wharf, and wondering why it takes so long to remove. The situation is not helped by vessels demanding quick turnaround, and discharge being the primary factor as long as they are having their cars discharged.

The prime function for a Port is to move cargo across it, and yet that sometimes gets lost in translation. It is at times of congestion that it becomes smarter to work with those look after the other side of the transport.

In the meantime container traffic is moving well, and without the congestion being suffered by vehicle deliveries.

I’ve yet to hear of anything other than relative minor inconvenience being caused as a result of the delays, and still most people don’t even know how serious the situation is.

Maybe the errant politician speaking his standard doublespeak may have at least raised the profile, and raised the awareness.

If that’s the case he can be well pleased to join those of us who have been putting New Zealand first for the last 6 months.

I’ll update again soon.

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