The long journey repairing quake damaged roads and railway

As with any major disaster affecting transport networks, questions are asked about the cost of repairing the damage. Whilst the residential payouts will largely come from E.Q.C. funds, which are Government guaranteed, the taxpayer often has to fork out for infrastructure repairs. The Government says it can fund the repairs that will be necessary, which enables them go ahead on what will be a long and arduous journey.

To say that the task is massive, is a complete understatement. We are looking at two major State Highways that carry all sorts of freight and residential traffic daily, and which are integral parts of the highway network in this country. Currently State Highway 1 is closed from Waipara, about 50km north of Christchurch right through to Picton, about 340km from Christchurch. State Highway 7 is closed from Waipara to Springs Junction, which is about a distance of 160km. And the terrain that the two negotiate is quite different. State Highway 1 traverses rolling hill country, the steep Hundalee Hills and a narrow windy coastal stretch, whilst State Highway 7 crosses low coastal hills, river plains and a significant alpine pass. All of this poses its own challenges.

Repairing the railway network will probably not be any easier. For much of the coastal stretch between Oaro and Kaikoura the railway and State Highway 1 are within metres of each other. Thus a landslide that comes down over one, probably covered the other at the same time. There are sections of railway line that have literally been pushed off their embankments by land slides so that hundreds of metres of track needs to re-laid. There are sections where railway tracks have buckled and warped under the strain of the shaking. Of course it is also fair to say that the tunnels will need to be thoroughly inspected for signs of potential collapse.

Much stabilization work has to be done to tie back the slopes. This will take time, not least because in the very early days of the aftershock sequence, as we currently are, more landslips will probably come down at some point as a result of seismic activity, but also slopes simply not having the necessary cohesion to stay intact or being triggered by heavy rain like what may happen on Thursday.

Some parts of both will need to be completely rebuilt. Gaping cracks that cannot simply be filled in have wrecked possibly tens of kilometres of road and railway. In the case of the railways, embankments may have settled and will need to be built back up. In the case of roads, fill will simply not work in many cases, with the foundation material needing to be levelled out and compacted down to give a firm base. All of this will take time.

So, settle in for a long trip ladies and gentlemen. There is no quick fix for fixing the road and railway network damage caused by the earthquakes, and certainly not if it is to be done to the engineering standards required by law and which New Zealanders are right to expect. And it will not be cheap either. Along with fixing the towns that the roads and railway service, we are looking at a cost of at least N.Z.$1 billion.

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