SH1/Rail corridor

Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 14 November 2016, more than a million tonnes of rock and material fell onto State Highway 1, and the Main North Rail Line.

Moving mountains to reconnect communities

Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 14 November 2016, more than a million tonnes of rock and material fell onto State Highway 1 (SH1), and the Main North Rail Line. The earthquake generated the strongest ground acceleration ever recorded in New Zealand, with widespread damage throughout the Hurunui, Marlborough and Kaikōura districts. The Kaikōura township and surrounding rural communities were cut off with all roads and the rail network damaged and closed by slips.

The North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) was set up by the Government late December 2016 to restore the road and rail network by December 2017. This is an alliance between the NZ Transport Agency, KiwiRail, Downer, Fulton Hogan, HEB Construction and Higgins. The rebuild is a massive undertaking, and even when access is restored in December 2017, an ongoing repair and improvement programme will be carried out until well into 2018.

The challenge

More than 200 areas along SH1 were affected. Almost 700,000m3 (about 280 Olympic-size swimming pools) of loose material dislodged by the earthquakes fell onto the road and rail line. Along the Main North Line Railway, nearly 900 sites sustained damage. Major repair works are underway on four of the 20 damaged rail tunnels and six of the 59 damaged bridges. An immediate challenge was diverting drivers from the closed SH1 between Christchurch and Picton to the alternate route along State Highways 63, 6, 65 and 7 (and the alpine Lewis Pass), and the Inland Road between Kaikōura and Culverden (Route 70 via Mt Lyford). These roads are narrow and winding in places with single-lane bridges and alpine passes which can be treacherous during winter.

Along the alternate route, vehicle numbers quickly rose four-fold to 4,000 vehicles per day with 1,000 being heavy vehicles, up from the 350 heavy vehicles pre-earthquake. An immediate focus on improving the safety and journey experience for road users and local communities saw $60 million funding allocated by the Transport Agency for a programme of road widening, improved road markings, additional signage and guardrails, improvements in townships, reduced speed limits, bailey bridges and traffic lights at high risk one lane bridges, new pull-over areas and slow vehicle bays.

Making progress

Clearing the landslides post-quake has not been easy. The cliff faces are fractured and often unstable. Cyclones Debbie and Cook meant work had to be halted for a period and the already damaged slopes released further material. By mid-2017 three of the slip sites - 1a, 2 and 3 - north of Kaikōura had been cleared. Fact and figures- eg number of slips moved, bridges fixed Innovative approaches have seen road and rail lines temporarily realigned to reopen the transport corridor as quickly as possible. This is also the case for a 300-metre stretch in a particularly slip-prone area South of Kaikōura, which through realignment, provided two major milestones in June 2017.

KiwiRail is making great progress to restore this vital part of New Zealand’s freight network. Reopening the rail line has helped relieve pressure on the alternate route through Lewis Pass. Getting the work trains to Kaikōura means resources can now be stored in Kaikōura, enabling the pace of reconstruction to ramp up and help not only KiwiRail with its rebuild work, but also assist with the reinstatement of SH1 by moving material north for the road reconstruction.

The Transport Agency re-opened SH1 south of Kaikōura before Christmas 2016, however, this corridor requires ongoing work and is subject to short-term closures as work continues to rebuild and strength sections of the highway.This will continue until December 2017.

Making improvements

The NZ Transport Agency says $231 million in funding announced by Government to improve the 60km section of State Highway 1 between Clarence and Oaro will increase safety, resilience, reliability, access and amenity and provide a higher level of service on the road for people living in the area and visitors to the region.

The improvements programme includes infrastructure changes including wider shoulders, additional safety barriers, more passing opportunities, and improved access and stopping areas. A shared path (cycle/walk facility) between Okiwi Bay and Mangamaunu will provide opportunities for people to enjoy the iconic coastline at a more leisurely pace.

The work will be fast-tracked so it can be delivered by NCTIR alongside the earthquake reinstatement work.

Caring for people

The NCTIR team is committed to reconnect communities by the end of 2017. The team regularly attends community meetings in the area, and also ‘door-knocks’ in areas to discuss upcoming high-impact work. A site office on the main street welcomes residents to drop in, with a weekly newsletter providing information on progress being made.

More importantly, NCTIR works closely with the local community to provide employment and business opportunities. More than 1,000 men and women from 100 organisations have joined the rebuild effort and this number includes many local residents and businesses.

Working closely with the local community, NCTIR has been able to quickly solve a number of logistical challenges. The decision to build a temporary accommodation facility in Kaikōura, and a smaller one in Clarence, was made after consultation with local businesses confirmed there would not be enough beds available in Kaikōura throughout the duration of the project. More than 400 men and women are based in the area and all require housing and meals. Where possible, these services are being provided by locals.

Connect with us

For more information about NCTIR's recovery work, contact NCTIR on 0800 628 4737 or