Mystery surrounds how long Gisborne rail bridge was unsafe

7:04 pm on 5 December 2022
Credit: Liam Clayton/Gisborne Herald. Caption: The Wa165 crossing the Tūranganui River railway bridge in 2017. The bridge was recently found to be unsafe for the train, without “significant remedial work” being undertaken.

The Wa165 crossing the Tūranganui River railway bridge in 2017. The bridge was recently found to be unsafe for the train, with "significant remedial work" being undertaken. Photo: Liam Clayton/Gisborne Herald.

A Gisborne rail bridge cannot be used by the city's iconic vintage steam train following a routine structural assessment, but for how long it has been unsafe remains a mystery.

Last month, it was revealed Wa165 could no longer safely cross the Tūranganui River railway bridge.

Eastland Group, which was responsible for the bridge, said it conducted an assessment earlier in the year which found the structure was unable to safely support the weight of the train and carriages without "significant remedial work".

But when asked how long it had been between structural assessments, the organisation would not say.

Instead, chief operating officer regional infrastructure Andrew Gaddum said the organisation felt the evaluation was "timely".

"An inspection of the tracks from Eastland Port to the railway station is undertaken annually and we have previously sponsored the costs of the repairs needed.

"After nearly three years of no cruise ships or an opportunity for the Wa165 vintage train to cross the rail bridge, we felt it was timely to undertake a full structural assessment of the bridge."

Eastland Group previously told Local Democracy Reporting it was working with Gisborne City Vintage Railway Group to support them through the cruise ship season, a time when Wa165 frequently conducts 34km round trips from the port area to Muriwai.

The train previously backed over the bridge to a spot near the Tatapouri Fishing club for cruise ship passengers to board, railway group president Geoff Joyce said.

Trust Tairāwhiti was funding a bus to take passengers from the cruise boat to the new starting point for the train which was near the Senator Motor Inn.

Joyce said the train had not used the bridge since it had been deemed unsafe, and that the new arrangement was working well with the bus.

"The alternative arrangement that we've come up with is quite satisfactory," he said.

Wa165 runs charter and public excursions, mainly from October to June.

The train was built in Dunedin's Hillside Workshops in 1897, before operating in the Gisborne region for 30 years from 1911.

In a book on the history of railway in the Tairāwhiti - Steaming to the Sunrise by Chris Wood - it was said that the bridge was contracted to be built in 1924 for the sum of £11,668.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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