15 Sep 2023

Rail freight services from Napier Port back on track from Monday

9:30 pm on 15 September 2023
The re-opening of the Napier to Hastings rail line after it was closed earlier in 2023 because of Cyclone Gabrielle.

A ceremony on Friday at Bridge 217, south of Napier, marked the milestone of the track's reopening. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

The rail connection between Napier and Hastings has been restored after it was badly damaged seven months ago by Cyclone Gabrielle.

On Friday morning, the first train to cross rail bridge 217, just south of Awatoto, Napier, rolled across to the sound of bagpipes.

The reconnection will allow freight once again to travel to and from the Napier by rail, rather than by road.

Lead cyclone recovery minister for Hawke's Bay, Kieran McAnulty, said the bridge's repair was a huge milestone in the region's recovery.

"What people want to see is progress, and they have seen the bridge inch towards the other side, and today it's open," he said.

"It's quite symbolic. It shows the rest of the country, and the world, that Hawke's Bay's open for business."

Labour's Napier candidate Mark Hutchinson (far left), Tukituki MP Anna Lorck, Wairarapa MP Kieran Mcanulty at the re-opening of the Napier to Hastings rail line.

From left, Labour's Napier candidate Mark Hutchinson, Tukituki MP Anna Lorck and Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty at the ceremony to mark the reopening of the Napier to Hastings rail line. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

The cyclone did major damage to the line, washing away tracks and embankments.

Supports known as piers were washed out from under the bridge, each weighing up to 80 tonnes and anchored 10 metres down into the river bed.

Bits of the old bridge lay half buried in the riverbed below the new one.

According to KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy, the new bridge supports went down 30 metres - three times that of the old one.

He said the fact that the rail bridge was a key freight connection made it a priority for repairs - as well as being a relatively straightforward rebuild.

"It's a critical supply chain infrastructure connection, and also, we could get onto this fairly quickly, whereas other parts of the cyclone damage needed a lot more engineering analysis and diagnosis."

A permanent replacement for the new temporary bridge would be designed and built over the next couple of years, he said.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy.

Peter Reidy said the new bridge supports go down three times further than the old ones. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

Napier Port chief executive Todd Dawson said while the railway was down, freight travelled by road - anything from food products, like chilled and frozen meat, to logs, wood pulp, timber, and machinery.

"That's meant quite a bit of change for some of the customers in terms of what they've had to adapt to, particularly for time-sensitive cargos."

Ngāti Kahungunu chair Bayden Barber

Bayden Barber said a massive amount of mahi had gone into the rebuild. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

Local iwi chair Bayden Barber of Ngāti Kahungunu said the role the rail connection played in the local economy was important to the iwi.

"From an iwi point of view, getting our main rail and roads up and running again is important, because it's the economic spine of our rohe - and Ngāti Kahungunu is all about economic development for our people, not just Māori but for the whole community," he said.

A massive amount of mahi had gone into the rebuild, he said.

"We know the impact that it's had - when we drive past here on the road, we always look to the right to see what's been going on, and the progress of this bridge over the past seven months has been pretty fantastic."

The first train to cross rail bridge 217, just south of Awatoto, Napier on 15 September 2023 after the bridge was restored having been badly damaged during Cyclone Gabrielle seven months earlier.

The train crossing rail bridge 217. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

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