The first freight train to travel on the Picton-Christchurch rail line since the Kaikoura earthquake was welcomed into Kaikoura on Friday by the community and special guests.
KiwiRail hosted a special event in Kaikoura to acknowledge the support the community has shown KiwiRail and its partners in the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance during the rebuild of road and rail.
“The earthquake had a major impact on Kaikoura, and the past 10 months has not been easy for them. KiwiRail appreciates the co-operation the community has given us over that time,” says KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy.
“That support has helped us get freight trains running ahead of schedule, and that in turn will help take pressure off the alternate route.
“This has been the main route to shift freight south since the earthquake.
“Even with the limited services we will be running while the rebuild continues, we expect up to 2000 trucks a month will be taken off that road.”
A sculpture by internationally-renowned local artist Ben Foster was unveiled at the event to provide a lasting marker of the effort put in by the 1500 people involved in the rebuild.
The sculpture features pieces of twisted track salvaged from IronGate, north of Kaikoura, where Foster regularly surfed before the quake.
“As an artist living in Kaikoura, I felt a great sense of pride in being involved with the creation of a sculpture recognising the November 2016 earthquake event and its effects on the wider community,” he says.
“After many months had passed since the earthquake, I felt that my life had resumed some form of normality.
“However, with so much repair work being carried out outside of the township it is often easy to forget the enormity of the recovery project along the Kaikoura coastline that continues day and night.
“The sculpture incorporates key place names of the railway line along this part of the coast, which has an extensive history, taking decades of effort to be constructed.
“More importantly, this sculpture reminds us that change is very much a constant, the twisted rail communicating the raw power of Mother Nature, and may stand as a constant reminder of how resilient we all are as it reaches upward.”
This morning’s train was driven from Picton to Kaikoura by KiwiRail Locomotive Engineer Paul Foskett, who was caught up in the 2016 earthquake and shared his story with guests.
Foskett had just finished his shift 15 minutes before the quake struck on 14 November 2016, and had started driving home to Blenheim.
His car was thrown across the road and he witnessed other cars drive into holes created by the quake.
Foskett’s colleagues spent a worried night searching for him, and it wasn’t until daylight that he was located sheltering in a farmhouse.
The inaugural freight service operated during the day, however KiwiRail will be running a limited, low-frequency freight service at night.
This is so the vital work of continuing to rebuild the road and further repair the rail line can continue.
With freight services and work trains now operating on the Main North Line, KiwiRail reminds everyone to take care around the rail network, and always expect trains at any time, from either direction.