Lower speeds to stay on alternative highway until State Highway 1 reopens

ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
Temporary speed reductions on the alternative highway will remain in place until SH1 is repaired. (file photo)
 Speed reductions on sections of the alternative route between Christchurch and Picton will remain in place until State Highway 1 is repaired.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) on Monday confirmed the temporary speed reductions, which were introduced after the SH6/63/65/7 route became the top of the South Island’s main trunk line following last November’s earthquake.

The changes were made because the alternative route is much more challenging to drive than the road it replaces, and traffic on the route has increased dramatically.

There has been a huge increase in heavy traffic on the alternate highway since the November earthquake.

FAIRFAX NZ
There has been a huge increase in heavy traffic on the alternate highway since the November earthquake.
 There have been five deaths on the road since the earthquake. The change in conditions has caused several longhaul truck drivers to quit, while one truck company has reduced speed limits for drivers.

The NZTA received nearly 300 submissions on the speed reduction proposal. The majority were in favour of lower speeds through townships on the route, but less positive about those sections of open road that had been reduced to 80kmh.

Though submissions supported lower speeds through townships, they were less positive about speed reductions on stretches ...

MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
Though submissions supported lower speeds through townships, they were less positive about speed reductions on stretches of open road. (File photo)
 In a statement, NZTA regional relationships director Jim Harland said there was not high support for lower speeds at all sites, but reverting to pre-quake speeds would be irresponsible.

“However, once SH1 becomes fully operational and traffic volumes have reduced to a stable level we will review speed limits on the alternate route again. Ideally this would be within six months of SH1 reopening, but it will depend on traffic volumes.”

Harland said the submissions raised concerns about travel times and limited passing opportunities.

The alternative route will be the South Island's main road until SH1 is repaired, which is expected to be before Christmas.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
The alternative route will be the South Island’s main road until SH1 is repaired, which is expected to be before Christmas.
 “To date $1.5 million has been invested in slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas on the alternate route, and work is underway now to construct 20 more of these areas. However, in light of feedback, the Transport Agency will investigate whether more slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas could be built.”

He said the perception the lower speed limits had significantly increased travel time was incorrect, with the lower limits increasing travel time by less than two minutes between Christchurch and Picton.

The temporary limits were introduced under emergency legislation, which can only be in place for six months legally. A new bylaw replacing the temporary limits will be in place by June 18.

SH1 is expected to be reopened before Christmas.

Consultation also included proposals to lower speed limits on parts of the Lower Buller Gorge. These received low support, so will not be taken further.

 – Stuff

Mainfreight boss calls for national transport strategy

The country’s political leaders must up their game and deliver better long-term transport and infrastructure planning, according to the head of the country’s biggest freight company.

Train stuck between in a tunnel between slips.

A train is trapped in a tunnel between landslips after November’s Kaikōura earthquake. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mainfreight managing director Don Braid said politicians – local and national – have failed to take the initiative to plan adequately for the future.

Mainfreight managing director Don Braid

Don Braid Photo: Supplied

“We have not reacted as a country to the increase in population growth and the tourism numbers, out infrastructure is poorly set up and government and councils are only just coming to grips to what they need to do,” he told RNZ.

Mr Braid said the transport network’s vulnerability was shown by the Kaikōura earthquake’s impact on road and rail links, and it was the revival of coastal shipping that minimised the disruption.

He said an example of the lack of investment in key services was the treatment of KiwiRail in the latest budget, with funding for new engines and other hardware limited to a two-year timeframe.

“We need to be planning 30 years out, and making investments early.

“Around the Cabinet table I think there’s an aversion to want to think about any sort of integrated transport philosophy for both freight and transport … but we need to be thinking more seriously about it.”

The comments come as a delegation of engineers in Beijing said China was the answer to Auckland’s transport problems.

Warren Hills of Babbage Consultants said New Zealand needed to tap into the expertise of the Chinese workforce, if it was to meet the demands of an unprecedented infrastructure building programme.

Pressure eats at South Island truckies

FTD Magazine

A Herculean post-Kaikoura earthquake effort from New Zealand’s logistics sector has ensured vital supplies continue to move throughout the domestic supply chain with relatively little impact on consumers. But while supermarket shelves may remain stocked, handling the significantly elongated, variable and more hazardous Picton–Christchurch freight task in particular is taking its toll on South Island truck drivers – their stocks are reportedly reaching zero.

Carr & Haslam managing director Chris Carr says regularly navigating the alternative Picton–Christchurch route is having a mounting impact on truck drivers – particularly given it now takes them over worktime limits for what was previously a same-day return.

“If you use that same driver and send them up to Picton now, they have to be away one night,” Mr Carr tells FTD. “It could be different if you run two drivers and run a swap operation, which some do. They’ll have a driver in Picton – who probably didn’t exist there before – and they meet the truck in the middle somewhere, do a vehicle swap, and one goes back to Picton and the other to Christchurch. But if they didn’t live in Picton before, then they have to be put up there and don’t get home for a week.”

PUSHING THE LIMITS

Mr Carr observes that roads not designed for high volumes of commercial traffic have gone from accommodating about 50 trucks to 600 trucks per day, as well as having increased general motorist volume.

“There has been a temptation for quite a small number of people to push their driving hours and to drive too quickly. One of those guys took out one of our trucks – he was cutting a corner with a 20-metre-plus B-train and there was nowhere for our guy to go,” he says.

“As a result of that, we sat down with all of our people and determined we would not do any more night trips, and we set a company speed limit of 80 kph. I would have pulled it further, but couldn’t because if you pull it down too far and the other traffic is going faster, you get too much of a barrier – cars are already overtaking in crazy positions,” he notes.

“We felt a 10 kph drop would give the drivers more reaction time. It may frustrate them a little as well, but we thought the gains in safety were worth it.”

Road Transport Forum New Zealand (RTF) chief executive Ken Shirley also notes there are “incentives to push boundaries” – particularly for those who have their investment on the line. “Obviously, if you have a $500,000 rig with debt, you want it working hard,” he says. “But we must be a compliant industry and we cannot condone any pushing of the boundaries. The boundaries are there – the work time rule for very good reasons – and fatigue is a serious issue,” he emphasises.

“Seventy hours [before a mandatory 24-hour break] is really the upper limit and you could argue in many instances that that is not desirable. There were some in our industry who thought this might present an opportunity to get extended hours on a regular basis, but all of our associations said no, we shouldn’t go down that path.”

EXTRA STRESS

Mr Shirley expects the onset of winter to further raise risk factors. “You’ve got a lot of high-altitude basins and river valleys that are prone to things like black ice, wet conditions and snow. Lewis Pass is frequently closed with snow. That is going to add to the challenge,” he comments.

“Whether the tourism traffic volumes will be down through winter, which may offset the risks to some extent, our message to our members is to be aware – it is going to get more hazardous and so more caution and care is required.”

As a consequence of such stresses, Mr Carr says some truck drivers have simply reached a point of saying ‘I’m out of here, I’m not going to do it any more’. However, he praises his team for sticking to the task. “Our people all come back and say, ‘Hey, it’s not good, the road’s hard, we’re working harder, we’ve got to concentrate more, it’s more tiring’. They’re not whinging – they’re just reporting matter-of-fact and accepting that there is a problem there,” he says.

“It is a kind of ‘suck it up and get on with it’ situation, because there is a driver shortage and if you’re going to move the same amount of freight, you’re going to need two or three times the number of drivers to do it – and they just don’t exist,” he adds.

“The guys are just getting on with it. They’re accepting this is a temporary thing – they all wish it would finish, but they’re doing it. It’s a kind of transport industry thing.”

SUPPORT SYSTEMS

Relaying similar tales, Mr Shirley says that while bodies such as the RTF can offer general guidelines and recommendations, the real coping work is being facilitated within transport firms at the coal face.

“All the smart companies know they have to look after their drivers and have employed all manner of support systems to help the situation. Obviously those that do are good employers and those that don’t feel the pain more,” he notes. “Giving leave, looking after families, all of the pastoral care that human resources can provide in situations like this to make sure that people aren’t just left isolated and unsupported – it is really just support in all manner of forms.”

LOWERING THE SPEED LIMITS

Given such concerns, a proposed bylaw to convert a range of temporary lower speed limits on the alternative Picton–Christchurch route into permanent limits has been welcomed by the trucking fraternity.

“They [the New Zealand Transport Agency] have looked at all the potential trouble spots and choke points and put in areas of speed restrictions [on what used to be open road]. However, an ongoing problem is the number of motorists crossing double-yellow lines on that route,” says Mr Shirley.

Adds Mr Carr: “My view is those roads aren’t designed for the weights that we’re putting over them, so the only way to protect them is to slow down. It goes against every bit of my grain, but if we don’t take the longer-term view, we’ll break the roads and no one will have anything. It’s better to slow down and lose a couple of hours so that everything is working.”

The bylaw proposal, which was drafted by the NZTA in light of current emergency speed limits nearing the end of their six-month legal term, was to conclude its consultation phase in early May, with a decision on any changes to speed limits to be announced mid-June.

HIGHWAY UPGRADE

Another pleasing development for the sector is the government’s recent announcement it is investing $60 million to upgrade the alternative highway. These progressive works include widening several sections of road, ongoing resealing, installing several new Bailey bridges alongside existing one-way bridges, installing traffic signals on several one-way bridges, and using radars and webcams to measure traffic volumes and provide travel updates.

Describing the upgrade as “vital”, Mr Carr ironically adds: “Nobody ever thought we would need it. It just shows you the strategic need for alternatives when calamities happen.

“There are parts where the road is so narrow you can’t get two trucks through side by side. When no one else was on it, the trucks would sit more in the middle of the road and cruise along, but now they are sitting on the edges, because traffic is coming both ways, and the edges are starting to break away. The centre part of the road is also starting to break up.”

Both parties have also welcomed the government’s recent $812 million commitment to reinstate State Highway 1 between Picton and Christchurch, with Mr Carr describing as “nuts” any suggestion a new route could have instead been forged.

“There are something like seven fault lines running through that area and a whole lot of mountains made of very solid rock. I don’t know how you could conceivably build any type of cost-effective alternative, given the topography and geology of the place. It would be a huge cost,” he says.

“We’ve never had a problem before and the chances are we’ll never have another one – or maybe just another one. Building along the coastline is relatively easy compared to building through the mountains.”

A HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT

Also welcoming the government’s confirmation that investment was not coming from the National Land Transport Fund, Mr Shirley says that while it was “healthy” to first take a greenfields approach, ultimately “there is no alternative”. He also embraces the opportunity presented by the rebuild to deliver an upgraded coastal route.

In parting, Mr Shirley reflects on the “unsung story” in the post-Kaikoura earthquake environment. “New Zealanders don’t appreciate just how severe potentially that incident was in terms of disruption and how our sector – and also the shipping industry and rail – has actually just made things happen, largely behind the scenes. A tremendous effort has gone in to making things work – it is a huge accomplishment to have kept the logistics task going.”

Noting that Auckland–Christchurch deliveries have gone from requiring about four-and-a-half days to now up to 12 days, Mr Carr adds: “The general public have no idea of the difficulties that they potentially face if their life and business are dependent on traffic between Picton and Christchurch. The supply chain is hanging by a thread.”

Iain MacIntyre is an award-winning journalist who specialises in transport issues within New Zealand i.macintyre@xtra.co.nz

$548m for rail around New Zealand

$548m for rail around New Zealand

Budget 2017 will invest $548 million of new capital funding to maintain and upgrade New Zealand’s rail network, supporting freight movement, exporters, tourism and public transport, Transport Minister Simon Bridges says.

$450 million of that funding will be invested in KiwiRail over the next two financial years.

“KiwiRail has achieved significant productivity and efficiency improvements over the past two years, despite the challenges of the November 2016 earthquake and the Midland Line fire,” Mr Bridges says.

“Budget 2017 investment in New Zealand’s rail infrastructure and systems will ensure that KiwiRail can improve its resilience and reliability, while continuing to support tourism, freight and export industries.

“The Government wants to put the rail network on a longer-term sustainable footing. In the year ahead we will be conducting a wider review of KiwiRail’s operating structure and longer-term capital requirements.

“Restoring the South Island Main Trunk Line is a key priority for the Government. KiwiRail has been making excellent progress clearing slips, obstructions, and reinstating the rail track so that this essential connection can open by the end of the year,” Mr Bridges says.

“Budget 2017 will support KiwiRail by making funds available for this essential reinstatement work to continue while their insurance claim is finalised.”

The Government is also investing $98.4 million in Wellington’s metro rail network.

“This investment acknowledges the importance of a functional, safe and reliable public transport rail network in the Wellington region,” Mr Bridges says.

This funding will allow the replacement of the remaining timber poles and overhead wires that provide power for trains on the Hutt Valley, Melling and Johnsonville rail lines.

Taken together with the Government’s funding for Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL), Budget 2017 allocates nearly $1 billion towards rail infrastructure.

“The Government has invested over $4.2 billion in rail since taking office in 2008 and this further very big investment in New Zealand’s rail network will support and strengthen this important part of New Zealand’s transport system,” Mr Bridges says.

Coastal shipping trade still ahead in quake aftermath

Repairs to Kaikoura's road and rail links are well under way with a deadline for completion at the end of 2017.

MARCUS GIBBS
Repairs to Kaikoura’s road and rail links are well under way with a deadline for completion at the end of 2017.
 Coastal shipping trade out of Auckland nearly doubled after the North Canterbury earthquakes in November 2016.

But the big test will come when the Kaikoura state highway and the rail line come back into operation at the end of the year.

Steve Chapman, the chief executive of coastal shipping company Pacifica, said there were weekly fluctuations but he estimated the increase had settled back to about 20 per cent to 25 per cent above pre-quake levels.

Don Braid the managing director of Mainfreight which uses all forms of transport in its freight forwarding business.

Don Braid the managing director of Mainfreight which uses all forms of transport in its freight forwarding business.
 “It’s been seven months and shipping agents have got used to the frequency of coastal shipping so I think it will remain where it is.”

“We’ve been able to put some freight on international ships travelling south,” Chapman said.

The Shipping Federation thinks the Government could be doing more to help coastal shipping. A Pacifica Shipping vessel ...

CHRIS HUTCHING
Pacifica rival, KiwiRail, was among the winners in this year’s Budget with the Government committing $450 million in capital funding, which may skew cargo movements back to rail via the interisland ferries

The commitment was critical to fund the uninsured portion of the main north line between Picton and Christchurch.

The financial effect of the earthquakes on freight forwarders may become evident when Mainfreight reports it annual result soon, against a strongly rising share price in recent weeks.

Chief executive Don Braid said Mainfreight’s mix of rail, truck and shipping was commercially sensitive.

Meanwhile, Auckland, Tauranga, Napier and Lyttelton ports are enjoying a surge in business.

Lyttelton Port’s container volumes were 15 per cent ahead in the second half of 2016 – and up 35 per cent in December 2016.

It was because freight was being sent direct via shipping from Auckland to Lyttelton after the Kaikoura railway line was knocked out, chief executive Peter Davie said.

Shipping Federation chief executive Annabel Young said the the big lesson from last year’s earthquakes was how quickly the market could move.

“Overnight the amount of freight going through Auckland almost doubled as freight forwarders looked to coastal shipping to move goods south.

“Port of Tauranga couldn’t believe it. Napier Port was also a big winner because of the effects on Wellington’s container terminal. Cargo bound for Wellington has been landing at Napier and trucked south.

“Napier has had to scale up operations in six months that they expected would take about seven years,” Young said.

Heavy reliance on trucking allowed for quick overnight movement of goods but the earthquakes forced businesses to re-prioritise fast delivery for perishables, Young said.

The Shipping Federation has reservations about the rivalry and investment each port is making.

Young said the future of maritime transport relied on feeder ships taking cargo from smaller ports to larger ports.

Dredging to allow deeper drafts is a waste of rate-payer money in most ports, she said.

“Aggregation of cargoes at inland ports is the trend. This increases the likelihood of fewer big ports servicing international routes.

“It also makes over-capitalised ports with high port charges unattractive to exporters and importers.”

A refrain from the sector, and Wellington commercial landlords, is that Wellington’s CentrePort subsidises its port operations from its property developments on reclaimed waterfront land.

The latest Shipping Federation report said one of the biggest impediments to coastal shipping is lack of government interest because it owns rail and road infrastructure.

About 15 per cent of New Zealand’s inter-regional freight is carried by sea and domestic freight volumes are forecast to more than double by 2040.

Even with massive investment in land transport this increase can’t be accommodated by road and rail alone, Young said.

It wants an integrated port policy at government level including helping out with maritime infrastructure.

“A floating dry dock is a good example of where government agencies should assist. Operators are currently using dry docks in Singapore as the closest option.

The Federation argues coastal shipping reduces heavy trucks numbers, cost of roads, congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and improves safety.

The Ministry of Transport estimates the cost of shifting a standard container door-to-door from Auckland to Christchurch by ship is $850 to $1300, compared with $2200 to $3000 by road, or $1300 – $1900 by rail, because of fuel efficiency.

 – Stuff

Kaikōura earthquake: New Zealand loses $500m GDP

The impact on New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the 18 months following the Kaikōura  earthquake has been estimated at $450-$500 million, a new Government-commissioned report says.

The estimated loss is made up of $110-$130 million (25 percent of the total impact) in Canterbury and $340-$370 million (75 percent of the impact) across the rest of New Zealand, Economic Development and Transport Minister Simon Bridges says.

“The quake has had a significant effect on people’s lives and businesses which the Government is strongly focused on supporting,” he says.

“As well as the Kaikōura economy, the report shows the national economy has also felt the impact.

“Increased freight transport costs and impacts on businesses from infrastructure damage and transport disruptions are the two key contributing factors.”

The report assessed the impact on small businesses and tourism caused by disruptions to transport infrastructure.

Newshub

SH1 south of Kaikōura closed again due to slip

A new slip has been discovered on State Highway 1 south of Kaikōura, closing the road until several thousand cubic metres of material can be removed.

The slip on State Highway 1, south of Kaikoura, which came down in heavy rain on 5 April 2017.

One of the recent slips on State Highway 1, south of Kaikōura. Photo: NZ Transport Agency

The Transport Agency said it could take at least two days to clear the slip, which is the site of previous slips.

The inland road to Kaikōura, Route 70 via Waiau and Mt Lyford, is still open.

When the slip has been cleared, the state highway to the south of Kaikōura will only be open between 7am and 6pm.

‘Alpine’ fears for alternate highway between Christchurch and Picton

Vehicles moving through the Lewis Pass in snow. (File photo)

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ
Vehicles moving through the Lewis Pass in snow. (File photo)

Preparing drivers for “alpine conditions” on the alternate highway between Picton and Christchurch has become a focus for the national roading authority as winter approaches.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has concerns about the inland diversion as sections of the route can be closed several times a year, even on a normal year.

NZTA spokesman Mike Seabourne said the Lewis Pass, on State Highway 7 near Hanmer Springs, normally closed six times a year because of the weather, although usually for less than a day.

Flooding on the road at Lewis Pass in January.

SUPPLIED/MATT MARKHAM
Flooding on the road at Lewis Pass in January.

It was possible for people to take a longer detour, through Arthur’s Pass, but that road closed “a lot more often”, Seabourne said.

Arthur’s Pass closed up to a dozen times a year, and was sometimes closed for four or five days at a time, he said.

“Will they close at the same time? That happens quite rarely.”

Seabourne was speaking at a public meeting in Ward on Tuesday, where he said NZTA had beefed up its emergency response team.

It would be working to educate people about driving in “more alpine conditions”, he said.

NZTA was focused on clearing slips, at three particular sites along SH1, and the road from Blenheim to Kaikoura was expected to open this December, Seabourne said.

The other focus of the meeting was getting quake-damaged homes closed up for winter.

A damaged woolshed in Ward after the quake.

SUPPLIED/STUART OULTON
A damaged woolshed in Ward after the quake.

Rural councillor Gerald Hope made a “personal plea” to builders to make repairs a priority before the cold weather set in.

“People are understanding of the scale of the earthquake, but there is a sense of frustration about trade availability and also getting quotations done.

“The issue is very much around closing homes up for winter, making them warm and dry.”

About 60 people attended the meeting in Ward, while about 30 people attended a similar meeting in Seddon on Monday.

Representatives from the Insurance Council of New Zealand and agents representing individual companies were present, so people could talk through their issues in private.

The meetings were chaired by Marlborough District Council emergency manager Dean Heiford.

An Earthquake Commission spokesman said there were 4940 insurance claims in Marlborough from the November quake, but he was unsure how many of those had been settled.

Despite concerns about the length of time it took to get resource consents for fireplaces, Heiford said the council was trying to push through consents for simple building work as fast as possible.

“Our key driver is heating in winter.”

Several residents said after the meeting they were satisfied with the way their insurance claims were being handled.

Insurance companies were acting as EQC agents, so in the first instance people were dealing directly with their own insurer.

Ward man John Elliott said he was not sure if that system was a good idea.

Stressed and vulnerable people in the community were finding the process difficult to deal with, and it was not always easy to get in touch with insurance firms.

Hope said the heavy demands on the building industry were not confined to Marlborough and were a nationwide issue.

“These are challenging issues. There’s no short-term quick fix.”

Robinson’s Construction owner Phil Robinson said on Monday afternoon the building industry and its associated sub-trades had been under the hammer for the past year.

However, the company would make time for earthquake repairs, he said.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett said on Friday residents were bound to be “anxious and frustrated” about getting work done.

“Inevitably there will be some people without internet access or reliable phone contact and they may be struggling to get any traction with their situation.

“If you’re in that situation, please come forward and make yourselves known to the agencies and support organisations. We know from the past Christchurch and Seddon experience that going into winter is a tough time and we need to do what we can to help.”​

 – The Marlborough Express

Safety concerns on alternate Picton to Chc route – RNZ

At least 12 truck drivers have quit because they are concerned about the safety of a new alternative highway between Picton and Christchurch, their union says.

Railway tracks ripped from the line along State Highway 1 - North of Kaikoura.

Railway tracks ripped from the line along SH1, north of Kaikōura, which has been blocked by massive slips since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in November. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The inland route via the Lewis Pass was never intended to be a main arterial route but that changed when the Kaikōura earthquake forced coastal sections of State Highway 1 to be closed.

Five people have died in crashes on the alternative route since the quake in November, with the latest smash occurring on 28 March when two people died after a car and a truck collided just north of Culverden.

Before SH1 became impassable, the Picton to Christchurch route took drivers about 4.5 hours, giving them enough time to make the return journey on the same day.

The windy narrow inland route had nearly doubled their drive time, but First Union organiser Bryce Hamilton said freight companies and their customers were still insisting the trip was done in one day.

This pressure, combined with driving a road that was never meant to be the main highway, was the reason so many were now either quitting the industry altogether or finding work on less dangerous routes, he said.

The inland route became the main way to get from Picton to Christchurch after November's Kaikōura earthquake.

Google estimates the inland route via Lewis Pass takes more than six hours, but the nature of the route means it is likely to take trucks drivers longer than that. Photo: Google Earth

“They know that on a long enough timeline their survival rate will drop to zero if they keep driving that road because they’ve been in the game for, some of them, upwards of 30 years and they know that it’s dangerous in their heart of hearts.

“They say to their employer, look, you know, thanks for the employment but I don’t want to do this, it’s just too unsafe.”

There was not enough incentive for those employing drivers to make their jobs safer, he said.

“We want to see better regulation, we want to see WorkSafe investigating road incidents with trucks. We want to stop the blaming of drivers because they’re very professional at their job. We actually want some of these operators to be held to account because we’re putting people out on the road there that have accidents and they do kill.”

The Road Transport Association’s Marlborough chairman and a trucking company owner, Peter Heagney, agreed some owner-operator drivers were pushing the limits and making the route unsafe.

“People [are] doing unrealistic schedules on their trucks to try to get the work done in that period. Some of the ones that are working for some people, they’ve got them screwed down to such a ridiculous rate, people are most probably pushing the envelope a bit harder to try and make a dollar,” Mr Heagney said.

NZTA earthquake recovery manager Steve Mutton.

NZTA earthquake recovery manager Steve Mutton Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

And because the route now took almost twice as long to cover, more drivers had to be hired – which meant there were more inexperienced drivers on the road.

“The last thing we want is an accident and we don’t want other people having accidents.”

Marlborough’s head of road policing, Sergeant Barrie Greenall, said the end of the busy summer period and a fall in numbers using the roads had bred complacency amongst some drivers.

“What we’ve seen recently is, as the traffic volumes start to drop off, the opportunities for those that want to make poor choices and try and cut down the time has increased and we’re starting to see a rise in incidents and accidents,” Mr Greenall said.

NZ Transport Agency earthquake recovery manager Steve Mutton said $60 million had been spent upgrading the road and the agency was about to begin consultation on bringing in permanent speed restrictions on parts of the alternative highway.

One of the major slips on SH1 north of Kaikōura

One of the major slips on SH1 north of Kaikōura Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Opinion: Coastal shipping ‘just makes sense’

Trucks park at Murchison, which has become a major thoroughfare following the closure of the Picton to Christchurch leg ...

MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

Trucks park at Murchison, which has become a major thoroughfare following the closure of the Picton to Christchurch leg of State HIghway 1.

OPINION: ​New Zealand is a coastal country with challenging geography and it seems logical that we should use the “blue highway” far more than we have done in the recent past.

Increasing our reliance on coastal shipping to move our freight, taking more trucks off our roads, is an essential step forward in building national resilience in the event of another natural disaster.

Public support for considering alternatives to long-haul trucking is building in the wake of the Kaikoura earthquake, in part because we have now seen first-hand how essential it is to have a good plan in place for our transport infrastructure.

Pacifica's coastal ship Spirit of Canterbury offloads at Lyttelton late last year.

CHRIS HUTCHING/FAIRFAX NZ

Pacifica’s coastal ship Spirit of Canterbury offloads at Lyttelton late last year.

The blue highway is always there, it’s free, there are no potholes and no chance of slips. Yes, the weather can be challenging, but then the weather can be equally problematic for our roads.

Sea transport was a vital route between Auckland and Tauranga to Lyttelton following the closure of State Highway 1 and the rail corridor, and it remains so to some extent for what would have been rail freight.

Data from a NZ Transport Agency State Highway Traffic Monitoring System telemetry unit on SH1 at Waipara shows an initial increase in heavy traffic in the period following the earthquake has now plateaued so much so that truck volumes are only slightly up compared to a year ago. This would indicate that most of the rail freight, rather than being put on trucks, must be going via coastal shipping.

A number of freight forwarders have re-categorised what goods are being sent as just-in-time, or urgent freight, in order to reduce the amount that travels by truck.

Perishable goods such as fruit and vegetables will always be time critical, but there are many items that were only being classified as such for cash-flow reasons, and this is where the industry needs to look at the bigger picture.

Ships can carry more freight in fewer trips for less money, and little time is lost: A ship travelling from Auckland to Lyttelton does so in a similar amount of time as freight travelling by rail and ferry.

However, there are some challenges to overcome with regards to the current commercial model of the ports industry. One is that there is no financial incentive for operators to build more resilience and redundancy into their facilities. Where one operator might spend money on increasing resilience and struggle to make a return off that investment, another might not do this work and make more profit.

That approach does not benefit our country, and this is something that needs to be addressed.

Another issue is that while there is plenty of capacity to ship goods from north to south, this is not so in reverse. This is due to international lines being able to carry freight when continuing their journey and predominantly travel north to south.

As the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce has pointed out, it would make us less vulnerable if we spread our goods and distribution centres more equally rather than, in Marlborough’s case, mainly sourcing our perishable supermarket goods from Christchurch.

Another important benefit is that ships produce fewer emissions, and this is in line our obligations to reduce our emission by 2030 under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Relying on the sea, not just our roads, should be the way of the future.

It just makes a lot of sense.

Stuart Smith is the MP for Kaikoura

 – The Marlborough Express