Support for coastal shipping down the east coast of New Zealand is gaining momentum in Kaikoura, as the quake-isolated town basks in the relative calm of roads rarely troubled by heavy trucks.
Residents have started a petition asking the Government to consider permanent alternatives to long-haul trucking, pushing them off State Highway 1 when it eventually reopens.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake last November caused major landslides north and south of Kaikoura, cutting rail services and forcing freight companies on a lengthy detour down the middle of the South Island.
While trucks would continue to use the highway to make local deliveries, this was a golden opportunity to move large, long-haul freight off the road and onto sea and rail, she said.
This was more environmentally-friendly as ships and rail could carry more freight, making fewer trips, Kitchingham said.
The petition also called for a safe cycle and walking track from Marlborough to Canterbury, a concept that had been widely promoted since the earthquake.
It was also an opportunity to create a world-renowned Kaikoura coastal scenic highway, similar to Australia’s Great Ocean Road, Kitchingham said.
“Imagine the growth in prosperity for the whole region. Reinstate the rail for freight and a fantastic tourism [driving] experience with strategic stop-offs to complement the cycle and walkway.”
The road rebuild was being run by the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance, which included the NZ Transport Agency, KiwiRail and several infrastructure companies.
The alliance directed requests for comment onto KiwiRail, which had yet to respond.
The calls to look into coastal shipping for long-haul freight had garnered cross-party support in light of November’s earthquake.
Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith said coastal shipping had not been properly considered in the plans to reinstate the travel corridor following the earthquake, something he was concerned about in terms of resilience.
“We don’t have a good plan in place for our transport infrastructure,” Smith said.
“We will have an event [such as another earthquake] at some point when our road and rail networks are severed.
“Some of the stuff going up and down our roads could easily be going by sea.”
Smith said there was also the need to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2020, and shipping was an efficient step towards that goal.
It also eliminated double-handling of freight where goods in containers were loaded on and off rail wagons before being put back onto trucks for transport to Christchurch, he said.
Green MP Steffan Browning said the Green Party had always supported coastal shipping for bulk freight for energy efficiency and to relieve pressure on the roads.
“It’s a no-brainer, but it’s a matter of how the Government can get behind it,” he said.
“We need those trucks off the road as much as possible, the Government needs to stop being beholden to the road transport industry.”
Browning said most of the long-haul freight trucks were not going door-to-door but base-to-base, and not stopping in Kaikoura to prop up small businesses.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges said coastal shipping had been a strong part of the transport response to the quake with extra services from Auckland and Tauranga to Lyttelton reducing road freight demand on SH7.
Commercial players would make decisions based on their current and future needs.
As well as NZ Connect, KiwiRail had also set up an inland freight hub in Blenheim for the movement of freight between islands, and developed additional coastal shipping plans which could be quickly put into operation if there was further disruption in the South Island, he said.
The increase in coastal freight was equivalent to 10 to 20 trucks per day off the road, Bridges said.
Kitchingham said this was a step in the right direction, but with Ministry of Transport figures showing about 550 heavy vehicle movements on SH1 between Picton and Waipara prior to the earthquake there was still a long way to go.
It was important to consider permanent alternatives, rather than just focus on using them following a disaster, she said.
The petition would run for a month and could be signed at various locations around Kaikoura, as well as online on the Truck Free Kaikoura Facebook page.
It will be presented to the Kaikoura District Council, the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance and local MPs for presentation to Parliament.
– Kaikoura Star