A good deed that crippled Wellington

TIM DONOGHUE, SHABNAM DASTGHEIB, BLAIR ENSOR AND MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012
tanker crash
DIEGO OPATOWSKI/The Dominion Post

Traffic backed up in the southbound lane of State Highway 2.

The car that hit a power pole in the northbound lane of SH2.
The car that hit a power pole in the northbound lane of SH2.

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The truck driver involved in yesterday's tanker crash on State Highway 2 has been 'shattered' by the accident, his boss says.

The main road and rail links between Wellington and the Hutt Valley were severed by two crashes during morning rush hour yesterday, delaying up to 23,000 commuters and potentially costing city businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The traffic chaos began about 5.20am when a car heading north on State Highway 2 struck the median barrier at Horokiwi. It rolled and hit a power pole, snapping it and bringing down wires.

On the opposite side of the highway, a Hooker Pacific fuel tanker heading south pulled over to the side of the road and the driver ran across to help the crash victim.

"The next minute he heard a bang and a vegetable truck had gone up the rear of his tanker," Lower Hutt firefighter Stu Cleland said.

The crash caused a gash in the tanker, spilling more than 5000 litres of diesel on to the road, and about a tonne of potatoes.

The car driver was taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Do you know the good samaritan tanker driver or anyone else involved? Contact news@dompost.co.nz

John Duggan Transport boss John Duggan, whose truck slammed into the tanker, said his casual driver employee had been shattered by the accident.

The driver, known as "Boss Hogg", was "a very reliable worker".

"He's a professional driver and he takes his responsibilities very seriously. He's a family man from Wainui who had been at work handling produce in our depot before going out to do his deliveries.

"Boss's  truck was ordered off the road and we got another truck in. Boss Hogg did his deliveries. That is what I call commitment," Mr Duggan said.

The incident closed both lanes of the highway for about an hour. All Hutt Valley and Wairarapa trains were halted for nearly three hours because of the risk of a spark igniting a box of electrical signal switch gear that was covered in the spilt fuel.

Traffic not caught in the jam was diverted to State Highways 1 and 58, over Haywards Hill, until about 11.30am.

"It just goes to show how vulnerable the city is when you only have one arterial route to rely on," said Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce president Richard Stone.

The Transport Agency said 15,000 vehicles could have been delayed, while the regional council estimated 850 bus passengers were caught in the chaos.

KiwiRail said that normally during peak hour, just under 8000 people used the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa lines.

Frustrated commuters flocked to the harbour ferries instead, with some reporting queues of about 120 people. East by West Ferry manager Jeremy Ward said patronage had tripled yesterday morning. Even with two extra sailings, people had to be left behind.

The cycle lane through to Ngauranga was closed all day yesterday and re-opened this morning.

Mr Stone said the impact on local businesses would have been enormous in terms of lost productivity.

"I don't think you'll ever be able to put an exact dollar figure on it. But when businesses lose about a quarter of the day, multiplied by the number of employees affected, the number is huge."

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Rimutaka MP Chris Hipkins was one of those stuck in gridlocked traffic, which caused him to miss a television interview.

He said it had taken him about an hour to get from Petone to Horokiwi - a distance that would normally take a couple of minutes.

Greater Wellington regional council manager of environmental regulation Al Cross said the diesel spill was contained between the road and the rail tracks.

"Fortunately, there was no stormwater system in the area, so nothing escaped into the harbour or Hutt River."

There was some residual fuel nestled in the tracks, which the council would continue to monitor, he said.

Inspector Peter Baird said police were investigating both crashes but it was too early to say if any charges would be laid.

Contact Tim Donoghue
General reporter
Email: tim.donoghue@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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