Quake-prone atrium to be repaired at station

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2014
Jim Quinn
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

CEILING STRENGTH: KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn says work will begin this month to strengthen the masonry in the ceiling of the Wellington railway station, which has been deemed an earthquake risk.

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Wellington Railway Station's grand entrance hall is about to be laced with scaffolding as a $1.9 million project to strengthen its elaborate ceiling begins.

Concerns were raised in October that heavy overhead masonry could fall down on commuters in a severe shake.

After the August 16 earthquake, the station became a de-facto meeting point for many city workers trying to get home. Because of its high level of public use, the building is assessed more stringently than some others.

KiwiRail revealed yesterday that a detailed engineering report had shown most of the station met between 47 and 53 per cent of the building code.

However, weaknesses in the trusses in the atrium ceiling brought the total down below 34 per cent. Anything below 34 per cent is considered earthquake-prone.

Chief executive Jim Quinn said: "We'll get on and get it strengthened and take that risk away."

Scaffolding would start to go up this month and, though work was not scheduled to be completed until the middle of next year, he was hopeful it could be finished by the end of this year.

Anyone who felt unsafe going through the atrium could reach the platforms through the sides and tunnels, he said.

However, the ceiling had withstood the Cook Strait and Eketahuna shakes well.

"I will still be going through here."

Jeanette Satterthwaite, who has been catching the train for 10 years, said she was aware the atrium was quake-prone and, while she used the underpass for a while, she was now regularly walking through the entrance and was not worried about it.

"I'm pleased that they're going to get on with it."

Retailers inside the station were also unconcerned about the risk, but pleased that the work was getting under way.

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the council was aware of the planned work at the station. "We're confident that what they're doing is right on the money."

Mr Quinn said much of the ceiling work would be done out of public view. Other work would include strengthening and refurbishing the clock, and removing asbestos.

"We will be taking every possible precaution with that, and that work will be carried out by specialist contractors working well away from the public.

"The building is also heritage listed and we take its preservation and care very seriously."

The station was opened in 1937, and about 40,000 people pass through it each day.

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