Commuter woes continue after stormy weather
The train line between Wellington and Wairarapa is likely to be closed until Monday as commuters face continued fallout from wild weather that struck the region.
Emergency services have this morning been mopping up after wild weather last night caused commuter chaos around Wellington, with train passengers stranded by a derailment, slips blocking major roads, and widespread flooding.
About 300 train passengers were stranded in a tunnel last night after the train's locomotive ploughed into a wall of mud and debris and derailed as it left a tunnel at Maymorn, north of Upper Hutt, about 6.20pm.
The impact knocked the engine and one carriage about a metre off the tracks. There were no reports of injury last night.
KiwiRail spokesman Nigel Parry said this morning that the derailed locomotive and carriage would be cleared over the weekend. At this stage, no trains would run between Upper Hutt and the Wairarapa till Monday morning.
Up to 1000 commuters seeking to get to Wellington from Wairarapa were left to their own devices this morning as the rail service remains out of action.
"We apologise to our customers, both for a difficult night and in advance for the service disruption that has been forced on us," passenger general manager Ross Hayward said.
Kiwirail said it was unable to charter enough buses to take up the slack leaving people to make their own way to work today.
"Given the uncertain nature of the weather and the difficulty we would have finding buses to ferry as many as a thousand passengers to Wellington, we made the decision to suspend services and review the situation at noon," Mr Hayward said.
In a statement, KiwiRail said clearing the site and repairing the track would not take long but recovering the derailed locomotive was the major impediment to the line reopening.
"Getting cranes to the site is difficult because there is limited road access. The plan at this stage is that a road or track will be built to provide access. Estimates at this stage are that the locomotive is not likely to be recovered until late Saturday or possibly Sunday."
A decision would be made this afternoon about bus services to Wairarapa.
Train driver Adam Ford, still inside his mud-covered engine, told The Dominion Post at the scene last night: "I came into the tunnel and I could not see out the other end. It was a sea of mud. The portal was completely blocked. We slammed into it and slid off the tracks."
Six other carriages on the 5.33pm service between Wellington and Wairarapa stayed on the tracks but were stranded in the tunnel.
Passengers were stuck inside for more than two hours before being moved to the rear three carriages, which were pulled to Upper Hutt station by a second locomotive.
Eileen Kirkpatrick was in the second carriage when the train came to a sudden stop. "It was just a huge bang, a big jolt and my water bottle went flying," she said. "The driver was shaken and when you see the engine you can see why."
Craig Hawkes was in the last carriage. "There was a fairly big bump, everything went flying and a few people went banging into tables. But everyone was seated, which was lucky."
Two investigators from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission were at the scene last night.
Overnight the Fire Service received about 45 calls due to flooding - mainly in Porirua, Stokes Valley, Whitby and Silverstream - and downed trees.
This morning, flooding north of Melling on State Highway Two caused northbound traffic to be reduced to one lane for several hours, and flooding has caused the closure of State Highway 53 between Martinborough and Featherston.
Inspector Marty Parker of Police Central Communications said the closure of the train service from Wairarapa to Wellington, coupled with bad weather, meant delays of about two hours for city-bound commuters on State Highway Two.
''There's flooding everywhere. Normally if a train is out it's normally on the good weather so it's not so bad but compounding this is the bad weather and flooding. Don't expect to get to work in a hurry. Just pace yourselves and be prepared for delays.''
A person was rescued from their car, which had become stuck in water on the road in Carterton, about 6am, the Fire Service said.
Grays Rd in Pauatahanui remains closed but State Highway 58 in Whitby has been reopened.
There was a strong wind warning in place for the Rimutaka Hill Rd and snow was expected on the Desert Rd this afternoon, Mr Parker said.
''It might cause a bit of grief for people heading north for the weekend.''
MetService said the front that brought the bad weather was now moving away from the country and heavy rain and strong wind warnings have been lifted.
MetService forecaster Kathleen Wozniak said the highest rain falls overnight were in the Tararua Ranges, where 253mm fell, and at Dawson Falls in Taranaki, where 223mm fell.
Parts of Hawke's Bay received 74mm of rain while Lower Hutt soaked up 47mm worth.
The strongest wind gusts were recorded at Mt Kaukau, which copped gusts of up to 142kmh, while Paraparaumu received 110kmh gusts.
High winds consistently dogged the coast between Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay, with an average wind speed of 100kmh, she said.
Ontrack spokeswoman Ruth Larsen said the Paraparaumu line between Porirua and Wellington was closed after a slip on the tracks just north of the rail bridge in Ngauranga Gorge about 8.30am.
Buses were operating to transport commuters to and from the city.
''The slip is still coming down. We're taking the precaution of closing that line.''
The slip was affecting one of the two tracks and the situation would be reviewed at midday.
As the train was trapped last night, Wellington workers wanting to drive north to get home faced a maze of road closures and crawling traffic as heavy rain and winds gusting to 130kmh wreaked havoc.
At one stage the capital was cut off from the north. For several hours, the narrow Akatarawa Rd between Upper Hutt and Waikanae was the main route north.
A slip blocked State Highway 1 at Pukerua Bay from about 5.30pm, causing extensive delays. One lane reopened just before 8pm and at 10pm there was still a backlog of traffic. High winds closed the Rimutaka Hill Road from 8pm until about 9pm. Slips and gravel also caused road closures on SH58 between Pauatahanui and Haywards Hill, and the Paekakariki Hill Road.
In Lower Hutt, Eastern Hutt Rd was under about one metre of water. "It's like a sink . . . The roads are atrocious," Acting Senior Sergeant Steve Braybrook said.
At 4pm, the Hutt River was 1.3 metres high. By 7.30pm, it had peaked at 4.3m.
Fire Service shift manager David Meikle said firefighters responded to 35 weather-related callouts from 5.30pm to 8pm, most in Stokes Valley and Upper Hutt.
Firefighters rescued a mother and her three young children trapped in their car by rising waters in Silverstream. They drove a fire engine to beside the car, then ferried them to safety.
- By REBECCA PALMER, MATT CALMAN, TIM DONOGHUE and KELLY BURNS/Dominion Post with MICHAEL FOX, Stuff.co.nz
Aotea Quay traffic camera, provided by CityLink.
Courtenay Place traffic camera, provided by CityLink.
Mt Victoria Tunnel traffic camera, provided by CityLink.
Looking south on State Highway 1 from the Johnsonville off-ramp. Camera provided by The NZ Transport Agency.
Looking south on State Highway 1 from the top of Ngauranga Gorge. Camera provided by The NZ Transport Agency.
Looking south on State Highway 1 from mid-way up Ngauranga Gorge. Camera provided by The NZ Transport Agency.
Looking south on State Highway 1 near Paekakariki. Camera provided by The NZ Transport Agency.