Rail link between Christchurch and Greymouth reopens on Monday

A section of the Midland line, which was damaged by a fire over Waitangi weekend.
SUPPLIED

A section of the Midland line, which was damaged by a fire over Waitangi weekend.

Freight services will resume on the rail line between Christchurch and Greymouth on Monday, with the TranzAlpine scenic service to restart on Wednesday.

The Midland line was badly damaged by a fire over Waitangi weekend, which burned through 300 hectares near Castle Hill, in Arthur's Pass.

Seven bridges required repair, including one badly-damaged structure which needed three wooden supports replaced.

Repairs are made to the bridge at Truscotts Creek, one of several Midlands line bridges damaged by fire over Waitangi ...
SUPPLIED

Repairs are made to the bridge at Truscotts Creek, one of several Midlands line bridges damaged by fire over Waitangi Weekend.

The line is crucial for transferring freight between the West Coast and Christchurch, and is used by coal mining company Solid Energy and dairy producer Westland Milk Products.

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Solid Energy has not been sending coal from the West Coast to Port Lyttelton since the line was damaged. KiwiRail plans to run extra freight services for a few weeks to clear the backlog. 

Helicopters were used to battle the 300-hectare fire near Springfield over Waitangi weekend.
ROBERT GRAY/SUPPLIED

Helicopters were used to battle the 300-hectare fire near Springfield over Waitangi weekend.

About 60 workers were involved in rebuilding the damaged line, including some brought in from Tauranga, Greymouth and Invercargill. A temporary base was set up in Springfield during the six-week restoration. 

KiwiRail structures production manager Brodie Neville said the remote location of the damaged bridges was "very challenging" as access was difficult.

"If you forgot the smallest item, it's a trip out, and you lose half a day or a day pretty much."

The TranzAlpine is regarded as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world.
SUPPLIED

The TranzAlpine is regarded as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world.

South Island network services manager Jeanine Benson said it was a "serious place to consider a piece of work" logistically.

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"We had to create access ways to get into that bridge, so we had to build roads."

For some areas of work, the rail line was the only way in, which meant other damaged sections had to be repaired first. 

One of the repaired sections of railway line running between Christchurch and Greymouth.
SUPPLIED

One of the repaired sections of railway line running between Christchurch and Greymouth.

Much of the area did not have cellphone reception, so KiwiRail had to get special equipment in. 

Benson said workers battled with flying insects such as wasps, bees and sandflies, and she was humbled by the effort they put in to get the line reopened so quickly. 

"The teams that came from out of town have been away from home, so there's a lot of personal sacrifice in that."

The work was completed ahead of schedule, with the line originally expected to reopen in early April. 

Meanwhile, work continues on the line running from Picton to Christchurch, which was badly damaged during the November earthquakes. The coastal line is not expected to reopen until about Christmas. 

 - Stuff

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