Otira Tunnel poses fire risk to train

01:55, Jul 22 2013

Passengers on the TranzAlpine train service will now have to disembark and board a bus around the Otira Tunnel, as questions are raised over its fire safety.

KiwiRail announced the change yesterday, after consultation with the NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

From today, train passengers will now have to temporarily board a bus for the 14-kilometre journey between Arthur's Pass and Otira in both directions.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn said the decision had been made as a "precautionary measure" due to a risk of fire in the tunnel.

"The likelihood of a fire occurring in Otira Tunnel is very low. However, KiwiRail feels it is prudent to do everything we can to minimise any possible risk to our passengers," he said.

"The Otira Tunnel, in particular, poses some more difficult challenges in terms of risk mitigation due not only to its length at over 8 kilometres, but also because of its gradient, its remoteness from emergency services, the presence of coal dust, and the complex operating regime with automatic doors and large fans to draw air into the tunnel."


The train would still travel through the tunnel and meet passengers on the other side.

"KiwiRail staff are trained to respond to emergency situations, our passengers are not," Quinn said.

There had been "no specific incident or concern" to trigger the event, a KiwiRail spokeswoman said, and the change came as a result of "constant monitoring of infrastructure".

Funding had been committed to make further improvements to the tunnel.

Fire suppressant equipment would be installed on all trains on the TranzAlpine route, in addition to fire detection systems already installed.

The Press