RAIL freight links between Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill on NZ’s South Island will be severely disrupted for at least two weeks after floodwaters on Friday (13 April) damaged a key bridge.

KiwiRail was forced to suspend all services after one of the Rangitata Rail Bridge’s 34 piers was washed away. Under normal circumstances about eight freight trains cross the 610-metre bridge each weekday and five each weekend.

Stuff reported yesterday that initial drone inspections, and follow-up examination by engineers when the floodwaters receded, revealed that despite the bridge spans sagging in the vicinity of the missing pier they appeared to be structurally sound and no damage was found on other spans or piers.

KiwiRail chief infrastructure officer André Lovatt said civil contractors had now begun work to divert the river flow away from the washaway, after which temporary supports would be installed. This would likely take until the end of the month, or longer given weather forecasts. Services would then be able to resume while a permanent fix was put in place.

Mr Lovatt said he was committed to keeping freight moving for customers and was working with those affected to find alternative options for them: “We will continue to run rail services from the north to Christchurch and Ashburton and from the south to Timaru,” he said. “Connecting rail freight will be managed using road bridging operations.”

Separately, Kiwi-Rail’s only rail-enabled Cook Strait ferry, Arartere, is due to be out of service for a fortnight from this weekend for scheduled maintenance. During this time rail freight will be moved onto road skel-trailers at Picton and Wellington for conveyance on the other two ferries, Kaitaki and Kaiarahai.