Change to TranzAlpine operations

21 July 2013 3:03PM

Following consultation with New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), KiwiRail has decided as a precautionary measure to temporarily bus transfer passengers for the 14kms between Arthurs Pass and Otira in both directions as of tomorrow (Monday 22 July), rather than going through the Otira tunnel by train.

“KiwiRail is constantly monitoring the safety of our assets and infrastructure, and we have been working closely with NZTA to assess any possible risks that the Otira tunnel poses to passengers and train drivers and the ways to mitigate these. While we already have a number of safety procedures in place, a decision has been made to install engine bay fire suppression on all locomotives allocated to haul the TranzAlpine through Otira to reduce any further risk of locomotive fire in the tunnel. This is in addition to the fire detection systems already in place on the locomotives,” says KiwiRail’s Chief Executive Jim Quinn.

“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.

“The Otira tunnel, in particular, poses some more difficult challenges in terms of risk mitigation due not only to its length at over eight 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.

“KiwiRail staff are trained to respond to emergency situations, our passengers are not,” says Mr Quinn.

“Funding has already been committed to make further improvements to the Otira tunnel on top of the regular maintenance work already undertaken in the tunnel, which includes twice weekly track inspections, annual on-foot engineering inspections, and visual inspections of the tunnel structure.

“Other work includes washing down the tunnel using high-powered water jets to wash coal dust through the ballast and out of the tunnel.  The ventilation, communication and signalling systems are also included in the maintenance programme. 

“We expect to have completed the instalment of fire suppressant equipment on all the locomotives used to haul the TranzAlpine by the end of September,” Mr Quinn says.


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