Latest bridge strike symptom of costly problem

12 March, 2021

The main trunk line for New Zealand’s trains had to be closed for 24 hours after a truck hit a rail bridge near Taihape on Friday afternoon, forcing the cancellation of 11 trains and disrupting the national rail freight network.

The incident is the latest in a string where vehicle drivers have misjudged the height of bridges and struck them, causing damage and train cancellations.

KiwiRail Chief Operating Officer Todd Moyle says the problem puts the public and KiwiRail staff at risk and is costly for all those involved.

In the Friday incident the truck was travelling on Pukenaua Road, just off State Highway One, carrying a digger when it struck the underside of the rail bridge.

“When our engineers arrived on site, inspections revealed damage to the bridge span, which meant the bridge was unsafe for trains to pass over and needed immediate repairs,” says Mr Moyle.

“As a result, the rail line between Hamilton and Palmerston North was closed until Saturday afternoon, which had massive implications for our freight operations. We had to cancel 11 trains and the four trains which were already en route when the strike happened were delayed nearly 24 hours.

“These cancellations and delays mean some freight also missed connections with Cook Strait ferries and South Island train services.

“On Saturday we worked to build a temporary scaffold structure under the bridge to support the span to allow train services to resume.”

Until permanent repairs are completed trains are crossing the bridge at a reduced speed and Pukenaua Road is closed to traffic. KiwiRail apologises to the local community for the inconvenience this is causing.

Mr Moyle says in the past 12 months there have been 29 incidents where vehicles have hit rail bridges.

“Most alarming of all is that in the vast majority of cases, including the incident on Friday, the driver has left the scene and has not reported the incident to KiwiRail.

“This has serious safety implications.  Each time a bridge is struck, a structures inspector needs to check over the bridge and ensure is it fit for trains to travel over, and this can only happen if we know that the incident has occurred.

“By not reporting what they have done, drivers are putting our locomotive engineers and members of the public at risk.

“We’re asking drivers firstly to heed height restriction warnings on rail bridges and, if they do make a mistake, to consider the implications for others. They do need to do the right thing and contact our emergency number (0800 808 400).”

KiwiRail will be following its usual practice and seeking to recover costs from the truck owner, incurred as a result of the Taihape incident. This will include the cost to the business of closing the line, train cancellations and repairs to the bridge including materials and labour.