Toll and Port Otago discuss liability for bridge crash

More than two weeks after the Dunedin Railway Station pedestrian overbridge was destroyed by a container on a train travelling underneath, nobody is admitting liability.

Transport group Toll Holdings and Port Otago have been working together on a report on the incident, but neither company would discuss the results yesterday.

The only information that could be gleaned by the Otago Daily Times was that the container was loaded at South Freight, a division of Port Otago.

But the Dunedin City Council said yesterday it expected liability would not delay replacement of the bridge. It hoped work would begin as soon as possible after an engineers' report was received on March 14.

A shunt train travelling to the wharves at Port Chalmers on February 12 destroyed the middle section of the overbridge, after metal flaps on a container carried on a wagon flew up.

The container had been collapsed so it could fit under the bridge, which runs between Castle St and Thomas Burns St, but the flaps lifted, striking the bridge.

The incident cut off access from the railway station to the harbourside, a popular route for commuters who park in the harbour area and walk into the city.

Apart from explaining the container was loaded at South Freight, Port Otago chief executive Geoff Plunket said he was not able to comment on the incident at all.

He would not say what might happen as a result of the report, or whether liability would be decided by it.

Comment would be forthcoming ‘‘much later''.

Toll spokeswoman Sue Foley said despite earlier reports, the company had not admitted liability.

She would not comment until the two companies had established what happened, and would not answer questions until that time.

The council has employed consultant MWH New Zealand Ltd to report on the future of the bridge and its report to be completed by March 14.

Council transportation operations manager Mike Costelloe said yesterday that while his comment might be ‘‘famous last words'', he did not expect liability to hold up work following that date.

While the council's insurers were yet to resolve the issue, he expected they would help with the problem.

‘‘You never say never, but I would not expect to be unduly held up.''

The incident was not the council's fault, so it should not have to pay.

The council was treating the replacement of the bridge with urgency, but its response hinged on the results of the report.

Delays were due to testing of the structural integrity of the bridge, and engineers had to decide what could be reused, and what was damaged beyond repair.

‘‘We wouldn't want to rush it. Till we know for sure, how would we know?''

Once the report was completed, and depending on its results, ‘‘I would hope we would start straight away''.

Asked whether a temporary bridge might be put in place, he said no certain option had yet been identified, though the idea had been raised.

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