Buller floods cost KiwiRail over $3 million

Flood damaged railway lines at Fairdown, just north of Westport, in the aftermath of the July 2021 flood. Photo / Geoff Mackley
Flood damaged railway lines at Fairdown, just north of Westport, in the aftermath of the July 2021 flood. Photo / Geoff Mackley
KiwiRail has spent more than $3 million fixing rail assets as a direct result of the July 2021 and February 2022 floods which hammered the Westport area.

The State-rail operator is now on board as work is finalised on the business case for a $10.2m-plus flood protection scheme for Westport, which the Government says is a "test case" for future co-investment in flood protection schemes around the country.

Questions were raised at the West Coast Regional Council table recently about the apparent absence of KiwiRail as a substantial stakeholder in the Westport area.

Cr Peter Ewen has repeatedly questioned KiwiRail's involvement and said its apparent absence as the State rail operator did not bode well given it was a Government entity.

They wanted to know if KiwiRail planned to front up.

"I've been asking where the hell are they ... They are an important presence there," he said.

A flood consultant had noted KiwiRail assets.

KiwiRail has spent more than $3 million fixing rail assets as a direct result of the July 2021 and February 2022 floods which hammered the Westport area.

The State-rail operator is now on board as work is finalised on the business case for a $10.2m-plus flood protection scheme for Westport, which the Government says is a "test case" for future co-investment in flood protection schemes around the country.

Questions were raised at the West Coast Regional Council table recently about the apparent absence of KiwiRail as a substantial stakeholder in the Westport area.

Cr Peter Ewen has repeatedly questioned KiwiRail's involvement and said its apparent absence as the State rail operator did not bode well given it was a Government entity.

They wanted to know if KiwiRail planned to front up.

"I've been asking where the hell are they ... They are an important presence there," he said.

A flood consultant had noted KiwiRail assets.

"He identified that as a chink in the armour - a weak link," Cr Ewen said.

While KiwiRail had installed new culverts around Westport a few years ago, "we've also seen photos of railway lines swinging in the air".

"They're an important player here - they should be. A Government entity should be there to fix the problem for Westport. That's my concern," Cr Ewen said.

KiwiRail said it would attend the next meeting of the Westport Technical Advisory Group.

The group is made up of various stakeholders in the Westport area including the Buller and West Coast Regional councils along with engineers, and the consultant preparing the flood scheme business case for the Government.

"It is a great opportunity to discuss the impacts on rail that flooding has and ensure that all the work on flood protection is integrated," KiwiRail South Island general manager of operations Mark Heissenbuttle said.

"KiwiRail is looking forward to working with the West Coast Regional Council on flooding prevention and identifying any improvement changes."

Heissenbuttle said KiwiRail had spent about $2m fixing its rail line assets in the Buller area as a result of the July 2021 weather event, which flooded Westport.

The latest flooding in February resulted in about a $1.1m fix for KiwiRail lines, north and east of the township.

Meanwhile, the NZ Transport Agency had signed an agreement to participate on the Westport Joint Rating District Committee, the agency's West Coast senior network manager Colin Hey said.

"Waka Kotahi sought and was given an assurance that no financial contribution would be expected by being party to the agreement," he said.

- By Brendon McMahon, Local Democracy Reporter

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