Sagging bridge ‘warning shot’ work needed

A key rail connection being severed by a washed away pier is "another warning shot" investment is needed in South Island infrastructure, Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown says.

The warning comes after flood waters in South Canterbury washed away a pier from a rail bridge over the Rangitata River yesterday.

A KiwiRail spokesman said the missing pier had resulted in the 610m-long bridge sagging.

Engineers had been unable to take a close physical inspection due to the high water levels and they could not comment on how long it would take to repair the bridge.

"The Rangitata rail bridge is an important part of the rail connection linking Invercargill, Dunedin and Christchurch," the spokesman said.

"About eight freight trains travel across the bridge every weekday, and about five each weekend."

A 610m-long rail bridge over the Rangitata River, South Canterbury, sags after flood water washed...
A 610m-long rail bridge over the Rangitata River, South Canterbury, sags after flood water washed away one of 34 piers. PHOTO: CONNOR HALEY
Mr Brown previously called for stronger bridges after the Ashburton Road/Hakatere Bridge was closed due to a debris build-up last year.

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times, he said bridges in the lower half of the South Island, including those running over the Rangitata River, were nearly 90 years old and needed to be reassessed.

The South Island’s infrastructure was ageing and money needed to be spent on it, he said.

"I’m not sure how long it will take to repair that pier that has been washed out. You won’t be able to use the rail bridge until then.

"That has again split the South Island in half for rail."

Some of the bridges were coming up to 100 years old.

"We’ve had with Ashburton a warning shot, we’re doing something about it, and here’s a rail bridge now washed out - here’s another warning shot.

"If we don’t do something ... this infrastructure is going to get washed away when the flows in the river are high."

The KiwiRail spokesman said due to the recent opening of the Fairfield Freight Hub, near Ashburton, it was able to move its rail freight from Ashburton to its Timaru rail terminal via 50km of road — which would keep the freight connection between Invercargill, Dunedin and Christchurch intact.

Port Otago commercial manager Craig Usher said the bridge closure posed "no significant impact" to the port and would probably more impact those in Timaru and rail lines towards Lyttelton.

A Fonterra spokesman said the closed rail bridge would not impact them as no finished goods were being transported by rail on that route.