Comment

Recognising Kaikoura earthquake work

By TOMMY PARKER, GENERAL MANAGER, SYSTEM DESIGN & DELIVERY, NZ TRANSPORT AGENCY

NOVEMBER MARKS THE first anniversary of the Kaikoura earthquake and it’s timely for me to recognise the outstanding work of the contracting industry to repair and re-open road and rail links vital not only to local communities but New Zealand as a nation.

Kiwis are no strangers to earthquakes. I doubt, however, that anyone could have imagined the depth of damage to infrastructure left by earth ruptures and landslides after the two minute-long bruising we took from one with a 7.8 magnitude – one of the most severe recorded in New Zealand.

A disaster on this scale called for an immediate industry-wide response and that’s exactly what the Transport Agency and KiwiRail got from our main contractors, subbies, support systems like freight operators, and the thousands of people working to repair road and rail and other infrastructure.

It was heartening to see such a quick response from the industry both in terms of plant, and people – around 3300 were inducted. Those working at our sites at any one time has peaked at around 1300. My observation is one of people from different companies working as one team to get the job done.

The outcome of that response was re-opening the Picton/Christchurch rail link in September, and work continues at pace to re-open State Highway 1, although driving between Picton and Christchurch will take longer while repairs to fully restore the highway are completed. Nevertheless, getting both these links reopened will be a massive achievement. The contracting industry rightly deserves a pat on the back.

For me, the response has captured the Transport Agency’s new strategic thinking and some of the values it regards as important: a commitment to work effectively and efficiently in partnership with others; putting the customer at the heart of what we do to support their needs and reconnect communities; making sure the Transport Agency response was exceptional and the best possible.

The NCTIR (North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery) Alliance included The Transport Agency, KiwiRail, and our contractors – Downers, Fulton Hogan, HEB and Higgins. Add to that around 175 subbies on NCTIR’s books.

I’d also like to acknowledge the excellent work of the Restoration Liaison Group. The group, which includes iwi, local government, the Department of Conservation and many others with a stake in the recovery programme, was tasked with speeding up the consent process and has made a significant contribution towards our good progress.

One of the most valuable lessons adopted early on was the need for coordinated and measured planning. NCTIR recognised the importance of taking time to plan thoroughly, and long-term it is creating a faster and better outcome. A good result for everyone – those involved in the recovery and our customers too.

It’s also worth recalling some of the challenging working conditions contractors face in a skinny strip of north-east Canterbury coast squeezed between unstable hills on one side and a restless sea on the other.

A lot of planning has gone into maximising daylight hours, particularly during a wet and cold winter, to keep people working safely and efficiently. Rebuilding the seawall was another challenge. Daylight wasn’t the problem there, but Mother Nature certainly was. Teams have to fit their reconstruction programmes around the ebb and flow of the tides, often working at night under lights.

Overall, people have worked long and hard, and as we head into summer it is timely to remind everyone in the industry of fatigue from working too many hours. I admire the commitment, but we do need to ensure our teams get rest and to make sure they take that rest. Tired workers can put themselves and their mates at risk and slow the recovery programme.

Despite the scale of devastation, the earthquake will produce positive legacies long-term for the industry. Contractors will be learning new skills to deal with natural disasters and for the Transport Agency, lessons learned from Kaikoura will play an important part in our future strategic planning around transport resilience to keep people and freight moving and communities connected.

This article first appeared in Contractor November 2017.

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