17,000 Tranz Alpine bookings affected after fire damage closes Midland Line to West Coast

By Laura Mills

KiwiRail staff inspect one of the damaged bridges. Photo / Supplied
KiwiRail staff inspect one of the damaged bridges. Photo / Supplied

KiwiRail says 17,000 Tranz Alpine bookings to the West Coast are affected by the closure of the Midland Line after bridges were badly damaged in a scrub fire at the weekend.

Solid Energy is also looking at how to get coal from the Stockton open-cast mine to Lyttelton for exporting.

KiwiRail confirmed yesterday afternoon the only railway line to the West Coast will remain closed for at least six weeks.

It said rail staff remained on regular pay, but may have to take leave.

A tentative date of April 3 has been touted for the reopening.

The fire covered 300ha in an inaccessible part of the high country, damaging bridges, track and signal systems.

KiwiRail said this morning it was talking to all operational and administrative staff affected, and taking leave may be a possibility for staff.

"But we do not envisage any redundancies due to the fire damage," it said in a statement.

Solid Energy was preparing a statement this morning. It is believed stockpiling may be an option, then playing catch-up to the Lyttelton wharves when the line reopens.

KiwiRail operates up to four daily coal trains on the Midland Line.

KiwiRail has confirmed that the only railway line to the West Coast will remain closed till at least  April 3 after several  bridges were badly damaged in a scrub fire at the weekend. Photo / File
KiwiRail has confirmed that the only railway line to the West Coast will remain closed till at least April 3 after several bridges were badly damaged in a scrub fire at the weekend. Photo / File

It said it was working with its freight customers to assess the implications of the closure on their business. Westland Milk Products has already said it will truck its goods out of Hokitika.

KiwiRail manager of network services Todd Moyle said crews from around the country would be brought in to reinstate the line as quickly as possible.

"Hot and windy conditions at the weekend meant several of our bridges along the route were damaged, including one bridge where 12 wooden piles will need to be replaced," Moyle said.

"We are still working through the quickest course of action to reinstate the line. Heat spots in the area remain a concern."

In an update to tourism operators, KiwiRail said the Tranz Alpine had been cancelled to Monday, April 3.

It will be offering bus replacements for affected passengers up to this Sunday.

KiwiRail will cease operating a bus replacement once Intercity begins a Christchurch-Greymouth coach service.

- Greymouth Star

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