Coastal Pacific passenger train reconnects after Kaikōura earthquake

Passenger trains are running again between two South Island destinations after the line was severely damaged by an earthquake. 

The 2016 Kaikōura earthquake crippled rail lines, leading to one of the biggest rebuild efforts in decades. It's taken more than 1700 workers to repair the rail and roads in a massive collective effort.  

A commemorative train left Picton for Christchurch at 8am on Friday morning with passengers including Government VIPs, tourism chiefs, workers, iwi and Kaikōura locals, celebrating the incredible rebuild effort "not seen since World War II". 

"This is a real testament to the 1700 workers who have put the rail and road back together again, connecting communities and bringing tourists back to the Coast," said KiwiRail's acting chief executive Todd Moyle.

"Re-opening of the line for passengers is critical to regional economies and is part of KiwiRail's purpose to create stronger connections for a better New Zealand."

Before the Kaikōura earthquake in 2016, the Coastal Pacific line brought about 42,000 passengers a year into Marlborough and Kaikōura alone. These passengers were estimated to spend $34 million across the two regions, supporting about 300 local jobs.

Coastal Pacific passenger train reconnects after Kaikōura earthquake
Photo credit: KiwiRail

"I cannot praise highly enough those who made that possible, and it is fitting that members of the workforce that put the line back together will be on today's special journey," said Mr Moyle. 

He said the combined effort of the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), KiwiRail, and the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery Alliance (NCTIR) made it all possible.

The revived service has got a $40 million cash boost from the Government, making it a year-round service. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also revealed on Friday the train stations in Kaikōura, Picton and Blenhiem will be upgraded as part of the investment. 

The line for night-time freight services was re-opened after just 10 months of work, allowing the rebuild to continue during daylight hours. 

The NZ Transport Agency, KiwiRail and NCTIR have been recognised on the global stage, with the Kaikōura earthquake recovery work winning the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) People's Choice Award in November earlier this month. 

NZ Transport Agency Regional Director Steve Mutton, chair of the NCTIR Board, said it was a collective effort that resulted in engineering excellence, and every crew member - past and present - should feel proud. 

Mr Moyle said Friday's passenger trip is a "return to full operations for the line", adding that the passenger line will "now be open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Research into the events leading up to the Kaikōura earthquake suggests the Hikurangi subduction zone or a megathrust fault is behind it. 

The earthquake took a major toll on families, with appeals made to batch owners to consider renting to families struggling to find accommodation.