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ICE People’s Choice Award 2018 winner: ‘many people didn’t think we could do it’

30 January 2019

Tim Watterson, Design Director at NCTIR, gives a behind-the-scenes account of the award-winning Kaikōura recovery project.

ICE People’s Choice Award 2018 winner: ‘many people didn’t think we could do it’
Tim Watterson worked on the winning Kaikoura recovery project in New Zealand.

The Kaikōura recovery work was a massive collective effort that resulted in engineering excellence and collaboration on scale never seen before in New Zealand, and every team member – past and present - should feel proud of themselves.

The Kaikōura earthquake in New Zealand struck on 14 November 2016 with a magnitude of 7.8.

Widespread damage

Damage was significant and widespread, and included the Kekerengu fault rupturing and lifting the ground up by 10m, and significant uplift also to the seabed at Kaikōura and along the coast. The earthquake generated a tsunami approximately 7m high.

The earthquake generated the strongest ground accelerations ever recorded in New Zealand and caused damage throughout many South Island regions, closing both State Highway 1 (SH1) and the Main North Line railway (including damage to tunnels and bridges) between Picton and Christchurch. Several major roads were closed due to slips, damage to bridges and infrastructure.

Kaikōura and the surrounding rural communities were isolated - all roads and the rail network in and out of the area were damaged and closed by the slips.

More than 150km of the railway line was damaged in the earthquake, leaving railway tracks twisted, tunnels and bridges damaged and bringing down over 1 million cubic metres of material (soil and rock) onto the tracks below in the form of landslides.

The Kaikōura Marina also suffered significant damage and had to close.

‘A huge recovery effort was required’

The social and economic effects of the earthquake were significant and felt far and wide across New Zealand. A rapid and huge recovery effort was required, with highly ambitious timelines set for the re-opening of the critical transport assets.

In response, the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) Alliance was set up by the New Zealand Government to restore the earthquake-damaged infrastructure between Picton and Christchurch.

The NCTIR Alliance

NCTIR is an alliance partnership between the NZ Transport Agency, KiwiRail, Downer, Fulton Hogan, HEB Construction and Higgins.

NCTIR is supported by a Professional Services Sub-Alliance including Aurecon, WSP-Opus and Tonkin & Taylor.

More than 1,300 people from over 100 organisations from across New Zealand and around the world helped to restore the transport corridor along the Kaikōura coastline.

The team worked hard, under extremely difficult conditions, to design and rebuild a safe highway and rail line to reconnect Kaikōura and critical South Island transport links to the north and south, as well as benefiting the wider surrounding communities also still recovering from the effects of the earthquake.

Hundreds of workers spent months living away from their families to reconnect State Highway 1, get the rail line up and running and re-open the Marina, all within only an astonishing 12 months.

Action in the face of adversity

They faced a lot of adversity: design progressing alongside construction, pouring foundations on the sea coast around the tides through winter, abseiling teams removing boulders from precipitous cliff faces, and a small army of helicopter pilots with monsoon buckets drenching the cliffs to bring material down in the first few months.

Design and construction progressed at a pace never seen before in New Zealand, and included new sea walls, bridges, clearance of multiple slips, rock anchors and netting solutions, rockfall protection fencing, tunnel repairs, and extensive road and rail reconstruction.

All this was achieved without any serious injuries, which is an outstanding effort.

Next steps

Having achieved all its major breakthrough milestones to date, NCTIR is now focussed on improving safety and resilience along much of the reconnected road and rail transport corridors.

We are immensely proud to have won the ICE People’s Choice Award for 2018.

Working closely with the community, the NCTIR team has worked extremely hard in challenging conditions and significant time pressures.

To safely achieve what we have in such a short amount of time is simply outstanding! Many people didn’t think we could do it.

The level of personal commitment and teamwork across NCTIR has been quite humbling and a career highlight for many. It’s great to have reconnected communities and see first-hand what it means for the region.

Thank you to all who voted for us!

  • Tim Watterson, design director at NCTIR