Recently 24 NMIT Civil Engineering students and tutors visited the Kaikoura rebuild construction site.
The site visit commenced with a safety briefing by Kirsty Youldon at the Mt Lyford Lodge and overview by Rhys Jones of the first response to the destruction caused by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake centred on the Kaikoura coastline.
This was followed by an inspection of the Whales Back site on the inland route to Kaikoura. Here we were shown the first site stabilised in the initial response that allowed traffic to travel the road in and out of Kaikoura.
In the afternoon Doug Dold conducted the site visit north of Kaikoura. He showed us the mammoth tasks of slip clearance and earthworks required to clear the road and railway. The magnitude of the slips is hard to comprehend.
Standing up close the devastated areas towered out of sight. From far away the slip sites look manageable until one looks at the matchbox sized trucks and diggers working on and around the site nearby. Doug explained the number of trucks and diggers needed to remove the millions of tons of slip material, but the numbers were so big, that it seemed beyond belief.
The second day started with the arrival and celebration of the first commercial train into Kaikoura, on its way to Christchurch. A sobering day for the train driver who explained that he had just finished his shift on the night of the earthquake. He thought then that he had just driven the last train to ever travel that section of railway. We celebrated how wrong he had been.
Shaun Gore then showed us the reconstruction of the Kaikoura Wharf. The scale of the reconstruction was not as massive as clearing the slips, but was more technically challenging. We saw how the new concrete piles were being installed to create a neat wharf for the whale watch and dolphin tours.
The final part of the tour was to visit the road reconstruction and stabilisation south of Kaikoura. Here Gary Ikin showed us where the drilling rigs were perched high on the slip sites drilling rock anchors into the rock to prevent it from slipping again. The slopes under stabilisation were so vast that if Gary hadn’t pointed the drilling rigs out, we probably wouldn’t have spotted them.
The large rock catch fences installed at the bottom of some of these slip slopes made us appreciate the size of the potential rocks that could still be rolling off the hills onto passing traffic if they were not there. In between the road and the slips was the thin, newly opened railway line, looking so frail compared to the devastation on the hills above it.
An excellent learning experience for us all.
One of the students said, "It was an absolute eye-opener to the range of skills engineers are mastering. Learning from engineers who went above-and-beyond to realise a project of such a scale is captivating. Every person we met is an inspiration for our future careers."
Thanks to the staff of North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) and Mitchell Napier and Paul Duffy from Downer for making it happen.
You can read more about the Kaikoura road construction project at the New Zealand Transport Agency(external link), their bulletins have easy to read facts and figures.