Newspaper Article 2005 – ‘Thud’ as bridge snaps

‘Thud’ as bridge snaps


Nuhaka train buff Roy Currie had not long finished his toast and coffee yesterday morning when he heard an horrendous crash and a thud.

“It can’t be a train,” he thought, before hearing the familiar sound of a diesel locomotive on the Palmerston North-Gisborne railway line.

He rushed outside to see the rail bridge not far from his property had collapsed, sending a crane and several railway wagons tumbling into the Nuhaka River.

“Lo and behold there was the bridge sitting in the river,” he said.

The crane had been sent to the 50m-long bridge to repair a faulty pile but the bridge collapsed under its weight as it crossed. No-one was on the crane at the time and no-one was injured.

Rail workers are beginning the challenging task of salvaging the 170-tonne rail crane as council staff work to contain any fuel and oil leaks.

Ontrack, the Crown entity responsible for the rail network, may have to build a rock causeway into the river on either side of the bridge so road cranes can remove the wreckage.

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council reported a small amount of oil had spilt from the crane but about 250 litres of diesel and more than 800 litres of hydraulic oil were still in their tanks last night.

Council environmental officer Ian Lilburn said railway staff on the scene were “just amazed” at what had happened.

He said it would take some time to salvage the crane and council staff would be arranging oil booms around the crane today.

Local people knew the bridges, which were built in the 1920s, were no longer safe, Mr Currie said.

“We always thought the one at Tahaenui would go first.”

He said he used to enjoy steam train excursions on the line until several years ago.

It was just as well the line had been deemed no longer safe for a passenger service.

“That would have been a catastrophe,” he said.

The two locomotives, which were towing the fallen wagons, are stranded on the Gisborne side of the bridge and Toll Rail is considering whether to take them out by barge from Gisborne or by road.

The Palmerston North-Gisborne railway line no longer carries passengers but about six freight trains travel the route each week, the most recent on Thursday.

Ontrack spokesman Kevin Ramshaw said the pile had already been identified as a problem and $1.3 million had been committed to upgrade the Palmerston North-Gisborne railway line.

Rail and Maritime Union general secretary Wayne Butson said the collapse showed what a disaster privatisation had been for New Zealanders.

“From 1993 the rail industry had been a constant cycle of staff cuts and reduction on capital expenditure on the tracks,” he said.

“The rail transport network needs considerable sums of money spent on it over the next few years to return it to the being a fit and proper rail system.”

Photo captions –

SEVERED: The scene of the rail bridge disaster in northern Hawke’s Bay, where a crane and several rail wagons fell into the Nuhaka River.

CALAMITY: The crane and rail wagons are left stranded in the river.

TAINTED: A small amount of oil was reported to have spilt into the river following the collapse.

Original digital file


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Newspaper article

Date published

7 May 2005

Creator / Author

  • Warren Buckland
  • Jonathan Dow


Hawke's Bay Today


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Wayne Butson
  • Roy Currie
  • Ian Lilburn
  • Kevin Ramshaw

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