Tunnel reopens to Tranz Alpine

By Nicholas McBride

Kiwi Rail says it is confident the Tranz Alpine can now carry passengers safely through the Otira Tunnel again, nearly four months after passenger trains were suspended until the fire risk in the 90-year-old tunnel had been addressed.
Passengers have been bused the 14km between Arthur’s Pass and Otira, but from next week they will again be carried through the tunnel.
Kiwi Rail today confirmed that rail regulator the New Zealand Transport Agency had approved the resumption of passenger services through the tunnel.
“Kiwi Rail has now completed a significant series of improvements to the safety measures already in place at Otira.
“We will continue to assess best practice and are committed to ensuring the safe operation of trains through the tunnel,” chief executive Jim Quinn said.
Approval to take passengers through the tunnel was granted after an extensive risk assessment and improvement process undertaken with Kiwi Rail and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s High Hazards Unit.
The company said at the time the likelihood of a fire occurring in the tunnel was “very low” but it wanted to do everything possible to minimise any possible risk to passengers.
Mr Quinn said the installation of fire suppression equipment on all trains using the tunnel was completed by November 6.
The newly installed fire suppression units are designed to identify a fire, cut the diesel supply to the engine and then deploy a suppressant to extinguish any residual fire in the engine bay.
They have been fitted to 10 locomotives of the DXC fleet.
Mr Quinn said the work cost up to $300,000.