15 May 2015

Wellington's crisis planning criticised

7:04 pm on 15 May 2015

Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace has hit out at what he believes was the failure of the region's transport network to cope with yesterday's severe weather.

Commuters wait in vain for news at Wellington Railway Station.

Commuters wait in vain for news at Wellington Railway Station. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Gillies

Parts of the region's two main highways were closed, and all train services were halted, leaving thousands of commuters stranded in Wellington.

Mr Wallace said MetLink only put nine additional buses on to cope with the large numbers of people trying to get back to the Hutt Valley and that clearly wasn't good enough.

"There was a lot of Hutt Valley residents stranded in Wellington who could not get back and some resorted to the very dangerous activity of having to walk home. They had no other option and I think that's something we've all got to look at.

"My understanding was, and I will be looking into this, that there was a number of independent companies that aren't used by the main bus services that would have had buses available and in these types of extreme circumstances, we expect everyone to man the pumps," he said.

Mr Wallace added he will be raising the issue with the Greater Wellington Regional Council which is responsible for planning and funding regional transport, in a bid to provide better emergency and contingency transport planning.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council hit back at Mr Wallace's criticism over stopping the trains.

The council's chair Fran Wilde said that up to 20 extra buses were brought into service but it wasn't possible to muster enough to completely replace rail services.

"It's very hard to conjure up buses at the last minute, and many of the bus drivers wouldn't have been able to get into town anyway."

She said the other challenge would be getting enough bus drivers in the right places.

Lower Hutt resident Mark Petherick said yesterday's traffic chaos showed how difficult it is to get out of Wellington in a weather event.

He said that raised concerns about the safety of residents in the region.

"There's no alternative roads out of Wellington...like yesterday you've got problems with Rimutaka Hill and you've got problems with the Haywards," he said.

"[If there is] an earthquake, you've got no way of getting out of Wellington. You've got more luck getting out of Auckland."

"That's dangerous."

Mr Petherick said councils should look at building more roads out of the city or making public transport more reliable in these situations.

Minister of Civil Defence Nikki Kaye said it was important people looked after each other and listened to advice from the relevant agencies during situations like this.

She said yesterday's events were a message for all New Zealanders to be prepared as there will be more storms this winter.

Ms Kaye said the event also showed it does not take a major earthquake or disaster for people to be stranded or services to be reduced and household emergency plans need to allow for that.

Criticism misplaced

The Chair of the Regional Council Fran Wilde said Mr Wallace's criticisms are misplaced and he doesn't have all the facts.

She said all scheduled bus services were running and the nine additional buses were put on by independent bus companies which picked up people waiting at the Wellington Railway Station.

Ms Wilde said there had been a lot of questions in the media as to why more buses were not put on, but it was not that simple.

She said some of the roads were closed anyway so many buses could not have got through.

But she said: "It's very hard to conjure up dozens of extra buses at the last minute and what's more, many of the drivers, or some of the drivers presumably who might have been available wouldn't have been able to get into town anyway because people couldn't get into town".

Ms Wilde said the Council had also been criticised for not starting the trains earlier.

"A train derailment could be fatal and there's no way you can start the trains until you've done a daylight inspection of all the track."

Ms Wilde said a review would be held into all the issues around how the regional transport system coped, but she believed overall it managed as well as it could with what was a very severe weather event.

Wet commuters in the capital.

Photo: RNZ / Alex van Wel

Roading infrastructure key

Mayor of Porirua Nick Leggett also believed public transport systems coped as well as they could, and with the main highways completely blocked by traffic, extra buses would not have helped.

He said he was looking forward to having Transmission Gully in operation in the next five years and the Kapiti Expressway.

"Yesterday was a superb demonstration of why we can't turn our back on roading infrastructure."

"It shows that despite the people that want to stop all roading developments, that the Wellington region is deficient in terms of its roading network. We need roads that give us resilience and connectivity and alternative routes."

And that was a view echoed the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

Its chief executive John Milford said yesterday's extreme weather proved the needed to push on with major infrastructure projects.

"We've got massive investment coming into the region at the moment with Transmission Gully, with other roading infrastructures, improvements to rail. If we don't get on and do this stuff, we will be at risk again in the future, that's without a shadow of a doubt."

Power restored

Power has been restored to all but one household in the Wellington region.

Wellington Electricity said flooding washed away two power poles early yesterday afternoon, initially cutting power to about 400 homes around Takapu Rd in Tawa.

Most were restored within a few hours, but 23 homes were without power overnight.

That was now down to one.

Wellington Electricity said other problems around the district yesterday were dealt with quickly.

Cost of flood not yet known

Insurance Council Chief Executive Tim Grafton said insurance claims would start rolling in over the coming days.

He was expecting some would also come from affected businesses.

"Certainly people were going home a lot earlier to avoid the flooded homes and the like, I have seen businesses that have been flooded out, retail businesses."

Mr Grafton said, however, he expected few claims would be for business interruption as under most policies, one cannot claim for the first 24 to 48 hours.

The Insurance and Savings Ombudsman advised residents affected by flooding to contact their insurance companies before cleaning-up.

Karen Stevens deals with complaints about insurance and financial services.

She said she had seen cases where people have cleaned up, thrown damaged items away, and then had difficulty proving they were damaged.

Trains now running

Some commuters in the Wellington region are taking a train home tonight, but others still face disruptions following yesterday's torrential rain.

Services on the Hutt Valley linebetween Wellington and Upper Hutt resumed this afternoon, as did Kapiti Line trains between Wellington and Plimmerton.

But buses will still operate between Plimmerton and Waikanae.

What you need to know

Wellington train

A train on the Waikanae line departs from Wellington Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

Tranz Metro General Manager David Shepherd said staff had inspected the railway tracks, earlier today.

"The work needed to site areas of concern and we needed to wait until waters receded so we could see what needed to be repaired.

"However we have had large crews out from very early this morning, at day break, to be able to make the necessary inspections and repairs."

Mr Shepherd said it dealt with major problem areas first, such as the slips, and major flooding of sub-stations.

"A lot of work was done yesterday but actually we had subsequent slips that have come down."

Mr Shepherd said it did not have a fleet of buses on standby, so it had to work with bus companies to provide buses.

He said at a morning peak, 15,000 people travel with them.

"For us to reliably deliver to that requirement would require us to have somewhere in the region of about 350 buses and we were unable to secure that amount," he said.

"What we are really wanting people to do is listen to the NZTA advice and civil defence advise to avoid travel and make alternative arrangements."

Trains parked up at Wellington Railway Station.

Trains parked up at Wellington Railway Station. Photo: RNZ / Shannon Gillies

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