24 November 2014
Rainforest Express to remain closed
Watercare has announced the Rainforest Express will remain out of service indefinitely. The decision will also mean an end to the passenger service previously operated by the Waitakere Tramline Society.
Public use of the Upper Nihotupu and neighbouring Waitakere tramlines has been suspended since May 2013, when a major landslide caused significant damage to the Upper Nihotupu tramline.
Watercare Chief Executive Raveen Jaduram said he was sad to see the end of what had become a West Auckland icon during the 15 years Watercare had operated it as a sightseeing excursion for visitors from far and near.
He said the Board had taken a long time to assess the various options available to the company, but in the end the decision was a straightforward one.
“As a provider of water and wastewater services, public health and safety sits at the core of what we do as a business. The Board considers it is impossible to reopen these lines for general use in a way that meets our statutory requirements and our responsibilities regarding the welfare of the public,” Mr Jaduram said.
Mr Jaduram said an independent geotechnical report had identified 20 at risk sites across both tramlines, nine of which posed a significant risk to public safety. The report put the cost of reducing risk to an acceptable level for public use at these nine sites at more than $11 million – and noted that even then, the residual risk could be “significant”.
Mr Jaduram said that did not take into account the risk posed at other sites along both routes, which would be very difficult to identify and almost impossible to mitigate.
“It is important to remember that the rock fall that first closed the tracks happened in an area that had previously been regarded as low risk,” said Mr Jaduram.
Mr Jaduram said similar events in the area were not uncommon: a rock fall across the Waitakere line on Anniversary Day this year damaged the Waitakere Raw Watermain, while another just prior to Christmas 2013 led to the temporary closure of Exhibition Drive to enable the removal of unstable overhanging rocks.
Mr Jaduram said Watercare had to balance its wish to let the public enjoy the recreational and other benefits many of its operational areas possess against public health and safety requirements, environmental and operational considerations, and Watercare’s responsibilities as landowner.
“In this case, the argument against continued public access is too strong.”
Mr Jaduram said Watercare would continue to use the lines to transport maintenance staff and equipment as and when required. He said staff use was infrequent, allowing for more elaborate safety precautions to be taken than could be implemented with a regular passenger service, and the lines provided effective access for headworks maintenance.