Although KiwiRail has apologised “for the concerns this has caused”, the state-owned enterprise insists that the partial closure of SH2 in Featherston during the Wellington Anniversary long weekend was justified because it provided the best window to undertake upgrades.
Businesses on Featherston’s stretch of SH2 only found out about the works last Wednesday and appealed to KiwiRail to move the dates, citing that the customers passing through the township during the anniversary weekend were vital.
In response, KiwiRail revised its traffic management plan, so only the southbound lane was closed, creating a short detour for traffic leaving Wairarapa.
Paul Broughton, the owner-operator of C’est Cheese, said he definitely noticed the absence of visitors stopping by his shop on Sunday.
“It was very quiet, and turnover was down close to half,” Broughton said.
“It undoubtedly helped to keep one lane open, which was obviously better than none at all.”
When it came to correspondence from KiwiRail about the works, Broughton said three days wasn’t nearly enough warning for business owners.
He said both lanes on the road were open yesterday, so there was more foot traffic, but that in future he wants more consideration for business owners relying on holiday traffic to make ends meet.
“It’s a pretty average outcome for us – it could have been worse, but it could have been a hell of a lot better.”
Explaining why these works were necessary this weekend, a KiwiRail spokesperson said that the work carried out in Featherston during the New Year holiday period was focused on building a new concrete track slab while trains were not running.
“This new track slab lasts a lot longer than the old level crossing type, which means it can stand up to the heavy road traffic, and future maintenance and disruption on the crossing will be significantly reduced.”
With that track slab installed, the further improvements this past weekend involved changes to kerbs and pedestrian crossings, the spokesperson said.
“For safety reasons, this can only be done when trains are not operating, and the Wellington Anniversary weekend was the next available chance for us to continue this.”
The spokesperson confirmed the road has been open since 4am yesterday and traffic is travelling unrestricted.
“Over the weekend, we finished the installation of new median islands and concrete slabs for the pedestrian crossing.
“The southbound shoulder and pedestrian closure will stay in place until Friday, January 26, but this does not interrupt the flow of road traffic.”
This further work will not require any more full road closures, the spokesperson said.
Some limited, intermittent single-lane closures may be required for line markings, painting the islands, and replacing asphalt, however.
“Along with the shoulder and pedestrian crossing closures, this is scheduled to be finished in early March.”
Newly elected Wairarapa MP Mike Butterick said that he could understand how frustrating the disruption was for business owners facing a “considerable impact” to their revenue.
He said he has been in touch with KiwiRail and offered some suggestions for how to improve communication in the future and noted that “KiwiRail has taken responsibility for a breakdown in communications with the community and will be endeavouring to rectify the situation going forward”.
Butterick said he hopes to have a meeting with both KiwiRail and affected business owners soon to discuss how to proceed.