The trucking industry has received plenty of flak over the years, but National Road Carriers CEO David Aitken says in the past 12 months it has been a key player in averting an economic disaster in this country.
Following the Kaikoura earthquake last November, freight movement between the North and South Islands and within the South Island north of Christchurch was disrupted. Rail connections disappeared without warning, as did a section of SH 1 – the main route between Blenheim and Christchurch.
“I’m not sure people realise how close Christchurch and the rest of the South Island came to being cut off from all the goods and freight from the North Island,” says Aitken.
Extra trucks were put on the road to keep the flow of goods and freight going, and trucking companies also stepped up, as the earthquake’s aftermath had a ripple effect throughout the rest of the country.
“We’ve continued to supply Christchurch and the rest of the South Island with very little disruption, yet the extra time and effort required has been colossal.”
Aitken says they worked with other freight operators as much as possible, but the bulk of the freight between Picton and Christchurch was shifted by trucks, with 15,000 tonnes of freight a day currently travelling on the alternative route between the two.
Coastal shipping increased by about 35%, but Aitken says it was slower and compromised by the damage to the Port of Wellington. The Port of Lyttelton is still being rebuilt after the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, and remains far from full capacity.
“The flexibility and adaptability of the road transport industry has saved the economy in the upper South Island. The lower North Island is not immune from the earthquake-induced obstacles either. Without the Port of Wellington, sea freight must be trucked to alternative ports at Napier and other North Island points to get it to the South Island. Container freight bound for Wellington is now unloaded at Napier and trucked to the capital.”
Aitken says in the wake of the earthquake, trucking movements on the alternative route increased from around 40 a day to around 580 over a 24-hour period.
“A return trip between Christchurch and Picton is no longer possible in a day. Before the quake, some operators were making two return trips a day with two drivers on shift work. Now the best return trip time is around 18 hours, using two drivers. Productivity has as much as halved.”
Aitken says even when coastal shipping and rail freight was back to pre-quake capacity, road transport would be increasingly critical to the economy.
“I find it amusing to hear from those who want trucks off the road with their place taken by rail and sea. People appear to have no idea how the necessities of life get delivered to where they purchase or use them. Sea and rail freight do play a key role but they will never be able to deliver door-to-door – to supermarkets, shopping malls, building sites, businesses large and small and to private individuals.”