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KiwiRail, council dispute Wellington railway station quake status

Wellington City Council has told KiwiRail to put back notices saying the capital’s central railway station is earthquake-prone.

Wellington Railway Station. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

KiwiRail had taken down the notices without council sign-off.

The council has considered the building earthquake prone since 2014 and had used its authority under legislation to force KiwiRail to put the signs up.

KiwiRail removed the notices in 2017 after earthquake strengthening was done in public areas and stairwells, David Gordon, KiwiRail Capital Projects & Asset Development Chief Operating Officer, said.

The signs were put back in the station on Monday, and KiwiRail said they would stay there while another assessment of the building is done.

But Mr Gordon said that it wasn’t because something new had been found wrong with the building and KiwiRail didn’t believe there was any increased risk for people using the station.

The assessment was was expected to take eight months.

KiwiRail had been debating with the city council about whether it needed to call the building earthquake prone, he said.

Wellington City Council council chief resilience officer Mike Mendonca said the council still considered the building to be earthquake prone.

“There was some disagreement as to whether or not the building was in fact earthquake prone, but it the council’s view has has always been that it is.

“We’ve got a detailed seismic assessment from an engineer that categorically states that the building is earthquake prone, and from the council’s perspective that’s what matters.”

Mr Gordon said KiwiRail had to put up the notices because the council had used authority granted to it under legislation to force them to.

“Simple as that, they have the right to do what they did.”

But he said the council had made its decision based on an engineering report done in 2014.

He said KiwiRail had disputed the fact it was earthquake prone – and said the council’s assessment from 2014 did not take into account work done since.

“Significant work was undertaken to strengthen the station building in the early-mid 2000s, with further work in 2015 after the 2013 Seddon earthquake.

“This included work strengthening the atrium roof trusses, and removal unreinforced masonry from the building to bring these elements up to the standard of the rest of the building.

“Additional work was also undertaken post the November 2016 earthquake to address other earthquake risk elements,” he said.

Mr Gordon said while the dispute between the council was happening, KiwiRail had an independent report that said the building was safe for the public.

KiwiRail has until 2024 to bring the building up to code.

Mr Mendonca said it was not unusual for building owners to dispute the council’s findings when it said a building was earthquake prone.

“Dozens” of Wellington buildings would be in that situation, he said.

Mr Mendonca said 5000 buildings had been assessed, 1000 found to be earthquake prone, and 400 of those fixed to the required standard.