Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Recycled railway carriages get farmer back on track

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Railway carriages repurposed for bridges for those affected by Cyclone Gabrielle last year.
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Railway carriages destined for the scrap yard have found a new lease of life as “bloody good bridges” on a Hawke’s Bay farm thanks to Kiwi ingenuity and Federated Farmers.

When Alex Clarkin, from Cheyenne Logistics in Paeroa, was hired to haul two retired 40-foot carriages to be scrapped earlier this year, he had a thought. 

“I’ve hauled plenty of these carriages before and I know how strong they are. I just wondered if there might be farmers out there who could use them as bridges. 

“I asked my customer if he’d give me a week or two to try and find another use for them rather than sending them to scrap, and fortunately he agreed.”

The Federated Farmers network kicked into gear – including Waikato president Keith Holmes, Waikato Regional councillor (and Feds member) Robert Cookson, Farmy Army coordinator Ben Moore, and Feds national board member Toby Williams – and the word soon went out to cyclone-affected farmers in the Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay regions. 

It didn’t take long to find the carriages a home.

“Federated Farmers have those grassroots connections in our rural communities – real eyes and ears on the ground,” says Moore.
“We were able to quickly identify people who had lost bridges in Cyclone Gabrielle last year and I’d soon heard back from a couple of farmers who were keen to get hold of the carriages.”

Putting their hands up were Lloyd and Sonia Holloway, from Waitara Station at Te Haroto, on the Napier-Taupo Highway, and Clarkin dropped them off a week later. 

“Where these carriages are going is in places that got washed out in the cyclone. The stock used to ford the creeks, but the storm chewed out maybe five or six metres, and with quite sharp drop-off,” Lloyd explains. 

“We’ll just drop them in across the gully, get them level, and they’re good to go.

“They’re heavy as buggery, so if a storm happens to come up, it doesn’t wash them away.” 

The two carriages take Lloyd and Sonia’s total railway carriage bridge tally to four. 

“We’ve had one for about 10 years and haven’t had a bit of problem with it. 

“Then we bought another one about 12 months ago, which its previous owners had used as a bridge to get over to their house. 

“The one we’ve got out the back of the farm would be about 50 feet above the water, but saying that, in Gabrielle the water got within two feet of it.”

Lloyd says the previous bridge there, a wooden one, got washed away in an earlier storm. 

“Somebody’s probably rowing around on it in Tonga now.”

The carriages weigh six tonnes and can hold up to 41 tonnes. 

Transporting them over the farm isn’t an easy process, he says. 

“That one we took out the back, we got a digger on each end and one poor bastard had to drive backwards, the other forwards. 

“The length of them means carrying around corners is tricky, trying not to smash through fences and things.”

At $6000 each, the carriages are a good, cheap way of building a bridge, Lloyd says. 

“These ones were a bit dearer than the other two – we got the other original one for $2000 and the other for about $3500 – but they’re only about 10% what it would cost to put up another sort of bridge.

“And the one out the back we’ve actually been able to get insured.”  

He says he’s chuffed to have got the message from Federated Farmers. 

“Unless you know somebody in the railway industry, they’re quite hard to find. 

“They’re good and strong. They’re too narrow to drive a digger or vehicle over, but they’re great for stock, or motorbikes or riding a horse across. 

“We’ve found them bloody good.” 

Clarkin sees a lot of railway carriages going to scrap and says it wouldn’t be difficult for some to be set aside for use in adverse events. 

“The likes of KiwiRail will send a big amount to scrap all at once and although they won’t want to hold all of them, and nor will the scrap guys want to give away too many, it would be easy to park half a dozen of them somewhere. 

“All of us in the chain are trying to make a dollar, but if there’s a way to do it that helps people, that’s great too.”

Lloyd agrees the carriages would be a good back-up plan.  

“Even on rural roads, if you put two of them side by side, they’re strong enough that you could drive a digger over them just to tide things over until people can get a proper fix.

“If you had 10 or a dozen of them sitting somewhere, it wouldn’t be the stupidest idea anyone’s thought of.” 

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

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