A milestone in the rebuilding efforts following last year's Kaikoura earthquake has been reached today with the first freight train since last year's natural disaster using the fixed South Island Main North Line.
A crowd of around 200 awaited arrival of the first freight train into Kaikoura from Picton following the November 14 quake.
Train driver Paul Foskett spoke to the crowd after he came to a stop of how he thought saying "the 737 was the last train I would ever drive on the line," when the quake devastated the the vital railway.
"How wrong was I... driving into Kaikoura this morning I cannot believe the work that has been done."
Minister of Transport Simon Bridges says the rail services, even in a limited capacity, will take approximately 2000 trucks off the road each month, building to 4000 trucks when the line is fully operating again by the end of the year.
"Keeping freight flowing easily and efficiently around New Zealand is critical to our economic growth and keeping our communities connected," Mr Bridges said.
"Having this key freight service running again is an immense achievement, which will take pressure off the inland routes while helping with the rebuild of State Highway 1 during the day."
Following the 7.8 magnitude quake, tunnels, approximately 60 bridges and embankments needed repairing along the line with the railway buried in different parts by a further 100 slips and landslides.
"Over 1500 workers from KiwiRail, the NZ Transport Agency and their partners in the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance (NCTIR) have done a fantastic job in what have been challenging conditions," Mr Bridges said.
Mr Foskett will continue his ride along the line carrying goods to Christchurch at 2pm today.
The line will be opened for five nights of service per week in its limited functionality.