Tuesday, January 8, 2013


As a child rail was a big part of my heritage but after WW2 the writing was on the wall of every station in the nation.

My maternal Grandfather Kenneth Pettigrew drew a 410 acre farm in the Annan settlement ballot in 1903 after growing up in Pigeon Bay on Banks Peninsula. His new estate was a very long way from the city and the railway only came to Culverden,  a two day drive for stock to be transported away to market.

'Pompa', as I knew him along with other settlers formed the Waiau Railway League and a campaign to extend the light rail to the Waiau River commenced. around 1910 with politics and competing ideas of where the main trunk north should run. There were three main options
Extend the Culverden line opened in the mid 1880s through Molesworth and Tarndale although Snow was a perceived problem.
Extend the Culverden line through Waiau and follow what is now the Inland Kaikoura SH70  route over the Whalesback.
Or that which came about, what is now the main trunk through Cheviot, Parnassus, Hawkswood down the Conway and along the coast. Even that proposal had a conniption when instead of the Hawkswood Cutting, (a major engineering feet of it's time), an alternate was considered to go up the Leader River and through Mendip Hills to the Conway with work progressing to a point where the Bridge abutments still stand on the Leader Rvr a few miles west of SH1.
Through all that side show Ken and his settler committee pressed on until in a political solution Sir R Heaton Rhodes turned the first sod in 1914 with the opening of the Waiau Branch line in 1919.
All that remains today is the commemorative oak tree planted in 1919 and the skeletal remains of the lime elevator built in the 1950s.

In its Heyday Waiau Station trucked the highest tallies of sheep and cattle of any station in the nation. As a child on many occasions I assisted to drive stock the 9 miles from the home farm 'Barcaldine', fording the Mason just above its confluence with the Waiau and then over the old hardwood structure of the Waiau Bridge, to be trucked in jc or hj wagons, depending on whether they were cattle or sheep to either the freezing works at Belfast or Addington market.

The line remained open until sanity prevailed in January 1978 although Culverden was breifly considered as    the Terminus again with the Annual Molesworth Cattle sale at Addington and the prospect of logs from Balmoral and Hanmer Forests as drivers but even that came to an end when maintenance costs of the line and the deteriorating Hurunui Railbridge  led to the line ending its life at Waipara although an enthusiastic bunch have kept the Weka Pass line open to Waikari as a Tourist opportunity.

The point of this post, well a bunch of dreamers in Gisborne think it would be a great idea to reopen the presently mothballed Napier/ Gisborne line. Cullen should have let  NZ Railway do what all things do, Die with dignity and be remembered as a very vital part in the development of this nation when roads were clay tracks, wool and grain were carted in Drays, livestock walked to market or slaughter and most people traveled in  horse and gigs or horse drawn coaches.
It was idiotic cross subsidies and regulated controls of distance stock and goods could be transported by truck that led to enormous losses particularly for prime stock that could take two days from farm to slaughter, before the inevitable happened and sanity overcame misconception and politics with rail consigned to history.
The most efficient form of transporting bulk goods from Gisborne to market is through their port and road for perishables. The Railbridge at Wairoa was severely damaged in the Bola weather event and the viaduct over the Mohaka impressive as it is will not last forever.

To quote that well known Aussie who kept his home in the face of the expanding airport, " How much?, tell him he's dreamin".

The same goes for Bob Parker's light rail in the ChCh rebuild and the equally stupid Lenbrownway in Auckland. Except in very rare cases railway does not run from anywhere convenient to a destination that is of any use to anybody and without massive OPMs will be no more than a White Elephant and a political bribe. Think Nelson Railway in the Kirk years.


alwyn said...

You are being a little unfair to the Kirk Government. They may have done some silly things but proposing to build a Nelson railway wasn't one of them.
The Nelson railway was a creation of the Nash Government, which was in power from 1957-1960. It was announced in, I think, 1960 and then scrapped by the Holyoake Government that came to power at the end of 1960

gravedodger said...

Guilty alwyn, I conflated Stan Whitehead, Kirk's Speaker and his support for the women who protested at Kiwi in 1955 and upon prosecution had their fines settled when Stan passed the hat around before they had left the courtroom.
Thanks for the correction how did I forget the Nash governments "Notional Railway" along with the "Cotton mill".
Maybe because I didn't pay much towards them.
The bit between Gowan Bridge and Inangahua to join the Midland line was a serious challenge I guess especially in the light of subsequent seismic events such as the Inangahua quake.

Thanks again for the correction.

alwyn said...

It is actually a very small quibble about what I thought was a most interesting post.
Railways in New Zealnd are with a very few exceptions something that should be allowed to die. The only public transport that makes sense is the Wellington services that work because the topography is such that there are a couple of very narrow valleys heading north and north-west from the city and most people are quite close to the lines.
There may be a few others but the only freight routes that make any sense would seem to be the Auckland/Hamilton/Tauranga triangle and the coal service from Greymouth to Christchurch. Even the main trunk from Auckland to Wellington looks pretty doubtful.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

When Marsden Point becomes the Port of Auckland, then a dedicated rail link to Onehunga might well be a goer.