Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Dargaville and other North Auckland Branches

Following on from the update of the North Auckland Line files, the NAL Northland file is now released in its updated format. Both of these are now more or less Stage 2 or 3 status, where they will remain unless new sources of information come to hand, such as the locations of specific closed stations or new high-res GE coverage.

The main line of interest in the North Auckland area is the Dargaville Branch and is the focus both of this article and the map shown, which is a segment of the NAL Northland file itself. The file now includes the complete route taken by this branch, including the Kirikopuni Balloon Loop which at one time was the terminus of the line. The original approach to Dargaville is also shown. Some construction work was carried out on this route, shown as aqua from Te Wharau, but when the branch was officially completed in 1943 a deviation had been constructed taking the railway around the northernmost boundary of the town and entering it from the north. This also resulted in the construction of a new railway station about half a kilometre north of the riverside original, the building from which may still exist today. It was done this way in order to take the station and the numerous level crossings of the railway line out of the town centre. The link from the present yard to the site of the original station is also shown in aqua. The connecting line between the two points is shown in green as a hypothetical route, since there is not evidence at this stage that anything was actually constructed. On the other hand, some of the original eastern route was built, including the original Te Wharau station, the platforms of which can still be seen, as well as the nearby cutting and an embankment closer to the town. Thanks to geoff_184 and keithdsf for contributions.

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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Pike River Coal Mine

This is a new coal mining development in the Paparoa Ranges about 50 km north-west of Greymouth. Coal will be conveyed to ship by three transport methods:
  1. A coal slurry line from the mine to a processing plant (10 km)
  2. Trucked by road to Ikamatua, a siding on the Stillwater-Ngakawau railway line (22 km).
  3. Railed to Lyttelton Port via the Midland line and Main South Line through Christchurch (265 km).
The underground mine tunnel was recently completed and loading facilities are now being constructed at Ikamatua. Here, the regular Solid Energy coal trains from Ngakawau will be diverted into a balloon loop siding for loading the Pike River coal. The existing trains have 30 wagons of Stockton coal and at the time it has been proposed that these will have another 15 wagons added to them to load the Pike River output. The trains will then continue on their regular schedule to Lyttelton for unloading.

The map shows the location for the loading sidings which are not yet visible on Google Earth. The black line is the road route for coal transport from the mine.

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This map shows the approximate site of the coal processing plant (bottom right) and the mine entrance and tunnel (top left) along with the expected footprint of the mine itself.

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Monday, 27 October 2008

Christchurch Rail Workers’ Memorial

One aspect of the old central city railway station that’s often missed is this memorial to railway workers, tucked away in a corner of the old shunting yards.
Closeup of the plaque:
Map of the area, the location is shown as a red placemark. Some other points of interest of the old station area are also shown.

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Shunting was one of the most dangerous operations on the railways, involving as it did the movement of heavy railway wagons by workers who moved around the yards on foot. A shunter had to keep his wits about him at all times, making split second decisions, racing up and down the yard on foot to change the points, climbing onto and off moving wagons, which were often given a push by the engine and left to coast down the various roads of the yards until the shunter applied the handbrake or the wagon bumped into another. These days that kind of operation doesn’t happen – not only because of the damage caused to freight by the impacts, but because it’s simply considered too dangerous. What shunting that does occur generally involves the wagons being moved while all coupled together, and the shunter now rides on a safe platform built into the end of the locomotive, rather than on a narrow step between wagons. Some shunting is also carried out using remote control packs where the locomotive is moved by a shunter carrying a hand held controller on the ground.
Since the memorial is dated 1996, I have no idea what existed before that date, because deaths certainly occurred on the railways before then. The memorial is attended by a ceremony every year.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Blenheim Rail and Highway Realignment 2000

In July 2000, Transit NZ and Tranz Rail commenced work undertook a realignment of the Main North Line through Blenheim as part of a project of constructing a new section of State Highway 1. The Blenheim Railway Station was moved a few metres eastward of its previous location in order to create more room for rail passenger services to operate clear of the highway for safety reasons. The project cost $4 million and also included relocating two level crossings north and south of the station, a new highway bridge across the Taylor River, and three new roundabouts, with the railway line passing through one of them south of the station.

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The map shows the work in more detail with the former rail route in aqua, the present route being marked in red from Riverlands to Picton. For other detail, click on the "View larger map" link or zoom in on individual points and click them for information.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

New Plymouth Deviations

"Exploring NZ's Ghost Railways" refers to a deviation of the main line in New Plymouth over 100 years ago. I have mapped the route through New Plymouth recently, but wasn't able to trace this line. However I have marked on the map below, in aqua colour, two apparent deviations of route. The first of these is at Smart Road station, where it appears that at one time the line may have run around the northern perimeter of the old yard site whereas it presently goes through the middle. Another location is marked further west - this could possibly have been linked with the old route which went through the city centre (referred to above).

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Friday, 4 January 2008

Dashwood Pass Tunnel

The Main North Line between Christchurch and Picton was built in two main sections starting from the respective termini. Heading north from Christchurch it was known as the Cheviot Section north of Waipara, whilst south from Picton it was called the Picton Section. It was not until December 1945 that the last linking track was opened allowing the entire route to transport through traffic.
Between Seddon and Vernon, the line passes over the Dashwood Pass. This is well known to railwaymen as a steeply graded and sharply curved, hilly section of track. There are several large horseshoe curves and the whole has to be traversed at a slow speed due to gradients and tight curvature. In this section the first two tunnels of the Picton Section were constructed, No. 1 (MNL No. 23, approx 50 metres long) at the commencement of the climb up the Dashwood Pass, and No.2 (MNL No. 22, about 70 metres long) near the summit. This part of the route was opened for traffic in October 1902.
Tunnel No. 22 in the Dashwood Pass was the site of a fatal rail accident in May 1966 when an overnight Picton to Christchurch passenger train oversped and derailed on the downgrade from the summit of the Pass. The leading locomotive hit the tunnel mouth and was severely damaged, killing the driver and seriously injuring the secondman. The accident resulted in additional safety equipment being fitted to the DG class locomotives which were being deployed in the South Island during that era.
Tunnel 23 was daylighted in 1979 and Tunnel 22 in 1981. The tunnels were subclearance for modern rolling stock.
The photo below shows the remains of the wall of Tunnel 22 which are still in place at its site, and the map shows its location in the Dashwood Pass.