Sunday, 24 January 2010

Annual Antarcticist American Tern


The MV American Tern makes one visit to Antarctica each year to carry freight from America and New Zealand to McMurdo Sound to supply the three bases at McMurdo, Scott and Amundsen (South Pole). The Tern is a commercial container ship chartered by the US Navy to make annual voyages to Greenland and Antarctica. During the summer the ship can get through the ice floes with the help of an icebreaker or two into McMurdo Sound. The present charter expires this year. The Tern is not any old ship, it was built in East Germany in the 1980s and is ice strengthened with other special features to help ensure it doesn’t get into trouble down there. The present charter runs out this year so there might be something else going down there next year. The Tern arrived in New Zealand waters a few days ago and will sail straight to Antarctica from here. Then it stops in again on its way back and then heads back home. Ships of the Tern’s size are not normally loaded at this wharf but having its own cranes to load makes the difference so it doesn’t need to take up space at the busy dedicated container terminal. Much smaller coastal roll on roll off ships are usually loaded at this wharf and coastal container ships load on the other side, also using their own cranes. The Tern is one of a few interesting visitors that come through on their way south from time to time. Others are the research ships like the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer, and the tourist icebreakers like the Kapitan Khlebnikov.

FOOTNOTE: The Tern was seen in Christchurch again on the 13th February – presumably heading north this time.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Walton Park Branch

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This is a quick post based on the Walton Park Branch which ran off the south side of the Main South Line at Green Island (on the map above the line on the north side is the Fernhill Branch which is beyond the scope of this article). The main point of interest for the moment is the route that it took down into Green Island suburb from the eponymous MSL station. Harraways had a mill with its own siding very close to the Branch and it seems possible that the green line shown above Green Island on the map could be this siding, yet Leitch and Scott encourage us to believe that this was actually the Walton Park branch or part of it. The whole situation therefore is rather ambiguous. At 45°54'2.25"S 170°26'8.15"E we can quite clearly see that we have a tunnel going under the motorway from the MSL and this is pretty well confirmed in Street View. I think this part is for the Harraways siding, rather than the Walton Park branch. There would seem to be a reasonable case to suggest that this is what the tunnel was built for and that the motorway was built perhaps somewhat before the closure took place. These tunnels for sidings to go under motorways or highways exist in a number of places in NZ, although they are not classed as a tunnel by NZR standards; they are really just a large culvert, but are called “tunnels” for the purpose of this article.

Friday, 15 January 2010

North Island updates; Rimutaka Rail Trails

I forgot to post about recent North Island updates when I last posted to the blog. Some of the lines which have received major improvements in the maps include the Stratford Okahukura Line and Wairarapa Line. Less major improvements have been made in a number of other areas including NIMT and NAL, PNGL, MNPL etc. Most has focused in general on eliminating the yellow lines in favour of red lines. The yellow lined sections were where there was only low res Landsat coverage of an area. Since medium res Spot/Cnes coverage of all NZ was introduced, we now have good enough resolution to change all yellow lines into red for currently operational railways. There are still quite a few files, I think all in the North Island now, that still have yellow line sections. I don’t know when they will get updated as it is very time consuming to do this since the maps are usually fairly rough and need a lot of realignment.
In future postings to this blog will not just be about maps, they will be about all related interests since it covers quite a lot including photographs etc. For example I do have some photos posted to Panoramio which I expect will get added to from time to time, but not sure when. I would expect to see a lot of new photos put into an album around something like a holiday as these are the few times that I am likely to have a major interest in updating a map or posting lots of photos or other content. For example I am hoping to go to Wellington for a holiday, perhaps this year but it might be next year. This has caused me to load the Wairarapa Line maps and take a good look especially at the Rimutaka Incline route and at the same time change the way the map is drawn to be the same as other maps that have a rail trail section in them. But of course it was also a time to notice a picture loaded in Panoramio of Cruickshanks Tunnel and coincidentally when I was tidying up at home the other day I found all the material I have about Upper Hutt to Cross Creek. Dave Castle’s web site has good information about the old tunnel just near Upper Hutt.
If I went to Wellington I would at least like to have a look at how easy it is to get at some of the old formation between Upper Hutt and the tunnel as subdivision only covers part of it and the newest high-res Google Earth coverage taken 2 years ago shows a big cutting which is marked on the map. Apart from that the access to Tunnel Gully has been improved in recent years as there is now a formed access track from Maymorn Station which means you can catch the train to Maymorn and get up to Tunnel Gully quite easily. Public transport access to the main Incline rail trail is still a bit tricky by comparison. On the Featherston side the eponymous station on the Wairarapa Line is the closest. It is 2 km from there back to Speedys Junction and a further 9 km from there to the entrance. However access on the Wellington side is now improved by providing access from Tunnel Gully to Kaitoke. In terms of rail mileage Maymorn would be approximately equivalent to 37.8 km on the old line and Cross Creek is at 59.8 km. So a complete trip from Maymorn to Cross Creek is roughly 22 km. If you can get picked up by public transport at the other end you could have a good trip, especially as you would be going down the steepest section of the the Incline itself.
The web site needs a good tidy up and some articles about the Otago Central Railway need finishing; I’m unsure when that might happen.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Map Updates Completed Recently

Since writing about Canterbury branch lines a week ago, most of the work completed has been on the Nelson Section, which has been thoroughly revised and is pretty well done for the moment, last updated today.
Due to the on-again, off-again nature of this project, there is going to be a pause in the mapping work from now for an indeterminate period due to other interests that I am spending more time in at present.

The Nelson Railway: A Virtual Exploration, Part 3

Well now, back on the virtual tour of the old Nelson Railway. Last time we left off we were just coming into Tui. After Tadmor the railway turned to more of a southerly heading, then just outside Tui it has turned to a westerly kind of direction. The railway from here continues to head west or south-west-west nearly all the way to the next station, Kaka. Tui is interesting as there used to be a road overbridge, not because the topology demanded it, but because issues of road traffic at level crossings were becoming established by the time the railway was being constructed through here 1908-1912. The bridge is shown on a map I have dated 1982 so it appears to have lingered long after the railway closed, but today there is nothing there although the road that passed over it is still visible. The road today takes a different route from when it used to cross over the bridge, which was almost in the middle of the railway yard as we understand its location. After Tui the road and rail gradually close in and for the second half of the section to Kaka they are hemmed in together at the top of a ledge with the river on one side and hills on the other. Kaka had various industries in proximity, including lime works, clay mining and sawmillling, some of which can still be traced today. The limeworks had a tramway to transport the lime to the station, which only operated for perhaps 25 years. Just south of Kaka the railway crosses the main road continuing at first through more open country, then things get hillier as the line climbs the Tadmor Saddle. En route to the summit the line passed under an overbridge on the Tadmor main road. This bridge no longer exists. For much of the route through the saddle the line is in forest or bush and only comes out into the open again as it descends to Glenhope. The route is still very clear through the forest section and may well still be in use as a logging access. Once into the open country again it can be seen that several small bridges are still in place for farm access etc. One larger bridge of about 15 metres length appears to be still in place about 1 km north of Glenhope. The route skirts the river and passes by the site of an old coal mine before reaching Glenhope station, the main building of which still stands today. Nearby is an old ballast pit that was used to dump two written off FA locomotives in the late 1930s although probably little if anything remains today.
Heading south from Glenhope was the extension that was eventually opened to Kawatiri and Gowanbridge in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The rail route followed the west side of the main road from Glenhope, until it crossed over just north of Kawatiri. As there have been major highway works in the last decade through this section, this will have most likely changed or removed some of the remnant traces of the railway through the area as it was close to the road most of the way through. Just north of Kawatiri there was a bridge across the Hope River, then a tunnel, then another bridge before reaching the station. Today there is a public walkway across the reconstructed southern bridge and tunnel. Kawatiri was another station that had a road overbridge where Highway 63 turned off to head for Blenheim via the Wairau Valley. Like at Tui the road was diverted when the overbridge became redundant, and the old truss road bridge across the Hope River is long gone, although an approach span remains. South of Kawatiri only medium res coverage of Google Earth is available making it very difficult to determine a possible route. Although Street View coverage is resumed partway through for the first time since Tapawera, the old rail route is largely obscured by regrowth of bush and probably highway improvement works have encroached. My recollection of travelling this route is that it’s possible that in some places the railway would have been well below the road, and could take a lot of effort to locate the formation today. Street View yields very few clues – perhaps the best is this hint of a cutting -  and in places the ledge of the road is too narrow to have a rail formation right alongside. I always assumed the railway must be some distance down the bank on the river terrace. It is only as you approach Gowanbridge itself that it is possible to believe the rail may actually have run beside the road some of the way. Past the turnoff to Lake Rotoroa (which used to have an overbridge crossing the line) the highway finally passes the station site. From here south formation works were continued almost right to Murchison but never formally opened and as we know Glenhope-Kawatiri and all works south closed 1931 with the track lifted 1942 and never relaid. With the topography and overhead coverage south/west of Gowanbridge as challenging as the earlier section from Glenhope, I have made little effort to try to find the route of the railway virtually, although the country opens out as you approach the Owen River settlement. Sustained investigation will have to wait for improved GE coverage. When the hi-res finally resumes nearer Murchison, what you can see is inconclusive. However you can catch an occasional possible remnant and I wonder and continue to wonder about this concrete culvert and this small bridge, for example.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Nelson Railway: A Virtual Exploration, Part 2

Well, we’re back on the elusive trail of the Nelson Railway and covering its second half down from Tapawera towards Murchison. The main difference here is that most of the area covered has no Street View at all. So even though the first half was only half covered, the second half is practically uncovered. Anyway we leave Tapawera heading west, along a prominent curved embankment towards the Motueka River which until 1977 still had the old former road-rail bridge there for traffic. Tapawera is where an outfit called the Grand Tapawera Railroad Co got started back in the 1980s. Hence the replica shelter and trackset on the west side of the street where there is now the Kiwi station building. In time, the GTRR Co reinvented themselves as the Nelson Railway Society and moved to Founders Park where they operate today. Once across the river it’s off down the Tadmor Valley, heading south again, the direction that the line takes for most of the rest of its course, having been going north from Kohatu to Tapawera and now having turned through another half circle. Things roll along pretty flat till Rakau when the hills are starting to close in. The actual formation isn’t always that visible so we have to guess the general location and all the maps I drew up till now turned out to be wrong – the railway ran next to the road instead of being some distance to the east. Here, therefore, I had to take a break from writing to to redraw the map from Tapawera up to Tadmor. Now that’s sorted, let’s carry on into the hills.
After Tadders, things twist and turn a bit, the line crosses the road three times, a couple of small bridges can be seen about here – and in general the formation is easy to see from above. The road and rail close in about now, the rail right alongside but lower than the road as they squeeze between a hill and the river. This pattern is repeated for a few more km before breaking out on the approaches to Kiwi, the rail now on a lower river terrace. As the country gets heavier we see more bridges and culverts, of which the latter (as buried pipes) are still largely existent, fulfilling their traditional function under a disused but extant embankment. Rail is hemmed in alongside the river again until it takes a big curve out to the west and then back south as it approaches Tui. And there we’ll leave it for this part – I’d hoped to get further than I have, but I have done a lot of mapwork this time as well, so we will continue with the next (and hopefully last) instalment tomorrow – though the way things are going, this could stretch out to a fourth or even fifth part.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Nelson Railway: A Virtual Exploration, Part 1

Right at the moment I’m updating my Nelson Section file in Google Earth and making use as always of Street View where it exists and is relevant. Panoramio also adds a few useful photos in places.
Even in suburban Nelson there is still a substantial stretch of embankment that is accessible as a walking/cycling track along the steep grade from St Vincent St up to Bishopdale. Here is the view of the embankment at 264 Vanguard Street. You can easily pick it out as the ledge about halfway up the side of the hill. Here it is again just a little further on at 4 Tukuka Street. 148 Tipahi Street gives one of the best, clearest views of what must have been a huge construction effort in the pick and shovel era. Waimea Road catches up with the route at Station Reserve, at the summit where the line starts to drop down the other side. Bishopdale was right at the top of this hill and the grades either side are pretty severe (NZ Rail Maps has a rough curve/gradient diagram that shows things well). From Bishopdale there is a road right alongside all the way down through Annesbrook. Middleway round the first half of the S bend is a promising looking bridge site. The railway side of Waimea Road has the virtue of being largely undisturbed, a much better situation than St Vincent St where development has caused even the stream to be filled in and the last few remnants in the area like the bridge abutments and the odd sleeper at the road’s edge to vanish. Next thing is the roundabout that takes you onto Whakatu Drive. The land alongside is still undeveloped and open until you get to Annesbrook where the overbridge got knocked down a few years ago. At this point the formation splits after crossing the road and while you stay on Whakatu Drive you don’t see the formation directly until the road takes it over at Freezing Works. However once again it is a walking-cycling track through to Stoke (Songer Street) at which it has disappeared into private property. The track however starts up again about 200 metres further on continuing as far as 24 Elms Street at which point a road is built on it. This is about where Whakatu Drive swings in to occupy the formation which is not visible again until past Richmond and then only at the back of properties. This part of the motorway was built around 20 years ago and the stretch from Freezing Works to the north end of the Richmond Bypass at Champion Rd is a relatively short piece added on fairly recently.
From the Appleby Overbridge the formation is easy to see overhead all the way to Brightwater. Beyond the station 750 metres of formation is either in private property or open reserve. SH6 then takes over until the formation splits away 200 metres short of Simmonds Road. Just past here at 41°22'53.63"S 173° 5'26.15"E looks to be a good part of an old bridge on the route. We’re almost at Spring Grove but to get to its famous crossing sign you have to turn off the motorway down Telenius Road. From here it’s all overhead, and pretty clear, through to Wakefield, where the station site appears to be built on (and where Streetview coverage temporarily runs out). After a few hundred metres the route comes alongside and then crosses SH6, paralleling it before things get rural again. The route is very clear from above right out to Wai-iti, and onward to Foxhill, before it turns to cross the highway at Belgrove (which has its famous windmill as a local landmark). From here there is a big climb up the Spooners Saddle with the tunnel at the top of it, or you can try tracing the 1885 formation which goes around east to run alongside Wai-iti Road. The 1890 route which was actually used is quite visible most of the way from here to the tunnel having crossed SH6 on the way and being drivable along Tunnel Road much of the way (West Tunnel Road on the other side). There are a few more crossings of SH6 back and forth coming down the hill into Motupiko (aka Kohatu) where we pick up StreetView coverage again. From here the track ran alongside SH61 to Tapawera although it can be hard to spot except for the occasional culvert. The road and rail crossed just before Mararewa, which is next to the cemetery. The rail stays on the east side from there to Tapawera, diverging where the highway turns left, the rail carries straight on and is not seen again till it turns to cross SH61 just past Tapawera station. On the opposite side of the highway but not actually on the rail route is part of the old Kiwi station having been moved here some years ago. And now we are a little over halfway from Port to Gowanbridge – and here too is the end of the first half of this article.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Mapping Canterbury branch lines

Since I wrote about the Otago Central, which I was working on the map of up to the first week in December, after a brief break due to end of year work pressures, I started updating the maps of Canterbury branch lines. Due to my file structure, this means the maps are in three files, being the MNL_Other, MSL_Canterbury_Other and ML_Other series representing respectively lines north, south and west of Christchurch. With work on the Midland Line file I also checked and updated the maps of the branches that are on the West Coast also. As part of the Little River branch is of course in a rail trail the opportunity was taken to restructure the presentation of the line in the same way as the Otago Central. Since I have not described this process before it is fairly straightforward and is in turn based on the way the East Coast Main Trunk file was restructured, which was purely on the basis of necessity due to the way the ECMT has changed so much over more than a century. In brief, in the past a line which had more than one use/status at different times, would have been structured into separate folders in the file for each of those uses with duplication.
For example, the OCR for most of its life was a 236 km branchline. Later on it became a 3.5 km industrial line, a 60 km heritage line, a 150 km rail trail and a 22 km closed section. Thus there would have been four separate folders (branch, industrial line, heritage line, rail trail) with an obvious duplication of information between the first folder and the other three. The new structure is to show the entire route only once in its current status, with documentation about the change in status of various sections, and a special “Closed Sections” folder for sections that are closed, including changes made to the original route as it stands today. For example the “Closed Sections” folder of the OCR file shows the Cromwell Gorge, the original Clyde station, Prices Creek deviation and three small deviations made by the Rail Trail. This structure obviously affects the Little River line and any other line that is still being used today in any form. The opportunity has been taken over the past month to use the new Spot coverage to bring all these branch line up to date starting with Southbridge, some of these areas also recently got Digital Globe cover for various areas, for example on Southbridge it has been possible to spot a few small bridges that are still in place.
Mapping the Methven line was interesting because it also has Street View coverage along about half its length. Leitch & Scott refer to “near Sherwood (16 km)…several massive bridge abutments”. Since I could not find any trace on the overhead view I used Street View to search around that area, which was unsuccessful. Consequently I believe L&S to be incorrect. Subsequently the remains of a bridge around 20 metres length was located at 43°45'30.48"S 171°57'25.67"E and Street View shows these remains clearly. Why would there actually be a bridge here? The dip in the road suggests there must have been a waterway here at some point, as far as the surrounding farmland goes it has all disappeared or been reclaimed. I am fairly certain this is the only bridge on the line that would fit the L&S description.
Also looked at have been Springburn, Fairlie, Waimate, Waiau, Whitecliffs etc. Fairlie has lots of small bridges or culverts still in place. As a general rule many early culverts look like small bridges because they have two abutments and a small “bridge” structure across the top. It wasn’t until more recent times that fully enclosed culverts became more common and on these branch lines the culverts were not replaced as they have been on main routes. Waimate was interesting in terms of redrawing the route through the Waihao Gorge which I decided had some problems particularly the latter section. In all routes the opportunity to add stations (approximate in most cases) has been taken where necessary as well as revising some route locations if I think that it might be justified. Looking at all the branches there are some abandoned bridges still in place on many of them particularly the Ross Branch in its latter section which has recently been revealed with full DG coverage. The Ruatapu-Ross section appears like a formed road but whether the numerous wooden bridges are still passable I cannot say obviously, so far searching Google has not turned up any websites with more info.
Work continues meanwhile all around the country, parts of the NIMT, PNGL and at the moment Wairarapa (including the two Rimutaka rail trails) is continuing. It’s disappointing though that NZTA has stopped publishing maps and additional information on roading projects on its website, instead you have to email a given address for this info. So I had to find out from elsewhere about the Waipukurau overbridge replacement location, and I haven’t managed to get any info as yet about the realignment around Matahorua which involves a new bridge over the railway line there.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

In praise of Leitch & Scott

David Leitch and Brian Scott are the authors of “Exploring New Zealand’s Ghost Railways”, the first edition of which was published by Grantham House in 1995. A second edition appeared a few years later. I have both but will refer to the first edition for most of this posting, which is not really a review but does seek to balance what, at times, has seemed like undue criticism of the work from this blog and elsewhere. For us geographical types, Leitch & Scott is the book we have waited for, for decades. Considering a far greater volume of works on more PC topics like steam locomotives, L & S is quite unique in NZ for having collated all of the information from throughout the country into one publication. Of course, with the tools and techniques we have available today, it is easy to miss the enormity of this achievement, which was produced at a time before the widespread technological advances such as virtual globes, online mapping and GPS became commonplace. L & S at the same time is enough of a niche publication that the rise of technology combined with the relative lack of prominence of its subject in railfan circles, will probably ensure that the feat is not repeated. By use of these same tools, it isn’t long before “omissions” or “contradictions” become apparent. Quite apart from the constantly changing nature of the countryside and therefore alteration of information in the books, a letter I discovered recently in my collection brought me up to date on the authors’ challenge just to get their original manuscript published; David Leitch wrote that they had faced extensive sub editing due to the publication being too large in its original draft. This accounts in some respect for the cryptic remark about “deliberate omissions”. If there are any faults to these books, one of them is the tendency to political pontification about New Zealand’s land access laws, or “official vandalism” or neglect of old structures; ditto for the  over-zealous praise for preservation efforts at times (personally I prefer to walk a line between these two extremes as I believe this represents a more balanced viewpoint that is in sentiment with most public opinion).