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.