Sunday, 10 January 2010

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.