Saturday, 10 July 2010

Early Years of the Weka Pass Railway – Part 1 : Introduction

This article is the first of a series covering mainly the period 1985 to 1991, plus 1999. As most students of NZ rail heritage history would be able to determine, the Weka Pass Railway was formed December 1982 to preserve a section of the former Waiau Branch of the NZ government railway network. The branch line closed in 1978 and a 30 km section from Waipara was purchased by the fledgling organisation, which initially hoped to operate on the entire route and to build a spur extension to the Hurunui Hotel near Medbury. As time went on the society decided that it was impractical to continue the line past Waikari, and the unused 18 km part of the track was lifted. The railway was officially opened in 1999.

I became a member of the society in 1985, soon after it began operating to the public. During the same year the track was opened to Waikari and passenger trains began running the entire route. However a year or two later the line was closed due to damage caused by poor weather and track deterioration. It was not until 1999 after many years of extensive track refurbishment as well as the massive task mentioned above, lifting and recovering the 18 km of disused line beyond Waikari, much of which was recycled into the running section, that the heritage line was again opened along its full length. During the entire period of 1985 to 1999 that is covered in these articles, Gary Kelly was the General Manager of the society. He has had a long association with the Waiau Branch, being one of its regular drivers in the latter years of NZR operation, and then becoming one of the key people behind the heritage railway project over the last 28 years. More recently he continued to work for the society when they went through difficult times which resulted in some of their members departing. He appears in many of the photos that will be shown in this series of articles. Gary retired from his locomotive engineers’ job on Kiwirail a couple of years ago but is still listed as a contact on the society’s website.

The information in these articles is reproduced verbatim from an old website I used to run a few years ago, and the pictures are the same. I considered rescanning the photos but have decided against it for the present due to the amount of work involved. This series of articles is the first part of republishing information from the various closed websites that is still of interest and eventually I will be able to remove the archived pages of “Railways of New Zealand” from the NZ Rail Maps site.

Please note that this blog is a personal journal and does not purport to be officially representative of the Weka Pass Railway in any way.