The original article has been revised and updated.
Waipara is located 62.77 km north of Christchurch on the South Island Main Trunk Railway. Today it is a farming and tourism settlement, but in times past it was a railway town. Apart from the railway junction with the Waiau Branch, it is also the junction of State Highway 1 north to Picton and State Highway 7 westward through the Lewis Pass.
These days, Waipara railway station is quiet and sleepy, but in years past the yard was a hive of activity. The railway facilities here have, at various times, included station refreshment rooms, stockyards, engine shed, water vats, way and works depot, turning triangle and car and wagon inspector. In the 1960s, the dieselisation of the Main North Line made the engine shed redundant, and it was removed in the 1970s. The other facilities gradually disappeared as Railways restructured. The yard was resignalled in 1989 and converted over to Track Warrant Control in 1991, after which the station building was demolished (part was retained by the WPR for use as a carriage workship). Today there is a crossing loop (extended in 1989) and public siding; passengers have a small shelter shed for their use but no other public facilities now exist here, though some modern ex-railway houses will be found in the surrounding streets, and the old amenities building at the south end of the yard still stands. Since 1983, Waipara has been the home base of the Weka Pass Railway.
Here is some information about Waipara that I wrote in the "Frog Rock Times" in April 1992:
The first station at Waipara was built by P McGrath as part of a £21493 contract completed in September 1880, the building itself being valued at £300. The station was officially opened the following month. The file records that the building was altered in 1903 but details are not given.
In 1932 it was proposed to terminate all passenger trains north of Waiau, requiring extended facilities to deal with the transfer of passengers. In 1934 the possibility of relocating the station building from Cust was considered as Cust had ceased to be officered in 1930. Approval was given the next year and tenders were called for the work, that accepted was for £152. The chimneys were demolished, the building was cut in two sections and hauled away by traction engines. NZR staff shifted the verandah, placed piles, painted the reassembled building and did other work worth a total of £958.
The station staff moved into the new building in May 1936. The old building was temporarily shifted off site and sold later to a sporting body for a tenth of its original value. A plan indicates that it was a leanto style building with a floor area about 2/3 of the Cust building.
A 40x23 engine shed was located on the site of the current Weka Pass Railway engine shed. By 1925 AB locomotives were in use and the shed was too small for them. After the 1932 proposal to stop passenger services north of Waipara, the question of new or extended facilities was looked at again.
The new depot was built in the early 1940s at the south end of the yard. The old shed then became the train examiner's depot until burning to the ground in 1956, when a 30 foot guard's van body was obtained. Dieselisation in the late 1960s made the engine depot redundant, and it was closed in 1973. A proposal by the Ferrymead Railway to purchase the building fell through, and it was sold to a Christchurch company who removed it in 1974. The stockyards adjacent to the Weka Pass Railway engine shed closed in 1979.
After the Cust station was shifted in, it was extended (Les Dew in “The Great Northern” states this occurred in the 1940s) and this newer portion was purchased by the Weka Pass Railway and moved across the tracks in 1991 to become a carriage workshop. The WPR members demolished the rest of the station at the same time.
The section from Addington to Waipara was controlled by Tyers' Electric Train Tablet, even after the rest of the Main North Line had long since been resignalled with automatic signalling. Two-position semaphore signals also remained in use at all stations. Both were removed in 1989 when the section was converted to Track Warrant Control (although TWC was not fully commissioned until 1991). I do not now have access to the details of the operation of Addington-Waipara under tablet but it appears that Amberley was a switch out station. But in later years with Kaiapoi, Rangiora and Amberley closed or switched out most of the time, and possibly Belfast as well, train running in the section was on the “Safeall” system but Waipara and Addington remained staffed.
The Waiau Branch was originally all operated as open section, but tablet was installed between Waipara and Waikari between 1914 and 1916. This system remained in operation until 1971 when it reverted to open section. The bank-engine-key system was also used to allow trains to be banked out of Waikari to the section summit (the overbridge at 12 km, Bridge No.2) and for the bank engine to return to Waikari in possession of this key. Trains from Waipara were banked all the way through to Waikari so that a key was not required in this direction. The dieselisation of the line making it possible for trains to be hauled by two locomotives under the control of only one crew helped to bring about the end of banking and the tablet system.
Waipara was signalled with a basic system consisting of home and distant signals at each end of the station on the main line, interlocked by various mechanical means including Woods lock keys. Similar setups were used at stations heading south to Addington and remained in use until the 1989 resignalling, except at Belfast which was converted to a modern electrically operated system at some earlier time. Waipara also had a Home signal for trains approaching Waipara from Waikari and the signal remained in place long after closure until it became unsafe. The Weka Pass Railway has erected various semaphore signals around Glenmark station. Heading up the branch, Waikari had home semaphores that were replaced by coloured lights in 1966, the station being a special case due to the gradient uphill to the Weka Pass. Culverden had two home semaphores, and Waiau as the terminus had one home semaphore.
As noted above the Weka Pass Railway are based at Waipara and operate on the first 13 km of track as far as the State Highway 7 road crossing at Waikari. Their engine shed was the first building erected by them and in respect of the diagram below, has been built on the site of the former stockyards. The WPR used to operate their trains from a private crossing in Mackenzies Road but in 1985-6 they purchased the former NZR station building from Mina and relocated it to a new site off Old Main Road (shown as SH1 on this old diagram, SH1 was bypassed east of the town in the mid 1970s). Later they added the Waipara Social Hall [shown as "Admin Building"] to their collection and relocated part of the former Waipara station building across the tracks to become a carriage workshop. In 1991 the society relocated the former NZR Hundalee station which has been erected at Waikari Crossing. The society also demolished the Heathcote Station and incorporated some of the recovered materials into its other buildings.
This is a diagram of the Waipara railway yards which appeared in the NZ Model Railway Journal some years ago. These days all that exists at Waipara apart from the main line is the loop, which was extended in 1989, and a public siding which runs through the area of the old goods shed. Everything else in the area belongs to the Weka Pass Railway.
This is a gradient diagram for the part of the Waiau branch that is covered by this post. After traversing the home curve, the line runs straight alongside McKenzies Road and is relatively flat until it hits the foot of the hills and begins to climb and twist into the Weka Pass. There are several curves as sharp as 150 metres radius and grades as steep as 1 in 47 (compensated for curvature). The track twists one way and then the other before meeting State Highway 7 and paralleling it for several km. Frog Rock is located at the 9 km point on one of the steepest grades, where the railway is high above the road and passing through a deep rock cutting behind the well known landmark.
A Colin Duthie photo of Waipara in 1979. Although the branch had closed the year before, all the track was still connected and the first part of the line was occasionally used as a headshunt to cross long trains. The goods shed shown here was replaced by a smaller modern shed in the early 1980s.
Colin Duthie took this photo of the Waipara station footbridge during the filming of the “Hanlon” TV series in 1984. Waipara was used as a film location along with the K 88 steam locomotive from Ashburton and a period train made up of rolling stock from various heritage groups.
This is my own photo of the same footbridge looking the other way in 1986. By that stage there had been some alterations to the yard and plans were underway to remove much of the remainder. The footbridge was demolished the same year.
The north home signal being removed in 1989; it was in the way of the loop extension seen behind the excavator. This signal has been re erected at Glenmark.
At the south end of the yard, this is the view looking south. At left of the main line is the site of the engine depot. The small white building in the centre is the relatively new trolley shed. There was additional trolley track running at right angles into the depot area. 15 August 1987.
This special train ran from Christchurch to Waipara about 1990. By that stage the yard consisted merely of the loop and public siding but the goods shed was still on the site, this is the north end.
An inside view of the old Waipara station building at Easter 1987.
This photo was taken during my first occasion of working on the the Weka Pass Railway in May 1985. A train comes through on the main line while the Weka Pass rolling stock occupies the yard, with locomotives and carriages being turned on the triangle.
A view of the station from the south end as an excursion train pauses at the platform. February 1987.
The station seen from the end of the turning triangle in August 1987. The land occupied by the head of the triangle is vacant today but the middle is occupied by the Weka Pass Railway’s carriage workshop and sidings.
A view of the north end of the yard in August 1987 showing the double slip that gave access to the triangle.
A picture of the Waipara station signalling panel in 1988.
Tablet machines and associated equipment inside Waipara Station in 1988.
The north end of the yard in 1986 with the home signal off for the approaching train. The branch curves around to the left and could be reached through two separate tracks, the leftmost connecting to the main yard on the west side while the right hand track originally crossed over the main to give access to the east sidings behind the station. In the branch’s heyday these sidings were used to marshall trains to and from the branch hence the need for direct access.
A similar view to the previous photo in 1989 after the NZR era links between branch and yard were removed along with the old signalling, and the loop extended.
In August 1987 in preparation for the yard rearrangement, the old siding connecting the former branch to the rest of the yard was lifted and eventually replaced by a dedicated connection to the Weka Pass Railway. In order to carry this out the WPR engine shed sidings also had to be removed and realigned which took several months for the volunteer workforce to complete.
In October 1987 the new private siding connection was nearly completed and work was well underway in reinstating and extending the WPR sidings. The rightmost track led to an inspection pit.
The south end of the Waipara yard about 1987 with the trolley shed to the left. The track immediately to the right is the main line, with the loop to its left. Loop extensions were at the time under construction which took the line through the heap of dirt, a considerable distance towards the SH7 level crossing. A train is visible in the far end of the loop. The trolley shed was later purchased by the WPR and re erected at Glenmark.
About 1987, this is a view of the way and works depot and trolley shed. A track was provided for material trolleys to be placed on or removed from the loop. The building immediately left of the trolley shed was the country works depot, a long white building with multiple doorways which can be seen in other pictures. It was built in 1976 but was only fully used for a few years as the closure of the branch and restructuring of the NZ Railways Department rendered it redundant. Waipara was actually a railway town up until this time as it had a good number of staff and facilities but these days it is just a crossing location and flag station for occasional passengers. The depot building stood empty for some years after closure but the site was later cleared and is now occupied by a private residence.
This is the signalling and interlocking diagram for the Waipara-Scargill section of the Main North Line dating from 1975. Such diagrams are not a realistic scale representation of the actual physical locations of facilities. As such the Waipara diagram is more useful for determining the type of signalling equipment and the existence of sidings and connections. The diagram suggests that the connection between the branch line and east sidings was removed by that stage. A colour light distant was in place to the south and the equivalent 3 position Arrival automatic signal to the north. North of Waipara the Main North Line was covered by automatic signalling at the time. Both of Omihi and Scargill stations are now just crossing loops without any public facilities. The whole area is now Track Warrant controlled without any signalling systems except for points indicators.
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This map is, like many that appear on this blog, an overlay of one of my KML files from the NZ Rail Maps site onto standard Google Earth imagery. It shows some of the historical and present features of the Waipara yard. In particular at the bottom of this view you can see the site of the former engine shed on the right and the works depot on the left as marked by the small white square placemarks. The site of the triangle is also clearly visible.
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The second map is of the branch line itself and shows the first part of the Weka Pass Railway with many local landmarks indicated.