The Mount Somers Tramway was a light industrial narrow gauge railway that was built inland from Mount Somers township in Mid-Canterbury into the Ashburton Gorge in order to transport extracted mineral resources to the Mount Somers railway station on the Springburn Branch. The tramway was in operation from 1886 to 1943 and is documented in I D Maffey’s eponymous book published by the Canterbury Branch of the NZRLS (nowadays the Canterbury Railway Society, which owns the Ferrymead Railway) in 1971. It was constructed initially in a gauge of 1 foot 11 1/2 inches (597 mm) and was laid with a constant downhill grade in favour of loaded trucks, therefore initially was able to be worked by horse teams. By 1907 traffic was increasing to such an extent that a steam locomotive was ordered to work the line. At Mount Somers railway station a transhipment siding was laid in the rail yard where goods were transferred to railway wagons. In 1929-30 the line was widened to standard railway gauge and ex-NZR locomotive “Fa” 10 was purchased to work the traffic. Later on various home built “lokeys” were constructed to suit requirements. At this time the tramway was connected as a private siding at Mount Somers railway station.
The main types of traffic carried on the line were extracted minerals such as coal, lime and silica sand. These were worked from a number of sites and the quantities varied, however most of these workings were of a small scale. In the earlier days of the tramway operation, Mount Somers stone was quarried and brought out to construct a number of prominent buildings in Australia and New Zealand, such as the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch.
Refer the map below and following description and photos for more details of the tramway.
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Leaving Mount Somers railway station the tramway initially followed the Ashburton Gorge Road, firstly on the southern side for about 2.5 km, then it crossed the road to run on its northern side. After about 4 km the lime kilns associated with the Victory lime works was encountered. At this point a siding climbed up the escarpment and then ran north about 1.5 km to the limeworks site. The next features between 6–6.5 km from Mount Somers were the two larger bridges, over Woolshed Creek and Stony Creek. In the narrow gauge days the bridges deviated from the straight line requiring some sharp curves at each end. When the line was widened the bridges were relocated and the line straightened. At about 7.5 km a set of sidings for three lime and stone quarries was encountered. The original tramway continued to about 13.5-14 km from Mount Somers connecting en route with sidings to various other coal and sand mines finishing up near the Stour River.
In 1905 a branch off the tramway was constructed about 750 metres past the lime and stone quarries sidings up Woolshed Creek and various jigs were eventually constructed to get coal from mines on the surrounding hills down to the tramway. After only a few years of operation, this line was lifted between 1912 and 1914 all the way back to the junction, having become disused. The line was relaid and opened again in 1929. One of the Woolshed Creek mines was eventually owned by the Blackburn Coal Company and it was this enterprise that financed the conversion of the main tramway as far as the junction and the branch up Woolshed Creek to standard railway gauge. The Blackburn Co then became the main operator of the tramway and hauled traffic for other companies in addition to its coal. The remaining narrow gauge section of the tramway more or less ceased to be used after this time and was later lifted. The rebuilt tramway in its fullest extent only lasted for 10 years or so, the Woolshed Creek branch being lifted in 1941 and turned into a road. After this the limeworks was the only source of traffic on the line. In 1943 due to the line’s deteriorating condition its owner the Ashburton County Council called tenders for the remaining line to be lifted. Most of the tramway was lifted within 12 months. The siding connection at Mount Somers railway station was removed in 1949. The Blackburn Mine’s jig line continued to be used at Woolshed Creek until about 1952 when a road was built to the mine.
Today the Woolshed Creek area is a scenic reserve and the gorge can be accessed with formed walking tracks.
Lime kilns at the Peache limeworks siding which followed the line seen higher up behind.
One of the standard gauge bridges at Stony Creek / Woolshed Creek on the main tramway. These bridges had concrete abutments and piers and were constructed of steel girders.
Mount Somers railway yard with the goodshed to the right. The tramway passed into the yard behind the shed and was originally connected to an exchange siding, with the gauge conversion it was connected as a private siding of the railway.
Part of the route of the Blackburn jig near the top.
Looking down the Blackburn jig.
An old boiler washed down into a creek in the Woolshed Creek Reserve.