Right now I am mapping the Nelson Section and as part of that I’m doing my best to document what went beyond the final terminus of the line when it closed in 1955, which was at Glenhope. As we all know, Kawatiri was opened in 1926, but it closed in 1931 when all the construction works were stopped. By that stage Gowanbridge was almost completed and due to be opened shortly, and much of the section to Longford (Mangles River), just outside Murchison, was under construction. The line to Gowanbridge remained in place until 1942 when the track was lifted for use elsewhere, and trains never ran beyond Glenhope again.
Thanks to some work by Tony Hurst (author of several of railway books, and a helper in this NZ Rail Maps project), we know that surveys on both banks of the Buller River were undertaken by 1937 from Longford to the vicinity of Ariki Falls. At the time of writing this, I don’t have the publication which Tony scanned describing the survey work, but will endeavour to obtain it in the near future. Murchison was at about the 132 km point assuming Longford was at about 130 km. O’Donnell (When Nelson Had a Railway) states that the permanent line survey was completed to about 141 km, which is roughly Ariki Falls. A rough measurement of distance following the highway from Ariki Falls to Inangahua, where the line was to have joined the Stillwater Westport Line, comes out at about 33 km. Therefore the total distance to Inangahua would have been in the vicinity of 170-175 km from Nelson. The construction works needed in the upper Buller Gorge would have been substantial, considering what was needed in the lower gorge where the SWL went, which needed a significant number of large bridges as well as several tunnels, and which because of these challenges was not completed until 1942.
Here are sections from the forthcoming map of the route south of Glenhope. As I have no maps available to show where the railway went south of the final terminus, it is marked on the map as “Inexact Route” using the symbol for an uncertain formation. Ghost hunters these days face a challenge in that the highway between Glenhope and Kawatiri was substantially improved about 10 years ago, which encroached on the rail formation in places, and has probably made it much more difficult to determine the route today.
A view of the Glenhope area. There was a coal mine in the area at the time the NZMS1 map was drawn up in the 1940s but there is little known about it today. A ballast pit just south of the station became a locomotive dump in the late 1930s when two FA class steam engines were abandoned there, later scrapped. The highway was altered, probably about 10 years ago when the Glenhope-Kawatiri section of SH6 received major improvements. The old section on the left and its one way bridge are mostly still intact used for local access. Glenhope station building remains today although in dilapidated condition as a farm building.
View of Kawatiri. The railway came in from the north and crossed over the Hope River on a bridge, the concrete piers of which are still visible today. It then passed through the Kawatiri Tunnel, only the second on the entire line, and then crossed another bridge (currently rebuilt as a footbridge) before arriving at Kawatiri railway station. The highway to Blenheim was up high on a bluff to the west of where SH6 is today, which led it onto an overbridge across the line and then onto a Howe truss across the Hope River, part of which remains today as part of the Kawatiri station historical precinct. The highway to Inangahua continued along this bluff until it joined the existing highway south of Kawatiri. These days the highway passes through the former station site, the overbridge and then the Howe Truss having been progressively eliminated. I presume the formation of the old highway is still there somewhere in the bush to the west of the current road. These days the Kawatiri station site is where you can access a public walkway through the old tunnel. The walkway ends at the northern portal of the tunnel where a loop track takes you back around the ridge over the tunnel.
General view of Gowanbridge. An overbridge was provided for the Gowan Valley Road at the east end of the station yard. This bridge remained a number of years after closure but no longer exists today. The last construction works were undertaken to the west as far as Longford and should have seen trains running to Murchison by about 1932-33. In the event, the cessation of work meant the formation was incomplete although remnants of it can still be found today. The large cutting just west of Gowanbridge is now used by the highway (possibly this is the cutting immediately adjacent to the Granity Creek bridge) but the unfinished embankment across Grassy Flat (possibly just west of Granity Creek) remains visible today. Further west, concrete culverts or abutments can be seen in paddocks beside the road. It is my understanding that other substantial formation can be seen in places all the way to Longford, possibly including bridge approaches either side of the Owen River, although it is many years since I last travelled this route and there has never been an opportunity to further investigate any remnants. (Footnote: An old concrete bridge abutment is visible immediately south of the Owen River highway bridge but it is unclear if this had anything to do with the railway or is leftover from a former road bridge)
The last image shows survey routes which were in the document I referred to earlier. Starting from a point at the upper right of the image, roughly opposite Nuggety Creek, a route was surveyed down the true right side of the Buller towards Longford; closer to that location another survey line was started on the true left side. These surveys continued past Murchison (in the middle on the south side of the river) and onwards towards Ariki Falls which is the loop in the river to the far left side of the image – note that the highway follows the river, but the railway probably would have cut across the loop. The source document wasn’t detailed enough to show exactly where the survey lines went so I in part followed the local major road routes. I think that the railway ended up following the true left route as far as Longford under construction and that the Mangles River would have been bridged near the current road bridge.
There will be another post tomorrow of some other parts of the map that is currently being completed for publication, and then the map itself will be published, which should occur tomorrow or Tuesday. It will appear on the Skydrive website as usual, where the draft in Word format is currently being saved, and will be the first map publication to use vector graphics maps, which will greatly improve the print quality.