Saturday, 13 April 2013

The five faces of Paeroa Junction

Well the previous article said there were only four. But things got more complex because there were two different bridges across the river between the junction and Paeroa town. So here are five faces of Paeroa Junction.
N.B. The parts that were operational at each image are in red, parts in black did not exist or operate at the time.
In 1898, the railway from Frankton to Paeroa opened. A single track wooden bridge was used to cross the Ohinemuri River south of the town. The railway station was a little north of this bridge.
In 1905, the branch line to Waikino was opened. This needed a curved track towards the east which had a set of junction points just to the south of the bridge. The signals over this set of points were controlled by a signalbox and ground frame at Paeroa station.
In 1925, stopbanks were constructed along the banks of the Ohinemuri River. This meant the railway bridge had to be raised about 8 feet (2.5 metres). This made the gradient from Paeroa railway station to the bridge severe, so that it was decided to move the station 1 km further north to ease out the gradient. Therefore it was also decided to move the junction of the two lines to the north side of the river. This meant the new bridge had to be built for two tracks, and it was opened in 1926. The track from Frankton was on the west side of the bridge, and the track to Waikino was on the east side of the bridge. The new bridge was constructed of steel girders replacing the wooden Howe Truss original. Within two years the East Coast Main Trunk was completed. All through trains had to go into Paeroa and were then reversed to continue their journey. This did not matter much as steam engines had to be serviced at the locomotive depot, and an extra engine could be attached at Paeroa for trains heading to the east if it was needed. Because of the loss of the passenger station just to the north of the bridges, the new flag halt of Paeroa Township was opened in 1932 at the location of the old station. Only one platform and shelter were provided so that passengers could only board trains travelling on one of the tracks.
In 1959, traffic on the line was increasing because of the output of timber processing plants at Kawerau and Kinleith, which had been built earlier the same decade. At the same time, dieselisation of the ECMT meant that the locomotive servicing stop at Paeroa was not as essential any more. It was decided to shift the junction of the two lines south again, by opening a new station at Paeroa South. A deviation in the eastward route was made to make room for the new railway yard at this location. The direct link from Frankton to Paeroa was removed and all trains to or from the Thames Branch had to reverse at Paeroa South. ECMT trains had a direct connection to Frankton via the new south curve and saved about 5 km in distance and also in time by being able to run straight through instead of reversing. Paeroa Township station was closed, while Paeroa became a station only on the Thames Branch. The second track and bridge between Paeroa South and Paeroa were no longer needed and were removed.
In 1978, the Kaimai Tunnel opened. This resulted in the closure of the railway between Paeroa South and Katikati and it was lifted about five years later. In order to continue with the Thames Branch, which was now extended by 43 km back to Morrinsville, the new ECMT junction, the direct link north to south needed to be reinstated. This was installed as the new curved route shown rather than the more direct link of 1898 to the west. Some say that the original formation had been built on in the intervening 19 years, while others suggest the curved route needed less new track laid and reused the existing level crossing of SH26. Paeroa South station was closed, and most of the track to Apata was eventually lifted, except for the section now owned by the Goldfields Railway between Waihi and Waikino. The track between Apata and Katikati stayed open for several years after 1978 but a railfreight terminal proposal at Katikati came to nothing.
The sixth face (not illustrated) happened after 1995 when the Thames Branch closed. All track and most structures on the branch were removed beyond Waitoa. Railfans can still trace some of the site of the junction and branch today. The most notable remnants on the entire former ECMT route and Thames Branch today are
  • The Te Aroha railway station building preserved at its original site.
  • The bridge just to the south of Te Aroha.
  • The Thames railway station at its original site.
  • The Karangahake Tunnel which is part of a public walkway, along with the old railway bridge at the east end.
  • The station at Athenree which was relocated to the nearby site of Athenree Historic Homestead.
  • The Paeroa station which was taken to Waikino as part of the Goldfields heritage railway project.
  • The Waihi station on its original site as part of the Goldfields heritage railway project.
  • A culvert just east of Waihi where the railway crossed over a tramway
  • Between Katikati and Apata some of the larger bridges are still in place, used to carry power lines.