Sunday, 31 May 2015

NZ Rail Ferry Rail Decks and Linkspans

If you’ve ever looked inside a rail ferry you’ll understand that with the limited space the designers have a goal to get the maximum amount of track space inside the ferry so they can load the most wagons on board. This can be a challenge and has lead to some ingenious and intriguing track layouts on the linkspans which have basically interlaced as many as three tracks with parallel sets of rails in order to avoid having space-wasting points components inside the ship to the maximum degree possible.

Basically this is a photo from Google Maps (hence the two arrows each side and the copyright at the bottom) and it shows the tracks going up from the railway yard onto the linkspan. To get the switching needed in the limited space the normal type of points has been eschewed in favour of stub points. Stub points aren’t normally seen on a regular railway although bush tramways and light railways often have them, one of the issues being that they aren’t suitable for high speed operations, even when set for the straight ahead road. This is because they work by sliding a set of rails across to line up with the correct track, and the unsupported sliding rails aren’t suitable to traverse except at low speed. In this example shown you have 8 rails in total except that the two innermost aren’t running rails – they are check rails like in a level crossing. So there are three tracks going across and they fan out when they get to the join with the ferry. The first set of points appear to be conventional switchblade points and the stub points are the next set further in with two rails they can line up to. Here you can see clearly another reason why stub points are not usually used – the set of rails with nowhere to go. How are the points operated? Clearly the nearest set have a wharf lever and mechanism but how did the stubs work?

The next question to be answered is what layouts were used inside the ships.
 Aramoana (seen here at its commissioning in September 1962) had a layout with three internal tracks. Ian Robson (formerly of Christchurch/Ferrymead and latterly Wellington)  advised that Aranui shared this layout. This appears to be the basis of the three track linkspan still in use today. I presume that the next two ferries were three track also but they could have been four.

  This is the rail deck on Arahura (soon to be retired). As you can see, two sets of points have been used just inside the door to get four tracks inside the ferry. Apparently the two tracks going in were made to line up with the three track linkspan, which these days has only two tracks in use.

  This ship is, I think, in Italy and it uses 3 into 4 with one set of points within the ship. But the linkspan is interesting because it appears to have tandem pairs of switches actually on the span.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Last day of the Rimutaka Incline


On the last day of operation of the Rimutaka Incline, 29 October 1955, a pair of DEs take a passenger train up the grade out of Upper Hutt for Summit. In the foreground is the Rimutaka Deviation which is notable for the much less severe gradient; this route opened four days later.


From an Evening Post aerial shot of Upper Hutt taken after the deviation opened, we can see the same general area as in the top photo, although looking the other way. The old line crossed over the top of the new one at the cutting shown in the background. During construction of the deviation, a small part of the old embankment was excavated and replaced by a bridge to allow access. During the three day hiatus between closure of the old route and opening of the new, the bridge was removed and the cutting excavated to its full depth. Most likely this was not done earlier to avoid undermining the old route unduly. This also meant direct access to the deviation by rail from Upper Hutt was not possible, and the access was instead provided by the old route as far as Maymorn, where a siding connection was provided, steeply graded at 1 in 30 and with sharp curves. In the foreground is the level crossing at King St. This was closed some years later, and an underpass provided at Park St at the base of the cutting. The old route can be seen out to the right of the current route at the very top centre of the picture.


A Google Earth view of Upper Hutt similar to the previous photo, showing numerous changes. Of significance in relation to the old route was the development of the Kingsley Heights subdivision some years ago, which destroyed part of the old route embankment. Beyond this area some of the major cuttings and embankments still remain, as does the Cruickshanks Tunnel, which is proposed to be reopened for public access by Wellington City Council in the near future. The original route formation at the top of the cutting is assumed to still exist and would be interesting to explore also.

Mapping the Cromwell Gorge prior to the Clyde Dam

I am currently investigating options for aerial photography. At the moment it appears this will not be cheap. To obtain the NZAM prints for the route taken in 1962 will require the following images:

  • Survey 1452
    • Run T
      • Photos 1,4,7,10,13,16
    • Run U
      • Photos 7,10
    • Run V
      • Photos 5,7,9

That’s a total of 11 prints. The cheapest available option, so far, is $940 if they are all purchased at the same time. But if I was to proceed it would be much more likely to split these across at least three orders, which will be somewhat more expensive overall.

The first question is simply whether the cheapest per-print option (contact print) is going to be of a high enough resolution to serve my purpose. The original scale is 1:8800. At that resolution, provided the print is sharp and clear, it would certainly be possible to pick out roads and railways. Whether there is enough detail to resolve individual tracks in a yard is a more serious question.

The other option is to go for surveys that were taken at a smaller scale, for example the 1965 or 1968 surveys taken at 1:11000 and 1:16000 respectively, and have the digital scan option which gets around the need to produce a print, but then there is still the question of resolution. At 1:16000 there would only need to be half the number of images, but the cost if obtained scanned would be much the same because the scanning price is about double at the quantity involved.

In terms of the overall picture of aerial photography use – outside the Otago Central line I wouldn’t expect to make much use of aerial photography, although that is realistic in any case because I wouldn’t have time to draw everything that would be available from the use of aerial photography. There is simply not the interest from me to want to produce the maps for every railway station in the country. It is really only the OCR I am interested in.

I am still making enquiries so I do not know if this proposal for mapping the Cromwell Gorge will proceed in its current form. It would be nice if Otago Regional Council had a site like Canterbury Maps. I have discovered that Archives New Zealand also hold prints of some of the surveys so the next step will be to enquire in relation to their holdings in Wellington.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Te Karaka Railway and Highway

An old archival shot of Te Karaka, a station on the Moutohora Branch north of Gisborne, which was opened to traffic on 13 April 1905. The particular photo was taken in the vicinity of No.2 Tunnel and the Waipaoa River came in close to the railway on the left at the time.
The tunnel and the positioning of the highway were most likely driven by the location of the river at that time, hard up against the formation on a big bend. As part of flood control works in the early 1950s it was possible to move the highway further out on the south bank of the river and today the land has been reclaimed in this area for farming. Therefore the overbridge shown above and the crossing of the highway back across the eastern portal of the tunnel were able to be eliminated while the line was still open.
This photo is from Gisborne Photo News and is believed to show the western portal, over which the highway crossed at that time. This photo was taken in February 1959, only six weeks before the line closed. The train was an excursion organised by the Railway Enthusiasts Society. The closure of the line afforded the opportunity for the Highways Board to have the western portal of the tunnel demolished and filled in, so allowing the highway to be lowered. Although travellers in the area can still clearly spot the eastern portal beside the road, it is blocked off for public access and the approach cutting has been filled in. The keen geographer can readily pick out where the road used to go around the hillside just east of this location and cross back over that portal, and therefore about where the long-departed overbridge in the first photo used to be. Post-closure the highway at Te Karaka itself was realigned to bypass the town by reusing the railway formation. Like so much of the Moutohora Branch, and in a lot of other parts of New Zealand, road improvements have swallowed up a great deal of the old railway.
Construction photo believed to be at the western portal from the Auckland Weekly News of August 1906. The next section north (geographically west) from Te Karaka, as far as the next station, Puha, opened for traffic on 3 June 1907.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Otago Central Railway maps revision

At the moment I am revising these maps and the Flickr album which currently only contains the Cromwell Gorge maps will be revised to include all the maps. Previously a map volume was also produced which is available for download in the Google Drive section of the NZ Railmaps.

Look for “NZRM Vol17 Otago Central. The 71 page PDF is dated from January 2013 or about two years ago. It contains about as much tabulated data as I was able to find about the different features of the line to date and is somewhat more comprehensive particularly in bridges than Over the Garden Wall, but omits the descriptions for obvious copyright reasons.

I am now enquiring for aerial photography, starting with the Cromwell Gorge and possibly extending to the rest of the line in due course, but this will be very dependent on the cost and may well be limited to specific areas such as the stations. The first survey from the Cromwell Gorge appears to date from February 1962 and probably informed the first NZMS1 map production of c.1970. Also it’s unlikely the higher resolution topomaps (1 inch to half a mile) would have been completed for this area. The aerials for 1962 were taken at a scale of 1:8800 and their usefulness naturally depends on how sharp the footage was therefore how big it can be resolved to. The description from the LINZ website reads:

Note: LINZ and Opus International have recently agreed a contract for the maintenance of the Crown aerial imagery archive, following the liquidation of New Zealand Aerial Mapping in September 2014.

The following Information on product sales has been updated to reflect this.

This layer has been provided to enable potential users to identify the coverage of photography for Mainland NZ flown on behalf of the Crown between 1936 and 2005. Areas flown outside of Mainland NZ will be added later. The layer shows the extent of each photograph taken. The 'NZ Aerial Survey Footprints 1936-2005 poly' layer shows the extent of each survey undertaken.

The Collection exists as photographic negatives (most are not in digital form) so the images are not downloadable from the LDS.

The Crown Aerial Film Negative Collection is managed for LINZ by Opus International.

You can are order images from the Collection from Opus International in a number of formats, including:
- contact prints
- enlargements
- digital files
- precision scans for photogrammetric production
- orthophotos

You will need to tell Opus International the survey, run and photo number (values in the ‘SURVEY’ 'RUN_NO' and 'PHOTO_NO' attributes) covering your area of interest.

Opus International will be able to provide information about the cost of providing images in the various formats. Contact them at: or 0800 680 690

There are a small number of images held in the Collection that have not been referenced in the LDS layers due to incomplete metadata. LINZ is currently investigating ways this can be remedied. Opus International will be able to let you know if additional photographs are available in your area of interest.

There are also a large number of images which previously belonged to New Zealand Aerial Mapping and which are now are available for public use. The extents of these may be added to the LDS in future. You can order these images by contacting Opus International.

Otago Central Railway: Wedderburn Highway Realignment

Although the Otago Central Railway had few changes in alignment, roads around it were realigned many times. One of the more interesting changes is just north of Wedderburn where the map dated from 1939 confirms that the highway was then located directly south of the railway rather than north today. As part of the highway the overbridge with railway number 66a was constructed and still exists on the route today although now bypassed. The highway realignment eliminated this bridge and a level crossing, the level crossing was very close to the railway summit of 630 metres which is the highest point on the whole of the Otago Central Railway.


The Wedderburn map (an extract from an NZGS map of 1939). The section of highway realigned is in the upper section of the map where the highway crosses the railway next to the words “F.McCarthy” and then crosses again further up near “P.Darling”. But whether the latter (northernmost) crossing was on an overbridge at the time the map was drawn has yet to be determined as the alignment shown actually resembles the current alignment with a level crossing due west of where the bridge actually is.


My map showing the entire section and the old and current highway routes. Bridge No.66a clearly is shown, along with the present alignment of the road to miss the overbridge entirely. Since the bridge number indicates it was not original, it is possible that where the road goes today, due west over the overbridge, may also be the original route that the road followed, or close to it, at a level crossing. Central Otago District Council's bridge inventory lists the bridge as "[bridge no.] 108 [ward] MANIOTOTO [roadway] OLD SH DOWN FROM COAL PIT ROAD [waterway] RAILWAY" implying this may still be a public road. An interesting point is the extra land set aside at the summit which suggests provision may have been made for a summit siding.


WedderburnN-Br66The GE shot depicting Bridge No.66a which still exists today. The Department of Conservation’s CASN 137 document describes it as follows: “Bridge 66, the road overbridge for State Highway 85 north of Wedderburn, is a 1966 pre-stressed concrete bridge. The abutments of the 1900 bridge are still visible, but are plain concrete foundations which probably held wooden piles. It does not require any special historic consideration. The highest point of the line (2029 feet, 612 m) is just north of this bridge. Bridge 66a, a private concrete overbridge, is very similar to Bridge 66.” So most of the description is actually the similar 1966 bridge further south. But the comment clearly implies Bridge 66a is now in private ownership, and further to that, Bridge 66a was almost certainly built first because this section of the highway probably is much earlier than 1966 and because there was already an overbridge at Bridge 66 dating from the original line construction. How much earlier Bridge 66a may have been installed is unclear because maps between 1939 and 1970 (by which stage the highway had been realigned) are hard to find. But my guess is the S bend in the highway needed for the bridge does imply it was installed well before 1966. However the number assigned to it (66a) strongly suggests it was added sometime after the line opened, certainly after the original bridge numbering sequence was assigned to the line. If that were the case then a level crossing at this location must have preceded the bridge, and this level crossing may well be at the location of where the road currently crosses the rail trail, shown above as a black line. There are earlier Naseby Survey District maps of this location but they are ambiguous in this area. But my guess is that they show both crossings via the cadastral map land boundaries and therefore leave unanswered the question of when the bridge was actually installed. The map revision dated 1954 still shows the highway in the old position.

UPDATE: I received information today including photos of the bridge and the information is that it appears to have been installed in 1950. Clearly at this time the realignment of the highway was still some years away. Whether this part of the highway was ever sealed is another question naturally, as it is not in a sealed condition today. The deck of the bridge as it now stands does not show any sealing. The way the bridge was installed is not commensurate with the needs of a high speed highway, as with the sharp bends it has been done in the cheapest possible way to make the shortest bridge, but as the line where the bridge goes over is in a cutting, the cutting may have caused visibility problems for traffic approaching the crossing. It does appear that the bridge is in private ownership along with the road today. Also it seems more likely the black line route marked would be where the railway went prior to the bridge, as this is clearly marked out in survey boundaries and on private land it would be unlikely to be formally surveyed. The location of the crossing would have been chosen to improve visibility being well clear of the cutting which can be seen on the above map and at right angles to get the best view overall. The use of the different areas of road isn’t so clear as of today but there may be still some use of the bridge but as we can see the old level crossing route is very clear and indicates it likely is still being used also.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Helicopter nutters

This is a Sikorsky S-58 (which in the US Armed Forces flew as the H-34). It’s a comeback flight for a retired military pilot in this 8 minute video clip. See the description on Youtube for more info.
The S-58 is one of the last of the large piston engined helicopters having a radial engine mounted in the nose with the exhausts exiting on the left side of the aircraft. The era of helicopters of this type being powered by piston engines was soon over as powerful and much more reliable turboshafts took over, and some were even re-engined, hence helicopters of this type are rare today. The S-58 is powered by a Wright R-1820 radial piston engine, a 9 cylinder single row type more commonly found on conventional aircraft, and well known for its use in such types as the B-17 Flying Fortress and Lockheed Lodestar. In the H-34 the engine was rated a little over 1500 hp which was about the most powerful model of it produced.
This is a clip of a Kamov KA-32, an example of which I mentioned last week. The Kamovs are almost unique for their coaxial rotor designs. Apart from the one which was put onto Araon to go to Antartica recently there has only been one in NZ before and apparently it never flew.

Four Options For NZ Rail Network’s Future

When the rail system was renationalised in 2008, the Labour Government appointed a Rail Development Group to come up with a plan for revitalising rail. Depending on your point of view this was either a desirable development to restore the rail network to a core transport option, or an unnecessary waste of taxpayers money to avoid the commercial realities of the operation of the rail system in NZ at the time.

It will be interesting with Labour’s new leadership to see whether they decide to adopt the proposals, or a variation of them, adapted to the new operating regime in NZ after being in opposition for however long it is before they are re-elected. The RDG proposals were in the main not adopted because Labour lost the 2008 election. National chose instead to develop the Turnaround Plan and have been implementing that, although they have also funded some urban passenger service improvements.

As of 2015 there are essentially four core proposals for the development / future of the rail and overall transport network:
  • New Zealand First proposed in the 2014 election campaign a programme of “Railways of National Importance” (RONIs). This has been covered recently in a previous post to this blog. In essence the RONI programme is a throwback to the 1920s when it was rail first rather than today's focus on rail as part of an integrated transport network. "Rail First" was eventually abandoned by politicians as road transport became more developed and important.
  • The Turnaround Plan for rail which is the policy developed by the incoming National Government in 2008 and which has continued to evolve since that time. It has been implemented alongside changes in the roading network including Roads of National Significance and the introduction of High Productivity Motor Vehicles of up to 62 tonnes. The Turnaround Plan has so far produced the closure of several hundred kilometres of the rail network and the loss of one of the rail ferries and could result in further line closures due to Kiwirail’s current poor financial performance being reviewed under the new CEO.
  • The Rail Development Group of 2008 informed Labour’s policy development following the renationalisation of the rail network. Because the renationalisation occurred so close to the election which Labour lost, the policy was not implemented. It remains to be seen how this work will inform policy development of the Labour Party in future election campaigns.
  • A fourth option which has gained some support in certain circles advocates that the rail network be owned by Ontrack and the rail operations be opened to full competition. There has not been any equivalent of this in NZ in the past.
    • Essentially the rail lines will become another transport highway, owned and maintained in the public interest, with multiple operators for all services. This system is currently used around the world. This could be seen as a variation of the Turnaround Plan (National Government) policy.
    • Between 2004 and 2008 there was open access to the network for passenger service operators only, as Toll Rail had an exclusive right to operate the freight services, except where they voluntarily chose to give up routes, whereby another operator could have stepped in to run them. In 2008, Toll proposed to drop a number of services; this was curtailed by the Government buying out Toll’s operations.
    • There could be more desire for Open Access to be established on lines that Kiwirail does not operate if they choose to close significant chunks of the current network. So far the only proposal to date for alternative operation has been for the Napier-Gisborne line. This is not open access as Kiwirail does not have an open access function. The NGL proposal involves an exclusive lease to Hawkes Bay Regional Council with a consortium of private partners.
In order to inform this debate I have reproduced below the Rail Development Group’s proposals that were reported back to the Labour Government at the time of renationalisation in 2008. These are quoted from NZISCR (Victoria University) report “The history and future of rail in NZ” by Dave Heatley published in June 2009 where he has had an indepth look at the viability of rail in NZ since the system was first established in 1863. He proposed several options for the future of the NZ rail network. These were: maintaining the network at its present size, reducing the network to a commercially viable subset, or closing the network altogether. The first of these options is listed below. I have included with this the views of the author as to the value of this policy. Essentially the presently uneconomic lines that have been closed or proposed to close under the TAP would be kept open by running at least one service a week. It can be seen that the Dargaville and Napier-Gisborne lines, which have both closed since the TAP was implemented, were being maintained under this
The Rail Development Group (RDG) presented its reports containing recommendations for the operation of rail under public ownership in August 2008 (Rail Development Group, 2008a, 2008b, 2008d, 2008c). At the core of their reports is the choice between two different futures for rail:
  • A pure commercial model operating on a 1500km network; and
  • A non-commercial model with continuing government subsidies operating on the entire current 4000km network.
The recommended approach is the non-commercial model where the government purchases non-commercial services from KiwiRail. The services purchased are commonly called a “community service obligation” (CSO). CSOs in railways are an old concept: railways in Victoria were receiving payments for non-commercial services as long go as 1896 (Wills-Johnson, 2006a). The State-Owned Enterprises Act provides for CSOs, and ONTRACK has been the recipient of CSO payments of around $4m p.a. for non-commercial activities over the past few years. The proposed subsidy levels for the KiwiRail Group were expected to reach $235 million annually by 2013. These proposals are in addition to operational subsidies and planned capital works programme for urban commuter services.
These subsidies are to allow the KiwiRail Group to deliver the outcomes listed below.
Desired non-commercial outcomes.
a) Freight:
i) Baseline
(1) A national network: all lines open with regular rail ferry services, most of the time;
(2) Services on all lines, at least weekly
(3) Achieve modal shift to rail from road (as opposed to rail to and from coastal ship, other than at the margin), prioritised according to the value of taking incremental traffic off roads in various corridors (for example shifting NTKs to rail in Auckland-Tauranga are likely to be more valuable than NTKs in Southland in terms of avoided roading costs).
b) Passenger Metro:
i) Substantial increase in Auckland as per the Rail Development Plan from the ARC and ARTA, resulting in a reducing per head contribution from taxpayers;
ii) Moderate increase in Wellington as per the GWRC rail upgrade plan;
iii) Other commuter services as commercially justified or as supported by NZTA;
c) Long distance passenger:
i) Domestic and international tourist services on Christchurch – Greymouth, Christchurch – Picton and Wellington – Auckland;
ii) Other services as commercially justified;
iii) Non-scheduled heritage train services at a similar level to today at minimum cost;
d) Passenger, car and commercial vehicle movement across Cook Strait to continue to be purely commercial; and
e) State sector level of compliance – assets, processes and systems in proper state.

The RDG used three main arguments in favour of the non-commercial model:
  • The government’s policy outcomes will not be achieved without subsidies;
  • Avoided roading costs (due to modal shift); and
  • Network economics dictates that closing lines will shed revenue faster than it sheds cost.
This subsidised non-commercial model and the arguments used to support it have significant flaws. Firstly, there is nothing special about the current extant network. It is nothing more than the result at one point in time of the historical interplay of political and economic forces. The assumption that the public is best served by paying to freeze the network at its 2008 size is not backed up by any hard analysis. A subsidised line carrying one train per week cannot be providing much in the way of a community service. It is highly unlikely to avoid any roading costs.
Nor is it likely to contribute meaningfully to any modal shift. The environmental costs of maintaining and renewing the line are likely to significantly outweigh any environmental benefits due to its operation. And persisting with operating the line has an opportunity cost, e.g. the railway corridor land is unavailable for other productive purposes. Secondly, their analysis of network economics is self-contradictory. If, as claimed, closing lines will shed revenue faster than it shed s costs (Rail Development Group, 2008b), then it logically follows that every network size smaller than the extant network will be less profitable than the current size. This is not consistent with the assertion elsewhere in the reports that a smaller network (of around 1500km) is commercially viable. The authors may have confused economies of size with economies of density.
As discussed in Section 3.1.1 , while rail exhibits strong economies of density, there is a lack of empirical evidence for economies of network size. Subsidies with the aim of protecting network size will act to reduce network density and therefore reduce potential returns due to economies of density.
Thirdly, the RDG are cherry-picking with regard to government policy. They state “rail can operate in a commercial model, though in doing so it will not meet the needs of the New Zealand transport Strategy” (Rail Development Group, 2008d, p. 4). But the recommended non-commercial model for rail is also at odds with the NZTS. Modal shift towards coastal shipping, also a part of the NZTS, is seen as a competitive threat to be neutralised. Increased energy efficiency and removing trucks from the roads is presented as a positive, but only in so far as it benefits their arguments in favour of retaining rail. The RDG and KiwiRail Group (2008) view the current trials of 50-tonne trucks as a competitive threat and suggest those trials be curtailed. However, 50-tonne trucks would improve energy efficiency and reduce the number of trucks on the road – outcomes consistent with the NZTS.
The proposals by the RDG are an echo of the situation that applied from the 1930s to the 1980s, where rail was protected from competition in order to meet goals that did not necessarily align with the national interest in social and economic performance.
The RDG’s recommendations elevate the running of one train service a week on all lines in the extant network to a national goal, to be achieved regardless of the nation’s productivity, economic costs or environmental goals. These recommendations are not in New Zealand society’s interests.