Thursday, 24 December 2015

Pike River Mine

Today's maps are of the Pike River Mine, which was developed by Pike Rivcr Coal Company (later Pike River Coal Ltd) in the 2000s and was permanently closed following an explosion on 19 November 2010 which killed 29 miners. Their bodies have never been recovered.

This overview from Google Earth shows the site of the mine top centre. The black line shows the transport route from the mine to the loading siding that was built at Ikamatua. Here, the only two shipments of coal ever produced, totalling some 42,000 tonnes, were loaded into rail wagons to be transported to Lyttelton for loading onto a ship. I believe those shipments went to India and they were undertaken in February and September 2010. The other lines on the map are mostly the railways of the lower West Coast. The mine was quite a long way from any other major mining sites that have ever been undertaken in the West Coast. It was about halfway between the major coalfields in the Grey and Inangahua areas, and as far north as coal has ever been mined in the Paparoa Ranges, which run from the Grey River to the Buller River; although there have been some small scale mines in the foothills of that range around Reefton, the Buller Gorge and Charleston.

For comparison here is the current NZTopo map of roughly the same area. In the top centre the Hawera peak at 1190 metres can be seen. The light coloured area to the south-west of the peak is where the mine is located underground. The details can be confirmed on a subsequent map, but basically from the topo map, the access road follows the Pike Stream valley and the entrance to the mine is at the stream confluence that can be seen to the east of the peak.

This is a closeup of the Hawera peak and the Pike Stream valley. The next map confirms the exact area within this in which the mine occupies. The entrance to the mine is at the end of the access road at White Knight Stream. A little way down the road are the mine buildings. Another complex of buildings, mainly the coal processing plant and bathhouse, exist at the bottom of the hill and can be seen to the lower right. The road is the mine's private access and also carried the coal slurry pipelines down to the coal processing plant. The lower complex of buildings is being removed but some of the upper buildings near the portal will be kept in place.

This is the first of my maps and shows the position of the mine and the underground tunnel. The vent stack location is not confirmed exactly in relation to underground facilities but is probably the main ventilation shaft with the fans that ventilated the mine. It is not possible to spot it on Google Earth at the present time but has been visible on other aerial coverage although I can't access any online at the moment. The western boundary of the mine is where a 45 km walking track will be extended through between the existing Pororari River track from Punakaiki and the Croesus Track from Blackball. There will be a side track of 8 km into the mine entrance area where there will be an information centre and  memorial. It should take about two years to complete the tracks. Paparoa National Park is also being extended to incorporate the mine site. 

This map shows the mine entrance and the site offices (amenities area). This is where the information centre and memorial will be located. It is not clear from the proposals if the road will be open to the public as well but it is possible that it may be.
Part of the access road along the Pike Stream valley.
At the bottom of the hill was the main entrance which consisted mainly of the coal processing plant and bathhouse facilities. This complex has now been dismantled.
Showing where the mine access road (unlabeled) comes off from Logburn Road.

This map shows that the nearest railway station in a straight line was Ahaura seen lower left on the Stillwater-Ngakawau Line. However there was not direct road access to this station because of the few bridges that cross the Grey River. Once upon a time there was a bridge at Ngahere - the one that used to be used by the Blackball Branch as a combined bridge. This survived the closing of the branch only by a few years (as a road only structure) due to it being very prone to washouts and it was eventually closed completely but there were still some remains in place until about 10 years ago. There was also the suspension bridge at Brunner that was able to be used by lighter vehicles until that was closed and then restored for pedestrians only but the trucks could not have crossed it. The nearest road bridges in each direction nowadays are at Stillwater and Ikamatua. Stillwater already loads coal for a number of other mines and could have been used, except that it is double the distance (44 km) by road compared to Ikamatua (22 km). Therefore the establishment of a completely new siding facility at Ikamatua went ahead.
Last map shows the actual loading siding at Ikamatua. A very unusual circular shaped piece of track was laid (it is not a balloon loop such as would commonly be found at major loading sites overseas - what are sometimes known as "merry go round" operations). Pike River trains would have already been heading south from Reefton to Stillwater (they may have just gone empty to Ikamatua from Lyttelton and then run around before heading back east) and would have been reversed into the siding just near Bridge 42 to load. The only real reason you would have a circular track is to fit the length of track into a particular area. There are, we suppose, many possible reasons why the track was laid out this way, probably to do with the area of land, the wish to avoid building extra bridges and perhaps avoiding a level crossing. The land it was built on is old dredge tailings as the Grey River has been extensively mined for gold over many years. The loading facility cost Pike River just over $10 million to build and was used to shift 42,000 tonnes of coal which went into two shipments from the Port of Lyttelton in 2010. As each train could carry 1500 tonnes of coal in 30 wagons, there would have been at least 25 trains needed to move that volume if they were all fully loaded with Pike River coal. Solid Energy at the time was attempting to get the size of trains increased to 45 wagons which would have made the operation through the Otira Tunnel much more hazardous and eventually this did not go ahead and trains have been capped at the 30 wagon maximum since. The Ikamatua facility was designed to allow a 30 wagon train to be loaded in one hour.

When PRC was placed into receivership the lessees attempted to cancel the leases and Solid Energy attempted to exploit this by inducing the lessees to sign up new leases with them instead but a court case went against them, finding that the lessees had no rights to cancel. SE later bought the complex from the Pike River Coal receivers. Following the liquidation of Solid Energy the complex has been dismantled.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Bus-trains or truck-trains will not work

There have been various devices of this type proposed over the years and they are nonsensical or have been found not to work.

The following are examples:
  • A Japanese rail-bus that was announced with great fanfare a few years ago and then sank into virtual oblivion.
  • The Road-Railer system for towing road trailers in a train. Virtually abandoned now as the world's last operator, Triple Crown Services of Indiana, US, have just downgraded to a single service on a single route.
The reason these technologies did not take off and the reason this system will be a failure is due to the fundamental differences between road and rail. Road vehicles are not designed to tow a large weight. The heaviest road vehicles in NZ have a payload of a mere 62 tonnes (HPMV). That is a huge load for a truck but a tiny load for a train.

To make up a train load of vehicles then they have to be made very strong and therefore heavy in order to withstand the mechanical forces and stresses of a whole lot of these vehicles being coupled together and hauled along the tracks at 100 km/h. When the train speeds up or slows down, or goes up or down a hill, the stresses from the weight of all the vehicles coupled together is huge. The result is a rail wagon has to be very heavy, and in order to carry a decent payload on a rail wagon, the resulting axle loading is much higher than on a road vehicle> This is why rail tracks and bridges are built so strongly. For example a train can weigh from 500 to 2000 tonnes in New Zealand.

If you put a road trailer together that can be towed in a train of say 20 or 50 other vehicles of the same type then it will be so heavy that it will be seriously limited in the amount of payload it can carry in order to be able to run on average roads in New Zealand. This system says nothing about whether the wheels are carried all of the time for rail. Hi rail vehicles, of course, serve dual duty with their wheels being the same for driving. The second issue for a train coupling is that the vehicle will also have to carry the airbrake equipment needed for the train's continuous braking system. It will also have to carry the train buffers which will stick out of both ends of the vehicle.

The rail-bus system that was being investigated in Japan failed for a similar reason. These were not going to be operated as trains, they were going to be single vehicles. The problem is the extra weight involved in carrying the extra set of wheels for the rail track. So that idea has largely fallen out of favour now.

The document above references a Fraunhofer Auto Tram. That is something entirely different and due to the failure of the Japanese proposal it remains to be seen if it will really take off. But in practice they appear only to be designed to couple in a small number of units at a time which means it is not really a train. 

The only way you can make a system like what is proposed work, for freight, is with a small number of units. The problem is, with a small number of units, you are not going to get any significant efficiency gain over roads - or any gain at all. Rail is designed for, and works best with, heavy loads. A small load is pretty inefficient. There wouldn't be any real advantage.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Historic Waiau Branch 1: Waipara [1]

The branch line to Waiau closed in January 1978 - almost 38 years ago. The 29.5 km section from Waipara to the Hurunui River Bridge was sold to the Weka Pass Railway which initially proposed to operate with an extension to the Hurunui Hotel. For various reasons these plans were soon abandoned and the line beyond the Highway 7 road crossing at Waikari was eventually lifted. The Weka Pass Railway now operates on the first 12.5 km of the former branch.

In 2015 the interest for all closed branches for railway enthusiasts remains in what can be traced on the ground. The main focus for the updating of the maps has been in the identification of historic rather than  currently present features. The maps will be presented in this series of articles along with some photos from my collection.

None of the maps feature detailed layouts of any station as this information is still to come with possibly historic aerial surveys to be obtained in the future and used as they have in some other places. The track diagrams produced by the NZ Model Railway Journal are however included.

We start traditionally from the junction end of the line, however the maps sequence on Flickr goes the other way because they are always arranged from north to south.

Waipara is the junction station and of course is still operational on the Main North Line. It is the base of the Weka Pass Railway. For Kiwirail its operational purpose nowadays is as a crossing location for trains. The Waipara township population was boosted significantly by railways employees at the height of operations in the 1970s because various maintenance gangs were based there. Even after the Waiau Branch closed these gangs still worked on the Main North Line and I remember in the 1986 census which I worked on that Waipara was really a railway town at the time. Since the reorganisation of the railways around that period, all of the railways employees got moved elsewhere. The township enjoyed a second renaissance of sorts when the Weka Plains irrigation scheme was developed in the Weka Pass bringing water into what was traditionally a very dry area. This kickstarted grape growing developments and lifestyle blocks and has boosted the area with vineyards.

Firstly we have four maps showing the historical track layout of Waipara. The current layout is not depicted and will be left for another time.

Starting at the south of the township just past the 62 peg the first siding started on the east side of the line. Highway 7 never crossed here originally because the junction with SH1 was further to the west, since until 1972 Highway 1 went through the township of Waipara.

On the next slide you see a few more sidings but not much else of note.

Here's the main part of the yard. We can now see a lot of tracks. At the south end the distinct group of tracks on the east side were for the locomotive depot. Then there is another group of parallel tracks on the west side and the gap in the middle was the island platform of the station. We can also see the turning triangle, and freight shed tracks, but unfortunately I have not marked any structure on this diagram. The cross track near the top of the diagram is misdrawn as it should actually show the footbridge.

Continuing to the northern end of Waipara we have the junction with what was the Waiau Branch and now is the Weka Pass Railway. There were several tracks alongside the first part of the branch which connected it into the Waipara yard. The present day junction is actually not as shown as the diagram is incorrectly drawn - the Weka Pass Railway line goes onto a siding before it joins the main line.

Today we are focusing on Waipara as it was in the mid 1980s. You will see some references to the Weka Pass Railway but that is not the primary objective of this post. Unless otherwise stated all photos are by myself.

The north end of Waipara seen in 1986 with a freight arriving from the north. The home signal is set at clear. At this time the station was still staffed by a traffic operator who attended for most trains but was not there all of the time. The branch line to the left is still as it was when the Waiau line was open with extra connecting trackage into the service sidings to the left.

A Colin Duthie photo at the north end of the yard shows the main line and loop and the original goods shed with loading bank to the right. In the distance is the Way and Works depot. The turning triangle is to the right with one leg visible behind the goods shed. This photo would probably be late 1970s.

Some of these photos which I scanned a very long time ago might get rescanned one day from the negatives. Anyway here we have the double slip that connected the triangle into the yard at the north end. The footbridge had been taken down by the time of this 1987 shot. The small white building on the right is the later goods shed.

Another small scan, this one taken 1985 is from the footbridge with a NZR freight coming through on the main. A couple of tracks over you can see some Weka Pass Railway rolling stock. In the distance, carriages are being turned on the triangle.

Taken the same day as the previous photo we can see the Weka Pass Railway turning their locomotives and carriages on the Waipara triangle.

The station footbridge seen in 1986. It was demolished soon after.

Looking across the apex of the triangle towards the station about 1987. The triangle was pulled up some time in the 1990s. The tracks ran out almost to the footpath at the side of the main road and there is still a narrow strip of the corridor left open today.

Late 1980s and you have the south end of the station platform. The tracks on the right side were removed early 1980s. At the platform is an excursion returning from Kaikoura.

Part of the way and works depot at the south end, here is the trolley shed.

Part of the works depot with a light track for material trolleys to be loaded.

Towards the south end and you can see the trolley shed in the distance.

I am considering rescanning some of the old photos to add to what can be seen here. In the meantime this is what is getting published today.