Midland Line [2C]: Rolleston-Arthurs Pass 3: Springfield 1

Today we’re having a closer look at Springfield. This is the part of the Midland Line where the route changes dramatically from leaving the Canterbury Plains and entering the mountainous section of the route, starting with the Waimakariri Gorge. The railway to Springfield first opened in 1880 and although the route appears relatively flat, in the 48 km from Rolleston to Springfield, the line has ascended more than 330 metres with a continuous uphill grade. Most of this is around 1 in 150 to 1 in 200, but the grade does increase notably just east of Springfield wih the last two km steepening to 1 in 83 and then 1 in 73.
In these maps we are actually going to take a look at the line all the way from Springfield to Pattersons Creek Viaduct, which is a distance of 9 km all up. Historically, this is quite interesting, as it is the only part of the Midland Line in Canterbury that was actually completed by the Midland Railway Company, the private railway that was supposed to construct the entire route.  We have the benefit of aerial photography of this section dating back to 1943 to show some of its past history.
The overview of Springfield. One of the enduring questions is whether the main line from 1880 originally took a different route parallel to the highway. All we can really say about this is that by the time the Midland Line was fully opened in 1923, the route of the railway was the one it follows today. The S&I diagram for Springfield in that year shows a very similar yard to what it is now although these days the KRL part of it has fewer tracks and facilities than what you’ll see in these maps. The other points of interest are a couple of sidings or private lines to purported industrial sites. The main one of these towards the upper centre is thought to be a line to a coal mine that closed around 1940. Another avenue for future research. Another interesting thing is that in 1923 there was a turntable at the engine depot, instead of the triangle that was there in later years; more detail of this below.
Here’s an overview of the railway station at Springfield. It shows at the east end, the engine depot, then working our way west, we have the main goods yard and sidings, passenger station and platform, goods shed, way and works depot, and the stockyard at the far end. The Springfield township did not of itself generate large freight volumes; the sidings were more in use for work trains needed for the high-maintenance section from here to Arthurs Pass, and for splitting and combining freight trains due to the changing terrain and its impact on engine loads.  Up the west end you can see where most of the railway staff housing was. Few of these remain today.

So let’s dig into the railway station in depth. We’ll start with the engine depot area. Springfield used to be a locomotive depot, firstly with steam and later with diesel engines. In the steam days, there would be a change in the type of locomotive to bigger engines specialised for the mountainous section with its steep grades taking place at Springfield. This meant there were engines based here, in particular six KB class 4-8-4 locomotives, among the biggest on the system, plus all the facilities needed for their daily operation. The KBs reigned supreme on this section of the Midland Line through to Arthurs Pass from the mid 1930s until the late 1960s when diesels began to take over. There is one KB being restored by Mainline Steam in Christchurch. This view is from 1965, towards the end of the steam era.

Taking a closer look at things on the ground in 1965. We have the two road engine shed to the left, and to the right are the coaling facilities with various wagons. The KBs used a lot of coal, which was brought in by rail. There was originally a water vat within this area, and there was easy access to the turning triangle to the right, or the turntable of earlier years.
We are just taking a closer look here at that turntable site and you can see, sure enough, the edges of the pit where it has been filled in. Who knows if any trace of it could be found today.
Let’s carry on into the main part of the yard then. There was another water vat on the main line at the east end of the yard, and more or less opposite that was a single road shed with rail going through it, but we don’t know what it was used for just yet. There are also a couple of houses there, probably railway housing. Then we come to the main yard and the passenger platform and station building, which had refreshment rooms in it for many years. Springfield was a traditional refreshment stop for trains heading west for decades, until the Tranz Alpine train began running with its own buffet car.  The goods shed can also be seen at the west end of this map. Both of the station and goods shed still stand today, but are not in use by Kiwirail.
Here’s the middle part of the yard. It’s mostly sidings. Up the west end we can see a long skinny building, which was only half finished in 1976 when this aerial photo was taken, but later on it was extended. As far as we know this is the way and works depot gang building used for track maintenance work. Just before it you have a short but wide bridge across a water race. Carrying on west you can see the small stockyards with its backshunt track in front of it, and also some of the main housing compound. Also visible on the ground are a lot of huts that were used by single railway employees.
At the west end of the yard was the main area of staff housing for the railways. We’ve zoomed out a little to show all of it. You can see 12 houses here, which seems to be about the most that ever existed here. Like a lot of country depots, Springfield was dramatically downsized in importance and facility during the 1980s when the engine depot and some other facilities were removed. The result was that these houses were not needed any longer. They all disappeared, and in fact this entire area today is just an empty piece of land. One of the houses we saw further east still exists today, but we don’t know if it is still used by KRL, more probably it is in private ownership.
So we’re heading west here and taking a look at the route as it existed in 1943. The convergence of the current route, and the presumed 1880 route, happens here. In actual geographical terms, the railway is climbing a little, but mostly it is lining up for the bridge crossing the Kowai River, which we’ll see shortly. This is actually in a dip, so that the line starts to descend partway around the second curve and then drops on a 1 in 66 grade, with a 1 in 50 climb after crossing the level structure.
One of the few actual certainties about the possibility of a deviation having taken place is that a part of what could be the original route was actually in use in 1952 as the Kowai Bridge Service Siding. It was in 1951 that the bridge was washed out in a big flood and it had to be temporarily propped for about another 12 years before it was replaced and demolished. Whether this siding dated from that specific project, or earlier, is something we haven’t nutted out as yet. We’d naturally be inclined to the idea that this connection to the original route, if it did exist, was here for a long time after the present route was built.
So here is the Big Kowai viaduct. The original built of steel around 1890 by Andersons Engineering served well until April 1951 when a big flood washed out one of its piers. NZR engineers swung into action and put together a temporary bridge which managed to last another 12 years before the present concrete structure was installed. The old bridge was then demolished, but the track can still be seen in place on one of the approaches. We don’t know exactly when the new viaduct was completed but maybe it was about 1962 or 1963. It took several more years to be demolished after that.
Once we get off the Big Kowai viaduct then it’s across the Kowai plains and we reach the first station after Springfield. But before that, the line crosses the Little Kowai viaduct, also built by Andersons (they were contracted for the whole section of the line we are looking at today). Most of this section is an uphill climb for westbound trains, except that the Little Kowai is also in a dip like its bigger brother. 
Kowai Bush is just a little country station and not much is visible in this fuzzy aerial photo. It wasn’t actually opened until 1906, and stayed there until 1973. It appears the culvert at the east end was wide enough to have a loop over it next to the main line and there was a further siding more into the middle. These days there is nothing there at all.
After the tributaries of the Kowai River, the next geographical obstacle is the valley of Joyces Stream at 55 km. The original route which we’ll break down in more detail in the next map involved sharper curves than are desirable today, and accordingly a small deviation was built, probably in the 1950s. The railway is a bit up and down in this area, but overall it climbs towards Otarama in this view.
A closer view of the deviation just south of Joyces Stream. Many such realignments to ease sharp curves were done all around the South Island in the post-WW2 era of NZR. 
Otarama was the second station after Springfield, and was never particularly prominent, being closed after a relative few years of use in 1925. Probably it only served a local farming run, and was closed when better roads became available. Apart from the widened corridor typical of station sites, there is not much visible in this 1943 aerial to indicate what might have existed there once. The railway crests a local summit at Otarama and begins a descent towards Paterson Stream.
Anderson Engineering’s contract ended just beyond Paterson Stream Viaduct, which is Bridge No. 16 towards the upper centre of this map. They didn’t actually get to build the viaduct itself, but they did drive Tunnel No.1 seen at lower left. This tunnel is under standard clearance for some modern rolling stock and there is often speculation about its eventual bypassing or daylighting. Once they got to Paterson Stream, Andersons put in the concrete foundations for the permanent bridge but only built a temporary wooden viaduct which later partly blew down in a gale, to bring spoil across to help form the eastern approach. This all came to a halt in 1895 when the Midland Railway Co defaulted on its contract and the line was seized by the Government; at that stage the track had been laid just past Otarama.
Last view for today is the working area at the west end of Paterson Stream Viaduct. In 1943 there was a lot of plant and equipment stationed here, with railway sidings, possibly because some repairs were needed to part of the viaduct. The structure itself is of steel and was built by Scott Bros Engineering after the PWD resumed construction in 1898. It still stands today in more or less its original form.
So that is the end of this post and looking at Springfield. We have more places of interest all the way up to Arthurs Pass that we’ll look at in depth, including nearly every station along that part of the route. Staircase is next.