New Zealand Rail Maps Project Development Report – December 2021

In the past month the key focus of the project has switched to updating Volumes 5 and 6 for the Volumes site, which will be revamped and launched under a new format on 1 January 2022. Volume 6 has received the higher priority because of the recent opening of the double track extension in the upper Hutt valley, from Trentham to Upper Hutt. This completes a project that was started in the 1940s and shelved in the 1950s and will enable an increased frequency of suburban passenger trains to Upper Hutt as well as allowing for future freight capacity increases and perhaps extended interurban passenger services to the Wairarapa. It was earlier suggested that the double track section could be eventually extended to Maymorn, but as this requires enlarging the No.1 tunnel between Upper Hutt and Maymorn, it is not likely to proceed for many years into the future.

As well as updating the maps through this section, the opportunity has been taken with the increased availability of good quality aerial photos from the early 1950s, to cover all of the Hutt Valley at the time when the Hutt Valley Branch (the eastern side) was still being built and when the main line was on the western side, as well as prior to a number of other deviations and realignments and the wholesale double tracking north of Petone. This includes the Remutaka Deviation, with aerial photography available from 1949 and 1951 showing the early development of this project at Maymorn, and also more detail of the original route up to that point.

The update to Volume 5 will take in some extra detail in a couple of rural stations, however it is hoped also to be able to incorporate newly available aerial photography from the late 1930s/early 1940s showing actual construction of the Wairoa to Gisborne section of the Palmerston North Gisborne Line. This area is of particular historical interest as it has become increasingly clear that the line will never reopen. Recent heavy storms in the Gisborne area caused a massive slip in the Wharerata Hills, estimated to have a volume between 5-8 million cubic metres, which undermined the railway embankment in a coastal area, down into the sea, further increasing the major damage that has been seen in this corridor over the past decade.

Neither of these volume updates is expected to be fully complete by the end of this year but the sections that are will be added into the new Volumes site along with existing sections of the previous release, which for both these volumes was produced about 18 months ago. The existing parts will then be progressively updated on the site. Once both Volumes 5 and 6 have been fully updated and added to the site, the focus can shift back to completion of Volume 2, the NIMT. The Webmaps site content will be updated as each of these volumes has content added, and things are moving closer to a time when the webmaps can include comprehensive aerial photography coverage of the corridors of each volume, the main impediment to this being a need to change the design of the webmaps site itself.

On a more administrative side, with additional support the project was able to increase its resourcing during the year with an additional, faster computer with more storage capacity added. The web site hosting was recently renewed for a further 12 months, and internet connectivity was substantially improved allowing for faster updating of website content. The project also moved to having a dedicated Facebook group to promote development. During 2021 no progress was made to set up a legal entity for fundraising, but this will continue to be advocated for in future

So next month it is expected to report on the new Volumes site and progress made on it, for the start of a new year, 2022. Until then, merry Christmas and a happy New Year.