NZRM Volumes: Volume 6 (Wellington-Palmerston North-Wairarapa Railways)

Volume 6 of New Zealand Rail Maps covers the following sections of line:

  • NIMT from Wellington to Taonui
  • Palmerston North Gisborne Line from Palmerston North to Whakarongo
  • Wairarapa Line from Wellington to just short of Woodville. (Woodville as a station on the PNGL is included in Volume 5)
  • All of the branches and bypassed sections of the lines mentioned above.

Wairarapa Line Main Line Corridor

Both the North Island Main Trunk and the Wairarapa Line start at the platforms at Wellington Railway Station. This is an interesting historical ambiguity from 1937 in that the lines before that started at the individual stations that were constructed for each line, and also in the fact that the tracks in Wellington Station are not actually part of either line, but are shared between both corridors. The history of railways in the Wellington area in particular is very complex as it encompasses multiple routes that have been improved and changed many times. The Wairarapa Line which goes from Wellington to Woodville via the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa region, was started first with the section from Wellington to Lower Hutt completed in 1874. Progress was reasonably rapid as far as Masterton which was opened in 1880 and included the Greytown Branch as well as the Rimutaka Incline. Thereafter work slowed down quite a lot; the 20 km from Masterton to Mauriceville took until 1886 to complete, whilst the remaining 51 km to Woodville was not finished until 1897. There have been many deviations and improvements on the Wairarapa Line, much of it coinciding with duplication and electrification works. The Hutt Valley Branch was started in the 1920s and eventually was completed to Manor Park in 1954 becoming the main line and enabling the original route from Petone via Melling to be cut back to the latter station as the Melling Branch for suburban passenger trains only. Another much smaller deviation was opened between Haywards and Silverstream in 1955 to bypass an old bridge and some sharp curves, and also opened that same year was the big Rimutaka Deviation which replaced the tortuous Rimutaka Incline with a 8 km tunnel under the ranges. Currently the corridor from Wellington to Upper Hutt is all double track; most of this was constructed prior to 1956 except for the last 3 km from Trentham to Upper Hutt which was duplicated in the late 2010s. Suburban electric trains run from Wellington to Upper Hutt throughout the day, whilst a limited mainly peak-hour service operates from Wellington to Masterton. As of 2023 new trains are planned for the Wairarapa Line along with a programme of improvements which are necessary to improve the overall service standards and allow for higher service frequency in future. A proposal has been floated to reopen the original western route up the Hutt Valley between Melling and Manor Park to help increase the capacity of the line as well as providing commuter service to the increasing population of Belmont.

The North Island Main Trunk between Wellington and Waikanae was started by the government in 1879 from the Wellington end but a change of government forced construction to cease the following year. A private company, the Wellington and Manawatu Railway, was then formed to take over the work and began construction from both ends, meeting at Otaihanga, just south of Waikanae, in 1886, when the line was officially declared open. In 1908, the WMR was nationalised by the government of the day and incorporated with the rest of the NIMT which had been previously constructed between Auckland and Longburn, the junction between the private and public lines. The major Tawa Flat deviation was started in Wellington in the mid 1920s to bypass the original steeply graded and curved route through Johnsonville. Due to the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s it took a decade or more before the deviation was completed, along with the complete replacement of both passenger stations in Wellington Central with the current multi-story building and nine platforms. The section of the original route between Wellington and Johnsonville then became the Johnsonville Branch and is currently used entirely for commuter trains (in earlier years some freight also operated on part of the line). A smaller realignment was opened between Porirua and Plimmerton in 1961 when a double track causeway replaced the originally curved single track route around the bays in the area. The NIMT is double track all the way from Wellington to Waikanae except for the 3 km single track section on the Paekakariri Hill through the original tunnels, which is increasingly becoming a bottleneck for the suburban train services and freight trains and will need to be bypassed eventually. Click here to download maps of the Wairarapa Line main line corridor

Hutt Park Railway

The Hutt Park Railway was an early private railway in the Hutt Valley that was opened in 1885 and in use for about twenty years. The rail line along the Petone foreshore was about 3 km in length and was constructed to carry passengers to the Hutt Park racecourse in Moera. The railway actually terminated on the west bank of the Hutt River opposite the racecourse and passengers crossed a footbridge to get to the races, thus avoiding the need for a bridge to be built for the railway line. The Wellington Racing Club relocated to Trentham further to the north 1906 after which the railway was no longer needed, although the Hutt Park course itself was subsequently used by other clubs until it finally closed almost a century later. The railway then fell into disuse and in 1915, it was truncated to become an industrial siding serving the Gear Meatworks at Petone. Following the closure of the works in 1982 this last section of track was finally removed. Click here to download maps of the Hutt Park Railway.

Gracefield Branch

The Gracefield Branch is an industrial line that was laid from Woburn, on the Hutt Valley line, to Gracefield, an industrial subdivision 2.5 km to the south. Among other functions it connects the Hutt Railway Workshops to the national network and was required once the Workshops were relocated to Gracefield from Petone. The building of the line was carried out as part of the Hutt Valley development of the mid 1920s that saw the Hutt Valley Branch opened to Waterloo in 1927. The first section of the branch opened to Hutt Park, the location of the workshops, in 1929. In 1943 the extension to Gracefield was completed. The terminus had numerous sidings extended off it reaching for a further kilometre right to the sea shore in Port Road, directly opposite the current marina, and also to the west along both sides of Barnes Street. The Seaview section sits on reclamation which can be seen developing in the maps themselves through the historical aerial footage included from the 1930s, which include the temporary railway line constructed to move fill into the reclamation area. The Gracefield yard eventually became the main freight handling facility in Lower Hutt causing other railfreight terminals in the area to close. A decline in the use of the industrial sidings and railfreight in general, an inevitability once competition protection was removed from the railways in 1981, saw the rundown of the commercial activities on the branch to the point where the Gracefield yard finally closed in 2002. The line was then closed beyond the Workshops and now only acts as a siding to them. The line was partly electrified to allow EMUs and electric locomotives to operate passenger trains to Hutt Park Station. These were mainly race specials to the Hutt Park course (replacing the use of the Hutt Park Railway for that purpose) and workers’ trains for the Workshops. All these services ceased by 1982, resulting in the de-electrification of the Branch in 1990. The only trains now are shunts operated as needed to the Workshops to move rolling stock in or out as needed according to the Workshops’ programmes. Click here to download maps of the Gracefield Branch.

Silver Stream Section

Silver Stream Section is a NZRM project name that refers to the original route of the Wairarapa Line main line corridor at Silver Stream (Silverstream). The original name of the railway station and locality was two words from the time that it was first opened in 1875, however it appears that the present form of the name (concatenated into a single word) was adopted about 1883. The original name lives on in the Silver Stream Railway heritage line which is located in this section. The total length of the “Silver Stream Section” is a little under two miles (about 3 km) starting from the old Haywards station at the north end of what is now Manor Park Station and paralleling the current double track line in part on both sides, a large part of which entailed running where SH2 now is, before it reached Haywards Junction , which as far as can be ascertained was a temporary connection between the old and new lines during the deviation project. The next feature encountered was the points for the Silverstream Ballast Pit siding, the siding running off to the left. The ballast siding was opened and closed several times; it seems to have been closed in 1909 and then re-opened in 1933 to supply fill for the new Wellington rail yards as part of the Tawa Flat Deviation project. As the line turns through almost 90 degrees to line up onto the bridge the first Silverstream Bridge station site is passed. This was on the north bank of the Hutt River and was used for early 20th century passenger trains from 1908 to 1917. It was re-opened in 1927 for picnic trains and closed again in 1929. The bridge itself was a wooden structure and there were two separate bridges there at different times – the original from the 1870s being replaced at some stage.

After crossing the bridge the line needs to take another 90 degree turn to put it back to its original north-eastern alignment. Partway through this curve the line reaches the site of the second Silverstream Bridge station, which was opened in 1942 to bring in construction materials for the Silverstream Hospital built during World War II. It was a passenger halt and also had a siding track for wagons to be unloaded. The station seems to have been closed to the public about 1952 although it is possible the building and track remained for some time after this. 50 metres further on is the site of McKirdy Station on the Silver Stream Railway. The main line of the SSR occupies the formation from that point until it reaches another 90 degree bend at which point the old main line deviated from the SSR route to turn more tightly before crossing a bridge (now filled in) and passing just south of the workshop buildings then curving back eastward and cutting through the back of the easternmost rolling stock shed, then continuing through what is now the site of a retirement village. The original Silverstream station and yard were located in this area with the station platform directly straddling Field Street. In this area are also two temporary connections; the first was used by the SSR to bring its rolling stock into the site in 1984, and the second was a service siding used to connect the SSS to the present line. The actual junction between old and new routes was made to the Up Main line at about 27.1 km, or about 250 metres north-east of the current Silverstream Railway Station. Whitemans Road used to cross over the railway on a level crossing that was closed about 1970 when Field Street was taken under the railway lines by means of two bridges that were built under the tracks before the road was cut beneath them. The deviation was opened in 1954 but the old section of line was still connected by the service siding at the north end and was used to store old rolling stock for several years until the track was finally lifted and the land reverted. The Silver Stream Railway became interested in developing the site in the 1970s and began to lay track in 1977, then relocated their collection of rolling stock in various stages, culminating in a big move bringing in all the larger items by rail in 1984 via a temporary connection. It was officially opened in 1986. Click here to download maps of the Silver Stream Section.

Rimutaka Incline Section

The Rimutaka Incline Section is a NZRM project name that refers to the original route taken by the Wairarapa Line via the Rimutaka Incline when the line first opened to Featherston in 1880. The Incline was one of only a handful of lines worldwide that were constructed to make use of the Fell centre-rail system invented by British railway engineer John Barraclough Fell in the mid 19th century. This in turn was one of a number of systems designed to increase the haulage capacity of steeply graded mountain railways, as during that era, steam locomotives were much less suited to working over such lines than is the case in the present day. The Rimutaka Incline is graded at about 1:15, whereas the steepest adhesion worked line in NZ was graded about 1 in 25 (Roa Incline). The Fell system was uncommon because of competition from rack-type systems which have become the most common means of supplementary haulage on railways worldwide, so the Rimutaka Incline whilst one of three Fell fitted lines in NZ was fairly unique worldwide, although the use of the centre rail system only for retardation purposes as seen in NZ’s two other sections (Rewanui and Roa Inclines on the South Island West Coast) was somewhat more common. Altogether five distinct sections worldwide are known to have been constructed using the Fell system for haulage, the Rimutaka Incline at the time it closed was the last section still used by locomotives, and the Fell centre rail is still installed and used for braking on the Isle of Man’s Snaefell Mountain Railway.

The Rimutaka Incline was operated by specially equipped Fell locomotives that had a second steam engine driving the centre rail wheels independently of the main engine in the locomotive that operated the normal wheels. Centre rail brakes were also fitted to the locomotives and to the special brake vans that were used to slow the descending trains in the reverse direction. The line ran downhill from Summit station (34 miles) , at the highest point on the line, to Cross Creek (37 miles) on the western side, being about 4.8 km in length. The Rimutaka Incline Section refers not just to the Incline itself but the entire route from Upper Hutt to Featherston that was bypassed when the Remutaka Tunnel opened in 1955. On the current route, the deviation has a total length of 22 km running between the 33 km and 55 km pegs. The length of the Rimutaka Incline Section was nine miles (14.5 km) longer than this, making it almost double the original length and with much steeper gradients and curvatures limiting its overall speed. Hence, the deviation had a massive impact on train running speeds, haulage capacities and operational expenses.

The Rimutaka Deviation is the second longest railway deviation in New Zealand being about 1 km shorter than the Kaimai Deviation of the 1970s. The old route is partly preserved through two separate rail trails at Tunnel Gully and Remutaka Forest Park and the world’s last remaining Fell steam locomotive, H 199, is on display in Featherston along with a Fell brake van. The sole preserved example of the Wairarapa class railcars, RM 5, is at Pahiatua where its restoration is almost completed. The Rimutaka Incline Railway Heritage Trust was formed in 2003 to propose restoring the railway over the Rimutaka Incline. These proposals have sharply divided the rail heritage community in the Wellington area. An application in 2012 for resource consent to reinstate the incline met with significant opposition, much of it political in nature, and was dropped after its rejection by Wellington Regional Council. Since that time, RIRHT has mainly focused on rolling stock acquisition and restoration and development of its Maymorn base, with little further mention of the Remutaka railway heritage although retaining its existing name. Click here to download maps of the Rimutaka Incline Section.

Featherston Camp Siding

This line was built from Featherston to the new military camp that was opened during World War 1. Some references cite that it was intended to be the start of a branch line from Featherston to Martinborough. Wartime conditions were likely a part of the reason the latter option was never implemented and post-war the momentum for any branch line seems to have been lost. The siding was finally lifted in 1927 when the camp was no longer needed. The camp site was partly reused during the Second World War but without the benefit of the siding. It was mostly featureless but did include three small bridges. It came off the north end of the loop at Featherston Station and had its own duplicate span at Bridge 48 before curving around towards the camp. Click here to download maps of the Featherston Camp Siding.

Greytown Branch

The Greytown Branch was a short line about 5 km in length from Woodside to Greytown as compensation for the chosen route for the Wairapapa Line bypassing Greytown. It ran in almost a straight line directly from the junction to the terminus with no intermediate stations. It was opened in 1880 and for a short time, Greytown was effectively the railhead of the entire Wairarapa Line rather than just the branch section. Initial traffic was satisfactory for goods trains but tailed off after a short time and for many years was not more than 2000 tons annually. Increasing competition from road transport after the First World War saw demand taper off, although as many as six daily return services were offered for the convenience of the small number of passengers carried until the end of the Second World War when the frequency was slightly cut; only one year before closure this was slashed to just two returns daily. The line was notable for having only one assigned staff member from 1931 onwards; the locomotive was adapted for operation by a single person, who also doubled as guard and stationmaster. It finally closed in 1953 and was quickly lifted. The goods shed and loading bank are still in place in the town; the station building was moved to Woodside where it was converted into a goods shed for that station. Part of the original formation has been adapted to a footpath / cycleway for Greytown passengers on the the Wairarapa commuter trains. The Wairarapa Railway Restoration Society had a proposal to relocate the goods shed to its base at Carterton; this appears to have been shelved which is fortunate as the building forms a natural focus for a railway precinct at Greytown and this could possibly be enhanced further in future years if the former station building were to be relocated from Woodside. The Greytown shed was restored in 2015 with funding from Rail Heritage Trust, Kiwirail and other sponsors. Click here to download maps of the Greytown Branch.