NZRM Volumes: Volume 7 (Midland Line / West Coast)

NZRM Volume 7 covers all railways on the West Coast of the South Island and the Midland Line between the West Coast and Canterbury. There is approximately 500 km of mainline trackage within this volume. As at July 2023 only a part of Volume 7 has been fully mapped and this article will be updated as further resources come to hand.

Volume 7 Global Resources

Volume 7 GPX files are available here. You can download all GPX locations in one file, or download separate files for Mileposts and Stations.

Midland Line

The 210 km Midland Line was built as a series of different sections at various times between 1876 and 1923. The Government of the day built the first seven miles (11 km) on the western side, from Greymouth to Brunner (then called Brunnerton) which was completed in 1876, and thirty miles (48 km) on the eastern side from Rolleston to Springfield (the line then being called the Malvern Branch after the locality of Malvern, now known as Sheffield), completed in 1880. The bulk of the railway construction, from Springfield to Brunner (151 km) was entrusted to the Midland Railway Co, a private enterprise established initially as the Chrystall Syndicate around 1883, by which time it had been confirmed that the railway would cross the main divide via Arthurs Pass. The MRC Co was also expected to build most of the Stillwater Westport Line and the southernmost part of the Nelson Section. The main bulk of the work entered into by the MRC Co amounted to 120 km of completed trackage constructed between 1886 and 1895 and on the Midland route, this comprised to the Brunner to Stillwater and Stillwater to Jackson sections on the western side, a total of about 51 km of mainline, and on the Canterbury side, the line from Springfield to Otarama, about 7 km. At the expiry of the MRC contracts in 1895 the work was taken over by the Government but due to legal issues most of the completed works were not handed over to the Railways Department until 1900. From that point on the work was pushed ahead by the PWD and the western section reached Otira in 1900 and progressed in stages on the eastern side to reach Staircase in 1904, Broken River in 1906, Cass in 1910 and Arthurs Pass in 1914. There was then a further delay until the opening of the Otira Tunnel in 1923 and with the through line finally completed, new stations were built at Otira, Arthurs Pass, Springfield (see below) and Rolleston to handle the increased traffic volume, whilst many smaller stations received increases in facilities. The Midland Line in the present era carries just two passenger trains each day and export coal trains heading to the Port of Lyttelton and has long been considered under future threat of closure due to the high maintenance costs and low freight volume exacerbated by small population along the route and conservation restrictions on the West Coast. Click here to download the maps of the Midland Line main line corridor (currently available from Rolleston to Otira).

Otira Railway Station

Due to the centenary of the opening of the Otira Tunnel a separate collection of maps just of Otira has been created for download. It includes high resolution 90 megapixel aerials of the Otira township. Click here to download the maps of Otira Station.

Springfield Railway Station (1880)

The Midland Line at Springfield originally was constructed with a route alongside the main road of the township and directly connecting to a short spur line running to the Springfield Coal Mine. In the 1910s it was identified that with the predicted opening of the Otira Tunnel making the Midland Line a through route to the West Coast, increased accommodation would be needed at most of the stations along the route. It was determined there was insufficient space at the Springfield station site and work began on a new location about 200 metres directly north of the 1880 station. This would become the nucleus of all railway operations in Springfield and required a deviation about 3 km long to access it. The new station and associated facilities were brought into use on 26 February 1923 and the old line was taken up. Remnants of the old route are now few in number but the sites of a couple of small bridges can still be found on the outskirts of Springfield, as well as the substantial earthworks on the coal mine siding. Part of the old corridor appears to have been reused in the Kowai Bridge Service Siding of 1951-1962 which was installed when the Big Kowai Viaduct had to be temporarily repaired following a washout of its western abutment in 1951, and a cycleway next to the main road at Springfield uses part of the old route. Click here to download the maps of the old Springfield Railway Station and main line alignment.

Midland Line Switchback Section

When the Midland Railway Company undertook to build the Midland Line between Springfield and Brunner, they had to come up with a way of getting across the Main Divide between Canterbury and Westland; the Southern Alps (Kaa Tiritiri O Te Moana) formed a formidable natural barrier between the two provinces. There was found to be a saddle through the range at this point, now known as Arthurs Pass. The Midland Railway Co favoured the idea of a centre rail incline, worked by either the Fell or Abt systems, similar to the Rimutaka Incline in the Wairarapa region of the North Island, mainly at grades of 1 in 15. In addition to terminals at Bealey (Arthurs Pass) and Goat Creek (Otira), stations at Punch Bowl, Summit, Kopeki, Flat Top, Switchback, Otira Gorge and a passing siding at Holts Creek were proposed. The large number of stations in a short section would have been needed due to the high volume of small trains needed to move tonnage over the incline. Summit was located at the top of the grade and was by definition used as the zero peg for the mileages of the sections on each side. Thus, on the drawings and therefore the maps, the distances are shown on each side from Summit (Summit-Bealey and Summit-Otira). Earlier versions of the drawings show a switchback in the Rolleston River valley and the line coming down the right bank of the Rolleston River to Dyers Flat whereupon it would have crossed over near the current highway bridge. After the switchback was replaced by a horseshoe curve with tunnel, the crossing of the Rolleston River was made near “Switchback” and it is this version of the route that is depicted in the maps. Click here to download the maps of the Midland Line Switchback Section.