Palmerston North Gisborne Line [4A]: Makaraka, Matawhero & Muriwai [1]: Makaraka Branch 1 – Intro, Park Racecourse Station & Corsons Seeds Siding

It’s time we started posting substantive content about the PNGL in separate titled articles, rather than in progress updates. And so this first article in a series about three peripheral stations close to Gisborne, has been grabbed out of a progress update and made into an article of its own. The remaining parts are close behind, as we have to get these maps completed in a few more days. This part has actually been updated with more information about the Makaraka Branch including additional aerial photo views, so the information in it is different from what was originally posted as part of a progress update.

Makaraka Branch is the first
section of the old Moutohora Branch, from Gisborne to Makaraka, which
was Gisborne’s first railway. Construction works began in 1900 at
Gisborne and the first section which went out to Ormond was opened in
1902. Makaraka was the junction of the Ngatapa Branch until it closed in
1931, the actual points being a little to the west of the station and
separated from it by a bridge. The Makaraka Branch is only a little over 3 km in length, whereas a number of publications have erroneously used 5 km. The reason for this is that the distance from Gisborne to Makaraka when the Moutohora Branch first opened was 3.29 decimal miles, which when converted  becomes around 5.29 km. But there was never any 5 km peg at or near Makaraka. The way this measurement is arrived at is by converting the mileage distance of Makaraka into a metric measurement, which we do not endorse in any way, because such a desktop conversion will inevitably be compared with actual kilometre pegs, which in many cases (this being a prime example) did not line up with a conversion from an imperial distance peg.

The reason this measurement is wrong is that the zero peg for the Gisborne Section (Moutohora Branch) was originally at Gisborne Station. But after the PNGL was built through from the south and opened in 1943, the section from Gisborne Station to Gisborne Junction which used to be part of the Gisborne Section, eventually became part of the main line, and the start of the Branch was put at Gisborne Junction, 1.15 miles from Gisborne. So at that point, Makaraka was only 2.14 miles from the junction. However, the nearest mile peg to Makaraka Station was still the 3 mile peg, because the mile pegs generally are not moved when the actual distance changes. In other words, the beginning of the Makaraka Branch (“zero peg”) would be actually at the 1.15 mile peg of the Gisborne Section. Another example of this offset point of origin is found in Wellington,
where the Wairarapa Line starts at its own 1.8 km measurement, which is
also 1.8 km on the NIMT that it branches off, and other examples exist
on the NZ national network, although some people claim that the lines in question are dually measured.

So the correct distances for the Makaraka Branch according to distance pegs would not have been displayed either in the position of those pegs or in any official records until metrication of NZ Railways in 1974. At that point, the start of the Branch would have truly been at a zero peg at Gisborne Junction, 0 km, with the station of Makaraka being around 3.2 km. We haven’t been able to sight any actual official record of where Makaraka Station is in metric measurements, so we have to use the imperial measurements. And that means the maps actually show the location of Makaraka Station as 3.29 miles, because we use the official distances from NZR Working Timetables or other official NZR records. If the Quail Atlas, which prints the erroneous 5 km measurement that has been reproduced in a number of other publications (among them IPL Press’s book”Steaming To The Sunrise”, David Leitch’s “Ghost Railways” book, and Wikipedia) had in fact used the metric working timetable to get their distance it would have been correctly shown as 3.x km instead. Also, the Quail Atlas shows that the main Gisborne station was the junction of the two lines, which is not actually correct.

Having gone through all this now, we have to change the distance shown for Gisborne Junction which is currently “388.52 km PNGL 0 km MB” to “388.52 km PNGL 0 km MB 1.15 M GS” so that we have made it reasonably clear that the start of the Moutohora Branch, nominally from 1943 to 1974, was at the 1.15 mile peg of the Gisborne Section. The official NZR records we have been able to access showed clearly enough that the section from Gisborne to Gisborne Junction was part of the PNGL main line during at least some of that time, but that the milepegs on the Moutohora Branch / Makaraka Branch, before 1974, when lines were remeasured for metrication, remained in their original locations and thus needed to have this reduction factored in when measuring the actual length of the branch or distance of stations from origins. This being one of many examples often referred to in this blog where a distance peg is not an accurate measurement of actual distance. From our perspective, distance pegs are only accurate when they are first put in. After that point, they are not so much distance markers as reference points off which other reference measurements or coordinates can be derived. Of course, with hand held GPS devices available nowadays, these distance marker derived coordinates are not as important as they once were. To make it clear, we have changed the map labels to display the reference to the Gisborne Section distance measurements at Gisborne Junction, Park Racecourse and Makaraka. Online copies of these maps will be updated in a day or two, and notified in the next Volume 5 Progress Update.

So now let us take a look at the Branch itself, its stations and sidings. The first question to be addressed is the official treatment of the Makaraka Branch in NZR documents. We have not undertaken any research from Archives New Zealand, so we cannot access the type of records that are held in their collection. What we generally know about the branch is from documents we have obtained from other sources, mainly working timetables, track diagrams, S&I diagrams and Kiwirail’s public GIS (the ALCAM level crossing viewer). The S&I diagram references are interesting. These diagrams are usually a useful official document for siding and yard layouts. The S&I diagram for Gisborne for 1965, the first one we can access at present, simply shows the Makaraka Branch as “Park Racecourse Siding”,  a switchlocked siding off the main line, rather than an actual branch line. This depiction of the Makaraka Branch was repeated in the 1988 S&I diagram (the labelling used then was “Racecourse Park Siding”) despite the “siding” going through to Makaraka at that time (for the  APMB store). The 1989 S&I diagram was practically identical, but the one issued in 1991 just shows the “siding” with no labelling, and it seems fair to assume the branch was probably almost closed at that time. It was not until 2003 that these diagrams actually labelled the “Old Makaraka Branch” as such, together with a note that the switchlock was fixed in the normal position, and as far as we know this is still the case with the most current diagram.
Extract of S&I 1102, Gisborne, 1965.

Extract of S&I 2861, 2006. The way the Makaraka Branch is drawn on the diagram shows it is not formally part of the Kiwirail network at this time.

The Makaraka Branch had just two stations, and these were where industrial sidings were subsequently provided. Park Racecourse was the first station
on the Makaraka Branch, at 2.28 miles from Gisborne, or 1.13 miles from
Gisborne Junction. The NZRLS 1947 North Island Working Timetable reprint
shows that at that time, Park Racecourse had very few facilities, but
it did possess one siding loop capable of holding 36 four-wheel wagons,
which is clearly visibly in use on the aerial photography we obtained
from Retrolens for the late 1940s and early 1950s when the station was
still open, being in use in each case. There were also stockyards. and a
passenger platform on the right side of the line, which must have been
between the two tracks. The aerial photos are not clear enough to
ascertain with complete certainty the exact locations of all facilities
at Park Racecourse to enable them to be marked accurately on a map; only
the stock yards are so indicated, whilst the siding is traced off the
1986 aerial photo as it was used by Corsons.

Racecourse was closed in 1959 at the same time as all other Moutohora
Branch stations when the branch closed, and whilst it and Makaraka were
transferred subsequently into the Makaraka Branch, there is no
suggestion that it was ever formally reopened.

Seeds appears to have been first established at its present site in the
1960s, sometime after the closure of Park Racecourse, and is directly
opposite the station site. The siding consists of a loop running about
300 metres from the Chalmers Road level crossing westward. It is highly
likely that this siding reuses the formation of the Park Racecourse
station loop siding mentioned above, including possibly the full length
of same. It is even possible that this loop is the original one from the
station, that was simply abandoned after closure, and reinstated into
use when Corsons opened, but this cannot be confirmed in any way at this
time. On Corsons premises there was formerly a loading shelter over the
track; this shelter and the attached building having been demolished
since the NZR corridor survey of 1986. We believe the track is still in
place although heavily overgrown like the Branch itself. Aerial photos
of wagons in the Corsons siding are rare, suggesting it received only
light traffic, and may have been out of use altogether from the early

Current diagram for Park Racecourse, showing Corsons Siding, the location of the stockyards, and the Corsons Seed premises. The siding appears to follow more or less the location of the Park Racecourse station siding.

1951 aerial map of Park Racecourse, then a station on the Moutohora Branch. Three wagons can be seen in the siding, along with the small stockyard. The station platform is not immediately obvious.

Park Racecourse aerial map for 1986, showing Corsons Seeds premises including loading shelter.

Aerial map of Park Racecourse for 2017, showing building changes at Corsons Seeds premises.