Rolleston is a junction station where the Midland Line to Greymouth branches off from the Main South Line that runs south from Lyttelton to Invercargill. The first station at Rolleston was part of the broad-gauge Great Southern Line, built by Canterbury Provincial Railways, and opened in 1866. It was situated within the triangle formed by the Main South Line, Midland Line and back leg facing south. As was a common design at line junctions, there was a platform and station building between the two main lines; the station notably facing sideways with its passenger frontage at right angles to the tracks, which was a feature of early junction stations. The date the station closed is not certain at this time, but a single reference to 1924 suggests that it was probably felt necessary, as at Springfield, to replace it when the Midland Line opened for through traffic in 1923. The station precinct also incorporated an engine shed, believed to be close to the Jones Road level crossing.
The second Rolleston station is believed to be the current station opposite Rolleston Drive in the township. The station building itself was constructed about 1925 and was burned down in 1969, being replaced by the current concrete block edifice. This building is no longer open to the public as no passenger trains stop there, but houses signalling equipment for the freight yard. The yard formerly had more tracks in it than now and incorporated a loading bank (still in place minus track), stockyard, goods shed, and in the past there was a water tower for steam locomotives and two sidings heading towards the road on an angle, one of which incorporated a wagon turntable. The station platform was formerly an island until the removal of the Down Main on the south side when both main lines were placed on the north side of the platform (about 1973), around which time the footbridge giving access from the side of the highway to the platform was also removed. In 1991 the double track main line section from Islington to Rolleston was singled. Currently, there are two main lines in the yard – the East Main and the West Main – and one siding still in place. There are plans to add further sidings when Hoskyns Road Crossing (opened to replace George Holmes Road in the mid 1990s) is closed in favour of an overbridge, but NZTA, which is currently consulting on the overbridge proposal, has suggested recently having both the bridge and crossing in use, which could constrain the operations in the yard if it goes ahead.
And so now we come to the question of future Rolleston Stations. There have been a number of proposals since the loss of Christchurch commuter trains in the 1970s, to reinstate them, with particular reference in this case to a service between Christchurch CBD and Rolleston Township. One possible option, naturally, is to reuse the 2nd station as above. However there are various challenges with this:
- Restoring the island platform to its original function would be difficult if Hoskyns Road Crossing were kept open because the number and width of tracks over the crossing could make it unsafe for motorists.
- An alternative proposal seen below of side platforms, with a second platform directly opposite the existing, would constrain the proposed expansion of the present freight sidings on the north side. This is particularly relevant as the expansion has been allowed for in current NZTA proposals for improving rail and road safety in Rolleston.
- Having an overbridge directly over the top of the current station limits the for commercial development directly around the station, which is becoming a prerequisite of new suburban stations in some parts of New Zealand.
- An alternative to keeping Hoskyns Road crossing open to act as an on-ramp to SH1, is to build a parallel on-ramp between the highway and the MSL. This would entail removing the current platform and perhaps the station building.
In any case, Rolleston has developed to such a length as a township in the last decade that one station may not be sufficient to serve the whole area, which extends some 3 km at the time of writing. it is therefore suggested that two stations to the north and south of the 2nd station (Rolleston 3 and Rolleston 4) may be more useful. Kiwirail has not planned for the use of the current station for the proposed reinstatement of suburban passenger services and has no objection to removing the current station. There is a current proposal by the Carter Group, who are the principal developer of the iPort commercial/industrial development at Rolleston, for a commuter rail station to be installed about 100 metres north of the present station, and to designate some land opposite that location for a bus exchange and park ‘n’ ride carpark if the suburban trains should be reinstated to Christchurch. However there are no present plans for a service to be created between the two urban centres.
So where might “Rolleston 3” and/or “Rolleston 4” be sited and roughly what would they look like? If there are two stations about 2 km apart serving Rolleston, then the following locations suggest themselves.
Measurement of these locations show they are actually slightly more than 3 km apart, which is a little far for suburban commuter expectations. A fifth, central station might therefore be desirable, somewhat near the current 2nd site, and perhaps without park’n’ride facilities due to lack of space.
It is now understood that the site suggested for “Rolleston 4” will be partly enclosed within an area designated in SDC Private Plan Change PC80 which seeks to develop an industrial subdivision. This being the case, if this should proceed, it may require a more suitable alternative location to be found, especially as there is the possibility additional sidings into commercial premises may be laid in the area.