The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 3 (July 2, 1928)
Popular Innovation — Night Expresses in South Island — The First Trains
Night Expresses in South Island
The First Trains
Not since the early days of the Dominion when the opening of a railway service was an event of great moment to the community (because of the fact that, at that period, railways were the only reliable and quick means of transport), has the introduction of a new train created so much interest as did the inauguration of the night express service between Christchurch and Invercargill. It is certainly many years since there has been unanimous expressions of approval from Auckland to Invercargill concerning a proposal to give greater facilities for travelling in the South Island.
So, with such favourable circumstances, it is little wonder that on the night of Sunday, June 10th, the first trains from Christchurch to Invercargill, and vice versa, were fully availed of. Another noteworthy fact was the large number of spectators (particularly at Invercargill), who visited the departure stations to witness the beginning of the new service.
The 123 passengers who left Christchurch experienced a train trip totally different from anything they had met with before in the South Island. So complete were the arrangements that there was no loophole left for complaints. Service was the outstanding feature of the journey, the comfort and convenience of the passengers being studied in every respect. This was especially evident in the matter of ticket inspections. The pleasure of travelling at night in the South Island on holiday relief trains has been somewhat marred in the past by the number of requests for “Tickets Please!” Those who went south on the initial trip of the recently inaugurated night express were therefore agreeably surprised to find that such requests were reduced to the lowest minimum. Indeed, the sleeping car passengers (who numbered twelve when the train left Christchurch) were not disturbed once in this connection throughout the journey. After an inspection of tickets on leaving Christchurch the sleeping car passengers were not again troubled until breakfast time on Monday morning—when they were at Dunedin. The other passengers were called on once only during the night to show their tickets—at Oamaru, where they alighted for refreshments.
The train left Christchurch at 10.30 p.m. It was comprised of an Ab engine, five day cars, a van, two sleepers, and two “Z” wagons. Driver T. Marshall and Fireman W. Coates were on the footplate, Guard P. J. Smith being in charge of the train. The departure arrangements were supervised by Mr. H. C. Guiness, Acting-District Traffic Manager, while Mr. W. T. Tregurtha, Outdoor Assistant Traffic Manager went as far as Oamaru as a passenger.
Owing to a mishap to the engine of the north bound train, the passing was not made at Pukeuri Junction, as arranged, but thirty miles further on—at Hampden, at which station the Christchurch train crew handed over to Driver H. Wills, Fireman J. Atkinson, and Guard T. Stewart. Mr. H. L. Gibson, Transport Officer at Dunedin, also joined the train there. During the stay at Oamaru, the Ab locomotive was replaced by a Wab for the run over the hills to Dunedin.
Despite the delay caused through the breakdown of the north-bound engine, Dunedin was reached only a few minutes behind schedule time. It was at that station that one of the prominent features of the service was put into operation—the detachment (which was done very quietly) of the Dunedin sleeper, which was shunted into a dock. Electric radiators were then placed in the car to maintain its warmth, and the passengers were left to rise when they wished.page 29
Out of the dozen passengers on the sleeper, only two had risen when the train continued its journey southwards.
The Invercargill passengers had breakfast at Dunedin, and then, with a total of 57 on board, the train left for Invercargill, the train crew being Driver J. Mee, Fireman W. Strathern, and Guard F. Barltrop, the two former of whom handed over at Milton to Driver W. Blackie and Fireman O. L. Cunningham, who completed the run to Invercargill.
The run to Invercargill was made in excellent time, the train, which was seven minutes late at Gore, pulling into Invercargill exactly as the Post Office chimes struck eleven—twelve and a half hours after leaving Christchurch.
On the initial trip southwards, the sleepers were under the care of Attendants T. C. Taylor, R. J. Richards and E. Cordell, of whom the passengers were unanimous in their praise. They certainly did their best to popularise the train with the travelling public.
On the following Tuesday night the return trip to Christchurch was made, punctuality and concern for the comfort of the passengers being again the outstanding feature.
The first trip south showed that, apart from the through service which the express provides, it also fills other needs. The service enables Ashburton people to visit Christchurch for the theatre and return the same night. Moreover, it is possible for Ashburton people to spend a week-end in the city without losing time from their occupations. South of Dunedin also it was noticed that many used the train for making trips between intermediate stations.
With the object of having the early railway history of Southland adequately featured in Invercargill's recent May Fair Demonstrations, the local workshops staff entered whole-heartedly into the scheme of restoring one of the early types of trains which ran in Southland. The exhibit (illustrated above) created great interest. It shows a Class A engine (the engine was manned by two veteran drivers), an old L Class wagon and a Class D compartment carriage.
Another traveller (a passenger on the train), who was spoken to in Invercargill, was enthusiastic about the service. He had good reason to be for it had enabled him to accept an expensive order which he would otherwise have had to decline. He was given the order (on a Tuesday morning) on condition that the goods could be landed in Invercargill the following Monday. By sending the order by the Tuesday night's train to his headquarters in Auckland, it was possible for his firm to send the goods south by express post the same day. They would therefore arrive in Invercargill an hour before noon on Monday.
Other instances of how the service was aiding commercial relationships between north and south were given by almost every business man spoken to.
Probably few of the passengers on the first trains north and south realised the vast amount of work that had to be done in order to prepare the service. And it was all done in little under a fortnight. Four sleepers were built at Addington, four ordinary cars being adapted for the purpose. These cars were stripped internally, and the interiors were entirely rebuilt. The cars were divided into two compartments, page 30 one with eight berths for ladies, and the other with twelve berths for men. The cars had new lavatories installed, hot water system fitted, and the interiors redecorated. In the same fortnight, also, a great deal of work had to be done in preparing a timetable and in adjusting other timetables to allow the necessary connections to be made. This work was carried out by Mr. H. Green, Traffic Assistant to the Divisional Superintendent at Christchurch.
The smooth working of the service is due in no small measure to the way in which the above preparations were made. It was noticeable to passengers on the first run of the night expresses, how railwaymen, of all grades, made a special effort to ensure that the service would meet the requirements of travellers, and it did not take a great deal of effort on the part of the latter to realise the whole-hearted co-operation which had made the service possible in so short a time.
“The conditions of conquest are easy; we have but to toil awhile, endure awhile, believe always, and never turn back.”—R. L. Stevenson.
Railway Staff at Balclutha, 1894.
Front row (left to right): Messrs. Lyons (surfaceman), and Rush. Second Row: Messrs. Mickle (fireman), Bray (cadet), Day (S.M.) Megget (cadet), and Stevenson (ganger). Back row: Messrs. Jennings (porter), Bushell (guard), Milroy (driver), Murphy (fireman), Dennison (train-examiner), Townsend (porter), Wingham (driver), and Martin (foreman).
Night Express Service.
Punctually at 11 a.m. yesterday the night express from Christchurch pulled up at the Invercargill station and from it there alighted some 40 passengers well content with their first trip on a night express in the South Island (says the “Southland Times”).
Several local business men were on the train and to the inquiries of a “Times” reporter they expressed complete satisfaction with the service. All spoke in great praise of the courtesy and consideration shown by the attendants. “I think the Department must have picked out the best men for the job. At any rate they could not be improved upon,” was one passenger's comment.
One of those who made use of the luxurious sleeping car on the journey said that he experienced no difficulty in having a good night's rest. The only place he could remember the train stopping at during the night was Oamaru. The rest of the time he was sound asleep. He also was loud in his praise of the attention he had received from the attendant in charge of the sleeping berth.
“As for the driver and fireman, they did wonders to get us here on time despite the interruption,” was his concluding remark.page 31