The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 4 (July 1, 1937)
The Wellington New Station — Official Opening by His Excellency Viscount Galway, P.C., G.C.M.G., D.S.O., O.B.E., Governor-General of New Zealand
The Wellington New Station
Official Opening by His Excellency Viscount Galway, P.C., G.C.M.G., D.S.O., O.B.E., Governor-General of New Zealand.
Work on the Wellington New Station began on 7th November, 1933. The Foundation Stone was laid by H.R.H. The Duke of Gloucester on 17th December, 1934, and the official opening took place on 19th June, 1937. The building is of seven storeys and covers an area of just over 1½ acres. The platforms are about 1⅔ acres in area, with a total platform frontage of about one mile. There are 250 rooms in the building, with a floor space of 185,000 square feet, and ¾ mile of passages. The total floor space of the building is nearly five acres. The building will accommodate a total of 675 railway employees, including the whole of the Railway Department's Head Office administrative staff.
“As Minister of Railways it is my good fortune to have the honour and privilege of welcoming here to-day his Excellency the Governor-General of this Dominion, Lord Galway, the Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Fraser, his Worship the Mayor, Mr. T. C. A. Hislop, and this vast assemblage of citizens and visitors on the occasion of the official opening of this paradise for railway-men and great national depot for the public, the Wellington new station,” said Mr. Sullivan. “To-day's ceremony will mark the final stage in the long-drawn and arduous period of preparation that has taken place since it was first decided that Wellington must have a new station. When I say that it is just thirty years since proposals were formulated for a new station fronting Bunny Street, it will be realised how long that period of waiting and preparation has been, and it will also be understood why, with a project of this kind in the air, little was done in the way of capital expenditure upon the Wellington stations that this building is to replace.
Largest in Dominion.
“The building itself is the largest building ever erected in the Dominion, and I venture to say no structure has ever received greater care in design to meet the present and future needs of the centre of New Zealand's railway system, or in its completion has given greater satisfaction to all concerned in it, that is the whole of the public of New Zealand, including the large staff of approximately 700 railway employees who will be accommodated here.
“Work on the building began on November 7th, 1933, its foundation stone was laid by his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester on December 17th, 1934, so it will be seen that the whole work has been accomplished in three and a half years. The building itself is seven storeys in height, and covers an area of over one and a half acres. The platforms have an area of almost two acres, and supply a total frontage of one mile. The building has 250 rooms, a floor space of 185,000 square feet, and three-quarters of a mile of passages. The total floor area of the building amounts to nearly five acres.
“The history of Wellington stations goes back to 1874, when the first station was opened on a site close to Davis Street. This was called Pipitea station. In 1880 a new station known as Wellington station was opened on the site of the Railway Head Office buildings in Featherston Street—buildings which are now being vacated by the Head Office staff for the more convenient and commodious offices provided in this new building.
“Some idea of comparison between the Wellington station of 1880 and the present 1937 station may be gauged from the fact that the former station building was only 150 ft. in length and the platform was only 120 ft. long. The contract price for that building was £2,294—the contract price for the present structure was £339,137.
“The next change in Wellington's stations took place when the Pipitea station was closed in September, 1884, and Lambton Station was opened for passengers in 1885.
“The Manawatu Railway Company's line had been commenced in 1882, and its first station (intended to be a temporary one) was opened at Thorndon in 1886. Owing to inability to reach an agreement, the original intention of the company to bring its trains to the Wellington station was abandoned, with the result that for the last fifty years Wellington has suffered the inconvenience of two stations instead of one central depot for the transaction of its railway business.
The Two-Station System.
“Throughout the years since then the increasing traffic has intensified the disadvantages of the two-station system, and the 1907 proposal for a new station fronting Bunny Street was one which envisaged a central passenger station. The following year the Wellington Harbour Board outlined a scheme for new wharves and this included railway access for which extensive reclamation would be necessary to meet both railway and harbour requirements.
“The next stage was reached when a contract was let for the Thorndon sea-wall, and on completion of this work silt was dredged from the harbour into the area behind the wall where there was a depth of thirty feet of water. It was not until 1930 that the completed reclamation was sufficiently consolidated to permit of building construction, but in that year a goods shed of steel and concrete construction, with a length of 500 ft., was built and brought into use in 1931.
“The plans for the present building were first prepared in 1929 by Messrs. Gray, Young, Morton, and Young, architects, the plans including not only station accommodation, but also offices for the headquarters and district staffs of the railways, but the scheme was held in suspense for four years owing to the then existing financial stringency.page 11
“Since the time that the contractors, the Fletcher Construction Company, Limited, commenced work upon the building in November, 1933, there has been steady progress with the work, which is beyond question an outstanding achievement, reflecting the highest credit on all connected with it.
Electrification to Come.
“Although the full service of trains will commence to use the new station to-morrow, the changes which the new building makes possible are not yet complete, for there is the electrification of the Manawatu line to Paekakariki and the Johnsonville line still to be carried through, and I look forward to a considerable increase in the service of rail-cars operating to and from this new station, so that in the not distant future we will have, in addition to steam trains, two types of electric traction, and two types of rail-cars in operation, plus the road services, all radiating from Wellington's new station.
“If ever the term ‘a home away from home’ could be truthfully applied, it could in all sincerity and honesty be used in relation to Wellington's new station, for what do we find?
“Here on the ground floor spacious and comfortable waiting-rooms for men and women, a hairdressing saloon with shower and plunge baths; a kitchen with dining-room and buffet, all of which are equipped with every modern convenience. Then on the second floor, immediately above the women's waiting-room on the ground floor, is a spacious, well-equipped, and comfortable rest room (with bath-rooms), where waiting women passengers may rest in ease and comfort.
“And then on the fifth floor mothers will find the most up-to-date and best-equipped nursery in New Zealand, where a fully-qualified Plunket nurse, assisted by a thoroughly experienced kindergarten teacher, will relieve them of the responsibility of looking after their children while they rest or go shopping.
“The time at my disposal does not permit me to describe these facilities more fully, but you will see them for yourselves this morning, I hope, and realise how inadequate any description of my own must be in view of what your own observations will reveal.
“The railway recovery in recent years in every feature of transport activity has been most marked, indicating that whatever the railways have achieved in the past for the development and progress of the Dominion will be far exceeded in the years to come.
“It is this sound belief in the future service for the people of the Dominion that the railway system has exemplified that gives me every faith in the necessity and desirability of facilities being provided such as this building represents. Associated with it is the very important feature of line duplication of the shorter Tawa Flat deviation, where considerable running time is saved, which, with greatly reduced grades and curves, promises reduction in haulage cost sufficient to substantially offset the capital invested in the change; with a much pleasanter and faster run into and out of the city and greater freedom in the movements of trains to be enjoyed by the train control operator, who finds it difficult to manipulate his trains over the existing single line between Tawa Flat and Wellington, with its steep grades and bad curves, and restricted speeds of 25 miles an hour, all of which after to-day will be but a memory, as will also be the long and patiently tolerated inconvenient terminal at Thorndon.
“A big development of suburban traffic may be anticipated from these changes, and a great stimulation of railway transport generally will inevitably follow from the magnificent new facilities now provided.
“This building really represents a dream come true,” concluded Mr. Sullivan.
Future of Transport.
Tribute to Predecessors.
In addition to congratulating the Railway Department, Mr. Fraser said he desired to pay a tribute to the Government's predecessors in office for the part they had taken. The Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates occupied a Ministerial position when the first step was taken in connection with the building, and the Rt. Hon. G. W. Forbes was Minister of Railways when part of the work was carried on. It was only fitting that the present Government should thank those who had commenced the work. “I do so,” said Mr. Fraser, “very heartily and very sincerely.” (Applause.)
The present Government, said Mr. Fraser, had shown its faith in the railway system by deciding to extend the system and complete the railways, work on which was temporarily stopped. They believed that the railway system had a great future, and were proud of the system and the men connected with it. Mr. Fraser referred to the many engineering difficulties which had had to be overcome in the building of the railways, and said that there was reason for self-congratulation on the railways by the people. But that did not mean that there was not room for improvement, and in that statement he would probably be supported by Messrs. H. H. Sterling (former chairman of the Railways Board), G. H. Mackley (General Manager), and E. Casey. Those now actively engaged in the railway management would bring that improvement about.
He felt that all citizens had the right to feel that they were citizens of no mean city, and as a citizen of Wellington he was pleased to see the building. It was of importance to the whole of the Dominion, because it would be the hub of the railway service. “We have a station worthy of Wellington, and worthy of the capital city of the Dominion,” he said. “I wish the railway service and all connected with it the greatest possible measure of success.” (Applause.)
Civic Pride will be Increased.
The view that the new station would increase the feeling of civic pride already possessed by the people of Wellington was expressed by the Mayor.
Now that those ancient structures at Thorndon and Lambton were definitely things of the past, they should consider what the new station would mean to the people of Wellington. “Consider the fact,” said Mr. Hislop, “that when the electrification is completed Tawa Flat will be as near to the centre of the city as Miramar. Consider the adjacent areas which are going to be brought within fifteen or twenty minutes of the city. These areas will become available for the purpose of accommodating the people of Wellington. It means that ultimately all these areas will, I hope, come into one general administration. and thereby provide in a radius of twenty miles of Wellington ideal and permanent conditions for the homes of the people. That is one of the greatest developments that any government, national or local, can bring about.
The necessity for an adequate population in New Zealand so that the cost of public utilities would become less per head of population was stressed by the Hon. Sir Alfred Ransom, who spoke on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition (the Hon. A. Hamilton), who was unable to be present.
Sir Alfred joined with other speakers in congratulating the people of Wellington and the Dominion on the completion of the station. Wellington residents had waited many years for more up-to-date and satisfactory railway facilities. When he was an apprentice boy over fifty years ago they had the same old station, and there had been very little improvement since.
Sir Alfred recalled that Lord Nuffield had expressed himself as very pleased with the good service on the New Zealand railways.
After referring to the number of new buildings that were being erected in New Zealand, Sir Alfred said that we were rightly building for future generations, but surely not for a mere population of a million and a half. The Wellington and Auckland stations were sufficiently commodious to serve a population of at least 5,000,000, and public utilities generally were all in advance of the population. What was to be done about it? If we page 14 united for the natural increase of population on the present scale we would have to wait too long. The burden of such expenditure must be spread over a much greater population.
A satisfactory system of assisted immigration of the right type of settler and industrialist would go far to solve some of New Zealand's problems. The Dominion could support a much larger population. Dairy output had been doubled in ten years, and that could be done again. “I say this with a full knowledge of my experience as a farmer, and Minister of Lands for six years,” said Sir Alfred. Other primary products—wool, meat, etc., all showed substantial increases. “With an increased population we could consume more of our own production,” said Sir Alfred, “and largely increase our exports, and thus make buildings such as this an economic proposition.”
Cost of Two Stations.
The total cost of Auckland and Wellington Stations and necessary undertakings was £4,825,000. “We must, therefore, take the necessary steps to spread the burden of taxation necessary over a greater number of people,” he said.
The New Zealand Railways in the past had done much to open up this young country, and although not meeting interest on the whole capital cost, had been justified. The new station was further evidence of the confidence of the country and administrators and heads of Departments in the future of the Dominion. The station would be another attraction for tourists, and it had to be remembered that they had a long way to go before the possibilities of tourist traffic was exhausted.
“In conclusion,” he said, “I sincerely trust, and am confident, that the rising generation will have reason to approve of the provisions now being made (at some considerable presentday sacrifice) for their future requirements.”
Need for Remodelling.
The member for the district, Mr. Chapman, said that for many years the people of Wellington North and, indeed, the people of Wellington as a whole, had had to listen to complaints and grumblings regarding the old stations at Lambton and Thorndon. They had had to apologise for them on many occasions, and it was a matter for congratulation that those days were gone for ever.
There was a feeling of solidity, importance, and dignity about the new building, which should serve the people of Wellington and of New Zealand for a hundred years or more. It would simplify some of the transport problems with which they were faced. The people of Wellington North took a very real pride in the many fine buildings in their district, and they were well pleased with the latest addition. The new building would impose upon the Government of the day the duty of remodelling the district, and he hoped that when the programme of public buildings was completed attention would be paid to improving the houses in which many of the people were forced to live. Many people had to live in shabby houses, and if these were remodelled the outlook of the city would be greatly improved.
His Excellency the Governor-General, prior to declaring the building officially open, said:—
“I feel it a privilege to have been invited here to-day to open formally this splendid new railway station in the capital city of the Dominion. On December 17th, 1934, his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester formally laid the foundation-stone of the structure, and the successful completion of the building two and a half years later speaks much for the organisation displayed by those who have made it possible for the building to be opened this morning.
“A few days ago I was glad to have the opportunity of inspecting this new building informally, and I must say that I was most impressed with what I saw—with the magnificence of the structure as a whole and with the completeness and thoroughness which marks its construction; with the facilities and comforts provided for the travelling public; with the splendid arrangements for train running and for the handling of rolling stock; and with the excellence of the accommodation provided for the staff. In particular, I would say that the provision made for the comfort of the travelling public of the Dominion leaves little to be desired. The Minister of Railways has just given you a brief outline of some of the up-to-date facilities provided in the new building. That that outline is no exaggeration the public will have an opportunity of deciding this afternoon when, I understand, the building is to be thrown open for public inspection.
Increased Railway Demand.
“We all know that, in the comparatively near future, more intensive production will take place in the country districts of the Dominion. So far as I have been able to judge, the demands likely to be made on the railway service for the transport of such increased output will be met amply at Wellington for many years to come.
“I should like to say also that during my informal inspection I could not fail to notice that the architects and the contractors had rendered most faithful service in this undertaking; page 15 and to Messrs. Gray, Young, Morton, and Young (the architects) and to the Fletcher Construction Co., Ltd. (the contractors), I offer my warm congratulations on a splendid achievement.
“I am aware that during the past two or three years several officers in specialised branches of the Railway Department have given of their best in an endeavour to overcome the many problems which were encountered in connection with the lay-out of the station and buildings. I am sure that Mr. Gray Young will be one of the first to agree that the valuable assistance in this direction rendered by Mr. Mackley and those of his officers so associated with him has had much to do with the success of the undertaking.
“I feel, too, that it is fitting that the station should have been completed in good time before the opening of the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in 1940 during which year, I understand, it is almost certain that the facilities at the Wellington station will be exhaustively tested by abnormal traffic.
Must be Supported.
“Generally speaking, when a fine public building is erected in a town or city, the public feel that they have grounds for self-congratulation. That is quite as it should be, but in the present case I should like to remind the people of Wellington that their new station has involved an expenditure of over £339,000—a very large sum indeed—and that, if the railway service in the future is to be an asset rather than a liability, it must have the wholehearted patronage and support of the people of the Dominion.
“Wellingtonians, as well as the travelling public, must feel kindly disposed towards a service which has so admirable a site for the conduct of its business. Its close proximity to the wharves, to the ferry steamers, and to the city itself, as well as to the only main road outlet of the city, gives it advantages on which there is no need to elaborate. Mr. Sullivan has stated that considerable development of suburban traffic as well as great stimulus to railway transport generally, is expected as a result of the new facilities. It is my sincere wish that those expectations will be fully realised. The abolition of the two-station system, and the unification of the railways service at this central point, will, I feel sure, do much to regain public patronage to the Railway Department.
“I am sure that all those assembled here to-day will agree with me that this new station building is a great asset to Wellington, and that it represents a further distinct landmark in the progress of the city and of the Dominion.
“With this key, which Mr. Gray Young has just handed to me, I will now proceed to unlock the main entrance door of the station, and at the same time will unveil the commemoration stone which records the official opening of the station. In doing this, I should like to convey to the Minister of Railways, to the General Manager, and to the members of the railway staff in Wellington and throughout the Dominion, my very best wishes for the future progress of their great national service.”
After unlocking the door, his Excellency said:—
“I now declare this building formally open and unveil this commemoration stone as a record of the official opening of this station.”
The opening ceremony was performed in the booking lobby, which was reserved for the 800 invited guests, but there was no restriction, except that of space, upon the public attendance in the great concourse and on the platforms, and the speeches were made audible everywhere by means of a public address system.
The invited guests were not allowed to go away empty. Over 180 were catered for in the dining-room, which has a staff all told of 19, and 600 in the fine staff social room upstairs. The appointments here, as elsewhere in the station, aroused both pleasure and surprise. The public spent the afternoon wandering round the amazingly extensive premises. Each of the guests was presented with a handsome souvenir of the occasion, a scarlet-covered, beautifully-produced record of the progress of the railway service, and also with a rich blue-covered souvenir programme of the day's ceremony.
The pleasure given the public by the smoothness and lack of confusion of the big crowd handled at the opening and during the hours of inspection was due to the wholehearted way in which members of the head office staff assumed the duties of individual hosts. From the General Manager to the messengers everyone was on deck and helpful, even the typistes serving as waitresses in the social rooms.page 16