The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 4 (July 1, 1938.)
Not all the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1880 were adopted. The Board system, however, which was recommended, did have a trial for a few years, from 1888. Despite the shortage of loan funds, the Government continued to construct the Otago Central Railway, and indeed the Public Works Statement of 1888 regarded this, and the Palmerston North—Woodville Railway (through the Manawatu Gorge), as exceeding in importance the Auckland—Wellington North Island Main Trunk.
The Manawatu Gorge line was actually opened for traffic in 1891. The Palmerston North—New Plymouth link was completed in 1885, the Napier—Woodville link in 1887, but the Woodville — Wairarapa link not till 1897. In the Auckland District the line to Cambridge was completed in 1884, to Rotorua in 1894, and to Thames in 1898 (though the Hamilton—Te Aroha connection dated from 1886 and the Hamilton—Paeroa connection from 1895).
With the recovery in the world prices of New Zealand's staple exports that commenced in the middle ‘nineties, loan funds became more readily available. There was a revival in railway construction about the turn of the century, the most notable achievement of this period being the completion, in 1908, of the North Island Main Trunk Railway.
The reasons for the slow progress in the North were several, of which the following are the most important:—
(1) The distance from Wellington to Auckland was 426 miles, from Lyttelton to Bluff only 392 miles.
(2) In the North Island there were numerous gorges to be spanned and other engineering difficulties to be surmounted, including at one point the construction of a lengthy spiral section (with, tunnels) in order to gain height. In the 152 miles from Christchurch to Oamaru there is hardly a cutting, and the only engineering problems of any moment were the crossing of the Rakaia, Rangitata, and Waitaki Rivers.
(3) The North Island Main Trunk Railway could be constructed only from either end; while the South Island Main Trunk tapped five main ports (Lyttelton, Timaru, Oamaru, Dunedin and Bluff)—from each of which construction was commenced and carried on simultaneously.
(4) The South Island contained the balance of population in New Zealand from the gold rushes of the ‘sixties right up till 1900. In consequence it could exercise more political influence to expedite construction, a further point being that its main railway passed through more productive country.
(5) The South Island was only sparsely populated by Maoris; while railway construction in the North Island (and in the South Auckland district in particular) was long retarded by the hostility of the natives through whose lands the lines required to pass.
(6) There was little room for differences of opinion as to routes in the South; while rival claims of the central and western routes caused considerable delay in commencement of vigorous construction in the North.
Auckland was not connected by rail with Whangarei and the Bay of Islands till 1925, Auckland was not linked with the Bay of Plenty till 1928, and New Plymouth and Auckland were joined up via Ohura as late as 1933.
The Otago Central line was completed to Cromwell in 1921, and the Christchurch—Greymouth line was completed in 1924.