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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 7 (December 15, 1926)

Sixty-four Miles an Hour — An Experimental Trip

page 75

Sixty-four Miles an Hour
An Experimental Trip

The question, raised on more than one occasion, as to whether or not the maximum allowed speed of express trains in New Zealand, viz., 50 miles per hour, is excessive for a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge, recalls an experimental trip made on 20th July, 1892,—34 years ago—to test the speed capabilities of the Wellington-Manawatu line. The results of the test are sufficiently interesting to put before the readers of our magazine, and should provide the travelling public with ample proof that the New Zealand express trains to-day are run at a speed well within the margin of safety.

The engine used for the test was one of the then recently imported Baldwin engines (Class N), having 15 in. cylinders, 20 in. stroke and 4 ft. driving wheels —six coupled. The load consisted of one double-bogie carriage and one van; total weight including engine and tender, 70 tons. On the engine (which was driven by Driver Fryer, efficiently supported by Fireman Taylor) were Mr. J. E. Fulton (Locomotive Superintendent), Mr. Marchbanks (Assistant Engineer), and Mr. C. Rous-Marten—to whom was assigned the duty of testing the speed by chronograph. “The weather” (says the Wellington “Evening Post” of 21st July, 1892, in its report on the trip) “was calm and fair, though overcast. The rails were somewhat ‘greasy’ at first, but subsequently became in good condition. Starting from Wellington at 9.20 a.m. the special train began by maintaining speeds of 30 to 35 miles an hour up the four-mile incline of 1 in 40, an extraordinary, feat. Next, ascending the Pukerua gradient of 1 in 57, the speed never fell below 33 miles per hour. At Johnsonville a washout had unfortunately been caused by the heavy rain, and this involved a loss of three minutes. Owing to threatened landslips a cautious descent also had to be made of the falling grade approaching Paekakariki, but speeds of 50 to 55 miles an hour were maintained on favourable parts of the road. Otaki, first stopping station, nearly 47 miles from town, was reached in 73 minutes running time in spite of the two steep banks. After leaving Otaki the line is much more favourable to rapid travelling, and the run of 37 1/4 miles to Longburn was done in exactly 46 minutes, or at an average rate of 48 1/2 miles an hour—a speed equal to that of several famous expresses on the English railways, and faster than either the Brighton or Dover expresses, both widely celebrated. An average speed of 60 miles an hour was maintained for 15 consecutive miles of which three were done in 59 seconds each, two in 58 seconds, and one in 56 1/4 seconds, representing respective speeds of 61, 62, and 64 miles an hour. This has never yet been authentically equalled on the 3 ft. 6 in. gauge anywhere in the world. The nearest approach to it was 59 miles an hour once experimentally attained by a similar engine on the Dunedin — Christchurch line. Notwithstanding the extraordinary velocity, the engine and carriages ran with admirable smoothness and steadiness, proving that both road and rolling-stock were in excellent order. The total running time from Wellington to Longburn was only 1 hour 57 min. for the 84 miles. Including all stoppages, the time was 2 hours 6 minutes.

Spans of new overhead bridge at Whangarei being placed in position by 7-ton crane

Spans of new overhead bridge at Whangarei being placed in position by 7-ton crane

At a similar rate of travelling, Palmerston could easily have been reached in another five minutes.

“The return journey was made at a much slower rate of speed. Even so, however, the speed was very good, being generally from 35 to 45 miles an hour. From Paekakariki to town some faster work was done, 50 miles an hour being run between Porirua and Tawa Flat, and the steep incline of 4 1/2 miles from the latter station to Johnsonville being ascended in the unprecedented time of 7 minutes. The trip was altogether a very remarkable one, illustrating in a very striking manner the potentialities of our narrow gauge.”

[We are indebted to Mr. J. Taylor, Locomotive Inspector at Dunedin, for the “Post” extract, quote above. This clipping was found amongst the effects of the late Mr. J. Foster (an engine-driver well known to railwaymen in and around Wellington), and handed by a member of his family to Mr. Taylor.—Ed. “N.Z.R.M.”]