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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 8 (January 15, 1927)

Forty Years Ago — The Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company

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Forty Years Ago
The Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company

An article dealing with the Rimutaka Incline which the writer contributed to the June issue of the “N.Z.R. Magazine” proving interesting to readers, despite its technical nature, I am tempted to write a similar article describing another of New Zealand's remarkable railways, namely, the Wellington-Manawatu Company's railway. Running 84 miles from Wellington to Longburn, where a junction was made with the Government Railway system, this railway was the most important privately owned line that has ever been operated in this Dominion.

There is only one other notable private railway company which has approached the Wellington and Manawatu in point of size and that is the Midland Railway, South Island. The former was opened for traffic in 1886 and the latter in 1895, both eventually passing under Government control, in a process of amalgamation which, of course, had to come sooner or later, as the control of these separate lengths of what constituted arterial railway routes could never be satisfactory whilst entirely different managements were responsible for the private line and the adjoining Government owned railways.

The first section of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway to be opened for traffic extended from Wellington to Pukerua. In 1886 the line was opened for traffic throughout from Wellington to Longburn, the construction branch being debited with the sum of £3,780, or £60 per mile, towards the maintenance of the 63 miles of the line during the first twelve months after opening from Pukerua to Longburn.

In the year 1887, approximately 40 years ago the percentage of working expenses to gross receipts was 38.8, comparing very favourably with the average working expenses of the Government lines throughout New Zealand in the same year, which, according to the working Railway Statement for 1887 were 64.67 per cent. The total revenue from all sources in the same year was said to be very satisfactory indeed.

It is necessary, however, to draw attention to the scheme whereby the company owned quite a considerable amount of land adjoining the route of their railway. During 1887 for instance, the lands sold by the Company ran into 32,816 acres; whilst other land transactions, lands allocated to settlers, lands submitted to auction, and purchased lands of the company, all netted a respectable income for the shareholders. Altogether a total sum of £52,629 was realised on land deals in that year. Other remunerative sources of income were the number of sawmills and flax mills, nearly a dozen all told, which were erected alongside the railway. The steady increase of local traffic with the settlement of the company's lands, and the benefit of through traffic from the north, all helped to swell the revenue.

In 1888 arrangements were made with the Government Railways so that through passengers to stations on the New Plymouth and Wanganui line were no longer required to change carriages at Longburn Junction, the coaches being hauled through by Government Railway locomotives over the latter part of the journey.

It is interesting, while talking of the passenger traffic, to bring under notice the unique tickets which were in use at some stations on the railway. These were made of thin pasteboard with a slit in the middle containing neat little sheets of advertisements folded up. Some of the station names were spelt differently from what they are now. Paekakariki was then spelt with an “i” instead of “e” for the third letter. It is only in recent years that the last of these tickets were withdrawn from stations, and it seems a pity they were not preserved as a record of earlier days. The practice of printing an advertisement on the back of ordinary train tickets survived, however, until later years and was a favourite with the Government Railways at one time.

Forty years ago the wood burning locomotive was commonly encountered in the colonies, and New Zealand was no exception to the rule. The Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company employed wood instead of coal on their tender engines running between Paekakariki and Longburn, not only because of the economies resulting by its use, but as being an important factor in the disposal of the bush lands owned by the Company. The annual saving in firing with the wood burning machines was estimated at between £300 and £400 per loco. Later, two larger “consolidation” 2–8–0 type locos. were converted to burn wood fuel and the amount of wood required was more than double what was previously necessary. The supply was the means of assisting very materially the settlers or those who purchased the company's lands, as perhaps the greater part of the land was then virgin bush.

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The use of fire-wood was discontinued in the summer months in order to avoid the risk of causing fires in the bush.

An unusual feature in those days was the provision of special trains and facilities for taking intending purchasers to inspect the land. An estimate published in 1888 says that upwards of 220 settlers with their families were in occupation of land bought from the company in that year.

Steps were also taken to sell the surplus land adjoining Plimmerton station, and even in those days we find a proposal on foot to have the ground suitably levelled and prepared, with a view to offering from 40 to 50 building sites for marine villas in front of the sandy sea-beach at Plimmerton. Evidently the manipulations of the modern sea-side estate companies were not entirely unknown forty years ago in the Dominion. Another branch of the railway company's enterprise included providing the access from the railway stations to the back blocks or rural sections owned by the Company and not sold. Most of these were merely bridle tracks and would permit of the most distant sections being reached on horseback.

The return of traffic for the year ended 29th February, 1888, shows that 122,766 passengers, 4,932 tons merchandise, 863,500 super feet of timber, 6,230 bales of wool, 112,736 sheep, 13,932 cattle, pigs and horses were carried.

During the early part of 1887 a workshop, measuring 100 feet by 40 feet, with smithy attached, was completed at Wellington. This shop had to serve for all ordinary repairs of locomotives and rolling stock. When any heavy work for special repairs had to be done it was given to private firms in Wellington who had the machinery and materials, and could turn out the work cheaper than if executed in the railway workshop. This at the same time saved the Company the cost of installing expensive machinery and tools in their workshop.

The water supply to the various stations was obtained mostly by gravitation. At Wellington it was supplied from the City Mains; at Johnsonville, Paremata and Packakariki, by gravitation, and at Otaki by a small hot-air engine. At Longburn a steam pump, supplied by the locomotive when in the shed at night, and one hot-air engine sufficed to pump sufficient water. Needless to say, the hot-air engines were utter failures, being very expensive to run and not very powerful machines. Why hot-air engines were ever installed is hard to understand.

The rolling stock in use comprised eight locomotives, 18 bogie carriages, one 20ft. dining car, two bogie passenger brake vans, two 4-wheel brake vans, four goods brake vans (4 wheel), three K meat vans, three K covered goods, 39 L wagons, 47 M, 18 ballast, eight V bogie box wagons, 20 U, 15 S, 15 T bogie cattle trucks, four G horse boxes, and two ten ton travelling cranes.

One of the engines was a small ballast engine named “Weka,” four were tank engines, and the remaining three, tender engines. Turntables numbered three. To man the engines there were six drivers, six firemen, seven cleaners. Several other trades were generally represented, by one solitary member. There were for instance, only one carpenter, one turner, one machinist, one carriage examiner and one improver, employed on the railway, all being attached to the locomotive branch of the service and under the control of the locomotive engineer.

The traffic staff in those halcyon days was even smaller. The services of Traffic Manager, Loco. Superintendent and Engineer were rolled into one position; one individual serving for all three capacities. Besides this somewhat overworked official, there were of course a number of clerks, etc., employed in the Head Office.

The Traffic staff proper included five station-masters, one goods clerk, two booking clerks, two travelling ticket clerks, one cadet, three guards, one shunter, three porters, two carriage cleaners, two storemen and one messenger. Most of the staff were transferred to the Government Railways when the Wellington and Manawatu Company ceased to exist as a separate concern.

In the permanent way branch the total number of persons employed, inclusive of all grades, was 64. Fettlers, or surfacemen, accounted for forty-five out of this number. There was only one Inspector of Permanent Way, and he was responsible for the total route mileage.

Before bringing this account to a close mention must be made of an astonishing speed record which was later established on the Wellington and Manawatu Railway by one of the Company's locomotives, Nr. 10, a Baldwin 2–6–2 type, known as class “N” on the New Zealand Railways. There had been proposals afoot for the Government to purchase the Wellington and Manawatu Railway, and, spurred on, no doubt by the anxiety of the many shareholders who wished to keep the Railway as it was, a special train was arranged with the object of demonstrating and emphasising to the Parliament then in session in Wellington, the superiority of a private railway over the Government owned line in the matter of speed. On the run a maximum of 64 miles per hour was attained. This is believed to be still the world's record for the 3ft. 6 ingauge.

He lives long who lives well; and time misspent is not lived, but lost.