The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 12 (April 1, 1928.)
It might be said that the success of practically all New Zealand industries is dependent upon the railways, for without such a reliable, cheap and rapid method of transport for products from the source of production to the place of consumption, commodities could not be sold at such a price as to ensure a rapid and profitable turnover. Of all New Zealand's industries, coal-mining is perhaps the most dependent upon the Railway Department for the carriage of its goods.
It was while spending some few days at Huntly, the coal-mining centre of the North Island, that the writer—on seeing some of the long trains of coal coming from the mines—was able to appreciate the difficult transportation problem involved in despatching therefrom, expeditiously and safely, these seemingly innumerable trucks of coal to various parts of the North Island.
From Huntly a short branch of railway (only 10 miles in length) runs out through a very rich coal-mining field, having a daily output of thousands of tons of coal, the haulage of which provides an important source of revenue for the Railway Department.
A trip out to these mines proves extremely interesting, and I was well rewarded by making the return journey on one of the coal trains.
Our train leaving Huntly comprised 75 “empties,” these making a good load for the “Ww” engine which hauled the train. From the Huntly station yard there is rather a severe incline up to the combined railway and traffic bridge which crosses the Waikato River, but, answering to the skilful manipulation of its crew, the engine had no difficulty in negotiating this gradient. On my expressing surprise at the length of the train, my friends of the locomotive informed me that ours was only one of several daily trains that took such loads of “empties” out to the coalfields.
Having crossed the bridge the long train soon gained impetus, and after travelling some five miles we reached Mahuta. There are no eoal mines in the vicinity of Mahuta station, but the country has yielded to the efforts of several farmers whose tilled land makes a pleasing contrast to the poor barren looking country typical of coal-bearing districts.
From Mahuta it is but a short distance to Botowaro, where the first of the coal mines is situated. At this station we dropped about half of our wagons, the coal company's private engine picking up these “empties” and hauling them to the mine, which is a short distance from the station. From the Rotowaro station a trolley-way, several miles in length, is now being constructed to convey coal to the railway from a mine which is shortly to be opened. Although the construction of this line and the coal mining plant will involve considerable expenditure, the promoters of this enterprise have such faith in the quantity of coal available that they believe that the new mine will fully compensate them for the large amount of money invested. This mine, when fully exploited, should increase the amount of coal to be transported by the Department by some five or six hundred tons daily.
From Rotowaro it is only a few miles to Pukemiro, where one of the largest of Huntly's coal mines is in operation under the proprietorship of the Pukemiro Collieries Ltd. Here we shunted off some more of our load, the wagons being collected by another of those quaint little engines which take the railway trucks to and from the mine—distant about a mile from the railway station
From Pukemiro the railway line was continued to Glen Afton on the commencement, at that township, of a mining venture by the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company, in the year 1921. The company derives most of its coal from this up-to-date and profitable mine, which has proved to be a huge success. It is the first coal mine in the world to be owned by a co-operative dairy company. Aided by the naturally convenient position of the coal strata, the mine is capable of easy working, an adit driven into the hill enabling the coal to be obtained under the most economic conditions. All equipment is of the most modern type. The haulage is carried out by means of an endless rope, which travels at a speed of about 1¾ miles per hour. The coal “tubs” are attached to or detached from this rope as required, and run on page 29 to branch lines inside the mine. When the trucks of coal emerge from the mine they are disconnected from the rope and run along to the screenhouse, where they are caught in a “Tippler,” which describes a circle completely inverting the truck and emptying the coal into the huge screener, where it is divided into slack, steam, household, and kitchen varieties. After this operation the coal is ready to be dropped down shoots into waiting empty railway trucks under the screenhouse. This system enables very rapid despatch of the company's output, which is in the vicinity of twelve thousand tons of coal a month.
A little distance from the mine is the power house (owned and operated by the Dairy Company), which supplies the electric power for operating the mine and for the domestic use of the local residents.
At the commencement of the return journey from Glen Afton our train was comprised of only a few carriages and a van, but at Pukemiro station yard we found ready for despatch quite a large number of trucks of coal from the Pukemiro mine, which has an output of some 15,000 tons per month. This mine provides work for some 250 miners. When leaving Pukemiro the train consisted of about 30 trucks of coal and three or four carriages in which were miners returning to Huntly. At Rotowaro we picked up some more trucks of coal, this load being a portion of the monthly output of 11,000 tons from the Rotowaro mine. It now being about 4 o'clock most of the miners who worked at Rotowaro and who lived in Huntly boarded our train. About 350 miners who are able to take advantage of the cheap workmen's tickets issued by the Railway Department travel daily to and from their work at the mines.
56 wagons of mining props loaded on main line near Mercer for Rotowaro.
In order to reduce transport costs, Mr. G. G. Glass of Mercer arranged with the Department for loading these mining props from the main line. They were conveyed by special work train to the Taupiri Coal Company at Rotowaro, the whole of the loading being completed in 8 hours. Had it been necessary to convey the props by motor-lorry to the nearest station, the work would have extended over a period of some three months.
Although the coal mines in and around Huntly have mostly been worked out, the outlying country in this rich Waikato field has not yet been fully exploited, as is evidenced by the opening of a new mine near Rotowaro and the success of the comparatively new scheme of the Dairy Company at Glen Afton.
On the average a total of about 34,000 tons of coal a month are brought in by the Railway Department from the Huntly-Glen Afton line. Naturally, this huge quantity of coal involves the use of a large number of trucks, it being one of the railway transportation staff's many tasks to ensure that sufficient trucks are provided to cope with the constant demand.
Huntly Junction is itself a scene of great activity. Here station officers are kept busy despatching trains, computing freight, charges, etc. The shunters have heavy work marshalling the long lines of trucks full of coal and getting them ready for transit to various parts of the Island.
There seems no doubt that the proposed improved lay-out of the Huntly yard is fully war ranted; for the capacity of the present yard is already overtaxed, statistics showing that there has been steady increase in traffic of almost 25 per cent, in five years, a fact which also indicates the progress made in the coal-mining industry and the increasingly important part played by the Railway Department in its development.