The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 1 (May 1, 1931)
Sixty-Seven Years of Railway Progress — Brief History of Railway Development at Auckland
In the following article Mr. Davidson gives some interesting historical particulars of railway construction at Auckland, and tells how our railway engineers have solved the many intricate problems associated with the scheme of providing the northern gateway of the Dominion with modern terminal facilities.
Railway construction in Auckland dates back to the year 1863 when the Provincial Council put in hand the construction of a line between Auckland and Drury with a branch to Onehunga. It is interesting to note that this railway was projected in view of the ultimate establishment of a main trunk line to Wellington, although the immediate necessity which gave rise to it appears to have been the want of military transport to the seat of War in the Waikato. The fighting with the Maoris was suspended, however, and the construction of the railway remained in abeyance.
This railway enterprise did not take definite shape until 1872 when a contract was let for the construction of the Auckland -Mercer railway.
The railway station at Auckland had its genesis in a contract entered into in September, 1872, between the then Governor of the Colony, Sir James Fergusson, on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, and Alexander, Henry and James Brogden of London, railway contractors. Mr. John Carruthers was the Engineer-in-Chief for the Colony of New Zealand. The contract covered harbour reclamation, sea walls, drains, and platelaying.
The station sidings were a little over one and a half miles in length and the points and crossings numbered 20. In the new Auckland yard, opened on 24th November, 1930, there are thirty-two miles of sidings and 338 points and crossings.
In 1872 there were less than 100 miles of railway open for traffic in the whole country. The population of Auckland city and environs was only about 25,000. Today our railway system has a length of 3,287 miles and the population of Auckland is 212,100.
Auckland's First Station.
The first station building at Auckland stood approximately where the large new outwards goods shed now stands on Breakwater Road. The subsequent station site which has served the city for many years was then water, and Customs Street formed the water front.
The first railway yard paralleled Beach Road, its outlet being along an embankment crossing Mechanic's Bay. In addition to the usual goods shed and engine depot the yard contained railway workshop and stores.
The year 1879 saw large reclamation works in hand at Auckland. These works were for the purpose of providing additional station accommodation, and to further relieve congestion in the yard, a site was purchased at Newmarket for workshops and stores. With the removal of these buildings to Newmarket the accommodation in Auckland yard was gradually improved until such time as the reclamation work permitted the removal of the passenger station to the Queen Street site. The new station building on this site was completed in November, 1885, and the station yard was finished about the same time. The station was officially opened for public traffic on 30th November, 1885, almost exactly 45 years ago. The intervening years have seen wonderful growth in the city and port of Auckland, page 35 and in the increased settlement and productivity of the Auckland province. In this development the railways have assisted materially.
Increasing Volume of Business.
It was not to be expected that such increases should continue indefinitely, nevertheless the railway business in Auckland has been marked by a steady growth.
It will be realised from the figures quoted that right from the inception of the Queen Street station, in 1885, the question of adequate accommodation has been an ever vital one with the Railway Engineers. Two very serious obstacles presented themselves. These were Breakwater Road and the proximity of the Parnell grade. With the development of the Auckland waterfront, Breakwater Road had become a very important thoroughfare and though provision had been made in the Auckland Railway Station Act, 1882, for the bridging of this crossing a satisfactory scheme was impossible.
Some Formidable Obstacles.
The necessity for trains starting well clear of the heavy grade to Newmarket prevented the provision of adequate train sidings between Queen Street and the foot of this grade.
These difficulties were greatly intensified when, in 1907, the railway frontage to Queen Street was handed over to the Post and Telegraph Department for the erection of page 36 a General Post Office. Following on this came the marked growth in business already indicated. So for over twenty years Auckland Station arrangements have been the subject of investigation by some of the best railway brains in the country. All investigations pointed to the necessity for railway operations terminating at Breakwater Road so that that important thoroughfare should be left free for the heavy waterfront traffic using it.
The other outstanding necessity was the avoidance of the limitations imposed upon both loads and station operations by the Parnell grade. This could only be achieved by the construction of a new outlet on almost level grades across Hobson Bay and Orakei Basin to Westfield. This scheme permitted of the expansion of the Auckland Railway Station yard eastward and seaward. This expansion, however, could be obtained only by a reclamation of the harbour front which absorbed Mechanic's Bay and later on St. George's Bay.
The Railway Department has at long last been provided with adequate means for serving the people of Auckland. They have been served loyally in the past, but such service has depended more on the skill and grit of the railway staff than on the means at the men's disposal.
Perhaps the most vital function of the railway yards is service to the overseas shipping at the wharves, a service amply provided for in the new scheme.
For many years the goods shed accommodation has been poor, and the local loading facilities not equal to requirements. Now the business people of Auckland have a commodious up-to-date outwards goods shed with ample cranes for handling all kinds of freight, and, also, a new inwards goods shed designed on similar lines.
In the Upper Waikato there is a family, old schoolfellows of mine, who are life long lovers of the horse and who would sooner move about the country on horseback, though they own motor-cars. The head of the clan, a patriarchal Scot, now about ninety, came to New Zealand seventy years ago, and all his life he has been a horseman. I remember his riding his own horse at the country race meeting when he was fifty years old or thereabouts. His six or seven stalwart sons practically grew up on horseback; and when polo became a popular country sport in New Zealand they formed a family polo team that was invincible. They bred polo ponies, as well as cavalry horses, and shipped them to India. Now the third generation of the family has its polo team, and it bids fair to equal the dash and perfect horsemanship of its fathers.
Morepork for Long Life.
The same old colonial hand just quoted is full of bird-lore garnered from the Maori and from pakeha oldtimers like himself. “Did you ever hear tell,” he asked, “about the morepork and its value as a life-lengthener? It's a true bill among some of the Maoris. Up at Ketemarae, in Taranaki, we once had a bullock driver by the name of Jimmy Simmonds, who had a Maori wife. I was out with old Jimmy one day when he shot a morepork. ‘Surely you don't eat the Ruru!’ I said. ‘Oh no’ said Jimmy, ‘but my old missus does. All the women eat the ruru when they can get one; they believe it prolongs their lives. My missus will go to bed quite happy after a feed of morepork”’ But any ruru-slaying today must be done strictly sub rosa, for the bird is on the absolutely protected list, and rightly so.