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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)

Southland'S Wooden Railway

Southland'S Wooden Railway

(Continued from page 16).

ments had been demonstrated, and it was clear that the line was far from ready for regular traffic. Much damage, indeed, had been inflicted by the excursions. There was no money for repairs and necessary improvements, and for months the line lay idle. In the meantime the railway was used for another purpose, the line was unfenced, and drays, sinking axle-deep in the morass that was the “Great North Road” found the broad rails an attractive alternative.

In April, 1865, however, the state of the road threatened to put an end to the mail service, and it was decided to put the railway into partial commission. To use the heavy engines brought from Victoria was impossible, so the Government borrowed the little Lady Barkly from its owners and commenced running her with the mails and a very limited amount of goods. She was barely capable of hauling a gross weight of ten tons and, moreover, had not been built for the gauge. Her wheels ran on the outside edge of the rails and projected about ii inches beyond them, so that she could not be run without excessive wear on the track. In July it was decided to build a more suitable substitute by converting a portable engine into a locomotive. This strange hybrid commenced running in September and proved to have about twice the haulage power of the Lady Barkly.

The service, however, was slow, intermittent, and unsatisfactory. Mishaps were frequent, and the wheels refused to grip whenever the rails were wet. Stories are still told in Southland of how travellers in a hurry preferred to walk. In May, 1866, the Southland News remarked: “The line in its present state is an absolute nuisance and instead of being a convenience to the public is the reverse. At uncertain intervals there is a breakdown; perpetually the wooden rails have to be lifted and turned to present a fresh surface to the action of the engine.” Mechanical troubles were repaired with difficulty, as the workmen who had built the engine had left the province, and her mysterious structure baffled other engineers. In December, 1866, she was out of action for several weeks and the railway engineer reported that owing to the defects of the track, traffic could be continued only at an ever increasing cost. The decay and warping of the rails necessitated constant turning, so that in many cases all four surfaces were soon worn out. An average of twenty rails per week had to be replaced completely. Little hope was held out of being able to keep the line open through the winter without an entire relaying of the track. There was a constant loss on working. From April, 1865, to November, 1866, the expenditure was £3,730, while the revenue amounted to only £1,432.

It was obvious that the experiment was a complete failure and the Provincial Government was compelled to face the prospect of laying iron rails. The state of the wooden ones made it impossible to carry out the original idea of using them as longitudinal sleepers. It was proposed to meet the cost of conversion and of completing the line to Winton by paying for the work in land. There is no need to enter into the lengthy negotiations and desperate expedients that the impecunious province was driven to before this was at last accomplished. It was not till September, 1870, that an iron railway reached from Invercargill to Winton, by which time the goldfields traffic was only a memory, and Southland had agreed to surrender her independence as a separate province.

In conclusion, it may be said that the siding near Winton named Lady Barkly does not owe its curious name to any aristocratic sojourner, but perpetuates the fame of the little engine that ran on Southlands’ wooden railway.