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Official Guide to the Government Court: N.Z. Centennial Exhibition

Railways Department

Railways Department

The first public railway in New Zealand was built by the Canterbury Provincial Government—6 miles 26 chains, with a gauge of 5 feet 3 inches — between Christchurch and Lyttelton. The first section, from Christchurch to Ferrymead (now known as Heathcote), was opened on December 1, 1863, and the tunnel section from Lyttelton to Ferrymead was opened on November 9, 1867.

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The present gauge of 3 feet 6 inches became the standard when the railways were taken over by the General Government after the abolition of the provincial system.

To-day the lines open for traffic have a total of 3319 route miles, qnd good progress is being made with operations for completion of the South Island Main Trunk Railway (the very difficult northern part), the through connection to West-port from the midland line, and the Napier-Gisborne line.

New Zealand, a country notable for mountains, hills and rivers, has presented plenty of problems to the builders of railways. The far-ranging work has required numerous tunnels, deep cuttings, viaducts and bridges. The 51/4-mile Otira tunnel through the Southern Alps is the longest in the British Empire. The viaduct over the Mohaka River (on the Napier-Gisborne route), with a length of 911 feet and a height of 315 feet, is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The bridge over the Rakaia River, Canterbury, has a length of 11/4miles.

Necessarily the railways have figured very importantly in the development of the country's primary and secondary industries and social system. This usefulness is being increased with the present policy of co-ordination of the railways and the various road services which have been taken over by the Department.

An indication of the size of this great national enterprise is given by some of the figures for the year ended March 31, 1939. The capital invested was nearly £58,750,000; the number of employees exceeded 25,000; the number of passengers by rail was more than 23,250,000, and by road nearly 5,750,000; the tonnage of freight by rail was well above 7,500,000 tons, and by road more than 100,000 tons.

The Present Policy.

Far from feeling any fear of the future in transport developments, the Railways Department, encouraged by the Government, is steadily extending and improving the system. Here is a glimpse of the Department's operations:—

  • It is laying heavier tracks.
  • It is duplicating lines to make train-operating easier in sections of dense traffic.
  • It is making deviations to reduce curves and grades.
  • It is building stronger bridges.
  • In co-operation with the Main Highways Board it is making many safety structures over or under dangerous level crossings.
  • It is replacing old stations with buildings well equipped for public comfort and convenience.
  • It is providing better goods-sheds, with modern equipment for safe and speedy working of freight.
  • It is providing more and better cars for passengers and wagons for freight.
  • It is "air-conditioning" its passenger rolling-stock on principal routes.
  • It is running more powerful locomotives.
  • It is providing railcars of a most efficient type, which make a new era of transport in suitable areas.page 64
  • lt is electrifying lines in suitable areas, and providing the most modern types of electric locomotives and multiple units.
  • It has extended automatic signalling and telephonic communications so that in the new train-control system one man can view and control the whole spread of operations.
  • It has extended the community service of low-fare excursions.
  • It has widened the range of publicity activities to keep the public in complete touch with their railways from alJ viewpoints.
  • The big modern Railway Workshops are being made increasingly useful to various Departments of State.