PAEROA-WAIHI RAILWAY 1897-1978

Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 23, June 1979

By: A.C. Bellamy - N.Z.R. Area Traffic Manager

With the closure of the Paeroa-Waihi-Apata railway line scheduled for September 12, it is appropriate to take a look at the history of the Paeroa-Tauranga section of New Zealand Railways line.

Reporting in his annual report for year ending March 31, 1897, the Minister of Public Works said that instructions had been given for a survey to be made for a line between Paeroa and Waihi. The railway from Hamilton to Paeroa had been opened on December 20, 1895 and the extension to Thames was well on the way to completion.

At this particular time there was agitation for the construction of a network of narrow gauge lines, that is two foot gauge throughout the country and the survey was to be for a three foot six inch gauge line and a two foot gauge line. Fortunately the two foot gauge lines fell from favour and none were built. The instructions to the surveyors stated that the line was to be so laid out as to keep the cost as low as possible, due care being taken that the increased working expenses due to steep gradients and sharp curves would not exceed the interest on saving in the cost of construction thus attained. The engineer was also directed that before locating the terminus of the line near Waihi, he had to make a reconnaissance survey of the country between Waihi and Katikati Harbour so as to determine the best route for a possible extension of the line to Tauranga so that if the line was extended at any time no work would have to be abandoned.

Work on the survey showed that there were no really great difficulties except near the township of Karangahake, there was a very abrupt angle in the gorge and that a considerable tunnel would be required. At that stage, apart from completing the survey, the Government considered that further expenditure in connection with this proposed railway should be held over.

In 1898 the Minister reported that the survey for the line was well in hand and the probable cost of the 12½ miles would be £80,000 exclusive of rolling stock. A survey was also carried out to avoid building the tunnel at Karangahake but it interferred so largely with existing roads, water races and other mining works that it was doubtful if any economy would result from its adoption. He also said that considering the present demands for the completion of the lines of railway then authorised, he did not think the colony should undertake the construction of this work, especially as there was a probability of it being undertaken by private enterprise.

LINE AUTHORISED

By the following year, the Government had a change of heart, private enterprise had offered to undertake the work, there had been great development of mining in the district with a resultant increase of population, the also anticipated further development of the district and that the mining would be of a permanent character. The then Minister of Public Works, the Hon. Mr Hall Jones, said that in view of this development it would be inadvisable to allow a private company to make this railway, especially as it promised to give a handsome return upon the cost of construction, it was included in the Railway Construction Bill and £6,000 was placed on the estimate so that work could commence.

CONSTRUCTION COMMENCED TO WAIHI

Work commenced in 1900 and pressed on vigorously so that by September of that year the formation as far as the tunnel was well advanced and the approach cutting to the tunnel was being excavated.

Reporting on progress in October 1901, the Minister of Public Works said that plate laying from the junction at Paeroa was in hand as far as Karangahake and that excavation of the long tunnel was making good progress. At the west end the top heading was in 741 feet, the bottom heading 675 feet and it was bricked 359 feet, at the east end, the top heading was in 469 feet and the bottom heading 457 foot, an air shaft had also been sunk at the west end of the tunnel about 600 feet from the mouth.

A contract had also been let for the combined bridge over the Ohinemuri River to Messrs J. and A. Anderson Limited of Christchurch for £8,771.

Mr W.M. Hales, the Engineer in Chief of the Public Works Department, said that by July 1902 rails had been laid to the Karangahake Station yard but heavy rains had caused some slips and washouts. He estimated in July 1903 that there was still another 18 months work before the tunnel would be completed.

In his annual report for 1904, the Minister said that goods traffic had been carried to Karangahake since the beginning of the year and that considerable freight had been carried over it. Messrs J. and A. Anderson had also been let the contract for the second and third crossing of the Ohinemuri River. Work was still proceeding on the tunnel and tenders had been called for the Waikino Station buildings. He also said that expenditure on the line was now being charged to a separate account established under legislation of last session. The combined road and railway bridge over the first crossing of the Ohinemuri River was finished in October 1903. A contract for the Stationmaster’s house at Waihi had been let to a Mr W. McHay on April 16, for £496-10s-0d and it was completed on September 30, 1904. The headings of the Karangahake tunnel met in September 1904 and it was completed by the end of January 1905, with the result that rails could then be laid up to nine miles 50 chains from the junction and it was anticipated that this work would be finished to Waihi about September 1905. The station building at Waihi was also built by Mr W. McHay. It was completed on October 3, 1905 for the sum of £1764-3s-6d.

The coal for the Waihi mine was carried by the railway from April 3, 1905. The line was opened to Waihi on November 9, 1905, although a considerable quantity of goods traffic was carried over the line before it was formally opened.

The first Stationmaster at Waihi was Mr W.J. Hessell, who transferred from Huntly. The last Stationmaster at Waihi was Mr G.W. Peters.

WAIHI-TAURANGA

The original proposal to connect Tauranga by rail was via Mamaku and Te Puke but with the completion of the line to Waihi, strong representations were made to the Government regarding an alternative line via Waihi.

In 1907 the then Acting Minister of Public Works, the Hon. James McGowan, considered there was a good deal to be said in favour of this route and he agreed to a trial survey being made so that a comparison could be made with the Mamaku-Te Puke route.

Reporting in 1903 [1908? – E], the Minister said a strong party was then engaged upon the survey. It had been completed between Waihi and Katikati and an exploration had been carried on for several miles beyond, however, as the latter portion of the route was not of a very easy character, it would be sometime before the survey was completed and until then it would be impossible to make any comparisons between that route and the alternative line via Mamaku and Te Puke.

The Government was however strongly impressed with the necessity of constructing a railway to connect the Bay of Plenty district with the Auckland railway system and had definitely decided to ask for the authorisation of the line. It would be impossible to do so that year as the law required that authorising Acts shall define the route of the railway and the two termini thereof, and was not possible to do this until a decision was arrived at as to the particular line to be adopted.

In addition to the two routes already mentioned, a third had been suggested to leave the existing railway either at Morrinsville or Okoroire, or somewhere between these places. Each route was to be carefully examined and if necessary fully surveyed, with a view of a definite decision being arrived at next session when a Bill to authorise the construction of the line would be brought down.

The survey was completed from Waihi to Tauranga and as far as Matata by 1909 and the Minister said that the Railway through the Bay of Plenty would eventually connect Auckland with Gisborne.

The survey made over the Kaimai Saddle for the East Coast-Waikato railway had demonstrated that the saddle was unsuitable as a route, being 1,423 feet high with an abrupt and unworkable descent on the Waikato side, the country along the route was also much broken by ravines and deep gullies and gave steep grades on the Tauranga side.

The Railway Authorisation Act of 1911 made provision for the construction of the line between Waihi and Tauranga and it was proposed to put in hand a section of the line between Waihi and Athenree and also a westerly extension of the line already in course of construction as far as the right bank of the Wairoa River, a length of about eight miles.

Continued in Next Issue [not sure – E]

[see also in this Journal: From Karangahake to Kaimai (1905-78) - E]

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