Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 23, June 1979

By Lyall Mathieson

12th September 1978 marked a turning point in the continuing saga of the Railways. The Prime Minister, Mr. Muldoon officially declared open the 8.9km long tunnel through the Kaimai Range thus cutting off some 50km of travel, from the Waikato to the Bay of Plenty, as compared to the older and longer route through the Karangahake Gorge. On that very afternoon of the opening, the first trains started regular journeys through the tunnel, and simultaneously, ceased to operate on the Gorge route.

Since this time, Railway Enthusiast Societies have put forward cases for keeping the line open and subsequently operating something like "The Kingston Flyer" - A local "Thames Valley Express" perhaps. The article by Mr. C. W. Malcolm, Journal 22 - 1978 captures the scene admirably, but at this stage (March 1979), the meetings and discussions for and against, continue.

The year 1905 marks the culmination of many years work on the railway in our area. On 9th November 1905, the Paeroa-Waihi line was officially opened linking the Thames Valley with the Bay of Plenty. Progress continued farther down the Bay but only about 10 years later, a notion was conceived to shorten the distance between Auckland and the Bay of Plenty with a suggested Pokeno-Paeroa route. The idea remained in the melting pot for many more years until in the mid-30's the plan finally began to bear fruit....or did it. In January 1938, Mr. Semple Minister of Public Works turned the first sod of this new deviation and thus marked the start of another chapter. With this, Paeroa would have become a four-line junction. In just two years however, prospects altered drastically. Steady progress was made across the Hauraki Plains until mid-1939, when war broke out in Europe, and with the considerable loss of man power, the work was postponed until "things returned to normal". But things never quite returned to normal, for when the war ended in 1945, this thing called "inflation" made its pinch, and the costing of post-war years compared to the pre-war years made the whole scheme impractical so it was never resumed.

By the mid-50's another scheme of lesser scale was mooted and, unlike the Pokeno deviation, the final objective was achieved. Prior to 1959, all Frankton to Tauranga trains (and vice versa) had to be reversed in Paeroa before continuing on their journeys. That same year, Paeroa South station was commissioned to save the abovementioned reversal.

Also about this time, saw the closure of several lesser stations such as Mackaytown, Waikino, Karangahake, Mangaiti, Waitoki, and on the Thames Branch - Komata North, Wharepoa Road, Omahu, Puriri, Parawai. Only Sidings at Hikutaia, Matatoki, and Kopu remain, and Prices Siding at Thames North.

The last regular railcar service ran in this area in 1976, and on Market Day 1971, a free shoppers train was organised from Frankton-Paeroa - the very last.

In 1976 the locomotive Department was closed down finally. By March 1979, Paeroa South station was phased out, and the direct Te Aroha-Paeroa line recommissioned once more.

The fate of the Paeroa-Waihi line still hangs in the balance at this stage but with pressure by enthusiast societies for a steam operated Railway over some of the old line, we could see a return to the "days of yore". I am indebted to the late Mr. S.E.K. (Stan) Wheeler for an interview two years ago. Mr. Wheeler was office clerk for 40 years, 1926-66, surely a record! Also Mr. D.N. Geddes - another ex Railway man who was train examiner at Paeroa 1953-62, and retired to Paeroa in 1967 after holding a similar position at Te Maunga.

[see also in this Journal: Paeroa-Waihi Railway 1897-1978 - E]