Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 36, September 1992
By C W Malcolm
To our parents who were here before the railway and who watched its slow appearance through the district, its disappearance would be unthinkable. To my generation who were fascinated by it and who used it extensively for travel and enjoyment it leaves a great gap in the fond memories of the past. The younger generation may not miss it at all for they never knew its delights.
To most of us the sight of an abandoned railway is something inexpressibly sad, the narrow ballasted track looking too small to have carried the large trains that once thundered over it, and the unkempt weeds gradually taking charge.
It began its southward progress from Thames where Sir George Grey turned the first sod in 1878, reached Kopu in 1884, and lingered there for over a decade. At the other extremity of the district the first train from Auckland reached Morrinsville on 30 September, 1884, the same year as the far end of the track had reached Kopu, a yawning gap between them.
By March 1886 the line had been completed from Morrinsville to Te Aroha but in the same year Chief Tukukino was obstructing the building of the line between Paeroa and Hikutaia. It was yet to be nine years before the rails joined Paeroa to Te Aroha in 1895. Still there was no connection with Thames and indeed the parts that had been built were falling into a serious state of decay.
However, it was a great day when the first train, carrying Richard John Seddon, the great "King Dick" and his party left Thames at 8 am on 8 December 1898 and, "running smoothly" reached Paeroa in 48 minutes passing several horse drawn coaches on the road allowing the train's passengers "to compare the old and the new, faster, means of travel."
The years of agitation for the railway had yet to continue until, in 1905 Paeroa was joined by rail to Waihi through the "notorious" three quarter mile uphill tunnel at Karangahake.
As schoolpupils some travelled daily to attend Thames High School while others made weekly trips for woodwork and cookery classes there. It was a flat dreary journey as was also the trip to Te Aroha when our manual classes switched to that centre. But, when once more they were changed to Waihi, the train journey was one of sheer delight. No monotonous straight track here but a sinuous pathway allowing us to see the leading locomotive from the carriage windows fussing its steaming way ahead round curve after curve, skirting the edge of the river foaming over great boulders, running in the shadow of toweringcliffs, passing river-swollen waterfalls, crossing grim bridges, and emerging from the fearful and suffocating blackness of the tunnel.
The homeward journey, downhill all the way, freewheeling without smoke or heat through the tunnel was exhilarating and relaxing at the same time.
But for most of the lifetime of some folk the endless talk was of the Paeroa - Pokeno Railway, bringing the Main Trunk Line across the Hauraki Plain. Paeroa would have become a four-way rail junction and a more direct route through Te Aroha and Morrinsville to Tauranga and Rotorua than exists today via Hamilton would no doubt have kept Paeroa as a railway centre and our line open.
Some opposition from Te Aroha may have been the cause of the delay in starting the Paeroa -Pokeno line for fear that the route through Morrinsville to Rotorua and the track through Paeroa and Waihi to the Bay of Plenty might leave Te Aroha fallen between the two stools of Paeroa and Morrinsville. But hindsight tells us that this would not have happened - Te Aroha would have been on the main line to the Bay when the more difficult route via Waihi was to be closed. I believe they erected a statue to the parliamentary antagonist to the line across the Plains.
However, on a glorious day in January (27th) 1938 a great crowd gathered in Paeroa's Coronation Street to see the flamboyant Richard Semple, Minister of Works, turn the first sod. Much construction followed but it was too late. The project was ultimately abandoned. Had it been completed a number of possibilities might have ensued.
A sketch indicating how THE ORIGINAL PAEROA RAILWAY STATION fitted convenientlyandneatly in the heart of the township.
TH line to Thames; 1 steam locomotive turntable; 2 locomotive shed; 3 goods shed with access from Railway Street; 4 platform and railway station building; WL siding for trains to and from Waihi; 5 Paeroa Hotel; 6 Station Road; 7 Belmont Road (Main Street); 8 Hall Street to Willoughby Street; 9 Marshall Street; 10 Hughendon Street; 11 Frances Street; 12 Junction Road.