Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 38, September 1994
By C W Malcolm
What might it have been for Paeroa? What could it have been? Indeed, what should it have been? It is no dream; it was planned, it was actually commenced, but the initiative and drive that had launched it was entirely missing when needed to complete it.
Paeroa could have been, and should have been one of the busiest and most important railway centres in the country employing a large station staff and a still greater number of track and maintenance workmen. Every day of the week six shining Silver Fern passenger rail-car coupled units would be passing through it, two to Rotorua, one to Tauranga, and their return to Auckland. Tourist excursion trains from all over the Island would be running to a fully-developed scenic and historic Karangahake. Long, heavy diesel-hauled freight trains over four lines would converge and pass through. All these things, passenger rail-cars, tourist trains, freight trains, are running elsewhere when it was once envisaged that they should go through Paeroa.
All that was necessary was an easily constructed 40 mile rail connection between Pokeno and Paeroa. It was talked about for years until an influential dinner, attended by a large number of Members of Parliament, took place at the Criterion Hotel. Though not one of the invited guests, I was in a favourable position to hear the local M.P., Mr A M Samuel in his major speech refer to the fact that a large portion of Parliament was there assembled; he declared that one cogent argument for the railway was alone necessary and that was "a look at the map."
Trains from Auckland travelled south to Frankton where a "hair pin" bend was necessarytobring them on to a parallel northward course. A direct line across the Hauraki Plains would save time and shorten the distance to the Bay of Plenty by almost 80 kilometres.
On a summer day in January 1938 a great and expectant Paeroa crowd gathered in Coronation Street to witness the turning of the first sod of the project by the Hon. Robert Semple, Minister for Public Works. By 1940 some 27 kilometres of earthwork, including a high ramp towards a bridge for the railway at the Puke, had been completed when work ceased because of the Second WorldWar.
When the work should have been resumed, a special commission set up in 1962 recommended the abandoning of the railway from Paeroa through Waihi to Tauranga in favour of the Kaimai route with an 8.85 kilometre tunnel to cost $10.5 million, with easier grades for freight trains although the Waihi route via Pokeno-Paeroa would have been shorter for passenger trains. In 1965 the Kaimai Tunnel was commenced and when completed in 1978 it had cost $69 million and the loss of four workmen's lives. And the Paeroa-Tauranga line was abandoned.
The abandoned scenic route through the Karangahake Gorge had presented no difficulties whatever to passenger railcars, and in Churchman and Hurst's book, "The Railways of New Zealand - A Journey Through History", there is an excellent photograph of a typically long heavy freight train, hauled by two diesel locomotives, winding its sinuous way beside the Ohinemuri River as it approaches the Karangahake Tunnel, proving that the line was no real obstacle. The $69 million spent on the Kaimai Tunnel would have surely gone a long way to easing the gradients and providing heavier rails claimed to have been necessary.
Alas! for want of some drive and initiative,whatmight have been!