Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 43, September 1999

By J A T Terry

In Journal 30, page 6 (September 1986), Mr C W Malcolm wrote of his days in Hill Street. This article deals with the railway crossing over that street.

When the extension of the line from Paeroa to Thames was opened on 19 December 1898, it seems that there was a private level crossing over the line at Hill Street. At some time before 1903, the Ohinemuri County Council permitted the then owner of the land to lay out and dedicate a street and accepted its construction without requiring the owner to arrange with the Railway Department for the conversion of his private access into a public crossing. It was protected by railway gates.

In June 1903 the Hon. Mr McGowan, who had presumably been approached over the removal of the gates, was informed by the Department that the gates would be removed, cattle stops provided and the crossing converted to a public one if Council was prepared to pay the alteration cost of £32. Council discussed the matter at its July 1903 meeting and, while agreeing to the removal of the gates, was not prepared to pay for the cattle stops (1).

There the matter rested until 16 February 1904 when the County Clerk wrote to the Department and was informed that if Council paid the £32, the work would be done. Council did nothing.

In January 1905 a Mr Jno Hunt approached the Department over the removal of the gates and their replacement with cattle stops. He was informed that the matter was one for the Local Authority to deal with as Council was liable for all costs which properly should have been borne by the original owner. Until Council paid these costs the gates would remain.

Nothing happened until August 1911 when, following a request from the Paeroa Chamber of Commerce, Council wrote to the Department. Now the cost had risen to £54; this included two cattle stops, two STOP notice boards, shifting fences, forming, grading and metalling the road together with footpaths. Council was given the option of paying the full amount in which case the Department would do all the work up to 33 feet from the centre line or £30 if it erected only the cattle stops and notice boards, Council doing the remainder. Council accepted the option (2). By February 1912 the work had been completed to the satisfaction of the Department.

Looking north, the bridge as originally built

Looking north, the bridge as originally built. The bow stringers of the 50-foot truss were of 70lb double headed iron rail which had come from Canterbury where, years earlier, it had been used on the Great Northern Railway of Canterbury 5 foot 3 inch gauge line. The truss was similar in construction to other foot bridges.

Hill Street Railway Crossing
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 43, September 1999
Looking north, the bridge as originally built

The proposal to construct a new station building and yards to the north of Hill Street would change the nature of the crossing. Whereas only one set of rails had to be crossed, in the future there would be four. The decision was made to close the crossing and erect a foot bridge.

In November 1924 the Foreman of Works at Newmarket was informed that a bridge was to be built. It would have a 50-foot span over the tracks with ramped approaches, the ramps not to be erected until Taylors Avenue was opened for traffic.

While the Paeroa Borough Council had agreed to the closing of the crossing, in December 1925 it was rethinking that decision. Writing to the Department it was pointed out that the users of the station would be subject to considerable inconvenience as a carrier would have to travel 1¼ miles to go from the goods yard to the platform. Before the expense of erecting a footbridge was incurred, provision of a traffic bridge should be considered. Presumably the Foreman of Works staff were busy with other work at the new station site and had not time to erect the bridge, for while the new station had opened for business on Monday 31 August 1925, work on erecting the bridge had not commenced.

The Department not only looked into constructing a timber traffic bridge at Hill Street, but also at a site opposite Flora Street. The Hill Street bridge was estimated to cost £4025 and that at Flora Street £4574. In addition an estimated sum of £1200 would have to be paid as compensation for land required at Flora Street. If either bridge was erected, it was considered that the view of the automatic signals, when installed, would be obscured.

The traffic bridge proposal was dropped and a footbridge was erected. It was not until Friday 4 June 1926 that the first of the supports was completed (3). The bridge was opened for traffic towards the end of September 1926 (4) and was allocated No 26A (Thames Branch numbering, later to be No 27). Its erection cut Hill Street in two and the portion on the western side of the line was renamed Brenan Street (5).

Looking from the Hill Street side

Looking from the Hill Street side after the bow string truss had been replaced with a girder span. Note the ramped approaches on both sides.

Hill Street Railway Crossing
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 43, September 1999
Looking from the Hill Street side

In August 1976 during shunting operations, an excavator on a wagon struck the 50-foot span. It was so badly damaged that the bridge was declared unfit for use, the span removed and stored in the Paeroa yard. The closing of the bridge effectively cut off the legal access between Hill and Brenan Streets. The historic span was sold in November 1977 to the Paeroa Historic Maritime Park and removed from the Paeroa yard in July 1978.

A new span was to be built at the Otahuhu workshops but there was considerable delay in manufacture. The Paeroa Borough Council was most unhappy over the delay and suggested that it was time to replace the bridge with a road. The bridge was not reopened for foot traffic until late 1978, the 50-foot bow span being replaced with a steel girder span.

An announcement by the Managing Director of NZ Rail on 31 May 1995 stated that the railway between Waitoa and Thames had been closed. The line had not seen regular freight since 28 June 1991 (6). As NZ Railway Corporation had identified the bridge as a hazard (7), on Monday 6 May 1996 work started on its removal, this being completed on 9 May.

On behalf of the N Z Railway Corporation, the bridge spans on the closed line between Tirohia and Thames were advertised for sale, tenders closing 30 May 1997. The span from the footbridge which had been stored in the Paeroa yard of Pine Processors was included (8).

The Hauraki District Council at present has an application for resource consent to connect up Hill and Brenan Streets but there are objections to the application. NZR Corporation has no objection provided Council is prepared to take full liability (9). If Council's application is successful, perhaps Paeroa residents may once again have a continuous Hill Street.

References:

  1. Ohinemuri Gazette 3/7/1903
  2. Ibid 8/9/1911
  3. Hauraki Plains Gazette 7/6/1926
  4. Ibid 22/9/1926
  5. Article by C W Malcolm, Journal 33, Page32
  6. N. Z. Railway Observer No.222, 1995
  7. Paeroa Gazette 15/5/1996
  8. Tender documents, Bycroft Petherick Ltd.
  9. Hauraki Herald 7/5/1999

All other material, District Engineer NZR Hamilton File Bridge 27 Thames Line.