Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 45, September 2001
On Wednesday 23 August 2000, at about noon, the Goldfields Railway bridge, spanning State Highway 2 north of Waihi, was hit by a truck carrying an excavator and heading from Paeroa to Waihi, damaging the support pier on the Waikino side of the bridge and bending the steel structure. For safety reasons the bridge was dismantled the next day and removed to the Goldfields railway yard.
The damaged pier was an original construction, built in 1905. The bridge was originally built for New Zealand Rail and it was part of the original double decker bridge over the Ohinemuri River at Karangahake. It was purchased in October 1981 for $4000 and is the only privately owned bridge over a state highway in New Zealand. Goldfields Railway took over this piece of the line from New Zealand Railways in 1979 and Goldfields Railway owns and uses the bridge for steam train excursions from Waihi to Waikino. When the Pye-Phillips (formerly Akrad) plant closed in Waihi in the early 1980s, a financial gift was made to the Society and so the Society decided to name the bridge after the radio-manufacturing founder in Waihi, Keith Wrigley. It was therefore called the Keith Wrigley Memorial Bridge. The earlier bridge had been a wooden structure with a central concrete pier beneath, a notorious road accident spot. It was demolished by New Zealand Railways before the line was taken over by the Society and it took a decade to get the replacement bridge up, closing the gap in the line, over the highway. Major work costing the Society $23,000 was carried out on the approaches to the bridge some years ago and today the bridge features in the Society's logo.
Following inspections carried out by engineers, it was found that the bridge was repairable and plans were made for it to be replaced higher than previously, at 4.9 metres above the road. While this was not strictly necessary, it was said that it was relatively cheap and easy to do while the bridge was down for repairs.
At the request of the Waihi Ward Committee, the Hauraki District Council gave bridging finance to Goldfields Railway Inc. to allow repairs to proceed, provided that Council be paid back when insurance monies became available. It was stated to Council by Mr Sel Baker, a Councillor and Council representative on the Goldfields Railway Committee, that the Railway was the "biggest tourist operator in the district at this stage." Pending repair, the railway continued to run a partial trip from Waihi to a stop just before the bridge and back, three times daily.
Repairs on the bridge were carried out by Porter Engineering and Works Infrastructure reinstated the pier and put the track back into place. The repaired bridge was lifted into position early on Wednesday morning, 22 November 2000. It took just nine minutes to lift the bridge off the truck and into position, before final fixing. The road was closed for the operation, which was expected to be most of the day, however work was completed quickly and the road reopened by 12 30pm.
The reopening of the Railway line to Waikino took place on Sunday 17 December 2000 and to celebrate, the Society ran free trains from 11 00am onwards. This proved to be so popular that an extra return trip had to be made. The reopening was marked by Hauraki District Mayor, Basil Morrison, cutting the ribbon to let the first train over the bridge, following the traditional release of his homing pigeons by former Waihi Mayor, Owen Morgan. At the controls, closely watched by driver, Dave Rowe, Mr Morrison took the heading Barclay Price diesel locomotive over the bridge. Mr Morrison was accompanied by his seven-year-old grandson, Brad Osborne.
A huge crowd awaited the arrival of the first train at the Waikino Station. Cakes, cream scones, sausage rolls and strawberries with chocolate wee freely handed out by waitresses at the new station café, Pipiroa Country Kitchen. A Prime TV crew filmed the proceedings. For the train society it was a great public relations thank-you. Goldfields Railway President, Robin Millen, welcomed the gathering and thanked all those involved in getting the bridge back together again, especially the Hauraki District Council. Mayor, Basil Morrison paid tribute to some of those present who had the vision in 1980 to retain the railway as a community-based tourist attraction.
The guard for the reopening day celebrations was life member, Ron Brown and the Waihi stationmaster was Rex "Toot" Brown.
GOLDFIELDS RAILWAY INC., the community-based incorporated Society, has moved its administrative headquarters back to their 1905 station at Waihi, after operating from Waikino. Now the new café owners will be selling train tickets, souvenirs and refreshments as well as despatching the trains under the safety regulations. The Society will still have display material featured there together with a small office for the train crews. The DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION maintains a display room in the Station.