In 1863, the first public NZ railway opened in Canterbury. While it was a broader track than what is used now, it set the stage for what was to come. Within 10 years, Auckland, Southland, and Otago all had provincial railways. By 1880, following the abolition of the provinces, the first main line had opened, linking Christchurch and Dunedin. This track had to pass through hills, valleys, and native forest, ultimately overcoming natural boundaries. The first railways in the country used smaller locomotives, based on contemporary English designs – in a few cases, they were even imported after being made in England. As time progressed, these locomotives were replaced, mainly due to the smaller tracks being installed across the country. However, some of the earliest lines in NZ still exist, having become part of our main rail network, where they are still in use today.
A good example of this longevity is the Port Chalmers Branch, the first rail line in Otago. First opened in 1873, it has endured time, the environment, and a change in ownership. It is, interestingly enough, still a vital part of our national rail network.
Several train locomotives are on display at MOTAT – and other sites, such as Glenbrook – in addition to a room set up with numerous miniature train lines. As it is an often forgotten, yet still fairly significant, part of our national history, I decided that it would be a good subject for this.