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Thursday Walkabout on the Main Trunk Line

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I had most of today free so I "went walkabout" to see the snow  and hopefully some trains on the central section of the North Island Main Trunk Line across the Volcanic Plateau. 


Original and replica Climax geared loco cabs outside an engineering workshop in Te Kuiti. Climax was the preferred type of geared "lokie" used on logging lines (Bush Tramways) in the area with a number of locos surviving into preservation. 


The Northern Explorer(Dora)climbs into the hill country above Te Kuiti. The loco is basically the NZ equivalent of the IE 071 Class, the coaches are based on Swiss RHb metre gauge stock. The Northern Explorer is pitched at the tourist market, operates without public subsidy and is quite profitable.



High on the plateau Dora crosses Matatote Viaduct the largest of the steel viaducts on this section of the line. The structure was recently renovated and re-painted after 20+ years of deferred maintenance.


Horipito Motors (Smash Palace)  the largest and only vintage car dismantlers in Australasia a local institution. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/smash_palace

Originally built a sawmill Bill Cole and his family set up a car dismantling business when the native bush was logged out over 6o years ago




Ruapehu from Horopito Road


A tripple headed diesel hauled northbound freight crosses  Matatote. In 2016 Kiwirail announced that it was intended to discontinue electric traction over the 255 mile central section of the Trunk this decision was reversed following a change of government in 2018 and its intended to refurbish 15 EL BoBoBo electric locomotives for use on the trunk.


I had intended to follow the Northbound but ended up chasing a southbound through to Waiouru the highest station on the trunk and go home via Taupo


Horopito again Smash Palace in background.


Twisty narrow gauge alignment!


9158 crests the grade into Waiouru Ruapehu partially covered in cloud, the track on the left is the headshunt, loop points fitted with heaters to deal with frost.

Waiouru is a classic photo location for southbound trains.



Train was made up of 30 bogie wagons loaded mainly with 20' ISO tank containers and 20' Curtain sided containers for Logistics traffic

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Tongariro, Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom & Ruapehu (l-r the three active volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park) viewed from National Park . the conditions in the Rangipo Desert on the opposite (eastern ) side of the mountains was  quote different with cloud cover later inthe afternoon.


Pair of EF (30) Class electric locomotives hauling a North bound freight about 10 years ago. Despite 3 changes of ownership the locos are still running in  NZR "Fruit Salad" paint scheme of the 1980s

The central section of the NIMT was electrified in the late 1980s both to reduce dependence on imported oil and allow heavier fright trains to be operated at a higher speed than with current diesel traction. 

The Bo-Bo-Bo 4000hp electric locomotives were supplied by Brush Traction and similar in design to the Channel Tunnel Shuttle Locos


EF 30249 recently re-painted in the Kiwirail paint scheme c 2010. Until recently the majority of the class has continued to soldier (in increasingly decrepit appearance) on in the original livery until thy become due for major overhaul/rust treatment.

The Government has recently approved programme  (principally an upgrade of the control system) to extend the life of the class a further 10 years.


Double headed steam special descending from the volcanic plateau through typical Central North Island hill country near Taumaranui.


DCP4692 heads the northbound Overlander across a typical timber piled bridge in the Ongarue Valley on a summer atSurday afternoon shortly before the Government bought out the main line rail freight and passenger operator Toll Rail in 2008.

The daily Overlander has been replaced by the tree-times weekly Northern Explorer and the timber bridges replaced by steel and concrete structures.

While Tranz Rail appeared to operate reasonably successfully under Wisconsin Central management following privitisation, both in terms of profitability and significantly increasing passenger and freight traffic, this was largely at the expense of deferring maintenance and renewals of locos stock and infrastructure and an element of asset stripping to pay dividends. Tranz Rail effectively reached breaking point around 2002 with Toll (an Australian Logistics Company) buying out the operating company and the Government taking over responsibility for infrastructure. The Government bought out Toll's railway operations in 2008 for approximately twice the sum sum realized from the privatisation of the railway system approx 15 years earlier.


The Overlander crossing Waiteki Viaduct the most northerly and oldest of the high viaducts on the Main Trunk.

The day was hot and sunny and  Overlander was running a reduced speed (45Km) due to the risk of buckled continuous welded rail arising from deferred maintenance.

The structure was originally erected in the 1880s with 4 wrought iron lattice spans on 3 wrought iron towers with concrete end abutments. The structure was strengthened to accept the higher axle loads with the K Class 4-8-4 locomotives introduced in the 1930s and the viaduct is currently undergoing a major upgrade https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/108196608/new-life-for-129yearold-old-rail-bridge-on-nzs-main-trunk-l

Edited by Mayner
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12 hours ago, PorkyP said:

Those viaducts look a wee bit precarious,  sure a bit of maintenance probably wouldn't hurt !  You certainly get some epic views where you are ! 

You should have seen them before we caught up on the deferred maintenance 🙂.  https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/makatote-viaduct

American style timber and steel trestles look spindly compared to British & Irish practice, but tend to be stronger structurally and have better earthquake resistance compared to a similar stone or brick structure. 

Timber piled construction is quite common for civil construction in America and Australasia, the main reason for replacing timber piles with concrete on the railway is to reduce long term maintenance cost rather than address any specific structural problems.


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Just reminded me a bit of that fillum, the Cassandra crossing, where, if I remember rightly they are hurtling towards a big rickety old wooden bridge !

I'm sure it's way more secure than it looks, specially If you've got earthquakes to contend with too..! Great pictures..👍 

It got me intrigued and looked up the movie out of interest, funny how you remember stuff wrong.. The bridge they used was apparently  an impressive iron viaduct in France made by none other than Monsieur Eiffel ( of tower fame) and they did some major railway modelling to film the crash and disintegrating bridge scenes...

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Apart from the Broadmeadows Viaduct on the Dublin-Belfast line collapsing into the sea in 2009 Melverely Bridge on the Welsh Borders was probably the best example of a shonky railway bridge in the British isles.

Both the original timber bridge and its steel replacement became unsafe to support a train. During the 1940s a loco would push a train of wagons across from one side for another loco to pick up.

There are similar stories of lines in the states (Chicago Attica & Southern) and locally (Taupo Totora Timber Company) where the bridges were in that bad of condition that the train crew would set the train in motion very slowly before getting off and walking across after the train made safety made it to the other side.1_melverley_bridge_800w-before-colapse.j

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  • 1 month later...

Wednesday on the Main Trunk Line

Seemingly the 1st opportunity  I had the time weather was fine enough to go on Drive/Walkabout. Photos were mainly between Te Kuiti and Taumaranui where the line crosses the headwaters of the Waipa and Wanganui river systems.


Tripple bogie EF 30094 & 30232 departing Te-Kuiti with a Southbound freight. The line climbs on  1:70 ruling grade for 20 miles from Te Kuiti (178') to the summit at Poro-Tarao Tunnel (1113')

Remain of the Te Kuiti Industrial Line which once served a lime works and a fertiliser depot approx a mile South of the town. 



Kopaki passing place. Line follows the valley of the Mangokewa Stream above Te Kuiti the valley basically rises in a series of steps with a combination of relatively wide valley sections linked by narrow twisting gorges.  Passing loops on the electrified section of the line are approx 1Km in length trains generally load to 30 bogies or 1200 Tonne glw



30094 & 30232 passing Waimiha (752') on the descent from Poro-Tarao Tunnel to Taumaranui. The line descends at 1:66 from the summit to Waimiha before flattening out to 1:70 to (Taumaranui 561')

This area is particularly remote with a mixture of remote homesteads, sheep farms and forestry workers. This was one of the last areas of native forest opened up to commercial logging in the 1940s,  the last of the steam powered sawmills abandoned in 1996 https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/34687/endeans-mill-sawmill-building-2011 .

While it was fairly easy to keep ahead of the train on the twisting hilly sections the train has a distinct advantage on the straighter sections of line with a line speed of 100Km/h.



Wanganui Viaduct Taumaranui ( or the one that got away!) 30094 got ahead of me when I stopped for petrol in Taumaranui. I decided to stop and wait rather than catch up with the southbound as Train Control had set up a path for a North Bound train.

Growing impatient I set off to try an catch up with the South Bound or the approaching train nearer to their crossing place. 


The three volcanos fresh from Owhango. The mountains on the Plateau and Southern Alps had received a fresh dusting of snow during a recent cold snap. I decided to turn back at Owhango signal lights were out at the crossing place which usually indicates that no routes have been set up or traffic due through the section.  Re-tracing my steps to the Wanganui bridge signals are set up for a North Bound train but when? I cannot listen in to Train Control or the chirping of a FRED (Radio end of train device) as left my radio scanner at home!


The one that got away!. Although I had composed the shot, I had little warning of the sound of the approaching train and nothing happened when I pressed the shutter as the locos emerged from the bridge!.



Crossing side stream in the Ongarue Valley. I caught up with the train about 20 miles further up the line in the Ongarue Valley on the climb from Taumaranui to Poro-Tarao Tunnel. Ongarue Village was Mill Town with a large steam sawmill with an extensive logging railway system that used American Climax and native AG Price logging locomotives. The Ongarue Tramways have been converted to cycleways and are one of the center pieces of the Pureora Forest Park. 

The railway bridge is a recent replacement of a wooden piled bridge with a low maintenance steel and concrete structure. Steelwork is  Wethering steel product similar to CoreTen which does no require painting. The bridge was replaced as part of a bridge replacement programme which indicated that the New Zealand Government was committed to retaining the Main Trunk line.


Approaching Mangapehi on the descent from Poro Tarao.  Mangapehi township largely abandoned following the closure of a large sawmill https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23145751?search[subject][]=Ellis+%26+Burnand+Ltd&search[subject][]=Sawmills&search[path]=places. There was an extensive private railway system that operated in conjunction with the sawmill and a local coal mine.


Back where I started 9446 passing Te Kuiti. The infrastructure is typical of the larger stations on the electrified section of the Main Trunk with gantry structures supporting the overhead, bracket signals, a long passing loop and third road serving a freight yard or loco depot. There has been lobbying at Regional and District Council level to re-establish a freight terminal at Te Kuiti presumably to handle export container traffic from the local meat processing plants, the electrified section of the Main Trunk is basically a run-through railway with little no originating traffic over the mountainous central section between Te Kuiti and Oakune.



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Some more odd-ball stuff. 

I planned to build an American On30 narrow gauge layout in a garden shed/garage and set up a mock up of one line crossing above another without realising there was once a similar arrangement on the Ongarue Bush Tramway in King Country


Bush Tramways or logging lines tended to use a mixture of American and locally designed geared steam locos but no Shays. The locos in the Ongarue photo are AG Price 16 wheelers which are similar in concept to the Type A Climax with the weight spread over 4 bogies or trucks.

Although I had a space of 24X12 the On30 layout never got beyond the planning/mock up stage and started to build a permanent American N Gauge layout with a center island as I felt the On30 did not work out in the available space.


The Taupo Totara Timber (TTT) company operated the 80Km Mokai Tramway between its mill at Mokai north of lake Taupo and the New Zealand Railways Rotorua Branch. The tramway was worked mainly by Heisler geared locomotives and a Mallet operated through remote country with challenging civil engineering including a corkscrew section and a large single arch bridge over the Waikato.

The tramway struggled financially through much of its existence, the bridge got into poor condition and was replaced by a steel structure in the 1930s. 


The Corkscrew.

Most of this area was converted to plantation forestry from the late 1930s a 30Km section of the line was upgraded to serve a pulp and paper mill in the late 1940s after the tramway had ceased to operate, sections of tramway are in use as private forestry roads.

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  • 3 months later...

Watched a great programme tonight on BBC 4 about a journey by train traveling through New Zealand.

A lovely journey showing the landscape and the railway lines with some aerial views of the trains crossing

some very high bridges.

Also stopping at stations including Hamilton.

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On 1/19/2020 at 10:28 PM, popeye said:

Watched a great programme tonight on BBC 4 about a journey by train traveling through New Zealand.

A lovely journey showing the landscape and the railway lines with some aerial views of the trains crossing

some very high bridges.

Also stopping at stations including Hamilton.

Yeh - saw the same one - from end of New Zealand to the other - mostly by train - but also boat and car. Absolutely no commentary or background music - the Beeb are good with stuff like that.

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On 1/20/2020 at 11:28 AM, popeye said:

Watched a great programme tonight on BBC 4 about a journey by train traveling through New Zealand.

A lovely journey showing the landscape and the railway lines with some aerial views of the trains crossing

some very high bridges.

Also stopping at stations including Hamilton.

NZ Rail action is a good source of videos on contemporary rail operation in New Zealand produced from an enthusiasts perspective


Edited by Mayner
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  • 7 months later...

Eight months later another day on Walkabout in King Country that did not exactly go to plan.

The basic idea was to cycle the remains of the Ongarue Tramway and famous Spiral https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/waikato/places/pureora-forest-park/ongarue-tramway-and-spiral/ but my knees were no longer up to it and I had to turn back after 3km.

Still it was a beautiful sunny day a good escape from the cabin fever of the last 5-6 months.

Signals were clear for a Southbound train at Te Kuiti so I decided to follow the railway line than the more direct SH3 & 4 Route to Ongarue.

The Southbound freight was not far off, the Northern Explorer passenger train as overseas tourists are 3extremely scarce with the drop off in international air travel.



After the almost level 200Km run from Auckland a pair of 3,600Hp Chinese built DL locos at the beginning of the approx 32km  1:70 climb from Te Kuiti to the summit at Poro-O-Tarao tunnel. 


The railway line on the left is the remains of the 2km  Te Kuiti Industrial line which served local industries including a limeworks and a bulk fertiliser depot.


Further up the valley the railway runs alongside SH30  before entering a narrow gorge where the railway climbs to a higher level.

I was using an Android phone and had hoped to capture the train passing a distinctive round roof barn, a distinctive structure on this section of the line but could not see the screen in strong sunlight!


Once clear of the gorge the line runs along a ledge between the valley floor and surrounding hill country.



Train is about to pass through a shallow cutting as it approaches the Kopaki Passing place before passing into another gorge before entering a wider section of the valley.



View of snow clad Mt Ruapehu from the watershed between the Waikato and Waunganui river systems, leaving the Poro-O-Tarao tunnel the railway runs through the Ongarue River Valley on the extreme right of the photo.

The Ongarue system  which lasted  into the 1960s used American Climax, locally built AJ Price geared logging locos.



Typical central North Island bush and the three active volcanoes from right Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. 

A former workmate found this particular viewpoint while working in the area in 2017 and it sounded like it was worth checking out.

Most of the bush (forest) is second or possibly 3rd generation re-growth after the land was cleared for agriculture about 100 years ago.

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