List of railway lines in New Zealand

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The New Zealand railway network consists of four main lines, seven secondary lines and numerous short branch lines in almost every region. It links all major urban centres except Nelson, Taupo, Queenstown, Whakatane and now Gisborne. The network is owned and managed by KiwiRail. The network was constructed from 1863 onwards, mostly by government bodies, initially by the Provincial and later by central government (usually the Public Works Department). In 1993 New Zealand Rail Limited was privatised (and later renamed Tranz Rail), with the New Zealand Railways Corporation retaining the land (due to Treaty of Waitangi claims on land taken for railway construction). In 2003 the government renationalised the network. KiwiRail operates all freight and most passenger services, including Metlink passenger trains in the Wellington region, by Tranz Metro; Transdev operates Auckland Transport (AT) suburban passenger trains in Auckland; the Taieri Gorge Railway operates tourist passenger trains in Dunedin.

New Zealand national rail network[edit]

North Island rail network map
South Island rail network map

Lines in bold type are currently operated by KiwiRail

Main trunk lines[edit]

Name Route Length Usage
North Island Main Trunk Railway Wellington - Palmerston North - Taumarunui - Hamilton - Auckland 681 km (423 mi) Freight & Passenger
East Coast Main Trunk Railway Hamilton - Morrinsville - Kaimai Tunnel - Tauranga - Kawerau Freight only
Midland Line Rolleston - Springfield - Arthurs Pass - Stillwater - Greymouth 212 km (131 mi) Freight & Passenger
Main North Line Christchurch - Kaikoura - Blenheim - Picton 348 km (216 mi) Freight & Passenger
Main South Line Lyttelton - Christchurch - Timaru - Dunedin - Invercargill 601 km (373 mi) Freight & Passenger (Christchurch - Rolleston)
Freight only (Lyttelton - Christchurch, Rolleston - Invercargill)

The last two lines are sometimes referred to as the South Island Main Trunk Railway

Secondary main lines[edit]

Name Route Length Usage
Marton - New Plymouth Line Marton - Wanganui - Hawera - New Plymouth Freight only
North Auckland Line Auckland - Waitakere - Helensville - Wellsford - Whangarei - Otiria 281 km (175 mi) Freight and Passenger south of Waitakere
Freight only Waitakere to Otiria
Palmerston North - Gisborne Line Palmerston North - Woodville - Waipukurau - Hastings - Napier - Muriwai - Gisborne Freight & Passenger(charter/cruise). Mothballed: Napier to Muriwai 2012. Open: Muriwai to Gisborne, leased by Gisborne Vintage Railway from June 2013[1][2]
Stillwater Ngakawau Line Stillwater - Reefton - Westport - Ngakawau Freight only
Stratford - Okahukura Line Stratford - Whangamomona - Okahukura 144 km (89 mi) Passenger: leased to a private operator June 2012.
Wairarapa Line Wellington - Upper Hutt - Masterton - Woodville 176 km (109 mi) Freight & Passenger Wellington to Masterton
Freight only Masterton to Woodville

Branch lines[edit]

Northland[edit]

Name Route Usage
Dargaville Branch Waiotira - Dargaville Freight only
Donnellys Crossing Section Dargaville - Kaihu - Donnellys Crossing Closed 1959
Kumeu-Riverhead Section Kumeu - Riverhead Closed 1885
Okaihau Branch Otiria - Kaikohe - Okaihau Closed 1987
Onerahi Branch Whangarei - Onerahi Closed 1933
Opua Branch Otiria - Kawakawa - Opua Closed 1985
Kawakawa - Taumarere operated by Bay of Islands Vintage Railway

Auckland[edit]

Name Route Usage
Auckland - Newmarket Line Quay Park junction - Newmarket Freight & Passenger
Southdown Branch Westfield Junction - Southdown Freight Centre Freight only
Mission Bush Branch Paerata - Glenbrook - Mission Bush Freight only
Onehunga Branch Penrose - Onehunga Passenger
Manukau Branch Wiri - Manukau Passenger
Waiuku Branch Glenbrook - Waiuku Closed 1967
Now Glenbrook Vintage Railway
Suburban Passenger rail lines[edit]
Auckland suburban rail network
Name Route
Eastern Line Britomart Transport Centre - Glen Innes - Papakura - Pukekohe
North Island Main Trunk Line
Southern Line Britomart Transport Centre - Newmarket - Papakura - Pukekohe
Auckland - Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line, North Island Main Trunk Line
Western Line Britomart Transport Centre - Newmarket - Swanson - Waitakere
Auckland - Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line
Onehunga Line Britomart Transport Centre - Newmarket - Penrose - Onehunga
Auckland - Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line, Onehunga Branch
Manukau Line Britomart Transport Centre - Glen Innes - Wiri - Manukau
North Island Main Trunk Line, Manukau Branch

Waikato / Coromandel[edit]

Name Route Usage
East Coast Main Trunk Railway Original Sections from Paeroa Frankton - Morrinsville - Paeroa - Waihi - Tauranga - Taneatua Closed Paeroa to Apata, September, 1978. Waikino to Waihi reopened 8 November 1980 by Goldfields Railway. Hawkens Junction to Taneatua became Taneatua Branch.
Cambridge Branch Ruakura - Hautapu - Cambridge Freight only. Closed Hautapu - Cambridge 1999
Glen Afton Branch Closed, partially remains as the Bush Tramway Club's Pukemiro Line. Remainder became Rotowaro Branch
Kimihia Branch Coal only
Rotowaro Branch Coal only
Thames Branch/Waitoa Branch Morrinsville - Waitoa - Paeroa - Thames Morrinsville to Paeroa part of East Coast Main Trunk, 1928 to 1978. Freight only. Closed Waitoa - Thames 1991. Mothballed Morrinsville to Waitoa, reopened 2004 as Waitoa Branch.
Wilton Collieries Line Ngaruawahia Closed, 1958 (Line owned by NZ Mines Dept, operated by NZR after 1940)

Bay of Plenty[edit]

Name Route Usage
Kinleith Branch Waharoa - Kinleith Mill Freight only
Mount Maunganui Branch Freight only
Murupara Branch Freight only
Rotorua Branch Putaruru - Rotorua/Koutu Leased to a Private Operator, 2010
Taneatua Branch Mothballed 2003
Whakatane Board Mills Line Awakeri - Whakatane mill Closed 2003

Gisborne - Hawke's Bay[edit]

Name Route Usage
Napier Port Branch/Ahuriri Branch Freight only
Moutohora Branch Gisborne - Makaraka - Moutohora Freight only. Closed Makaraka - Moutohora 1959, Makaraka - Gisborne mothballed 2012.
Ngatapa Branch Gisborne - Ngatapa Closed 1931

Central North Island[edit]

Name Route Usage
Raetihi Branch Ohakune - Raetihi Closed 1968

Taranaki[edit]

Name Route Usage
Castlecliff Branch Wanganui - Castlecliff Freight only.
Opunake Branch/Kapuni Branch Eltham - Kapuni - Opunake Freight only. Closed Kapuni - Opunake
Mount Egmont Branch Closed
Waitara Branch Lepperton - Waitara Closed 1999. Leased to private operator.
Waitara Railway Preservation Society
Wanganui Branch Aramoho - Wanganui Freight only

Manawatu[edit]

Name Route Usage
Foxton Branch Longburn - Foxton Closed 1959
Taonui Branch Taonui - near Colyton Closed 1895

Wairarapa[edit]

Name Route Usage
Greytown Branch Woodside - Greytown Closed 1953

Wellington[edit]

Name Route Usage
Gracefield Branch Woburn - Hutt Workshops - Gracefield Freight only. Hutt Workshops - Gracefield mothballed 2002
Johnsonville Line Wellington - Johnsonville Passenger only. Former North Island Main Trunk Line
Melling Branch Petone - Melling Passenger only. Former Wairarapa Line
Te Aro Branch Lambton - Te Aro Closed 1917
Suburban rail lines[edit]
Wellington suburban rail network
Name Route
Johnsonville Line Wellington - Johnsonville
Johnsonville Line
Kapiti Line Wellington - Waikanae
North Island Main Trunk Line
Hutt Valley Line Wellington - Upper Hutt
Wairarapa Line
Melling Line Wellington - Melling
Wairarapa Line, Melling Branch
Wairarapa Line Wellington - Masterton
Wairarapa Line

Nelson[edit]

Name Route Usage
Nelson Section Nelson - Kawatiri Isolated from South Island network. Closed 1955

Westland[edit]

Name Route Usage
Blackball Branch Closed 1966
Cape Foulwind Railway Westport, New Zealand - Cape Foulwind Closed 1930
Conns Creek Branch Waimangaroa - Denniston, New Zealand Closed 1967
Hokitika Branch/Ross Branch Greymouth - Hokitika - Ross Freight only. Closed Hokitika - Ross 1980
Ngakawau Branch/Seddonville Branch Westport - Ngakawau - Seddonville - Mokihinui Mine Freight only. Closed Seddonville - Mokihinui Mine 1974, Ngakawau - Seddonville 1981
Rapahoe Branch Greymouth - Rapahoe Freight only
Rewanui Branch Greymouth - Rewanui Closed 1985

Canterbury[edit]

Name Route Usage
Eyreton Branch Kaiapoi - Wetheral - Horrelville - Bennetts Junction Closed Horrelville - Bennetts Junction 1931, Wetheral - Horrelville 1954, Kaiapoi - Wetheral 1965
Fairlie Branch Washdyke - Eversley Closed 1968
Pleasant Point section operatred by Pleasant Point Museum and Railway
Proposed Fairlie Rail Trail
Ferrymead Branch Christchurch - Ferrymead Closed 1868
Now Ferrymead Railway
Hornby Industrial Line/Southbridge Branch Hornby - Prebbleton - Lincoln - Southbridge Freight only. Closed Lincoln - Southbridge 1962, Prebbleton - Lincoln 1967, mothballed 2012.
Little River Branch Lincoln - Little River Closed 1962
Now Little River Rail Trail
Methven Branch Rakaia - Methven Closed 1976
Mount Somers Branch/Springburn Branch Tinwald - Mount Somers - Springburn Closed Mount Somers - Springburn 1957, Tinwald - Mount Somers 1968
Tinwald - Frasers Road section operated by Plains Vintage Railway
Oxford Branch Rangiora - Oxford - Sheffield Closed Oxford - Sheffield 1930, Rangiora - Oxford 1959
Waiau Branch Waipara - Waiau Closed 1978
Waipara - Waikari section operated by Weka Pass Railway
Waimate Branch/Waimate Gorge Branch Studholme - Waimate - Waihao Downs Closed Waimate - Waihao Downs 1953, Studholme - Waimate 1966
Whitecliffs Branch Darfield - Whitecliffs Closed 1962

Otago[edit]

Name Route Usage
Catlins River Branch Balclutha - Finegand - Tahakopa Freight only, Closed 1971 beyond Finegand
Dunback and Makareao Branches Palmerston - Inch Valley - Dunback/Makareao Closed Inch Valley - Dunback 1968, Palmerston - Makareao 1989
Fernhill Branch Abbotsford - Fernhill Closed 2003
Kingston Branch Kingston - Fairlight Passenger only - Kingston Flyer Ltd.
Kurow Branch/Hakataramea Branch Pukeuri - Kurow - Hakataramea Closed Kurow - Hakataramea 1930, Pukeuri - Kurow 1983
Moeraki Branch Hillgrove - Moeraki Closed 1879
Ngapara and Tokarahi Branches Waiareka Junction - Windsor Junction - Ngapara/Tokarahi Closed Windsor Junction - Tokarahi 1930, Taylor's Siding - Ngapara 1959, Waiareka Junction - Taylor's Siding 1997
Ocean Beach Railway Dunedin - Forbury Park Closed beyond Gas works and Andersons Bay Rd warehousing 1942. Closed as far as Strathallan Road level crossing 1990. One rail shared with DCC Tramways and electrified 1908 along Royal Crescent.
Otago Central Railway Wingatui - Middlemarch - Clyde - Cromwell Passenger only beyond Taieri. Closed Clyde - Cromwell 1980, Middlemarch - Clyde 1990
Taieri - Middlemarch operated by Taieri Gorge Railway, Middlemarch - Clyde now Otago Central Rail Trail
Outram Branch Mosgiel - Outram Closed 1953 beyond Woollen Mills private siding, remainder closed 1990
Port Chalmers Branch Sawyers Bay - Port Chalmers Freight only
Roxburgh Branch Milton - Lawrence - Roxburgh Closed 1968
Shag Point Branch Shag Point - Shag Point Coal Mine Closed 1934
Tapanui Branch Waipahi - Tapanui - Heriot - Edievale Closed Heriot - Edievale 1968, Waipahi - Heriot 1978
Walton Park Branch Burnside - Walton Park Closed 1957

Southland[edit]

Name Route Usage
Balfour Branch/Waimea Plains Railway Gore - Balfour - Lumsden Closed Gore - Balfour 1971, Lumsden - Balfour 1978
Bluff Branch Invercargill - Bluff Standard gauge 1435mm, 1866 to 1875. Freight only
Browns Branch/Hedgehope Branch Winton - Browns - Hedgehope Closed Browns - Hedgehope 1953, Winton - Browns 1968
Kingston Branch Invercargill - Makarewa - Fairlight - Kingston Closed completely 1982 except:
Kingston - Fairlight (Otago) operated by Kingston Flyer Ltd, Invercargill - Makarewa part of Wairio Branch
Mokomoko Habour Branch Awarua - Mokomoko Habour Closed 1875, Standard gauge 1435mm from 1866, connected to Bluff Branch
Mossburn Branch Lumsden - Mossburn Closed 1982
Riverton Branch/Tuatapere Branch/Orawia Branch Makarewa - Thornbury - Riverton - Tuatapere - Orawia Closed Tuatapere - Orawia 1970, Riverton - Tuatapere 1976, Thornbury - Riverton 1978
Makarewa - Thornbury part of Wairio Branch
Tokanui (or Seaward Bush) Branch Invercargill - Tokanui Closed 1966
Waikaia Branch Riversdale - Waikaia Closed 1959
Waikaka Branch McNab - Waikaka Closed 1962
Wairio Branch/Ohai Industrial Line Invercargill - Makarewa - Thornbury - Wairio - Nightcaps - Ohai Freight only, mothballed beyond Nightcaps
Wyndham Branch Edendale - Wyndham - Glenham Closed Wyndham - Glenham 1930, Edendale - Wyndham 1962

Private lines[edit]

Parts of the network were constructed by private companies, and most were unsuccessful. All except the Whakatane Board Mills line and the Sanson Tramway were later acquired by the government. The most successful was the Wellington and Manawatu Railway, which operated between Wellington and Longburn (near Palmerston North) from 1885 to 1908. After the WMR, perhaps the best-known private railway was the New Zealand Midland Railway Company, which constructed parts of the Midland, Nelson and West Coast lines. After the company was dissolved in 1900 the railway lines and their construction were taken over by the government. Some lines were built by companies for access such as to coal mines, and by local government bodies.

Significant proposals[edit]

Many railway lines have been proposed, especially in the 19th century, but never constructed. Some proposals have been particularly significant due to their extent, publicity, or how close they came to being realised (in some cases, the track bed was built). Some significant proposals include:

See also Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume LVII, 23 August 1910, Page 5 for a list of railways authorised, proposed and under construction, with estimated cost of completing them as at April 1, 1910, many of which were not built.

The Nelson - Blenheim notional railway[edit]

The Nelson - Blenheim notional railway was created in November 1957 to help manage the political backlash from the 1955 closure of the isolated Nelson Section. State Highway 6 between Nelson and Blenheim was deemed by law to be an NZR railway for the purposes of calculating passenger and freight rates between railway stations in the South Island and Nelson or other places on the notional railway. Passengers and freight travelled by road, with the difference between the road carrier's rates and railway rates subsidised by the government. Rail rates were significantly cheaper than road rates, so the scheme provided significant benefits to its users, while imposing significant costs on the government. The scheme lasted for 22 years, being withdrawn in October 1977. See Nelson - Blenheim notional railway for a more complete history.

Bush tramways[edit]

These were lines principally constructed to haul timber or minerals, often in isolated areas. A variety of gauges was used, including the NZ standard 1067 mm (3'6"). Typical bush trams were more lightly constructed than ordinary rail lines and had steeper gradients and sharper curves. With the low speeds that were commonplace, rolling stock and locomotives were generally built to lighter standards than main-line vehicles. It was not uncommon for road vehicles to be adapted, either as haulage power or rolling stock. As road vehicles became more suited for these operations the trams gradually faded away and none are now operating.

A prominent example of a bush tramway was the Taupo Totara Timber Company's line between Putaruru and Mokai, and an example of a mineral tramway was the Dun Mountain Railway.

Street tramways[edit]

Major street tramway networks were constructed in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, with smaller operations in Gisborne, Napier, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Nelson and Invercargill. Employing horse, steam or electric power, they operated in most cases until the 1950s when improved buses saw most of the tracks scrapped. Urban tram operations, built from scratch as tourist attractions, have more recently been restarted in Christchurch (1995) Auckland (2011), and Wanganui (2013). See Trams in New Zealand.

Heritage railways[edit]

A large number of societies operate working heritage railway lines and museums. Most of these are run largely or wholly by volunteer labour, except the Taieri Gorge Railway in Dunedin, which employs paid staff.

References[edit]