Weka Pass Railway

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The Weka Pass Railway is a New Zealand heritage railway based in Waipara, North Canterbury. It is operated on a 12 km length of the former Waiau Branch railway between Waipara and Waikari. The railway is operated by an incorporated society whose members come from all walks of life and are largely resident in the city of Christchurch, 60 km to the south. The railway began carrying passengers in 1984 and is now well established locally and nationally.



See Waiau Branch for more details

The first stage of the Waiau Branch line inland through the Weka Pass to Waikari was completed in 1882. This area is noted for its scenery and the railway passes through many large cuttings, around tight curves and on steep gradients (max 1 in 47). When originally built the line was expected to be part of the South Island Main Trunk Railway north of the city of Christchurch. Further sections of the line through Hawarden, Medbury, Balmoral, Pahau, Culverden, Achray, Rotherham and Waiau were constructed in subsequent years. The line was officially opened to Medbury in 1884 and to Culverden in 1886 but the final section to Waiau was not completed until 1919. In the 1920s the decision was made to take the Main North Line on a coastal route north out of Waipara. The Main North Line, which involved major earthworks and many engineering difficulties, was not completed until 1945.

The Waiau Branch suffered the fate of many rural branch lines in later years as increasing competition from road transport saw a decline in traffic carried. For many years the railways were protected from this competition by mileage limits; as these were gradually increased, more and more branches were closed. The branch had a short reprieve in its twilight years when large amounts of logs were carried from the Balmoral forest. Closure occurred in January 1978.

Following the closure the line gradually decayed. All of the track remained in place except for the removal of a level crossing at Waikari where the road crossed State Highway 7. Some of the station buildings were removed or demolished soon after the closure. The mainline connection along with some of the associated sidings remained in place at Waipara and the line was occasionally used as a backshunt when long trains were crossed there. The national railway union banned the removal of the track for a period of five years after the closure. However tenders were called for the first demolition work in August 1982. That part of the line which was not purchased for preservation was lifted in stages around 1982/83, including the large bridges at the Hurunui and Pahau Rivers.


A public meeting at Waipara in August 1982 saw a steering committee established to investigate the Weka Pass Railway proposal. There had been interest from a number of people in preserving part of this old branch line particularly in the scenic Weka Pass. The impetus came from local Waipara people who saw the tourist potential, and railway enthusiasts, many drawn from the Ferrymead Railway. The Society was formally established in December of that year. The new group began negotiating with NZ Railways and other parties to purchase track, locomotives, rolling stock and other facilities. In May 1983 the first major public event the "Mayfair" was held and featured the operation of locomotives and rolling stock from Ferrymead and McLeans Island Steamscene. December 1983 saw the arrival of the first of the locomotives and rolling stock. The society also negotiated the purchase of the first 30 km of the branch line from Waipara to the south bank of the Hurunui River. In 1984 the society began to operate trains in its own right on the first 2 km of the line, later extended to Frog Rock. Later that year the historic steam locomotive K 88 operated passenger trains on the line. By April 1985 passengers were able to be carried by train to Herberts Crossing where trolleys and an inspection car operated to Waikari. Train running was extended to Waikari by December of that year.

The Railway suffered a major setback in 1986 when heavy rain damaged the line in a number of places. It was decided to close the line for major repairs. Also at this time the future of the line beyond Waikari, at which it was bisected by the state highway where the track had been removed, was reassessed. Over the next two years the members decided to lift all of the track beyond Waikari. Major repair works and earthworks were also carried out between Waipara and Waikari to remedy longstanding problems resulting from ground movement and slipping. Extensive track repairs included the use of salvaged materials from the lifted portion of line. By April 1987 trains were again running to the 5.5 km peg. The railway's first station at Glenmark (Waipara) was then under construction. Track removal beyond Waikari began in 1986 at Medbury and continued back to Waikari where this work was finally completed in 1991.


The second decade of the Weka Pass Railway has been one largely of consolidation of the previous work, rather than major developments. One of its biggest achievements was the restoration of steam locomotive A 428 which was completed in 1993. An ongoing activity during that era has been the continued track refurbishment which saw the line reopened in stages, reaching Frog Rock in 1991 and Herberts Crossing in 1992. A massive reconstruction of the formation and track at Waikari, together with the purchase and erection of another station building, saw the line finally reopened in 1999, at which time it was also formally opened. The 1990s also saw the development of the popular and successful Waipara Vintage Festivals, which have been held every two years since 1995 and have featured locomotives and rolling stock from around New Zealand.


Track and buildings[edit]

Glenmark Station at Waipara

The Weka Pass Railway owns approximately 13 km of branch line track between Waipara and its terminus at Waikari. Station buildings, yards and associated facilities have been constructed at Glenmark (Waipara) and Waikari, the latter including a turntable. There is also a depot located in the old Waipara railyard where an engine shed, carriage repair depot and hall are located along with various storage sidings. The railway also has a connection to the Main North Line via the Waipara crossing loop. Signalling equipment has been installed at Waipara station along with tablet machines. A system using telephones and VHF radio communication with their own repeater controls the operations of trains on the line.A new turntable at the Waipara end of the line was commissioned in 2009, enabling the locomotive to be turned to face the correct way at each end of the preserved railway. A new raised water vat at Waipara is in use.

Waipara Vintage Festival[edit]


Over the weekend of 16 and 17 September 1995 the WPR held their first Waipara Vintage Festival. Using Diesel Traction Group's DG 772, Mainline Steam Heritage Trust's J 1211 and KB 968, Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand's W 192, Ocean Beach Railway's A 67 and Kerr Stuart NO. 4185 and Weka Pass Railway's A 428, DG 791 plus their DSA 276. A 67 and the Kerr Stuart ran shuttle trains from Glenmark to NO. 1 gate with DSA 276 on the rear. KB 968 was granted a special steam ticket for the festival. It was on display at Glenmark station and ran a few trips double heading with J 1211 with DG's 772 and 791 on the rear. J 1211 and A 428 double headed on both days from Glenmark into the pass and return. This was J 1211's last outing as a coal burner.


On 20 and 21 September 1997 the WPR held their second Waipara Vintage Festival. This time the locomotives that participated were A 428, DG's 770 and 791 with DSA 276 from the WPR, DE 1429 from the Diesel Traction Group, KA 942 Nigel Bruce from the Mainline Steam Heritage Trust, W 192 from the Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand and WD 357 from the Canterbury Railway Society. KA 942 was hauled to Picton to cover Steam Incorporated's JA 1271. On 19 September 942 hauled the excursion to Christchurch. On the following day the 'KA' hauled the Press Express from Christchurch to Waipara and this was where A 428 with DG's 770 and 791 hauled the train up into the pass and return.


In September 1999 the WPR held their third Waipara Vintage Festival. On 17 September was the official opening of the line to Waikari. A 428 done the honours hauling the first train. The locomotives, A 428, DG's 770 and 791 with DSA 276 from the WPR, Canterbury Railway Society's F 13 and WD 357, Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand's F 163 and W 192 and Canterbury Steam Preservation Society's PWD 548. W 192 only ran one trip to Waikari after developing boiler issues. This meant it only could do minor roles including trips to Gate NO. 1. F 13 was granted a special permit to enable it to participate in the festival after being withdrawn from service in 1994 for a 10-year overhaul.


In 2001 the WPR held their forth festival. The locomotives that participated were A 428, DG's 770 and 791, Canterbury Railway Society's WD 357, Diesel Traction Group's DE 1429, Pleasant Point Museum and Railway's D 16 and Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand's W 192. D 16 only ran a few trips until one of its driving rod brasses broke. It taken out of service and placed on static display.


The 2003 was held at the WPR. But this time the locomotives in operation there were A 428 and DG's 770's and 791.

Locomotives and rolling stock[edit]

The railway presently owns four locomotives, all formerly owned by the New Zealand Government Railways, and a large fleet of ex-NZR rolling stock.

Steam Locomotives[edit]

NZR A class No.428 "Pacific type" steam locomotive of the Weka Pass Railway at Waikari.

A 428 – A & G Price NO 31 of 1909.[1] The group's main locomotive, A 428 is owned by the A 428 Preservation Society, but leased to the Weka Pass Railway in 1983. It was restored to operating condition in 1993, and has been used extensively since then. Prior to the addition of a turntable at Waipara, the engine had a cowcatcher fitted to its tender (a requirement for tender-first running) – this was removed in 2009. Its boiler ticket will expire in 2013.

Diesel Locomotives[edit]

DG 770 and DG 791 – English Electric 2274/D353 of 1955 (770) and English Electric 2295/D374 of 1955 (791).[2] Allocated the TMS numbers DG 2232 (DG 770) and DG 2468 (DG 791), the locomotives were purchased from the NZRC in 1983. They were the mainstay of services until A 428 was restored. They are used most often in the summer, when fire bans are in place and the A is out of service for summer maintenance.

DSA 276 – Mitsubish 1471 of 1967. This locomotive was allocated the TMS number DSA 822, and was purchased from contractor Rail Base Systems in 1992. It is used for shunting and work trains that do not warrant the use of the DG diesels. It is one of two extant Mitsubishi DSA diesel-electric shunting locomotives, the other being DSA 273, also formerly owned by Rail Base Systems, which is owned by the Northland Dairy Company for shunting in their factory at Kauri.

Passenger Carriages[edit]

The railway owns four A class 50-foot steel-panelled cars, numbers A 1730–33 and A 1760 (unrestored), which form the mainstay of train services. There is also AL 1697, an A class car converted to a car-van for suburban service in the 1960s, which is fitted for wheelchair access. Four of these cars, AL 1697 and A 1730/31/33 formed the original carriage fleet from 1983 – A 1732 and A 1760 were owned by the Taieri Gorge Railway, and arrived in 2010, pending restoration. The group also has 56' steel-panelled car A 1935 (TMS AC 3548), a former South Island mainline carriage' and is used on regular trains,and sometimes on 'wine and dine' trains as it has tables between the seats. The group also possesses the chassis of 56' car-van AL 1963 (TMS AL 2015), formerly owned by the Rail Heritage Trust; this car's body was in poor condition, and was scrapped in 2004 after it arrived in 2001.

The group built two of their own carriages, AT 155 and AT 157 in 1988 and 1993. These were built on the chassis of T class cattle wagons T 155 and T 157, and are a covered viewing carriage (AT 155) and open viewing carriage (AT 157) respectively. The railway owns the chassis of another T wagon, T 168, but does not have any significant plans for it. All three AT/T class chassis are notable for being shortened chassis – as built, the T class chassis was slightly longer. The last passenger car owned by the group is BP 1703 'Addington' car A 523, built at Addington Workshops in 1886. It is shorter than the other ex-NZR carriages at 42" 9', and is also the oldest, built in 1886. Purchased from NZR by Shantytown in 1972 as Way and Works car EA 2674, it was swapped to the railway in 1986 for track fittings to extend the Infants Creek Railway at Shantytown (the carriage did not fit the bush tramway image at Shantytown). Due to its poor condition, the carriage was restored in 1994 as an accommodation carriage at Waipara. One side of the carriage is made up of timber cladding salvaged from the carriage during restoration, while the other is in fact corrugated metal sheathing. As such it has not run, and may not likely do so again.

Goods wagons[edit]

The railway owns a large collection of steam-era goods wagons, including four examples of the ubiqitous LA class 'highsider' four-wheel wagons among others. Other wagons include examples of stock wagons, several vans including two representatives of the Z class 'roadsider' vans, tank wagons, and eight YB/YC ballast wagons, which are kept in working order for track maintenance duties through the Weka Pass.

The group also owns diesel crane NO 197 (TMS EL 1007) and its runner wagon, EUB 4164 (formerly UB 4164, TMS EA 2662).[3] This crane was the first diesel crane owned by NZR, and was purchased in 1989. Since then it has been kept in running condition for work around the yard and on major works jobs, such as the relaying of track to Waikari in 1999. The railway also leases depressed-centre wagon UD 1504 (TMS EWW 46) from KiwiRail Network through the Rail Heritage Trust.[3] As a condition of this, the wagon can be used by KiwiRail Network as required, and does occasionally leave the railway. However, it is nominally part of the WPR fleet, and is used to get large machinery up into the Weka Pass.

Guard's vans[edit]

The railway owns two examples of NZR guards vans; F 497 (TMS F 962), a 47" 6' wooden-clad van built at Hillside in 1927 and donated by a member to the railway, and F 699 (TMS F 2854), a 37" 6' wooden-clad van built at Addington in 1964 on the chassis of a withdrawn passenger carriage. Both are operable in their own rights, and are used on passenger trains.

Rolling stock formerly owned by the Railway[edit]

A& G Price 198 of 1960, a small 0-4-0DM diesel shunting locomotive, was donated by Kempthorne Prosser Fertiliser to the railway in 1985. The locomotive, designated as Model 8 by Prices, was a small diesel-hydraulic 15-ton shunting locomotive developing 107 hp, similar to the ten Prices '15-tonner' TR 0-4-0DH shunting locomotives sold to NZR in 1955. It had previously worked at the KP Hornby works, where it had displaced ex-NZR 2-4-0T steam locomotive D 140 (now operating at Ferrymead).

Unfortunately, Price 198 was of little use; it only made one run at Waipara in 1985 when it was re-railed on the Waipara triangle (it promptly derailed) before it shunted A 428 into the new shed. It was stored at the back of the Waipara loco depot/workshops until 1995, by which time DSA 276 had arrived and entered into service. With the little locomotive of no use, Weka Pass received approval from Ravensdown Fertiliser (who had taken over Kempthorne Prosser) to sell the locomotive to The Plains Railway in Ashburton, who have since restored it in NZR livery as 'TR 119'.[4][5] It is not however an NZR loco; NZR never had a TR 119 on its roster, and 198 is externally different from the '15-tonner' TR class as built.

In 1988, the railway purchased the inoperable hulk of DG 783 (TMS DG 2376, EE2287/D366 of 1955) from the New Zealand Railways Corporation. The locomotive, originally built as a mechanically similar DH, had been purchased on withdrawal by the later Roger Redward in 1983 for his proposed 'Southern Rail' museum along with another DG, DG 790 (TMS DG 2451, EE2294/D373 of 1955). In 1988 Redward passed away, and NZRC repossessed the Southern Rail collection in lieu of payment for the lease of NZR land by the group. While DG 2451 was cut up in 1990 by Sims Pacific Metal, the hulk of DG 2376 was sold to Weka Pass for spare parts. When DG 791 was found to have a cracked bogie bolster in the early 1990s, one from the remains of DG 2376 was used to replace the damaged assembly (trains were kept running by the use of DG 772 from the Diesel Traction Group at Ferrymead).

In 2005, rumours began circulating that DG 2376 was on the move again. In reality, the locomotive had been purchased by two enthusiasts and it was moved to Ferrymead that year. Restoration has been slow, but part of the locomotive has been repainted in the 'International Orange' livery, which 2376 seems never to have worn. The damaged leading bogie (containing the cracked bolster from 791) has been removed for repairs and at present the loco is supported by an old goods wagon bogie. It is also believed that the owners wish to fit it with a rebuilt cab from one of ten locomotives rebuilt in 1979/80, and that the finished loco will be based in Wellington.

The group previously also owned a Plasser and Theurer type 04 tamper formerly owned by the NZRC. This was purchased in the 1980s, but it was found to be temperamental, and prone to trouble. While it could operate, parts frequently worked loose or broke; instead of operating on its own, it was often pushed or pulled along with the work train rather than run it on its own. Laid up by the workshops in the late 1980s, another member began to restore it with more reliable operation in mind before his untimely death in 1993. With no-one interested in the tamper, it was stripped for spare parts (for other groups) and the remains scrapped. Since then, it has been easier to hire a Tranz Rail/Toll Rail/KiwiRail tamper and regulator for any maintenance work.


  1. ^ "Steam Locomotives Register". New Zealand Rolling Stock Register. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Diesel Locomotives Register". New Zealand Rolling Stock Register. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Freight Wagons Register". New Zealand Rolling Stock Register. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "Internal Combustion Register". New Zealand Rolling Stock Register. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Our Locomotive Collection". The Plains Vintage Railway and Historical Museum. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 

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