The Endeavour was a long-distance passenger train service between Wellington and Napier (and for part of its history, Gisborne) in the North Island of New Zealand. The service was modelled on the Southerner service in the South Island, and operated from 1972 to 1989.
Introduction of the Endeavour
The Endeavour was introduced on Sunday, 6 November 1972 as a carriage train to replace a railcar service between Wellington and Napier. The 88-seater railcars used on this route were deteriorating due to age and were notoriously unreliable, and the success of the Southerner inspired the creation of the Endeavour. In its first incarnation, it was hauled by a DA diesel electric locomotive and had a consist of a guard's van, five passenger carriages and a buffet car. The Endeavour's carriages were painted in a distinctive blue livery rather than the red scheme usual at the time, and the locomotive carried a headboard, the only instance of regular headboard use in the country at the time. The new train ran roughly to the railcar timetable, taking five and a half hours between Wellington and Napier. Although some railcar services supplemented the Endeavour in its early years, these all ceased by the end of 1976, with the Endeavour proving more popular with passengers.
The consist was five former second class NZR 56-foot carriages that had been converted to 20-bunk Ambulance cars in World War Two. When peacetime resumed, the five cars were fitted out in the late 1940s and early 1950s with 35 first class seats to a newer design, and one car trialled fluorescent lighting and individual overhead at-seat reading lights, which became a standard feature on the Northerner. These newer seats were retained and reupholstered. Three cars seated 36, while two seated 32 to accommodate a staff compartment. The buffet car was a 56-ft two-lavatory first class car, later designated a North Island Main Trunk first class car, seating 31. This car was completely rebuilt to incorporate a full-length counter with 20 stools alongside. One 56-ft van was added to the train, also thoroughly rebuilt. A second van, similarly fitted, was added later.
A sixth second class later Ambulance car had been similarly fitted with 35 first class seats to the newer 1950s design and, because of the increasing popularity of the Endeavour, was regularly added to this train to help carry extra passengers, especially in holiday times. The car was refitted for permanent service on this train, and had a staff compartment built in. It now seated 32.
With the success of the Korean-built bogies on the Northerner cars, the Endeavour cars were later fitted with this type of bogie. Work on Endeavour car underframes was not as substantial as that carried out on the Northerner underframes.
Buffet Car Removed
On Saturday, 8 August 1981, the Endeavour had its buffet carriage withdrawn as an economy measure (similar reductions in catering were applied across other catered long distance passenger trains). As a result, the schedule was amended to extend the stop at Palmerston North railway station so passengers could purchase refreshments at the station cafeteria.
On Tuesday, 18 August 1981, one of the three Silver Fern railcars derailed near Waiouru on the North Island Main Trunk Railway and the next day, the Endeavour's entire consist was diverted to the NIMT as a substitute, known as the Blue Fern.
Extension to Gisborne
The Endeavour initially terminated in Napier with a connecting unnamed service operating between Napier and Gisborne, which last operated on 30 May 1976. For approximately two years, no passenger service operated between Napier and Gisborne. This was remedied in 1978 when a Napier-Gisborne return rail service was re-introduced, using a pair of AC cars (88-seat railcars converted into un-powered passenger carriages hauled by a locomotive, known as "Grass Grubs" due to their paint scheme). This service connected with the Endeavour at Napier.
The Silver Fern accident on 18 August 1981 saw the Endeavour rolling stock redeployed as a replacement between Wellington and Auckland. In order to provide a through service, Red 56-ft former second class passenger cars of 1937-1945 vintage were reallocated from elsewhere to provide a through Wellington-Gisborne service (with the AC cars for Gisborne reallocated elsewhere in the network). The Endeavour name was never officially used again for this train or any of its successors.
Some of the 56 ft cars had been moderately refurbished with fluorescent strip lighting and a newer type of window, but still with bench seats akin to local buses of the time. Refurbishing of carriages for the Picton-Christchurch express meant that by late 1982 it was able to be operated by more comfortable AC cars. The northbound service left Wellington at 7:45am and reached Gisborne at 6:30pm, the southbound left Gisborne at 9:55am and reached Wellington at 8:40pm. As it lacked a buffet car, stops were made for refreshments in Napier and Palmerston North. Around this time, the train stopped carrying its distinctive headboard.
The Grass Grub carriages did not last long on the Wellington-Gisborne express, as they were not designed to be towed. The articulation and the chassis of the carriages was wearing out, so they were replaced.
When four of the six Endeavour carriages (three cars seating 36, the fourth 32) previously used returned to the run in May 1984, the better three of the red Gisborne-Napier-Gisborne cars were reassigned to the Masterton commuter runs, but during busy holiday periods they saw regular duty on the Gisborne Expresses, complementing the blues.
New Route, New Seats
On Tuesday, 11 September 1984, two Southerner cars, which had been exchanged for the other two Endeavour cars, one with 50 (ex 33) seats, the other 45 (ex 29) seats, and two 46- seat car-vans with luggage space at one end, one Mitsubishi and two Daewoo-built modular guard's vans for luggage and two 50-ft wooden box wagons for parcels traffic were added to the four Endeavour cars to form two new Gisborne Express consists. All eight cars had been progressively fitted out with a new design of seat from Addington Workshops, which had proven successful on the Picton/Greymouth trains. The Endeavour cars sat either 54 without staff compartment (ex 36) or xx with staff compartment (ex 32) per car. The three modular vans replaced the two 56-ft Endeavour baggage vans. The two reseated Southerner cars returned to the South Island once all four Endeavour cars and the two cars with luggage spaces received their new seats.
Like the Produce Express (the name given to the Grass Grubs used while Endeavour cars assumed duty on the NIMT) before it, steel box wagons built by Addington Workshops between 1978–1982 were towed along at the rear for parcels traffic. The buffet car did not return. As this had been a change from the red, then green carriages used since 1981, many in Hawke's Bay started referring to the Wellington-Napier express as the Endeavour once more, although it lacked any of the catering services that the previous Endeavour once provided. However, the train's reliability began to decline; by this stage, the DA class had been withdrawn or converted into the DC class, so under-powered DBR class locomotives hauled the train and struggled to keep to the scheduled timetable.
On 7 March 1988, Cyclone Bola struck the east coast of the North Island, causing significant damage to the line between Napier and Gisborne. This led to the abbreviation of the Wellington-Gisborne express at Napier, and although the track was repaired, regular passenger trains ceased beyond Napier. Patronage on the Napier-Gisborne sector was never high except for occasional holiday traffic (it rarely carried more than a busload), and by turning around the train at Napier the number of carriages needed was halved as one train could do a return trip.
In 1987, a programme was initiated to upgrade all long-distance passenger trains, and the first train targeted for revamping was the Greymouth "West Coast" Express. An Endeavour car, with hostess compartment, was rebuilt as a servery car for the new TranzAlpine. A second Endeavour car became a servery car for the new Southerner in 1988, a third car was scrapped and two were extensively overhauled for the replacement Wellington-Napier-Wellington passenger train. The last car and the two car-vans remained on the Endeavour until the service ended.
Prior to the introduction of the Bay Express, the existing Endeavour Express car, seating 54, and car-vans, seating 46, had their seats reupholstered with sheepskin coverings in an interim attempt to provide more comfort until the "newer" cars arrived.
On Saturday, 4 November 1989, InterCity implemented a new timetable. It had been planned for the Bay Express to have been in service by this date, but because the newer cars were still being rebuilt and both Palmerston North and Napier refreshment rooms closed on the same date, the former NIMT car turned Southerner later Kiwi Lager Express buffet car was added to the Endeavour consist in the interim.
This train, with only the third modular van left available for baggage, and steel box wagons built at Addington between 1978–1982 for parcels, ran until Sunday, 10 December 1989.
In 1991, the 54-seat Endeavour car was extensively overhauled and refurbished to become the second incarnation of The Connoisseur car.
Pages from the Ormondville Rail Preservation Group on the Endeavour:
- Brief history and print articles on the Endeavour
- Endeavour brochure and timetable from March 1980
- Endeavour pictures[dead link]
- The grassgrub carriages used between 1981 and 1984[dead link]
- Churchman, Geoffrey B., and Hurst, Tony; The Railways Of New Zealand: A Journey Through History, HarperCollins Publishers (New Zealand), 1991 reprint