Johnsonville Branch

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Johnsonville Branch
NZR FP class Khandallah.jpg
Matangi (FP class) EMU 4103 at Khandallah Station on the Johnsonville Branch in March 2011.
StatusOpen, passenger only
OwnerKiwiRail (track)
Greater Wellington Regional Council (stations)
LocaleWellington, New Zealand
TypeCommuter rail
Route numberJVL
Operator(s)Transdev Wellington
Rolling stockMatangi class electric multiple units
Ridership1,119,000 per annum (2011–12)[1]
Opened24 September 1885 (as Wellington & Manawatu Railway)
Line length10.49 km
Number of tracks1 with 3 crossing loops
Track gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Electrification1500V DC overhead
Operating speed64 km/h (maximum)
40 km/h (in tunnels)
Highest elevation152 m (Raroa)
Route map

Broderick Road
Tui Tunnel
119 m
sidings and
stock yard
Fraser Avenue
Kaka Tunnel
125 m
Rangoon Street
Station Road/
Cashmere Avenue
Khandallah Road
Box Hill
Simla Crescent
Simla Crescent
Awarua Street
Awarua Street
Collingwood Street
Churchill Drive
Crofton Downs
Ngaio Tunnel
127 m
Lizard Tunnel
200 m
Wadestown loop
Gorge Tunnel
151 m
Kaiwarra Tunnel
98 m
Outlet Tunnel
126 m
Hutt Road
Wellington rail yards

The Johnsonville Branch known as the Johnsonville Line, is a commuter branch line railway from the main Railway Station of Wellington, New Zealand to the northern suburb of Johnsonville via Ngaio and Khandallah.

Transdev Wellington operates the trains under contract from the Greater Wellington Regional Council. In 2001, an estimated 1,043 passengers used the line on a working day.[2]

The line has seven tunnels and eight stations. Four stations (Crofton Downs, Awarua Street, Box Hill, and Raroa) are on a curve. Before arrival at the Crofton Downs and Awarua Street stations, the onboard announcement adds Please mind the gap when exiting the train. There are three crossing loops: at Ngaio and Khandallah stations and below Wadestown in the Ngaio Gorge.


The line was built in the 1880s as part of the private Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company line to connect Wellington to Longburn. Construction started in 1879, and the first section, to Paremata, opened on 24 September 1885. The line became part of the North Island Main Trunk when the government bought the WMR in December 1908.

The line was used by railway workers from the Tarikaka Settlement in Ngaio, including early shift workers who needed to fire up steam locomotives at the Wellington depot.

Two experimental RM class railcars were briefly used on the line as NZR sought to develop economically viable railcar technology. The Westinghouse railcar was introduced in 1914 and served through to 1917. The Thomas Transmission railcar was introduced in 1916 and operated sporadically into the early 1920s. Both railcars struggled on the steep grades and revealed that further advances were needed to make railcars suitable to New Zealand's conditions. Trains going north often used banking engines on the steep grade from Lambton to Ngaio and sometimes when going south from Johnsonville to Raroa.[3]

The line became a branch when the Tawa Flat deviation of the NIMT opened to passengers in 1937, and was sometimes called The Hill (in NZR jargon). The line was electrified at 1500 V DC overhead supply, and the new service with the new English Electric DM/D class electric multiple units service started from Monday 4 July 1938, after an opening ceremony on 2 July. The units normally operated as two-car motor/trailer sets, or four-car sets in peak hours. Additional DM/D class units were ordered for the line in 1942 and supplied in 1946.

The line was terminated in Johnsonville, about 100 m beyond the end of the current line: the State Highway 1 motorway on-ramp follows the route of the old line. Ngaio and Khandallah stations already had crossing loops, and new stations at Awarua Street and Simla Crescent plus a third crossing loop (without passenger platforms) at Wadestown between No. 3 and No. 4 tunnels were added. The two new stations had been used by steam trains from 10 January 1938, although only some local trains stopped there (on request). Even with two additional stops the time to Johnsonville was now 19 minutes either way; previously with steam operation trains took 25 minutes up and 21 minutes down.[4] [5]

Stations were added at Raroa (1940), Box Hill (1956) and Crofton Downs (1963).

The line was reviewed in 1984, 1993 and 2006–07 to consider either closing or upgrading it, without any significant changes being made.


A half-hourly service runs daily, augmented to a quarter-hourly service at peak periods.

The line has been passenger-only since the termination of livestock trains for an abattoir in the Ngauranga Gorge. The livestock were originally driven on foot through Johnsonville streets from a stockyard adjacent to the station, but after protests sidings near Raroa were opened on 2 February 1958. The livestock traffic ceased about 1973, though the sidings at Raroa were not lifted until about 1982. Because of the sharp curves on the line, EW class electric locomotives were used for livestock trains instead of the earlier ED class locomotives, which were hard on the track with their long rigid wheelbase.

The line was the first Wellington line to adopt the Snapper card for fare payments; from 14 November 2021. Commuters "tag" on and off at card readers located on the station platform; the hardware and reader stands etc were installed from August. The system is a “trial” and will eventually replace paper tickets on other Wellington suburban lines.[6] [7]


The line is single track through very steep terrain rising 150 m above sea level in its 10 km length, with the highest point (152 m) at the north end of Kaka Tunnel. The ruling grade is 1 in 36, with long sections from Wellington to Crofton Downs and Khandallah of 1 in 40. There are seven narrow tunnels, six bridges, and three passing loops There are three level crossings with half-barriers; at the Simla Crescent and Khandallah stations, and at Fraser Avenue between Khandallah and Raroa stations (the Fraser Avenue crossing was last to get barriers as well as bells, in 2009). There is a private rail crossing to a house immediately south of the Fraser Avenue crossing; and a pedestrian crossing from Burma Road to Poona Street, Khandallah between the Khandallah station and the Rangoon Street road overbridge. Pedestrians can also cross the line at the Ngaio station.

The signals were operated by the trains, a standard SLA Absolute Block System; the first train at a crossing station or siding (Wadestown, Ngaio and Khandallah) claimed the next block (if two arranged simultaneously the up train got priority as there was a 5 second delay for the down train). The system was revised in July 1969; the second platform siding at Johnsonville was removed and the goods yard (since removed) became a switch-locked siding. Signal boxes were initially retained at Ngaio and Khandallah. Up to 1984 when the line was truncated and the station was moved to accommodate the mall, the station had two sidings either side of the station platform and the preferred platform was alternated every 12 hours to equalise usage.[8]

The Wellington City Council let a $1.7m tender to replace the Rangoon Street single-lane overbridge of c1906, which crosses the Johnsonville line, with a two-lane bridge.[9][10] Work commenced in June 2008 and was completed by December 2008.[11]

Three traction substations along the line take electricity from Wellington Electricity's 11,000-volt distribution network and transform and rectify it to 1500-volt direct current for the overhead traction lines. The substations are located at Wellington (shared with the Kapiti and Hutt Valley Lines), Ngaio and Khandallah.

The names of the tunnels and their length in feet[12] and metres[13] are:

No. Name Length (ft) Length (m) Remarks
No.1 Outlet 413 126 above Hutt Road
No.2 Kaiwarra 321 98 in Ngaio Gorge
No.3 Gorge 494 151 in Ngaio Gorge
No.4 Lizard 655 200 in Ngaio Gorge
No.5 Ngaio 416 127 in Ngaio Gorge
No.6 Kaka 341 125 between Khandallah and Raroa
No.7 Tui 391 119 between Raroa and Johnsonville

Upgrade in 2008–2009[edit]

The North Wellington Public Transport Study by GWRC and WCC considered four options for improved public transport: enhanced rail; bus on street; conversion to a guided busway; and conversion to light rail. On 16 November 2006 the GWRC Public Transport Committee[14] and the WCC Strategy & Policy Committee[15] accepted a "Do Minimum" option involving retention of the line and replacement of the current DM units with the same number of refurbished EM/ET class (Ganz Mavag) units;[16] this required enlarging the tunnels and increasing platform clearances and lengths.[17] GWRC now only use Matangi units on this line after the decision to withdraw all Ganz Mavag units in the region from service in favour of a larger order of Matangi units.

GWRC envisaged (2007) that the track through the tunnels would need to be lowered by 120 mm, depending on the new units.[18] Lengthening of passing loops and platforms was also likely to be needed, and the estimated cost was $5 million. A programme of preparatory work for the tunnel upgrading commenced on 7 September 2008 and was completed in February 2009. Construction took place after 20:00 on Sunday – Thursday nights to minimise disruption to commuters, with services being replaced by buses.[19] The seven tunnels were upgraded in January 2009[20] [21] during a period in which the line was closed to all traffic.[22] The work included:

  • lowering the track and widening the side clearances in the seven tunnels
  • lengthening the three crossing loops, allowing longer trains
  • upgrading platforms by lengthening them and increasing clearances
  • increasing clearances under two bridges: Lower a rail bridge in Ngaio Gorge (between tunnels) and lower the level of the track under the Raroa Station footbridge[23]
  • new power substation at Ngaio

New rolling stock[edit]

A southbound DM class EMU just south of Raroa Railway Station on the Johnsonville Line in 2007. The last of the DM class EMUs was withdrawn from the line in February 2012.

Due to significant mechanical difficulties being experienced by Tranz Metro in keeping the DM/D EMUs in service, several units were withdrawn from service in February 2012. Buses were added to supplement the remaining service capacity pending the planned introduction of the FT/FP "Matangi" EMUs on 19 March 2012.[24] The first Matangi service was the 11:02 departure from Wellington, which passed the last English Electric service on the line at Ngaio station.[25]

The new Matangi EMUs struggled on the Johnsonville Line with rail track squeal and to maintain the schedule used for the English Electrics especially in wet conditions.[26] To improve schedule reliability, the Johnsonville Line timetable was initially changed to a longer morning peak journey time of 22 minutes to Wellington and 26 minutes to Johnsonville[27] and it is now 23 minutes and 28 minutes.[28]


The proposed redevelopment of the Johnsonville Town Centre was to include improvements to the rail and bus terminal at Johnsonville; the terminal is now referred to as the Johnsonville Hub.

The Broderick Road overbridge immediately south of the Johnsonville Railway Station was upgraded by widening and lengthening in 2015 to include cycle lanes and extra road lanes over it. [29] Provision is made for dual tracks underneath (formerly one track) into the station, as requested by the Greater Wellington Regional Council for future double-tracking. [30]

Proposed infrastructure upgrades for the line include overhead line and mast replacement, sleeper replacement in tunnels and stabilisation of high risk slopes; to be completed in 2022.[31][32]



  1. ^ "Wellington Metropolitan Rail 2011/12 Annual Report" (PDF). Greater Wellington Regional Council. 30 June 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  2. ^ "Table 5-1: Public Transport Patronage in the Northern Suburbs". North Wellington Public Transport Study – Stage 3 Technical Evaluation Report (753 KB PDF). Wellington: Greater Wellington Regional Council. 15 November 2006. p. 163. Retrieved 9 June 2009.
  3. ^ Heine 2000, p. 97.
  4. ^ "Railways Department announcement". Evening Post (Papers Past). 8 January 1938.
  5. ^ *"Railways Department advertisement (go down page)". Evening Post (Papers Past). 8 January 1938.
  6. ^ "Wellington finally gets Snapper on trains--but only on one line". Stuff/Fairfax. 14 November 2021.
  7. ^ "Wellington commuters will be able to use Snapper cards on some trains from October". Stuff/Fairfax. 3 May 2021.
  8. ^ Heine 2000, pp. 108, 109.
  9. ^ Archived 16 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine (2008)
  10. ^ "Out with the old in with the new". The Wellingtonian. Wellington: Fairfax New Zealand. 20 August 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008.
  11. ^ Wellington City Council (1 August 2008). "Wellington City Council roadworks update". The Dominion Post. Wellington: Fairfax New Zealand. Retrieved 8 December 2009.[dead link]
  12. ^ Hoy 1970, p. 22.
  13. ^ Parsons 2010, p. 204.
  14. ^ "Order paper for meeting held on 16-Nov-2006 at 11:00 am". Proceedings of the Passenger Transport Committee. Wellington: Greater Wellington Regional Council. 16 November 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2010.
  15. ^ "Strategy and Policy Committee meeting agenda". Proceedings of the Strategy and Policy Committee. Wellington: Wellington City Council. 16 November 2006. Archived from the original on 16 October 2008. Retrieved 9 July 2008.
  16. ^ Sinclair Knight Merz (A Bell) (15 November 2006). North Wellington Public Transport Study TECHNICAL EVALUATION REPORT (Report). Wellington: Sinclair Knight Merz. p. 164. Archived from the original on 23 February 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2010. The base case assumes the replacement of the existing English Electric Units with 4-car refurbished Ganz Mavag units operating the same 13-minute, 13-minute, 26-minute timetable. ... This report sets out the minimum works ONTRACK believe are required to enable the larger Ganz Mavag units to operate on the Johnsonville Line. (Section 2.1.1-page 6)
  17. ^ BLAND, JES (9 July 2008). "70 years of clean green trains on the J'ville line". The Wellingtonian. Wellington: Fairfax New Zealand. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2008. As for the future of the Johnsonville line, upgrades are already underway to allow for new rolling stock to use to the line in 2010.
  18. ^ Archived 23 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine (16 November 2006)
  19. ^ "Buses to replace J'ville trains Sunday – Thursday nights". Wellington: Greater Wellington Regional Council. 1 September 2008. Archived from the original on 23 February 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2010.
  20. ^ "Wellington Regional Rail Programme – Johnsonville Line". ONTRACK. Archived from the original on 31 December 2010. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  21. ^ "Johnsonville Line (upgrade)". KiwiRail. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
  22. ^ "Buses replacing trains – Johnsonville line Dec 28 to Feb5". Wellington: TranzMetro. Archived from the original on 20 January 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2008.
  23. ^ Wellington Region Rail Programme (Leaflet c2008 from Ontrack/Trans Metro/GWRC)
  24. ^ STEWART, MATT (3 February 2012). "Old trains pulled from Johnsonville line". The Dominion Post. Wellington: Fairfax New Zealand. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
  25. ^ SPEER, SOPHIE (19 March 2012). "New hope arrives on the Johnsonville line". The Dominion Post. Wellington: Fairfax NZ News. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  26. ^ "Slippery tracks stop two Johnsonville trains". Wellington: Scoop Wellington. 25 November 2014. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  27. ^ Stewart, Matt (26 July 2015). "New timetable for Johnsonville train line plagued by delays". The Dominion Post. Wellington: Fairfax NZ News. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  28. ^ Metlink Wellington Johnsonville Line Timetable from 15 July 2018 Metlink Web Site 21 December 2019
  29. ^ "J'ville roads get $11m boost". The Dominion Post. Wellington: Fairfax NZ News. 19 March 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  30. ^ "New railway overbridge in Johnsonville". Wellington City Council. 5 August 2014.
  31. ^ "Wellington Metro Upgrade". KiwiRail. 2020.
  32. ^ Wellington Timetable Changes and Infrastructure Upgrades by Bruce Taylor in The New Zealand Railway Observer June–July 2018 No 349 Volume 75 No 2, pages 62,63


  • Churchman, Geoffrey B (1998) [1988]. The Story of The Wellington to Johnsonville Railway (2nd ed.). Wellington: IPL Books. ISBN 0-908876-05-X.
  • Hermann, Bruce J (2007). North Island Branch Lines. Wellington: New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society. pp. 64–67. ISBN 978-0-908573-83-7.
  • Heine, Richard W. (2000). Semaphore to CTC: Signalling and train working in New Zealand, 1863-1993. Wellington: New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society. ISBN 0-908573-76-6.
  • Hoy, D G (1970). Rails out of the Capital. Wellington: New Zealand Railway Locomotive Society. pp. 22–23.
  • Hurst, A. W. (Tony) (2020). Retro Reds to the Rescue: The last years of Wellington suburban train variety. Lower Hutt, NZ: New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society. ISBN 978-0-9951385-1-3.
  • Parsons, David (2010). Wellington's Railway: Colonial Steam to Matangi. Wellington: New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society. pp. 126–129, 203–205. ISBN 978-0-908573-88-2.

External links[edit]