List of railway lines in New Zealand

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The railway network in New Zealand consists of four main lines, six secondary lines and numerous short branch lines in almost every region. It links all major urban centres except Nelson, Taupō, Queenstown, Whakatane and (since 2012) Gisborne. The network is owned and managed by KiwiRail. The network was constructed starting in 1863, mostly by government bodies, initially provincial governments and later the central government (usually by the Public Works Department) under the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR or NZGR). In 1981 NZR was corporatised as the New Zealand Railways Corporation, and in 1991 New Zealand Rail Limited was split from the corporation. New Zealand Rail was privatised in 1993 (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 lines and a small number of passenger services primarily for tourists on certain routes in both islands; Auckland One Rail operates Auckland Transport "AT Metro" suburban passenger trains in Auckland and Transdev operates Metlink passenger trains in the Wellington region; Dunedin Railways (formerly Taieri Gorge Railway) operates tourist passenger trains in Dunedin.

New Zealand national rail network[edit]

North Island rail network map (as of 2006)
South Island rail network map (as of 2006)

Lines in bold type are currently operated by KiwiRail

Main trunk lines[edit]

Name Route Length Usage
North Island Main Trunk WellingtonPalmerston NorthTaumarunuiHamiltonAuckland 681 km (423 mi) Freight & passenger
East Coast Main Trunk HamiltonMorrinsvilleKaimai TunnelTaurangaKawerau Freight only
Midland Line RollestonSpringfieldArthur's PassStillwaterGreymouth 212 km (131 mi) Freight & passenger
Main North Line ChristchurchKaikōuraBlenheimPicton 348 km (216 mi) Freight & passenger
Main South Line LytteltonChristchurchTimaruDunedinInvercargill 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 MartonWhanganuiHāweraStratfordNew Plymouth 212 km (132 mi)[1] Freight only
North Auckland Line Westfield JunctionNewmarketSwansonWaitakereHelensvilleWellsfordWhangāreiOtiria 281 km (175 mi)[2] Freight and Passengers south of Swanson
Freight only Swanson to Otiria
Palmerston North–Gisborne Line Palmerston NorthWoodvilleWaipukurauHastingsNapierMuriwaiGisborne 390 km (240 mi)[3] Freight & Passenger(charter/cruise). Mothballed: Napier to Muriwai 2012. Open: Muriwai to Gisborne, leased by Gisborne Vintage Railway from June 2013[4][5]
Stillwater–Ngakawau Line Stillwater – ReeftonWestportNgakawau 136 km (85 mi)[6] Freight only
Stratford–Okahukura Line StratfordWhangamōmonaOkahukura 144 km (89 mi)[7] Passenger: leased to a private operator June 2012.
Wairarapa Line Wellington – Upper HuttMastertonWoodville 176 km (109 mi)[8] Freight & Passenger Wellington to Masterton
Freight only Masterton to Woodville

Branch lines[edit]


Name Route Usage
Dargaville Branch Waiotira – Dargaville Closed leased to private operator
Donnellys Crossing Section Dargaville – Kaihu – Donnellys Crossing Closed 1959
Kumeu-Riverhead Section Kumeū – Riverhead Closed 1885
Okaihau Branch Otiria – Kaikohe – Ōkaihau Closed 1987
Onerahi Branch Whangārei – Onerahi Closed 1933
Opua Branch Otiria – Kawakawa – Opua Closed 1985
Kawakawa – Taumarere operated by Bay of Islands Vintage Railway


Name Route Usage
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 (in 2005)
Name Route
Eastern Line Britomart Transport Centre – Glen Innes – Manukau
North Island Main Trunk Line, Manukau Branch
Southern Line Britomart Transport Centre – Newmarket – Papakura – Pukekohe
North Island Main Trunk Line, Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line, North Island Main Trunk Line
Western Line Britomart Transport Centre – Newmarket – Swanson
North Island Main Trunk Line, Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line
Onehunga Line Britomart Transport Centre – Newmarket – Penrose – Onehunga
North Island Main Trunk Line, Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line, Onehunga Branch

Waikato / Coromandel[edit]

Name Route Usage
East Coast Main Trunk Original sections from Paeroa FranktonMorrinsvillePaeroaWaihiTaurangaTāneatua Closed Paeroa to Apata, September 1978. Waikino to Waihi reopened 8 November 1980 by Goldfields Railway. Hawkens Junction to Tāneatua 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. Closed 2015.
Rotowaro Branch Coal only
Thames Branch/Waitoa Branch MorrinsvilleWaitoaPaeroaThames 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 Ngāruawāhia 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 PutāruruRotorua/Koutu Leased to a Private Operator, 2010
Taneatua Branch Mothballed 2003
Whakatane Board Mills Line Awakeri – Whakatane mill Closed 2003 Leased to private operator

Gisborne – Hawke's Bay[edit]

Name Route Usage
Napier Port Branch/Ahuriri Branch Freight only
Moutohora Branch GisborneMakarakaMoutohora 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 OhakuneRaetihi Closed 1968


Name Route Usage
Castlecliff Branch WhanganuiCastlecliff Freight only.
Opunake Branch/Kapuni Branch ElthamKapuniOpunake Freight only. Closed Kapuni – Opunake
Mount Egmont Branch Closed
Waitara Branch LeppertonWaitara Closed 1999. Leased to private operator.
Waitara Railway Preservation Society
Whanganui Branch AramohoWhanganui Freight only


Name Route Usage
Foxton Branch LongburnFoxton Closed 1959
Taonui Branch Taonui – near Colyton Closed 1895


Name Route Usage
Greytown Branch WoodsideGreytown Closed 1953


Name Route Usage
Gracefield Branch WoburnHutt WorkshopsGracefield Freight only. Hutt Workshops – Gracefield mothballed 2002
Johnsonville Line WellingtonJohnsonville Passenger only. Former North Island Main Trunk Line
Melling Branch PetoneMelling Passenger only. Former Wairarapa Line
Te Aro Branch LambtonTe Aro Closed 1917
Suburban rail lines[edit]
Wellington suburban rail network (in 2006)
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


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


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


Name Route Usage
Eyreton Branch KaiapoiWetheralHorrelvilleBennetts Junction Closed Horrelville – Bennetts Junction 1931, Wetheral – Horrelville 1954, Kaiapoi – Wetheral 1965
Fairlie Branch WashdykeEversley Closed 1968
Pleasant Point section operatred by Pleasant Point Museum and Railway
Proposed Fairlie Rail Trail
Ferrymead Branch ChristchurchFerrymead Closed 1868
Now Ferrymead Railway
Hornby Industrial Line/Southbridge Branch HornbyPrebbletonLincolnSouthbridge 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 RakaiaMethven Closed 1976
Mount Somers Branch/Springburn Branch TinwaldMount SomersSpringburn Closed Mount Somers – Springburn 1957, Tinwald – Mount Somers 1968
Tinwald – Frasers Road section operated by Plains Vintage Railway
Oxford Branch RangioraOxfordSheffield Closed Oxford – Sheffield 1930, Rangiora – Oxford 1959
Waiau Branch WaiparaWaiau Closed 1978
Waipara – Waikari section operated by Weka Pass Railway
Waimate Branch/Waimate Gorge Branch StudholmeWaimateWaihao Downs Closed Waimate – Waihao Downs 1953, Studholme – Waimate 1966
Whitecliffs Branch DarfieldWhitecliffs Closed 1962


Name Route Usage
Catlins River Branch BalcluthaFinegandTahakopa Freight only, Closed 1971 beyond Finegand
Dunback and Makareao Branches PalmerstonInch ValleyDunback/Makareao Closed Inch Valley – Dunback 1968, Palmerston – Makareao 1989
Fernhill Branch Abbotsford – Fernhill Closed 2003
Kingston Branch KingstonFairlight Passenger only – Kingston Flyer Ltd.
Kurow Branch/Hakataramea Branch PukeuriKurowHakataramea Closed Kurow – Hakataramea 1930, Pukeuri – Kurow 1983
Moeraki Branch HillgroveMoeraki Closed 1879
Ngapara and Tokarahi Branches Waiareka JunctionWindsor JunctionNgapara/Tokarahi Closed Windsor Junction – Tokarahi 1930, Taylor's Siding – Ngapara 1959, Waiareka Junction – Taylor's Siding 1997
Ocean Beach Railway DunedinForbury 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 WingatuiMiddlemarchClydeCromwell Passenger only beyond Taieri. Closed Clyde – Cromwell 1980, Middlemarch – Clyde 1990
Taieri – Middlemarch operated by Dunedin Railways, Middlemarch – Clyde now Otago Central Rail Trail
Outram Branch MosgielOutram Closed 1953 beyond Woollen Mills private siding, remainder closed 1990
Port Chalmers Branch Sawyers BayPort Chalmers Freight only
Roxburgh Branch MiltonLawrenceRoxburgh Closed 1968
Shag Point Branch Shag Point – Shag Point Coal Mine Closed 1934
Tapanui Branch WaipahiTapanuiHeriotEdievale Closed Heriot – Edievale 1968, Waipahi – Heriot 1978
Walton Park Branch BurnsideWalton Park Closed 1957


Name Route Usage
Balfour Branch/Waimea Plains Railway GoreBalfourLumsden Closed Gore – Balfour 1971, Lumsden – Balfour 1978
Bluff Branch InvercargillBluff Standard gauge 1435mm, 1866 to 1875. Freight only
Browns Branch/Hedgehope Branch WintonBrownsHedgehope Closed Browns – Hedgehope 1953, Winton – Browns 1968
Kingston Branch Invercargill – MakarewaFairlightKingston Closed completely 1982 except:
Kingston – Fairlight (Otago) operated by Kingston Flyer Ltd, Invercargill – Makarewa part of Wairio Branch
Mokomoko Harbour Branch AwaruaMokomoko Harbour Closed 1875, Standard gauge 1435mm from 1866, connected to Bluff Branch
Mossburn Branch Lumsden – Mossburn Closed 1982
Riverton Branch/Tuatapere Branch/Orawia Branch Makarewa – ThornburyRivertonTuatapereOrawia 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 RiversdaleWaikaia Closed 1959
Waikaka Branch McNabWaikaka Closed 1962
Wairio Branch/Ohai Industrial Line Invercargill – Makarewa – Thornbury – WairioNightcapsOhai Freight only, mothballed beyond Nightcaps
Wyndham Branch EdendaleWyndhamGlenham 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. An 1873 map indicated that it was intended to link up all the current and authorised routes into a national network.[9] 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 1 April 1910, many of which were not built.

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.

Bush tramways[edit]

Bush tramways were industrial tramway lines principally constructed to haul timber or minerals, often in isolated areas. A variety of gauges was used, including the New Zealand standard 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm). 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 bush 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.

Other bush and mineral tramways included -

North Island[edit]

Name Route Usage
Piha Tramway
Smyth Brothers' Tramway Kennedy's Bay, Coromandel Peninsula 1897–1908 3 ft
Piako County Tramway Kaimai Range 1884–1924 2 ft 9in
Ellis and Burnand Tramway Ongarue 1922–1958
Knight's tram Raurimu
Makatote Tramway
Taringamotu Tramway
Price's Bush Tramway Hutt Valley to Waikanae
Driving Creek Railway Coromandel Tourist attraction

South Island[edit]

Name Route Usage
Bell Hill mill tramway
Koranui Incline
Mount Somers Tramway 1886–1963
tramways linking to Ross Branch
Kokiri Tramway
Fortification sawmill tramway
Port Craig tramway Port Craig, Percy Burn Viaduct, Wairaurahiri River 1919–1928 Marlborough Timber Co

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 and Private 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 commercially operated private trust owned Dunedin Railways in Dunedin, which employs paid staff.


  1. ^ Yonge 1985, p. 10.
  2. ^ Yonge 1985, p. 1.
  3. ^ Yonge 1985, p. 12.
  4. ^ New Zealand Railway Observer, June/July 2013 Edition
  5. ^ "KiwiRail to mothball Napier-Gisborne line". 2 October 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  6. ^ Yonge 1985, p. 21.
  7. ^ Yonge 1985, p. 11.
  8. ^ Yonge 1985, p. 14.
  9. ^ "Sketch map of the Colony of New Zealand shewing authorised and proposed railway lines". National Library. Department of Lands and Survey. 1873.
  10. ^ Hendery, Simon (9 March 2017). "Cape tourist rail project". The Southland Times.
  11. ^ "Papers Past — Evening Post — 13 Hereturikōkā 1907 — RAILWAY ROUTE". 13 August 1907. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  12. ^ "Papers Past — Wairarapa Age — 16 May 1908 — MASTERTON-WAIPUKURAU RAILWAY PROJECT". 16 May 1908. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  13. ^ "Papers Past — Pahiathua Herald — 10 September 1909 — PONGAROA NOTES". 10 September 1909. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  14. ^ "Papers Past — Nelson Evening Mail — 11 November 1886 — THE MOTUEKA-TADMOII RAILWAY ROUTE". Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  15. ^ "New Zealand : Anno Tricesimo Victoriae Reginae : No. 33" (PDF). Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  16. ^ "Papers Past — Marlborough Express — 2 July 1913 — THE WAIRAU VALLEY RAILWAY". 2 July 1913. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  17. ^ "Papers Past — Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle — 4 Hōngongoi 1867 — WESTPORT AND CHARLESTON RAILWAY". Retrieved 7 December 2015.


  • Yonge, John (1985). New Zealand Railway and Tramway Atlas (Third ed.). Quail Map Company. ISBN 090060932X.

Further reading[edit]

  • Stott, Bob (1973). Rails through the bush. Southern Press.