Ngapara and Tokarahi Branches

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The Ngapara and Tokarahi Branches were two connected railway branch lines in northern Otago, New Zealand, part of the national rail network. The Ngapara Branch opened in 1877 and almost all of it closed in 1959; the remaining few kilometres, called the Waiareka Industrial Line, were removed in 1997. The Tokarahi Branch branched off the Ngapara Branch. It operated from 1887 until 1930 and was originally known as the Livingstone Branch, though it never progressed beyond Tokarahi to Livingstone. In early 2008 there is a proposal to reinstate the first 4.5 km of the Ngapara Branch.


In the early 1870s, residents in the Waiareka Valley inland from Oamaru started petitioning for a railway connection to the coast to provide easier access to farmland and to export agricultural produce and limestone. The provincial government granted approval for a line to Ngapara in 1872, with construction commencing during the first half of 1874. The Public Works Department began running trains on the line during 1876, but construction was hampered by delays and other problems, including an incident in May 1876 when two died after a contractor's locomotive exploded. On 1 April 1877 the 24.34-kilometre line from Waiareka Junction on the Main South Line opened to Ngapara. The junction points faced south, away from Oamaru, because north-facing points would have required an excessively sharp curve.

In June 1879, construction of a side branch from Windsor Junction on the Ngapara Branch to Tokarahi began, and through the economic depression of the 1880s building the line was used to provide unemployment relief. The 19.22-kilometre line opened on 8 July 1887. There were proposals that the two branches be extended to join the Kurow Branch, but they were abandoned without any progress made.


The following stations were on the Ngapara Branch (in brackets is the distance from Waiareka Junction):[1]

  • Weston (2.58 km) - site of McDonald Limeworks.
  • Siding to Taylor's Limeworks (4.6 km).
  • Cornacks (4.74 km) - the original Cornacks Loop was 300 m closer to Weston.
  • Lorne (6.4 km) - loop removed in 1949.
  • Enfield (8.43 km) - originally known as Teaneraki.
  • Elderslie (11.93 km)
  • Windsor Junction (16.52 km) - originally Windsor before the construction of the Tokarahi Branch; remained Windsor Junction even after it ceased to be a junction.
  • Corriedale (18 km)
  • Queens Flat (21.48 km)
  • Ngapara (24.34 km)

Tokarahi Branch, distances from Windsor Junction on the Ngapara Branch:

  • Tapui (?? km)
  • Island Cliff (?? km)
  • Tokarahi (19.22 km)


Once the Tokarahi Branch opened, the two lines employed some inventive working. Each morning mixed trains from the two termini met at Windsor Junction, where they were marshalled into a passenger train to Oamaru and a slower goods train. The reverse of this took place in the afternoon. Although the two branches were set up to open up country and provide transport for farmland, the freight on the line was not purely agricultural: a coal mine and, at the turn of the 20th century, a flour mill were located in Ngapara, and limestone for both building blocks and agricultural uses was loaded from quarries along the line. Enfield had a ballast pit until the late 1940s or early 1950s, used to supply materials for the protection of Oamaru's foreshore.

In the early days, motive power included the FA class, which were stationed in Ngapara and were known to haul the passenger train from Windsor Junction to Oamaru prior to 1918. Other classes utilised included the P, T, UB, UC, WD, and WF. T class are known to have operated to Tokarahi into the 1920s.

The Ngapara and Tokarahi Branches were some of the first in the country to lose their passenger services, in December 1926, when buses replaced trains in an attempt to stem increasing financial losses. In 1927, Ngapara's locomotive depot closed and trains operated from Oamaru. The Tokarahi Branch closed on 14 July 1930. This was due at least in part to the decline in wheat farming; at the start of the 20th century, thousands of acres of the crop were grown in the region, but by the 1920s it was no longer a significant commodity.

After the closure of the Tokarahi Branch, freight trains ran thrice weekly to Ngapara, typically on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They departed Oamaru at 7:30am and arrived at Ngapara at 9:40am. The return working departed Ngapara at 10:30am, reaching Oamaru at 1:30pm. By 1951 trains ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays, except for services to the limeworks 4.74 kilometres from the junction with the main line, which provided a few hundred tonnes of freight daily. In 1958, regular services were cancelled and trains ran only when required, restricted to 10 km/h due to the poor condition of the track. Financial losses and the prohibitive cost of repairs meant that closure of the line past the limeworks came on 31 July 1959; despite local protests to keep the line open, the final train departed Ngapara behind AB 783. This class and the A were the mainstay of motive power on the branch for its final 25 years. The remainder of the branch, known from August 1959 as Taylor's Siding after the business it served, Taylor's Limeworks, continued to provide traffic until 1997, when the siding closed. The track was lifted in 1999.

The branches today[edit]

Traces of the Ngapara and Tokarahi Branches survive remarkably well. The old formation is often very distinct: rails are still embedded into the road surface at Weston, the Enfield station building and goods shed have been moved into a paddock and are in good repair, Corriedale yard is well preserved with the 11-mile peg still in place, and both Tokarahi branch tunnels survive, on private land. In Tokarahi very little remains of the terminus, but in Ngarapa some rails remain embedded in tar seal where the backshunt crossed the highway, the loading bank and platform edge survive, and the old station sign is affixed to the local rugby club's rooms. The old flour mill that once provided traffic for the railway is also still present in the town.

Since 2008 there has been an annual "Over The Tunnels" recreational run/ride of the Tokarahi Branch organised by Waitaki Girls High School. The event consists of a half marathon and a cycle ride along the route of the line. The events have attracted hundreds of participants.[2][3][4][5]

Reinstatement proposal[edit]

In August 2006 a proposal was made to reinstate the first 4.5 km of the branch.[6] Weston is under consideration as the location for a cement works, and if chosen, the harbour in either Timaru or Port Chalmers would be used for export purposes. The company intending to establish the cement works, Holcim, has stated a strong preference to use rail transport between the cement works and harbour and thus would seek to restore the line to Weston. The rail corridor is still owned by ONTRACK and the proposal would involve the operation of at least two trains each way daily.[7] However, the rail corridor is designated as "closed" in the Waitaki District Council's district plan. ONTRACK asserts this is a clerical error and has filed with the Environment Court in September 2007 to have the status corrected so that the railway can be reinstated.[8] The Waiareka Valley Preservation Society (WVPS), whose existence is premised upon opposition to Holcim's proposal, has challenged ONTRACK and filed with the Environment Court to have the railway's reinstatement declared to be in contravention of the Resource Management Act. If the railway cannot be reinstated it may jeopardise the Holcim proposal as access to rail transport is crucial to transport the cement.[9] On 2 November 2007 the case went before the Environment Court, and Judge Jeff Smith and commissioner Sheila Watson reserved their decision and the matter may not be resolved before Christmas 2007.[10] The Commissioners granted a consent for the cement works on 11 February 2008,[11] but this was challenged by the WVPS, who sub sequentially won an appeal in the Environment Court, requiring the re-opening of the branch line to be notified. As of December 2009 the cement works project remains under consideration.[12] A decision on the cement works proposal is expected to occur in August or September 2010.[13] If the project goes ahead, a sand quarry will be established at Windsor,[14] directly adjacent to the old Tokarahi Branch, with access along the old railway formation.[15] There will also be an opencast coal mine at Ngapara, while the cement works and limestone quarry will be built close to the former Taylors limeworks at Cormacks [16]


  1. ^ John Yonge (editor), New Zealand Railway and Tramway Atlas, 4th edition (Essex: Quail Map Company, 1993), 27.
  2. ^ Bruce, David (14 April 2008). "Hundreds turn out to bike, walk rail route". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  3. ^ Bruce, David (24 January 2009). "Opportunity to ride, walkand run at historic estate". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  4. ^ Mountain Biking Otago - Event Guide
  5. ^ Over The Tunnels
  6. ^ Emma Bailey, "Shipping Deal Possible", Timaru Herald, 30 August 2006.
  7. ^ Bruce, David (30 August 2006). "Reopening of Rail Line Preferred". Otago Daily Times. 
  8. ^ Bruce, David (17 April 2008). "Opposition to reopening railway line". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  9. ^ Bruce, David (22 September 2007). "Key Element for Plant in Doubt". Otago Daily Times. 
  10. ^ Bruce, David (3 November 2007). "Rail Issue Blights Cement Plant Bid". Otago Daily Times. 
  11. ^ "Society Disappointed with Holcim Decision". Waiareka Valley Preservation Society. 11 February 2008. 
  12. ^ "newsletter" (PDF). Holcim New Zealand Ltd. 
  13. ^ Mackenzie, Dene (5 April 2010). "Outlook believed bright for Waitaki". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  14. ^ "Information Sheet 14 - Windsor Sand Pit" (PDF). Holcim New Zealand. 
  15. ^ "Google Maps". Google Maps. 
  16. ^ "Information Sheet 15 - Ngapara Coal Pit" (PDF). Holcim New Zealand. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Churchman, Geoffrey B., and Hurst, Tony; The Railways Of New Zealand: A Journey Through History, HarperCollins Publishers (New Zealand), 1991 reprint
  • Leitch, David, and Scott, Brian; Exploring New Zealand's Ghost Railways, Grantham House, 1998 revised edition
  • Hermann, Bruce J; South Island Branch Lines p 25 (1997, New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society, Wellington) ISBN 0-908573-70-7

External links[edit]