The Northerner was an overnight passenger train between Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand. Originally numbered 227 southbound and 626 northbound, it replaced the unnamed and less revered ordinary express trains supplementing the luxurious Silver Star (later the Eastern & Oriental Express), which had replaced the Night Limited in 1971. The Northerner operated from Monday, 3 November 1975 to Friday, 12 November 2004.
Overnight services between Auckland and Wellington began in 1908 when the line between the two cities was completed. The inaugural trip took Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward and other Members of Parliament to Auckland to greet the American Pacific Fleet.
Prior to 3 November 1975, the pre-Northerner's were hauled by DA class diesel-electric locomotives. With the introduction of the Northerner branding, DX class locomotives were assigned to the train's haulage. From the 1990s onwards, DF class locomotives were used infrequently, and, on a more permanent basis DC class locomotives were used.
The train used extensively refurbished NZR 56-foot carriages that dated from 1937-40. Ten cars were built as two-lavatory 31-seat first class cars, later designated North Island Main Trunk first class cars, for expresses on this route, two (with staff/hostess compartments retained and augmented) as the South Island Main Trunk Main South Line single-lavatory 29 seat equivalent, along with four 16-berth sleeping cars. In their refurbished form, the day cars seated 30 in the same type of "bucket" seat and the day cars with staff compartments seated 25. The sleeping cars still each accommodated 16 (2 berths in 8 cabins). In 1973 larger train sets were planned with the fitting of 20 first class and sleeping cars (7 + 3 x 2) with Goko heaters from Tohzai Gongyo Boek the tender offer on 21 Jan 1973 from Gongyo in Japan was 4 million yen, for 20 carriage heaters and control systems resulting in a decision to use the old heavy steam vans which in itself limited, train size and suggested completely new trainsets of non stainless steel material would have cost less and allowed better use of the NZRs short staffed rolling stock fitters. However saving overseas funds became the priority after the 1973 war in the Middle East, multiplied oil costs and the final fit out of the train was not approved until November 1974 with instructions to complete the rebuild of the minimum rolling stock for the introduction of the Express replacement within 12 months.
Three dining cars were created from 1960s built 60-foot (18.288 m) long aluminium-sheathed Railway Travelling Post Office vans. These vehicles each seated 40 in tip-up bench type seats, each for two persons, arranged in bays of four, alcove style, across tables. Larger kitchens were built due to the extra length provided by these vehicles.
Three matching 56-foot (17.07 m) guard's vans were also heavily overhauled and, due to their role as luggage vans, were fitted with Japanese Kinki-Sharyo manufactured bogies, classed X27250 by NZR, out from under the three 60 ft (18 m) postal vans, these bogies being of a more modern design than those under carriages at the time and suited for heavier stock.
Four 1960s built 50-foot (15.24 m) steam-heating vans (with the same base design and bogies as the postal vans) built to facilitate heating the carriages of both the Night Limited's and ordinary expresses when diesel-electric locomotives displaced steam locomotives on the NIMT, three 50 ft (15.24 m) wooden box wagons turned postal vans, five more turned parcels vans and four more steel box wagons turned parcel vans completed the consist. The eight parcel vehicles were replaced by 15 box wagons of a more modern design turned parcels vans in the 1980s.
The Northerner was the first of the substantially overhauled carriage trains to be fitted with a new type of bogie of Korean manufacture, which offered a superior quality ride to its Timken-built predecessors, classed X25330. The new bogies, classed X28020 by NZR, were based on the Kinki bogies as well as bogies, classed X28250 by NZR, used underneath the Silver Star cars. Substantial work was carried out on all 19 carriage underframes to facilitate the 38 bogies' placement underneath. The underframes were raised to make easier the fitting of the newer bogies, and drawgear lowered the same distance.
Following a government decision that operating subsidies for long distance passenger trains would cease, Sunday, 26 April 1987 saw dining cars, sleeping cars, nearly 100 jobs and $4 million in operating costs removed from this service and until Sunday, 20 March 1988, the train offered a biscuits and fruit juice fare served from the guards van.
The train was re-equipped with 8 Southerner cars (former Main South Line first-class cars) and two former FM class guards vans of a modular design, one from Mitsubishi, the other from Daewoo, turned into power-luggage vans with handbrake end-mounted 11 kW generators. The Northerner service seated 53 or 45 per car to compensate for reduced carriages in reclining road coach-style seats as opposed to 30 or 25. From its inception, it also included in the two catering cars and, in 1992, in the two 37-seat cars to retain their coupe compartments when three trainsets were made available, video entertainment, comprising a large screen GoldStar television at one edge of the carriage showing movies with the sound piped throughout the carriage. The 15 parcels wagons remained dedicated to the service till 1991, when Speedlink Parcels was sold to New Zealand Post, some still bearing the old yellow Northerner livery.
Sunday 15 April 1991, saw two full buffet cars, both from the original Southerner, one being, prior to that, a 56-foot (17.07 m) kitchen and dining car to the North Island 55-foot (16.76 m) Vice-Regal car  for the Governor-General of the day, returned to the train as part of an attempt to attract more patronage, along with a faster timetable and reduced seating (41-43 or 37 per car) to give passengers more legroom and line seats up with windows. This coincided with one car and one catering car leaving the Northerner to join the new Capital Connection service.
The new Northerner also bore the new InterCity dark blue livery with horizontal full-length 220 mm (8.66 in) white stripe and 100 mm (3.94 in) red band inside, with the name InterCity in the red band. In 1991, the red band was replaced by a yellow 100 mm (3.94 in) band, to facilitate the transfer of rail services from the New Zealand Railways Corporation to New Zealand Rail Limited. In 1993, as panorama cars entered the night-time run, a 100 mm (3.94 in) green band replaced the yellow one on carriage sides. When New Zealand Rail was renamed Tranz Rail a new light blue 350 mm (13.78 in) stripe bearing the Tranz Scenic logo appeared on the cars, until the stripe and the retained dark blue livery was replaced by an overall light blue paint scheme in 1999. The Tranz Scenic logo remained.
Temporary Silver Fern replacement
RM class Silver Fern railcars were employed to operate the daytime equivalent of the Northerner, and when one derailed on 24 January 1989, a replacement carriage train was established as a temporary replacement. Two Northerner cars, along with the Railfreight Systems business car (originally a Northerner dining car), and the first of three modular vans utilised on the reinstated Endeavour now fitted with 11 kW end-mounted generator and painted InterCity blue to match, were assembled into what was the second incarnation of the Blue Fern. This train would be re-activated again after derailments on 15 November 1990 and 11 January 1991, also involving Silver Fern railcars.
Permanent Silver Fern replacement
Monday, 2 December 1991 saw the Silver Fern railcars replaced on the daylight NIMT run by the Northerner stock, InterCity having learned from the benefits a carriage train provided over the three 96-seat railcars. To facilitate this, a third modular van fitted with 11 kW generator for power-luggage use and a Wairarapa Connection car turned 32-seat servery car were made available to form a third trainset. Also, the servery/observation/rear view Bay Express car and the observation/rear view TranzAlpine Connoisseurs car were added to provide extra viewing opportunities. The daylight services were named the Overlander Expresses.
During the transition period, the former Vice-Regal car turned Southerner buffet car was refitted in 1993 with shorter buffet counter and 24 seats of the type designed by Addington Workshops, arranged alcove-style to replace the long counter and 20 associated stools and was returned to the NIMT. Also, the TranzAlpine rear-view car had seats and tables removed, replaced by 39 seats of the same design as the refurbished Wairarapa cars, arranged forward-facing.
Air conditioning and panorama windows upgrade
From Tuesday, 26 January, Friday 3 and 17 December and Sunday 19 December 1993 until December 1994, one car from the Southerner (1988–1995), two cars from the Wairarapa Connection, two from the Auckland excursion fleet, three from Auckland suburban services and the TranzAlpine rear view car were extensively rebuilt to form three three-car air-conditioned panorama train sets similar to the successful "big window" TranzAlpine, Coastal Pacific and pressure-ventilated Bay Expresses to serve both the day-time Overlander and night-time Northerner runs. Modular vans from the Bay Express, the New Zealand Sesquicentennial 1990 display train, and the Telecom New Zealand trains were refitted to match, with new 90 kW generators for increased facilities on board. In 1994, the second of the two Bay Express vans and an Auckland suburban van were similarly fitted, while in 1997, one of the first two modular Northerner power/baggage vans returned, but with a 90 kW generator.
No frills cars
A new "no-frills" concept was introduced, offering cheaper fares and using six former Northerner cars, and later still, a Southerner car and two refitted Auckland excursion fleet cars at different times, as, progressively, the Northerner stock were rebuilt or withdrawn. In 1999, the former Southerner car and the two ex-excursion fleet cars were air-conditioned.
More recently, the 1997-refitted Bay Express servery/observation/rear view car and its two "new" running mates, refitted 1995, were added when the Napier return service was cancelled in October 2001.
Today, the first exclusive NIMT rear view car and its matching full-length day car are withdrawn, and as of 17 April 2009, were still stored at Hutt Railway Workshops, along with the second of the original two TranzAlpine / TranzCoastal servery observation cars, as the Overlander continues with its other six cars and the three Bay Express cars. From time to time over the last few years, the Corporate Business cars (formerly the first and third of three original Northerner dining cars) have also been used.
- Three of the 10 two-lavatory 56-foot (17 m) long first class cars (later designated North Island Main Trunk first class cars) and one of three matching 56-foot (17 m) vans (that were refurbished for the Northerner in 1975) survive from the Tangiwai disaster, Christmas Eve 1953.
- The DA-class locomotive, DA 1482, which hauled the final Train #227 on Sunday, 2 November 1975, was also the same locomotive, DC 4790, that hauled the final Northerner service, #203, on 12 November 2004.