|Taonui Branch route map|
In the late 1870s, sleepers were required for the Foxton & Wanganui Railway (later the Wanganui Branch, the now-closed Foxton Branch, and parts of the North Island Main Trunk railway and Marton - New Plymouth Line). Accordingly, a 3.5 km line was constructed from Taonui, near Feilding, in a northeasterly direction towards Colyton to reach a stand of tōtara trees. It was opened on 17 November 1879, and over the next three years it was overseen by three separate authorities: initially the Railways Commissioners; then the Public Works Department from 20 April 1881; and finally the New Zealand Railways Department from the start of July 1882.
Despite being officially designated a branch line, it was little more than an elongated siding. No stations were located on the line and it never carried passengers. Soon after opening, horses substituted for locomotive power as a means of saving money - the animals pulled the wagons up the line, and gravity took the wagons back down the moderate descent to Taonui.
The line was not just used to provide the national railways with sleepers; some private timber companies also offered traffic. However, this traffic was not significant and closing the line was proposed by 1893. Closure came on 14 August 1895 and the rails were gone by February the next year.
The branch today
No earthworks at all were required for the line and no traces of the formation survive. The only extant remnant is the station building from the junction in Taonui. It closed in the 1960s and was subsequently relocated to a farmer's paddock near its original location. A few decades later, the farmer donated it to the Feilding and District Steam Rail Society. It has now been restored and included as part of the society's depot in Feilding, and the restoration work earned the society a Certificate of Merit from the Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand, awarded on 2 June 2002.
- New Zealand Railway and Tramway Atlas, fourth edition, edited by John Yonge (Essex: Quail Map Company, 1993), 14.
- David Leitch and Brian Scott, Exploring New Zealand's Ghost Railways, revised edition (Wellington: Grantham House, 1998 ), 33.
- Feilding and District Steam Rail Society, "Taonui Railway Station", accessed 27 November 2007.