The former station in Thames
|Status||Closed, section to Waitoa open, renamed the Waitoa Branch|
|Closed||1991 (from Waitoa—Thames)|
|Owner||New Zealand Railways Corporation|
|Line length||74.07 km (46.02 mi) Morrinsville - Thames
11 km (6.8 mi) Open
|Number of tracks||Single|
|Track gauge||1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)|
The Thames Branch railway line connected Thames, New Zealand, with Hamilton and was originally part of the East Coast Main Trunk railway. Part of the line between Morrinsville and Waitoa remains open and is in use as the Waitoa Branch line, connecting to the Fonterra Dairy Factory at Waitoa.
The discovery of gold in the Thames area in 1852 provided the impetus for building a railway line from Auckland to Thames. In 1872 the Auckland Provincial Council recommended a rail connection to Thames, primarily due to issues associated with barging coal from North Auckland coal mines to Thames to serve the gold mining industry. Surveys were completed in 1878, despite opposition from local Maori, putting the cost of the 54 km line at £178,000. Premier Sir George Grey turned the first sod of the line at Thames that year, but 18 months later work from Thames was stopped by the 1880 Royal Commission ordered by Grey's successor.
However, construction of the section from Hamilton continued, albeit slowly. The line crossed the Waikato River and was opened from Morrinsville to Te Aroha on 1 March 1886, to Paeroa on 20 December 1895, and finally to Thames on 19 December 1898. The Minister of Railways, Alfred Cadman, drove the first train into Thames, headed by an F class locomotive.
One of the lines first major traffic sources was A & G Price of Thames, who started producing locomotives for NZGR from 1904. Following the completion of the North Island Main Trunk in 1908, the government began planning the East Coast Main Trunk in 1909, eventually to connect to Gisborne. Work began in 1911 on a link from Paeroa through the Karangahake Gorge to Waihi. From this stage the Thames Branch was defined as Paeroa to Thames, with the Morrinsville - Paeroa section being designated as part of the East Coast Main Trunk. In 1928 the passenger service was being provided by a steam railcar. The opening of the Kaimai Tunnel in 1979 and the closure of the Paeroa - Katikati section of the East Coast Main Trunk led to the re-designation of the Morrinsville - Thames section as the Thames Branch.
Scheduled trains to Thames ceased 1985. The line closed on 28 June 1991. The track was lifted during May 1995, between Thames and the dairy factory at Waitoa. In 2004 the section of the line as far as Waitoa (still in place) was re-opened for dairy traffic, as part of Fonterra's policy of moving more freight by rail.
Currently services to Waitoa consist of unscheduled shunts to Morrinsville carrying dairy products, usually powered by a DSJ class shunting locomotive.
Most of the former rail alignment is now part of the Hauraki Rail Trail of the New Zealand Cycle Trail network, with the local councils in 2011 securing a 20-year lease, though the option of prior termination remains should KiwiRail intend to relay the railway to run trains along the corridor again.
- Waikato Regional Land Transport Strategy - Transport Baseline Report, May 2005
- The History of gold mining on "The River Thames" - Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 1, June 1964, A.M. Isdale B.A.
- Churchman, Geoffrey B. & Hurst, Tony (1991). The Railways of New Zealand: A Journey Through History (reprint ed.). HarperCollins Publishers (New Zealand).
- Morrinsville - Te Ara, Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 1966
- "Local And General News.". New Zealand Herald. 1928-01-07. p. 8. Retrieved 2016-05-30.
- New Zealands Branch Railways (from a private website)
- NZHPT listing with photo
- Rail Heritage Trust - Thames
- Thames Line Handed To Cycleway - AKT Blog, 15 May 2011
- Hermann, Bruce J; North Island Branch Lines pp 19–24 (2007, New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society, Wellington) ISBN 978-0-908573-83-7
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