|Waitara Branch route map|
The Waitara Branch is a branch line railway 7.245 km long in the Taranaki region of New Zealand's North Island. It was built as part of the region's first railway, linking New Plymouth with the closest suitable port, then the river port of Waitara. In 1884 the Breakwater port was opened in New Plymouth, but the line was saved when a (meat) freezing works was opened at Waitara in 1885.
For many years the line served the Borthwicks freezing works in town, until it closed in 1995. The branch was closed on 2 February 1999. The line has since been purchased by the Waitara Railway Preservation Society, who now operate tourist trains on the line.
In 1872 surveys began for the best route and two were considered: a coastal route which was more direct, and an inland route which was longer, but more convenient for future extensions to the south. The inland route was chosen. The contract to build the railway was let in 1873 and the line was completed and opened in October 1875.
In 1874, while the land was being cleared at Sentry Hill for the new railway, the daughter of William Perrett (a labourer working on the line) was abducted after he had ignored requests not to dig through a Māori burial ground from the land wars 10 years earlier. Caroline Perrett (known to all as "Queenie") was not seen by her parents again and not rediscovered by her original family until 1926, 52 years after the incident occurred. The line of railway where this occurred was closed in 1908 during alterations at Sentry Hill.
Shortly after the railway was complete, extensions began due south from Sentry Hill alongside Mountain Road towards Inglewood, which was opened in 1877. Trains were operated initially by two A class locomotives named "Fox" and "Ferret" which ran mixed trains services over the line. The first trip over the line took just 46 minutes to complete.
When first constructed, the junction at Sentry Hill was built facing Waitara. This meant that trains heading from Inglewood and points further south would have to stop at Sentry Hill and the locomotive would have to change ends of the train before it could continue on to New Plymouth. This was not rectified until 1908 when a diversion was constructed, allowing trains to operate from the south directly towards New Plymouth. At the same time, the Waitara Line was extended to Lepperton Station where a new junction was built, and the direct link between Waitara and New Plymouth was removed.
Passenger services were usually run as mixed services, and a service was run early in the morning to take children to high school in New Plymouth, returning in the late afternoon. In 1877 there were two return services, operated from New Plymouth, with a third service added three times a week by 1883. Passenger accommodation was removed after World War Two, to be replaced with Railways Road Service buses. These continued operating until 1991 when private enterprise took over the services.
Waitara's role as the main port for New Plymouth did not last long. Shortly after the line was completed a breakwater was built at what is now Port Taranaki and Waitara became a local port only. The establishment of a freezing works in 1887, however, provided steady traffic over the line, and prevented the line from closure. Other notable traffic included plants from the Duncan & Davies nurseries and produce from the Waitara Co-operative (later Moa-Nui) Dairy Factory sidings, both at Waitara Road station.
By the 1950s the line was operated by AB Class locomotives, the last of which (Ab 708) departed Waitara Station on 8 November 1966. These were replaced with the DB class in the 1970s and DC and DSC class in the 1980s and 90s. In the final years it was not uncommon for trains to be replaced with trucks as tonnages declined.
At 2:00am on the morning of 15 June 1893, the station building at Waitara was burned to the ground by a fire originating in the lamp room of the building. It was reported that "all the records were burnt, but the safe with cash is intact." Consideration was given in the following months to relocating the Ngaire station building to Waitara as a replacement.
At the other end of the line, the island railway station at Lepperton Junction was replaced in 1965 with a smaller station adjacent to Mountain Road (State Highway 3A), that survived onsite until 1994 when the building was sold for removal.
Closure and preservation
In 1999, Tranz Rail announced that the Waitara Branch, along with the Hautapu-Cambridge section of the Cambridge Branch railway, were to close. After the AFFCO freezing works had closed, there was little prospect of much new freight traffic being on offer. On 25 May 1999 the Waitara Railway Preservation Society was formed with the aim to save the line. This goal was finally achieved in 2001 when the line was purchased with the help of grants from the Taranaki Electricity Trust and the TSB Community Trust.
Since that time passenger services have resumed and work is being done to rehabilitate the line. The former Tahora railway station has been relocated to the site of the former Waitara Road station and work is underway to restore the Fa class locomotive 250 back into operation.
Other railway buildings
Aside from the railway proper, other railway buildings still exist in the vicinity. The former Sentry Hill goods shed is still extant a short distance from where it originally stood. It is visible behind the Lepperton Tennis Club courts on Manutahi Road, which has been there since the 1950s. In Waitara, two-thirds of the former Midhurst railway station sits on Memorial Place next to the War Memorial Hall. By the river mouth, the former north signal box from Stratford was relocated to Waitara in 1960 as a clubhouse for the Waitara Boating Club.
When first opened the railway line was generally referred to using variations of 'New Plymouth Waitara Railway'. From 1877 when the line to Inglewood opened, it became the 'Waitara Branch Railway' and this name was reconfirmed on 5 May 1977 in the New Zealand Gazette. On 13 August 1996 the line was officially renamed as the 'Waitara Industrial Line', the legal name it carries to this day.
- *Hermann, Bruce J; North Island Branch Lines pp 45,46 (2007, New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society, Wellington) ISBN 978-0-908573-83-7
- Carolyn Johnson. "The Story of Queenie". Tall Trees Family History.
- "Construction of the Waitara - New Plymouth Railway 1873-75". Personal View of the Waitara Railway Preservation Society Inc.
- http://www.pukeariki.com/en/stories/transport/railnp.htm Archived 8 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- Taranaki Herald, Volume XXV, Issue 2594, 15 August 1877, Page 3. "New Zealand Railways". Past Papers - National Library of New Zealand.
- Taranaki Herald, Volume XXXI, Issue 4265, 13 February 1883, Page 4. "Railway Time Tables". Past Papers - National Library of New Zealand.
- "Letting off some steam", The Daily News, 19 January 2013, page 16.
- Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume XX, Issue 2454, 15 June 1893, Page 2. "Waitara Railway Station Destroyed by Fire". Past Papers - National Library of New Zealand.
- Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume XXVI, Issue 2495, 3 August 1893, Page 2. "Waitara Station". Past Papers - National Library of New Zealand.
- New Zealand Historic Places Trust. "Inglewood Railway Station and Yard". Historical Narrative.
- North Taranaki Midweek, 6 July 1994. Page 3.
- http://www.pukeariki.com/en/stories/transport/wrps.htm Archived 9 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Brixton Station". Waitara Railway Preservation Society Inc.
- Refining history at Lepperton, The Daily News, 28 July 2012, page 2.
- Waitara Public Relations. "Waitara Heritage Trail". waitara.co.nz website.
- "Railway Line Names". Land Information New Zealand. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
- "Notice of Final Decision as to Assignment of Place Names". The New Zealand Gazette. Retrieved 18 April 2014.