Friday, 6 December 2019

The East Coast Railway

Beginning of East Coast Railway Bridge, Tauranga. Postcard by Henry Winkelmann (Tourist Series 999)
Published by Frank Duncan & Co., Auckland. Collection of Justine Neal
The first reference for a railway to Tauranga was made in January 1873 when it was suggested that a line from Cambridge to Tauranga be built, but this was not favourably received at the time. In March 1879 it was proposed that any railway to be built should be between Tauranga and Rotorua. The Government couldn’t find the money to carry out this work so The Tauranga and Hot Lakes and East Coast District was formed in 1882 to construct the line. A struggle to raise the capital continued until 1887 without result.

First Train to cross Bridge & enter Tauranga. Mirrielees Photo 50
Courtesy of the Brain Watkins House Collection
By 1905 the railway from Hamilton reached Waihi and interest was shown in a possible route to Tauranga via Waihi. In 1904 a survey was made from Waihi to Katikati and by December 1908 had reached Tauranga. In March 1912 Sir Joseph Ward, the Prime Minister, turned the first sod on the Waihi-Tauranga line. In 1910 the Government decided to use Mount Maunganui as the headquarters for the construction of the East Coast railway. The first sod was turned by the Minister of Public Works 12 April 1910. The first scheduled trains began running from Mount Maunganui to Te Puke on 10 October 1913.

Railway Bridge, Tauranga, N.Z. (4821). Photographer unknown
Published by Tanner Bros. Ltd., Wellington. Collection of Justine Neal
Local interests were still keen to have the line extended to Tauranga. There was much discussion involving the route this line was to take. At one stage it was to come off the bridge, pass along Elizabeth St. and through to the Waikareao Estuary but it was finally decided to adopt the present route. A start on this section of line was made in March 1914 but because of the shortage of steel during the war it was not until February 1924 that the bridge was completed and the rails laid to the Town Wharf. On February 26, 1924 the Manawatu Standard reported:
Tauranga Harbour Bridge. Important Ceremony. Mr. C. E. McMillan, M.P assisted by Mr. B. Dive, Mayor of Tauranga, performed the ceremony this afternoon of driving the last rivet in the railway bridge across Tauranga Harbour, an important link in the east coast railway, connecting Tauranga with the eastern portion of the Bay of Plenty. Sir Maui Pomare was also present, representing the government. The bridge has 14 spans of 105 feet each and each weighing 85 tons and 15 sets of cylinders, varying in length from 15 feet to 110 feet. It is expected to be about three months before the bridge is opened for regular traffic.

Harbour and Railway Bridge, Tauranga, N.Z. Photographer unknown
Published by Frank Duncan & Co. Ltd., Auckland. Tourist Series 8168. Collection of Justine Neal
By 1925 the line to Taneatua was completed but the link between Taneatua and Moutuhora was never completed and so a small rural town inland from Whakatane became the railhead for the East Coast Railway. A great gala day was planned for the opening of the railway station on January 21, 1926. Visitors from all parts of the Bay were present and a special excursion train arrived at the Taneatua station at 11.45pm when the opening ceremony was performed, followed by a lunch at the Taneatua Hall. The children of the district were taken for a trip in the train over the bridge, which spans the Whakatane River at Taneatua. People travelling from Tauranga to Taneatua could catch a train on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, arriving at Taneatua at 12.05 pm. The return train left at 1.05 pm, arriving at Tauranga at 5.40 pm.

Tauranga, N.Z. Photographer unknown
Royal Series. Collection of Justine Neal
The connection to the North Island Main Trunk Line was completed with the finishing of the Katikati – Wairoa Bridge section in 1928. The March 28 1928 edition of the Bay of Plenty Times ran the following story.
Tauranga is en fete today for the opening of the East Coast railway, between Waihi and Taneatua. Approximately 15,000 people assembled on the Strand, which is gaily decorated. There were many hundreds of Maoris, who accorded the Ministerial party an effusive welcome. The official party included the Hons. J. G. Coates, K.S. Williams and A.D. McLeod. The Hon. J.G. Coates was accorded a wonderful welcome. In replying, he traced the history of the railway operations in the Bay of Plenty, and referred to the consummation of their hopes and their endeavours. The gathering today was the largest in the history of the Bay. The town was gaily decorated and a big programme of attractions was arranged for the day and the evening. Trains from Tauranga and Waihi brought about 5000 visitors, the feature of which are great assemblages of children and of Maoris.
Tauranga, N.Z. Photographer unknown. Collection of Justine Neal
Today only freight trains rumble along the Strand and over the bridge on their way to the port at Mt. Maunganui. The last passenger train to run in Tauranga was at the Jazz festival in 2009. The line to Taneatua was run as the end section of the East Coast Main Trunk from 1928 – 1978. Freight services continued to be operated on the line until 2001, the line was closed in 2003. In 2015, a rail cart operation, Awakeri Rail Adventures, was established on the section of the line between Awakeri and Rewatu Road.

References
Papers Past.
Tauranga 1882 – 1982.
Going By Train. Graham Hutchins.

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