The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
The Midland line, South Island, New Zealand 1968

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

"Many years ago, in the time before the Tranz Alpine Express, railcars ran the passenger service between Christchurch and Greymouth in New Zealand. During school holidays and long weekends the Railways, when there was a demand, would supplement this service by scheduling an Express to leave shortly after the railcar.

At the end of the 1968 August school holidays train number G44 was to run from Greymouth to Christchurch crossing its opposite number, G43, at Arthurs Pass. With steam fast disappearing from the New Zealand scene this was going to be a chance to ride behind a J on the West Coast and hopefully steam from Arthurs Pass down to Christchurch.

It must have been an easy trundle from Greymouth up to Otira, on the first part of the journey, as I seem to have pictures of the train at just about every second station along the way. At Otira the steamer came off and three of the new Ea electrics took the train on through the tunnel to Arthurs Pass.

At the Pass there was no sign of G43 so Paul and myself headed off to the yard entrance to see how close it was. We were definitely surprised to see a Kb approaching at almost walking speed rather than the expected Ja. Nothing like a bit of rain and a grade to give some great pictures!

Finally, G44 on arrival at Christchurch at 5.30pm. Check out some of the sights in the photo......Christchurch station, a subbie waiting to leave for Lyttleton on the right, behind the express the 5.35pm railcar to Dunedin plus a yard full of four wheel freight wagons. Compare that to what is there today....."

By the way, the Ea (or Eo class depending on your vintage) electrics have an interesting story. Originally used on the 1 in 33 climb between Otira and Arthurs Pass they were put into storage in 1997 when that electrification was shut down. Three were then refurbished in 2008 to top and tail some of the peak hour suburban services at Wellington, New Zealand's capital. Their train set comprises six Hillside (NZ) Workshop overhauled ex British Railways Mark II carriages riding on imported Chinese air suspension bogies.

Kb 968 was subsequently preserved and is under long term restoration by Mainline Steam at their Christchurch depot.

J class 1212 ready to leave Greymouth:

Views along the journey to Otira:

The then new electrics at Otira:

Kb 968 approaches Arthurs Pass station at barely walking pace:

The climb is over as the Kb drifts into the station. Necessarily G43 and G44 had to exchange locomotives and Wilson's train onwards will have been delayed further while the Kb was turned and serviced.

A rather late journey's end behind Kb 968 at Christchurch.

Rob Dickinson