The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
The Fairlie Branch, South Island, New Zealand, March 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.

"The 1960's were a period of branch line closures in New Zealand. On 2 March 1968 it was the turn of the Fairlie branch so five Christchurch railfans headed south, in a friends Bedford campervan, to follow the farewell excursion of the Fairlie Flyer.

And what a train it was! A double header hauling 16 carriages and a van: I reckon seats for about 850 people. I wonder how close to a maximum load for the branch the train was? Check out the large crowds greeting the train at stations along the way and people walking around railway yards in the days before high viz jackets were invented!

For the technical locos were:
Ab 4-6-2 718 built by North British (22848) in 1921 
Ab 4-6-2 798 built by Price (115) as a Wab 4-6-4T in 1926 and rebuilt as an Ab in 1957 at Hillside workshops"

The train moves onto the branch, which runs behind the Washdyke Junction station building. The colour light signal is for main line trains: the semaphore for trains coming off the branch.

The Washdyke departure semaphore is in the off position as the train waits for the last of the passengers to climb aboard……

…..and then moves slowly across State Highway 1: the main north south road. No crossing lights or barriers back then!


Large crowds greet the train as it arrives at Pleasant Point. The site is now home to the Pleasant Point Railway & Historical Society:


There were some major climbs on the branch. On the flat an Ab could haul a 700-800 ton goods train. Breasting the first major climb out of Cave this was down to 460 tons and then further reduced to 360 tons for the final hill before Fairlie. Coming out of Fairlie a mere 290 tons was allowed for the first few miles.

Arriving at Albury this shot was taken from the top of the water tank shown in the next photo. I doubt I could climb a tank today!

Roaring across the low trestle bridge at Tengawai. The train was trying to build speed before the final hill at Cricklewood which would reduce speed to almost a walking pace.

By the end of the day, the front loco had acquired a suitable 'last train' headboard.. 

“Recognising that the line was dying, the Fairlie Flyer Committee provided it with a glorious death and a fame it had never experienced during its working life. Locals subsequently resurrected a short stretch on which one of the country’s better recreational steam railways operate.” - Exploring New Zealand’s Ghost Railways by David Leitch & Brian Scott (1995)

Rob Dickinson