The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Another look at New Zealand's Last Great Steam Train, 1969 

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. There are a series of pages on this train:

When steam, necessary for heating purposes, returned to the South Island Limited Express in late March 1969 it was, by now, the only show left in town! Apart from the occasional railfan excursion and an Ab assigned to heat the Lyttleton Boat Train it was all over for steam in Christchurch. 

Going back through my photos I seem to have gone trackside two or three times a week in April to catch train 143 heading out of Christchurch on its run south. To say the results are less than spectacular would be complimentary as Christchurch scenery is practically nonexistent. If the day was cloudy the photos are suitably dull and if the sun was shining then the angle was not the best.

With the sun shining almost directly into the lens the driver of Ja1267 has just opened the regulator to accelerate away from a speed restriction. Or at least that's the only reason I can think of for the steam drifting off to the right of the loco and the almost vertical lift coming out of the funnel. The six car total was a typical consist outside of the holiday periods. 

Twelve cars made for a more exciting picture and was very close to the single engine load for a Ja over the Canterbury Plains: fourteen cars and then two locos were needed. I could be corrected on that though! Ja1267 was doing the honours again this day as it nears the island platform at Sockburn; in the foreground a fellow enthusiast goes for a different angle.

Judging by 1267's exhaust there had been a light frost this morning. Due to the number of road crossings speed was restricted for the first mile or so leaving Christchurch but once Addington was reached the race south was on and the driver would be keen to reach the maximum allowable, or a bit more, as soon as possible.

Again it's Ja1267 doing the honours as the train heads through Hornby. 1267 seems to have been used most days I went out that month although I also have shots of 1247 and 1253.

I could complete this tale with more of the same but for variety and scenery will move onto May and the line south of Oamaru. It was always hard to chase 143 over the Canterbury Plains but once it reached the hills south of Oamaru speed dropped dramatically and chasing became a lot easier. In simplistic terms Christchurch to Oamaru was 150 miles and took around four hours (average 38 miles an hour) whilst Oamaru to Dunedin was 78 miles and took three hours (average 26 miles an hour) and that's quite a difference. 

The next few photos were all taken on 20 May 1969. J1236 is in charge after an engine change at Oamaru. Over the 38 miles to Palmerston, the next major station, it was possible to get ahead of the train eight times, stop, take photos and still reach Palmerston in time for an arrival shot. Not bad for four blokes in a two door Hillman Imp! 

The first hurdle on leaving Oamaru was the Waiareka Bank but 1236 topped it in fine style. The line leading off to the left is the Ngapara Branch by now only open a short distance to the local lime works.

The regulator has just been reopened and the fireman is making the most of the opportunity as the Express pulls away from a speed restriction. This was school holiday time and the nine total train was larger than normal.

The southbound train must have been running late as the crossing station had been altered to Hampden where 144, headed by J1234, was already waiting in the loop. Engine cleanliness wasn't that great for the Christchurch engines but for those based out of Dunedin, like 1236 & 1234, it was nonexistent! 

The roller coaster nature of the line can be seen in this and the next photo. 

For some distance the railway ran close to State Highway 1: the main road. In the 1960s the railways were still a protected species and if there was a rail line then most freight moved on it. Hence the main road was totally devoid of any traffic.

Ja1267 was built at the Railway's Hillside Workshop in 1950. J1234 & 1236 were products of the North British Locomotive Company and entered service in 1940. All three engines lasted until the end of steam, were written off in November 1971, then purchased for preservation. Over the years since then both J have seen main line service but regrettably 1267 has been in storage.  

Rob Dickinson