The International Steam Pages
Once upon a time, long ago,
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.
In the far north of the North Island lay the Okaihau Branch: forty kilometres from Otiria Jct to the northern most point of the New Zealand rail network. From the lines earliest days mixed trains had always provided the passenger service apart from a few years between 1956 and 1967 when railcars connected Okaihau with Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.
When the railcars were withdrawn the New Zealand Railway Observer 113 (Spring 1967) quoted the Minister of Railways as saying: "Where main roads did not run adjacent to rail, and if the demand and circumstances called for it, passenger cars could be attached to appropriate goods trains to meet local needs." One of these 'local' services ran between Otiria and Okaihau and when I visited the line, over a two day period, only one passenger rode the train. In truth I was that passenger on the second day and with typical Northland hospitality no ticket was issued plus I was sent up front to ride in the cab of the Da!
With long hood leading Da1512 trundles through the scrub near Lake Omapere.....
....and then heads off into the distance towards Otiria. This shot shows just how dilapidated the carriage supplied for this service was.
Imagine joining the train from the Lake Omapere Road Crossing station.....the station and carriage made a good pair. I'm inclined to think I'd climbed onto the station roof to take the preceding two pictures so it must have been reasonably sound or maybe I was just foolhardy.
Later that afternoon and the train passes through Ngapuhi with a large number of wagons in tow. Most were added at Kaikohe the only town of any size along the branch.
Next morning Da1438 ran the train and I was invited to travel in the cab. Now the Da cab was really not the place to view scenery from but it was a new experience and when offered photo stops as well who was I to refuse such hospitality. First stop was this trestle bridge at Kawiti just outside Otiria.
Whilst shunting at Kaikohe the Da paused long enough for a shot alongside yard shunter Tr115. There seems to be another Tr inside the goods shed. I can't imagine the amount of traffic at Kaikohe needing two shunting locos so maybe one was heading elsewhere for major repairs or had just returned.
Shunting over and a much smaller train is just about ready to depart Kaikohe for the next leg of the trip onto Okaihau.
Another photo stop this time leaving the only tunnel on the line. Set in concrete, above the loco, is the date the tunnel was built: 1915.
Journeys end at Okaihau the most northerly station in New Zealand. From here the line did go further north but was never opened for traffic and the rails removed in 1940 for use elsewhere.
Just before 3.00pm, and in glorious sunshine, Da1438 has finished making up train 1040 for the return journey to Otiria. It really is a huge train for a branch line terminus especially when compared with the previous day’s smaller one.
With passengers numbering one over a two day period it was obvious that time would eventually catch up with this 'goods train with car attached' service. The New Zealand Railway Observers of the period reported the withdrawal of other Northland passenger services but missed the Otiria to Okaihau one although later published sources give 'until 1974', 'by 21st June 1976' and 'until 21st June 1976'. Cran Julian though has advised that the carriage on the Monday-Friday 10.35am Otiria-Okaihau train and the return service at 3.00pm was discontinued from 29th January 1974. Cran takes his information from notebooks written at the time and can be relied on to be correct. Like most New Zealand branch lines though the Otiria to Okaihau line is now closed. Transport deregulation in 1977 meant traffic fell away rapidly and on 1st November 1987 the line closed forever.
I will make no comment on the locomotives pictured. Diesels were never of much interest, not back then and not now, but the thought of a carriage tagging along at the rear a goods train....well that's another matter!