Thursday 28 March 2019

Main North Line [14]: Rangiora

Rangiora is the major intermediate station in the former tablet section from Addington (Christchurch) to Waipara (junction of the Waiau Branch). It is also one of the largest towns in rural North Canterbury. It is 30 km from Addington, almost exactly halfway between there and Waipara. 

The Great Northern Railway from Christchurch reached Southbrook, 3 km to the south, in 1872, and was then in the broad gauge of 5 feet 3 inches (c. 1600 mm). It was opened to Ashley (c. 3 km north of Rangiora on the north side of the Ashley River) in 1875, then to Balcairn in the same year, and to Amberley in 1876. This was the maximum northern extent of broad gauge in Canterbury, and it was converted to the NZ standard gauge of 3 feet 6 inches (1067 mm) in 1878.

Rangiora was from 1874 to 1959 the junction for the branch line to Oxford, which from 1884 to 1930 had an extension to Sheffield (a station on the Midland Line) via the Waimakariri Gorge bridge, which is still in use today as a road structure. The Oxford branch line also joined at Bennetts Junction with a line from Eyreton (Kaiapoi) that was first opened in 1878 and progressively closed between 1931 and 1965. The working of these branch lines required a locomotive depot at Rangiora and the turntable used to turn the steam engines remained long after the end of branch services into the 1970s at the north end of the station yard, while an engine shed was closed some time earlier.

Rangiora's passenger station has been at its present site for decades. A branch train platform behind it was still in place in the mid 1980s, but seems to have been demolished about 30 years ago. The importance of freight traffic at Rangiora can be seen in the extent of the sidings, nearly all removed including several private spurs on the west side. Rangiora's main importance today is as a passenger halt for the Coastal Pacific service, and for crossing freights.

The aerial photos are in sequence from 1942, 1975 and 2014.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

MSL Dunedin-Mosgiel [0B]: Intro 2

This is just a quick update on the Dunedin-Mosgiel section of line I am mapping at the moment. I haven't actually done much of the maps just yet but have focused on doing the mosaic project which keeps on growing in size, it is now 147 layers and around 26 GB of disk space. The latest section to be completed is Burnside, which leaves me three more sections to complete: Green Island-Abbotsford, Wingatui and Mosgiel. I have some images for the Outram line, Walton Park and Fernhill as well, but will skip these for now.  I also put in coverage of Dunedin all the way up to Pelichet Bay, so the coverage is going to be pretty well continuous. 

So the map tiles mosaics are about half finished and a little mapping has been done, mostly around Caversham as seen below.

Saturday 23 March 2019

MSL Dunedin-Mosgiel [0A]: Intro 1

I have worked on maps of Dunedin area a few times in the last couple of years, including last year when I drew maps of Dunedin yard using 1978 aerial photography. Because of an enquiry about Caversham, I am working with available 1972-1979 aerial photography of the Dunedin to Mosgiel section of line.

What is available at present covers Dunedin/Kensington at very good quality (1972) and Kensington/Wingatui at good quality (lower resolution than Dunedin/Kensington and this is probably not an NZR survey as all of these stations were imminently closing due to the motorway construction and pending end of suburban services in 1979).

So I am currently working on a very large Gimp project that covers all of the stations along that way (layered over each other) and doing Dunedin through to Caversham and this will bring in the 1972 photography of Dunedin and Kensington which shows the old steam era loco depot at Dunedin and also Kensington before the motorway was pushed through as the work on this was already well underway in 1979 and so the earlier view is very valuable. The photography of Dunedin Station yard also includes Andersons Bay Road where sidings were still in use in 1972 including the Dunedin Gasworks so that will also be included.

So I expect that some output from this will be produced in the next week, alongside the remainder of the Northland work which is also proceeding as planned.

There is also coverage of Caversham from 1942 which is relatively poor quality but does make an interesting point of comparison. I have found high quality of nearly every other station on this section, just not Caversham, as it must have been expected to close in the 1970s, or was perhaps already closed except to passengers, whereas every other station along there had lots of freight traffic as well.

Dunedin Loco Depot 1972 with the old steam shed still in use.

Andersons Bay Road running vertically through the middle of this view of Kensington in 1972. At upper left is the Caledonian Grounds, with the Dunedin Gasworks below it. On the far side of Andy Bay Rd from the gasworks are the Strathallan Street railway sidings. All of these sites have been redeveloped since this time with all the railway tracks pulled up.

More of Kensington/South Dunedin 1972. In the upper left is the Carisbrook Grounds. In the lower half of the photo is Hillside Workshops.

The area around Carisbrook in 1979 with motorway construction works visible on both sides of the railway. The railway was diverted as part of this so that the motorway bridges over South Road could occupy the former rail corridor.

 Caversham Station in 1979, with the old Caversham gas works to the right and below. This area is now very different, with the motorway passing through the station site, and a public park directly below.

North Auckland Line [3B]: Okaihau Branch 2 - Kawiti Ballast Pit

Kawiti Ballast Pit is near Otiria on the Okaihau Branch. The pit was still open in the 1970s, with machinery and track in place.

The pit traverses more or less the same territory as a section of the Okaihau Branch that crosses a local river with several large bridges, but it doesn't have the bridges. This led to the idea that the bridges should be bypassed by diverting the branch line through the ballast pit site, but this never occurred.

Project Development Report [2019H]

The maps of Northland are progressing well and I have completed detailing the Okaihau Branch all the way to Okaihau and am just tidying up the details of the Rangiahua extension. There are four posts about locations on the branch line which I am completing and there will be another one or two for the extension. At the same time I am exporting the map tiles for the stations going south from Otiria to Waitakere. I have to put together a new Gimp project separately for stations around and including Whangarei as well.

I am also working on the Main South Line in the Dunedin suburban area and extending the existing Gimp project that covered only Dunedin station, to add sections covering all the suburban stations from Dunedin out to Wingatui, which is all covered at 0.125 metre resolution, and will be using high resolution aerial photos from the 1970s as well as some older stuff from the 1940s. As is generally well known the section from Dunedin to Mosgiel built originally in the 1870s, was realigned and duplicated with new tunnels in the 1910s, and then it was altered again in the 1980s with singling,  rebridging and realignment because of the motorway construction. Caversham was particularly impacted by this and the comparisons will be very interesting to look at.

Friday 22 March 2019

North Auckland Line [3A]: Okaihau Branch 1 - Otiria

The Okaihau Branch is something I have blogged about before. This is the first of four posts covering the junction at Otiria, the ballast pit at Kawiti, the only major intermediate freight station at Kaikohe and the terminus at Okaihau. Otiria is where the North Auckland Line effectively ends at the present time, with a branch going west to Okaihau (originally called the Kaikohe Branch) and (as originally designated) the NAL turning from the north to the east to get to Kawakawa and on to Opua. Both of these stubs closed in the 1980s, but the Kawakawa-Opua section has become the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway. On the other hand the Okaihau Branch was lifted, but the corridor remains in NZRC ownership in case a scenario exists where it might be reinstated in the future.

 Most of what has changed at Otiria can be summed up in buildings: the removal of the station and some of the others, while the loading shelter has increased in size. There were also some houses which are long gone. The yard itself is practically the same as it was in 1971 with just one siding extended and the log loading area added off what was the start of the Okaihau Branch.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Project Development Report [2019G]

In the last couple of weeks I drew maps of Sockburn. I haven't got around to blogging that, instead I just posted the album of maps on the group and another group. A lot of maps production in some areas is more than drawing maps, it is software upgrades and other steps and dealing with issues on the computer, and structuring data, so some of the time was spent dealing with and resolving software issues, testing and changing software versions etc.

It's time to get back into Northland to get the maps finished there and yesterday I was pulling up the maps for five stations between between Auckland and Bay of Islands: Helensville, Maungaturoto, Waiotira, Waitakere and Wellsford. I also have to re-export the maps for stations west and east of Otiria, and there is a separate project for Whangarei and the stations near it. 

The maps for the rest of Northland are continuing to be updated so that I expect to make substantial progress with the maps in general this week and maybe completed this volume at the end of March.

Monday 11 March 2019

Project Development Report [2019F]

Since last time there has been some progress on Volume 1 but not as much as I had expected. There have been delays for two main reasons, both of them related to the migration to version 3.6 of Qgis. These are simply migrating computers to a new version of Debian, and then discovering it caused problems with the aerial photo mosaic maps that I use.

Because of an issue that I can't yet get the Qgis development community to address, I am faced with spending a lot of time changing all the historical map tiles I have produced, into non progressive JPEG format, because somehow this has been dropped from being supported on the version of Qgis compiled for the buster platform, even though progressive is part of the Jpeg format for at least ten years.

I have currently about 100 Gimp projects that I have to open all the files in, and then re export every historical map tile from, so this is quite possibly several hundred tiles that will have to be re-produced from the projects. This will just be happening gradually as the projects are updated during the year, and before any map volumes are completed. Fortunately I have kept all the mosaics, which occupy 600 GiB of disk space, which typically includes one backup copy and one working copy of each project. On the other hand, the graphics editing computer is more highly specced now and should make the task quite quick by comparison with some of the earlier work.

In respect to the NAL, I have discovered Maungaturoto, a station between Wellsford and Waiotira, needs to be added to the ones I am already doing mosaics of on that line, so that will be added to the maps I am currently generating of the NAL. The detailing of the rest of the lines is also proceeding.

After the NAL is completed it will be onto Volume 5, PNGL. In between right at the moment I am doing a map of Sockburn on the Main South Line in Christchurch, as part of getting maps together for Lyttelton-Rolleston. I'm not doing any of the other stations on this section at this stage, but I have previously done Linwood, Opawa, Addington and Christchurch. A Gimp project will address S-H-I-T (Sockburn Hornby Islington and Templeton) in one file, but only Sockburn is going to actually be completed over the next day or two. However as I have all the base aerial imagery for these sections now in the computer I will do the base map for all the areas in Qgis.

In terms of the project's overall schedule, it's possible if I want to keep the 12 volumes rolling along as expected then I may have to prioritise Basic level development over the Comprehensive development that I have planned otherwise it's looking less likely by the day that all 12 volumes can be progressed as expected by the end of this year. 

I have spent a bit of time in the last few days optimising my desk layout as well so that it makes better use of the available space so that I can get the most out of all the resources to hand to hopefully speed up map production. So I am looking forward to a more productive week coming up.

Sunday 10 March 2019

Private train proposals have zero credibility

As we all know the national railway network in this country has had a range of owners particularly in the last 25 years when it was privatised by a National government. It got renationalised back in 2003-8 but not as the unified network it once was, since metro operations had been tendered to various operators, and while Kiwirail was able to fold network maintenance and ownership into the new business, they were forced by National to recontract parts of their operations in the 2008-2017 term of government. One significant impact on the freight operations dating from renationalisation was the loss of their trucking network (Tranz Link) and some freight terminals which remained under Toll control although sitting on government owned land.

The real purpose of this post is to discuss the ongoing campaign by one group in particular to be able to run private trains of various sorts around NZ and this does go back to the 1980s or 1990s when a significant fleet of privately owned steam locomotives was purchased and subsequently, carriages were imported from the UK, however these carriages were prevented from being allowed to operate as a private fleet on Tranz Rail's network at the time and were subsequently sold and operated by TRL. The fleet of locomotives is of course that which is owned by the organisation known as Mainline Steam, one of a small number of groups who are able to maintain steam locomotives in main line operable condition to haul steam excursions, and whilst these groups organise the running of these trains, they are actually physically operated by Kiwirail staff with owner representation on board. The same general principles apply to other groups that organise trips of this type on the network. Since the 1980s it has been possible for these private locomotives and in some cases carriages to be allowed to run on the national network but the trains are under the control of Kiwirail and are not independently operated.

There has been interest as well from Mainfreight which did in fact tender (unsuccessfully) to purchase the NZ Rail Ltd network back in 1993 and is today a major freight customer of Kiwirail being one of a number of freight forwarders who have effectively taken over the road-rail transfer and local delivery role that the national rail operator used to provide in "goods sheds" at the major stations. It's possible to speculate that Mainfreight and some of the other road freight / logistics operators are likely to support a campaign for private trains to be able to operate on the national network in competition with Kiwirail Freight. Currently however the national network relies on Kiwirail's own ferry fleet to bridge Cook Strait and no one appears to be campaigning for their own rail ferry to operate in competition with Kiwirail there. 

In recent years the campaign for private train operation has been most keenly seen in the East Coast of the North Island since Kiwirail pulled out of operating the Napier to Gisborne Line. At that time a number of private campaigners suggested the line should be reopened as a "short line" operation as seen in the US. There appears to be little merit in such suggestions however as they are dependent on the same kind of funding that Kiwirail itself was lacking at the time the line was closed down. Hawkes Bay Regional Council produced some funding options for re-opening the line to Wairoa but it appeared to be insufficient to get their project over the line. With the recent change of government, Kiwirail is re opening the line to Wairoa with a partnership with HBRC which owns Napier Port. The line further north to Gisborne is a different proposition due to heated opposition from Gisborne local government politicians and the port company they control, which sees a threat to its main (and puny) log traffic income stream from a rival region. 

The Gisborne rail debacle is largely a sad reflection on vested self interest from local politicians in Gisborne and a consequence of its basket case local governance as a unitary council. Around the countryside, regional councils are tasked with transport development responsibilities across a number of local territories. For example, Northland Regional Council covers a large area from Cape Reianga down to Warkworth and was instrumental in the development of the Marsden Point spur rail line proposals in the 2000s when it was clear the region would benefit from the new port development with a rail link to transfer freight off ships to other parts of the region. At the same time as this work was happening, Far North District Council at the northern most extremity of the rail network was campaigning for it and other territories to become unitary, at a time when FNDC had muscled the Opua-Kawakawa heritage rail line out of Opua and forced it to build a cycleway over much of its trackage. 

The idea that a local territory can not have a massive conflict of interest as a regional transport authority over the same area, with its local interests, is a complete crock. There are fortunately not many unitary authorities in NZ as most of them exhibit similar traits - the others are those in the Nelson-Marlborough region, and Auckland Council in Auckland. Auckland Council has pretty blatant self interest with lukewarm support for rail development outside their boundaries and opposition to any transfer of port services. Gisborne District is a very poor example of such a conflict and their latest regional development plan produced in response to PGF funding scenarios is totally lacking in vision. The idea seems to be the port will mostly move logs, and the government needs to spend money on improving the highways to reduce cost of moving freight by road through other regions. The problem is that the cost of improving those highways over hilly country to the point where costs are significantly reduced would not be justifiable. 

Because of this local governance nonsense in Gisborne and the reluctance of the National Government to fund any alternative transport options other than highways for the region, and only limited highway improvements at that, there has been fertile ground for the campaign for private rail operations in the area, but they have stalled on one obvious problem, which is that if government is not willing to fund Kiwirail to keep the line open, they are hardly likely to see the point of funding another operator, and that's the key reason why the private rail campaigners have no real credibility. The most merit, and it's a limited amount of merit too, that they can bring to their campaign is the supposed gains to rail freight of allowing "open access" to the national network, and those gains, where they exist, generally are outweighed by the downsides. Open access rail operators would cherry pick the high value freight and leave the low value stuff to be carried by Kiwirail as operator of last resort. This in turn results in that traffic being lost to road because KRL would not be able cover its running costs. Furthermore, Kiwirail is not a full transport operator like some of its competitors; it would be at a disadvantage compared to NZ's largest transport and logistics firms who may choose to become involved in private train operations.

It is important in all of this to remember the economic viability of the Gisborne Line has always been in question even in when it was first being built in the 1930s. The fact the line was still open in 2008 was something of a miracle as it had been proposed for closure many times and has been very expensive to maintain long term, although probably not more expensive than State Highway 2 which crosses the same unstable land formations across the Whareratas. In the last years of operation the maintenance standard certainly slipped and this contributed to the final outcome of the line being closed in 2012. That said, the budding private outfit definitely does not have the experience needed to restore the line and keep it in operation. This is not a simple repair job that will be all resolved after spending a few weeks or months in earthmoving work to fill a washout. There is not only a backlog of slips to attend to but there is also a lot of other deferred maintenance particularly on waterways (culverts under embankments, as well as embankments alongside rivers and streams). But the big factor is that land is constantly on the move in the area, and major stabilisation work is needed in a number of areas. There's been some very large landslides and slips along the route and it is just a lot of work to keep open.

However, a lot of Gisborne's isolation is self inflicted and their local government could easily do a lot more to have freight easily and cheaply able to be moved from the area and doesn't do so. Whether that is rail or it is by ship, since the rail line closed there has been a lot of nonsense from mostly people that have some sort of vested interest in the port and its ownership especially. For them, other businesses costs is irrelevant because they don't get money from them. This is very much a problem in smaller provincial centres around NZ, where having a port and making money from it becomes all consuming and more important than other transport modes that they do not own or control. GDC could easily have got a container ship going to Napier or Tauranga but has not moved into this traffic, or they could have partnered with transport interests to support a rail freight hub that could have generated some freight to keep the railway in operation. The fact they have done neither is a big black mark against them.

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Project Development Report [2019E] & North Auckland Line [0C]: Progress Report 3

As a result of a lot of hard work I now have practically all of the base aerial photography for Northland which lets me complete the full set of maps for Volume 1. However it looks like I am a bit behind schedule on the timeframe for all 12 volumes for this year and so I will have to push things along as quickly as possible on Volume 1.

I now have historic aerial imagery for the Okaihau and Opua lines and am completing the maps for these sections. I am also starting work on a big Gimp project to do the historic aerials for the other stations that have NZR survey coverage: Whangarei (including Kamo and the Port), Portland, Waiotira, Wellsford, Helensville and Waitakere. So right now there will be a big effort over the next couple of weeks to get as much as possible done by the end of March on completing Volume 1  to the expected standard.

Part of the delay however has been in developing and implementing standards for use across all 12 volumes, specifically the scaling of lower than 0.1 metre scale base imagery, the grid system for cutting 4800x7200 tiles out of that, and the script that automates the processing of grid segments. That is all necessary to get the most out of the high res NZR aerial surveys that are now being more and more used. With that bloc of work completed to implement those systems, things should speed up on that work and I expect to see this happen with the rest of the stations on Volume 1.

As an update on what we complete this year to Comprehensive standard, it will just be these NZR surveys except for Volume 5, PNGL, and Volume 12, OCB/KB. Everything I have done on Volume 1 has been only NZR surveys except for Oakleigh, which was done as an exception because of the Marsden Point junction.

So over coming days the rest of the maps for the NAL should come together.

North Auckland Line [1A]: Opua-Kawakawa 2: Kawakawa 1

Kawakawa is the other end of what is now the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway, which was mentioned in some detail in the first post of this series. For whatever reason, the vintage railway was started at Kawakawa, even although it should have been possible to take in the line back to Otiria, although not initially as the section to Moerewa was probably still being used to serve the sidings there in the 1980s. In the course of these articles on the NAL we will take in Moerewa and Otiria, as well as Kaikohe and Okaihau which are also in the works. But for now, Kawakawa.

Kawakawa is only a small station, although under preservation it has grown due to being the main base of BOIVR. Their operation as BOISR started more or less as soon as NZR had vacated, or fairly soon after that, and it's not clear how much infrastructure was left at Kawakawa when they moved in, as we can understand that in the same context as Opua.

Here are the maps of Kawakawa.

The main station site in 1975.. As we can see, not that much to it. A station, goods shed and loading bank.
Today Kawakawa is very different. There is the turntable relocated from Opua where the loading bank used to be. There are sheds and other buildings, while the goods shed has gone. In fact the station building is probably about all they have there that is the same as NZR days. And let's face it - Kawakawa is a small site. It was small in NZR days, but it's smaller now because a road has been pushed through a part of it. Another example like Opua of what can happen when a local government abuses their power to push stuff through.

There are only two places in New Zealand where a railway line runs along the middle of a state highway. One is at Kawakawa, and the other is at Ohai.

At the end of the street is the first bridge on the BOIVR. There used to be a road bridge next to it. This has been replaced in more recent years by a footbridge.