Tuesday 31 December 2019

Open Access Claims One Sided, Incorrect

At the moment various National Party supporters are claiming we should have an open access rail freight network, for example as described here. This is essentially a call for Kiwirail's freight operations to be privatised and opened up to competition. At the moment, Kiwirail does not actually compete with private transport companies for freight. They operate as a train haulage service, or basically a rail freight wholesaler, with the retail side of rail freight handled by private transport operators such as Mainfreight, Owens, PBT, Toll and Daily Freight, and port companies. This is a fundamental issue that is overlooked by these campaigners. Kiwirail is not turning away low volume (low GTK) freight because they are not an agent for low GTK freight. These private companies are the appropriate agents and if the freight isn't making its way onto rail, that is because there isn't the market volume and profitability that would suit these operators. The only real argument that is possible is that KRL might not be interested in scheduling trains at the most useful times, the highest speeds or at the lowest possible costs.

I don't have a lot of time to write about all of the misleading representations in that particular article, but the claim that Kiwirail is turning down freight volumes is one of the falsities that these campaigners have sidestepped. Small volumes of freight, or specialised loads needing customised wagon designs, are expensive and difficult to handle, and often can be carried by road without needing the special facilities required by rail, so that is one reason why road transport has an advantage in many cases.

Most of these campaigns are making a direct comparison between road and rail networks and claiming they are essentially equivalent, which could not be further from the truth. Roading inherently is better suited to small and specialised loads, short distances and fast deliveries, compared with rail which is inherently suited to large volumes and long distances, and characterised by slower delivery timetables. These differences mean rail is always going to be an industry that is more suited to those operators that move large volumes of freight, and not serve the smaller operators who are moving lower volumes. This is basically the same as the current situation, so it is not really going to change the operating environment in the slightest. This is one of the key reasons why railfreight is not carrying a large volume of freight, and other key reason is that New Zealand does not have large volumes of freight in general due to our low population density. Nearly all the other countries that are quoted for comparisons have much higher population density, so they have more freight volume density as well.

What we could expect to see in reality by opening up the rail freight business to competition through open access is a repeat of the race to the bottom that we already see in road transport. It is claimed that new freight is being moved in places such as Queensland where open access has been introduced, but this may not prove to be actually viable longer term. At the moment the operating model in NZ is low risk for the private freight operators who do not have to finance a fleet of rail wagons, locomotives and staff, and this eases the entry burden. As seen previously in NZ, private rail operators (Tranz Rail and its successor Toll) that have entered the freight market have built up a lot of traffic in the short term, which ended up being lost in the longer term as the inevitable issues of low profitability had to be addressed. So in any competitive market, the situation is that with existing road transport competition, rail freight haulage is not currently any kind of monopoly, even in NZ. And in rail freight, with competition, there will be the usual market pricing adjustments that become necessary over time, that result in freight being lost from rail. So it is difficult in reality to sustain claims that longer term, more freight will be hauled by rail under an open access system.

The real issues in NZ are that roads are much more subsidised than railway lines. Currently, road transport operators do not pay any RUCs on local authority controlled roads, and construction of new highways is often heavily subsidised by government. It is rare for KRL to get handouts for new railway routes or major realignments of existing ones, and often much higher BCRs are required to justify them.

Other claims made in the article that are mostly false or misleading are:
  • That Kiwirail has lost interest in operating some lines and closed them down. Most recent closures occurred under the funding constraints on KRL network operations imposed by the National government, which was stacked in favour of privately owned road operators. 
  • That Kiwirail scrapped valuable wagons that were used for specific types of freight, the examples referred to being CF fertiliser hopper wagons and GT car carrier wagons. Both of these wagon types were specialised non intermodal vehicles that could not match the utilisation of newer intermodal designs. For example, cars can be carried in regular shipping containers and swapbodies that are standardised for exchange across a variety of different transport modes. Fertiliser is now commonly carried in special containers that can be readily transferred between trucks and rail wagons, which are a lot cheaper to load and unload. The wagons were in actuality disposed of because they had reached the end of their useful life.
Generally, campaigns like these are driven by the usual claims that competition and a market environment will solve everything. Historically, these are just variations of the pro-privatisation campaigns that have been produced in NZ in the past, and which had disastrous outcomes for the rail network of the country. The biggest likely impact is on smaller passenger operators such as the heritage steam train societies that operate at present on the KRL network in parts of NZ. Due to their small size it is likely the barriers to entry onto an open access network will be significantly increased for them, although several have claimed that self crewing will give them an advantage over current arrangements where there is a shortage of KRL-employed staff available.

Map Development Levels [3]: Comprehensive Level

Yesterday we posted about the Basic and Intermediate levels of the maps of the NZ Rail Maps project. Today we are going to have an in depth look at the Comprehensive level of the maps.

The main additional level of information added at Comprehensive level is georeferenced historical maps. This requires that the aerial photography sourced from a site such as Retrolens, or Archives New Zealand, is overlaid over existing georeferenced aerial photography, and then tiles are produced that use the same tile grid system as the originals, so that the reference information for the original tile grid system (of the base aerial photography) can be copied to the new tiles.

If you've ever taken a photo on a camera or phone that is tagged with GPS information, you'll understand a little bit about georeferencing. In this instance, a set of source imagery of an area is divided into tiles of a certain size (the ones we use are usually 4800x7200 pixels) and then for each tile, the georeferencing information is added into several additional files (sidecar files) that have the same title as the original image, but with a different file extension. According to the standard format for GIS georeferencing, there is a file that contains the top left coordinates of the tile, the resolution in each axis, and a couple of other coordinates that tell the GIS how much, if any, rotation of the tile is needed. 

The other important information that is present in one of the other files is the Coordinate Reference System that applies to the tile. Maps are drawn according to what is called a "projection", which is essentially a mathematical model for flattening the earth's spherical form into a two dimensional map. In practice, the earth isn't close enough to a real sphere for these projections to be really simple and easy, so there are many different ones, often produced for specific countries. When coordinates are used in GPS, they are specified in degrees and minutes, which are equal to the coordinates from a CRS called EPSG:4326, which also happens to be the main one that is used by Google Earth. In the maps, we choose to use a CRS called EPSG:3857, which uses coordinates specified in metres. This makes it possible for the map scale to show measurements in metres and kilometres. The main reason for using EPSG:3857 is that it is compatible with the KML files that Google Earth produces, which was an early source of information for the maps but is not used now. To sum up, the combination of the Coordinate Reference System and coordinate information provided for each tile tell a GIS how and where to draw a tile onto the map canvas.

Now, rather than invent our own system of coordinates to tell the GIS how to render the historical map tiles, the easiest way to get them into the GIS is to use an existing tile grid. So first of all we download the existing LINZ base aerial imagery for an area, and then lay out the tiles in a graphical editing program (our preferred software is Gimp, which apart from being free and open source software, is eminently suited to handling very large graphics files on a well resourced computer). We then take the historical images, and overlay them on top of the grid of tiles, using coinciding terrain features to line everything up. This is not as easy as it sounds, mainly because Linz orthorectifies its base imagery whereas Retrolens and other historical imagery sources generally don't. 

Orthorectification is a mathematical image processing task that aims to eliminate visual distortion that is inherent in photography, caused by variations in height of terrain and terrain that is out to the sides of a photographic image (i.e. that is being viewed side on). These visual distortions mean that a series of aerial photos taken close together along a visual path, that overlap each other, will each have a different view of target points in the areas that are overlapped. This isn't a problem if the target area is completely flat, but where the target has raised or sunken areas, the three dimensional aspect of these areas is represented differently depending on how far that area is from the lens centre (because of the viewing angle). The concept for orthorectification is to generate an altitude reference model of the target area (for example, by using LiDAR radar data) and then feed that into a program along with the source tiles, the software then corrects the visual distortion (if the altitude model is accurate enough). In practice this process is only as good as the accuracy of the altitude model, and we have seen a number of instances even in the Linz base aerials of bridges appearing to be curved, that are actually straight, due to the incorrect height information being recorded for that area (most likely the height was represented only for the valley not being crossed and not actually for the bridge itself).

When it comes to raw aerial photography like that we can get from Retrolens, the fact it generally isn't georeferenced, or simply that the centreline coordinates for the aerial survey (in other words, the navigational track that the plane taking the photos flew along) is quite likely different, means that alignment of the historical imagery over the base is often difficult especially for raised or sunken terrain (that is, higher or lower than the railway lines we are interested in mapping). It can get really messy where there are a number of rail lines that are at different heights, such as a few places where a rail line goes on an embankment or bridge alongside or over a shunting yard. So at the best of times, the positioning of features according to a historical image can only ever be an approximation.

When we started doing the Comprehensive level mapping, we commenced in the Cromwell Gorge of the Otago Central Railway with the intention of mapping more or less accurately the route of the old branch railway which is now almost all submerged beneath a hydro lake. There have been so many physical changes in that area, not the least because of the lake itself but also the hydro works, that have made it somewhat difficult to obtain accurate rendering of the route, and our first attempt is currently being revised somewhat. This is partly why the Otago Central maps have not been fully released at the moment. The relevant map volume, Volume 12, is the only one that relies on the Comprehensive level mapping for a significant part of its Basic level information, because of the need to use this technique to generate the route in the Cromwell Gorge which is now mostly invisible; on all the other routes, the closed lines are visible enough to draw them directly from other sources. 

Comprehensive level mapping is inherently much slower to produce than the Basic or Comprehensive levels because of the large amount of graphical data needed to generate map tiles at a useful resolution. Typical historical tiles that are at a useful resolution are at a scale of 1:10000 or less. The most common scales found in NZR aerial photography are 1:4300 for station surveys and 1:5500 for corridor surveys. Highway surveys at typical scales of 1:8000 have also proven very useful in a number of cases. These scales at the the sizes generated in Retrolens scans generally require the use of base imagery at a pixel size around 0.1 to 0.2 metres. This naturally results in a need to process very large image sizes to cover a relatively small area on the ground. For example, a tile size of 4800x7200 pixels at 0.1 metres will cover an area of only 480 by 720 metres, with 34 megapixels in the tile. The result is that a powerful computer and a lot of memory and disk space are needed to process the georeferencing of the images and store them as well. These factors combine to ensure that we have decided in the project that Comprehensive level is a lower priority and is mainly confined to the use of the official NZR surveys except in a small number of major sites where other historical generations are useful.

Well that's been a long and very technical post but we felt it was useful to dig into this information about the levels of maps and we hope this creates a greater understanding of what the basis for the type of maps that we produce is, and what sort of output we can expect to see at the various levels in the future.

Monday 30 December 2019

Map Development Levels [2]: Intermediate Level

In the last post we described the process of creating the maps to a Basic level. This post describes the second level of maps, the Intermediate level. The main difference between Basic and Intermediate level is that a printable PDF file is produced for each map volume.

For a printed format, like a book, the maps will have the tiles put into pages of a document in a way similar to the electronic format to enable intuitive navigation between pages of the document. The Project will only produce and distribute PDF documents that can be downloaded and printed out by an end user; we did consider online publishing but decided against proceeding with it. The PDFs should be able to be printed out and bound by any print shop, although we have not yet evaluated the real world feasibility of this. To make a printed format map easy to print or copy for casual use on a home computer or regular photocopier, the maps are purely monochrome ("diagrams"), using black, white and shades of grey, rather than colour elements. Consequently a large number of different symbols and line patterns are used, as described in the maps key. 
 The process needed to produce a PDF volume file is that data tables need to be compiled from various sources for each route to be included within the volume. The major amount of content is map tiles that are specifically designed to fit onto physical pages and to use the space on those pages to the highest level of efficiency whilst also being easy to navigate. These last two considerations in particular are what have led to maps being designed incorporating navigational aids such as arrows to indicate the direction origin and terminus stations of the particular corridor, as well as adjusting the map orientation so that the rail corridor always goes horizontally across the corridor (aligned more or less with the navigational arrows mentioned above) regardless of the actual direction by the  compass it is going in. Hence the maps always have a north facing arrow shown in the bottom left corner that rotates with the map tile and quite commonly, north will not be at the top of the map. 
We have had criticism made of this format by those who suggest that the top of a map should always be the northward direction. Whilst this paradigm may be appropriate to large format printed maps, it is not much of an aid in a situation where only a small segment of a map can be displayed at one time (as is the case in the static tiles format we use online) and where it is therefore necessary to quickly change to a new tile without losing track of orientation. Or to put it another way, you need to be able to be quickly align the way the map is displayed with the actual alignment of the corridor relative to the direction you are physically travelling in, and not to lose track of that when you scroll to the next or last tile. Having to produce all maps "north up" would not only make that potentially very difficult but also waste a lot of space on pages.

Whilst the maps used in a printed volume are the same as the diagrams published at a Basic level, they have to be regenerated at the size needed to work within the page format of a PDF. In a nutshell, whilst the format that is most useful for a phone or tablet is landscape orientation, the usual format for a PDF is portrait orientation. These differences mean that producing the PDF version of a map volume is not a simple cut and paste exercise.

The next post in this series will be made tomorrow and describe the Comprehensive level, which is the most time consuming step and accordingly, we are not doing maps at this level for all stations.

Map Development Levels [1]: Basic Level

At the beginning of this year we defined a vision for 2019 and we also talked about three levels of map development. Although the 2019 vision was not followed for the most part, it is being picked up and pursued much more firmly for 2020. Inherent in that is that the maps will be developed in three levels. This post expands on the initial description given then of what is the Basic level and the intentions to be achieved from it.

The Basic level of the maps is intended to be fully developed for all of New Zealand and it ensures that we have at the very least a full set of maps at this level. It is designed not just to depict the routes of the railway lines in this country, but in fact to supplant and complement existing topographical maps by incorporating most of the key information in these maps that will aid in the use of the maps to locate railway infrastructure easily and quickly. So, Basic level maps include roads, rivers, streams, lakes, contour lines, elevations, place names, property boundaries, bridges, tunnels, and of course, railways. The background of the maps is a set of terrain reliefs. Most of this data comes from freely downloadable layers licensed under Creative Commons by Land Information New Zealand. The real difference off a regular topo map is that we are guaranteeing that the information about the railway system is comprehensive and accurate. It is compiled to a much more detailed level than any topographical map that is available from a mainstream publisher because the maps are specialised to railways.

The Basic maps are published only online and include two separate formats: the basic monochromatic format with terrain relief backgrounds (known as "diagrams") and the identical format with the Linz aerial photography background (known as "maps"). The content at a Basic level is produced by a multi stage process:
  • The first stage is to obtain the Linz aerial photography for a volume and then align the railway routes within that volume to the actual rail lines displayed on that aerial photography. For Volumes 1 to 11, these volumes are each based upon one existing main line rail corridor, so the alignment is being done for that main line. For closed branch lines and other rail routes in a volume, we are drawing upon all existing knowledge we have obtained elsewhere about the routes, which may be aided by visible features remaining on the ground that are visible in aerial photography.
  • The second stage is to traverse the same routes in the opposite direction and mark in all useful features such as bridges, tunnels, stations and yards. These are all traced off the aerial photography. Our original plan for Basic level has been expanded to make use of Retrolens historical aerial photography for a station site as a reference source to mark in some features that may not be readily visible on current aerial photography. So in this stage the historical aerial photos will help to pinpoint the exact location of individual stations, many of which are closed today.
Once the information is all in place within the maps, they are ready to be produced (published).

Right now we are completing Volume 5 to a Basic level and have been working continuously on it for the past few days (of which more in another post shortly). So it looks like a week or two is what it would take to complete each volume to a Basic level. This will vary a lot as some volumes have already been completed at a Basic level, and others have been only partly completed. A lot of volumes were put together before we were able to get the use of the current Linz aerials and of course well before Retrolens came along, other volumes have Intermediate and Comprehensive level content that have been put into them as well. But for now, Basic level is what is happening first.

The maps in general (across all levels) are designed to be highly usable across a range of different formats. The key assumption we have designed them to at the very lowest level is that they will be adaptable both to modern electronic devices and to hardcopy printed formats. For a handheld device such as a tablet or phone, maps will be published online in a photo album with navigational indications that enable intuitive scrolling between tiles. We don't have the means to publish the maps in a digital globe format that can be hosted by a tile server, so the tiles are put into a photo album and statically scrolled and displayed one at a time. They appear at a variety of scales depending on how much detail needs to be shown, so you will see a small scale where there isn't much information, zooming in to a large scale where there is a lot of information such as a yard or siding layout that needs to be displayed.

Thursday 26 December 2019

Palmerston North Gisborne Line [0E]: Volume 5 Progress Update 5

Yesterday we wrote a quick update on Volume 5. Today we are taking a more indepth look at what we can do to complete the update of this volume covering the Palmerston North Gisborne Line (currently only open to Napier).

Yesterday's inspiration came from BERL's new report on reopening the Wairoa to Gisborne section of the route. Today's comes from the discovery that Retrolens has just updated its site to include content from every part of NZ. So what we said yesterday about a lack of historical aerial photos from Horizons Region is no longer correct. Content is now in Retrolens from the entire country.

So far we are not seeing NZR station surveys in either the West Coast or in Horizons. We expect this is because scanning has only recently commenced and not all of the aerials have been captured to date. Corridor surveys do exist in both areas. As well, some of the oldest content is not yet available either. For example, there is no historical coverage of the old central city Palmerston North railyards yet.

The full update of Volume 5 (to Intermediate or Comprehensive level) won't be completed for some time yet and leaving this until there is more of the historical aerial photos available for Horizons makes perfect sense. However we intend to work on this as a higher priority than other parts of the North Island, but it won't adversely detract from the completion of the major South Island volumes (Volumes 8-11) and we still do not intend to give it an actual priority ranking at this stage.

In general we will be working quickly to complete basic corridor alignments and details for all volumes quickly so that Basic level maps can be produced in the quickest possible timeframe. What is being scheduled is Intermediate or Comprehensive level maps for different parts of the country. So the work at these levels continues for Greater Christchurch, Stillwater Ngakawau Line, Main North Line, Midland Line and Main South Line. But at the same time we will be working on all other volumes to complete the Basic level. We will then publish the Basic level maps for all 12 volumes as quickly as possible, maybe even by the end of March, and then focus on rolling out the Intermediate and Comprehensive levels for each volume as deemed appropriate and according to a preset order over the remainder of the year.

Volume 5 is relatively easy to update due to its being one of a small number of previously published volumes and therefore, the data tables were produced some years ago and all we need to do is regenerate all the maps in the new format and republish them.

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Palmerston North Gisborne Line [0D]: Volume 5 Progress Update 4

Again it's some time since we blogged about the PNGL and the Volume 5 maps, a year in actuality. We are planning to work on getting Volume 5 finished in 2020 along with all the other volumes but the timeframe when this work will actually be done has not yet been scheduled within 2020.

This post is largely inspired by the release of BERL's comprehensive research report into the work needed to reinstate the Wairoa to Gisborne section of the PNGL which closed in 2012. The report was released last week and is available online at

We welcome the publication of a report that is extremely detailed and comprehensive in analysing the work needed to reopen the line and weatherproof it for long term resilience. This is far more credible than anything produced by any of the various ginger groups and armchair lobbyists to date. It is now estimated that reinstating the line will cost up to $23 million and there will be additional works needed to achieve the desired goals over the subsequent decade costing an estimated $13 million. 

The report has a number of sections that detail all of the expected works needed over the line which is very comprehensive in nature. It will be interesting to see how the contents are handled by Kiwirail and the government. The biggest issue is always going to be whether the freight volume assessments are credible over the long term.

We will have a look into the report in more detail next year along with the update and completion of Volume 5 which will include additional historical aerial maps. It now looks like an NZR corridor survey is available for the entire route and there may also be additional station surveys that we have not yet accessed for some stations. The section of the PNGL in the Manawatu is still going to be limited by the non-availability at present of Horizons Regional aerial coverage.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Stillwater Ngakawau Line [0A]: Volume 8 Progress Report 1

Last time anything got written on this blog about Stillwater-Ngakawau Line or Volume 8 was more than two years ago. Volume 8 is going to be like all of the other volumes, completed this year in some form, and being in the South Island will be a higher priority than anything in the North Island. It is second in line at present after Volume 9 (Midland Line).

SNL was one of the first volumes where we were beginning to use the Linz aerial photography as a source and background for the maps. So we have all this aerial photography that was downloaded at the time, but it is just the raw downloads from the LDS website that are of large areas and one of the first tasks to be completed with it is to pull out just the specific layers that are needed for the actual maps. So there are 24 GB of downloaded layers to look through and that would be expected to come down to maybe 1 GB actually needed in the maps.

At the time there was no Retrolens content released for the Westland area; now that there is, we will get some historical map mosaics created for a small number of stations. Stillwater is an obvious one but the NZR corridor survey for Stillwater to Westport is only partly available at the moment, from Ahaura to Waitahu. So we can make maps for the likes of Ikamatua, Maimai, Tawhai and Reefton from this 1980s coverage, maybe Inangahua, and possibly Stillwater itself with the help of research information. There is good enough coverage of Mackleys probably, but not further into the Gorge before Westport.  Coverage of Westport is high quality (for the town planning) but not Railway specific. Going north there is patchy coverage of various locations some of which may be mappable, including the Denniston Plateau, Ngakawau, and Seddonville. Coverage of the Cape Foulwind Branch vicinity is insufficient to be of assistance to the mapping project considering that it closed in the 1930s (although the rails remained in place for many years afterwards), most areas being only covered with low resolution imagery from 1955 at the moment, so we do not expect to be able to add any detail to the maps for this route. There is some historical coverage available for the Blackball Branch and Roa Incline which will enable the route to be traced more accurately, but not sufficiently to detail much of Blackball station at the present although this needs to be checked further.

The last post for SNL maps in September 2017 said that the maps were completed at that stage. Looking at them today, there is a bit of work needed, just to check alignments and general details. We have not researched any of the SNL at this stage and are not presently planning to do so as there is no real schedule for additional research at this time, except for research already done into Mackleys some years ago and recently refreshed, which has not yet yielded any track diagrams. 

Conns Creek at the foot of the Denniston Incline in 1946 with various rakes of wagons visible. The Incline went uphill in the top right hand corner of this image. The Incline and the Conns Creek Branch were both closed to traffic in 1967.

Waimangaroa as seen in 1946 with the Conns Creek Branch heading off the Seddonville Branch at lower right. The Seddonville Branch was closed beyond Ngakawau in 1981 except for the short section from Seddonville to Mokihinui Mine that closed in 1974. Subsequently the Ngakawau Branch was incorporated into the former Stillwater Westport Line to create the Stillwater Ngakawau Line. Coal mining at Denniston itself continued for many years after closure of the Denniston Incline, the output being brought by road to Waimangaroa to be loaded on the "East Backshunt" which was the first section of the former Conns Creek Branch. It was not until the late 1990s that Solid Energy finally ceased mining at Denniston but Waimangaroa was closed several years earlier and the last few years of coal production was trucked to Ngakawau to be loaded with the Stockton output.

Ngakawau in 1946. At this time the Charming Creek railway was still open and ran off the end of the Ngakawau mine siding centre bottom of this image. The bridge across the Ngawakau River was a combined bridge until the 1930s when a separate highway bridge was built for the first time. Ngawakau station itself closed many years ago and the entire line is just a very long siding for the Stockton Coalfields output loaded at Ngakawau from the aerial ropeway. The aerial coverage of Stockton itself shows the old mining railway quite clearly so we may yet map this area and there is also good quality coverage of Denniston Plateau that will be of interest also.

The fledgling township of Inangahua in 1943. The railway was still under construction at this stage and the various buildings and sites scattered along the corridor are very likely associated with this work.

Last one for today is Reefton 1986.

Monday 23 December 2019

Midland Line [0G]: Volume 9 Progress Report 7 (Greymouth-Ross)

So we have spent the past few days working to make up maps for the part of the Midland Line that is mostly a branch off the main line, the branch that goes to Hokitika (Hokitika Line) and which was formerly the Ross Branch that carried on past Hokitika to Ross.

From Ross there was a tramway built in 1919 by Stuart & Chapman to Kakapotahi and further still into Ianthe State Forest and this continued to operate until 1959. This supplied the logs to the sawmill at Ross and this mill with its own network of private sidings connected to the railway provided a lot of the traffic that was conducted at Ross. The mill did continue to operate for some years after the tramway closed as logs could be brought by road and other companies also brought timber to Ross for loading.

There was also a sawmill and settlement at Ruatapu, between Hokitika and Ross, and this still operates to some extent today. We haven't got anything for maps on Ruatapu at this stage. What we have got south of Hokitika is just Ross and a bit of the tramway further south, which at one stage was considered to become an extension of the railway. We have located all the stuff we copied from ANZ's files earlier this year to use for map drawing and with a limited number of lower quality aerial photos and the research information we can draw maps of Ross and parts of the tramway.

Greymouth-Hokitika is more promising and after looking at what can be seen on aerial photos from 1963, which is specifically for State Highway 6, we can draw in maps of Kumara and Arahura.

We also have good quality coverage of Greymouth (1945) and Hokitika (1963) that is being worked on and the maps of Hokitika itself are virtually complete and will be published soon. Greymouth itself is going to take the longest because research is needed which hasn't been completed yet and maybe not until early next year. However here are some maps of Elmer Lane taken in 1945, 1988 and 2016.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Midland Line [0F]: Volume 9 Progress Report 6

Last time we had a look at the Midland Line, back in August this year, route alignment was completed to Otira and some other work was being planned. However it is now a priority to make progress on completing all map volumes to a basic standard over the next 12 months (calendar year 2020), which in theory means completing one volume a month.

Accordingly, the next step for the Midland Line (Volume 9) maps, which is the main line from Rolleston to Greymouth and its various branches, is to achieve this basic standard completion, which is going to be achieved by using the WMTS capability of Qgis to obtain the most up to date Linz aerial photography of the route, and aligning the main line and any other tracks visible accordingly, then filling in the other details. 

Once this Basic standard has been achieved there may be time to look at filling in some other historical details that haven't been achieved to date, such as those referred to in previous posts in this series. Since Retrolens now has good enough historical coverage of Greymouth and Hokitika, we will have a look at incorporating some of this, depending on the quality, as there are no NZR surveys of these areas available yet. Apart from other stations previously mentioned, the available coverage of Stillwater may prove suitable for mapping but it is not of a high quality and mainly has only historical interest in locating a few features.

Research has been undertaken previously for some key stations along the route such as Stillwater, Hokitika and Ross, but not Greymouth.

 Ross railway station in 1948. On the left are the railway houses. At upper right is the sawmill which created much of the traffic volume at this station, with its own siding complex. It was served by a tramway that ran further south to Ianthe, which closed in 1959. There were investigations into extending the railway along this tramway route during the early 1940s.
Just one part of what is covered in Greymouth, this is the Elmer Lane roundhouse in the 1940s.

Project Diary 2019-12-19: Greater Christchurch Maps Update

In the last few weeks our research has continued of Greater Christchurch maps, branching out into looking into railway housing in Heathcote and Lyttelton. The development of railway housing in large cities is naturally very different from small towns, as these two examples show. We plan also to take a closer look at railway housing in Addington, but not in any other part of Greater Christchurch except where it is within a station precinct.

The research has come to a pause for now due to the holiday season, but we intend to take a few weeks' break even when Archives reopens in the first week of January and probably catch up on some other areas of the maps project (i.e. some areas outside Greater Christchurch). There are only a few stations' worth of files to look through within the GC area, perhaps only at most two more months of research. The maps themselves haven't progressed much recently, but the break period will be used to get progress in that area as well.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Closure of Taieri Gorge Railway from Pukerangi to Middlemarch proposed

The big news in rail heritage this week is that Dunedin Railways has proposed to stop running trains from Pukerangi to Middlemarch on the Taieri Gorge Railway. The decision was announced on 5th December. The next day, Dunedin City Council said they had received no prior warning of the decision and that they would require a period of public consultation before allowing the decision to go ahead.

Currently, trains between Pukerangi and Middlemarch operate, on average, about every two to three weeks, but in practice, trains are only run during the peak tourist season, so that the actual frequency during that season is higher, but operations will stop completely during the cooler period of the year. This frequency is much lower than the Taieri Gorge Limited trains to Pukerangi which are at least daily year-round and can be run more often than once a day during the busiest times. Dunedin Railways, among other reasons, has cited the low demand for the Middlemarch trains compared to the costs of maintaining the track among the reasons for stopping the Middlemarch service. This service is the only one that meets the end of the Otago Central Rail Trail, and Middlemarch is the only actual township served by the Taieri Gorge Railway as there are no other population centres west of Wingatui. Middlemarch is within the boundaries of Dunedin City and this is one of the reasons it was chosen to be the terminus of the Taieri Gorge Railway when the line was purchased from the Government in 1990.

There are many questions that need to be asked, including the commercial aspect of the decision. Dunedin Railways was effectively founded by the Otago Excursion Train Trust, a non-profit heritage operator, in partnership with Dunedin City Council. Originally they each held a 50% share of the company. However because of a requirement to inject additional capital into the company at various stages, OETT's shareholding has dwindled to 28% at the time of writing this, with Dunedin City Council (formally Dunedin City Holdings) having a majority shareholding of 72%. This implies OETT did not have the means to provide the additional capital at the time it was needed. Due to the minority ownership position that OETT are in, they do not have much ability to influence the business culture of Dunedin Railways. This leaves DCH in the position of being able to direct DRL into more of a commercial focus than perhaps some would like. The problem is that DCH is being pressured by DCC to focus on producing divendends out of its commercial holdings. Whilst we have no information to confirm specifically that DCL has pressured DRL to produce a dividend from Dunedin Railways, it remains a possibility that Dunedin Railways is being pressured to increase the financial return out of its operations.

OETT's position appears to be one of discontent about its minority shareholding position with the company. We have not had this officially confirmed, but have sighted OETT newsletters that have strongly implied this being the case. It is known that a Memorandum of Understanding between OETT and DRL took many months to negotiate before finally being confirmed relatively recently. It is also known that OETT are attempting to negotiate some sort of case that they have called a special general meeting of their members to discuss and that OETT have had difficulty in getting agreement from Dunedin Railways management on projects that they have wished to fund on the railway. But for the record, OETT have declined to comment in any shape or form about the situation relating to Dunedin Railways or anything at all to do with the Middlemarch issue.

It does appear to us that if the Railway does get closed beyond Pukerangi that the best option would be for OETT to step in and take it over, as well as the Middlemarch rail heritage precinct. The next step could be to lease the line to be operated with light vehicles for a daily operation to meet the train at Pukerangi, for people arriving or departing Middlemarch on the rail trail. We believe it is unlikely that the 18 km of line could be maintained for normal heavy rail operations and therefore light vehicles (golf carts?) would require less maintenance. This option would have the advantage of providing a daily connection that is not currently possible with the present irregular services. Some sort of special vehicle to carry bicycles would be needed.

We understand Dunedin City Council is currently consulting on the matter and everyone should take the opportunity to submit to their process. We will post more details of this as soon as we have them.

Monday 2 December 2019

Heathcote Pumping Station Siding & Ferrymead Railway Siding [2]

Following on from last month's post about the Heathcote Pumping Station siding, here is an updated map showing the Heathcote Expressway cycleway that is expected to be built along this corridor within the near future. It will cross over the Ferrymead Railway siding and then follow the Main South Line corridor to Truscotts Road.

Railway Housing in Greater Christchurch [2A]: Lyttelton 1

Following on from the discussion in the last article about railway housing around Lyttelton, here are some aerial photos with labelling showing where some of the railway housing was located there.

This is preliminary as more research is needed to identify all of the railway properties across Lyttelton as well as in this specific area. However, with the knowledge obtained to date, some of the housing in this area can be confirmed as being railway owned in the 1960s.

 The above, black and white aerial photo dates from 1973, while the below colour aerial is from 2015. We believe most if not all of the housing in the area enclosed by Brenchley Road, College Road and Crossland Terrace, was part of a railway settlement in Lyttelton. Marked so far are the four properties that still exist in some form today.