Monday 11 May 2020

NZ Rail Maps Project Development Report [2020F]: Website Hosting Options [1]

Good morning. Here is our sixth project development report for 2020.

We spent the last day looking at possible web hosting options for NZ Rail Maps This meaning that there would be a paid site instead of wholly free ones, although some free hosted content is likely to remain. There are a number of possible options ranging from sites specialised for various types of content, through to full web hosting.

At the moment we are going down the specialised track, which is of course the simplest to set up by far, but does have some limitations, naturally. For example if we chose to stick with, we would have the problem that to get a photo gallery plugin to be used in our site would require us to purchase the most expensive hosting plan. Or another example, we are currently on 14 day trial with SmugMug (the company that purchased Flickr). Their hosting is reasonably low in cost, and easy to set up, but would require us to continue hosting the development blog and PDF files on another site such as WordPress.

Going down the full website route, it could be moderately easy to set up a WordPress site but there is a lot of work involved. We have had sites previously hosted with a particular company in NZ before now and their fee of $15 per month is probably quite reasonable for a site with WordPress available, although a gallery plugin could have an extra cost associated with it. We also have had sites previously hosted on TrainWeb, and still maintain an empty site there. It is possible we could continue to have the blog hosted on WordPress (replacing this Blogger blog), some content appearing on TrainWeb (PDFs) and the image based maps appearing on SmugMug. The latter would be the only paid site hosting. We would have subdomain redirection to the three sites in operation, but the SmugMug site would be the only site that would remain in-domain when accessed, the other sites would redirect to the local free site domain when the domain based URL is selected.

It had been hoped for some time that TrainWeb would convert their site to be a WordPress host, which would have allowed us to continue hosting content on the TrainWeb site and done away with the need for a separate site as we have now, but TrainWeb have not made any progress with the WordPress conversion idea.

So for the next 14 days we will be trialling SmugMug and might well continue with it after the trial as a paid option, unless a better option comes up before then.

Sunday 10 May 2020

Wairarapa Line [0NN]: Volume 6 Progress Update 40

Good morning. As noted in our last update, the bulk of Volume 6 has been completed and is ready to be released. We have to complete four sections only. These are:

  • Hutt Park Railway
  • Gracefield Branch
  • Featherston Camp Siding
  • Greytown Branch
These are all relatively short lines and all aerial tiles have been completed already in previous work so it is just mapping that is required to ensure completion. We expect to complete this today.

We are aiming to complete the entire Volume 6 for release today and the next update is probably going to announce the release.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Dunedin City Council Votes To Mothball Dunedin Railways As Complete Close Down of Business

We have already blogged twice recently about the direction Dunedin City Council is taking with Dunedin Railways, which has suggested the closure of Dunedin Railways in its current form. This week we obtained the minutes of the DCC meeting a month ago where they discussed the options for Dunedin Railways and made the decisions.

Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DCHL) prepared a special report for this meeting and presented it to the full Council. The meeting was conducted via audio visual link due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The report has stated that DRL's revised financial forecasts for the year ending 2020 show a net loss of $1,332,862, compared with a pre-Covid forecast loss of $578,579. DCHL had investigated future business prospects with the view that the impacts of both international and domestic tourism market collapse would be substantial. It determined that the Council should consider 3 options as follows:

  1.     Close the business (DCHL Recommendation)
  2.     Mothball for around 18 months with a view to re-opening train services on the Taieri Gorge line.
  3.     Mothball with  view to exploring alternative options for company assets.

Option 2 would entail retaining only 7 staff, to maintain track and rolling stock assets and perform administrative functions, at estimated cost of $900,000 per year, which shareholders would have to fund

DCHL expressed its concern that Option 2 did not address the significant deferred maintenance bill on the Taieri Gorge line, estimated at $1 million per year for all of the next 10 years (total $10 million). This would also have to be funded by shareholders.

Option 3 would see the Taieri Gorge line closed permanently to heavy rail trains. This removes the need to fund the $10 million maintenance bill. Five staff would be retained in the short to medium term for asset maintenance.

The report clearly states with Option 3 that "A key component of this option is to discontinue rail activity on the Taieri Gorge line in view of the cost of deferred maintenance".

The Council voted for option 3 on a 14-1 division, committing to provide the ongoing funding for the next 18 months to support the close down of the company. DCHL indicated that their next steps included engaging with OETT. Following that conversation, OETT chose to sell their shareholding of the company to DCC. We do not know anything at this time as to the significance of the OETT decision but it would appear likely they wished to recover some of their investment in DRL and exit their involvement in the business. It is not clear whether they recovered their full equity or capital from the sale or took a loss.

The question now is as to the future of the operation. We expect that DCHL will look to dispose of most of its existing rolling stock on the open market, or as scrap. There is likely to be little interest in Dunedin in any other organisation acquiring this rolling stock, given the small rail heritage community there.

The bigger questions relate to the in ground assets - the Taieri Gorge track and structures, the stations at Pukerangi and Sutton, and the railway precinct at Middlemarch. We are of the view that there is a future possibility for an alternative ultralight rail tourist operation over the Taieri Gorge line, similar to Forgotten World Adventures' business on the former SOL. Since sections of the DCHL report that was released have been redacted, we do not know if this has been one of the alternative options DCHL is exploring. And since OETT has sold their shareholding in the company, we do not know if they have an interest in any alternative uses of the Taieri Gorge line. If an ultralight rail operation is not possible, then converting the corridor to an extension of the existing Rail Trail is a possibility that will keep it accessible to the public forever. The railway precinct at Middlemarch is well developed and it should be possible to retain it as part of Middlemarch as a whole. Our impression is that DCHL are focused on future options for Dunedin Railways whilst at the same time closing down Taieri Gorge, so we do not think they are looking at any particular option for the TGR.

Currently DCHL / DRL are still going through a staff consultation process and discussing possible options for the future of the line and it is difficult to know if any of the alternatives that are being considered will become viable. We are not commenting on these for now.

North Auckland Line [0F]: Volume 1 Progress Update 6

Good morning. Work on Volume 1 as we know is waiting for Volume 6 to be completed. Earlier this week Volume 6 made a major advance and then we took a day's break from V6 and during that time we have done some additional work on V1 and also completed an aerial mosaic of the Auckland station and wharves using 1972 aerial images from Retrolens, which is part of Volume 2 whenever that is next worked on.

We are very keen to get to work on Volume 1 next week as we have to get back to work on Volume 6 to finish it with three small corridors waiting to be mapped and the maps produced for Volume 6 which will only take a day or two. 

Since our last update for Volume 1, we have completed mosaics for the North Auckland Line from Westfield to Newmarket, the Newmarket Branch and the Onehunga Branch, and have started on a mosaic project for the first section of Newmarket-Waimauku. In other words the first three tasks in the list of four for mosaics have been completed. However Newmarket-Waimauku is the most complex because it covers a total distance of 43 km from Newmarket and therefore it is a very long section and we will not be able to give continuous coverage even although we do have continuous 0.075m aerial coverage available for Auckland City the entire distance. We will have to see which areas do need coverage but there are continuous station and corridor surveys all the way out that we have already downloaded from Retrolens to create the mosaics.

In accordance with the "Basic+" definition for this project once we have the mosaic tiles we will not be putting in any historical information from them except two or three places, which are the Ellerslie Racecourse platforms (already done), Mt Albert Ballast Pit, and Swanson Deviation. We may reconsider if it becomes apparent any historical data can be added quickly without requiring a lot of time. However the usual problem is that mosaic project files quickly grow and reach an unmanageable size for processing (it can often take 2 hours to save a large project file) and then have to be split in multiple pieces. We would probably only seek to add additional historical coverage in a few places, and not at all at this stage of the project.

The section from Newmarket to New Lynn will be completed in mosaics today and we are currently downloading the files needed to cover the rest of the urban rail corridor out to Waimauku. However the highest resolution continuous station survey coverage only goes as far as Henderson. From there to Waitakere and beyond relies on corridor surveys and probably as there is far less history, the last parts at Kumeu and Waimauku will not be completed as a continuous mosaic section from Waitakere. Work will be stopped after completing Newmarket-New Lynn to allow Volume 6 completion to resume, and we will then be back into working on Volume 1 sometime next week.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Wairarapa Line [0MM]: Volume 6 Progress Update 39

Good morning. With a big push throughout yesterday and well into the small hours, we have completed the last 70 km of the Wairarapa Line main line corridor to Woodville at 171 km. This obviously helps us to get a lot closer to finishing this volume. We have still a little work here and there to complete the volume outright, including several branch corridors that have not been published, but this should only take a couple of days to finish.

To add some more stats to those in our last post, the final completion took in 70 km track length, was produced over a 10 hour period, and has produced 127 maps for that distance, which is 13% of the entire volume. Therefore, this has been the most productive day for the entire project in terms of maps produced.

We are therefore reverting to our earlier plan to have Volume 6 published this weekend. The full set of maps will be available on our Facebook page and our web site at that date. However, you can see a preview set of the main line corridor maps (933 in total) in this Google photo album. Please note this is not the official release and may be revised.

Pahiatua in 1981. The yard today looks very different due to the Pahiatua Railcar Centre, a heritage railway restoration group that focuses on historic railcars (DMUs).

Mangatainoka in 1981. The area is well known as the home of the Tui brewery. That itself is not near the rail line, which instead served some sort of bulk depot (probably fertiliser, as today it is a Ravensdown premises, without rail connection). Although the station closed many years ago, the loop is still there along with the concrete block station building and a passenger platform.

The Ngawapurua bridge site in 1962. The rail bridge at lower was built in 1949 to replace the combined bridge seen upper. That continued for road traffic until 1965 when the present highway bridge (Masterton Road, top of map) was opened. The old truss bridge was then demolished.
Ngawapurua station as seen in 1962. The main use of the station was then as a ballast siding. It closed in 1966. The yard which went further to the left side of this map, at the time also had a small stock yard with siding.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Wairarapa Line [0LL]: Volume 6 Progress Update 38

As we have now managed to push through another 10 km of the Wairarapa line and have now reached the 101 km peg, some stats are in order.

Total maps produced in volume 6 so far: 1139. This is more than the total number for Volume 5, even though Volume 5's corridors, all-up, are probably three times the length.

Map production began on March 2 (about 2 months ago) and each date shows the section that was started (and in some cases completed) that day.

  • 2020-03-02: 0 km (start) WL
  • 2020-03-03: 2 km WL
  • 2020-03-05: 2.5 km WL
  • 2020-03-13: 10 km WL
  • 2020-03-17: 15.5 km WL
  • 2020-03-18: 23 km WL
  • 2020-03-19: 24 km WL
  • 2020-03-22: 27 km WL
  • 2020-03-26: start RIS at Upper Hutt
  • 2020-03-27: 33.5 km WL / near Mangaroa Station RIS
  • 2020-04-02: start WHS at Petone & finish at Haywards
  • 2020-04-05: start SSS at Haywards Junction & finish at Silverstream Station.
  • 2020-04-08: Dry Creek bridge RIS (above Remutaka Tunnel south portal)
  • 2020-04-09: just north of entrance to Remutaka Rail Trail RIS
  • 2020-04-10: just south of entrance to Remutaka Rail Trail RIS
  • 2020-04-30: 40 km WL / Summit Tunnel RIS
  • 2020-05-01: 46 km WL / RIS concluded
  • 2020-05-02: 57.5 km WL
  • 2020-05-03: 58 km WL
  • 2020-05-04: 85.5 km WL
  • 2020-05-05: 88 km WL
So what we can see in these stats is steady progress but not production done on every single day. In some cases there are gaps of a few days. This does reflect that we have relaxed the production schedule somewhat, but also that drawing the maps filled in a lot of those gaps as well. This volume has been very slow in part because of the complexity of the maps of Wellington and the Hutt Valley which has slowed it a great deal, and a huge amount of mosaics which for example provide 1943 coverage of the entire Rimutaka Incline section and 1957 coverage of the entire Western Hutt section, plus multi generations of much of the Wellington-Upper Hutt and the Silver Stream sections. Those multi generations and layers of mosaics also account for the very large number of maps in this volume even though it is only about half completed, compared to Volume 5.

Obviously we can see the problem with that schedule, and that is that with the amount of progress in the past week, it's hard to see the volume being finished by the weekend, and maybe even another week is needed. And what is missed out here is a lot of loose ends, like the Gracefield Branch, Hutt Park Branch and Featherston Camp Siding, that have to be finished and produced as well. So maybe two weeks is more realistic, or closer to the middle of May. But we won't rule out that it could actually be closer to the end of May.

For volume 2, we are going to streamline the production for North Auckland even though we are adding mosaics of every station in the Auckland Transport passenger service area. Those mosaics are about one-two week's work, so the time to put them together is fairly substantial. It may well be the case that Volume 2 will take more than a month overall, but we are very keen to shorten the time that we spent on Volume 6, which will be achieved by reducing the production standard from "Intermediate" to "Basic+".

Above: Opaki Station 1961. This closed to passengers 1969 and completely in 1972.
Below: the bridge north of Opaki was first built as a parallel combined structure, in which separate road and rail superstructures share a common substructure (piers). There are currently three bridges of this unusual type on the KRL network - they are at Inangahua Junction, Westshore and Arahura. So far as we know there have only ever been these four on the whole network. Much more common back in the day was the combined bridge with a single shared superstructure for both road and rail on the same level, and about as common as the parallel type was the double decker type of which there appear to have been three in total. Of these, the only one still used by Kiwirail is at Seddon with the road on the lower deck having been removed some years ago, but expected to be reinstated for a cycleway. The others are at Okahukura on the mothballed Stratford Okahukura Line; and at Karangahake on the closed Paeroa-Apata section of the ECMT. 

This aerial photo is dated 1966, showing the new bridge and track under construction; we assume it was brought into use about 1967.

Wairarapa Line [0KK]: Volume 6 Progress Update 37

Good morning. At the moment progress on anything to do with maps is going very slowly, but we are pushing along and have almost completed the maps to Masterton. Currently the mosaics for there are being updated to 1980 and 1983 to reflect new sidings that were found in the area since 1972 which is the date of the station survey for Masterton. Since our last report this adds another 5 km of corridor completed. This includes several revisions discovered with information available from S&I diagrams, but none of these are old enough to identify all of the sidings at Masterton.

So because of this very slow progress, regrettably we are giving the maps another week for completion, or in other words, a possible finish date this coming weekend. Once out of Masterton that is really all the urban area there is, so we would be pushing ahead through rural country, but there are a few siding complexes along the way that mosaics have been completed for. We are satisfied there are no more surprises at Masterton and reasonably confident we are not going to find anything of interest further along the line that isn't covered with the mosaics already done, which are generally 1980 although in one or two locations, earlier coverage has also been used such as at Ngawapurua.

The lack of progress lately isn't due to loss of interest - we have done quite a bit of mosaic work already on the next volume, Volume 2, and are raring to go on that as soon as Volume 6 is released. In fact to give some illustration of how slow things have been in the last week or so - a big download we created on the Linz site for Volume 1, that we held back from downloading because of the amount of disk space it would use up, has actually now expired before we could download the file off their server (they only keep downloads for 7 days). In other words we had intended to download the file within the 7 day period but this has now been missed and the download will have to be re-created when we need it for Volume 1. So there was every intention of having completed Volume 6 last week - it's just that the last few days in particular have been frustratingly unproductive.

Likewise the work we did last week for Christchurch Transport Blog has not been completed either, although the mosaic tiles have all been extracted, they have only been put into the GIS and no actual map drawing has been done.

Monday 4 May 2020

Wairarapa Line [0JJ]: Volume 6 Progress Update 36

Good morning. We are making steady progress on the completion of Volume 6. In the last few days, we have completed another 35 km of the corridor, which includes finishing the Rimutaka Incline section, and reorganising our resources on Facebook.

We will publish all the maps organised by volume and section into our Facebook page as well as in Google Photos albums. The latter is linked from the website. We have a number of existing albums on Facebook that have been categorised and left there. At the moment we are considering uploading some of the older maps produced in the past just to have this content accessible until the maps are fully updated, at which point they will be added to the website.

Here's some maps and data for Waingawa, a station at 85 km, which is almost exactly halfway along the line. Waingawa had two different freezing companies using it, one of which built a full works which was there until it closed in 1989. The site has been cleared and is now used to load logs. Nearby, Juken Nissho (Juken NZ) have a wood product plant, which had a siding in place until fairly recently, now out of use. Waingawa was also a passenger station for a time.

Here's the first half of the site, which contained the freezing works and the general station yard. Comparing it with the aerial photos shows that there were different track layouts into the works. The first historical aerial is from 1941, and the second from 1970.

The other half of the site is a mix of historic and recent and is entirely made up of private sidings. On the north-west side you have the historical Wellington Meat Export Co's sidings. It can be seen that in 1941, these were being used, the wagons were probably stock wagons. In 1970, the track was still in the ground but had that definite disused look about it. In the present era, this has been put back into production as forestry. On the south-east side you have Juken Nissho's (now Juken New Zealand's) wood processing plant, which has been established for a number of years. The siding there was still in use at the time our contemporary aerial photos were taken, but has since been taken out of operation.

Thursday 30 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0II]: Volume 6 Progress Update 35

Good afternoon. As you can see from the lack of updates over the last week we have been somewhat delayed in completing this volume, mainly due to a higher priority given to finishing a part of the Greater Christchurch maps for Christchurch Transport Blog.

The work on completing the last stage of Volume 6 commenced yesterday and so far we have produced the maps from Summit down to Cross Creek and continuing on towards Featherston. We anticipate it should be possible to complete it by the end of the week but are not sure if we will have time to complete all of the planned research posts such as the ones for the Rimutaka Incline that had been expected.

The maps below are for Cross Creek and are from 1943.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Taieri Gorge Railway unlikely to continue commercially

Last week we blogged about Dunedin Railways being mothballed. Since then various pieces of information have been published. Based on what has been released to date, we see it as unlikely that the Taieri Gorge line can be continued in its present form as a commercial operation between Wingatui and Middlemarch. We have no viewpoint about the rest of Dunedin Railways' services.

The Taieri Gorge Railway consists of the first 64 km of the old Otago Central Branch railway and came into being initially as a train service run on the line when it was part of the NZR network. Otago Excursion Train Trust (OETT) inaugurated the Taieri Gorge Limited back in 1987 as a Dunedin-Pukerangi daily service and was subsequently able to raise sufficient funding to finance 50% of the purchase of the Wingatui-Middlemarch section of the OCB. This was then reformed as Taieri Gorge Railway Ltd in 1990, the other half of the initial capital being matched by funding from Dunedin City Council.

We know very little about the financials of the early years of operation as there was no cruise ship market back then as it did not develop in NZ until more recent times. But it is probably correct to say that the operation at best broke even in the early period of its life. In the mid 1990s additional capital injections were needed and a higher proportion, if not all, came from Dunedin City Council with the net result that they increased their shareholding to 72% reducing OETT's holding to 28%.

It was always going to be a tough ask in the south of New Zealand to be able to run a 64 km tourist railway and although income from cruise ship services and running extra trips to Oamaru and Palmerston as well as charter tours must have helped the finances, this has to be balanced against the ageing of most rolling stock which includes the fleet of diesel locomotives that are now more than 50 years old and the original wooden carriage fleet which in more recent times has been steadily upgraded to more modern steel sheathed designs. 

Some of DRL's operations run over the Kiwirail network and this requires considerable additional expense in certification and maintenance standards as well as direct operational costs which for the excursion train market around NZ has resulted in severe cut backs since the 1980s. We also understand from information released that there is a considerable maintenance backlog on the Taeri Gorge line, which is always going to be more expensive in upkeep, in the shorter term because of the topography (hills and a steeply sided gorge) it passes through, and in the longer term because of the many viaducts in this section which will eventually need a lot of money spent on them. The big floods in the Taieri catchment a couple of years did a great deal of damage to the line which must have cost a lot to repair.

So what could happen in the future for DRL? We have no idea whether the operation can be made viable as a cruise ship tourism operator with the key issue being it could be many years before this business builds up again to where it was last year. The future for the Taieri Gorge Line is, regrettably, likely to be either as an ultralight rail vehicle operation (golf carts or rail bikes) such as we see in other parts of the country. It is possible that the section from North Taieri to Pukerangi or from Pukerangi to Middlemarch could be developed as a heritage railway if enough support can be found in the Dunedin area. 

Here, there are certainly questions; we have noted that OETT has chosen to completely sell out of its 28% shareholding, which seems to indicate a limited future for them as a whole, and even before that, rail heritage in Dunedin in general was struggling. A heritage operator could run cruise ship trains with volunteers (Gisborne City Vintage Railway is one heritage railway that works in that market) but keeping the entire line open to Pukerangi could be a hard ask. A lot depends on Dunedin City Council's attitude, and whether Dunedin Railways as a whole continues to operate. The worst case scenario is to convert the line into an extension of the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Saturday 25 April 2020

North Auckland Line [0E]: Volume 1 Progress Update 5

Good morning. Whilst still working on the last stage of Volume 6, we have been continuing preliminary work on Volume 1 and deciding exactly what the scope of "Basic+" coverage for it will be.

As noted previously we will put in continuous historical aerial mosaics for the Auckland suburban area, which means all of the following:
  • Westfield to Newmarket (first section of the NAL)
  • Onehunga Branch
  • Newmarket Branch
  • Newmarket to Waimauku
This will only be for one historical era - in most cases 1972 or 1979. Beyond Waimauku we will only include the aerial photos that have already been created in previous work on Volume 1.

In addition, the diagram detail to be included in this edition of Volume 1 will only show that which is visible in the current aerial photography. Whilst we will as mentioned above have the historical mosaics available, we will not be drawing in the historical detail into diagrams for this edition of Volume 1, although the mosaics will be published in the aerial maps. However, details for rural stations previously put into the maps will be retained.

We feel setting these boundaries will help us to keep this release of Volume 1 on track as we do not want to spend a lot of time on and are very keen to keep it to less than a month of production. It is already necessary to redraw all the main lines in the NAL in Auckland from scratch because they were represented with a generic "multi line main" symbology in the previous edition. This has added some unanticipated extra work.

Friday 24 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0HH]: Volume 6 Progress Update 34

Good evening. We have today completed the second to last step before the maps are ready to be published. We drew all of the historical yard layouts off mosaic tiles, from Cross Creek to Ngawapurua. In the process of doing this we discovered extra detail from 1941 at the Waingawa Freezing Works (siding layout changed) and added an extra set of mosaic tiles for this era at that site.

The remaining work will be completed all at the same time, as the maps are produced for publication. This consists of final labelling in two stages. We use S&I diagrams to identify any sidings that we haven't marked, and we use aerial photos live from the Retrolens site, without making mosaics off them, to check the smaller stations that mosaics haven't been drawn for, to confirm the placement of existing labels and identify any additional features to be labelled at the sites.

At the same time as final labelling is completed in each map view, the maps for that view are then produced, including the diagram and all eras of aerials. After running a script to set the correct sorting order, the maps are then ready to be uploaded for publication.

So that last stage will start tomorrow and it will take several days because every detail has to get one last check and it's not uncommon for issues to crop up at that point that have to be addressed. At the same time a few more research articles will be published. With one more week in the schedule, we are confident of completing this on time and are totally committed to it.

North Auckland Line [0D]: Volume 1 Progress Update 4

Good evening. Due to the near completion of Volume 6, we are currently taking a look at resources for completing Volume 1. The North Auckland Line runs from Westfield Junction via Penrose Junction and Newmarket Junction then turns west to head to the outskirts of the Auckland urban area at Waitakere. From there it carries on north to the boundary of Auckland City and then up into Northland, where traditionally it reached to Opua, about 300 km from Westfield.

Our intention in the development of Volume 1 at this stage is to use the existing aerial mosaics previously developed, without adding to them. This will be a "Basic+" level of development at this time. However as we have no aerial coverage for the Auckland urban area, we will be adding this from Westfield to Waitakere as well as for the Onehunga Branch. It happens that a major aerial survey from Henderson to Westfield was undertaken in 1972 and this will be the basis for the update. Part of the same survey also takes in the line to Onehunga. From Henderson to Waitakere we have the use of the corridor survey taken in 1979. 

Waitakere to Opua and branches is covered with the mosaics that have already been completed. Although the extra mosaics will take a bit of work to assemble, we are fortunate to have had a feature request for Gimp implemented in version 2.10.10 which was released recently. This is the "Readjust" capability of the Unified Transform tool, which makes it much easier and a great deal quicker to adjust the overlays of historical aerial layers at any point instead of just near the edges which the default transform functionality addresses. This will also result in more accurate mosaics than we have been able to produce in the past. Because of this we expect adding the new mosaics will be a relatively quick task, taking maybe 2-3 days only. We do have to check and as necessary update the existing mosaics which has been underway since earlier this week alongside the Volume 6 work and then do the basic corridor alignments as well as drawing station layouts.

So whilst we are still working on Volume 6, once this is completed we won't be catching our breath to push on to Volume 1 and get it together in record time. Maybe 2-3 weeks depending on our outside commitments.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0GG]: Volume 6 Progress Update 33

Good afternoon. Excellent progress continues to be made on the Volume 6 completion, even though the mosaics have had further revisions. When the yard layout was drawn for Featherston Station, it was realised that an older version of this map was also needed for some historical information and so we have added 1957 and 1961 to the mosaics. This has not really slowed things down at all because it does not take very long to draw most of the yard diagrams and so the fact that we are also doing work on other volumes and activities at the same time has not had much impact on progress.

We are confident the yard layouts will all be drawn by the start of the weekend and the task of publishing the rest of the maps will go ahead rapidly from there.

Mauriceville. The main line was straightened at the south end.

Featherston, showing the ballast siding. The yard itself still has multiple tracks in place except for the part that went through the goods shed.

Between Featherston and Speedys Crossing was another ballast siding that was still connected up in 1937, as was the one at Silverstream Bridge. Wartime conditions probably forced the tracks to be lifted in many of these seldom used pits.

Greytown station in 1943. We really need a yard layout diagram to work from. The goods shed still stands today.


Wednesday 22 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0FF]: Volume 6 Progress Update 32

Good afternoon. We are pleased to report that all mosaics needed to complete Volume 6 have now been created, and are being exported into tiles for Qgis today. This will enable us to resume a much speeded up rate of completion for the maps to be pushed forward with station and other layouts drawn from Cross Creek to Ngawapurua, encompassing a total distance of around 130 km of track. This in total is around three quarters of the total length of the corridor. So far, work on this volume has taken approximately 10 weeks to complete and we hope one more week or slightly more will see the volume completed. We are extremely keen to see this happen and will be pulling out the stops to ensure it does not take any longer than necessary to accomplish.

We are also working on a submission for Christchurch Transport Blog regarding the Green Party's proposal for commuter rail development especially as encompasses Christchurch. This will naturally take time away from the NZ Rail Maps project. However we will be ensuring that this time detraction is minimal in the rest of the time needed to complete Volume 6 so that that task is not impeded in any way.

Our latest station layout to be completed is Masterton (see below). Although this is out of sequence, we are pushing ahead with Cross Creek today and will bring forth the remaining layouts over the coming days as we push out the maps sequentially. Cross Creek will have to be a mixture of tracing and using a schematic layout for reference as we do not have an exact plan of the yard and the aerial photo taken in 1943 is not sharp enough to be completely sure of being able to trace accurately. 

Masterton (above: 1972, below: 2017) with the diagram map at the bottom. There are still a few details to be added of the station building etc. We are unsure of the uses of various buildings and sidings at this stage.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0EE]: Volume 6 Progress Update 31

Good morning. We have been making good progress with the Wairarapa Line maps since our last update and have completed aligning the corridor for the entire route. This means now all we need to do is draw in a few stations and then produce the remaining maps (currently produced up to Summit). 

To get these stations in place to draw means completing our mosaics for Featherston and beyond. We are currently completing these mosaics and have exported them so far just for Masterton, which does let us draw that yard whilst waiting for the mosaics to be ready for the rest of the northern section of the line.

The rest of the stations and other areas that have to be drawn are:
  • Cross Creek
  • Pigeon Bush
  • Rimutaka Loop
  • Featherston
  • Woodside
  • Greytown
  • Carterton
  • Booths Siding
  • Taratahi Siding
  • Waingawa
  • Solway
  • Renall Street
  • Masterton
  • Opaki (Bridge only)
  • Mauriceville
  • Eketahuna
  • Pahiatua
  • Mangatainoka
  • Ngawapurua (including Bridge)

We expect these layouts will generally only take a day or two to complete, so the work of finishing this volume can be pushed ahead fairly rapidly. The other remaining work is to confirm the alignment of the Hutt Park Railway and to produce the maps for it, as well as those for the Gracefield Branch, Greytown Branch, and the Rimutaka Incline Section beyond Summit. We are therefore still quite confident of completing Volume 6 by the end of this month. 

3431 Service Siding, about 1.8 km south of Featherston, was the official name for the junction of the old and new Wairarapa Lines from Upper Hutt, as it appeared in the S&I diagram between 1955 and 1957. During the construction of the Rimutaka Deviation this gave a rail connection to the northern end of the new route.

After the deviation came into use in November 1955, it was used to access the Rimutaka Incline Section up to Cross Creek for closure and demolition purposes.
The level crossing is known as "Speedys Crossing" and this name is referred to also in accounts of the period. The junction points were removed in 1957 following the lifting of the Rimutaka Incline Section.

Note the two mileages shown, the first being the mileage from the opening of the Rimutaka Deviation, and the second being the mileage for the old route over the Rimutaka Incline. This reflects that the Rimutaka Incline Section added about nine miles to the length of the Wairarapa Line. North of this location, the original mileages were retained all the way to Woodville until the advent of metrication in 1974, at which time the entire corridor was remeasured from Wellington for the half and full kilometre pegs to be put in.

The upper view is the location as seen in 1957, and the lower as in 2017.

Taieri Gorge Railway mothballed; OETT selling out its shareholding

It's been reported in the ODT today that Dunedin Railways is to mothball its operations due to the COVID-19 caused economic recession. 80% of their business comes from overseas tourism, notably cruise ship visits to NZ, which is naturally hugely affected by COVID-19, and it is difficult to run the trips under current lockdown conditions which also curtail domestic tourism.

In addition, the company chairman is quoted in the news reports as saying the company has high running costs and its operations are financially challenging with there being $10 million of deferred maintenance costs on the Taieri Gorge Railway.

At the same time as the mothballing has been announced, Otago Excursion Train Trust (OETT), the joint founder of Dunedin Railways (which started as Taieri Gorge Railway Ltd in 1990) has decided to sell its 28% shareholding in Dunedin Railways to Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DHCL) which owns the other 72% of Dunedin Railways currently. DCHL is in turn 100% owned by Dunedin City Council (DCC).

OETT originally held a 50% shareholding in DRL/TGRL but this has been reduced over the past 30 years to 28% due to the need for further capital investment into DRL that has been met largely by DCHL. It is well known that since it became a minority shareholder there has been much angst at OETT over their reduced influence on the operations of DRL. However it is not known exactly why OETT has decided to sell out at this stage and we will try to find out if they are willing to comment about this. One possible issue, however, can be found in a statement on OETT's news page that further capital investment in DRL is needed in rolling stock and track maintenance. Shareholders are normally expected to be able to finance the businesses they own and it may well be the case that OETT would not be in a position to finance any additional capital themselves. 

This means that the era of DRL being in rail heritage ownership has come to an end and we don't like the implications of that. Local government entities have a penchant for running their infrastructure assets into the ground, or appropriating them for other unrelated projects. There has been a change in emphasis on DRL since the new board chairman was elected who has stated that they expect DRL to produce a financial return. This is due to the politicians demanding more income and dividends from all of DHCL's trading enterprises. The earlier proposal to mothball the line from Pukerangi to Middlemarch is an example because the most obvious solution is to rip the line up and sell the land to raise money. Under a profit focused DHCL this is exactly what could happen.

Monday 20 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0DD]: Volume 6 Progress Update 30

Good afternoon. Work is resuming on Volume 6 after a couple of days looking at some maps in Volume 1. We are certain of completing Volume 6 in about 2 weeks and are looking forward to it so we can finish that task and move onto working on another volume.

One of the issues that does arise with our revised production schedule is holding resources for the different production stages of volumes. For example the big downloads from Linz of their current tiles for use in producing mosaics. Simply due to the limitation of their user interface and the inconvenient facts that rail corridors usually don't run straight up, down, or sideways (e.g. at 0, 90, 180 or 270 degrees), we generally have to do big downloads to get a relatively small number of tiles extracted from each download. This has become a lot easier now that we don't have to download all of the aerial imagery for an entire corridor and can just limit our downloads to stations. But we can still have a lot of gigabytes of tiles downloaded whilst working on map production. A key advantage of sequential production is only having to retain downloads for the current volume, but this gets more difficult with the new schedule of sequencing through different levels. So we will have to take a look at the levels to ensure we are not needing to hold resources that may be needed at multiple levels.

Today we are finishing the mosaics needed for the rest of the maps for Volume 6. We are keen to get this done as well as the basic alignments we are currently fixing for the main line corridor. Getting both of these tasks done, which should take a day or two, will let us get on with producing maps, which hasn't been done for a few weeks, and that means we are definitively pushing on towards completion and can see the end in sight for Volume 6. 

We now expect Volume 1 to be the next volume completed in the maps after Volume 6. Volume 1 has had some mosaics completed previously for it, and checking these mosaics has been a key task for the last few days. However we have pushed on with the basic corridor alignment for Volume 6 as well during this time.

North Auckland Line [0C]: Volume 1 Progress Update 3

Good afternoon. The work on updating Volume 1 of the NZ Rail Maps project, which deals with the North Auckland Line and its branches, is to resume in a few weeks once work on Volume 6 currently under production has been completed.

We last worked on Volume 1 less than a year ago, before we adopted our definite production schedule for the maps in general, of ensuring one volume would be completed before moving onto another volume, so that each volume would be completed sequentially instead of concurrently. This has resulted in other volumes taking preference in that schedule. The schedule has also been revised, as documented elsewhere, to ensure Basic levels are completed for all volumes first.

However, when we go over to Volume 1, we will be completing it as a "Basic+" level. At this level, we are producing maps using existing previously completed historical aerial photography. Normally the user wouldn't see these maps included at a Basic level. In this case because we have a set of aerial mosaics for a number of stations along the route, we will add these to the maps by default. This means historical yard layouts can be provided for a number of stations, as well as current layouts.

No additional aerial photos will be added into the maps because the aim of Basic completion is to get it done as quickly as possible. There are a number of stations we don't have historical coverage of at present, especially east of Waitakere. These can be added later when we come back to finish the volume at the Intermediate level, which could easily happen by the end of this year.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0CC]: Volume 6 Progress Update 29

Good evening. Work is continuing at a steady pace on Volume 6 with the alignment of our maps to the current base imagery reaching down to the 119 km peg just south of Eketahuna at present. This has slowed a little due to some work on another volume but is still continuing and we expect some more progress over the next couple of days.

After another 12 GB download from the LDS site we are getting the rest of the tiles together to complete the mosaics for everything we are covering north of Featherston, the locations being the ones outlined in our previous post. There could still be one or two additional stations added in.

Also welcome to everyone who reads these posts via our Facebook page. We regret that due to a Facebook issue about a month's worth of posts haven't been syndicated onto the page. These posts are all in the blog and can be read by browsing it directly. This is obviously more important with the cessation of our Facebook group in that everyone using Facebook has to read the page, and we trust the feed will resume with this post.

As you know, this project in the Intermediate and Comprehensive levels of maps makes heavy use of Retrolens as a source for these historical aerial images. Whilst we are big fans of the site and have made lots of maps with their images, one annoyance is that it is impossible to find any way to contact them in order to resolve any issues with the site. As noted with Survey 570 the only resolution is to get hold of the original scans from Linz. However there is considerable inconvenience in this as found with 570.

Friday 17 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0BB]: Volume 6 Progress Update 28

Good morning. Following from last time we are working on mosaics for Booth's Siding at Carterton, the fertiliser depot near Carterton, Tui Dairy Factory at Pahiatua, Mauriceville, Ngawaparua Bridge and the ballast siding there, and a several extra stations like Eketahuna and Mangatainoka. At the moment, LDS does not have a download limit; probably because of the COVID-19 lockdown, we were able to download 12 GB in one go to get the layers we needed for parts of the mosaics. Usually there is a 3.5 GB limit on downloads and anything as big as 12 GB would have to be couriered out for a fee.

We did also mention Wright Stephenson's siding at Pahiatua as shown on the Quail Atlas. Mainly because there is not any historical aerial imagery at present before 1974 for this area, we have been unable to confirm the details of that siding, and it will not be shown on the maps. There was a quarry nearby but it is unlikely this has any relationship to WS. Wrightsons took over WFCA so it is possible that this siding was originally put in for WFCA.

Some way back we talked about the use of Survey 570 which is from 1951 and contains additional detail in a number of historical areas to do with the Wairarapa Line. There has been a delay in getting hold of these images due to the COVID-19 situation and lockdown. Whilst NZ is easing towards a lower level of restriction, it is entirely possible that Linz may have to curtail or freeze some of its activities due to the economic impact which means we may not be able to gain access to that survey for the present. Therefore the situation we put in place of using other images to fill in especially up the Western Hutt section, seems to be the best option for the present to get the maps in that area completed.

The remaining mosaics should take only a couple of days more to complete and we will then have everything we need to complete the maps. We are presently working south from Eketahuna back to Cross Creek fixing the alignments of the various elements of the base maps, before we start drawing in the details of all the stations and sidings from Cross Creek to Woodville, which is basically what is needed to complete the rest of the maps, and which as describe previously, we hope to have completed for release at the end of this month.

This Volume 6 development process has been a bit more drawn out than was originally planned and we are certainly keen to get to the next volume. As previously outlined with the change in schedule, Volume 4 at Basic level will be the next volume to be worked on, and as it was nearly complete when it was last being worked on a year or two back, it shouldn't take more than a week or two to finish the Basic maps and produce them.

As noted above we are expecting the Retrolens project may well end up being paused for a while as it is likely to become a reduced priority in the economic situation for New Zealand and this could have an impact on the development of the maps to Intermediate and Comprehensive levels but we shall have to see what is happening when we come back to that level of development later this year and on into 2021 and 2022 according to our expected schedule.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0AA]: Volume 6 Progress Update 27

Good morning. We have just finished creating more mosaics for this volume. There is now a full set of 1943 coverage all the way from Upper Hutt to Featherston, including the current route, as we have added some aerial photos of that era for Rimutaka Loop up to Featherston to make an interesting comparison with the deviation that was opened in 1955, of what the country up into Lucena's gully looked like before there was a railway there.

The mosaics for Rimutaka Loop to Masterton and the Greytown Branch have just been completed as well, including R Loop, Featherston, Carterton, Waingawa, Solway and Masterton. Waingawa was the location of Borthwick's Freezing Works for many years but it closed down quite a long time ago now and there is a sawmill at the site presently. 

We are aware that there have been a number of other sidings along this section of the route and further north. Among them are Booth's Siding at Carterton, East Coast Farmers Fertiliser between Carterton and Waingawa, the dairy factory at Pahiatua, Wright Stephenson at Pahiatua, Ngawaparua Ballast Pit and combined bridge. There may also have been a private siding at Mauriceville. For this reason we are uncertain whether more mosaics need to be done, as originally it was not planned to do any more beyond Masterton. This will be investigated over the next couple of days. 

Monday 13 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0Z]: Volume 6 Progress Update 26

Good morning. Things have slowed a little in the past week and we are a bit behind on getting the maps completed to Featherston. In actuality the main line corridor has been checked to the outskirts of that township, but we still have to draw yard layouts for three previous stations: Cross Creek, Pigeon Bush and Rimutaka Loop. Aerial mosaics for these areas are being completed as well as those for other sections of the line up to Masterton. We now anticipate completion of this volume will be in about two weeks, or close to the end of April. A further delay is not such an issue when the rest of the volumes are going to be completed this year at a Basic level according to our revised programme for 2020. However we are still very keen to see this volume completed as it has been such a long drawn out process.

Summit yard was drawn and a map produced last week. We became aware that one more detail was needed, the location of the signalbox, and this has been added to the map.

The decision has been made that the project will have only a Facebook page, not a group. This eliminates the need to oversee and maintain a Facebook group that has only minimal activity, whilst allowing Facebook users to continue to follow project activity via the page. Key group members have been invited to transfer to our email list. This change will not have any impact on the project as all the FB content is posts that are automatically syndicated off this blog.

Sunday 12 April 2020

[OFFTOPIC] Kells Transport Museum, Blossomgrove, Cork, Ireland

These Google Earth images are the notorious Kells Transport Museum in Blossomgrove, Cork, Ireland, a large collection of buses owned by one Michael Grimes. This fellow has apparently had a few run ins with the law as well as with lots of other people and his bus collection allegedly numbered over 400 at its peak (we estimate about 200 buses visible in the aerials, so whether other buses were stored at different sites seems possible). 

He also has a website called "Railway International" which still operates (unlike the KTM website whose domain registration expired last year), the RI site covers visits to the railway systems of many countries, NZ included. We were previously familiar with the site for its coverage of the Ecuadorian rail system. It is uncertain at this time if this website will continue operating as Mr Grimes has apparently been made bankrupt in Ireland, the domain registration expires at the end of next month. We assume both sites will be available from Web Archive but in any case the RI site seems to be missing many photos so it is only partly useful.

It is rumoured that the bus storage site in Blossomgrove was cleared late last year as a result of the bankruptcy proceedings but we have not been able to confirm this, however these may well be historical images. There is also an independent Flickr photo set resulting from someone's personal visit to the site if you want to see what it looked like close up on the ground. This Youtube video also appears to be shot at the same site and is more recent, showing significantly greater damage and decay to the bus collection in later years. As the aerials show, the bus collection was well hidden off the main road in a field with an access road 1.5 km in length.

Friday 10 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [7B]: Rimutaka Incline Section [3]: Kaitoke-Summit

This is the third in a series of five research posts about the Rimutaka Incline section of the Wairarapa Line. This section was bypassed by the Rimutaka Deviation in October 1955 and the track was lifted within months.

The Remutaka Rail Trail is currently the major feature of this part of the Rimutaka Incline Section and starts at Kaitoke, continuing through to Cross Creek on the eastern side of the Remutaka Hill. This did not open until 1984 and for the first 29 years it was just an access road into what has become a pine forestry plantation.

In this section we can see the location of what is believed to be a staff house alongside the track in an isolated area. This was not uncommon in the earlier era of railways and such a house would have had no road access and the staff concerned were probably track staff responsible for that length of track. If they had children then they would probably be transported either by train or motor trolley to Kaitoke for their schooling.

Once upon a time there was a quarry siding about 3 miles east of Kaitoke, so perhaps somewhere in the view of this map. We could not trace that, but a location marked by the letter D in this diagram is where there were possibly 4 huts lined up alongside the track, probably used to store trolleys for track maintenance. The Pakuratahi Tunnel is upper right, one of three places where the original and new routes crossed over each other.

This is Ladle Bend where the railway crossed a well known bridge that still exists today. There was another house alongside the track inside the bend. Once upon a time there was also a ballast siding near Ladle Bend but we again have not been able to trace it.

General overview of Summit. 

West end of Summit. The turntable was used for turning the engines that took the train from here to Upper Hutt as the Fell engines were never turned. The original curve closed in 1903 was diverted to allow the yard to be made longer with more room for wagons in sidings. 

East end of Summit. The engine shed is the only building we have marked. The buildings on the hillside above were mainly houses for the few staff that were based there. Although Summit was not considered a "service station" closed to public traffic, in practice the freight was mainly for railway staff and coal for steam engines, and passenger traffic would have practically all been for the staff as well. Probably any children would have travelled by train to Cross Creek to be educated at the school there, and returned later in the day. The main function of Summit was to change from the Fell engines to regular engines, or vice versa, which generally took a bit of time to implement. Fell vans also had to be put on or taken off, as like the H engines they were only used on the Incline.

Next article will look at the incline itself through to Cross Creek and we will have a track diagram of that station, as well. The incline itself is of note having three tunnels and a number of other points of interest.

Wairarapa Line [0Y]: Volume 6 Progress Update 25

Welcome to Volume 6 Progress Update 25. Work this week has been pretty slow in completing the section from Kaitoke to Summit. We have drawn a reasonable yard layout for Summit and then set about to produce the maps from Kaitoke to there. Unfortunately these had to be revised three times and reissued accordingly and we hope not to have anything like the same difficulty going further on.

Last week when we added 1957 maps for the Western Hutt section we also added the same coverage for the Hutt Valley route. As a result we are able to quickly add a 1957 map of Taita to the existing map series, following the discovery this week of a turntable at Taita, which was in place for a very short period of time from 1947 to 1954. This is another area which would be covered by the missing 1951 survey we still hope to obtain in the future.

We are also considering the future worth of Facebook to the project. It's no secret that we have never been big fans of Facebook as a whole, and there are still many in our community who have shunned the platform. Since much of our content is already hosted off FB it would not be a big difficulty to reduce our current use of the platform. Probably by the time Update 26 is sent out, decisions will have been made and implemented.

Maps of Taita showing where the turntable was. The aerials from 1957 and 2017.

Monday 6 April 2020

Wairarapa Line [0X]: Volume 6 Progress Update 24

Welcome to another progress update for Volume 6. In the last week we produced maps for the Western Hutt Section and the second part of the five sections we have divided the Rimutaka Incline Section into, for the purpose of a series of five research posts. Currently we are working on the Rimutaka Incline Section at Summit which will produce the 3rd research article.

The main work for the next day or so is to draw the yard layouts at both Summit and Cross Creek, and the main line between. After that it will be relatively straightforward and quick to head on down to Pigeon Bush and then Featherston.

Featherston is being mapped from 1943, as are the rest of the stations, as well as at a larger scale from the 1970s, and at Featherston the army camp siding is to be mapped out along with details of the WW1 camp that was there, and then the next work after that is the Greytown Branch, followed by Carterton and Masterton stations.

At this stage we see no reason that Masterton cannot be completed by the end of the week as planned. We also have been busy over the past week tidying up a few details of the route with extra detail from the Valley Signals site and other sources, and have reissued a few maps, which has slowed things down a little, but not enough to affect the overall schedule. So right now the overall release timetable for April 21 still looks reliable.

Wairarapa Line [7B]: Rimutaka Incline Section [2]: Tunnel Gully - Kaitoke

For the second part of the research series on the Rimutaka Incline Section we are covering the area known as Tunnel Gully, along with the Kaitoke station precinct and the section now used as public access to the Remutaka Incline Rail Trail. We have at this time been marking out the route through to Cross Creek. When we get to that station we will have to draw a track layout of the Cross Creek yard before pushing out to Pigeon Bush and eventually Featherston. 

Tunnel Gully is mainly known as a recreational area, and has many trails unrelated to the Rimutaka Incline Section, but it does incorporate all of the formation from the south side of Mangaroa Tunnel to the south end of Kaitoke Station. Apart from the tunnel itself, there is relatively little in the way of historical features of the route apart from the occasional cutting. However several of these have been bypassed by the rail trail, which follows a logging track that occasionally deviates from the historic corridor. Part of the corridor now forms the public access road into the Tunnel Gully carpark.

A typical view of the relatively featureless landscape through Tunnel Gully Reserve when the line was open in 1943. The cutting around the horseshoe curve to the right has been partly bypassed for the Tunnel Gully rail trail.

North end of Tunnel Gully showing the trail bypassing another cutting.

Tunnel Gully apart from the road off Plateau Road from Te Marua, is also accessible by cyclists or walkers from two points at either end of the reserve. From the south there is a track up from Maymorn near the Remutaka Tunnel entrance that climbs up to reach the south end of Mangaroa Tunnel. The northern entrance can be reached by another track from Kaitoke Loop Road. The Kaitoke station site formerly incorporated a number of former railway station buildings; in the intervening 65 years, all of these have faded away and there is practically no trace to be found in the site today (off Station Drive) relating to its former history. Kaitoke had a separate freight yard, the access road into which is still partly visible.

Kaitoke station site as seen in 1943, 1963 and 2016. The 1963 view is the clearest in relation to the NZR buildings, whilst 2016 view shows the complete change in the modern use of the site, with no NZR buildings now on site.

Goods siding just north of the main station yard. Note the overbridge to the right. Originally carrying the main road, it was kept in use for private property access for the entire time that the railway was in operation, but is shown to have been removed sometime between 1957 and 1963.

The last part of this section forms part of Incline Road, the public access into the Remutaka Rail Trail entrance at Kaitoke. The road itself yields little evidence of its former role, although the long sweeping curves through numerous cuttings have considerable historical interest in themselves.