Friday 24 January 2020

Palmerston North Gisborne Line [4C]: Makaraka, Matawhero & Muriwai [3]: Makaraka Branch 3 - Makaraka Station & APMB Siding

Here's the third part of an article series about three railway stations on the outskirts of Gisborne, the names of which all start with M. This post specifically relates to Makaraka, a station at the end of the Makaraka Branch, which is the first 3.5 km of the old Moutohora Branch. Makaraka is the second station on the Makaraka Branch and the fourth station on the Gisborne Section, as the Moutohora Branch was originally called. The first station on the Gisborne Section was Gisborne Station, currently the terminus of the Palmerston North Gisborne Line. The second station was Northcote Road, which was renamed Gisborne Junction in 1943, and later still, Makaraka Junction Points. It became the new origination of the Moutohora Branch, when the Moutohora line became a branch off the PNGL main line that opened in 1943. Gisborne Junction was effectively closed in 1959 with the closure of the branch, but was reopened sometime later with the establishment of the Makaraka Branch or Gisborne Industrial Line. Since the branch was mothballed in the 1990s, the junction points have been permanently fixed in the main line position. Park Racecourse was the third station, and Makaraka the fourth.

Makaraka was never a large station under NZR operation. From the 1947 working timetable we can see that the provided accommodation and appliances consisted of a modest station building or shelter (approximately 30 x 10 feet), a modest goods shed of 30 x 20 feet, a passenger platform on the right hand side of the main line, and stockyards. There were no fixed signals, and a loading bank was not provided. At the present time we do not have WTT specific details of siding lengths,  but observation on aerial photos suggests the station was provided with a loop and a siding that accessed the stockyards and the outside of the goods shed. Later on, prior to and possibly as part of the construction of the Apple and Pear Marketing Board premises and siding, the siding was removed, along with all facilities or remnants on that side of the yard, but the loop was left in place. The main line after the rest of the Moutohora Branch closed, ended a short distance before a now-removed bridge of which two piers are still visible today. A few metres further on, the Ngatapa Branch formerly joined the Moutohora Branch until it was eventually lifted in the late 1930s. It seems likely that local instructions for Makaraka would have provided for the operation of this junction, probably by a traffic assistant, but we have not researched this. Certainly there was no need for any form of interlocking or signalling by 1947, well after the Ngatapa Branch closure, but there may have been some form of this in the earlier part of the 20th century.

Makaraka was first closed in 1959 along with the entire Moutohora Branch. In 1979 it formally became a part of the Gisborne Industrial Line, the earlier name for the Makaraka Branch. It is recorded as having been closed again in 1994, possibly because the Apple and Pear Marketing Board ceased using their siding by that time. However, the branch itself ceased to be labelled on an S&I diagram issued in 1991, so it is possible that the sidings closed earlier.  As noted in Part 1 of this series, Makaraka is just past the 3 km peg of the Makaraka Branch, or 2.03 miles from Gisborne Junction, despite its being recorded in official NZR documents at the 3.18 milepeg. The reasons for this anomaly are more fully addressed in a preceding article in this series. As also noted in previous articles, the Branch itself is not documented on any known S&I diagram beyond the junction points.

At Makaraka, the old station building and goods shed remained in place for several years after the line closed, along with the loop and siding. Both were still visible in a 1962 aerial photo, but only the goods shed remained by 1966. In 1970, the Apple and Pear Marketing Board opened its Harold Thawley Store in Halbert Road, on the south side of the Makaraka yard. This occupied the space formerly used by the goods shed, stock yard and their siding in the yard, getting its own track which ran under a loading shelter. This enabled fruit to be packed and chilled at the store, before being either railed to other areas, or shipped out through the port of Gisborne. The store was capable of handling 100,000 cases of fruit in all.

In more recent years Weatherell Transport has occupied the old Apple and Pear site, and siding track is still in place. In 2016, the old APMB coolstore burned to the ground, although the loading shelter and side buildings from APMB remain. The north side of Makaraka, where the station platform and building used to sit, is now part of the East Coast Museum of Technology. They have constructed their own platform and relocated the Matawhero Station building to it, on top of the site of the old station. They also have obtained the Makaraka goods shed and Kings Road station from private owners, although we do not at this time know which of the visible buildings in the aerial photos are these buildings. Tracks have been laid along the platform and nearby which are connected to the Makaraka Branch at both ends of the NZR station. ECMoT have listed reopening the Makaraka Branch, which has been disused for decades, as a prospective future project, but the significant funds needed would be only the first of many obstacles to commencing public train operations from Makaraka to Gisborne. The station yard of Makaraka although nominally mothballed and possibly still in KRL ownership, is actually fenced off, with the fenceline crossing over the main line and loop tracks just past the eastern end points.

We now have a selection of maps for Makaraka to follow. This is not the complete set and as always, readers are encouraged to view the full map collections to see what we have produced for this location.

Composite overview diagram of Makaraka yard. The label at upper centre of this diagram is a new feature, and we will use them increasingly more often on diagrams. It is especially useful to identify a diagram that is a composite of several different ones, or a diagram that covers only a part of a site's history, because we are dropping diagrams of different eras of a station, due to the amount of work that is needed to produce different eras of each station. Instead, we will use the aerial maps to show different eras.

Overview aerial map from 1962. The station and goods shed are clearly visible. The large building lower centre is the Kia Ora Dairy Co-op factory. We have not found any evidence in aerial photos going back to the early 1940s that this premises ever had a railway siding. Directly above the dairy factory can be seen what is probably a railway house for station staff.

1986 overview aerial map. Significant changes are obvious in the yard with the Apple & Pear (later Weatherell Transport) site. Some early evidence of ECMoT is possibly present.

Aerial overview map for 2017. Obvious changes in the APMB buildings on south side(coolstore demolished) and in establishment of ECMoT on north side.

The eastern end of Makaraka Yard. This is an enlarged version of part of the first diagram, and although the label is not present (as it would not be fully displayed), the same caveats apply.

The central part of Makaraka station yard. This one is at a larger scale than the other two parts, in order to show more readily where the old buildings and structures were, especially in relation to the way things are today. Note a double slip on the ECMoT trackage.

Central Makaraka yard aerial view from 1948, showing the buildings, platform and stockyards.

2012 aerial view of central Makaraka yard (sharper aerial photography than 2017 which is in any case very similar). Most of this view now dominated by ECMoT. The ex-Matawhero station sits directly over the site of the original Makaraka station.

Makaraka western end diagram. Shows some of the middle but at a smaller scale.

The main line of the branch goes around a curve and ends. ECMoT have one of their tracks joining to the main with a set of points close to the end.

Ngatapa Branch Junction points.