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.