New Zealand Railways Department

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New Zealand Government Railways
Reporting mark NZGR
LocaleNew Zealand
Dates of operation18801982
Predecessor Public Works Department (rail operations, acquired 1880)
Port Chalmers Railway Company (acquired 1880)
Waimea Plains Railway (acquired 1886)
Thames Valley and Rotorua Railway Company (acquired 1886)
New Zealand Midland Railway Company (acquired 1891)
Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company (acquired 1908)
Successor New Zealand Railways Corporation
Track gauge 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
Length1,828 km (1,136 mi) (1880)
5,696 km (3,539 mi) (1952, peak)
4,799 km (2,982 mi) (1981)
Headquarters Wellington

The New Zealand Railways Department, NZR or NZGR (New Zealand Government Railways) and often known as the "Railways", was a government department charged with owning and maintaining New Zealand's railway infrastructure and operating the railway system. [1] The Department was created in 1880 and was corporatised on 1 April 1982 into the New Zealand Railways Corporation. [2] Originally, railway construction and operation took place under the auspices of the former provincial governments and some private railways, before all of the provincial operations came under the central Public Works Department. The role of operating the rail network was subsequently separated from that of the network's construction. From 1895 to 1993 there was a responsible Minister, the Minister of Railways. He was often also the Minister of Public Works.


Apart from two experiments with independent boards, NZR remained under direct ministerial control for most of its history. [3]


Originally, New Zealand's railways were constructed by provincial governments and private firms. The largest provincial operation was the Canterbury Provincial Railways, which opened the first public railway at Ferrymead on 1 December 1863. During The Vogel Era of the late 1860s to the 1870s, railway construction by central government expanded greatly, from just 80 kilometres (50 miles) in 1869 to 1,900 kilometres (1,200 miles) in 1880.

Following the abolition of the provinces in 1877, the Public Works Department took over the various provincial railways. However, since the Public Works Department was charged with constructing new railway lines (among other public works) the day to day railway operations were transferred into a new government department on the recommendation of a parliamentary select committee. [4] At the time 1,828 kilometres (1,136 miles) of railway lines were open for traffic, 546 km (339 mi) in the North Island and 1,283 km (797 mi) in the South Island, mainly consisting of the 630 km (390 mi) Main South Line from the port of Lyttelton to Bluff. [5]

Formation and early years

New Zealand Railways Department Head Office, Wellington, photographed circa 1905-1908 by J N Taylor. Railway HQ Wellington.jpg
New Zealand Railways Department Head Office, Wellington, photographed circa 1905–1908 by J N Taylor.

The Railways Department was formed in 1880 during the premiership of Sir John Hall. That year, the private Port Chalmers Railway Company Limited was acquired by the department and new workshops at Addington opened. Ironically, the first few years of NZR were marked by the Long Depression, which led to great financial constraint on the department. [6] As a result, the central government passed legislation to allow for the construction of more private railways. A Royal Commission, ordered by Hall, had removed plans for a railway line on the west coast of the North Island from Foxton to Wellington. Instead, in August 1881 the Railways Construction and Land Act was passed, allowing joint-stock companies to build and run private railways, as long as they were built to the government's standard rail gauge of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) and connected with the government railway lines. The Act had the effect of authorising the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company to build the Wellington-Manawatu Line. [7]

In 1877 the first American locomotives were purchased; the NZR K class (1877) from Rogers, followed by the NZR T class of 1879 from Baldwin.

The most important construction project for NZR at this time was the central section of the North Island Main Trunk. Starting from Te Awamutu on 15 April 1885, the section—including the famous Raurimu Spiral—was not completed for another 23 years. [8]

The economy gradually improved and in 1895 the Liberal Government of Premier Richard Seddon appointed Alfred Cadman as the first Minister of Railways. The Minister appointed a General Manager for the railways, keeping the operation under tight political control. [9] Apart from four periods of government-appointed commissions (1889–1894, 1924–1928, 1931–1936 and 1953–1957), this system remained in place until the department was corporatised in 1982. [9] In 1895, patronage had reached 3.9M passengers per annum and 2.048M tonnes. [10]

NZR produced its first New Zealand-built steam locomotive in 1889; the W class built in the Addington Railway Workshops.

Along with opening new lines, NZR began acquiring a number of the private railways which had built railway lines around the country. It acquired the Waimea Plains Railway Company in 1886. At the same time, a protracted legal battle began with the New Zealand Midland Railway Company, which was only resolved in 1898. The partially completed Midland line was not handed over to NZR until 1900. [11] By that time, 3,200 km (2,000 mi) of railway lines were open for traffic. [5] The acquisition in 1908 of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company and its railway line marked the completion of the North Island Main Trunk from Wellington to Auckland. A new locomotive class, the X class, was introduced in 1909 for traffic on the line. The X class was the most powerful locomotive at the time. Gold rushes led to the construction of the Thames Branch, opening in 1898.

In 1906 the Dunedin railway station was completed, architect George Troup. A. L. Beattie became Chief Mechanical Officer in April 1900. Beattie designed the famous A class, the Q class (the first "Pacific" type locomotive in the world), and many other locomotive classes. [12]

NZR's first bus operation began on 1 October 1907, between Culverden on the Waiau Branch and Waiau Ferry in Canterbury. By the 1920s NZR was noticing a considerable downturn in rail passenger traffic on many lines due to increasing ownership of private cars, and from 1923 it began to co-ordinate rail passenger services with private bus services. The New Zealand Railways Road Services branch was formed to operate bus services.

By 1912, patronage had reached 13.4M passengers per annum (a 242% increase since 1895) and 5.9M tonnes of freight (a 188% increase since 1895). [10]

World War I

The Ab class were introduced in 1915. Over 141 of these locomotives were introduced, from three different builders. Here preserved Ab 778 hauls the Kingston Flyer. NZR Ab Class 778 hauling the Kingston Flyer.jpg
The Ab class were introduced in 1915. Over 141 of these locomotives were introduced, from three different builders. Here preserved Ab 778 hauls the Kingston Flyer.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 had a significant impact on the Railways Department. That year the Aa class appeared, and the following year the first AB class locomotives were introduced. This class went on to become the most numerous locomotive class in New Zealand history, with several examples surviving into preservation.

The war itself led to a decline in passenger, freight and train miles run but also led to an increase in profitability. In the 1917 Annual Report, a record 5.3% return on investment was made. [13] The war did take its toll on railway services, with dining cars being removed from passenger trains in 1917, replaced by less labour-intensive refreshment rooms at railway stations along the way. As a result, the "scramble for pie and tea at Taihape" became a part of New Zealand folklore. [13]

Non-essential rail services were curtailed as more staff took part in the war effort, and railway workshops were converted for producing military equipment, on top of their existing maintenance and construction work. [13] The war soon affected the supply of coal to the railways. Although hostilities ended in 1918, the coal shortage carried on into 1919 as first miners strikes and then an influenza epidemic cut supplies. As a result, non-essential services remained in effect until the end of 1919. Shortages of spare parts and materials led to severe inflation, and repairs on locomotives being deferred. Similar coal-saving timetable cuts occurred at the end of the next war in 1945 and 1946. [14] [15]

Increasing competition and great depression

Gordon Coates became Minister of Railways in 1923. His tenure was to have a profound effect on the department. Joseph Gordon Coates, 1931.jpg
Gordon Coates became Minister of Railways in 1923. His tenure was to have a profound effect on the department.
NZR's G class Garratt locomotives failed to live up to expectations. NZR g class garratt.jpg
NZR's G class Garratt locomotives failed to live up to expectations.
The Standard class railcars were introduced from July 1938. This example, RM 31, is seen at Paihiatua, Wairarapa. NZR RM class Standard 02.JPG
The Standard class railcars were introduced from July 1938. This example, RM 31, is seen at Paihiatua, Wairarapa.
The J class also appeared in 1939. This locomotive, J1211, survived for preservation. J1211 Napier 20Oct2002 JChristianson.jpg
The J class also appeared in 1939. This locomotive, J1211, survived for preservation.

In 1920 the 3,000-mile (4,800 km) milestone of open railway lines was reached and 15 million passengers were carried by the department. [16] The first of the now iconic railway houses were prefabricated in a factory in Frankton for NZR staff. However, this scheme was shut down in 1929 as it was considered improper for a government department to compete with private builders. [16]

The Otira Tunnel was completed in 1923, heralding the completion of the Midland Line in the South Island. The tunnel included the first section of railway electrification in New Zealand and its first electric locomotives, the original EO class. The section was electrified at 1,500 V DC, due to the steep grade in the tunnel, and included its own hydro-electric power station. [17] The second section to be electrified by the department was the Lyttelton Line in Christchurch, completed in 1929, at the same voltage and current. This again saw English Electric supply locomotives, the EC class.

In the same year, Gordon Coates became the Minister of Railways. Coates was an ambitious politician who had an almost "religious zeal" for his portfolio. During the summer of 1923, he spent the entire parliamentary recess inspecting the department's operations. The following year, he put forward a "Programme of Improvements and New Works'". [18]

Coates scheme proposed spending £8 million over 8 years. This was later expanded to £10 million over 10 years. The programme included:

An independent commission, led by Sir Sam Fay and Sir Vincent Raven produced a report known as the "Fay Raven Report" [19] which gave qualified approval to Coates' programme. The reports only significant change was the proposal of a Cook Strait train ferry service between Wellington and Picton, to link the two systems up. [20] Coates went on to become Prime Minister in 1925, an office he held until 1928 when he was defeated at the general election of that year. While the Westfield and Tawa Flat deviations proceeded, the Milson deviation and Rimutaka Tunnel projects remained stalled. The onset of the Great Depression from late 1929 saw these projects scaled back or abandoned. The Westfield deviation was completed in 1930 and the Tawa deviation proceeded at a snail's pace. A number of new lines under construction were casualties, including the Rotorua-Taupo line, approved in July 1928 but abandoned almost a year later due to the depression. [21] An exception was the Stratford–Okahukura Line, finished in 1933. [22]

However, there was criticism that maintenance was being neglected. In the Liberals last year of office in 1912, 140 miles (230 km) of line had been relaid, but that was reduced to 118 in 1913, 104 in 1914, 81 in 1924 and 68 in 1925, during the Reform Government's years. [23]

Once again, growing traffic requirements led to the introduction of a new type of locomotive, the ill-fated G class Garratt locomotives in 1928. Four of the locomotives were introduced for operation on the North Island Main Trunk. They were not well suited to New Zealand conditions: they had overly complex valve gear, were too hot for crews manning them and too powerful for the wagons they were hauling. [24] The failure of this class lead to the introduction of the K class in 1932.

Government Railways Board

Tough economic conditions and increasing competition from road transport led to calls for regulation of the land transport sector. In 1931 it was claimed half a million tons of freight had been lost to road transport. [25] That year, the department carried 7.2 million passengers per year, down from 14.2 million in 1923. [21] In 1930 a Royal Commission on Railways recommended that land transport should be "co-ordinated" and the following year parliament passed the Transport Licensing Act 1931. The Act regulated the carriage of goods and entrenched the monopoly the department had on land transport. It set a minimum distance road transport operators could transport goods at 30 miles (48 km) before they had to be licensed. The Act was repealed in 1982. [26]

Alongside these changes, in 1931 the Railways Department was briefly restructured into the Government Railways Board. Another Act of Parliament, the Government Railways Amendment Act 1931 was passed. [27] The Railways Board was independent of the Government of the day and answered to the Minister of Finance. [3] During this period the Prime Minister George Forbes was also Minister of Railways, and Minister of Finance was former Minister of Railways Gordon Coates. The Railways Board was abolished by the First Labour Government in 1936. [3]

In 1933 plans for a new railway station and head office in Wellington were approved, along with the electrification of the Johnsonville Line (then still part of the North Island Main Trunk). The Wellington railway station and Tawa flat deviation were both completed in 1937. [28] As part of attempts by NZR to win back passengers from private motor vehicles, the same year the first 56-foot carriages were introduced.

Garnet Hercules Mackley was appointed General Manager in 1933, and worked hard to improve the standard and range of services provided by the Department. This included a number of steps to make passenger trains faster, more efficient and cheaper to run. In the early 20th century, NZR had begun investigating railcar technology to provide passenger services on regional routes and rural branch lines where carriage trains were not economic and "mixed" trains (passenger carriages attached to freight trains) were undesirably slow. However, due to New Zealand's rugged terrain overseas technology could not simply be directly introduced. A number of experimental railcars and railbuses were developed. From 1925 these included the Leyland experimental petrol railcar and a fleet of Model T Ford railbuses, the Sentinel-Cammell steam railcar and from 1926 the Clayton steam railcar and successful Edison battery-electric railcar. 10 years later in 1936 the Leyland diesel railbus was introduced, but the first truly successful railcar class to enter service began operating that year, the Wairarapa railcar specially designed to operate over the Rimutaka Incline. This class followed the building of the Red Terror (an inspection car on a Leyland Cub chassis) for the General Manager in 1933. More classes followed over the years, primarily to operate regional services.

Following the success of the Wairarapa railcar class, in 1938 the Standard class railcars were introduced. A further improvement to passenger transport came in July that year, with electric services on the Johnsonville Line starting with the introduction of the DM/D English Electric Multiple Units. [29]

Three new locomotive classes appeared in 1939: the KA class, KB class and the J class. The KA was a further development of the K class, while the J class was primarily for lighter trackage in the South Island. The numerically smaller KB class were allocated to the Midland line, where they dominated traffic. This led to the coining of the phrase "KB country" to describe the area, made famous by the National Film Unit's documentary of the same title.

World War II and its aftermath

The J class were introduced in 1946, and were the last steam locomotives built by NZR. JA1271 Opapa 16Feb2003 JChristianson.jpg
The J class were introduced in 1946, and were the last steam locomotives built by NZR.

As with the first world war, the Second World War had a significant impact on railways. The war created major labour shortages across the economy generally, and while considered "essential industry", railways were no exception. A large number of NZR employees signed up to fight in the war. For the first time, the Department employed significant numbers of women to meet the shortages. The war created serious coal shortages as imported coal was no longer available. Despite this, NZR had record revenues in 1940.

Despite the war and associated labour and material shortages, new railway construction continued. In 1942 the Gisborne Line was finally opened, followed by the Main North Line between Picton and Christchurch being completed in 1945. The final section of the then ECMT, the Taneatua Branch, was also completed. Centralised Traffic Control (CTC) was installed from Taumaranui to Auckland at the same time.

In 1946 the last class of steam locomotives built by NZR was introduced, the JA class. Due to coal shortages the conversion of K, J, KA, JA classes of steam locomotives to oil burning.

Following the war, NZR contracted the Royal New Zealand Air Force from 1947 to ship inter-island freight across Cook's Strait between Paraparaumu in the North Island and Blenheim in the South Island, as part of the "Rail Air" service. In 1950, Straits Air Freight Express (Later SAFE Air) took over the contract from the RNZAF. The service was discontinued in the early 1980s. [30]


A DE class locomotive, the first diesel-electric locomotives introduced by NZR. NZR Class DE 504.JPG
A DE class locomotive, the first diesel-electric locomotives introduced by NZR.
DF class locomotive, the first mainline diesel-electric locomotives. DF1501.jpg
DF class locomotive, the first mainline diesel-electric locomotives.
A DA class locomotive. DA 1431 crossing Rangitikei River.jpg
A DA class locomotive.
RM 114 at Kaikoura during the 1960s. RM 114.jpg
RM 114 at Kaikoura during the 1960s.
The DJ class, introduced from 1968, led to the end of steam traction in the South Island, and the whole of New Zealand, by 1971. DJ3107 on Taieri Gorge Railway 2.jpg
The DJ class, introduced from 1968, led to the end of steam traction in the South Island, and the whole of New Zealand, by 1971.

The General Manager of NZR, Frederick Aicken, was an advocate for electrifying the entire North Island Main Trunk to alleviate the shortage of coal and the cost of importing diesel fuel; though he also recognised that steam and diesel traction would be required on other lines. NZR's first diesel-electric locomotives, the English Electric built DE class, were introduced in 1951. The locomotives gave good service, but were not powerful or numerous enough to seriously displace steam traction.

In 1954, the New Zealand railway network reached its zenith in terms of distance with 5,600 km (3,500 mi), 60% of it on gradients between 1 in 100 and 1 in 200 and 33% steeper than 1 in 100. [31] The EW class electric locomotives introduced for the Wellington electric system. They were the second class of electric locomotive to be used on this section of electrification.

Aicken went as far as negotiating a tentative contract for the construction of electrification and locomotives for it, but fell out with the Government in late 1951 and resigned. His successor, H.C. Lusty, terminated the contract and entered into an agreement with General Motors for the supply of 40 EMD G12 model locomotives, designated by NZR as the DA class. The first of these locomotives entered service in September 1955, with all of this initial order running by September 1957.

On Christmas eve 1953 the worst disaster in NZR's history, and one of the worst in New Zealand's history occurred. 151 people died when the Wellington-Auckland express was derailed due to a bridge collapse north of Tangiwai due to a lahar from a volcanic eruption, in what became known as the Tangiwai disaster.

The following year NZR introduced the dual-cab DF class in 1954, the first main-line diesel-electric locomotives in service. However, they proved to be unsuccessful in service and original order of 31 was cancelled, and DG class locomotives, also built by English Electric, were ordered instead. While the DG class proved more successful than the DF class, steam remained the dominant form of traction.

This led to the introduction of the DA class in 1955, the largest fleet of diesel-electric locomotives NZR ever introduced. The DA, more than any other class, displaced steam locomotives from the North Island. On 3 November of the same year the 8.798 kilometres (5.467 mi) long Rimutaka Tunnel opened, greatly reducing transit times between the Wairarapa and Wellington. This led to the closure of the Rimutaka Incline and its unique Fell railway system. Because steam locomotives could not be operated through the new tunnel, the Wairarapa Line was the first to be fully "dieselised". Amid much protest, the isolated Nelson Section was closed, although future Nelson Railway Proposals resurfaced from 1957.

The RM class "88 seater" or "Fiats" also began entering service from 1955. The railcars were designed to take over provincial inter-city routes but proved to be mechanically unreliable.

Despite large orders for diesel-electric locomotives, NZR was still building steam locomotives until 1956, when JA1274 was completed at Hillside Workshops, Dunedin. The locomotive is now preserved in Dunedin near the railway station.

During the 1950s New Zealand industry was diversifying, particularly into the timber industry. On 6 October 1952 the Kinleith Branch, formerly part of the Taupo Totara Timber Company's line, was opened to service a new pulp and paper mill at its terminus. NZR's first single-purpose log trains, called "express loggers", began to operate on this branch. The Kinleith Branch was shortly followed in 1957 by the 57 kilometres (35 mi) long Murupara Branch, which was opened running through the Bay of Plenty's Kaingaroa Forest. The branch is the last major branch line to open in New Zealand to date. The line was primarily built to service the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill in Kawerau, with several loading points along its length. [32] The line's success led to several Taupo Railway Proposals being put forward, with extensions of the branch being mooted at various times.


In 1960 the second Christchurch railway station, at Moorhouse Avenue, was opened. The station was closed in 1990, with a new station being built at Addington.

MV Aranui, the second inter-island rail ferry operated by NZR Aranui roll-on roll-off ferry.jpg
MV Aranui, the second inter-island rail ferry operated by NZR

The introduction of GMV Aramoana in 1962 heralded the start of inter-island ferry services run by NZR. [33] The service was very successful, leading to criticism, when the Wellington–Lytellton overnight ferry was withdrawn, that NZR was competing unfairly with private operators. Before the Aramoana was introduced, NZR could not compete for inter-island freight business, and the rail networks of both the North and South Islands were not well integrated. To send goods between the islands, freight had to be unloaded from wagons onto a ship on one island, unloaded at the other and then loaded back into wagons to resume its journey by rail. The introduction of a roll-on roll-off train ferry changed that. Wagons were rolled onto the ferry and rolled off at the other side. This led to many benefits for NZR customers. [33]

NZR's 1963–1964 year-end financial report showed that inter-island ferry services contributed $1.07 million to NZRs profit of $1.077 million. A second ferry, MV Aranui, arrived in 1965. [33]

Closures of rural branch lines reduced the total network length to 3,254 miles (5,237 km) in 1966. [34]

In 1968 the "Blue Streak" refurbished railcars were introduced to the WellingtonAuckland run, having failed to raise patronage between Hamilton and Auckland. The success of the Blue Streaks led to the purchase of three new railcars in 1972. The Blue Streaks were then allocated to the Wellington—New Plymouth service. The introduction of the Japanese-built DJ class diesels from that year in the South Island accelerated the demise of steam, replacing the remaining steam locomotives. The final demise of steam came on 26 October 1971 with the withdrawal of the last class of mainline steam locomotives, the Ja class in the South Island (although the NZR-operated heritage Kingston Flyer service, using two AB class locomotives began just two months later in December 1971).


Timetable published by Railways from 1976 Railways Timetable (19573056451).jpg
Timetable published by Railways from 1976

Railways' management had entered the 1970s with a modernisation plan around the theme "Great things are happening to Railways", to counter negative views of the railways' held by the general public and political elites. [35] In 1970, a red, black and white corporate logo designed by Barry Ellis was introduced and a new Passenger Division was established. [36] [37] The Southerner between Christchurch and Invercargill was introduced, replacing the South Island Limited. The new service featured buffet cars and modernised rolling stock. New rolling stock included the Silver Star luxury WellingtonAuckland overnight train, sourced from Japan. The service never lived up to its promise and was withdrawn in 1979 due to poor patronage. In 1972 the first Silver Fern railcars were introduced for the daytime Wellington–Auckland run.

Freight traffic was again changing. In October 1969, the first unit coal trains were introduced, between coal mines at Huntly and New Zealand Steel at Mission Bush. [36] The US-built General Electric U26C DX class locomotives were introduced in 1972, with a further batch arriving in 1975. They were at the time the most powerful class of locomotives in New Zealand. At first, they were deployed to the North Island Main Trunk but gradually began working the express freight trains for which they were ordered throughout the North Island. The DX continued to dominate North Island traffic until electrification of the main trunk in the 1980s. 1971 saw the introduction of scheduled ISO shipping container services to New Zealand. [38] NZR introduced its first purpose-built container wagons, the UK class, for the growing traffic that was quickly changing freight patterns. However, NZR was criticized for not investing enough in new bogie wagons.

Freight volumes greatly increased during the 1970s, despite the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, with the greatest setback for freight volumes being Britain's entry into the European Economic Community in 1973. Inflationary pressures within the economy greatly rose, at the same time exports were falling. In reaction to this, the government attempted to control inflation by fixing prices; in 1972 it was decided that NZR could only charge for its services at no more than 1971 rates, despite rising fuel and labour costs. As a result Railways' accounts were in deficit for much of the decade and were topped up with a special "Vote Stabilisation" in the budget.

Following a change of Government in 1975, the Robert Muldoon led National Government decided to increase the transport licensing limited from 40 miles (64 km) to 150 km. This change took effect from 1977, [39] and greatly increased competition for NZR on key routes between larger centres within 150 km of each other—routes such as Auckland–Hamilton, Hamilton–Tauranga, Wellington–Palmerston North and Christchurch–Ashburton. [39]

In 1978 a major rebuilding programme of the ageing DA class was launched, creating the DC class. Locomotives were sent to Australia for rebuilding, with five being rebuilt at the NZR's own Hutt Workshops. Ten of the DB class were rebuilt into the DBR class at the same time. The following year the Canadian built General Motors DF class was introduced.

Despite these efforts, there was still considerable negativity about railways and the service they offered. In its 30 May 1979 issue, the National Business Review said "long-distance rail travel is likely to completely disappear in the early 1980s. This will leave the slow creaking third world narrow gauge network to bulk freight where it can be more efficient." [35]

Traffic Monitoring System

On 12 February 1979, NZR introduced a computerised "Traffic Monitoring System", known as TMS. [40] A pilot scheme of TMS began in 1973 on the Palmerston North - Gisborne Line between Woodville and Gisborne. [41] TMS resulted in a 8 per cent improvement in wagon utilisation. [41]

"Time for Change"

Following the increase in distance for road transport licensing in 1977, NZR General Manager Trevor Hayward published a pamphlet entitled "Time for Change". [39] In it, he spelt out the basic challenge facing NZR at the time: providing both commercial and loss-making "social" services. [39] While Hayward was not against road transport deregulation, he was in favour of greater investment in NZR to meet freight requirements, and shutting down uneconomic services. [39]

In 1981, parliament passed the New Zealand Railways Corporation Act, and the department was corporatised as the New Zealand Railways Corporation on 1 April 1982. [2]


The Railways Department followed a traditional branch structure, which was carried over to the Corporation.


The table below records the performance of the Railways Department in terms of freight tonnage: [42]

YearTonnes (000s)Net tonne-km (millions)


The following NZR workshops were builders of locomotives:

Minor workshops

None of these minor workshops manufactured locomotives, although major overhauls were carried out:


Steam locomotives built and rebuilt at NZR workshops: [43]

Addington 11412126
Hillside 16521186
Hutt 77077
Petone 4711
Newmarket 1910
Westport 022

Nine of the ED electric locomotives were constructed (assembled) at the Hutt (7) and Addington (2) workshops. Various diesel locomotives have been rebuilt at NZR workshops, for example five of the DA as DC, though most rebuilding has been contracted out. Hillside built 9 NZR TR class diesel shunters.

The Auckland workshops (Newmarket, then Otahuhu) specialised in car and wagon work, and in repairs and maintenance.

Private firms that built steam locomotives for NZR

British companies, e.g.:

American companies, e.g.:

New Zealand companies:

Companies that supplied NZR with diesel locomotives

Suppliers of electric traction to NZR

Suppliers of bus and coach chassis to NZR

Suppliers of ferries to NZR


See also

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The NZR RM class 88-seaters were a class of railcar used in New Zealand. New Zealand Government Railways (NZR) classed them RM , the notation used for all railcars, numbering the 35 sets from RM100 to RM134. They were the most numerous railcars in NZR service, and were known unofficially as "Articulated", "Eighty Eights", "Twinsets", "Drewrys" or "Fiats". Their purchase and introduction saw the demise of steam-hauled provincial passenger trains and mixed trains.

NZR J<sup>A</sup> class class of 51 New Zealand 4-8-2 locomotives

The NZR JA class were a type of 4-8-2 steam locomotive used on the New Zealand railway network. The class was built in two batches, the first batch was built at Dunedin's Hillside Workshops between 1946 and 1956 and the second batch by the North British Locomotive Works in 1951. To distinguish between the batches, locomotives are identified by their maker.

Glossary of New Zealand railway terms

This is a list of jargon commonly used by railfans and railway employees in New Zealand.

New Zealand EW class locomotive class of 7 New Zealand electric locomotives

The New Zealand EW class locomotive was a class of electric locomotive used in Wellington, New Zealand. The classification 'EW' was due to their being electric locomotives allocated to Wellington. For two decades until the advent of the DX class they were the most powerful locomotives in New Zealand.

NZR K class (1932) class of 30 New Zealand 4-8-4 locomotives

The NZR K class of 1932 was a class of mixed traffic 4-8-4 steam locomotives built by the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR) that operated on New Zealand's railway network. The locomotives were developed following the failure of the G class Garratts. The class should not be confused with the much earlier K class of 1877-78, the first American-built engines to arrive in New Zealand.

NZR K<sup>A</sup> class class of 35 New Zealand 4-8-4 locomotives

The NZR KA class of 1939 was a class of mixed traffic 4-8-4 steam locomotives that operated on New Zealand's railway network. They were built after the success of the K class to meet the increasing traffic demands of the New Zealand Railways Department. The locomotives first appeared with distinctive streamlining, mainly to hide their ACFI feedwater heater systems.

New Zealand DX class locomotive class of 49 New Zealand diesel locomotives

The New Zealand DX class locomotive is a class of 49 Co-Co diesel-electric locomotives that currently operates on New Zealand's national railway network.

New Zealand DA class locomotive class of 146 EMD G12 locomotives sold to New Zealand

The New Zealand DA class locomotive were a class of diesel-electric mainline locomotives operated on the New Zealand railway system between 1955 and 1989. Consisting of 146 locomotives, it was the most numerous class to ever operate in New Zealand, with five more than the AB class steam locomotive.

The Kurow Branch was part of New Zealand's national rail network. In the North Otago region of the South Island, it was built in the 1870s to open up the land behind Oamaru for development, and closed in 1983.

NZR RM class (Standard) class of 6 New Zealand railcars

The NZR RM class Standard railcars were a class of railcar operated by the New Zealand Railways Department in the North Island of New Zealand. Officially classified as RM like all other railcar classes in New Zealand, they acquired the designation of 'Standard' to differentiate them from others. They were introduced in 1938 and withdrawn in 1972.

NZR RM class

The RM class is the classification used by the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR) and its successors given to most railcars and railbuses that have operated on New Zealand's national rail network. "RM" stands for Rail Motor. As many types of railcars are operated, class names have been given to each railcar type to differentiate them from others.

NZR D class (1874) class of 35 New Zealand 2-4-0T locomotives, built 1874–1890

NZR D class steam tank locomotives operated on New Zealand's national railway network. The first entered service in 1874 all had been withdrawn by the end of 1927, which allowed the D classification to be used again in 1929.

The Marton–New Plymouth line (MNPL) is a secondary main line railway in the North Island of New Zealand that links the Taranaki and Manawatu-Wanganui regions. It branches from the North Island Main Trunk Railway (NIMT) at Marton and runs near the South Taranaki Bight of the west coast before turning inland, meeting the Stratford–Okahukura Line (SOL) at Stratford and running to New Plymouth. Construction of the line was completed in 1885, and along with the SOL it provided an alternate route to the NIMT from the SOL's completion in 1933 until the latter was mothballed in 2010. In its early days it was plied by the North Island's first regional express, the New Plymouth Express, but it has been freight only since the cancellation of the last passenger services in 1977.

Railway electrification in New Zealand

Railway electrification in New Zealand consists of three separate electric systems, all in the North Island. Electrification was initially adopted by the New Zealand Railways for long tunnels; the Otira Tunnel, the Lyttelton Rail Tunnel and the two Tawa Tunnels of the Tawa Flat Deviation. Electrification of Wellington suburban services started with the Johnsonville Line and Kapiti Line out of Wellington from the 1930s. Auckland suburban services were electrified in 2014–2015. Electrification of long distance services on the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) dates from 1986. New long tunnels, for example the Rimutaka Tunnel and the Kaimai Tunnel were operated by diesels, and the Otira and Lyttelton Tunnels have converted to diesel operation.


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Preceded by
Public Works Department
New Zealand Railways Department Flag of New Zealand.svg
Succeeded by
New Zealand Railways Corporation