North Island Main Trunk

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North Island Main Trunk
Map of North Island Main Trunk Line, March 2016.png
Map of the North Island Main Trunk
TypeHeavy rail
System New Zealand railway network
Locale North Island, New Zealand
Termini Wellington
Auckland Britomart Transport Centre
Opened14 August 1908 (railheads meet)
6 November 1908 (official opening)
14 February 1909 (line completed)
Owner KiwiRail
Operator(s) KiwiRail (freight)
KiwiRail Scenic Journeys (long-distance passenger)
Transdev Wellington (Wellington–Waikanae)
Transdev Auckland (Pukekohe–Auckland)
CharacterMain line
Rolling stock EF class electric locomotives (Te Rapa – Palmerston North)
Line length681 km (423 mi)
Number of tracksTriple track WellingtonWairarapa Line junction
double track Wairarapa Line junction–Pukerua Bay, PaekakarikiWaikanae, Hamilton–Te Kauwhata, Amokura–Auckland
remainder single track
Track gauge 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
Electrification 1600 V DC overhead Wellington–Waikanae
25 kV 50 Hz AC overhead Palmerston North–Te Rapa, Papakura–Britomart
Operating speed110 km/h (68 mph) maximum
Highest elevation832 metres (2,730 ft)
Route map


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Britomart Transport Centre
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Quay Park Junction
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The Strand Station
formerly Auckland railway station
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Ports of Auckland
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Westfield Freight Yard
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Auckland Eastern & Southern Lines
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Auckland Eastern & Southern Lines
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Mission Bush Branch &
Glenbrook Vintage Railway
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End of Auckland suburban services
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Te Rapa
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Te Awamutu
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Te Kuiti
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Waiteti viaduct
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National Park
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Makatote viaduct
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Manganui viaduct
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Mangaturuturu viaduct
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Taonui viaduct
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Hapuawhenua viaduct
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Whangaehu River
site of Tangiwai disaster
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former tunnels 10e & 10f
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North Rangitikei Viaduct
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former tunnels 10b/10c/10d
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Kawhatau Viaduct
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Mangaweka Viaduct
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South Rangitikei Viaduct
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former tunnel 10a
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Mangaweka deviation
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Makohine viaduct
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Palmerston North
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End of Wellington suburban services
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former NIMT via Johnsonville
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Wellington Distant Junction
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Wellington freight terminal
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The North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) is the main railway line in the North Island of New Zealand, connecting the capital city Wellington with the country's largest city, Auckland. The line is 682 kilometres (424 mi) long and passes through Paraparaumu, Palmerston North, Taihape, National Park, Taumarunui, Te Kuiti, Hamilton, and Pukekohe.

Most of the NIMT is single track with frequent passing loops, built to the New Zealand rail gauge of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in). The line is double track between Wellington and Waikanae (except for a 3.3 km (2.1 mi) single-track section through the tunnels, between North Junction, which is 35.3 km (21.9 mi) from Wellington and South Junction, which is 32 km (20 mi) from Wellington, on the Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki section), [1] between Hamilton and Te Kauwhata (except for the single-track Waikato River Bridge at Ngāruawāhia), and between Meremere and Auckland Britomart. Around 460 kilometres (290 mi) (approximately 65%) of the line is electrified in three separate sections: one section at 1600 V DC between Wellington and Waikanae, and two sections at 25 kV AC: 412 km (256 mi) between Palmerston North and Te Rapa (Hamilton) and 34 km (21 mi) between Papakura and Auckland Britomart.

The first section of what became the NIMT opened in 1873 in Auckland. Construction at the Wellington end began in 1885. The line was completed in 1908 and was fully operational by 1909. It is credited for having been an economic lifeline for the young nation, and for having opened up the centre of the North Island to European settlement and investment. [2] In the early days, a passenger journey between Wellington and Auckland could take more than 20 hours; today, the Northern Explorer takes approximately 11 hours. [3]

The NIMT has been described as an "engineering miracle", [4] with numerous engineering feats such as viaducts, tunnels and a spiral built to overcome large elevation differences with grades suitable for steam engines.



Auckland to Te Awamutu

Auckland's first railway was the 13 km (8.1 mi) line between Point Britomart and Onehunga via Penrose, opened in 1873. [5] It was built by Brogdens. [6] The section from Penrose to Onehunga is now called the Onehunga Branch. The line was later continued south from Penrose into the Waikato. Possibly to support the Invasion of the Waikato, a 3.5 mi (5.6 km) tramway was built from Maungatawhiri to Meremere in 1864, [7] though turning of the first sod of the Auckland and Drury Railway took place in 1865, a year after the last major battle. [8] This line reached Mercer by 20 May 1875, with 29 km (18 mi) from Ngāruawāhia being constructed by the Volunteer Engineer Militia and opened on 13 August 1877. It was extended to Frankton by December 1877, and to Te Awamutu in 1880. An economic downturn stalled construction for the next five years, and Te Awamutu remained the railhead. There were also negotiations with local Māori, and the King Country was not accessible to Europeans until 1883. [9]

Wellington to Marton

The Wellington-Longburn (near Palmerston North) section was constructed between 1881 and 1886 by the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company (WMR). The company was acquired by the New Zealand Railways Department in 1908.

Central North Island

From Te Awamutu it was proposed that the line be built via Taupo or via Taumarunui, the eventual route. Four options were considered before the Minister of Public Works decided on the present route in 1884, but, when it was realised just how difficult that route was, further surveys considered two other options in 1888. [10] Construction of the final central section began on 15 April 1885, when paramount chief Wahanui of Ngāti Maniapoto turned the first sod outside Te Awamutu. [9] It was 23 years before the two lines met, as the central section was difficult to survey and construct. The crossing of the North Island Volcanic Plateau with deep ravines required nine viaducts and the world-famous Raurimu Spiral. By the beginning of 1908, there was a 39 km (24 mi) gap between Erua and Ohakune, with a connecting horse-drawn coach service. From Ohakune south to Waiouru the Public Works Department operated the train, as this section had not yet been handed over to the Railways Department.


The gap was closed on 7 August 1908 for the first through passenger train, the 11-car Parliamentary Special carrying the Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward and other parliamentarians north to see the American Great White Fleet at Auckland. [2] But much of the new section was temporary, with some cuttings north of Taonui having vertical batters and some unballasted sections of track. Ward drove the last spike on 6 November 1908, and the 'Last Spike' monument is at Manganui-o-te-Ao 39°16.44′S175°23.37′E / 39.27400°S 175.38950°E / -39.27400; 175.38950 , near Pokaka. A two-day NIMT service started on 9 November, with an overnight stop at Ohakune.

On 14 February 1909 the first NIMT express left Auckland for Wellington, an overnight trip scheduled to take 19 hours 15 minutes, with a sleeping car, day cars with reclining seats, and postal/parcels vans. The dining car went on the north express from Wellington to Ohakune, then transferred to the southbound express, so avoiding the heavy gradients of the central section.

Track upgrades

Several sections of the line have been upgraded and deviated:

In 1913 the maximum speed limit on the NIMT was raised to 45 mph (72 km/h), reducing the journey time by 1 hour 25 minutes Auckland-Wellington or to 17 hours and between 30 and 45 minutes. [11] Under T. Ronayne, the Railways Department general manager from 1895 to 1913, [12] the section south to Parnell was duplicated and improvements made to the worst gradients and tight curves between Auckland and Mercer. Under his successor E. H. Hiley the second Parnell Tunnel with two tracks and an easier gradient was completed in 1915–1916. On the Kakariki bank between Halcombe and Marton a deviation reduced the 1 in 53 grade to 1 in 70. [13] A 1914 Act authorised spending on the Westfield Deviation, new stations at Auckland and Wellington, track doubling (Penrose-Papakura, Ohinewai-Huntly, Horotiu-Frankton, Newmarket-New Lynn), and grade easements from Penrose to Te Kuiti, [14] but the war delayed most of these works for over a decade.

In 1927 automatic colour-light signalling was installed from Otahuhu to Mercer. [15] In 1930 the signalling was extended 34 mi 72 ch (56.2 km) to Frankton and the 6 mi 55 ch (10.8 km) from there to Horotiu was doubled. The 3 mi 54 ch (5.9 km) north to Ngāruawāhia was doubled from 5 December 1937, [16] followed by 9 mi 12 ch (14.7 km) Ngāruawāhia to Huntly on 4 December 1938 [17] and Huntly to Ohinewai and Papakura to Paerata in December 1939. [18] By then, wartime shortages delayed further double-tracking. [19] Pokeno to Mercer was doubled from 11 November 1951, Pukekohe to Pokeno 21 November 1954, Mercer to Amokura 1 July 1956 and Ohinewai to Te Kauwhata 14 December 1958. The 13 km (8.1 mi) between Amokura and Te Kauwhata remain single track, as does Ngāruawāhia bridge. [20]

Approaching Auckland CBD through the eastern suburbs on the Westfield deviation to the North Island Main Trunk. Eastern Suburbs Railway Line Corridor.jpg
Approaching Auckland CBD through the eastern suburbs on the Westfield deviation to the North Island Main Trunk.

In 1930 the Westfield Deviation was opened, creating a new eastern route from Auckland to Westfield via Glen Innes and Hobsons Bay, running into the new Auckland railway station and providing better access to the Port of Auckland. The original section between Auckland and Westfield via Newmarket later ceased to be part of the NIMT: Auckland to Newmarket became the Auckland-Newmarket Line, and Newmarket to Westfield became part of the North Auckland Line (NAL) which runs between Whangarei and Westfield.

In the late 1930s, bridges replaced level crossings at Ohinewai, Taupiri and Hopuhopu. [21]

In the 1930s, the Wellington end was deviated from Wellington to Tawa Flat by the Tawa Flat deviation, including two long tunnels. The deviation is the centre two tracks, with the Wairarapa Line's Ngauranga station in the background, alongside State Highway 1. Wellington Motorway.jpg
In the 1930s, the Wellington end was deviated from Wellington to Tawa Flat by the Tawa Flat deviation, including two long tunnels. The deviation is the centre two tracks, with the Wairarapa Line's Ngauranga station in the background, alongside State Highway 1.

The double track Tawa Flat deviation opened to goods trains on 22 July 1935 and to passenger trains on 19 June 1937, bypassing the original single track WMR line between Wellington and Tawa. With a pair of tunnels under the Wellington hills, the deviation alleviated issues with more and heavier freight traffic on the steep and twisting original route where long sections at 1 in 60 gradient required banker engines. The Wellington to Johnsonville section of the original line was retained as the Johnsonville Line and the Johnsonville to Tawa section closed.

The sections from Plimmerton to South Junction, north of Pukerua Bay and Muri, and North Junction to Paekakariki were duplicated in 1940. From 24 July 1940 electrification at 1500 V DC of the southern section of the NIMT from Wellington to Paekakariki was completed. The Tawa Flat deviation has a long tunnel (Tawa No 2) not suitable for steam operation because of excessive smoke (although steam trains were temporarily operated in the new deviation from 1935). A Centralised Train Control (CTC) system was installed in 1940, so that new signal boxes were not required and five stations between Tawa and Pukerua Bay no longer had to be continually staffed for Tablet operation; see Kapiti Line. Electrification eliminated the need to relieve the steep (1 in 57) gradients from Plimmerton to the Pukerua Bay summit by a deviation to the east and allowed more frequent suburban passenger trains (and allowed suburban electric multiple units to run on this section from September 1949).

EW1805 hauling DC 4611 near Paekakariki on the electrified Wellington section. This section of the North Island Main Trunk was electrified in 1940. Electric Locomotives Near Paekakariki.jpg
EW1805 hauling DC 4611 near Paekakariki on the electrified Wellington section. This section of the North Island Main Trunk was electrified in 1940.

The difficult section down the Paekakariki Escarpment from Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki with five tunnels between South and North Junctions remains single track. Duplication from Tawa to Porirua opened on 15 December 1957, from Porirua to Paremata on 7 November 1960, and Paremata to Plimmerton on 16 October 1961. The section between Porirua and Plimmerton was straightened in conjunction with the duplication by reclaiming land along the eastern shore of Porirua Harbour.

Between 1964 and 1966 a deviation away from the centre of Palmerston North via the Milson deviation on the edge of the city.

In 1967 the floors of the tunnels on the WMR section between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay were lowered to enable the DA class locomotives to travel all the way to Wellington.

Between 1973 and 1981 the major Mangaweka deviation in the central section between Mangaweka and Utiku was built, with three viaducts, all over 70m tall, crossing the Rangitikei and Kawhatau rivers.

The central section from Te Rapa near Hamilton to Palmerston North was electrified at 25 kV AC between 1984 and 1988 as part of the Think Big government energy programme. Some tunnels were opened out or bypassed by deviations while in others clearances were increased, and curves eased. The section between Ohakune and Horopito was realigned with three viaducts replaced to handle higher loads and speeds. The most notable bridge replaced was the curved metal viaduct at Hapuawhenua by a modern concrete structure, though the original has been restored as a tourist attraction.

In 2009–10, the 1.5 km section of line between Wellington Junction and Distant Junction was rebuilt from double track to triple track, to ease peak-time congestion.

In February 2011 duplication between Paekakariki and Waikanae was completed as part of the upgrade and expansion of the Wellington suburban network; see Kapiti Line for more information.

In 2012–13 four bridges near Rangiriri between Auckland and Hamilton were replaced. The bridges were all over 100 years old with steel spans and timber piers, and were replaced by modern low-maintenance concrete ballast deck bridges. Bridges 479, 480, 481 & 482 were replaced, with lengths of 40 metres (131 ft 3 in), 40 metres (131 ft 3 in), 30 metres (98 ft 5 in) and 18 metres (59 ft 1 in) respectively. [22]

The construction of the Peka Peka to Otaki section of the Kapiti Expressway required 1.3 km of the NIMT immediately north of Otaki station to be realigned. Construction began in 2017, and trains were switched onto the new alignment over the 2019 Easter long weekend (19–22 April). [23] [24]

A DL class locomotive hauling a freight train at Papakura, south of Auckland. Freight is an important revenue earner for the North Island Main Trunk. DL 9020 on MP4.jpg
A DL class locomotive hauling a freight train at Papakura, south of Auckland. Freight is an important revenue earner for the North Island Main Trunk.

In the Auckland area, a third main line between Wiri and Westfield [25] or Wiri and Papakura, to allow freight trains to bypass stationary passenger trains, has been proposed. [26]


There are three independent sections of the NIMT which are electrified: Auckland's urban network and the central section (25 kV AC) from Palmerston North – Te Rapa (north of Hamilton) at (25 kV AC). Wellington's urban network is electrified at (1500 V DC); as formerly used in other sections of the New Zealand network. In Wellington the operating voltage has been increased to 1700 V DC since the full introduction of the Matangi EMU, to increase the power available.

Electrification of the NIMT was mooted by electrical engineer Evan Parry in the first volume of the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology in November 1918. In light of a national coal shortage following World War I, Parry argued that the network was under great strain due to ever-increasing volumes of freight, and the use of steam traction was partly to blame. Parry also noted that there was great potential for cheap hydro-electricity generation in the central North Island to power electrification.

The first part of the NIMT to be electrified was the WellingtonPaekakariki section via the Tawa Flat deviation that was completed on 24 July 1940. This was largely to prevent smoke nuisance in the 4.3 km No. 2 tunnel, and to provide for banking on the Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay section. Electric traction in this section is now used only by Transdev Wellington for Metlink suburban passenger services on the Kapiti Line, and was extended to Paraparaumu on 7 May 1983 and Waikanae on 20 February 2011. Funded by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the extension to Waikanae coincided with the delivery of new FP class Matangi electric multiple units. [27]

Following the Second World War railway services suffered due to skill and coal shortages. Skilled staff sought employment opportunities elsewhere in the economy. From 1948 to 1951 the General Manager of the Railways Department, Francis William Aickin, advocated electrification of the entire line, despite protests from his engineering staff. Aickin had previously been Staff Superintendent and Chief Legal Advisor to the Department, and considered using diesel locomotives for trains on the NIMT to be too expensive. He turned his attention to electrification, mainly because he saw that it could relieve the coal situation and prevent high expenditure on imported fuels.

He commissioned a study into electrification, which concluded that a low-frequency AC system could be cheaper than 1500 V DC, the system in use in Wellington. Aickin sent a technical mission of four senior officers overseas in March 1949 and travelled overseas himself to negotiate a tentative contract with a British construction company. The Chief Mechanical Engineer and Chief Accountant specified and costed the system and Aickin was able to complete a substantial report justifying the NIMT electrification and submit it to the Government.

Officers from New Zealand Treasury and the Ministry of Works and two experts from Sweden (Thelander and Edenius) commented on the proposal and in December 1950 the Government granted approval in principle and agreed to appoint Thelander as a consultant. However, Aickin fell out with the then National Government and retired as General Manager in July 1951. With the change in regime, the electrification proposal disappeared.

A key assumption of Aickin's report was that traffic on the NIMT would grow by 50% from 1948 to 1961. Since a diesel-electric locomotive is a travelling power station, the savings through electrification compared to diesel could be regarded as the difference between the cost of buying bulk electrical energy generated substantially from New Zealand resources and the cost of generating electricity in a small plant using imported diesel fuel.

The Royal Commission on Railways created following Aickin's tenure rejected the report's findings. Aickin's successor, H.C. Lusty, revised the tentative contract with English Electric to specify DF class diesel-electric locomotives. They were later found to be unreliable, and only ten were supplied. 42 DG class locomotives were supplied instead for secondary lines. For main lines including the NIMT, the General Motors G12 export models were ordered, becoming the DA class.

The 411 km (255 mi) section between Palmerston North and Hamilton was electrified at 25 kV 50 Hz AC, opened on 24 June 1988 [28] as one of the Muldoon National Government's "Think Big" energy development projects. An overall cost in excess of $100 million had been projected, with some 40% being for the locomotives, but the final cost was about $250 million. The economics of the project was greatly undermined by the fall of the price of oil in the 1980s and the deregulation of land transport, which removed the long-distance monopoly NZR held when the cost-benefit report was written.

EF30163 hauling The Overlander on the 25 kV AC electrified section in 2003. EF30163+Overlander NearWaiouru 22March2003 JChristianson.jpg
EF30163 hauling The Overlander on the 25 kV AC electrified section in 2003.

The electrification of the section, which had its genesis in a study group set up in June 1974 to report on measures to be taken to cope with increasing rail traffic volumes, received approval in 1980. This led to a technical study carried out with assistance from the Japanese Railway Technical Research Institute. The report stated that track capacity would be increased by electrification because such traction is faster and able to move more freight at once. The report stated, for example, that whereas a diesel locomotive could haul 720-tonne trains at 27 km/h (17 mph) up the Raurimu Spiral, an electric locomotive could haul 1100/1200-tonne trains at 45 km/h (28 mph), cutting 3–5 hours off journey times. Less fuel would be needed and employing regenerative braking in electric locomotives lowers the fuel consumption further.

Electrification's advantages were reflected in the economic evaluation in the report, which showed a rate of return of 18%. Sensitivity analysis showed that this high rate of return gave the project robustness against lower traffic volumes than expected (the return remained positive even if traffic fell), against significant increases in construction cost, and against lower than expected rises in the diesel fuel price.

Part of the project included replacing the copper wire communications system with a new fibre optic communications cable (due to interference caused by AC power with the DC copper wire system) between Wellington and Auckland. In 1994 New Zealand Rail Limited sold the cable to Clear Communications for telephone traffic, leasing part of it back for signalling. [29]

Proposals to electrify the Auckland suburban rail network dated back to the 1960s, [30] they mainly coincided with proposals to electrify the NIMT in its entirety. In 2005 the central government decided to implement a proposal [31] to electrify the urban network at 25 kV AC, the same system as on the central NIMT. [32] This included 35.7 km (22.2 mi) of the NIMT itself, from Britomart to just south of Papakura. Work on electrification of the Auckland network began in 2010. The first revenue electric services using AM class EMUs commenced on 28 April 2014 between Britomart and Onehunga on the Onehunga Line. [33] The electrification project on the Auckland network, including the Auckland-Papakura section of the NIMT, was completed in July 2015, with all suburban services being electric. A diesel shuttle service runs on the non-electrified Pukekohe-Papakura section. [34]

The future

The completion of Auckland's electrification leaves a gap of 87.1 km (54.1 mi) to the central NIMT electrification at Te Rapa, north of Hamilton. Electrification may be extended south as the Auckland suburban system expands, but this will depend on further government funding. In February 2008 former Auckland Regional Council Chairman Mike Lee suggested the initial electrification might be extended to Pukekohe, leaving a 60 kilometres (37 mi) gap to Te Rapa. [35] In 2012, in response to public submissions, the board of Auckland Transport decided to include an investigation into electrifying to Pukekohe to its 10-year programme. [36] ATAP, Auckland's 2018–2028 plan provides for Pukekohe electrification, a third line from Westfield to Wiri and further new electric trains. [37] In 2020 the government announced funding for electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe. [38]

A paper written in 2008 for then railway infrastructure owner ONTRACK investigated the possibility of electrifying the remaining Papakura-Te Rapa gap between the Auckland urban system's terminus at Papakura on the NIMT and the central NIMT system, along with electrification of the East Coast Main Trunk to Tauranga. [39] The report put the total cost of electrification at $860 million, with $433 million for the Papakura-Te Rapa section. [39] It concluded that money would be better spent on grade and curvature easements, removing speed restrictions and increasing the length of passing loops. [39]

In Wellington, there is an 80.8 km (50.2 mi) gap from Waikanae to the central NIMT electrification at Palmerston North. Since the extension of electrification to Waikanae in February 2012, there have been calls for the electrification to be extended by 15 km (9.3 mi) to Otaki. [40] If this happens, there will be a 66 km (41 mi) gap. As the two electrification systems are different, multi-current locomotives or multiple units would be required for through electric working, should that gap be ever closed, unless one electric system is converted to be consistent with the other.

On 21 December 2016, KiwiRail announced their plan to withdraw from service, over a two-year period, the EF class electric locomotives (the only electric rolling stock working the central electrified section) without replacing them. [41] The reasons given for the decision included the fact that the EFs are now close to their end of life (approximately 30 years old) and suffer from frequent breakdowns (on average every 30,000 kilometres (19,000 mi) which is well below the expected breakdown-free service interval of 50,000 kilometres (31,000 mi)) and that having to change from a diesel locomotive to an electric one and back again at each end of the electrified section is labour-intensive, time-consuming and adds to costs. KiwiRail did not intend to de-electrify the section but would maintain it so that electric rolling stock could be reintroduced in the future.

On 30 October 2018, the Government announced that it is retaining the EF class electric locomotives, to help meet its long term emissions goals and boost the economy. The 15 remaining EF class locomotives will be refurbished by KiwiRail and will continue to run between Hamilton and Palmerston North. [42]


On 6 August 2008 at 9am, a train (which included 100-year-old carriage AA1013, restored by the Mainline Steam Trust) departed Wellington in a re-enactment of 7 August 1908 Parliamentary Special carrying the Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward to Auckland, [43] stopping overnight at Taihape and Taumarunui before continuing to Auckland. Tickets were by invitation only.

A series of stamps was issued to commemorate the centennial, see Stamps:


The NIMT has been described as an "engineering miracle", with numerous engineering feats especially along the Rangitikei River and on the North Island Volcanic Plateau. This included the building of the famous Raurimu Spiral to allow trains to ascend the steep grade from the Whanganui River valley to the North Island Volcanic Plateau.

The NIMT includes 352 bridges and 14 tunnels. [3] The major viaducts include three (North Rangitikei, South Rangitikei and Kawhatau) opened in 1981 for the Mangaweka deviation. Five viaducts are over 70 metres (230 ft) high. There are smaller viaducts at Taonui north of Ohakune, [46] and Manganui-o-te-Ao and Mangaturutura. [47]

The heights and lengths of the main viaducts are: [48]

North Rangitikei81 m or 266 ft160 m or 525 ft1981on Mangaweka deviation
Makatote 79 m or 259 ft262 m or 860 ft1908
South Rangitikei78 m or 256 ft315 m or 1,033 ft1981on Mangaweka deviation
Kawhatau73 m or 240 ft160 m or 525 ft1981on Mangaweka deviation
Makohine73 m or 240 ft229 m or 751 ft1902
Toi Toi58 m or 190 ft66 m or 217 ft1904
Hapuawhenua45 m or 148 ft284 m or 932 ft1908replaced 1987 [49]
Hapuawhenua51 m or 167 ft414 m or 1,358 ft1987
Waiteti 36 m or 118 ft127 m or 417 ft1889or Waitete, 130 m or 427 ft long [50]
Mangaweka48 m or 157 ft288 m or 945 ft1903superseded by Mangaweka deviation in 1981 [46]

Rolling stock

Due to its high volume and high value of traffic to NZR and the steep grades in the central section, the NIMT has seen the use of the most powerful locomotives in New Zealand.

When the NIMT opened in 1909, the powerful 4-8-2 X class was introduced to handle heavy traffic over the mountainous central North Island section. Three G class Garratt-type locomotives were introduced in 1928, but these were not as effective as anticipated. In 1932 the 4-8-4 K class was introduced, and later improved in 1939 with the KA class.

The introduction of the DF class in 1954 began the end of the steam era, and in 1955 with the introduction of the DA class locomotive, major withdrawals of steam locomotives began. 1972 saw the introduction of DX class locomotives and the Silver Fern railcars; the latter remaining in service between Auckland and Wellington until 1991.

With electrification and the introduction of the EF class electric locomotives in the late 1980s, the DX class was mainly reassigned to other areas of the network, including hauling coal on the Midland Line in the South Island. Since then services between Te Rapa and Palmerston North have been worked mainly by the electrics, although some services are still diesel-operated, such as those originating from or terminating on other lines, or originating from within the central section, like the paper pulp freight trains from Karioi.

As of May 2020, regular rolling stock on the NIMT include:

ClassImageTypeCars per setNumberOperatorRoutesBuilt
NZR FP class 01.JPG EMU 283 Transdev Wellington Wellington suburban services between Wellington and Waikanae2010–12, 2015–16
AM AMA 103 at Puhinui.jpg EMU357 Transdev Auckland Auckland suburban services on Eastern and Southern Lines2012–15
ADL/ADC Britomart01.jpg DMU 210 Transdev Auckland Auckland passenger services between Papakura and the town of Pukekohe1982–85
S carriage 88 (one set) KiwiRail Capital Connection services between Wellington and Palmerston North1971–75
AK carriage66 (one set) KiwiRail Scenic Journeys Northern Explorer services between Wellington and Auckland Strand Station 2011–12

Connecting lines

Line NameDate OpenedDate ClosedNIMT JunctionTerminusLengthNotes
Newmarket Line 24 December 1873Open Quay Park Junction Newmarket Junction 2.5 kmFormerly Auckland-Onehunga line 1873–1877, Auckland-Waikato line 1877–1908, NIMT 1908–1974.
North Auckland Line 20 May 1875Open Westfield Junction Otiria Junction280 kmFormerly formed part of the NIMT in conjunction with what is now the Newmarket Line.
Manukau Branch 15 April 2012OpenWiri JunctionManukau2.5 km
Mission Bush Branch 10 December 1917OpenPaerata JunctionMission Bush17 kmFormerly Waiuku Branch. Glenbrook Vintage Railway uses the 8 km Glenbrook-Waiuku section.
Kimihia Branch 21 October 2015 [51] Huntly NorthKimihia Mine2.75 km
Rotowaro Branch 20 December 1915OpenHuntlyRotowaro8.5 kmFormerly Glen Afton Branch (14 km long). Bush Tramway Club uses the 2 km section Pukemiro to Glen Afton.
Waipa Railway and Coal Co. line1 March 191419 May 1958NgāruawāhiaWilton Collieries10.5 kmPrivate line. Operated by NZR from 12 August 1935 to closure.
East Coast Main Trunk 20 October 1879OpenFrankton JunctionKawerau180 kmFormerly Thames Branch (1879–1928). Line reduced in length by Kaimai Deviation, 1978. Former length 230 km.
Stratford–Okahukura Line 4 September 1933Mothballed 2009Okahukura JunctionStratford144 kmLeased to Forgotten World Adventures Ltd.
Raetihi Branch 18 December 19171 January 1968Ohakune JunctionRaetihi13 km
Marton–New Plymouth Line 4 February 1878OpenMarton JunctionBreakwater (New Plymouth)212 km
Taonui Branch17 November 187914 August 1895TaonuiColyton3.5 km
Palmerston North–Gisborne Line 9 March 1891OpenRoslyn JunctionGisborne391 kmNapier-Gisborne section mothballed 2012. Gisborne City Railway use Gisborne-Muriwai section (16 km)
Foxton Branch April 187318 July 1959Longburn JunctionFoxton31 kmPart of Foxton-New Plymouth Railway until 1908
Wairarapa Line 14 April 1874OpenDistant Junction (Wellington)Woodville170 kmReduced in length by closure of Rimutaka Incline (1955) from 182 km.
Johnsonville Branch 24 September 1885OpenWellington JunctionJohnsonville10 kmBuilt by the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company. 6 km Johnsonville-Tawa section closed 19 June 1937.
Te Aro Branch 27 March 189323 April 1917Wellington (Lambton)Te Aro1.77 km

Notable connecting tramways and other lines

Junction StationDate OpenedDate ClosedOwnerNotes
Drury1862unknownDrury Coal CompanyHorse tramway
Kellyville Public Works Department Construction of Pokeno to Paeroa line, not completed beyond Mangatawhiri.
Ngāruawāhia1 March 191419 May 1958 Waipa Railway and Coal Co. 10 km private railway.
Otorohonga1921 Rangitoto Colliery Co. 6 km horse tram
Mangapehi1944Ellis and BernandSteam-powered bush tramway
Waione Siding1950Marton Sash and Door CoSteam-powered bush tramway
Ongarue1956Ellis and BernandExtensive steam-powered bush tramway (now part of a cycle trail)
Taringamotu19101960s Taringamotu Tramway Steam-powered bush tramway
Manunui1944Ellis and BernandExtensive steam-powered bush tramway
Oio1935King Speirs and CoSteam-powered bush tramway
Mansons SidingManson and ClarkSteam-powered bush tramway
Raurimu1935King Speirs and CoSteam-powered bush tramway
Raurimu19351957Raurimu Sawmilling CoSteam-powered bush tramway
Pokaka19301957Pokaka Timber CoSteam-powered bush tramway
HoropitoHoropito Sawmills LtdHighest railway in New Zealand, summit at 923.5 metres above sea level.
Longburn27 October 18867 December 1908 Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company Private line, purchased by NZR and incorporated into NIMT

Passenger services


From opening there have been regular passenger services between Wellington and Auckland. The daily "Express" left earlier in the evening, followed by the "Limited", which had fewer stops for passengers.

Between 1963 and 1968 daytime trains were called the Scenic Daylight. In 1968, a Drewery RM class articulated 88-seater railcar was refurbished and repainted in a distinctive blue-and-white scheme that led to it being nicknamed the Blue Streak. It initially operated an unsuccessful service between Hamilton and Auckland in early 1968, and was transferred to the Auckland-Wellington run on 23 September 1968. Note that all self-propelled passenger railcar classes in New Zealand are generically classed 'RM'.

A DC initially hauled what was then named the Overlander long-distance passenger train between Auckland and Wellington. Tolldc4093.jpg
A DC initially hauled what was then named the Overlander long-distance passenger train between Auckland and Wellington.

In 1971 NZR introduced the Silver Star, a luxury sleeper train. The service was not economically viable, and was withdrawn in 1979. Much more successful was the Silver Fern, a daytime railcar service, introduced in 1972 to replace the "Blue Streak". This service was withdrawn in 1991 and replaced by The Overlander.

In conjunction with the introduction of the carriage train Overlander service, the Silver Fern railcars were redeployed to start new services between Tauranga and Auckland – Kaimai Express, and Auckland and Rotorua – Geyserland Express, in 1991. In 2000 a new commuter service called the Waikato Connection was introduced between Hamilton and Auckland and ran in conjunction with the services to Tauranga and Rotorua until all three services were cancelled in 2001. In 2019 a new commuter service between Hamilton and Auckland was proposed, to be named through a public competition. The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has delayed progress of this proposal.

On 25 July 2006 Toll (Toll Holdings/Toll NZ) announced that the Overlander would cease at the end of September 2006, but on 28 September 2006 the train's continuation on a limited timetable was announced. [52] It ran daily during the summer months and thrice-weekly for the balance of the year.

In 2012 KiwiRail announced the Overlander would be replaced by the Northern Explorer, with modern New Zealand-built AK class carriages to provide a premium tourist train on a quicker timetable with fewer stops. It commenced on Monday 25 June 2012, and consists of one train running from Auckland-to-Wellington on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and Wellington-to-Auckland on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. It has fewer stops than the Overlander, stopping only at Papakura, Hamilton, Otorohanga, National Park, Ohakune, Palmerston North and Paraparaumu. Along with the other tourist rail services—the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine (both in the South Island), and the Interislander rail-ferry services across Cook Strait, the Northern Explorer is operated by The Great Journeys of New Zealand, a division of KiwiRail.

The Capital Connection commuter train operates between Palmerston North and Wellington.

Both KiwiRail and private enthusiast operators such as the Railway Enthusiasts Society, Mainline Steam and Steam Incorporated operate charter trains.

Auckland suburban

The northern terminus of the NIMT, Britomart Transport Centre. Britomart Outside Facade.jpg
The northern terminus of the NIMT, Britomart Transport Centre.

Suburban trains run on the NIMT at regular intervals as follows:

Eastern Line (Manukau to Britomart via Glen Innes) trains run on the NIMT between Puhinui and Britomart.

Southern Line (Papakura to Britomart via Otahuhu and Newmarket) trains run on the NIMT from Papakura to Westfield Junction. They then run on the North Auckland Line to Newmarket, and the Newmarket Line to the vicinity of Quay Park, where they rejoin the NIMT only for the short section (about 500 metres) into Britomart. A diesel train shuttle service runs on the NIMT between Pukekohe and Papakura.

Onehunga Line and Western Line trains use the NIMT only for the short section (about 500 metres) from the vicinity of Quay Park into Britomart.

Wellington suburban

The southern terminus of the North Island Main Trunk, Wellington railway station, and busiest station in the Wellington suburban network. Wellington Railway Station by night. Wellington, New Zealand.jpg
The southern terminus of the North Island Main Trunk, Wellington railway station, and busiest station in the Wellington suburban network.

Wellington's Metlink suburban network, operated by Transdev Wellington, includes the southern portion of the NIMT between Wellington and Waikanae as the Kapiti Line.


[53] [54]

StationDistance from WellingtonHeight above sea level (m)OpenedClosedNotes
Wellington 0 km2.4m1937OpenReplaced NZR's Lambton and WMR's Thorndon stations, which closed upon completion.
Lambton 0 km2.4m18841937Slightly north of current Wellington station.
Pipitea 0.75 km2.4m18741884Original Wellington station, on Pipitea Quay.
Thorndon 0.75 km2.4m18861937 Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, near of Pipitea station
Kaiwharawhara 2.44 km2.4m18742013Kaiwarra until 1951.
Takapu Road 11.78 km41m1937Open
Redwood 13.16 km26.5m1963Open
Tawa 13.58 km25.6m1937OpenTawa Flat (closed 1937) was 12 metres above Redwood station on adjacent hillside.
Linden 14.85 km17.7m1940Open
Kenepuru 16.16 km15m1940Open
Porirua 17.8 km3.6m1885Open
Paremata 21.7 km2.7m1885Open
Mana 23.04 km3m1949OpenDolly Varden until 1960.
Plimmerton 24.4 km5.8m1885Open
Pukerua Bay 30.1 km80m1885Open
Muri 31.15 km77m19522011
Paekakariki 38.84 km7m1886Open
Wainui 40.85 km9m18861900
Paraparaumu 48.28 km13.7m1886Open
Otaihanga 51.5 km21m18861902
Waikanae 55.31 km31m1886Open
Hadfield 60 km39m18861906
Te Horo 64.77 km19.2m18861965
Hautere 67.6 km15.2m18861900
Otaki 70.28 km14.6m1886Open
Manakau 79.3 km30.5m18861982Known as "Manukau" until 1905.
Ohau 84.95 km30.7m18861982
Levin 90.3 km36.5m1886OpenKnown as "Weraroa" 1886–1894.
Queen Street 91.37 km36.5m19561977
Levin91.5 km36.5m18861894
Koputaroa 99.23 km8.5m18861986Kereru until 1906.
Shannon 106.57 km12.2m1886Open
Makerua 111.84 km7.62m18861966
Tokomaru 118.35 km17.7m18851982crossing loop retained
Linton 124.19 km18.3m18851972
Longburn 129.69 km19.8m18731886
Awapuni 132 km24.7m18761965
Palmerston North 135.76 km30m18731965
Palmerston North 136.03 km28m1963Open
Terrace End 138.51 km38.1m18761964
Bunnythorpe 144.47 km55.2m18761985
Taonui 148.62 km61.9m18761963
Aorangi 150.66 km70.7m18761965
Feilding 152.98 km72.2m18762012except for groups of 10+ [55]
Makino Road 156.26 km103m18781960
Maewa 158.34 km107m18781962
Halcombe 165.76 km118m18781983
Kakariki 171.12 km70m18791982
Greatford 175.67 km104.5m18751983
Marton 180.25 km140.8m18782012except for groups of 10+ [55]
Cliff Road 183.58 km159.7m18881966
Overton 188.85 km155m18881958
Porewa 190.53 km165m18881982service siding retained
Rata 195.46 km194m18881975
Silverhope 199.31 km224m18881966
Hunterville 205.33 km267m18881986
Kaikarangi 210.18 km284m18881964
Mangaonoho 216.04 km257m18931966
Ohingaiti 222.14 km279m19021975
Mangaweka 231.04 km326.7m19021982
Utiku 243.69 km371m19041986
Ohotu 247.08 km395.6m19041959
Winiata 249.02 km415m19051972was siding
Taihape 251.85 km442m19042012except for groups of 10+ [55]
Mataroa 260.88 km530m19071986 photo of opening day
Ngaurukehu 270.25 km640m1908before 1993
Turangarere 274.5 km702m19121972
Hihitahi 278.2 km741m19081982Turangarere until 1912. "Hihitahi" is a sound-based local Maori word for "locomotive".
Waiouru 290.3 km813.8m19082005at 814m, highest railway station in New Zealand.
Tangiwai 299.49 km699.5m19091986Nearest station to the Tangiwai disaster, 24 December 1953.
Karioi 306.94 km630.3m19091984
Rangataua 312.79 km670m19091986
Ohakune 317.09 km618.4m1908openOhakune Junction in working timetables 1917–1968.
Horopito 326.91 km752m19091978Used as location for Smash Palace movie, 1981
Pokaka 332.57 km811m19091986
Erua 340.13 km742.5m19081986
National Park 346.83 km806.8m1908openWaimarino until 1949.
Raurimu 358.31 km589m19061978Pukerimu 1906-1908
Oio 366.25 km520m19081972Known to WW2 American servicemen as "Zero-10". Shortest station name in New Zealand, with Ava & Tui .
Owhango 371.89 km456.6m19081985first closed 1983, then briefly reopened
Kakahi 382 km266m1908closed
Piriaka 387.15 km230m19081987
Manunui 391.9 km190.5m19081986
Matapuna 394.8 km180m19081987
Taumarunui 397.75 km171m19032012except for groups of 10+ [55]
Taringamotu 402 km172.5m19031971
Okahukura 408.54178.3m1903closedOkahukura Junction in working timetables 1933–2010.
Te Koura 412.75 km182m19091975
Ongarue 420.68 km192.6m19031986
Waione Siding 426.86 km208m19211950
Waimiha 434.39 km232m19031983
Poro-O-Tarao 444.05 km339.2m19011979
Mangapehi 449.47 km285.3m19011984Known as "Mangapeehi" station 1901–1920.
Kopaki 454.35 km265m19011982Paratikana until 1920.
Puketutu 461.83 km206m18891977briefly open in 1889, then Mokau until 1912.
Waiteti 470.07 km135m1889closed
Te Kuiti 475.66 km54m18872012except for groups of 10+ [55]
Te Kumi 478.56 km49.6m18871968
Hangatiki 485.2 km39.9m18871982
Otorohanga 494.41 km37m18872012Reopened summer 2012
Kiokio 498.45 km35.4m18871973
Te Kawa 506.88 km47.8m18871982
Te Mawhai 513 km35.6m18871958Te Puhi until 1900
Te Awamutu 517.02 km50m18802005
Ngaroto 519.92 km56m18801954
Lake Road 522.26 km54m18801940
Ohaupo 527.16 km52m18801982
Rukuhia 533.59 km55m18801970
Hamilton 542.52 km37.5m1877OpenPreviously Hamilton Junction and Frankton Junction.
Te Rapa Racecourse 547.50 km33.2m19201980
Te Rapa 549.25 km33m18771970Not to be confused with Te Rapa Marshalling Yards (547 km from Wellington). To be reopened as Rotokauri in 2020 for Te Huia train.
Horotiu 553.65 km23.7m1877c1975Pukete until 23 June 1907. [56] Moved from 77 mi (124 km) to 76 mi (122 km) from Auckland in 1880 [57]
Ngaruawahia 559.16 km20.7m1877c1968Newcastle until 1878. [58]
Taupiri 566.56 km13.7m1877c1968
Huntly 573.87 km14m18771998To be reopened in 2020 for Te Huia train.
Kimihia 578.45 km14m18771939
Ohinewai 582.04 km10m1877c1968
Rangiriri 588.119m18771957
Te Kauwhata 591.62 km12.2m18771984
Whangamarino 598.34 km6.7m18771978
Amokura 604.53 km7m18771980
Mercer 609.16 km6.4m18771986
Pokeno 613.96 km24m1877c1968
Whangarata 617.90 km59.7m1877c1968a flag station [59]
Tuakau 621.41 km37m18751986rebuilt 1910 [60]
Buckland 625.6 km58m18751969
Pukekohe 628.86 km60.65m1875open
Paerata 633.29 km45.1m18751980Paerata Junction from 1917.
Runciman 638.37 km8m18751918
Drury 640 km9m18751980
Opaheke 642.9 km14.5m18751955Hunua 1877–1939.
Papakura 647.02 km19.2m1875Open
Tironui 648.95 km15.5m19041980
Takanini 650.64 km15.2m1875Open
Te Mahia 652.24 km14.9m1904Open
Manurewa 653.1 km17m1875Open
Homai 655.7 km30.78m1904Open
Wiri 657.6 km22.25m19132005
Puhinui 658.92 km19.8m1904Open
Papatoitoi 659.63 km18.9m18751904
Papatoetoe 660.42 km18m1904Open
Middlemore 662.28 km8.8m1904Open
Mangere 663.02 km10.66m19042011
Otahuhu 664.15 km9.44m1875Open
Westfield 665.5 km7.6m19042017
Sylvia Park 667.09 km7.6m1931OpenRelocated 1 km further north, 2007.
Panmure 669.93 km17.7m1931OpenRelocated 200m north, 2007.
Tamaki 671.28 km23.5m19301980
Glen Innes 672.64 km22m1930Open
Purewa 675.4 km18m19301955
Meadowbank 676.26 km12m1954Open
Orakei 677.44 km4.5m1930Open
The Strand 680.76 km2.7m1930OpenWas platform 7 of the 1930–2003 Auckland station. Terminus for the Northern Explorer long-distance service and steam and other excursion services.
Britomart Transport Centre 682 km4m below sea level2003OpenTerminus for Auckland suburban electric services only.

Record runs

Record runs from Auckland to Wellington were the 1960 Moohan Rocket (train) of 11 hours 34 minutes in 1960, and the Standard railcar time of 9 hours 26 minutes (running time 8 hours 42 minutes) in 1967. [61]

See also

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  2. 1 2 Dearnaley, Mathew (9 August 2008). "Steel backbone an economic lifeline". The New Zealand Herald . Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  3. 1 2 Wright, Danielle (28 June 2011). "Auckland to Wellington: It's the journey that counts". The New Zealand Herald . Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  4. "New Zealand Railway Lines in Prose and Verse – NZETC".
  5. photo of first train
  6. "Railway Contracts entered into between The Governor of New Zealand and Messrs. Brogden and Sons". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
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  • Bill Pierre (1981). North Island Main Trunk: An Illustrated History. A.H. & A.W. Reed. ISBN   0-589-01316-5.
  • Churchman, Geoffrey B; Hurst, Tony (2001) [1990, 1991]. The Railways of New Zealand: A Journey through History (Second ed.). Transpress New Zealand. ISBN   0-908876-20-3.
  • Leitch, David; Scott, Brian (1998). Exploring New Zealand's Ghost Railways. Grantham House. ISBN   1-86934-048-5.
  • Tom McGavin (Autumn 1989). "Recalling the Standard Railcars". New Zealand Railway Observer. New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society. 46 (1). ISSN   0028-8624.
  • Sinclair, Roy (1987). Rail: The Great New Zealand Adventure. Wellington: Grantham House. ISBN   1-86934-013-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)