Wairarapa Line

Infobox rail line
logo =
name = Wairarapa Line

image_width = 250px
caption = Woodside Railway Station on the Wairarapa Line
type = Secondary line
system =
status = Open for passengers and freight
locale = Wellington regions
Manawatu-Wanganui regions
start = Wellington Railway Station
end = Woodville Railway Station
stations = 27 current
routes =
ridership =
open = 1874-04-14 (to Lower Hutt) 1875-12-15 (to Silverstream) 1876-02-01 (to Upper Hutt) 1878-01-01 (to Kaitoke) 1878-10-12 (to Summit) 1878-10-16 (to Featherston) 1880-05-14 (to Woodside Junction) 1880-11-01 (to Masterton) 1886-06-14 (to Mauriceville) 1887-01-10 (to Mangamahoe) 1889-04-08 (to Eketahuna) 1896 (to Newman) 1897 (to Pahiatua) 1897-12-11 (to Woodville Junction) 1955-11-03 (Upper Hutt to Featherston deviation)
close = 1954-02-28 (Melling to Manor Park deviated) 1954-11-21 (Haywards to Silverstream deviated) 1955-10-30 (Upper Hutt to Featherston deviated)
owner = ONTRACK
operator = Tranz Metro, KiwiRail
character = Urban, provincial, rural
stock =
linelength = Currently km to mi|num=171.5|spell=Commonwealth|wiki=yes
Originally km to mi|num=186|spell=Commonwealth|wiki=yes
tracklength =
notrack = Two from Wellington to Trentham, one from Trentham to Woodville
gauge = RailGauge|42
el = 1500V DC Overhead
1953-09-14 (Wellington to Taita) 1953-11-23 (Petone to Lower Hutt) 1954-03-01 (Lower Hutt to Melling) 1955-07-24 (Taita to Upper Hutt)
speed =
elevation =

The Wairarapa Line is a secondary railway line in the south-east of the North Island of New Zealand, connecting the capital city of Wellington with the Wairarapa region. The line ends at Woodville, where it joins the Palmerston North - Gisborne Line. The Wairarapa Line was at one time the only New Zealand Government Railways route out of Wellington, as the present North Island Main Trunk route along the western side of the lower North Island was owned and operated by the private Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company from its completion in 1886 until 1908. Accordingly, the Wairarapa Line was a crucial part of the national rail network for some years after its linking to other parts of the government system in 1897. Until 1955, the line included the famous Rimutaka Incline, which used the Fell mountain railway system. Due to considerable historical and present operational differences, the line is sometimes considered to be two routes linked by the Rimutaka Tunnel, which replaced the Incline: the Hutt Valley Line on the western side of the Rimutaka Range, ending at Upper Hutt, and the remainder of the Wairarapa Line on the eastern side of the Rimutakas.

Two branch lines diverge from the Wairarapa Line: the Melling Branch, which was part of the main line until a deviation was opened in 1954, and the Gracefield Branch to the Hutt Workshops. Two now-closed branch lines once diverged: the Greytown Branch, which closed in 1953, and the Hutt Park Railway, which ceased serving its intended purpose in 1906 but survived in truncated form as an industrial siding until 1982.


Proposals for railed transportation out of Wellington were made as early as the start of the 1850s, barely a decade after European settlement of the area began. In 1853 and 1857, investigation of horse-hauled tramways was undertaken, but no action was taken. Robert Stokes, a member of the provincial government, proposed a railway over the Rimutakas in 1858 and finally succeeded in gaining government interest in 1863. The government established a committee to investigate proposals, and on 2 July 1866, the Wellington, Hutt Valley, And Wairarapa Railway Ordinance was passed. It authorised a railway employing either RailGauge|42 narrow gauge or 4'8.5" standard gauge to carry 200 tonnes at speeds of 24 km/h, but construction did not commence as sufficient funds were not available in the fledging New Zealand colony, nor were they successfully raised in England.

In 1870, Julius Vogel included a Wellington-Wairarapa railway in his Great Public Works policy and visited London to arrange a loan to finance the policy. On this trip, he was approached by several contracting firms and a contract that included the first section of the Wairarapa Line was awarded to Brogden & Sons. The construction of the line can be considered in three stages: the Hutt Valley section, the route over the Rimutakas, and the line through the Wairarapa via Masterton to Woodville.

Hutt Valley section

On 20 August 1872, construction of the Wairarapa Line began with the turning of the first sod at Pipitea Point, the site of Wellington's first railway station. Construction was delayed due to the difficulties associated with building a railway along the narrow, rocky shoreline of Wellington Harbour, and the section to Lower Hutt was not opened until 14 April 1874. Further difficulties were encountered in building the rest of the route up the Hutt Valley along the Hutt River's western bank, including the need to divert the river and reinforce its bank in places. On 1 February 1876, the line was opened to Upper Hutt.

Rimutaka section

The Rimutaka Range posed a severe difficulty to those involved in planning and constructing the Wairarapa Line. On 1 January 1878, the Hutt line was opened to Kaitoke at the western foot of the range, and a steep but manageable route with a grade of 1 in 39-40 was found from Kaitoke up the Pakuratahi River valley to what became the site of Summit station, 348 metres above sea level. However, from Summit down the eastern slope to Cross Creek near Featherston, a gradient of 1 in 14-16 was required. This was far too steep for regular steam locomotives to handle, and accordingly the Fell mountain railway system was employed. This used a centre rail to which specially-designed locomotives and brake vans clung, allowing them to climb the steep slope upwards or control the descent. Despite the terrain, construction of this unique route was completed swiftly, with the railway opened to Featherston on 12 October 1878.

South Wairarapa section

Construction from Featherston to Masterton across the Wairarapa plains north of Lake Wairarapa was relatively easy. The decision was taken to bypass Greytown and build the line through Woodside to bridge the Waiohine River at a point far enough up the river to be considered safe; a line through Greytown would have required a bridge at a point considered unsafe by the surveyors. The Greytown Branch was constructed from Woodside, and Greytown was briefly the effective terminus of the Wairarapa Line from the opening of the branch on 14 May 1880 until the bridging of the Waiohine a month later. Later in 1880, the line was opened all the way through to Masterton.

North Wairarapa section

The northern Wairarapa was more rugged and isolated, and construction was slower and more difficult. Mauriceville, 20 km north of Masterton, was reached on 14 June 1886, followed by the next 6 km to Mangamahoe on 10 January 1887. The 10 km between Mangamahoe and Eketahuna included the 150 m long Wiwaka tunnel, the only tunnel between the Rimmutaka Incline and Woodville, and the section was opened on 8 April 1889. Construction of the 4 km section to Newman was inexplicably slow, not completed until 1896. Pahiatua was reached in May 1897, including the Mangatainoka River bridge, the longest bridge on the line at 162 m. Mangatainoka is 24 km from the bridge and the railway reached it in August 1897, and the line was finally opened to Woodville and a junction with the Palmerston North - Gisborne Line on 11 December 1897.


Several upgrades and alterations to the Wairarapa Line have been made since it was built, but only two have dramatically altered its route; Hutt and Rimutaka tunnel deviations.

Hutt deviation

In 1925, construction began on what was then known as the Hutt Valley Branch, leaving the main line just north of Petone station and running east to Waterloo. This line was opened on 26 May 1927. After World War II, the Hutt Valley experienced a population boom and the railway was extended to serve the fast-growing new suburbs. In 1954 it re-joined the western line south of Manor Park and superseded the old route. On 1 March 1954, the former Hutt Valley Branch became part of the Wairarapa Line and the western route was truncated into the Melling Branch from Petone.

Silversteam deviation

Deviation included a new bridge across the Hutt River, section of the old line now used by Silver Stream Railway

Rimutaka deviation

The Rimutaka Incline was difficult, costly, and time-consuming to operate, but as the Wairarapa Line had become a secondary route since the acquisition of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway in 1908, its replacement was not a priority. Various alternate systems and routes were debated, with a tunnel chosen in 1936. However, the economic conditions left from the Great Depression followed by the impact of World War II meant that work on the tunnel did not start until 1948. The Incline and the line up the western side of the Rimutakas were formally closed on 29 October 1955 and the tunnel opened on 3 November 1955.


Passenger services

When the full line opened in 1897, passenger services from the Hutt Valley to Wellington were augmented by NZR's first express from Wellington, the Napier Express (the WMR had operated the Wellington-Longburn portion of the New Plymouth Express). After the acquisition of the WMR, the Napier Express was re-routed to the quicker west coast route in early 1909 and the Wairarapa Mail was introduced to provide a regular service through the Wairarapa to Woodville. In 1936, RM class Wairarapa railcars were introduced; these were designed to operate at speed over the Rimutaka Incline and provided a much quicker service to Wellington and local Wairarapa services. They originally augmented the Wairarapa Mail but replaced it in 1948. Carriage trains operated only at peak times of the year when the railcar capacity was exceeded; in 1955, the Incline's closure meant the Wairarapa railcars were withdrawn and 88 seater railcars were introduced, boosting capacity at off-peak times. One Wairarapa railcar has survived and is currently under restoration by the Pahiatua Railcar Society. Mixed trains also operated on the Wairarapa Line until the 1950s.

Also in the 1950s, the Hutt Valley line was electrified using the 1500 V DC system already operating to Johnsonville and Paekakariki. The electrification was opened to Taita on 12 October 1953 and Upper Hutt on 24 July 1955, allowing for a more intensive suburban commuter service to Wellington. Originally operated by DM/D class electric multiple units and carriage trains hauled by ED EW electric locomotives, many of the DM/D units were phased out upon the introduction of the EM/ET class units in the early 1980s.

Proposals have been made to extend the electrification into the Wairarapa and the Rimutaka Tunnel was constructed to allow wires to be installed, but no substantial moves have been made. The railcar services survived until 1977, and carriage trains were re-instated progressively from early 1964. Until 1963, a railcar service operated on Friday evenings between Masterton and Woodville, and in December that year the decision was taken to replace the morning railcar to Wellington with a carriage train as over 200 passengers wished to use the railcar service that had a capacity of just 176. The final railcar service was replaced by carriage trains in December 1977; some of the carriage trains from this point until the mid-1980s were made up of de-motorised former 88-seater railcars known as "grassgrubs" in New Zealand railfan jargon. Passenger services through the lowly populated northern Wairarapa survived due to the poor roads in the area, but as they were improved, demand for the trains declined. The Masterton – Palmerston North passenger services officially ceased operation from Monday, 1 August 1988 [cite book |last=Bromby |first=Robin |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor=Olphert, Lorraine |others= |title=Rails That Built A Nation: An Encyclopedia of New Zealand Railways |origdate= |origyear= |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |volume= |date= |year=2003 |month= |publisher=Grantham House Publishing |location=Wellington |language= |isbn=1 86934 080 9 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages=40 |chapter=Main Lines – North Island |chapterurl= |quote=Passenger services on the 80.5 km Masterton–Woodville section ended from 1 August 1988, ... ] with the last such service running on Friday, 29 July [cite book |last=Churchman |first=Geoffrey B. |authorlink= |coauthors=Hurst, Tony |editor= |others= |title=The Railways of New Zealand: A journey through history |origdate= |origyear=1990 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition=Second edition |series= |volume= |date= |year=2001 |month= |publisher=Transpress New Zealand |location=Wellington |language= |isbn=0-908876-20-3 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages=160 |chapter=Wellington |chapterurl= |quote=Patronage of the through passenger trains north of Masterton to Palmerston North dwindled during the 1980s and the last one ran on 29 July 1988. ] . In the 1990s, the service between Masterton and Wellington was rebranded as the Wairarapa Connection and presently operates five times each way weekdays (with a sixth service in the evening on Fridays), and twice each way on Saturdays and Sundays.

Freight services

Until the acquisition of the WMR in December 1908, all NZR freight out of Wellington was carried on the Wairarapa Line. As soon as the western route became available, all freight that could be diverted off the Wairarapa Line was diverted, due to the difficulties created by the Rimutaka Incline. This meant that even some traffic from the northern Wairarapa was sent through the Manawatu Gorge and down the west coast to Wellington. The opening of the Rimutaka Tunnel made the line more desirable for through freight traffic, but as localised freight gave way to containerised inter-city freight in the 1980s, the significance of the Wairarapa Line declined, especially on the section north of Masterton. Presently, one freight train operates overnight during the week from Napier to Wellington, with a return train during the day from Tuesday to Friday. A second freight operates early in the morning every weekday from Wellington to Masterton, returning to Wellington in the late evening. Two freight trains operate from Palmerston North to Pahiatua and return on weekdays, the first in the early hours of the morning and the second in the afternoon. No freights currently operate regularly at the weekend.


In the late nineteenth century, the first members of the K class to operate in the North Island were transferred from the South Island to work the Napier Express. They were augmented by members of the M and N classes. In the twentieth century, typical locomotives included members of the A and AB class. The Rimutaka Incline was almost always operated by the six members of the H class built specifically for it. In 1906 E 66 was built for the Incline but did not prove as successful as the six H locomotives and was retired in 1917.

When the Rimutaka Tunnel opened in November 1955, the Wairarapa Line became the first in New Zealand to be fully dieselised as steam locomotives were unable to pass through the tunnel. Initially, DE and DG class diesels were employed, and they were soon joined by the DA class. Until 1967, the Wairarapa Line was the only way DA class locomotives could access Wellington due to tunnels south of Paekakariki being too small. In the 1980s, the DG class had been fully withdrawn and the DA class in the process of withdrawal or conversion to the DC class; accordingly motive power on the Wairarapa Line changed. DBR, DC, DF (now upgraded to DFT), and occasionally DX class locomotives were introduced and continue to operate on the line today.


All three of the main forms of New Zealand Railway Signalling is used on this line; "Double Line Automatic (DLA)", "Centralised Traffic Control (CTC)" and "Track Warrant Control (TWC)".

The Wairarapa Line hosts a number of lasts for railway signalling in New Zealand
* Semaphore Signal on an operational line
* Line controlled by "Tyers Electric Train Tablet"
* Line with CTC controlled by a Signalman


Seven railway preservation organisations are based on or close by the Wairarapa Line.

Rimutaka Incline Railway Heritage Trust

The Rimutaka Incline Railway Heritage Trust is based at Maymorn Railway Station and its ultimate goal is to return the Rimutaka Incline to full operational condition as a tourist attraction.

Woodside Station Preservation Society

The Woodside Station Preservation Society focuses its activities on the Woodside Railway Station Building.

Wairarapa Railway Restoration Society

The Wairarapa Railway Restoration Society focuses its activities on the Historic Carterton Railway Station complex, which includes a museum inside Carterton's historic station building, rolling stock in the station yard, and other heritage items.

Pahiatua Railcar Society

The Pahiatua Railcar Society is at Pahiatua railway station, which is no longer served by passenger trains but maintained by the society. It has the only surviving Wairarapa and 88-seater railcars and is restoring them to operational condition; it also has an operational Standard railcar.

Silver Stream Railway

The Silver Stream Railway is a heritage railway in Silversteam, Wellington.It regularly operates preserved New Zealand Railways Department locomotives along a restored section of the Hutt Valley Line (part of the Wairarapa Line) before a deviation was built in 1954.

Fell Engine Museum

Is located a short walk away from the line in Featherston. The Fell Engine Museum preserves H 199, the sole Fell steam locomotive left in the world. Although it is theoretically operational, it is maintained as a static exhibit within the museum.The museum also has a Fell brake van and other railway-related items of historical significance.

New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society

Has a workshop based at the northern end of the Silver Stream Railway where they are restoring two Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company carriages, they also have an Archive beside Ava Railway Station in Lower Hutt near Petone.



Wellington Section

* Wellington - Opened 1937
* Lambton - Closed (1880 - 1937)
* Pipitea Point - Wellingtons First Railway Station, Closed
* Kaiwharawhara
* Ngauranga

Hutt Valley Section

* Petone
* Western Hutt (Lower Hutt)
* Melling
* Belmont - Closed
* Andrews - Closed
* Ava
* Woburn
* Waterloo Interchange Hutt Central
* Epuni
* Naenae
* Wingate
* Taita
* Pomare
* Manor Park (Haywards)
* Silversteam
* Heretaunga
* Trentham
* Wallaceville
* Upper Hutt

Rimutaka Section

* Mangaroa - Closed 30th October 1955
* Maymorn (Mangaroa)
* Kaitoke (Pakuratahi, Kaitoki) - Closed 30th October 1955
* Summit - Closed 30th October 1955
* Cross Creek (Cross's Creek) - Closed 30th October 1955
* Pigeon Bush - Closed 30th October 1955
* Rimutaka Loop - Closed

outh Wairarapa Section

* Featherston
* Fernside - Closed completely 1960s or 1970s?
* Woodside
* Matarawa
* Dalefield - Closed
* Carterton - Staff withdrawn 1989
* Clareville - Closed July 1970
* Middleton - Closed October 1889
* Waingawa - Goods only, closed to passengers
* Solway (Kurupuni, Purakau)
* Renall Street - Rebuilt 2007
* Masterton

North Wairarapa Section

Section closed to Passengers 1st August 1988
* Opaki - Closed
* Kopuaranga - Closed
* Mauriceville - Closed
* Mangamahoe - Closed
* Eketahuna - Closed
* Newman - Closed
* Hukanui - Closed
* Mangamaire (Tataekara) - Closed
* Konini - Closed
* Pahiatua
* Mangatainoka
* Ngawapurua - Closed
* Woodville


Nine tunnels have been constructed on the various routes of the Wairarapa Line. Of these, only three are still in use for railway purposes, and only the Wiwaka tunnel in northern Wairarapa has remained unaffected by deviations since the line opened.

Five of these tunnels are now part of the Rimutaka Incline Rail Trail; Mangaroa, Pakuratahi, Summit, Siberia, and Prices. The Rimutaka Incline Railway project hopes to incorporate these tunnels into its restored railway line across the Rimutaka Ranges.

Original route

From Wellington to Woodville:
* Cruickshanks Tunnel
* Mangaroa Tunnel
* Pakuratahi Tunnel
* Summit Tunnel
* Siberia Tunnel
* Prices Tunnel
* Wiwaka Tunnel

Current route

From Wellington to Woodville:
* Maoribank Tunnel
* Rimutaka Tunnel
* Wiwaka Tunnel

ee also

* Wairarapa Connection
* Hutt Valley Line
* Palmerston North - Gisborne Line
* Te Aro Extension

External links

* [http://www.valleysignals.org.nz Valley Signals]


* Churchman, Geoffrey and Tony Hurst. "Railways of New Zealand: A Journey Through History". Auckland: HarperCollins, 1991, pp. 151-162.
* Leitch, David and Brian Scott. "Exploring New Zealand's Ghost Railways", 2nd ed. Wellington: Grantham House, 1998, pp. 39-43.
* Mahoney, J. D. "Kings of the Iron Road". Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1982, pp. 81-88.
* "New Zealand Railway and Tramway Atlas", 4th ed Quail Map Company, 1993
* W.N. Cameron "A Line Of Railway", NZR&LS Wellington 1976


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