Suburban Rail Service 100 Years Ago

Pat Lawlor, in his book “More Wellington Days” describes a steam train trip from Wellington to Plimmerton in 1906 that took nearly 2 hours. Nowadays, the electric units do that trip in 30 minutes, stopping at nine other stations en route.

Lawlor’s trip was on one of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company’s steam trains, on a private railway built between 1879 and 1886. David Leitch and Brian Scott in “Exploring New Zealand’s Ghost Railways” say that the tortuous line provided effective competition to New Zealand Railways, until the government acquired the track and rolling stock in 1908. At that time, the trains from Wellington followed a route north through Ngaio, Khandallah, Johnsonville and Tawa Flat. A more direct route via the Glenside tunnels was opened in 1935 and the section of railway between Tawa and Johnsonville became one of our many ghost railways.

But back to Lawlor’s recollections. He mentions that Earl McKenzie (known in rugby and press circles) related amusing stories of his time using the old railway. When McKenzie lived at Plimmerton, the driver got to know him and would give three impatient toots if he were not on the station; but even so would give another toot of welcome when Earl made a belated appearance.

“Once they had been to a party on the Sunday. When the train arrived next morning and there was no response to the warning toots, the driver hopped off the engine, ran over the line to where he knew Earl was living and shouted through the window, ‘If you don’t get a move on I’ll go without you.'”

Those were the days…… 🙂

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