Sunday, October 24, 2010

Steam Train, Day Thirteen: Palmerston North to Hamilton

This morning I made my way to the hotel and caught the tour bus with the rest of the group, where we drove into Feilding (about 20 km away) to catch our train. Ja 1275 had been coupled once again to the front of the train, making today a two-locie day, with J 1211 still coupled up as well. We had photo stops at Great Ford Bank and Kakariki, and a water stop at Rangitikei, where everyone clamoured to take photos of the two locomotives coupled directly to one another. I did a lot of climbing over fences and running up hills today, and my ankles are none too happy with me... I need my hiking boots!

"Friendly" Feilding...

... has a Hell! (Apparently it's a pizza chain.)

Even with the two locomotives coupled together, it is actually something of an optical illusion; the first train, Ja 1275, is doing all the work, while J 1211 is steamed up just enough to keep things lubricated and pull its own weight; the only reason it is still part of the train is it is coming with us up to Auckland because its firebox needs some work at the Mainline Steam depot on Cheshire Street (it is normally stationed at Wellington). Ah well, you can’t tell it is being a lightweight from the pictures.

Ja 1275 and J 1211 at Great Ford Bank

At the water stop in Rangitikei

After leaving Mangaweka we travelled over a series of breathtaking viaducts that were built as a result of the electrification of the Main Trunk railway in the 1980s; the decision was made to move the line for electrification from its previous grade at a higher elevation due to the large number of land slips previously experienced on the line. I have several pictures, but they don’t do the viaducts justice, as they were taken from within the train carriage and have some glare from the glass windows.

Travelling over one of the viaducts near Mangaweka

We stopped in Taihape to change the arrangement of the locies and tanker cars slightly, placing the water tanker car directly behind Ja 1275, and therefore extending the amount of time we could go in between water stops. It was a good thing we did this, because otherwise I suspect we would *still* be making our way to Hamilton, having to stop for water every 1 1/2 hours or so!

The town of Taihape

Our next photo stop was at Turangarere, or as I dubbed it, “Cabbage Hill”, as Alan and I and a few other keeners hopped a fence and ran up a pasture that contained the stalks of some sort of cabbage plant that had been severely pruned but was coming back in places.

The "Cabbage Hill" of Turangarere

Ja 1275 and J 1211 at Turangarere

The little black dots in the distance aren't trees; they're cows!

For the rest of the afternoon we were treated to breathtaking views of Mt. Ruapehu, the highest point on the North Island at 2 797m tall. This was especially nice as the first time we had travelled down this section of rail the mountain top was obscured by cloud cover; this time, we were able to get a shot with the mountain in the background while we were stopped at Waiouru (New Zealand Railway’s highest station, at 814 m above sea level) in the passing loop, waiting for the southbound Overlander to Wellington to race by.

Mt. Ruapehu as seen from Waiouru Station

An old station platform at Waiouru Station

After leaving Waiouru we crossed over the Tangiwai bridge, which spans the Whangaehu River. This was the site of New Zealand’s worst railway disaster: on Christmas Eve, 1953, the overnight express from Wellington to Auckland fell into the river, as the bridge had been damaged by a lahar (volcanic mudslide). The locie, five second-class passenger cars, and one first-class passenger car fell into the river, killing 151 of the 285 people aboard the train (including the engineer and fireman). The locie, Ka 949, has been played by Mainline Steam’s Ka 942 in several films and documentaries that have been made about the disaster; today, a memorial stands at the site of the accident, featuring the number plate of Ka 949. You can read about the disaster here.

On a more comforting note, since the disaster warning systems have been put into place, including warning indicators of high river levels upstream, and track circuits, which send out an alert when sections of track become broken. This system was effective in 2007 of alerting track control to the presence of another lahar in the Whangaehu river, and no one was injured.

Our final photo stop for the day was at the Hapuawhenua viaducts; the old viaduct is now converted into a walking trail, and provides a beautiful view of trains passing over the new viaduct. The problem: it was 300m away, down a drop, and down a windy trail. I frightened a few passengers on the train by dropping myself down and running to the older viaduct, taking some wonderful photos and a video of the train crossing the new viaduct, and then booking it back in time to catch the train again. Tiring, but definitely worth it!

Ja 1275 and J 1211 on the Hapuawhenua Viaduct

The old Hapuawhenua Viaduct;
it's now a walking trail.

On our way out of Ohakune we passed the obelisk marking the last spike driven on New Zealand Railway, then headed down the marvel of engineering that is the Raurimu Spiral, and stopped at Taumarunui for a crew change, a water filling, and a quick dinner nabbed at a Chinese food take-out restaurant (Amanda, you would not have been impressed, but we didn’t really care, we were hungry).

The bottom of the Raurimu Spiral as seen from the train

Wave 'Hello' to Al, second from the left!

An aerial shot of the Raurimu Spiral inside the
Taumarunui Railway Station

Ja 1275 at Taumarunui Railway Station

As we were preparing to leave Taumarunui, Alan spoke to the fireman about letting me have a cab ride in Ja 1275 (apparently I am too shy to do this myself). After okaying it with Mike, I was invited up into the cab, and we hadn’t gone more than 2 km when the fireman, Dave, turns to me and says, “Alright, your turn, hop in the seat!” So for 45 km, I fired Ja 1275 on the main line! It was fantastic. Kevin (the engineer) was quite easy to follow, and Dave hovered over my shoulder for the first little bit, instructing me on how to open the injector valves and what to look for out the side of the train when opening the exhaust. I even got to blow the whistle and call out green light signals to Kevin. When I got off to leave, Dave told me I had done “good as gold”, and that they would see me on Tuesday! Hmm, I have now had a cab ride in every train that has pulled us... I have certainly been extremely lucky.

Ja 1275 at dusk at Taumarunui

Firing Ja 1275

We arrived in Hamilton about an hour late (surprise), and Alan and I caught a taxi to our hostel, J’s Backpackers. After a slight mishap where I was given a key to the wrong room, we are now all settled, and I am typing this out in the upstairs landing in a chair because my roommates are trying to sleep and I doubt they want to listen to me click away on the keyboard. Tomorrow I am heading out to the west coast; we have a free day, and while the rest of the tour group is on a bus to Rotorua, Alan and Gary and Jean and I have rented a car and are heading in the opposite direction. Gary told me to bring my “togs” (bathing suit)... apparently there are hot springs! We shall see... Night!


No comments:

Post a Comment