THE NZR DAYS
The history of the Waiuku branch line follows that of many of New Zealand’s branch lines with deputations, petitions, plans and counter plans and very little construction. Talk of the branch line started shortly after the completion of the Penrose to Mercer section of the Main Trunk in 1875 as settlers in the area realised the prosperity that a railway would bring. The settlers supported the railway proposal with offers of land and undertakings to make up any initial deficiency in working expenses, but the depression of the late 1870s and early 1880s put paid to any prospect of early construction of the branch. Transport at this time was hampered by wet and often impossible clay roads in the area. A steamer service from Waiuku across the Manukau harbour to Onehunga did little to alleviate the need for an all weather connection with Auckland and its markets. The settlers considered a railway the only feasible solution.
The Railway Commission of 1880 recommended that the branch should be constructed as soon as finance became available. The only progress made until the early 1900s was one rather cursory survey of a possible route plus volumes of petitions, pressure groups and deputations. In 1906 the Railway League of Waiuku was set up, and who stepped up the steady barrage of agitation for the railway. This had little effect until 1912 when the Massey government was elected to office. The proposed Waiuku branch was in the new Premier’s constituency and authorisation for work to begin was obtained in the year of his election. The Premier turned the first sod at Waiuku in February 1914, with 10,000 pounds ($20,000) been included in the 1913 estimates to allow work to begin on the branch. The outbreak of the First World War caused labour shortages, and obtaining materials was difficult, which caused the locals concern as to their chances of ever having a railway.
The Paerata to Patumahoe section was completed in 1917 but post war troubles delayed the completion of the branch to Waiuku. Opening this first section of the line, Premier, Mr W.F. Massey remarked “I will not be very surprised if it becomes necessary in the not very distant future to run suburban trains right into Waiuku”. He also went on to predict that in the future the line would be one of the most profitable in the Dominion.
On 12 May 1922, the final portion of the Waiuku branch line was opened for traffic. When the Patumahoe to Waiuku section of the line was opened, a special train ran from Auckland to mark the opening. So many people travelled on the train that extra carriages had to be added at Otahuhu and Paerata. Leaving Paerata the train consisted of sixteen carriages hauled by two Ww class locomotives, and at Waiuku the some 600 passengers listened to numerous speeches and cheered Mr Massey as he drove the train through the opening ribbon at Waiuku station.
The line itself was laid with 55lb steel rail laid on wooden sleepers and metal ballast. The only signalling was at Paerata where, in the mid 1920’s power signalling and interlocking was installed. A metallic circuit telephone line was completed between Paerata and Waiuku in 1925/26. Cattle and sheep yards were built at a number of stations along the line together with goods sheds at the more important ones. Each station was provided with a lean-to type building while the terminus, Waiuku, was give a more substantial affair with platform, awnings and offices for staff. Sidings and loops were short in keeping with normal branch line practice.
Initialy two return goods trains ran daily with passenger cars attached. In 1929/30 the timetables were adjusted to give Waiuku residents a better service to Auckland in an endeavour to compete with competion from motor bus services. With the onset of the depression in 1929/31 the train service was considerably reduced together with a reduction in staff numbers. This continued until December 6, 1936, when an improving economy allowed an improved service.
In general, the services connected at Paerata more or less with the main line passenger trains for points north and south. Post World War 2 road passenger transport in the form of private cars and buses killed what was left of the meagre passenger count and from 1948 passenger accommodation on trains was withdrawn.
Until 1954 at least, the chief outward traffic on the branch line was livestock. Even as late as 1953, special Sunday livestock special were run from Waiuku. Inward goods consisted of coal for the Waiuku dairy factory at Fernleigh and general farm merchandise, machinery and assorted goods for the farming community along the line.
The line was operated until about 1950 by tank locomotives of the WF, WG & WW classes that were stationed at the one-road locomotive depot at Waiuku until it was closed about 1950/51. AB, J, JB and JA locomotives ran the goods trains until 1965 when the new General Motors Db diesel-electrics arrived. On occasions English Electric Df diesel-electrics would replace steam.
From the beginning the branch line never lived up to its expectations, and virtually every year of the line’s operation, reported a loss. The line however helped to develop the Waiuku district, but the threat of closure always hung over the branch. The Royal Commission of 1952 recommended that the line be closed, and as was the case with most of New Zealand’s branch lines, nobody wanted to see it go, but most found road transport to be more convenient.
Eventually it was in 1967, with the country’s economy, that the axe fell on the branch line, along with so many other uneconomic branch lines and railway services at that time. The last revenue train ran on December 31, 1967. This last train which was suitably adorned and packed with sightseers from Auckland was run by The Railway Enthusiasts Society to Waiuku to recognise the closure. The Waiuku Branch was officially closed from 1968.
But the future was not altogether gloomy. In the late 1960’s, New Zealand Steel Co. established iron, steel and galvanising plants at Mission Bush in the rural Waiuku area. To serve this complex the branch line from Paerata to Glenbrook was completely rebuilt to main line standards being extensively upgraded with 91lb rail and a new section of railway from Glenbrook station to Mission Bush was constructed in 1967/1968 from Glenbrook Station to the new mill. Today the heaviest locomotives hauling steel and coal trains operate to the steel mill. The line from Paerata to Mission Bush is now known as the Mission Bush branch.
The resurrection of much of the remaining portion of the old portion of the old Waiuku branch – initially from Glenbrook to Cornwall Road, then to Fernleigh, and latterly to Victoria Avenue – forms the basis of what has become the Glenbrook Vintage Railway.