Otago Central Railway

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Otago Central Railway
A DE class locomotive on the Otago Central Railway
Status Open to Middlemarch, passenger, closed beyond Middlemarch
Locale Otago, New Zealand
Termini Wingatui
Stations 3
Opened 1921 (to Cromwell)
Closed 1980 (Clyde - Cromwell)
1990 (Middlemarch - Clyde)
Owner KiwiRail (first 4km)
Dunedin Railways
Operator(s) Dunedin Railways
Line length 64 km (originally 236 km)
No. of tracks 1
Track gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Minimum radius 140 metres (7 chains)
Operating speed 50 km/h
Highest elevation 28 m to 254 m
Maximum incline 1 in 50
Otago Central Railway
Main South Line to Dunedin
0.0 Wingatui
Main South Line to Invercargill
4.0 Limit of KiwiRail running
Mount Allan
Christmas Creek
Deep Stream
Flat Stream
The Reefs
45.0 Pukerangi
Matarae Siding
64.0 Middlemarch
Rock and Pillar
Hyde Township
123.5 Ranfurly
Ida Valley
Chatto Creek
207.0 Alexandra
214.0 Clyde (new)
236.0 Cromwell

The Otago Central Railway or Otago Central Branch Railway (OCB), now often referred to as the Taieri Gorge Railway, was a secondary railway line in Central Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand.


Construction of the OCB began in 1877 and the 27-km section to Hindon was opened in 1889. The line was completed to Middlemarch two years later. The 26 km section of line from Middlemarch to Hyde then opened in 1894. This was followed by the 16 km section from Hyde to Kokonga which opened in 1897. The section to Ranfurly opened in December 1898. The Ranfurly to Wedderburn section opened in 1900 followed by the Wedderburn to Ida Valley section which opened in 1901. The line was opened to Omakau in 1904. Omakau-Chatto Creek opened in July 1906 followed by the line reaching Alexandra in December 1906. The line was opened to Clyde in April 1907. There then followed a delay until the section through the Cromwell Gorge was resumed in 1914. The line reached Cromwell, 236 km, in 1921. The Clyde - Cromwell section (20 km) was closed in 1980 due to construction of the Clyde Dam, a hydro-electric power station in the Cromwell Gorge on the Clutha River. The dam flooded the gorge, through which the line ran, to form Lake Dunstan.


The branch begins at Wingatui on the Main South Line south of Dunedin. After the branch line closed, the first four kilometres were retained in the national railway network as a service line to local industries. The Taieri Gorge Railway officially begins at the 4 km peg and shortly thereafter passes around a spectacular horseshoe curve at the foot of the Salisbury bank and begins a climb at 1 in 50 to the summit at 145 m, where it passes through the 437 metres (1,434 ft) long Salisbury Tunnel, the longest on the line. After a second tunnel, the railway runs along Mullocky Gully, crossing it over the 197 metres (646 ft) long Wingatui Viaduct, before joining the Taieri Gorge. Wingatui Viaduct has been the largest wrought iron structure in New Zealand since it was built in 1887 and is the longest and tallest (47 m) bridge on the line.[1] The railway remains in the Taieri Gorge for 25 km, crossing 16 major bridges with a total length of 1020m and passing through 10 tunnels with a total length of 1491m.

Further notable viaducts along the way are Christmas Creek Viaduct, one of the curved viaducts, Deep Stream Viaduct, and Flat Stream Viaduct, also curved. Just before Hindon station, the railway tracks share a combined road-rail bridge with Hindon Road, a local backroad. After Flat Stream Viaduct, the aptly named "The Notches" section also presented an engineering challenge, accomplished via three short bridges and cuttings through several rocky outcrops. In the second half of the gorge section the line climbs steadily to exit the gorge at Pukerangi (45 km, 254 m altitude) and then descends into the Strath Taieri plateau before reaching Middlemarch at 64 km.

On the remaining line between Wingatui and Middlemarch, passing loops exist at North Taieri and Parera, service sidings at Mt Allen, and both passing loops and sidings at Hindon, Pukerangi and Middlemarch.

Function of the line

Until the early 1960s the role of the railway remained largely unchanged. Passenger traffic declined after the Second World War as private car usage increased but goods traffic was largely unaffected. The types of goods carried reflected the evolving patterns of farming and changing market demands. When horses were used for Dunedin transport they consumed many wagon loads of oats and chaff every week. Much of this came from Central Otago to be handled at a particular siding in the Dunedin railway yards which was still called the "Chaff Siding" long after that traffic had disappeared. Rabbit carcasses were once big business for the railway with wagon loads consigned to the Burnside freezing works attached to most trains. Wool carried first in the returning wagons of the PWD construction trains was still a major traffic in the 1960s. Most of the wool stores were ranged along Dunedin's Cumberland Street, adjacent to the railyards; sidings crossed the street and allowed the wagons to be run into the stores for unloading under cover from the weather. With the building of new wool stores on the foreshore, all but two of these sidings had been removed by 1984.

Ten years later there were no railway yards adjacent to Cumberland Street. The number of sheep carried out of Central Otago exploded as the rabbit population declined. The number of sheep railed from Omakau increased from 9817 head in 1909 to 119 736 in 1962. The carriage of sheep and fat lambs to the Burnside saleyards or the freezing works at Burnside, Pukeuri, Finegand and Pareora was the biggest task of the railway in 1960. More recently there was timber from the West Coast which was loaded onto rail at Cromwell from 1962 and from the Naseby State Forest at Wedderburn from 1974. Also there were wagon loads from lignite coal dispatched from Wedderburn to customers in Otago. Wagon loads of pottery clay from Hyde were dispatched to Christchurch and the North Island via the Picton-Wellington rail ferries.

Inwards traffic included Lime, fertiliser, wool bales, fencing materials, drain pipes, seeds and goods for local general stores. Also there were tankers of petrol delivered to oil company depots at Alexandra and Cromwell, oil for the orchardist's smudge pots, empty sheep wagons, bread, milk, parcels and mail. Restrictions on the carriage of livestock were removed in 1961 leaving the railways to compete with road hauliers. For two or three years the railway retained most of the traffic partly because the transport firms were slow to acquire the extra equipment needed for the longer hauls and partly because the freezing works were designed to receive stock from rail. The upgrading of the Pigroot made road haulage from the Maniototo to the Pukeuri works very competitive and by 1969 only 178,654 sheep left Central by rail. This fell to 30,100 sheep by 1974 and none by 1977.

From July 1977 the distance which trucks could carry freight without needing a permit was raised to 150 km. This effect was most evident on outward tonnage on the OCB which fell from 43,609 tonnes to 26,829 tonnes per year. Inward tonnages showed less decline (from 88,600 to 71,730 tonnes per year)due to the Clyde Dam construction. The volume of stone fruit carried changed little through the 1970s however due to the efforts of the railways to maintain a cheap and efficient service.

From the 1963-64 season the loading of fruit had been concentrated at Alexandra, Clyde and Cromwell. This enabled shrink wrapping of stacks of cases onto pallets which was introduced in 1967. Wagons could then be loaded by forklift and fruit reached its destination in better condition after less handling. Some 4000 tonnes of fruit would be railed from Central during a good season. When a new loading shelter was opened in Alexandra in January in 1976 all fruit from the Alexandra-Clyde district was brought there for dispatch. When Cromwell station closed in 1980 Alexandra became the sole loading point.

Trucking to Alexandra was an omen for the railways and no fruit was carried by rail after January 1983. The new Clyde railhead opened in 1980 for the construction of the Clyde Dam was reduced to handling wagon lot goods only from March 1984 with smaller consignments going to Alexandra. The stationmaster was transferred away from Clyde together with one of two guards and a locomotive engineer. The total remaining staff remaining on the line comprised one part-time employee at Middlemarch, two full-time staff at Ranfurly, five at Alexandra and five at Clyde (two traffic, three locomotive). Services were slashed to a daily Monday-Friday train from Dunedin to Clyde and return with trains crossing at Waipiata. As the dam neared completion traffic dwindled and trains were further slashed to thrice weekly and staff numbers were reduced. Only Alexandra and Clyde stations were staffed and only seven employees performed track maintenance. The last locomotive crew moved away and a Dunedin-based crew ran a daylight service to Clyde on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, stayed overnight and returned the next day. With trains frequently being cancelled for lack of tonnage the line beyond Middlemarch was closed on 30 April 1990.

Motive power

Steam era

Initially the line was worked by Public Works Department F class tank engines. The Railways Department used R class locomotives until 1895 when 2-8-0 T class tender engines were introduced. They were still in service in 1905. O and P class locomotives were regularly used as were 2-6-2 V class engines. The O class engines were transferred to the North Island between 1898 and 1902. The P class engines were still working the line as late as 1915. The ten UB class locomotives were all allocated to Dunedin and were the mainstay of the line from the 1900s to the 1930s and B and BA class engines were used occasionally. Q class engines worked the line in the 1940s. AB class locomotives were introduced in 1936.

Diesel era

The OCB was one of the first sections of the NZR system to be fully dieselised. The last regular steam-hauled train left Cromwell on 23 February 1968. Two steam excursion trains later conveyed photographers along parts of the line: AB 777 to Ranfurly on 27 October 1968 and AB 693 to Middlemarch on 5 April 1969.

DH class diesel-electric locomotives were introduced on the line in February 1957 running as far as Clyde. They were reclassed as DG in 1968 and were withdrawn by 1983. The DH and DG engines were too heavy to run on the lighter rails of the Cromwell Gorge but the much lighter DJ class diesel locomotives (with 10.3 tonne axle loading) were allowed to run through to Cromwell. With the introduction of these locomotives on 26 February 1968 the remaining AB class steam engines were withdrawn. DI class diesels worked the line from 1978 to 1984 but being fewer in number were seen less often than the DJs, which were the mainstay of the line until its closure in 1990.

Passenger services and railcars

Passenger services were introduced in 1900 and replaced with mixed trains in 1917, with passenger trains only running during holiday periods. Passenger trains were reinstated in 1936. One of these trains was involved in the Hyde rail accident in 1943. The passenger trains were again replaced with mixed trains in 1951, in turn replaced with Vulcan Railcars in 1956. The railcar run was cut back to Alexandra in May 1958 and railcars ceased running on 25 April 1976.


The line remained open for some time longer than most other branch lines in the South Island, and was used to move construction materials for the Clyde Dam project. With the completion of the dam in 1990, there was little other traffic for the line and the line was closed by the New Zealand Railways Corporation on 30 April 1990. The demolition of the line from Clyde back to Middlemarch commenced on 8 December 1990 and was completed on 5 December 1991. Part of the section closest to Dunedin became a tourist railway, the Taieri Gorge Railway. The remainder of the line was lifted and the trackbed developed into the Otago Central Rail Trail.


File:Wedderburn Shed2.JPG
Goods shed at Wedderburn, photographed in 2004 after the line's conversion to a rail trail.
  • Wingatui (0 km)
  • Salisbury (10.5 km) Closed March 1978
  • Taioma (12 km) Closed November 1967
  • Parera (16 km) Closed August 1967
  • Mount Allan (21 km)
  • Christmas Creek (25 km) Closed July 1970
  • Hindon (27 km)
  • Deep Stream (31 km) Closed September 1954
  • Flat Stream (36 km) Opened February 1942, closed September 1954
  • The Reefs (42 km)
  • Pukerangi (45 km)
  • Matarae (52 km) Closed March 1985
  • Matarae Siding (54 km) Closed December 1960
  • Sutton (57 km) Closed November 1986
  • Middlemarch (64 km)
  • Ngapuna (70 km) Closed December 1979
  • Rock and Pillar (77 km) Closed December 1981
  • Hyde (90 km)
  • Hyde Township (91.5 km)
  • Tiroiti (98 km) Closed April 1974
  • Kokonga (106 km) Closed August 1985
  • Waipiata (116 km) Closed December 1981
  • Ranfurly (123.5 km)
  • Wedderburn (137 km)
  • Oturehua (149 km)
  • Ida Valley (157 km)
  • Auripo (161 km)
  • Lauder (172 km) Closed April 1985
  • Omakau (178.5 km) Closed March 1984
  • Chatto Creek (190 km) Closed February 1983
  • Galloway (200 km) Closed June 1978
  • Alexandra (207 km)
  • Clyde (new)(214 km)
  • Clyde (old)(216 km)
  • Doigs (224 km) Closed March 1970
  • Waenga (231 km) Closed March 1970
  • Cromwell (236 km)


  1. "Along the way - Taieri Gorge Railway". Taieri Gorge Limited. Retrieved 2014-04-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dangerfield, J. A.; Emerson, G. W. (2010). Over The Garden Wall: The Story of the Otago Central Railway (4th ed.). Dunedin: The Otago Railway & Locomotive Society Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-473-17363-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (soft-bound); ISBN 978-0-473-17362-3 (hard-bound).
  • Hurst, Tony (2008). The Otago Central Railway: A tribute (5th expanded ed.). Wellington: transpress. ISBN 978-1-877418-05-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Further reading

  • Hermann, Bruce J; South Island Branch Lines pp 28–30 (1997, New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society, Wellington) ISBN 0-908573-70-7