Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Our Railway...

As some of our friends have noticed, there is a small railway line running along the back of our property. They were initially horrified and asked whether our guests would appreciate the noise at all hours. Well, it is a private line, which only supplies a factory in the country, and has only one train per day, usually between 4 and 5 in the afternoon. It only moves at 10 MPH. The train then comes back about an hour later with a wagon or two full of produce and that is that!

Here is a movie I made from some old footage which shows Willowbrook Park (on the right in the movie). It was taken from the passing train when Willowbrook was still an old apple orchard, back in 2007. Pity it was an overcast day...

The train is actually rather charming, and as it doesn't run in the weekends one can walk down the track. After about 1/2 a mile, you come to a bushy gully with an old wooden bridge across it, which is quite pretty. Last weekend we took a little walk from Willowbrook Park, out of the little gate in the back hedge and down to the bridge and back. Here are some photos...

Lord Willoughby was eager to lead the way...

Along the way one passes through the centre of a bull farm. It was the first time I have seen bulls chained to a run by a ring through their nose (not very kind). Evidently they are prize specimens and their, um, seed is sold for a lot of money (nice job if you can get it...)

Willoughby provoked a stir from some of the more territorial bulls along the way...

We then passed some lovely old farm buildings with a certain rustic charm...

Winding on down to the verge of the gully...

and up to the edge of the bridge, but no further...

The view West from the middle of the bridge...

The History of The Cambridge Branch Railway

The Cambridge Branch Railway runs from Ruakura to Hautapu (but orginally Cambridge). The first sod was ceremoniously turned on 6 May 1882 and construction began. It was easy to construct the first part of the line between Ruakura and Matangi. A kilometre south of the Newstead Station (no longer standing) a five span timber bridge was built to cross the Mangaonui Stream. The full cost of construction was about £6000.

Above: The second bridge across the gully, built in 1909.
It was built entirely of timber and was 380 feet long.
It was replaced by the 3rd bridge (below) in 1946.

Above: A schematic diagram of the branch railways.
Willowbrook Park's location shown as red dot.

Below: A map of the Cambridge Branch Railway and surrounding land.
Willowbrook Park's location shaded in green.

On the morning of 1 October 1884 the line was inspected found to be ready for traffic. On 6 October a special train brought the new station master and his family along with other members of the staff to Cambridge and two days later the line was open for traffic.
The first public train was run from Cambridge to Hamilton leaving at 9.30 am. About 100 people made the one hour ten minute trip to Hamilton where a holiday was observed. The train then continued through to Huntly coming back in the early afternoon. At Hamilton a large crowd joined the train for a holiday afternoon at Cambridge and other people joined at various stations along the line.

Above: The Frankton Junction Station at Hamilton
Cambridge pushed out the boat when it came to decorating the town for the opening. Lines of bunting stretched across the main street. Entertainment included boating on Te Koutu Lake, a cricket match, a fireworks display and a ball in the public hall that carried on into the early hours of the morning.
Above: The Cambridge Station House
Regular services on the Cambridge branch were mixed (passenger and freight), stopping where or when required. The exception was the midday train which carried passengers only. Connections were made at Frankton Junction with services to and from Te Awamutu and Auckland, and it was possible to reach the latter in 6½ hours - a tremendous achievement in 1884.
Below: The Ruakura Junction
During the 1920's, motor vehicles started to take over the passenger traffic and the last time-tabled passenger train left Cambridge without ceremony on 9 September 1946. The station building was sold and broken up in 1973 .
There have been a couple of minor derailments over the years. The most spectacular was in October 1985, when an engine capsized after it was hit at a level crossing by a truck:

The sole user of the branch line now is Fonterra (The New Zealand Dairy Company), who have a factory at Hautapu. In 1999 the line was terminated at the factory and the section of line from the factory to Cambridge was ripped up.

It would be diverting to have our own little station, Willowbrook Halt perhaps. People could stop for afternoon tea in the weekends...


  1. What a fascinating post this is. My first 7 years were spent in Te Awamutu and I have a soft spot for the Waikato. Fancy taking 1hr 10 mins to get from Cambridge to Hamilton!!! I'm still missing the lovely countryside...your photos are killing here!

  2. Thanks for the lovely amble David! Yes it would be great to catch the train & alight at gorgeous Willowbrook Park.
    Millie ^_^

  3. Facinating! I think its fabulous that you have a train, but that's probably because I love them. So romantic.


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