The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
Goods Train with Car Attached,
The Whangarei to Opua train in October 1973

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.


As I began to write this tale I recalled a picture of train 77 that had appeared in the New Zealand Railway Observer a long time ago. It took a while to hunt out as it was published back in 1967 but it was taken at Auckland in 1952 with part of the caption reading: '.......train 77, the 8.15pm goods with car attached, due to reach Whangarei at 3.30am, and Opua at 8.51, the next morning. Strictly for the hardy souls.' That's around 300km in twelve and a half hours....for hardy souls indeed!

By the time of my 1973 visit though train 77 only had the carriage attached at Whangarei for the eighty six kilometres north to Opua. Along the way it passed through Otiria, the starting station for the Okaihau bound goods with car attached I covered in an earlier tale. With a bit of luck you would have been able to transfer from one train to the other at if you were travelling north but I doubt anyone ever did. Coming south would have meant overnighting in Otiria so that really wasn't an option.

Today's tale though is not about some fanciful connection in the backblocks of New Zealand but of the Whangarei to Opua and return service. Train 77 was due out of Whangarei at 5.30am returning as train 1048 leaving Opua at 09.30am.

I got my first sighting of 77 at Otiria: Da1435 was in charge with a dead Tr171 included in the consist. Although the carriage is hidden by the station building there's lots to interest in this shot of a New Zealand Railways that has long since disappeared......... 

Sometime later, after leaving the Tr and some of the wagons behind, a much smaller train departed for the last leg of the journey to Opua. It's a neat looking little consist of only four wagons, carriage and van and to my mind looks like a mixed train should. I had other things to do this day though and joined the Okaihau bound service.

The railfan hotspot in the area was the street running section at Kawakawa and the following day I staked it out waiting for 77 to appear. It was a lengthy wait but eventually the train turned up: I wrote on the slide 'Da1512 three hours late'. I've cropped the photo quite severely to produce this slice of small town New Zealand 1970s style.

I asked Northland local, Bevan Lewis, if he'd take a shot from the same position so I could see what Kawakawa looks like today. Some things have changed, others haven't. The bank is now a pub, the local garage a tyre franchise, the trees in the background have grown and the power lines and wires have all gone but basically it is still recognisable as the same place. What I don't like are the buildings now painted in much darker colours......I definitely prefer the pastel shades of the seventies. Today the rail track is still there, in the middle of main street, and still being used although now by the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway (http://www.bayofislandsvintagerailway.org.nz/ link amended 26th April 2014).

Back to 1973 though and much later in the day I captured the return service between Motatau and Taikirau. I imagine, with the Tr in tow, train speed would have been fairly restricted.

Next morning and I was definitely less than enthusiastic as I waited on the Whangarei platform, just after five, to catch the Opua bound train. It was dark, it was cold and the through goods from Auckland hadn't yet arrived. I got some strange looks from staff but once I explained I was catching the train to Opua all was good. So good in fact that when the train did arrive, and the carriage placed in front of the guards van, I was told no need for a ticket and to pop into the van as it would be warmer there. The first photo of the morning was quite some time later as Da1413 waited to shunt at Kawakawa.........

The Da then pulled out onto the main street before pushing back into the yard.

A spin on the turntable at Opua so this inelegant looking box called a railway engine would be facing the right direction for the trip back to Whangarei. It is an attractive backdrop though.

Almost ready for the off......

Taumarere lies eight kilometres from Opua and there we placed a loaded wagon into the siding: no it wasn't freight from Opua to Taumarere but from further south. For some reason it couldn't be shunted off on the way to Opua. Maybe the siding was in such a condition the Da wasn't prepared to venture too far down it and this was the easiest way to place the wagon where needed. Looking at the state of the siding I can't imagine many wagons had been left here recently.

Cran Julian recently wrote that the 'goods with car attached' service was discontinued from 18th June 1976 although the passenger car had been withdrawn in February. Apparently, for those last few months, the passenger car was replaced by a form seat off the platform that was put into the guards van. Would this have made the service a 'goods without car attached' for those last few months? 


Rob Dickinson

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