The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
The Rewanui Incline,
Thursday, 15th May 1969

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.

For more background on this fascinating 'short line' see and

For more pictures of this line from Wilson, please see Back on the West Coast & Riding the Rails Part 1, 1969

Rewanui had always been a 'fill in time' exercise when I'd previously visited the West Coast and never the main event. This time the intention was to spend the day on the incline, walking downhill from Rewanui to Dunollie, photographing the trains as they came along. The weather conspired against me though and rain forced an early halt to proceedings.

The early morning railcar from Christchurch arrived in Greymouth just before 06.30 giving enough time to change onto the 06.35am Miners train up to Rewanui. The first few kilometres to Dunollie were an easy trundle but from there it was a hard slog for the little tank engines as they mastered the 5.4km of 1in 26 up to Rewanui. Given a wet morning, as so many Coast mornings could be, it took a skilful driver to make it to the top without a slip or two.

Since the withdrawal of the last We class loco in March the only engines working the Rewanui Incline were now the Ww 4-6-4 tank locomotives. Originally designed to haul suburban passenger trains the class had spent their declining years on the West Coast mostly working the Seddonville and Rewanui branch lines.

With barely enough light for a photo Ww678 heads away from Rewanui with 860 passenger. Recently I read that the Rewanui trains were the NZR's last steam hauled local passenger services.

The next five photos were all taken from that well frequented rail fan position near No 2 tunnel. It must have been too dark to try and photograph Ww571 climbing the incline with the next train but going down the light had improved enough for both coming and going away shots. Plus, as I've said before, I'm always good for another photo when a carriage is tagging along at the back of the consist.


And a short time late 571 was again heading towards Rewanui......... 



It was customary for one engine to run a shuttle service for most of the day on the incline and 571 headed up three times in quick succession.


The weather then deteriorated and I sought sanctuary from the rain. I can't remember where but took no further photos until late afternoon when Ww644 arrived at Dunollie with 850 passenger heading towards Greymouth. The loco has stopped under the station verandah allowing station agent and loco crew to remain dry whilst exchanging tablets and having a chat. Such consideration didn't extend to the passengers though!


644 may have been a Westport based engine only recently transferred to Greymouth as witness the chalk markings on the engines tank: 'Loco Supervisor, Greymouth' and 'Boiler Empty'.


A month after these photos were taken the fires went out at Greymouth and the last four Ww class locomotives still working in New Zealand were withdrawn from service. They were hardy little beasts though, as was proved a few days after my visit, when Ww480 ran a 1300km excursion from Greymouth to Auckland. Part of this I've previously covered.

Where 480 led then 571 and 644 were to follow soon after. September 1969 saw 571 running an excursion from Greymouth to Taita, a distance of approximately 600km, and then in March the following year 644 made the even longer journey to Auckland following in the footsteps of 480.

With the mines served by the line gradually closing over the next few years the incline was eventually no longer needed and finally closed in 1985. 

Rob Dickinson