The International Steam Pages

Steam in the Cook Islands

This report was circulated by Ken Wuschke and forwarded to me by John Day. CRJ 123 adds that the loco concerned is 750mm gauge 0-8-0 Px48-1741. You can read the rather sad update (25th August 2011).

Here's a picture of the loco working courtesy of Roger Smith who visited in the early 2000s (added 15th July 2014),

"With all of you having some interest in steam trains and other forms of delightful transportation methods I thought the following would entertain you.

This past May Cheryl and I went to New Zealand to visit her family. On the way back to Canada we opted to stop in the Cook Islands for some tropical relaxation. Seeing that New Zealand was in late autumn we chose to warm up in Rarotonga, the most populated and largest of the Cook Islands.

While preparing for the vacation I was sussing out various train experiences in New Zealand when I came across an obscure reference to the Rarotonga Steam Railway. Nothing else. Just a name.

I contacted an acquaintance in Wellington who put me in touch with Tim Arnold. Tim invited us for an afternoon visit at his house. Well, here’s the basic story of trains and Rarotonga.

Just how the locomotive arrived on Rarotonga is rather interesting. Tim is a lawyer who had an old client arrive in his office one day. This client wanted to have his investments under Tim’s power of attorney as the client was in the process of leaving the Cooks for extended periods of time. At the end of legal aspects being done, the client looked at Tim and said "I’m going to Poland this trip to get some containers built; would you like to have anything sent back like a car?". Tim was a bit intrigued and looked at the client and said, "Well actually I’m not interested in having a car from Poland, but if you have the opportunity to send back a steam locomotive I would be interested."

Tim never thought that this would happen and just dismissed the whole discussion.

The client did go to Poland. As this was the early 1990s and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe had occurred, the Poles were looking for hard currency and entertaining any thought of getting rid of lesser important relics of the past. The client’s family history bares an important aspect to the whole affair. He is the descendant of Field Marshall Blucher the Prussian commander at the Battles of Leipzig and later Waterloo. When Napoleon was defeated in Leipzig, Blucher was given a schloß in Prussia. With the changing of soils following the Second World War the castle fell into Soviet controlled lands and the family lost the property. The client goes to Poland and acquires a half interest in the castle for one American dollar.

Another important aspect of the client is that he ran the freighter service from Auckland to Rarotonga, Niue, and other south Pacific countries so had a nose for shipping - and for cheap containers. Another reason for him to head to Poland was to take advantage of the cheap Polish zlotys. He had containers built for him in Poland.

Some months after Tim saw the client in the office on Raro he got a call from him. "I’ve got your locomotive." "Pardon," replied Tim. "Your locomotive. I’ve got it."

Another couple of weeks passed and Tim gets another phone call from the client. "I’ve sold that other locomotive and I’ve got you one that’s much bigger." "What? How on earth are we going to get it here.... I’m not made of money you know?!" Tim had put a ceiling cost on the whole exercise and in the end the two agreed that the client would pick up any cost overruns.

So, the deal is done and the loco bought - sight unseen by Tim, and eventually arrives in Auckland, New Zealand. Tim flies to Auckland to see the locomotive Going aboard the container vessel he finds the engine and tender taking up the space of eight (!) shipping containers The client offers to send it to Rarotonga at his own cost and Tim has spent the past eight years rebuilding the locomotive from a pile of pieces in his backyard.

Currently he has about 100 metres of track laid out for it to be tested on but, as the boiler had not been finished, it wasn’t in operating condition. Nonetheless, Tim and family did have an open house for the Islanders to see his train back in July. He gave Cheryl and myself a preview and there some forty or so panels educating people on the history and engineering of steam locomotives.

It was a great opportunity to sit down with Tim and hear about his story of how the Cook Islands will have an operating steam locomotive as the 21st Century opens. And his plans are to eventually lay down one kilometre of track.

Well worth the visit for any railfan.

If you want to reach Tim Arnold please drop him a line at:

Rarotonga Steam Railway Ltd.
P O Box 486
Avarua, Rarotonga
Cook Islands"

Rob Dickinson