Canterbury Railscene

Canterbury is the centre of New Zealand’s South Island. It stretches from the Southern Alps to the eastern coast. The Canterbury Plains dominate the landscape, particularly in Mid Canterbury while in the North and South, rolling countryside connects the mountains and hills with the sea. The Midland Line to the West Coast has its own page, so here I will present the remaining Canterbury railway scene, particularly around Timaru.

The most numerous mainland diesel locomotive in New Zealand is the DC class. In the early 1980s the locos were rebuilt from DA class engines built in the 1960s. Originally the DC’s were painted in the “fruit salad” or “international orange” livery of New Zealand Rail. Shortly before privatisation New Zealand Rail introduced a blue livery. Engines with both liveries are seen together departing Timaru on a freight train south.

The blue livery was then retained until Tranz Rail introduced the black and yellow hi-viz livery. It was soon known as “bumble-bee” among railfans. A DFT class loco leads two DCs into Timaru. The one in the middle sports the old 'fruit-salad' livery, while the one at the back is painted in bumble-bee colours. DCs are often used as supporting engines, with the driver sitting in the more modern locomotive.
The DF class was introduced in the late 70s and all engines were turbocharged in the 1990s to become the DFT class. Strictly speaking this picture was not taken in Canterbury, but in the Marlborough region. DFT 7199 leads a container train northward along the Pacific Ocean to Picton. Here at Parikawa the railway line hugs the coast closely.
The same loco, DFT 7199 hauls a train south of Timaru over the bridge at Pig Hunting Creek. A DC loco gives additional power. Both sport the blue NZ Rail livery with Tranz Rail signage.
In 2004 the Australian transport company Toll bought a majority shareholding in Tranz Rail and renamed it Toll NZ, with the railway operation known as Toll Rail. It introduced a distinctly green and yellow Australian livery, known by railfans as “corn cob”. Here a DX class loco in the new livery has arrived in the Timaru yard with a DC class assisting.
The DX class is New Zealand’s most powerful main line diesel locomotive. The class was introduced in the early 1970s particularly for working the North Island Main Trunk. Since electrification of the main trunk the engines are seen throughout New Zealand, though in particular on the coal trains of the Midland Line.
This train is about to depart Timaru for Christchurch one autumn night.
DX5483 hauls train 923 out of Timaru one day in spring 2007. In the background on the right is the large milk powder store, while the old wheat mill and silo is visible to the left. The buildings reflect the change in farming in South Canterbury, with more emphasis on dairy production and less on arable farming.
Together with DC4277, another DX is about to depart Timaru towards the south. An Ontrack hi-rail vehicle stands on the adjacent line, ready to follow once the train has left.
For local shunting services shunting engines with good visibility, but lower speed and power output are used. They bring wagons to and from sidings and work in the rail yard to make up trains. DSC locomotives common shunting engines in New Zealand. The first models were built from 1958 in England. Subsequent batches were built by New Zealand Rail from 1962 onwards. Nowadays only New Zealand built locomotives remain in service with Toll Rail. One of these engines propels container wagons from the Timaru yards to the port siding. The engine is remotely controlled with the controller riding on one of the wagons in the middle of the train. Another shunter guides the train at the front using a four-wheel motorbike.
A DSClocomotive has just collected some empty log wagons from the export log yard in Timaru. It now runs through the streets of the industrial area round the port. Some surreptitious advertising in the background: My employer’s sign is discretely displayed on the building.
DSG shunting locomotives were built in New Zealand during the 1980s out of Japanese kitsets. They are considerably more powerful than their DSC counterparts. DSG shunting locomotives can be found throughout the country. This engine pulls a rake of loaded container wagons from the port in Timaru to the railway yards. On the sidings and in the yard shunting locomotives are generally remotely controlled. Here the operator stands on the front steps of the engine as it negotiates the tracks around the wharf.
On another fine morning another Dsg shunts some empty container wagons to the port of Timaru.
Sometimes there are steam excursions on the main line. Here an AB, once common throughout the whole of the railway network and described as "maid for all work" hauls a train along the beach south of Timaru.
Another steam engine on a special train sits at the platform of the Timaru Railway Staion. No regular trains stop here any more, onlyl the occassional special still makes use of the facilities. Nevertheless, buses still stop at the station and the cafe is well known for its funky food. JB1236 waits in Timaru, while the passengers have gone on a side trip to the Pleasant Point Museum Railway. One of the loco crew seems to want to have a look at the engine from the distance.
Canterbury has several dedicated heritage railways, usually small sections of former branch lines. Steam engines often provide a major attraction, but not all heritage operations use steam engines. The Pleasant Point Railway in South Canterbury uses a small Model T railcar to transport visitors. For special occasions when more guests are expected an AB steam engine does the honours. The Model T railcar is turned on the turntable at the depot ready to return to the Pleasant Point railway station. The driver takes a short rest in the sun, while passengers are invited to explore the display inside the depot.
Vulcan railcars once ran throughout the South Island, both on the main lines and major branch lines. Several are now conserved by enthusiasts. One of them was seen at the Ferrymead Railway in Christchurch.