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Railway

Swannaona had a railway station for nearly 80 years, the tram never went down Tram Rd, there were 3 rail routes to Oxford, and a good photo record exists to prove it! Let’s go back to the 1860s to see how it all developed…

For some time the safety of Kaiapoi Island had been a concern (The Waimakariri river split near Clarkeville and one branch flowed Northwards behind Kaiapoi settlement to join the Cam river about where the Motorway now crosses), with it being completely covered in water during norwest floods of the Waimakariri. This hampered and disuaded investment in railway development north of Christchurch. In 1865 the Kaiapoi district settlers began a battle with the Provincial Government which lasted 7 years before work would commence on the northern line. At this time the advocates for northward development were Marmaduke Dixon, William Maskell, James Wylde and John Evans Brown (Dixon and Brown both being from Swannanoa).

Hawkins wrote [p281].. “The finances of the province improved in 1869, however, and in October £45,000 was set aside for the northern railway, and the purchase of the required land was again authorized. The line to be taken was still very much in doubt, and there was a confusing and almost fanatical promotion of a variety of new routes. The woolsheds and the country schools again resounded to fiery speeches from local politicians this time in judgment on three new propositions, One scheme was planned to obviate the undeniable dangers of a route over Kaiapoi Island by taking the line across the river above the island, so that it would pass through Swannanoa. A second group agitated for a horse-drawn tramway, in the hope that its cheapness would attract the favour of the authorities and still provide a satisfactory service. However, Marmaduke Dixon and James Wylde insisted at all their meetings that the settlers should unite and fight for the original scheme, and Dixon went as far as to demand time construction of branch lines concurrently with the main line.

Much arguement and bitter public lobbying surrounded the decision to build the line through Rangiora instead of Woodend, but eventually Rangiora was selected. The railway crossed the Waimakariri in 1872 and was opened to Kaiapoi on 29 April and Rangiora on 6 November 1872.

In 1870 construction of the railway line North of Christchurch was progressing well. According to Hawkins [p285], “As soon as work had been started on the Kaiapoi line the Government asked the roads boards to forward suggestions for suitable branch lines, as revenues reserved for the construction of railways were not restricted to main lines alone. This immediately produced a situation as interesting as that which accompanied the planning of the main north line. As a matter of course the Rangiora and Mandeville and the Oxford road boards approved the old plan for an Oxford-Rangiora branch line [Ed: via Cust] and a survey was authorized in June 1871. by this time the Eyre settlers, having grown considerably in number since the first investigations of 1864, began to ask why the Oxford line should not pass through the Eyre district, and they now proceeded to hold public meetings to prove to the Government that it should do so.

“At first the Government’s engineers thought in terms of horse-drawn tramways for branch lines, and in 1871 W. B. Bray actually planned an Eyre tramway with it’s junction at Kaiapoi. For this a special station, sheds and stables were to have been built at the Ferryman’s Arms in the centre of Kaiapoi, and the line was to proceed from that point by way of a long straight tramway reserve to Oxford. This reserve is still known as the Tram Road. However, Bray complicated matters by recommending the Rangiora-Oxford route as a far more economic and useful line, and the tramway scheme fell into abeyance.

“The Eyre settlers then attempted to draw the proposed Rangiora - Oxford line further their way by agitating for a line which would pass through the centre of the Waimakariri-Ashley area and have its junction at Flaxton. This, they argued, would satisfy everybody and yet still open up the thousands of acres of lightly- grazed country on both banks of the Eyre. Rangiora refused to give in, maintaining that the most heavily populated areas should be first served, and that the Eyre country was only fit for sheep. Oxford, with its timber trade slowly gaining momentum, and Cust, now a sizeable settlement of mixed farms, both favoured the Rangiora line.

“For some reason, probably because money might be available for two lines, the Eyre settlers abandoned their idea of a central line and substituted a plan for one which would include stations at Ohoka, Mandeville, and West Eyreton. This direct challenge to Rangiora was followed by a spate of hostile meetings in both districts, and the affair resolved itself into a bitter struggle between the Rangiora businessmen and farmers, led by Henry Blackett, and the Eyre settlers, led by Peacock and Brown. The determination of each faction to prove it’s case produced a number of amusing if undemocratic incidents, of which two deserve mention.

“The first occurred at one of the Peacock-Brown meetings held at Mandeville in July 1871. This meeting had barely commenced when Henry Blackett arrived with a body of his supporters, and was soon contesting every point at issue. Before very long tempers became frayed, and in the middle of the uproar the Rangiora men started moving resolutions in favour of their line. While this was going on coach-loads of Rangiora supporters were still galloping around the country looking for the hall, but they were not needed, for those already inside provided enough opposition to cause the abandonment of the meeting.

“Another meeting was later called quietly at West Eyreton to attract Oxford and Cust support, for the lower Eyre and Kaiapoi had long been won over. However, Blackett, never reluctant to spend his own money in Rangiora’s interests, heard of the meeting and hired every coach and conveyance available in the town, rallied up all his supporters, and set out for West Eyreton. The convenors of the meeting received a late warning, but, seeing the cavalcade approaching through the moonlit summer night, they stopped the proceedings, locked the schoolroom, and dispersed. Not to be thwarted, Blackett’s men climbed through the windows, reopened the meeting, and passed certain resolutions by the light of their carriage lamps. A rider was despatched to Christchurch, and the people read in the newspapers next day that a West Eyreton meet- ing had decided by an overwhelming majority that the Rangiora- Oxford line would best suit the requirements of the northern districts.

“These obstructive tactics may have been to Eyre’s advantage, for the Government listened attentively to its case as presented by Peacock, who at that time was Member of Parliment for Lyttelton. A resurvey of the routes was made in May 1872, after which it was decided that both lines should be constructed. The first train left West Eyreton for Kaiapoi on 27 December 1875, but there is no record of the event being celebrated.

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First train to West Eyreton, December 28th, 1875

The Rangiora-Oxford line was opened on Monday 21 June 1875, to both East and West Oxford. The Eyre branch was later joined to the Rangiora-Oxford branch at Bennetts. The Rangiora-Oxford branch was later extended to the South-West, crossing the Waimakariri in 1878, and continuing to join the Midland line before Sheffield. The bridge over the Waimakariri Gorge is still in use today for road vehicles, although the railway line was closed and removed in 1932, as was the Horrelville - Bennetts extension of the West Eyreton branch.

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Swannanoa Railway Station (at the corner of North Eyre Rd. and Two Chain Rd.) Circa 1900.

With the removal of the rails to Bennetts, a triangle was installed at Horrelville to turn locomotives, but eventually the lack of viability of the branch meant it was closed to all traffic in 1954. A photographer documented the last train on the Eyre Branch, and the series can be seen here.

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Part of an early North Canterbury map currently hanging on the wall at Cust Museum. The West Eyreton railway line is depicted extending from West Eyreton on the left through to Bradleys Rd on the right. It continued through Ohoka and Wilson’s Mill Siding to meet the Main North line north of Kaiapoi.

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Last train at Horrelville, 1954, with Mr F. G. Horrell and masters Dereck Wardell and Ian Burt in front, and Mr F. G. Brown (Fireman) and Mr Alec Brayley (Driver) in the locomotive (“A” class).

There is still much evidence of the railway formation visible along North Eyre and other roads in the district, as the following photos, all taken in Spring 2002, show.

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The platform and signboard at Bennetts, where the Eyre Branch joined the Rangiora-Oxford branch.

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The remains of a culvert near the Woolfs Rd intersection with North Eyre Rd, Horrelville.

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Looking east along North Eyre Rd outside West Eyreton School. The railway formation (being well compacted gravel with very little soil) is used as a cycleway and footpath for a couple of kilometers from here.

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A piece of railway iron in a paddock adjacent to North Eyre Rd, near Browns Rd.

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The platform at Mandeville (corner Bradleys Rd and Tram Rd). Some of the spoil from rebuilding this intersection in 2001 was placed on our land for landscaping purposes, and 2 railway spikes were recovered from the soil, starting us on a local history crusade which eventually led to the vision for this web site!

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The intersection of 2 Chain Rd and North Eyre Rd at Swannanoa. The Swannanoa goods shed stood somewhere here.