New Zealand’s Last Regular Steam Train

We Reckon This Qualifies As The Last Regular Steam Service

When a heating car was added to the South Island Limited in October, 1971 it signaled the end of an era as main line steam ceased forever, except for the occasional specials.

Regrettably, I missed this occasion, having only been 19 at the time, madly recording the last of Australian steam, and of limited means.


South Island Limited

Thoughts of ever photographing steam in New Zealand having been dashed, I had to accept I would never see regular steam in New Zealand.

Then in 1972, The NZR decided to revitalize the Kingston to Lumsden railway line with some ancient steam engines. My mates suggested we go and photograph this, and before I knew it I was away on my very first overseas trip.


While there, we spent time with Russell Glendinning, the driver who became general Manager after the NZR pulled out of management, and fireman Kerry James, who joined me for a 6 week trek in South Africa a few years alter.

I remember one night in the Lumsden pub, drinking DB, there was a pool table. You put money on the next round to challenge the champs and if you won, others paid to challenge you. Kerry and I lined up against the local sharks, and won!

The Kingston Flyer was a regular steam operation in government hands until 1979 and then remained operational until 2011 as a private tourist line. Regrettably at the moment there is no action.

After a great week, we ventured up to the North Island catching a train across the mountains from Weymouth and then north to Picton where we boarded a ferry.

From Wellington we chased a double headed J & JA on a special, reliving the good old days. Even then, one night in New Plymouth we searched for a place to camp, eventually finding an isolated area. Imagine our surprise to find out ion the morning we were camped next to the local tip.


North Island Special 1972

This youtube clip has some great shots of the “Flyer”, although it is spoiled by background music in my opinion.

The following is an excerpt from New Zealand History.

The Christchurch–Dunedin overnight express, headed by a JA-class locomotive, ran the last scheduled steam-hauled service on New Zealand Railways (NZR), bringing to an end 108 years of regular steam rail operations in this country.

New Zealand’s rail system was predominantly steam-powered from 1863, when the first public railway opened in Christchurch, until the 1950s, when the transition to diesel power gathered momentum. Although NZR operated some electric locomotives from 1923, petrol- or diesel-motored railcars from 1936, and electric multiple units from 1938, it was the introduction of main-line diesel-electric locomotives from 1950 that spelled the end of the line for the steam engine.

The dieselisation of North Island railways was complete by the late 1960s. Steam power only lasted as long as it did in the South Island because carriages on the Friday and Sunday night expresses between Christchurch and Dunedin required steam-heating during winter. This need was ended by the introduction of train heating vans, which were attached to diesel-hauled expresses.

Steam trains hadn’t quite disappeared, though. Earlier in 1971 NZR had announced that it was launching a tourist-oriented steam passenger venture, the Kingston Flyer, which ran daily between Lumsden in northern Southland and Kingston on Lake Wakatipu. Two AB-class locomotives and a number of preserved carriages were used for this service, which began on 21 December 1971. In the early 21st century a number of rail heritage organisations and museums ran steam-hauled excursions around the country, while TranzScenic operated ‘Steam Engine Saturdays’ on the North Island Main Trunk Line. On these days the regular Overlander service was hauled by the preserved tank engine WAB 794 between Feilding and Taihape.

Ref: NZ history


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