Is the Rimutaka Rail trail under threat?

21 11 2010

I’ve ridden the Rimutaka Rail Trail a few times. It is a pleasant way to spend a day, and indeed every time I’ve been on it on bike or on foot I’ve always seen a lot of other people using it. The original railway was built in 1878, and operated until 1955 as the Rimutaka Incline Railway. It used Fell Locomotives to get over the steep grades (up to 1 in 12), which by how many times the forest caught alight, and by the number of accidents, must have been a bit of a bugger. It went so slow the passengers would often get out and walk. So when the 8.8km Rimutaka Tunnel was built through the mountains from Maymorn to Featherston they shut the incline railway down. A section of it from Kaitoke to Cross Creek is now the Rimutaka Rail Trail. On the Wairarapa side from Cross Creek to the Western Lake Road there is a short bit of single track, and back in the Hutt (with potential links to the Hutt River Trails) it is possible to get to the start from Kaitoke, from Tunnel Gully, or through the tunnel at Maymorn. In other words it is a well used recreational asset for the Wellington region, making use of a now economically unimportant railway route. If it was taken away from the public it would be a bloody great shame. (Instead as I have said before it should be made into part of the National Cycleway with links down the Western Lake Road, to Martinborough, and through the Wairarapa northwards).

Is it under threat? Well have a look at the grandiose plans of the rail enthusiasts called The Rimutaka Incline Railway Heritage Trust. I’m reluctant to slag off railway enthusiasts, because I love trains, I love history, and hence I love historic trains. I love riding them, and photographing them. I am a bit of a train geek, but I am going to point out the folly of it all.

The Trust has been around since 2003, and is a registered charitable organisation. Their stated aim is to get the incline railway going again. Now it is an obvious folly of course, and most of the people I have mentioned it to have scoffed at the idea, and thought it not worth worrying about because it would cost millions of dollars, and after 7 years they have 40 members (which is less than the number of people using the rail trail on a sunny day) and have raised a little over $100,000.

So here’s what they want to do. They want to plan, fund, reinstate and operate a tourist heritage railway on the former railway route between Upper Hutt and Featherston. Well there goes the rail trail I hear you say, but no they have thought of everything, including replacement paths for hikers and cyclists that would follow the route (but not go through the tunnels – which are the coolest bit of the ride, so kind of ruining it for those who enjoy it how it is now).

Then there is the little bit of common sense they seem to be missing. The hillsides regularly burnt because of sparks and embers coming from the coal powered locomotives. Pakuratahi Forest is now a commercial pine forest. How is the Trust going to pay for the forest that it would inevitable set fire to?

So it would cost millions, it would set the forest alight, it would destroy a unique recreational asset, and it would attract only a handful of tourists that wouldn’t even cover the running costs. So take a step back fellas, and re-examine your plans. Are they realistic? Are they achievable? Is it even wanted by the rest of the community? Run a steam train between Upper Hutt and Maymorn or something, maybe. (Although if I lived on the route I’d point out that steam trains are filthy as). At Maymorn rent out bicycles and torches. Add to the history displays that are already there. Make it really interesting for those who come and see. It’d be quite cool to see your working locomotive at Maymorn, ride a bike one way between Maymorn and Featherston over the rail trail, stopping for all the displays, then see the Fell Locomotive Museum and then come back on the extant rail line on a normal Masterton to Wellington train.

In contrast it’d really suck to ride a Fell Locomotive over what was once the Rail Trail.

Fellas you’re dreaming.



19 responses

21 11 2010

not only are they dreaming
but theyd get lynched
the rimutaka incline is the best bike ride in nz by far
and the kids like the rough track from cross creek to
western lake rd they think its the best bit
after the finishes the trail its a real bonus

16 11 2011

That seems like quite a violent reaction to a group of dedicated volunteers wishing to access a public park to operate a tourist attraction that will bring more visitors and tourists into the region.

The first stage will only be from Maymorn to Kaitoke and would probably take around 5 years to build. As part of the proposal they also propose building a new cycle track parallel to the existing rail route. Apart from not using the tunnels it will almost be exactly the same. If there are problems with the proposed route of the cycle path/walkway then make a submission and work with the group to try to come to a mutually benificial arrangement rather than just flatly deny them access based on the fact it may slightly inconvenience you.

It ill bring extra people into the area as well as possibly increasing cycle/walkway usage because people can catch the train up and bike/walk downhill.

16 11 2011

Ryan it’s not at all a “violent reaction”. Their idea is completely dumb because it is unfeasible. What they are proposing to those pesky cyclists who get in the way of their grandiose plans, with their replacement paths aren’t any good. It won’t be “exactly the same” – the paths would be narrower, steeper, have rougher surfaces and not go through the tunnels which is the highlight of any ride.

Why I should I have to work with a group that has no credibility? They should not be proposing their scheme for a public park. The park is for recreational users. Many, many thousands of recreational users each year. They could play trains leading up to the boundaries of the park and the start of the Rail Trail, without stuffing up what is already there, but they want to stuff it up for everyone else and for what ? An uneconomic, white elephant of a tourist “attraction”. We would lose way more than we gain.

26 11 2010

Give these fellas a chance. Hey, Silverstream Railway cant last forever on its Limited site. I think the best thing that will come of this, the Railway from Maymorn to the Summit will be rebuilt and additional cycling facillities will be developed. Then of course, the idea of catching the train up the Wellinghton side, and cylcing down the feel engine side. In all honesty, the fell section though it would be nice to see rebuilt,. will take years to get going. Cyclists have nothing to loose and everything to gain from this development. It will certainly make me feel a we bit easier knowing i can get the train to transport me to the real interesting and more challenging cycle ride namely the Incline section

26 11 2010

“Cyclists have nothing to loose and everything to gain from this development.”

I see it 100% polar opposite to you Randy.

16 11 2011
Chris S

Just wondering about your statment ” Silverstream (sic) Railway cant last forever on its Limited site” . Are you arawre of the fact the Silver Stream Railway actully owns all of the land its railway is built on and has for its entire exsistance which will be 50 years in 2017. The group behind this proposal does not own any of its land. On that basis there is nothing stoping them lasting “forever”. Plus the fact they have a strong membership, a very extensive collection of equipment and facilitys (the RIRHT do not even have power or water connected at there Maymorn site) and annual visitor numbers of 10,000 I would say there future is looking very bright. Good luck to them.

30 11 2010
Simon Kennett

The flatter, Upper Hutt side of the Rail Trail is extremely important as a recreational asset – it’s one of the few flat, off-road rides in the region and gets most of the trail’s use. I agree it would be crazy to try and get trains back there.

BTW, the Cross Creek end of the trail is being upgraded this financial year. DoC (and GWRC) are keen for it to be at an ‘Easy’ standard. As traffic volumes on the hill road continue to grow, that is the best route for cycle touring between the Wairarapa and Wellington.

13 02 2011
Andrew Forsyth

The Rimutaka incline is a great ride, and some even walk it. The visitor information at the summit is well done and the tunnels make it a fun ride – especially for kids. And that long descent back down is awesome! I’m all in favour of rail enthusiasts doing their thing, and in fact, maybe we should bring back steam locomotives for some low volume rail routes (sustainable and domestically sourced fuel), but the incline is not the place for a nostalgia come-back.

13 02 2011

Andrew, If you mean wood powered steam engines, no thanks. Way too stinky, especially through built up areas where people actually live.

15 11 2011
Patrick Morgan, Cycling Advocates Network

The developer proposes a path with 12.5% maximum gradient. This gradient is 5 times as steep as the existing rail trail and is too steep for touring cyclists, children or recreational riders.
Vintage trains yes, but not in a popular regional park.
More here:

16 11 2011

Mathew theatening to lync someone if definately a violent response. As for the group not having any credibility the group of volunteers have been working hard for several years and have raised quite a bit of money from grants and donations and they are building themselves a good workshop and depot at Maymorn. I would say they have earnt enough credibility for there plans to be assesed by the council as to wether they are in everyones best interests or not as they are fully free and allowed to do. They are just as entitled to propose something as cyclists are to use the park which is fully entitled.
How do you know it will be narrower and much steeper? Have you seen the exact drawings of the proposed track composition? This is why as I said in my last post that us cyclists should work with them to improve and adapt the plans to something that is suitable for both cyclist and the rail group.
Also as I mentioned it will probably increase park and track usage by bringing more people into the area and people can take the train up and ride down if they dont want to ride up the hill.
Everyone needs to take a step back and try to work together to find a solution that works for everyone.

16 11 2011

Where the hell did I say I’d lynch someone?

Ryan, the proposal is rubbish.
Yes I looked at the maps on their website.

And no a private organisation, even a non-profit one, wishing to use a public park for their own crazy schemes doesn’t have the same rights of access to the public park as the general public. The GWRC should and indeed will tell your group to go jump.

I believe you, and your friends proposing it, are fantasists making impractical suggestions that are of not of much benefit (and definitely less benefit than you claim) and it has some really bad downsides for existing users.

Next you lot will be proposing to rebuild the Dun Mountain railway, or the Foxton-Palmerston North wooden rail line.

It’s history. It’s not worth recreating. Why not just visit the Fell Locomotive museum and then walk the track and read the signs? Surely that is enough of the history preservation needed.

That grant money sure ain’t getting wasted. I sure hope that wasn’t from public funds.

16 11 2011

For starters I was meaning your comment saying lynching someone is not a violent act, it is plain and simple, so it theatening it as Brian did.

They are a public non-profit group made up of members of the public and wish to use part of the park for their group activities. The same way that cycle groups are made up of members of the public and use the park for recreation.

I am not nor have I ever been a member of the Rimutaka Rail group. I actually live in Christchurch but have riden the trail several times during visits to the Wellington region. I see no reason why you assume that I was a member.

Going by your logic on the conservation of history I take it liev TV sport is now redundant as reading it in the newspaper the next day is just the same apparently.

I’m not asking for anything drastic I wouldn’t have thought for everyone to be granted the same rights to apply for use and access public parks. You can’t just use the argument that the cycleway was got there first as the railway was there before that.

16 11 2011

Brian was speaking metaphorically I am sure.

I haven’t just used the argument that the cycleway was there first. (In fact I didn’t use it) I have used lots of arguments on why it is a completely rubbish proposal. Financially it doesn’t make sense. It would stuff it up for existing users. There is no need for another steam group in the region. The route needs to be preserved for cyclists as part of the future ambitions of the National Cycleway. It already is a tourist and recreational asset. Etc. etc.

And all this “the railway was there first” is a real rubbish argument. Before that it was stalked by moas.

17 11 2011

I guess you would support putting a railway back onto the alignment of the award-winning Little River Rail Trail. As bad as that would be for the general public, a railway on the Rimutaka Rail Trail would be much worse because of the mountainous terrain there. The steep terrain would make it virtually impossible to create a trail of the same standard in the vicinity. The Wellington region has an abundance of steep, narrow mountain bike trails – we have very, very few family-friendly trails (and our most treasured is the Rimutaka Rail Trail).

17 11 2011
Rimutaka Incline Railway Group proposes reinstating steam train to Manhattan’s High Line « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] upcoming proposal to the GWRC Cultural and Social Wellbeing Committee. I’ve written about their proposal before. Here is what the Cycling Advocates Network thinks. For the Dom Post’s coverage, and for […]

17 11 2011

Wellington is a very hilly region with very few opportunties for first time Mountain Bikers on flat land. The Rimutaka Incline is the perfect place to start on your first bike. We need to preserve all the flat riding opportunities that we have. Families and Recreation riders love the road and riding through the tunnels is exciting. Experienced riders use it too, and the adjacent tracks off the main road. Marco Renalli

18 12 2011
There is still time to make a submission against the proposal to destroy the Rimutaka Rail Trail « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] Rimutaka Rail Trail is under threat. The group behind it is worthy of our […]

15 02 2012
Wellington Region Updates « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] Rimutaka Rail Trail is no longer under threat. The group behind it have withdrawn their submission to the GWRC. It’s back to the drawing […]

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