Wairarapa residents, community leaders, the Wairarapa Pipe Band, together with Wellington local body representatives, in front of Parliament, August 1920. 90-017/31
Fed up with the slow and cumbersome train journey over the Rimutaka Incline, and the barrier to economic progress it posed, Wairarapa residents and community leaders -- together with Wellington business leaders -- decided a deputation to Parliament was called for. The Evening Post of 19 August 1920 reports:
A new idea in the way of deputations was put into operation by the Wellington and Wairarapa people to-day. To impress upon the Government the urgency of the request for a deviation from the Rimutaka route, Wairarapa invaded Wellington in force.
Business places in the Wairarapa towns were closed today, and a special train brought some 250 representatives of public bodies to the city. At the station the members of the deputation formed up in column of fours, and, headed by the Wairarapa Pipe Band, led by a stalwart drum-major, proceeded to Parliament Buildings.
At the Buildings, the Wairarapa regiment was reinforced by representatives from Wellington local bodies.
The deputation filled the old Chamber of the House of Representatives.
The Prime Minister (the Right Hon. W. F. Massey) and the Minister of Public Works (the Hon. J.G. Coates) received the deputation. The General Manager of Railways (Mr. R. W. McVilly and the Acting-Chief Engineer for Public Works (Mr. F. W. Furkert) were present.
Mr. G. Mitchell, M.P., said the deputation represented forty-three local, public and business bodies from Wellington right up to the East Coast. It was supported by the Central Parliamentary Committee of twenty-three members.
This watercolour shows the steepness of the incline.
[Barraud, Charles Decimus] 1822-1897 :Rimutaka incline. [1880s?]
[Barraud, Charles Decimus] 1822-1897 :Rimutaka incline. [1880s?]
The Rimutaka Incline railway curving through bush-clad hills, with the train visible, two small buildings further down the track, a telegraph pole to the right and plains (or Lake Wairarapa) in the distance. Possibly the approach to Cross Creek
Fell engine on the Rimutaka Incline, [ca 1880s] Reference Number: 1/4-001485-G
Photograph of a fell engine (steam, H class) on the Rimutaka Incline with a railwayman at each end of the locomotive, taken circa 1880s by the Burton Brothers.
The bleak and exposed nature of parts of the incline are depicted in this photograph.
View of a curved corner of the railway track on the Rimutaka Incline, [ca 1880s]
Reference Number: 1/2-092992-F
Reference Number: 1/2-092992-F
Scene at Rimutaka summit with S class steam locomotive and carriages, between 1880-1890
Scene at the summit of the Rimutaka incline, with S class steam locomotive number 6, two wagon loads of wood, and two passenger carriages. Railway workers, including Guard J Turner and M Cronin, stand alongside. Railway cottages line the tracks. A stack of railway track is in the foreground. Photograph taken by William Williams between 1880 and 1890.
A train pulled by three engines climbs the Wairarapa Incline, 1906. 90-017/148
Royal train ascending the Rimutaka Incline, 1934
Royal train ascending the Rimutaka Incline during the Duke of Gloucester's tour in 1934. Photographer unidentified.
Greytown representative, Mr J. F. Thompson, observed that
for fifty years to a day they had been unhappily wedded to the Rimutaka incline.
The present route stood condemned, because of the loss of time, waste of coal in haulage, and expense. The incline retarded the development of the district; and therefore the advancement of Wellington. A deviation would enable traffic to be diverted from the Manawatu route. Mr Hiley had said this was a matter of national importance. The saving by a better route would be sufficient to meet interest on the cost of a deviation.
Mr C.E.Daniell, Masterton, described the intricacies of the route,
the five-chain curves and the grade of 1 in 35. They climbed 1242 feet against 598 that might have been necessary. Now they wanted coal in the Wairarapa andi they wanted milk in Wellington. The incline made it almost impossible to get both.The deputation asked that
three or five expert men should be appointed to select a new route and that then the work should be done.
A hand-coloured print: one of 12 prints issued as part of a Souvenir of Masterton, published by J.P. Fortune, bookseller and stationer. Shows a train with three Fell engines moving up the Rimutaka Incline. 00-260/6.digital
Wellington's Mayor, Mr J.P. Luke, supported the Wairarapa.
The most important railway work for Wellington and the lower part of the North Island was the Rimutaka deviation. The great increase in running costs, amounting to 300 or 400 per cent, since the line was constructed, made the need for a deviation greater than ever. Wellington was specially interested in the route, as it was concerned to maintain the purity and capacity of its water supply.Recognising the heavy financial obligations of the Dominion, Carterton Mayor Howard Booth thought
a further expenditure to do away with the Rimutaka incline would be more than justified on account of the increased production which would result.
Prime Minister Massey, responding to the challenge said
a very good case had been made out, and, incidentally, he said he hoped they would not find it necessary to come very often again. (Applause.)
The Prime Minister continued.
He could not recollect a worse piece of line anywhere in the world, but, for all that, it had done good work, and had been exceedingly useful. He did not go back on any opinion expressed in 1914. There were then 8000 men on public works, now there, were 4000, and there were not enough engineers, labour, or material to meet the needs of construction throughout the country. As had been suggested, Cabinet had considered this matter and had put the survey of the deviation for which they were asking on the urgent schedule. (Applause.)
There had been an indication of a difference of opinion regarding rival routes, but he asked them to avoid this pitfall. In giving them this advice he might be speaking against the interests of the Government for it might be held to be in the interests of a Government to encourage a difference of opinion, so that there might be the opportunity to spend the money elsewhere, but he earnestly advised them not.to raise the difficulty.
They would get their survey as soon as the engineers were available, and then would come the decision as to route. Having got that far they could come to Parliament to ask for the authorisation of the line--and that would not be delayed—-and then would come the happy day when the first sod was turned. That might seem a long way ahead, but he knew perfectly well that they could not go on with "that awful piece of line for ever and a day."
The deputation would go back with Government promises in regard to the work in which they "were interested and with the assurance that some of the things they were asking for would be undertaken. (Applause.)
A curve on the Rimutaka Incline, showing the centre rail which was gripped by the Fell Engines.
An Evening Post editorial on 17 September 1920 highlighted difficulties posed by both the existing Johnsonville access to the main trunk and the Rimutaka incline.
The Main Trunk railway over Johnsonville heights and through Paekakariki hill is overloaded because of its structural difficulties, and cannot be relieved by the Wairarapa railway over the Rimutaka, because this line, has worse difficulties still. It is now about sixteen months since the retiring General Manager of Railways, Mr. Hiley, said that the southern section of the Main Trunk (Wellington-Johnsonville-Paekakariki) could not remain any longer with its present means as a portion of the main line"; and that the Rimutaka incline, with grades of 1 in 14 and turns, is "an absolute anachronism." Mr.Hiley said on that occasion:
I would impress on the members of the Government here present the necessity for calling for a survey of the alternative routes to avoid the Rimutaka, and putting the work in hand as soon as possible.
And prior to that a conference of provincial local bodies had urged the Government to appoint an independent and competent commission to settle route questions. Yet, through the lack of continuous pressure on Ministers—-such pressure as has now begun to be exerted by the Central Progress League and by the co-operation of district M.P.'s—-the Prime Minister was able to confront a Rimutaka deputation the other day and to shelter behind the still unsettled route question.
The position now is that the general improvement scheme propounded by Mr. Hiley in 1914 is still held up on the grounds of lack of men and materials, and, even when a start is made, the Rimutaka deviation will still be on the shelved list unless a settlement of the route, question is first forced. Partly from economic necessity, partly by design, the railways policy of the Government is wait-and-see. Meanwhile the Department is inclined to be satisfied if it can keep the coal fires burning.
A video animation of a train leaving Cross Creek Station for the Rimutaka incline, pulled by three Fell locomotives.
It was to take 35 years before the wishes of Wairarapa residents were granted: the Rimutaka incline was closed on 29 October 1955 and the new Rimutaka tunnel opened on 3 November 1955.
Fell Museum website
The Fell Engine and the Rimutaka Incline (Wairarapa Archives)
Engineering involved in the Rimutaka Incline
Manuscripts and Pictorial (Alexander Turnbull Library)
Fell Locomotive Museum