Topic: Railways - future at stake

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Rangiora's future seemed at stake when proposals for a northern railway were to bypass the town. Rangiora interests lobbied successfully, however, confirming the town's status as the main market centre of North Canterbury.

Rangiora's future seemed at stake when proposals for a northern railway were to bypass the town. Rangiora interests lobbied successfully, however, confirming the town's status as the main market centre of North Canterbury.

The intention to build a branch line to Oxford was another reason for diverting the main line through Rangiora. Rangiora's demand for services was partly met when trains began running to Southbrook over the 5ft 3in broad gauge main line on September 3, 1872. The official celebration of the opening of the line to Rangiora was marked on November 5, when the first train, with a flower decorated engine, reached the Rangiora station.

The station was so crowded with onlookers that visiting dignitaries had difficulty dismounting from the train. Amongst the visitors were the provincial superintendent, William Rolleston, the Hon. E. Richardson, Minister of Public Works, and other parliamentarians, J. Studholme, J.E. Brown, and W.P. Reeves, who claimed considerable credit for adroitly supporting the Rangiora cause. Other guests included local body representatives and the captain and officers of the H.M.S.S. Dido.

The Oxford line planning was fraught with controversy, too, especially the intention to run the branch line up Rangiora's main street. The solution was slightly more costly; buying land from adjacent township section holders and running the line alongside Blackett Street. Land costs for the rest of the branch line were not a factor as the road verge was used for nearly the whole distance to Oxford.

The 22 mile narrow gauge, 3ft 6in, line to West Oxford opened nearly three years later on June 21. This change of gauge was a severe inconvenience requiring all goods to and from the Oxford line to be transferred at Rangiora.

This problem was overcome on December 28, 1877, in a colossal operation for those days. Five hundred men were assembled. In 12 hours between 4am and 4pm, the 34 miles of main line track from Christchurch to Amberley, was converted to the narrow gauge.

Oxford was fortunate to have a second line constructed from Kaiapoi, mainly to serve settlers in the southern area closer to the Waimakariri River. This line joined the Rangiora-Oxford line at Bennetts Junction. The Oxford line was extended to link with the Midland line at Sheffield, sharing the Waimakariri Gorge Bridge with the road traffic until 1932.

For those early days of sparse population, Rangiora became a relatively busy junction station with seven or more trips daily to and from Christchurch and two round trips on the Oxford line.

The railways provided much faster and more comfortable passenger travel as journeys by horse drawn vehicles, over some rugged rural roads, were trying experiences.

Speed on the Oxford line was still disappointing, however, for it took and hour and 40 minutes for the engine, dubbed the Little Pot and the Coffee Pot , to haul its mixed goods-passenger service the 22 up-hill miles to West Oxford.

Progress was slowed by six stops, with the guard having to be station master, shunter, and ticket seller at unmanned stations. Speed was lost by engine drivers trying not to frighten horse traffic on the adjacent road. The down-hill trip to Rangiora was about 15 minutes faster.

The frustration of the tedious Oxford journey prompted an anonymous Rangiora High School pupil to pen this little ditty for the school magazine in 1928:

Ashes to Ashes
Dust to Dust
If it wasn't for the oil can
'The Pot' would bust.

The arrival of the railway seems to have boosted the Rangiora economy for amongst other developments, section prices increased markedly.

Extract from "Rangiora - An early pictorial record", Rangiora Photographic Society, c1993

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