Cross Creek, about forty miles north-east of Wellington, is on the railway line at the foot of the Rimutaka incline. The settlement consists of a railway station and enginesheds, and a number of railway employees’ cottages, with a schoolhouse and master’s residence. It is seven miles south of Featherston, where the settlers get their stores, etc.The place is so situated amongst the hills that in winter it gets only about an hour’s sunshine in the day. The hills around, once heavily wooded, now present a partially cleared appearance. Cross Creek runs through the settlement into Lake Wairarapa.
The Rimutaka incline, which is the steepest piece of railway line in New Zealand, extends from Cross Creek railway station to the Summit, a distance of nearly three miles. The grade is one in fifteen, and the line winds round the hills to the Summit, sometimes with rather dangerous curves, till it rises from 273 feet above sea level at Cross Creek to 1144 feet at the Summit. The railway here is constructed on what is known as the Fell system, with an additional central rail.
When a train reaches Cross Creek from the north, the ordinary engine is detached, and a Fell engine for every eight loaded waggons and van, or every four carriages and two vans, is attached. These engines can each draw a load of sixty-five tons up the incline. An incline van with special brakes is also hitched on. The train then proceeds up the incline at the rate of five miles an hour….. The centre rail is gripped on each side by wheels revolving horizontally underneath the engine. There are two pairs of these wheels on each engine, pressing in towards each other.
When descending, the centre rail is gripped between cast iron blocks fitted under the engine [and brake vans] so as to press towards each other. The friction is so great that, after taking a heavy train down, these blocks are so worn that they have to be replaced. A workshop with a stock of these blocks is therefore part of the plant at Cross Creek, and fitters are kept to replace the blocks as required.
The ascent is made in forty minutes with a passenger train, and the descent in twenty minutes. In two places where the train crosses deep gullies, the line is protected by high wooden fences to break the force of the gusts of wind that at one time, before this means of protection was devised, blew part of a train over the embankment. [September 1880. Three children killed, another died of injuries later].
The line is now, however, well secured against such possibilities. The only inconvenience suffered by passengers is the rather awkward dip of the carriages, and the delay in getting over this three miles of country. The Fell system was first tried on the Mount Cenis line in Europe, but is not used elsewhere in the world, as far as is known, except on the Rimutaka incline.
Text: Extracts from the New Zealand Cyclopedia 1897.
Note: the spelling of ‘Rimutaka’, which has no meaning in the Maori language, was officially changed last year to ‘Remutaka’, which means ‘sitting down to rest’.
The Incline route closed in 1955 after modern engineering technology drove an 8.8km tunnel through the mountains. Fell engine H199, which supported track gangs laying the line in 1878, was there again to help them rip it up 77 years later. Then it was donated to the people of Featherston where it sat in a children’s playground for the next 20 years, slowly rusting away. The other five engines were scrapped.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
To be continued.