When the rail line to Wellington via Cross Creek and the Remutaka Incline closed in 1955, all buildings were removed from the settlement and the land was placed in the care of New Zealand’s Forest Service, now the Department of Conservation. Cottages at Cross Creek and Summit stations were auctioned off and transported to new locations. A signal box became a shop in Featherston (best icecreams in town), until a recent fire ended that chapter. The track quickly returned to nature. Siberia embankment became saturated through lack of maintenance to its drainage system and, in the course of one stormy night in 1967, slipped into the valley below.
Heritage and history weren’t high priorities in the forward-looking 1960s and most people were probably happy to see the end of a transport system that was slow, antiquated and dirty – imagine the smoke from multiple steam engines in narrow tunnels! But attitudes change with time.
Fell engine H199, the last of its kind, was rescued from the Featherston children’s playground in 1981. Over the next eight years it was restored to its former glory by a dedicated team of volunteers and housed in a purpose-built museum that has won awards and attracted visitors from all over the world. Department of Conservation staff cleared the old track of gorse and scrub and opened it to the public on 1st November 1987.
The track was originally intended for walkers but, with the invention of mountain bikes, has since become part of the much longer Remutaka Cycle Trail.
Cross Creek now (March 2018).
Natural vegetation has returned to the hills after years of fires started by sparks from the steam engines (see top photo).
It seems incredible that, back in 1870, a surveyor hacked his way through this landscape and decided it would be a good place to build a railway.