North Island Main Trunk

The North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) is the main railway line in the North Island of New Zealand, connecting the capital city Wellington with the country's largest city, Auckland. The line is 682 kilometres (424 mi) long and passes through Paraparaumu, Palmerston North, Taihape, National Park, Taumarunui, Te Kuiti, Hamilton, and Pukekohe.

North Island Main Trunk
Map of the North Island Main Trunk
TypeHeavy rail
SystemNew Zealand railway network
LocaleNorth Island, New Zealand
Auckland Britomart Transport Centre
Opened14 August 1908 (railheads meet)
6 November 1908 (official opening)
14 February 1909 (line completed)
Operator(s)KiwiRail (freight)
KiwiRail Scenic Journeys (long-distance passenger)
Transdev Wellington (Wellington–Waikanae)
Transdev Auckland (Pukekohe–Auckland)
CharacterMain line
Rolling stockEF class electric locomotives (Te Rapa – Palmerston North)
Line length681 km (423 mi)
Number of tracksTriple track WellingtonWairarapa Line junction
double track Wairarapa Line junction–Pukerua Bay, PaekakarikiWaikanae, Hamilton–Te Kauwhata, Amokura–Auckland
remainder single track
Track gauge1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
Electrification1600 V DC overhead Wellington–Waikanae
25 kV 50 Hz AC overhead Palmerston North–Te Rapa, Papakura–Britomart
Operating speed110 km/h (68 mph) maximum
Highest elevation832 metres (2,730 ft)
Route map

Britomart Transport Centre
Quay Park Junction
The Strand Station
formerly Auckland railway station
Ports of Auckland
Westfield Freight Yard
Auckland Eastern & Southern Lines
Auckland Eastern & Southern Lines
Mission Bush Branch &
Glenbrook Vintage Railway
End of Auckland suburban services
Te Rapa
Te Awamutu
Te Kuiti
Waiteti viaduct
National Park
Makatote viaduct
Manganui viaduct
Mangaturuturu viaduct
Taonui viaduct
Hapuawhenua viaduct
Whangaehu River
site of Tangiwai disaster
former tunnels 10e & 10f
North Rangitikei Viaduct
former tunnels 10b/10c/10d
Kawhatau Viaduct
Mangaweka Viaduct
South Rangitikei Viaduct
former tunnel 10a
Mangaweka deviation
Makohine viaduct
Palmerston North
End of Wellington suburban services
former NIMT via Johnsonville
Interislander Ferry Terminal
Wellington Distant Junction
Wellington freight terminal

Most of the NIMT is single track with frequent passing loops, built to the New Zealand rail gauge of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in). The line is double track between Wellington and Waikanae (except for a 3.3 km (2.1 mi) single-track section through the tunnels, between North Junction, which is 35.3 km (21.9 mi) from Wellington and South Junction, which is 32 km (20 mi) from Wellington, on the Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki section),[1] between Hamilton and Te Kauwhata (except for the single-track Waikato River Bridge at Ngaruawahia), and between Meremere and Auckland Britomart. Around 460 kilometres (290 mi) (approximately 65%) of the line is electrified in three separate sections: one section at 1600 V DC between Wellington and Waikanae, and two sections at 25 kV AC: 412 km (256 mi) between Palmerston North and Te Rapa (Hamilton) and 34 km (21 mi) between Papakura and Auckland Britomart.

The first section of what became the NIMT opened in 1873 in Auckland. Construction at the Wellington end began in 1885. The line was completed in 1908 and was fully operational by 1909. It is credited for having been an economic lifeline for the young nation, and for having opened up the centre of the North Island to European settlement and investment.[2] In the early days, a passenger journey between Wellington and Auckland could take more than 20 hours; today, the Northern Explorer takes approximately 11 hours.[3]

The NIMT has been described as an "engineering miracle",[4] with numerous engineering feats such as viaducts, tunnels and a spiral built to overcome large elevation differences with grades suitable for steam engines.



Auckland to Te Awamutu

Auckland's first railway was the 13 km (8.1 mi) line between Point Britomart and Onehunga via Penrose, opened in 1873 (see photo of first train). It was built by Brogdens.[5] The section from Penrose to Onehunga is now called the Onehunga Branch. The line was later continued south from Penrose into the Waikato, possibly to support the Invasion of the Waikato, a 3.5 mi (5.6 km) tramway being built from Maungatawhiri to Meremere in 1864,[6] though turning of the first sod of the Auckland and Drury Railway took place in 1865, a year after the last major battle.[7] This line reached Mercer by 20 May 1875, with 29 km (18 mi) from Ngaruawahia being constructed by the Volunteer Engineer Militia and opened on 13 August 1877. It was extended to Frankton by December 1877, and to Te Awamutu in 1880. An economic downturn stalled construction for the next five years, and Te Awamutu remained the railhead. There were also protracted negotiations with local Māori, and the King Country was not accessible to Europeans until 1883.

Wellington to Marton

The Wellington-Longburn (near Palmerston North) section was constructed between 1881 and 1886 by the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company (WMR). The company was acquired by the New Zealand Railways Department in 1908.

Central North Island

From Te Awamutu it was proposed that the line be built via Taupo or via Taumarunui, the eventual route. Four options were considered before the Minister of Public Works decided on the present route in 1884, but, when it was realised just how difficult that route was, further surveys considered two other options in 1888.[8] Construction of the final central section began on 15 April 1885, when paramount chief Wahanui of Ngāti Maniapoto turned the first sod outside Te Awamutu. It was 23 years before the two lines met, as the central section was difficult to survey and construct. The crossing of the North Island Volcanic Plateau with deep ravines required nine viaducts and the world-famous Raurimu Spiral. By the beginning of 1908, there was a 39 km (24 mi) gap between Erua and Ohakune, with a connecting horse-drawn coach service. From Ohakune south to Waiouru the Public Works Department operated the train, as this section had not yet been handed over to the Railways Department.


The gap was closed on 7 August 1908 for the first through passenger train, the 11-car Parliamentary Special carrying the Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward and other parliamentarians north to see the American Great White Fleet at Auckland.[2] But much of the new section was temporary, with some cuttings north of Taonui having vertical batters and some unballasted sections of track. Ward drove the last spike on 6 November 1908, and the 'Last Spike' monument is at Manganui-o-te-Ao 39°16.44′S 175°23.37′E, near Pokaka. A two-day NIMT service started on 9 November, with an overnight stop at Ohakune.

On 14 February 1909 the first NIMT express left Auckland for Wellington, an overnight trip scheduled to take 19 hours 15 minutes, with a sleeping car, day cars with reclining seats, and postal/parcels vans. The dining car went on the north express from Wellington to Ohakune, then transferred to the southbound express, so avoiding the heavy gradients of the central section.

Track upgrades

Several sections of the line have been upgraded and deviated:

In 1913 the maximum speed limit on the NIMT was raised to 45 mph (72 km/h), reducing the journey time by 1 hour 25 minutes Auckland-Wellington or to 17 hours and between 30 and 45 minutes.[9] Under T. Ronayne, the Railways Department general manager from 1895 to 1913,[10] the section south to Parnell was duplicated and improvements made to the worst gradients and tight curves between Auckland and Mercer. Under his successor E. H. Hiley the second Parnell Tunnel with two tracks and an easier gradient was completed in 1915–1916. On the Kakariki bank between Halcombe and Marton a deviation reduced the 1 in 53 grade to 1 in 70.[11] A 1914 Act authorised spending on the Westfield Deviation, new stations at Auckland and Wellington, track doubling (Penrose-Papakura, Ohinewai-Huntly, Horotiu-Frankton, Newmarket-New Lynn), and grade easements from Penrose to Te Kuiti,[12] but the war delayed most of these works for over a decade.

In 1927 automatic colour-light signalling was installed from Otahuhu to Mercer.[13] In 1930 the signalling was extended 34 mi 72 ch (56.2 km) to Frankton and the 6 mi 55 ch (10.8 km) from there to Horotiu was doubled. The 3 mi 54 ch (5.9 km) north to Ngāruawāhia was doubled from 5 December 1937,[14] followed by 9 mi 12 ch (14.7 km) Ngāruawāhia to Huntly on 4 December 1938[15] and Huntly to Ohinewai and Papakura to Paerata in December 1939.[16] By then, wartime shortages delayed further double-tracking.[17] Pokeno to Mercer was doubled from 11 November 1951, Pukekohe to Pokeno 21 November 1954, Mercer to Amokura 1 July 1956 and Ohinewai to Te Kauwhata 14 December 1958. The 13 km (8.1 mi) between Amokura and Te Kauwhata remain single track, as does Ngāruawāhia bridge.[18]

In 1930 the Westfield Deviation was opened, creating a new eastern route from Auckland to Westfield via Glen Innes and Hobsons Bay, running into the new Auckland railway station and providing better access to the Port of Auckland. The original section between Auckland and Westfield via Newmarket later ceased to be part of the NIMT: Auckland to Newmarket became the Auckland-Newmarket Line, and Newmarket to Westfield became part of the North Auckland Line (NAL) which runs between Whangarei and Westfield.

In the late 1930s, bridges replaced level crossings at Ohinewai, Taupiri and Hopuhopu.[19]

The double track Tawa Flat deviation opened to goods trains on 22 July 1935 and to passenger trains on 19 June 1937, bypassing the original single track WMR line between Wellington and Tawa. With a pair of tunnels under the Wellington hills, the deviation alleviated issues with more and heavier freight traffic on the steep twisting original route. The Wellington to Johnsonville section of the original line was retained as the Johnsonville Line and the Johnsonville to Tawa section closed.

Planned in conjunction with the Tawa Flat deviation, electrification at 1500 V DC of the southern section of the NIMT from Wellington to Paekakariki was completed on 24 July 1940, eliminating the need to relieve the steep (1 in 57) gradients to the Pukerua Bay summit by a deviation to the east and the smoke problem in the new long Tawa No. 2 tunnel. The electrification allowed suburban electric multiple units to run on this section from September 1949.

Following the Tawa Flat deviation, work continued on duplication of the line from Wellington to Paekakariki to provide for more frequent suburban passenger trains. The sections from Plimmerton to South Junction, north of Pukerua Bay, and North Junction to Paekakariki were completed in 1940. The difficult section with tunnels between South and North Junctions remains single track. Duplication from Tawa to Porirua opened on 15 December 1957, from Porirua to Paremata on 7 November 1960, and Paremata to Plimmerton on 16 October 1961. The section between Porirua and Plimmerton was straightened in conjunction with the duplication by reclaiming land along the eastern shore of Porirua Harbour.

Between 1964 and 1966 a deviation away from the centre of Palmerston North via the Milson deviation on the edge of the city.

In 1967 the floors of the tunnels on the WMR section between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay were lowered to enable the DA class locomotives to travel all the way to Wellington.

Between 1973 and 1981 the major Mangaweka deviation in the central section between Mangaweka and Utiku was built, with three viaducts, all over 70m tall, crossing the Rangitikei and Kawhatau rivers.

The central section from Te Rapa near Hamilton to Palmerston North was electrified at 25 kV AC between 1984 and 1988 as part of the Think Big government energy programme. Some tunnels were opened out or bypassed by deviations while in others clearances were increased, and curves eased. The section between Ohakune and Horopito was realigned with three viaducts replaced to handle higher loads and speeds. The most notable bridge replaced was the curved metal viaduct at Hapuawhenua by a modern concrete structure, though the original has been restored as a tourist attraction.

In 2009–10, the 1.5 km section of line between Wellington Junction and Distant Junction was rebuilt from double track to triple track, to ease peak-time congestion.

In February 2011 duplication between Paekakariki and Waikanae was completed as part of the upgrade and expansion of the Wellington suburban network; see Kapiti Line for more information.

In 2012–13 four bridges near Rangiriri between Auckland and Hamilton were replaced. The bridges were all over 100 years old with steel spans and timber piers, and were replaced by modern low-maintenance concrete ballast deck bridges. Bridges 479, 480, 481 & 482 were replaced, with lengths of 40 metres (131 ft 3 in), 40 metres (131 ft 3 in), 30 metres (98 ft 5 in) and 18 metres (59 ft 1 in) respectively.[20]

The construction of the Peka Peka to Otaki section of the Kapiti Expressway required 1.3 km of the NIMT immediately north of Otaki station to be realigned. Construction began in 2017, and trains were switched onto the new alignment over the 2019 Easter long weekend (19–22 April).[21][22]

In the Auckland area, a third main line between Wiri and Westfield[23] or Wiri and Papakura, to allow freight trains to bypass stationary passenger trains, has been proposed.[24]


There are three independent sections of the NIMT which are electrified: Auckland's urban network (25 kV AC), Wellington's urban network (1600 V DC), and the central section (25 kV AC) from Palmerston North – Te Rapa (north of Hamilton).

Electrification of the NIMT was mooted by electrical engineer Evan Parry in the first volume of the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology in November 1918. In light of a national coal shortage following World War I, Parry argued that the network was under great strain due to ever-increasing volumes of freight, and the use of steam traction was partly to blame. Parry also noted that there was great potential for cheap hydro-electricity generation in the central North Island to power electrification.

The first part of the NIMT to be electrified was the WellingtonPaekakariki section via the Tawa Flat deviation that was completed on 24 July 1940. This was largely to prevent smoke nuisance in the 4.3 km No. 2 tunnel, and to provide for banking on the Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay section. Electric traction in this section is now used only by Transdev Wellington for Metlink suburban passenger services on the Kapiti Line, and was extended to Paraparaumu on 7 May 1983 and Waikanae on 20 February 2011. Funded by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the extension to Waikanae coincided with the delivery of new FP class Matangi electric multiple units.[25]

Following the Second World War railway services suffered due to skill and coal shortages. Skilled staff sought employment opportunities elsewhere in the economy. From 1948 to 1951 the General Manager of the Railways Department, Frederick Aickin, advocated electrification of the entire line, despite protests from his engineering staff. Aickin had previously been Staff Superintendent and Chief Legal Advisor to the Department, and considered using diesel locomotives for trains on the NIMT to be too expensive. He turned his attention to electrification, mainly because he saw that it could relieve the coal situation and prevent high expenditure on imported fuels.

He commissioned a study into electrification, which concluded that a low-frequency AC system could be cheaper than 1500 V DC, the system in use in Wellington. Aicken sent a technical mission of four senior officers overseas in March 1949 and travelled overseas himself to negotiate a tentative contract with a British construction company. The Chief Mechanical Engineer and Chief Accountant specified and costed the system and Aicken was able to complete a substantial report justifying the NIMT electrification and submit it to the Government.

Officers from New Zealand Treasury and the Ministry of Works and two experts from Sweden (Thelander and Edenius) commented on the proposal and in December 1950 the Government granted approval in principle and agreed to appoint Thelander as a consultant. However, Aickin fell out with the then National Government and retired as General Manager in July 1951. With the change in regime, the electrification proposal disappeared.

A key assumption of Aickin's report was that traffic on the NIMT would grow by 50% from 1948 to 1961. Since a diesel-electric locomotive was in fact a travelling power station, the savings through electrification compared to diesel could be regarded as the difference between the cost of buying bulk electrical energy generated substantially from New Zealand resources and the cost of generating electricity in a small plant using imported diesel fuel.

However, the Royal Commission on Railways created following Aickin's tenure rejected the report's findings. Aickin's successor, H.C. Lusty, revised the tentative contract with English Electric to specify DF diesel-electric locomotives. They were later found to be unreliable, and only ten were supplied. 42 DG locomotives were supplied instead for secondary lines. For main lines including the NIMT, DA class diesel-electric locomotives were ordered from General Motors.

The 411 km (255 mi) section between Palmerston North and Hamilton was electrified at 25 kV 50 Hz AC, opened in June 1988 as one of the Muldoon National Government's "Think Big" energy development projects. An overall cost in excess of $100 million had been projected, with some 40% being for the locomotives, but the final cost was about $250 million. The economics of the project was greatly undermined by the fall of the price of oil in the 1980s and the deregulation of land transport, which removed the long-distance monopoly NZR held when the cost-benefit report was written.

The electrification of the section, which had its genesis in a study group set up in June 1974 to report on measures to be taken to cope with increasing rail traffic volumes, received approval in 1980. This led to a technical study carried out with assistance from the Japanese Railway Technical Research Institute. The report stated that track capacity would be increased by electrification because such traction is faster and able to move more freight at once. The report stated, for example, that whereas a diesel locomotive could haul 720-tonne trains at 27 km/h (17 mph) up the Raurimu Spiral, an electric locomotive could haul 1100/1200-tonne trains at 45 km/h (28 mph), cutting 3–5 hours off journey times. Less fuel would be needed and employing regenerative braking in electric locomotives lowers the fuel consumption further.

Electrification's advantages were reflected in the economic evaluation in the report, which showed a rate of return of 18%. Sensitivity analysis showed that this high rate of return gave the project robustness against lower traffic volumes than expected (the return remained positive even if traffic fell), against significant increases in construction cost, and against lower than expected rises in the diesel fuel price.

Part of the project included replacing the copper wire communications system with a new fibre optic communications cable (due to interference caused by AC power with the DC copper wire system) between Wellington and Auckland. In 1994 New Zealand Rail Limited sold the cable to Clear Communications for telephone traffic, leasing part of it back for signalling.[26]

Proposals to electrify the Auckland suburban rail network dated back to the 1960s,[27] they mainly coincided with proposals to electrify the NIMT in its entirety. In 2005 the central government decided to implement a proposal[28] to electrify the urban network at 25 kV AC, the same system as on the central NIMT.[29] This included 35.7 km (22.2 mi) of the NIMT itself, from Britomart to just south of Papakura. Work on electrification of the Auckland network began in 2010. The first revenue electric services using AM class EMUs commenced on 28 April 2014 between Britomart and Onehunga on the Onehunga Line.[30] The electrification project on the Auckland network, including the Auckland-Papakura section of the NIMT, was completed in July 2015, with all suburban services being electric. A diesel shuttle service runs on the non-electrified Pukekohe-Papakura section.[31]

The future

The completion of Auckland's electrification leaves a gap of 87.1 km (54.1 mi) to the central NIMT electrification at Te Rapa, north of Hamilton. Electrification may be extended south as the Auckland suburban system expands, but this will depend on further government funding. In February 2008 former Auckland Regional Council Chairman Mike Lee suggested the initial electrification might be extended to Pukekohe, leaving a 60 km gap to Te Rapa.[32] In 2012, in response to public submissions, the board of Auckland Transport decided to include an investigation into electrifying to Pukekohe to its 10-year programme.[33] ATAP, Auckland's 2018–2028 plan provides for Pukekohe electrification, a third line from Westfield to Wiri and further new electric trains.[34]

A paper written in 2008 for then railway infrastructure owner ONTRACK investigated the possibility of electrifying the remaining Papakura-Te Rapa gap between the Auckland urban system's terminus at Papakura on the NIMT and the central NIMT system, along with electrification of the East Coast Main Trunk to Tauranga.[35] The report put the total cost of electrification at $860 million, with $433 million for the Papakura-Te Rapa section.[35] It concluded that money would be better spent on grade and curvature easements, removing speed restrictions and increasing the length of passing loops.[35]

In Wellington, there is an 80.8 km (50.2 mi) gap from Waikanae to the central NIMT electrification at Palmerston North. Since the extension of electrification to Waikanae in February 2012, there have been calls for the electrification to be extended by 15 km (9.3 mi) to Otaki.[36] If this happens, there will be a 66 km (41 mi) gap. As the two electrification systems are different, multi-current locomotives or multiple units would be required for through electric working, should that gap be ever closed, unless one electric system is converted to be consistent with the other.

On 21 December 2016, KiwiRail announced their plan to withdraw from service, over a two-year period, the EF class electric locomotives (the only electric rolling stock working the central electrified section) without replacing them.[37] The reasons given for the decision included the fact that the EFs are now close to their end of life (approximately 30 years old) and suffer from frequent breakdowns (on average every 30,000 kilometres (19,000 mi) which is well below the expected breakdown-free service interval of 50,000 kilometres (31,000 mi)) and that having to change from a diesel locomotive to an electric one and back again at each end of the electrified section is labour-intensive, time-consuming and adds to costs. KiwiRail did not intend to de-electrify the section but would maintain it so that electric rolling stock could be reintroduced in the future.

On 30 October 2018, the Government announced that it is retaining the EF class electric locomotives, to help meet its long term emissions goals and boost the economy. The 15 remaining EF class locomotives will be refurbished by KiwiRail and will continue to run between Hamilton and Palmerston North.[38]


On 6 August 2008 at 9am, a train (which included 100-year-old carriage AA1013, restored by the Mainline Steam Trust) departed Wellington in a re-enactment of 7 August 1908 Parliamentary Special carrying the Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward to Auckland,[39] stopping overnight at Taihape and Taumarunui before continuing to Auckland. Tickets were by invitation only.

A series of stamps was issued to commemorate the centennial, see Stamps:

  • 50c – Last Spike Ceremony Manganui-o-te-ao – a photo of actual event[40]
  • $1.00 – Taumarunui, 1958 – steam locomotive KA 947 pulling into the old railway station.
  • $1.50 – Makatote Viaduct, 1963.[41]
  • $2.00 – Raurimu Spiral, 1964.
  • $2.50 – The Overlander, Hapuawhenua Viaduct, 2003.


The NIMT has been described as an "engineering miracle", with numerous engineering feats especially along the Rangitikei River and on the North Island Volcanic Plateau. This included the building of the famous Raurimu Spiral to allow trains to ascend the steep grade from the Whanganui River valley to the North Island Volcanic Plateau.

The NIMT includes 352 bridges and 14 tunnels.[3] The major viaducts include three (North Rangitikei, South Rangitikei and Kawhatau) opened in 1981 for the Mangaweka deviation. Five viaducts are over 70 metres (230 ft) high. There are smaller viaducts at Taonui north of Ohakune,[42] and Manganui-o-te-Ao and Mangaturutura.[43]

The heights and lengths of the main viaducts are:[44]

Name Height Length Opened Remarks
North Rangitikei81 m or 266 ft160 m or 525 ft1981
Makatote79 m or 259 ft262 m or 860 ft1908
South Rangitikei78 m or 256 ft315 m or 1,033 ft1981
Kawhatau73 m or 240 ft160 m or 525 ft1981
Makohine73 m or 240 ft229 m or 751 ft1902
Toi Toi58 m or 190 ft66 m or 217 ft1904
Hapuawhenua45 m or 148 ft284 m or 932 ft1908replaced 1987 [45]
Hapuawhenua51 m or 167 ft414 m or 1,358 ft1987
Waiteti36 m or 118 ft127 m or 417 ft1889or Waitete, 130 m or 427 ft long [46]
Mangaweka288 m or 945 ft48 m or 157 ft1903superseded by Mangaweka deviation [42]

Rolling stock

Due to its high volume and high value of traffic to NZR and the steep grades in the central section, the NIMT has used the most powerful locomotives in New Zealand.

When the NIMT opened in 1909, the powerful 4-8-2 X class was introduced to handle heavy traffic over the mountainous central North Island section. Four G class Garratt-type locomotives were introduced in 1928, but these locomotives were not as effective as anticipated. In 1932 the 4-8-4 K class was introduced, and later improved in 1939 with the KA.

The introduction of the English Electric DF class in 1954 began the end of the steam era, and in 1955 with the introduction of the DA major withdrawals of steam locomotives began. 1972 saw the introduction of DX locomotives and the Silver Fern railcars: the latter remained in service between Auckland and Wellington until 1991.

With electrification and the introduction of the EF class electric locomotives in the late 1980s, the DX class was mainly reassigned to other areas of the network, including hauling coal on the Midland Line in the South Island. Since then services between Te Rapa and Palmerston North have been worked mainly by the electrics, although some services are still diesel operated, such as those originating from or terminating on other lines, or originating from within the central section, like the paper pulp freight trains from Karioi.

As of May 2016, regular rolling stock on the NIMT include:

Class Image Type Cars per set Number Operator Routes Built
EMU 2 83 Transdev Wellington Wellington suburban services between Wellington and Waikanae 2010–12, 2015–16
AM EMU 3 57 Transdev Auckland Auckland suburban services on Eastern and Southern Lines 2012–15
ADL/ADC DMU 2 10 Transdev Auckland Auckland passenger services between Papakura and the town of Pukekohe 1982–85
S carriage 8 8 (one set) KiwiRail Capital Connection services between Wellington and Palmerston North 1971–75
AK carriage 6 6 (one set) KiwiRail Scenic Journeys Northern Explorer services between Wellington and Auckland Strand Station 2011–12

Connecting lines

Line NameDate OpenedDate ClosedNIMT JunctionTerminusLengthNotes
Newmarket Line 24 December 1873 Open Quay Park Junction Newmarket Junction 2.5 km Formerly Auckland-Onehunga line 1873–1877, Auckland-Waikato line 1877–1908, NIMT 1908–1974.
North Auckland Line 20 May 1875 Open Westfield Junction Otiria Junction 280 km Formerly formed part of the NIMT in conjunction with what is now the Newmarket Line.
Manukau Branch 15 April 2012 Open Wiri Junction Manukau 2.5 km
Mission Bush Branch 10 December 1917 Open Paerata Junction Mission Bush 17 km Formerly Waiuku Branch. Glenbrook Vintage Railway uses the 8 km Glenbrook-Waiuku section.
Kimihia Branch 21 October 2015[47] Huntly North Kimihia Mine 2.75 km
Rotowaro Branch 20 December 1915 Open Huntly Rotowaro 8.5 km Formerly Glen Afton Branch (14 km long). Bush Tramway Club uses the 2 km section Pukemiro to Glen Afton.
Waipa Railway and Coal Co. line 1 March 1914 19 May 1958 Ngaruawahia Wilton Collieries 10.5 km Private line. Operated by NZR from 12 August 1935 to closure.
East Coast Main Trunk 20 October 1879 Open Frankton Junction Kawerau 180 km Formerly Thames Branch (1879–1928). Line reduced in length by Kaimai Deviation, 1978. Former length 230 km.
Stratford–Okahukura Line 4 September 1933 Mothballed 2009 Okahukura Junction Stratford 144 km Leased to Forgotten World Adventures Ltd.
Raetihi Branch 18 December 1917 1 January 1968 Ohakune Junction Raetihi 13 km
Marton–New Plymouth Line 4 February 1878 Open Marton Junction Breakwater (New Plymouth) 212 km
Taonui Branch 17 November 1879 14 August 1895 Taonui Colyton 3.5 km
Palmerston North–Gisborne Line 9 March 1891 Open Roslyn Junction Gisborne 391 km Napier-Gisborne section mothballed 2012. Gisborne City Railway use Gisborne-Muriwai section (16 km)
Foxton Branch April 1873 18 July 1959 Longburn Junction Foxton 31 km Part of Foxton-New Plymouth Railway until 1908
Wairarapa Line 14 April 1874 Open Distant Junction (Wellington) Woodville 170 km Reduced in length by closure of Rimutaka Incline (1955) from 182 km.
Johnsonville Branch 24 September 1885 Open Wellington Junction Johnsonville 10 km Built by the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company. 6 km Johnsonville-Tawa section closed 19 June 1937.
Te Aro Branch 27 March 1893 23 April 1917 Wellington (Lambton) Te Aro 1.77 km

Notable connecting tramways and other lines

Junction StationDate OpenedDate ClosedOwnerNotes
Drury 1862 unknown Drury Coal Company Horse tramway
Kellyville Public Works Department Construction of Pokeno to Paeroa line, not completed beyond Mangatawhiri.
Ngaruawahia 1 March 1914 19 May 1958 Waipa Railway and Coal Co. 10 km private railway.
Otorohonga 1921 Rangitoto Colliery Co. 6 km horse tram
Mangapehi 1944 Ellis and Bernand Steam-powered bush tramway
Waione Siding 1950 Marton Sash and Door Co Steam-powered bush tramway
Ongarue 1956 Ellis and Bernand Extensive steam-powered bush tramway (now part of a cycle trail)
Taringamotu 1910 1960s Taringamotu Tramway Steam-powered bush tramway
Manunui 1944 Ellis and Bernand Extensive steam-powered bush tramway
Oio 1935 King Speirs and Co Steam-powered bush tramway
Mansons Siding Manson and Clark Steam-powered bush tramway
Raurimu 1935 King Speirs and Co Steam-powered bush tramway
Raurimu 1935 1957 Raurimu Sawmilling Co Steam-powered bush tramway
Pokaka 1930 1957 Pokaka Timber Co Steam-powered bush tramway
Horopito Horopito Sawmills Ltd Highest railway in New Zealand, summit at 923.5 metres above sea level.
Longburn 27 October 1886 7 December 1908 Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company Private line, purchased by NZR and incorporated into NIMT

Passenger services


From opening there have been regular passenger services between Wellington and Auckland. The daily "Express" left earlier in the evening, followed by the "Limited", which had fewer stops for passengers.

Between 1963 and 1968 daytime trains were called the Scenic Daylight. In 1968, an RM class 88-seater railcar was refurbished and repainted in a distinctive blue scheme that led to it being nicknamed the Blue Streak. It initially operated an unsuccessful service between Hamilton and Auckland in early 1968, and was transferred to the Auckland-Wellington run on 23 September 1968.

In 1971 NZR introduced the Silver Star, a luxury sleeper train. The service was not economically viable, and was withdrawn in 1979. Much more successful was the Silver Fern, a daytime railcar service, introduced in 1972 to replace the "Blue Streak". This service was withdrawn in 1991 and replaced by The Overlander.

In conjunction with the introduction of the carriage train Overlander service, the Silver Fern railcars were redeployed to start new services between Tauranga and Auckland – Kaimai Express, and Auckland and Rotorua – Geyserland Express, in 1991. In 2000 a new commuter service called the Waikato Connection was introduced between Hamilton and Auckland and ran in conjunction with the services to Tauranga and Rotorua until all three services were cancelled in 2001.

On 25 July 2006 Toll announced that the Overlander would cease at the end of September 2006, but on 28 September 2006 the train's continuation on a limited timetable was announced.[48] It ran daily during the summer months and thrice-weekly for the balance of the year.

In 2012 KiwiRail announced the Overlander would be replaced by the Northern Explorer, with new AK class carriages to provide a premium tourist train on a quicker timetable with fewer stops. It commenced on Monday 25 June 2012, and consists of one train running from Auckland to Wellington on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and Wellington to Auckland on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. It has fewer stops than the Overlander, stopping only at Papakura, Hamilton, Otorohanga, National Park, Ohakune, Palmerston North and Paraparaumu.

The Capital Connection commuter train operates between Palmerston North and Wellington.

Both KiwiRail and private enthusiast operators such as the Railway Enthusiasts Society, Mainline Steam and Steam Inc operate charter trains.

Auckland suburban

Suburban trains run on the NIMT at regular intervals as follows:

Eastern Line (Manukau to Britomart via Glen Innes) trains run on the NIMT between Puhinui and Britomart.

Southern Line (Papakura to Britomart via Otahuhu and Newmarket) trains run on the NIMT from Papakura to Westfield Junction. They then run on the North Auckland Line to Newmarket, and the Newmarket Line to the vicinity of Quay Park, where they rejoin the NIMT only for the short section (about 500 metres) into Britomart. A diesel train shuttle service runs on the NIMT between Pukekohe and Papakura.

Onehunga Line and Western Line trains use the NIMT only for the short section (about 500 metres) from the vicinity of Quay Park into Britomart.

Wellington suburban

Wellington's Metlink suburban network, operated by Transdev Wellington, includes the southern portion of the NIMT between Wellington and Waikanae as the Kapiti Line.



StationDistance from WellingtonHeight above sea level (m)OpenedClosedNotes
Wellington 0 km 2.4m 1937 Open Replaced NZR's Lambton and WMR's Thorndon stations, which closed upon completion.
Lambton 0 km 2.4m 1884 1937 Slightly north of current Wellington station.
Pipitea 0.75 km 2.4m 1874 1884 Original Wellington station, on Pipitea Quay.
Thorndon 0.75 km 2.4m 1886 1937 Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, near of Pipitea station
Kaiwharawhara 2.44 km 2.4m 1874 2013 Kaiwarra until 1951.
Takapu Road 11.78 km 41m 1937 Open
Redwood 13.16 km 26.5m 1963 Open
Tawa 13.58 km 25.6m 1937 Open Tawa Flat (closed 1937) was 12 metres above Redwood station on adjacent hillside.
Linden 14.85 km 17.7m 1940 Open
Kenepuru 16.16 km 15m 1940 Open
Porirua 17.8 km 3.6m 1885 Open
Paremata 21.7 km 2.7m 1885 Open
Mana 23.04 km 3m 1949 Open Dolly Varden until 1960.
Plimmerton 24.4 km 5.8m 1885 Open
Pukerua Bay 30.1 km 80m 1885 Open
Muri 31.15 km 77m 1952 2011
Paekakariki 38.84 km 7m 1886 Open
Wainui 40.85 km 9m 1886 1900
Paraparaumu 48.28 km 13.7m 1886 Open
Otaihunga 51.5 km 21m 1886 1902
Waikanae 55.31 km 31m 1886 Open
Hadfield 60 km 39m 1886 1906
Te Horo 64.77 km 19.2m 1886 1965
Hautere 67.6 km 15.2m 1886 1900
Otaki 70.28 km 14.6m 1886 Open
Manakau 79.3 km 30.5m 1886 1967 Known as "Manukau" until 1905.
Ohau 84.95 km 30.7m 1886 c.1970
Levin 90.3 km 36.5m 1886 Open Known as "Weraroa" 1886–1894.
Queen Street 91.37 km 36.5m 1956 c.1970
Levin 91.5 km 36.5m 1886 1894
Koputaroa 99.23 km 8.5m 1886 c.1970 Kereru until 1906.
Shannon 106.57 km 12.2m 1886 Open
Makerua 111.84 km 7.62m 1886 c.1970
Tokomaru 118.35 km 17.7m 1886 closed
Linton 124.19 km 18.3m 1886 closed
Longburn 129.69 km 19.8m 1873 closed
Awapuni 132 km 24.7m 1876 1965
Palmerston North 135.76 km 30m 1873 1965
Palmerston North 136.03 km 28m 1963 Open
Terrace End 138.51 km 38.1m 1876 1964
Bunnythorpe 144.47 km 55.2m 1876 1985
Taonui 148.62 km 61.9m 1876 1963
Aorangi 150.66 km 70.7m 1876 1965
Feilding 152.98 km 72.2m 1876 2012 except for groups of 10+[51]
Makino Road 156.26 km 103m 1878 1960
Maewa 158.34 km 107m 1878 1962
Halcombe 165.76 km 118m 1878 closed
Kakariki 171.12 km 70m 1878 closed
Greatford 175.67 km 104.5m 1878 c.1970
Marton 180.25 km 140.8m 1878 2012 except for groups of 10+[51]
Cliff Road 183.58 km 159.7m 1888 1966
Overton 188.85 km 155m 1888 1958
Porewa 190.53 km 165m 1888 closed
Rata 195.46 km 194m 1888 1975
Silverhope 199.31 km 224m 1888 1966
Hunterville 205.33 km 267m 1888 1986
Kaikarangi 210.18 km 284m 1888 1964
Mangaonoho 216.04 km 257m 1893 1966
Ohingaiti 222.14 km 279m 1902 1975
Mangaweka 231.04 km 326.7m 1902 1982
Utiku 243.69 km 371m 1904 closed
Ohotu 247.08 km 395.6m 1904 closed
Winiata 249.02 km 415m 1904 closed
Taihape 251.85 km 442m 1904 2012 except for groups of 10+[51]
Mataroa 260.88 km 530m 1907 closed photo of opening day
Ngaurukehu 270.25 km 640m 1908 closed
Turangarere 274.5 km 702m 1912 1972
Hihitahi 278.2 km 741m 1908 closed Turangarere until 1912. "Hihitahi" is a sound-based local Maori word for "locomotive".
Waiouru 290.3 km 813.8m 1908 2005 Highest railway station in New Zealand.
Tangiwai 299.49 km 699.5m 1909 closed Nearest station to the Tangiwai disaster, 24 December 1953.
Karioi 306.94 km 630.3m 1909 closed
Rangataua 312.79 km 670m 1909 closed
Ohakune 317.09 km 618.4m 1908 open Ohakune Junction in working timetables 1917–1968.
Horopito 326.91 km 752m 1909 1981 Used as location for Smash Palace movie, 1981
Pokaka 332.57 km 811m 1909 closed
Erua 340.13 km 742.5m 1908 closed
National Park 346.83 km 806.8m 1908 open Waimarino until 1949.
Raurimu 358.31 km 589m 1908 closed
Oio 366.25 km 520m 1908 closed Known to WW2 American servicemen as "Zero-10". Shortest station name in the North Island, with Ava.
Owhango 371.89 km 456.6m 1908 closed
Kakahi 382 km 266m 1908 closed
Piriaka 387.15 km 230m 1908 closed
Manunui 391.9 km 190.5m 1908 closed
Matapuna 394.8 km 180m 1908 closed
Taumarunui 397.75 km 171m 1903 2012 except for groups of 10+[51]
Taringamotu 402 km 172.5m 1903 1971
Okahukura 408.54 178.3m 1903 closed Okahukura Junction in working timetables 1933–2010.
Te Koura 412.75 km 182m 1909 1975
Ongarue 420.68 km 192.6m 1903 1986
Waione Siding 426.86 km 208m 1921 1950
Waimiha 434.39 km 232m 1903 1983
Poro-O-Tarao 444.05 km 339.2m 1901 1979
Mangapehi 449.47 km 285.3m 1901 1984 Known as "Mangapeehi" station 1901–1920.
Kopaki 454.35 km 265m 1901 closed Paratikana until 1920.
Puketutu 461.83 km 206m 1889 closed Mokau until 1912.
Waiteti 470.07 km 135m 1889 closed
Te Kuiti 475.66 km 54m 1887 2012 except for groups of 10+[51]
Te Kumi 478.56 km 49.6m 1887 1968
Hangatiki 485.2 km 39.9m 1887 1982
Otorohanga 494.41 km 37m 1887 2012 Reopened summer 2012
Kiokio 498.45 km 35.4m 1887 1973
Te Kawa 506.88 km 47.8m 1887 1982
Te Mawhai 513 km 35.6m 1887 1958 Te Puhi until 1900
Te Awamutu 517.02 km 50m 1880 2005
Ngaroto 519.92 km 56m 1880 1954
Lake Road 522.26 km 54m 1880 1940
Ohaupo 527.16 km 52m 1880 1982
Rukuhia 533.59 km 55m 1880 1970
Hamilton 542.52 km 37.5m 1877 Open Previously Hamilton Junction and Frankton Junction.
Te Rapa Racecourse 547.50 km 33.2m 1920 1980
Te Rapa 549.25 km 33m 1877 1970 Not to be confused with Te Rapa Marshalling Yards (547 km from Wellington).
Horotiu 553.65 km 23.7m 1877 c1968 Pukete until 23 June 1907.[52] Moved from 77 mi (124 km) to 76 mi (122 km) from Auckland in 1880[53]
Ngaruawahia 559.16 km 20.7m 1877 c1968 Newcastle until 1878.[54]
Taupiri 566.56 km 13.7m 1877 c1968
Huntly 573.87 km 14m 1877 1998
Kimihia 578.45 km 14m 1877 1939
Ohinewai 582.04 km 10m 1877 c1968
Rangiriri 588.11 9m 1877 1957
Te Kauwhata 591.62 km 12.2m 1877 1984
Whangamarino 598.34 km 6.7m 1877 1978
Amokura 604.53 km 7m 1877 1980
Mercer 609.16 km 6.4m 1877 1986
Pokeno 613.96 km 24m 1877 c1968
Whangarata 617.90 km 59.7m 1877 c1968 a flag station[55]
Tuakau 621.41 km 37m 1875 1986 rebuilt 1910[56]
Buckland 625.6 km 58m 1875 closed
Pukekohe 628.86 km 60.65m 1875 open
Paerata 633.29 km 45.1m 1875 1980 Paerata Junction from 1917.
Runciman 638.37 km 8m 1875 1918
Drury 640 km 9m 1875 1980
Opaheke 642.9 km 14.5m 1875 1955 Hunua 1877–1939.
Papakura 647.02 km 19.2m 1875 Open
Tironui 648.95 km 15.5m 1904 1980
Takanini 650.64 km 15.2m 1875 Open
Te Mahia 652.24 km 14.9m 1904 Open
Manurewa 653.1 km 17m 1875 Open
Homai 655.7 km 30.78m 1904 Open
Wiri 657.6 km 22.25m 1913 2005
Puhinui 658.92 km 19.8m 1904 Open
Papatoitoi 659.63 km 18.9m 1875 1904
Papatoetoe 660.42 km 18m 1904 Open
Middlemore 662.28 km 8.8m 1904 Open
Mangere 663.02 km 10.66m 1904 2011
Otahuhu 664.15 km 9.44m 1875 Open
Westfield 665.5 km 7.6m 1904 2017
Sylvia Park 667.09 km 7.6m 1931 Open Relocated 1 km further north, 2007.
Panmure 669.93 km 17.7m 1931 Open Relocated 200m north, 2007.
Tamaki 671.28 km 23.5m 1930 1980
Glen Innes 672.64 km 22m 1930 Open
Purewa 675.4 km 18m 1930 1955
Meadowbank 676.26 km 12m 1954 Open
Orakei 677.44 km 4.5m 1930 Open
The Strand 680.76 km 2.7m 1930 Open Was platform 7 of the 1930–2003 Auckland station. Terminus for the Northern Explorer long distance service and steam and other excursion services.
Britomart Transport Centre 682 km 4m below sea level 2003 Open Terminus for Auckland suburban electric services only.

Record runs

Record runs from Auckland to Wellington were the 1960 Moohan Rocket (train) of 11 hours 34 minutes in 1960, and the Standard railcar time of 9 hours 26 minutes (running time 8 hours 42 minutes) in 1967.

See also


  1. "Western Corridor Transportation Study" (PDF). GWRC. 2005. p. 13.
  2. Dearnaley, Mathew (9 August 2008). "Steel backbone an economic lifeline". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  3. Wright, Danielle (28 June 2011). "Auckland to Wellington: It's the journey that counts". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  4. "New Zealand Railway Lines in Prose and Verse – NZETC".
  5. "Railway Contracts entered into between The Governor of New Zealand and Messrs. Brogden and Sons". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  6. "MAUNGATAWHIRI AND MEREMERE TRAMWAY. (Daily Southern Cross, 1864-07-05)". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  7. "TURNING THE FIRST SOD OF THE AUCKLAND AND DRURY RAILWAY (Daily Southern Cross, 1865-02-17)". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  8. Merrifield, Rob (2009). "A Centennial Review of the North Island Main Trunk Railway – Geology of the West-Central North Island and its Influence on Transport Development" (PDF). 3rd Australasian Engineering Heritage Conference.
  9. Pierre 1981, p. 118.
  10. "Mr. T. Ronayne". The Dominion – archived at Papers Past – 10 November 1913. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  11. Pierre 1981, p. 138,146.
  12. "Railways Improvement Authorization Act, 1914" (PDF).
  13. "LOCAL AND GENERAL NEWS. (New Zealand Herald, 1927-01-14)". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  14. "Parliamentary Papers | Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives | 1938 Session I – RAILWAYS STATEMENT (BY THE MINISTER OF RAILWAYS, HON. D. G. SULLIVAN)". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  15. "LINE DUPLICATED. (Auckland Star, 1938-10-11)". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  16. "Parliamentary Papers | Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives | 1940 Session I – RAILWAYS STATEMENT (BY THE MINISTER OF RAILWAYS, HON. D. G. SULLIVAN)". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  17. "Parliamentary Papers | Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives | 1941 Session I – RAILWAYS STATEMENT (BY THE MINISTER OF RAILWAYS, HON. R. SEMPLE)". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  18. New Zealand Railway and Tramway Atlas (Fourth ed.). Quail Map Co. 1993. ISBN 0 900609 92 3.
  19. "Level Crossings". New Zealand Herald. 1938. p. 15. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  20. "NIMT bridge replacement project". KiwiRail. 29 June 2014.
  21. "The bridges of Ōtaki: expressway work winds through the Kāpiti Coast". Stuff.
  22. "Express CONNECT – May 2019". New Zealand Transport Agency.
  23. "Wiri to Westfield – The Case for Investment" (PDF). KiwiRail. December 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  24. "Jacinda Ardern outlines Labour's light rail plan for Auckland". 6 August 2017. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  25. "KiwiRail – Wellington Projects". 22 September 2010. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011.
  26. "September 1994 decisions". Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.
  27. Churchman 1991, p. 30.
  28. "$1b Auckland rail upgrade powers ahead". The New Zealand Herald. 21 May 2007. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
  29. "ARTA". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007.
  30. "Electric trains". Auckland Transport. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  31. "Auckland trains go electric". Radio New Zealand News. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  32. Dearnaley, Mathew (6 June 2008). "Electric train lines may reach Hamilton". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 5 July 2008.
  33. Mathew Dearnaley (22 May 2012). "Push for electric to Pukekohe".
  34. "Auckland Transport Alignment Project" (PDF). Auckland Council. April 2018.
  35. "EXTENSION OF ELECTRIFICATION – Benefits and Costs – Report to ONTRACK". Murray King and Francis Small Consulting. 2008. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  36. Nigel Wilson. "Raumati Station Now". Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  37. "KiwiRail announces fleet decision on North Island line". 21 December 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  38. " » Electric locomotives to be retained on the main trunk line".
  39. "Unique rail carriage on track for re-enactment". Wairarapa Times-Age. 28 February 2008. Retrieved 5 July 2008.
  40. "Stamp Issue Celebrates Main Trunk Line Centenary". New Zealand Post Stamp issue. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
  41. Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "Makatote viaduct". Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  42. Pierre 1981, p. 56.
  43. Pierre 1981, p. 70.
  44. Sinclair 1987, p. 148.
  45. Pierre 1981, p. 82.
  46. Pierre 1981, p. 33.
  47. "Coal mining stops at Huntly East". NZ Railway Observer. December 2015.
  48. "Overlander to continue running". The New Zealand Herald. 28 September 2006. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  49. New Zealand Railway and Tramway Atlas (First ed.). Quail Map Co. 1965. pp. 3 & 4.
  50. Pierre 1981, p. 289–290.
  51. KiwiRail list of stations
  52. Scoble, Juliet (2010). "Names & Opening & Closing Dates of Railway Stations in New Zealand 1863 to 2010" (PDF). Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand.
  53. "STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER FOR PUBLIC WORKS, THE HON. RICHARD OLIVER, FRIDAY, 6th AUGUST, 1880". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  54. "CHANGE OF NAME. (Wananga, 1878-11-23)". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  55. "Waikato District Council: Built Heritage Assessment 2014 – with Whangarata map extract showing 1912 widening".
  56. "Waikato District Council: Tuakau Structure Plan Built Heritage Assessment 2014 – with photo".

Further reading

  • Bill Pierre (1981). North Island Main Trunk: An Illustrated History. A.H. & A.W. Reed. ISBN 0-589-01316-5.
  • Churchman, Geoffrey B; Hurst, Tony (2001) [1990, 1991]. The Railways of New Zealand: A Journey through History (Second ed.). Transpress New Zealand. ISBN 0-908876-20-3.
  • Leitch, David; Scott, Brian (1998). Exploring New Zealand's Ghost Railways. Grantham House. ISBN 1-86934-048-5.
  • Sinclair, Roy (1987). Rail: The Great New Zealand Adventure. Wellington: Grantham House. ISBN 1-86934-013-2.

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