Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Train Into Town - The Christchurch - Lyttelton Railway Line, early 1900s

Train About to Depart Lyttelton Railway Station for Christchurch, circa 1916.

Before Annie could do any shopping (see previous post), she had to catch a train to Christchurch. In the early 1900s, the quickest, most direct means available was the railway.

The early founders had realised that development of Christchurch and the Canterbury Plains required fast, easy, and economic transport between Christchurch and the Port of Lyttelton. Unfortunately, volcanic activity millions of years before had imposed the Port Hills in between. In a feat of geologic survey and engineering success, the Lyttelton railway tunnel was opened to passenger traffic on 9 December 1867, just some 17 or so years since first European settlement.

Steam locomotive at entrance to Lyttelton tunnel running under the Port Hills, connecting the port with Christchurch. Photo : Albert Percy Godber. Alexander Turnbull Library

In the early 1900s, the alternative to rail was a long, uncomfortable journey over the Port Hills by horse & wagon by the Sumner Road thence in to Christchurch, subject to the elements - dusty & windy in the summer; cold, wet and muddy in the winter.

The car had barely made an entry in the early 1900s, was temperamental, exacerbated by hill work, and still exposed one to the elements. The Lyttelton road tunnel would not open until 27 February 1964 at which time it superceded the rail journey as fastest & most comfortable route.

In the age of steam, however, the rail trip through the tunnel brought with it the "delights" of coal smoke from the smoke stack if unwary passengers had failed to close windows before the train entered the tunnel. Electrification of the line in 1929 eliminated this unpleasant and hazardous experience.

Arrival at Christchurch Railway Station, circa 1910. Alexander Turnbull Library

The Christchurch Railway Station, seen from Moorhouse Ave, early 1900s.

From the Christchurch Railway Station, Annie and her fellow passengers could set out on foot via Manchester or Colombo Street towards Cashel & High Streets, the shopping precinct of Christchurch in the early 1900s. For now, they could also get there by horse-drawn tram, soon to be replaced by electric ones. For the well-heeled or those in a hurry, a Hansom cab (as pictured above) could get them there at a trot.

The city's streets were not yet paved so dust in a Canterbury nor'wester or mud and puddles on a wet day were part of the challenge in navigating the city streets.

Approaching Lyttelton tunnel at Heathcote on the homeward journey, circa 1910.

Home on the afternoon train, Annie's mind no doubt turned to preparing tea and putting her feet up later in the evening, as brown paper parcels tied with string sat in the overhead rack and a tired child or two fidgeted or grizzled beside her.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting item, but I would like to point out that the photo of the locomotive exiting what is refered to as the Lyttelton Tunnel is not so. The tunnel shown in the attached photo is one in the Auckland region possibly Epson. This is not the first occasion that this photo has been used for this purpose. I was at both Heathcote and Lyttelton railways for many years and know this area extremely well. Also to verify my remarks, the early Lyttelton line was built to broad guage and for a short period had broad gauge until it was re gauged to todays 3ft 6in. Therefore there is a large space either side of any loco in the tunnel, not the tight fit as shown. The A.T.L has been advised of the error in the photos details some years back, but it has never been rectified.