Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945
Te Aroha to Thames and Waihi Lines
BENEFITS TO MINING
The history of the Ohinemuri County would not be complete without a resume, even though very brief, of the coming of the railways.
Te Aroha-Thames Line
The railway from Hamilton to Te Aroha was completed and ready for traffic by March, 1886, and although agitation for the railway to Thames was started at Thames in 1872, and the first sod turned at Thames end by Sir George Grey in December, 1878, it was not until 1898 that the long-cherished idea of a train journey from Thames to Auckland was possible. The delay was largely attributable to the adverse report on the projected railway by the Railway Commission in 1880. The Commission stated that a good water communication existed between Thames and Te Aroha, which made railway communication between those two points unnecessary considering the then state of the district as far as settlement was concerned. In those early developmental days difficulties of finance faced the Government at every turn, and wise discretion was needed in dealing with the many calls for railways throughout the country. Each had to get its due share of the available money. Progress was slow, and by 1884 the permanent way to Kopu, 4½ miles from Thames, was completed, but without buildings or fences. The section from Kopu to Hikutaia, 8¼ miles, was completed in 1888 and the length of six miles to Paeroa was commenced. From then on progress lagged and work ceased before the line was completed. So near to completion was this line that at every road crossing there had been erected the sign: "Stop! Look out for the Engine." But for many years no engine ever came. The rails were removed and used elsewhere; the construction work deteriorated and became overgrown, but the warning signs remained.
The gold mining industry was, however, calling for adequate transportation, and in 1892, with the Hon. R. J. Seddon as Minister of Public Works, the construction of the line from Te Aroha towards Paeroa was given considerable impetus. After overcoming the main obstacle — a large bridge over the Ohinemuri River at Paeroa — the line to Paeroa was completed and by 1895 that town had rail connection with Auckland. With this accomplished, attention was directed to the completion of the railway to Thames, where the works already constructed required a considerable amount of restoration. By the end of 1898 the work was completed and the line from Thames to Auckland via the Waikato opened for traffic.
In 1895 instructions were given by the Government for the survey of this line, covering alternative schemes for a two-foot gauge and a three-foot 6-inch gauge with gradients compensated for curvature, the chief basis to be the strictest economy. The survey was also to take cognisance of the possibility of extending the line to Katikati and eventually to Tauranga. The survey disclosed that in spite of the broken nature of the country there would be no great difficulty in constructing a three-foot six inch gauge line to Waihi, the main obstruction being a sharp spur in the Karangahake Gorge. This had to he pierced by a tunnel 1188 yards in length on a 1 in 50 grade.
Pressing demands in other parts of the country prevented the Government from proceeding with the project, but later an offer of assistance to the Government was made by the Waihi Gold Mining Co., Ltd. In order to facilitate and lessen the cost of transport the company offered to finance the cost of constructing the railway line, and this offer of a loan for that purpose was accepted. Thus the Paeroa-Waihi railway came into existence some years before it would otherwise have done. The work was commenced in 1900, and the following year saw the piercing of the Karangahake tunnel well forward and the permanent way extending from Paeroa close to the tunnel portal. Heavy ground and copious water was met with in the tunnel, which slowed up the progress. The tunnel was pierced and the excavation and lining completed by the end of 1904. Meanwhile the extensive bridgework involved in the crossings of the Ohinemuri River had been pushed forward by the contractors, Messrs. J. and M. Anderson, of Christchurch. The line was opened for traffic to Waihi on November 9, 1905.
This line gave valuable transport facilities to the mining communities of Karangahake, Waikino and Waihi. It is now no longer a branch line, but is the East Coast Main Trunk Railway penetrating into the rich lands and beautiful climate of the Bay of Plenty as far as Taneatua. The railway from Waihi to Taneatua was opened for traffic in September, 1928.