S19-219a Otago Central Railway Construction,
Box-262-001 Hocken Collections - Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago
The Otago Central Rail Trail
While the gold rushes had made Dunedin New Zealand’s first city, the hinterlands of Otago did not always benefit.
The Government began thinking of ways that the vast areas of crown land in the central South Island could be used. Sheep farming on large runs was the answer.
Although a secondary line, the Otago Central Railway was important to the whole country. The South Island held more people than the north until 1900. Its land was more productive and its politicians had greater influence over economic decisions. Completing the Otago Central Railway was thought more useful than linking Auckland to Wellington.
Starting in 1879, a route was chosen through Middlemarch and then on to Wanaka. It took 15 years for the first train to reach Hyde in 1894 and 43 years to complete the line as far as Cromwell. This final section up the Clutha Gorge to Cromwell Cromwell section was easy going with only a short rocky bluff to be contended with. This final section of the railway is now under water behind the Clyde Dam.
Photo on right:
Otago Central Railway, Duck Point Tunnel, c. 1885, F.A. Coxhead
Hocken Collections - Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago
The Hyde station officially opened on the 24 May, 1894 and the first train that pulled into Hyde was drawn by the Public Works Department locomotive, “Rob Roy” with engine driver Mr Freeman and guard Mr Burt. Mr J.O. Duff was appointed as the first Stationmaster and Hyde became the terminus on the Otago Central Railway.
Railway construction gangs worked on a cooperative system rather than as railways employees and travelled to where the work was. The camp at Poolburn was very active with stoneworkers from Poland, Italy and Germany working on many of the 97 bridges on the line.
Hyde lost the status of terminus of the Otago Central railway as the line progressed into Central Otago.