After 100 years, carriage good to go

01:43, Jan 31 2009
GLORY DAYS: Mainline Steam owner Ian Welch inside the carriage that will form part of the Parliamentary Special next week.

One hundred years ago - and with the first passenger rail journey from Wellington to Auckland ready to begin - carriage 1013 was still in the Petone yards being painted.

It made it on the historic trip with its paint still drying, and now finds itself in a similar situation - back in the shop, being prepared for a repeat of history.

The century-old wooden carriage will be part of next week's re-enactment of the Parliamentary Special, the first passenger train to travel the length of the North Island Main Truck Line.

After riding the rails for decades, the carriage fell into ruin and sat rotting in a field in Pahiatua. But after more than three years of care and attention - and a special touch from Oscar winner Richard Taylor - it is ready to recreate its first run.

"It is quite an iconic piece," said owner Ian Welch, of Mainline Steam. "It's the only remaining one of the original cars left. It's part of our heritage."

The carriage was "a bloody load of junk" when he first saw it. It had spent time at the Tokomaru Steam Museum and had been bought by a man who wanted to turn it into a bach in Pahiatua.


One side of it had rotted away and the interior had been torn out.

Encouraged by friends, he took on the restoration project. He trucked the carriage to Wairarapa wheelwright Greg Lang, who spent 2 1/2 years returning it to its original glory with his wife, Ali.

The chassis, meanwhile, was repaired - and in many parts, replaced - at Mainline Steam's Plimmerton workshop.

Mr Taylor, a keen rail enthusiast, designed and made nameplates for the carriage, which has been renamed Aotearoa.

Prime Minister Helen Clark will ride in the carriage for part of next week's trip to Auckland. The journey will take three days.

"The joining of the Main Trunk Line in 1908 meant you could suddenly make the journey to Auckland in a day," Mr Welch said. "The railways opened the country up."


The Dominion Post