Tram tracks delay pipe repair

HISTORY UNEARTHED: A tram track on the intersection of North Avon Rd and Petrie St which dates back many years.
HISTORY UNEARTHED: A tram track on the intersection of North Avon Rd and Petrie St which dates back many years.

Downer Construction staff only planned on repairing the earthquake-damaged sewerage pipes in an east Christchurch street but instead have found themselves working on the railroad.

The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (Scirt) crew started fixing the damaged wastewater system under North Avon Rd in Richmond six weeks ago.

Almost immediately they struck the old New Brighton tram line, which had lain untouched beneath the road for nearly 80 years.

Site engineer Brent Leersnyder said the crew had been told they might hit the old line. "We found it during our excavation. It looks exactly like a rail line, sleepers and all. I think a [tram] could run on it if it was cleaned off. It looks pretty intact."

The line connecting the city centre to New Brighton had existed since 1893, first as a horse-drawn tram, before being electrified as far east as Burwood in 1910.

New track – which the Downer crew found last month – was laid then, and covered in 1934 when trolley buses were introduced.

The wooden sleepers could be removed easily, but the steel track had to be cut into pieces and pulled out.

The quake-damaged sewerage system consisted of two pipes, installed in 1902, running either side of the track, which "couldn't be more in the way", drainage superintendent Colin Brickell said.

"We've had an archaeologist out to look at it and we've been told we can remove it if and when required. It has no [historical] significance."

The North Avon Rd job had another month to run, but the track had "slowed us down about a week," Leersnyder said.

The tram line ran along the entire 300-metre section of North Avon Rd the crew was working on between North Parade and Stanmore Rd, and other Scirt crews would encounter it when they started work on those two streets.

The original track ran from Manchester St, along North Avon Rd, North Parade and New Brighton Rd to New Brighton pier.

Tramway Historical Society secretary Dave Hinman said it was one of the few decommissioned tram lines left in Christchurch.

Most track upgrades occurred after World War II. "Because this track was sealed in the 1930s it was forgotten about. The rail ... was new rail in 1910," he said.

The Press