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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Early Construction by the Provinces

More than one hundred years have elapsed since New Zealand's first public railway, worked with steam locomotives, was opened for traffic in the Canterbury Province. This pioneer line, 4 miles in length, extended from Christchurch to a temporary river port at Ferrymead. Opened on 1 December 1863 it represented the first stage in the construction of a railway from Christchurch to the deep-water port of Lyttelton – an ambitious scheme necessitating the driving of a 1 ½-mile tunnel through the high range of hills which separated the harbour from the plains. A remarkable feature of this project is that it was conceived as early as 1854, or within four years of the arrival of the main body of Canterbury settlers. The route of the railway, including the tunnel, was recommended in 1859 by George Robert Stephenson – nephew of the illustrious George – and work began at the Lyttelton portal in 1860. The headings of the tunnel met in May 1867, and on 9 December of the same year the Lyttelton and Christchurch Railway was officially declared open for traffic.


Albert Noel Palmer, Assistant Publicity Manager, New Zealand Government Railways, Wellington.