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International Railroad Discussion > A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explorer


Date: 04/02/17 10:52
A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explorer
Author: hogheaded

After Rorotura, we took the bus to a town appropriately named National Park, the gateway to Tongariro National Park, one of the many NZ shooting locations for the Lord of the Rings films. Our idea was to stay overnight, do a long day hike in the park, then board the Northern Explorer for Wellington the next day.

 Thankfully, the weather was dicey. While it was merely overcast in town, it appeared to be raining cats and dogs up in the park. So, with a little prodding of the wife, we elected to go to Plan B, which was actually my Plan A: a walk to KiwiRail’s Raumiru Spiral. That will be covered in some detail in the next installment. In the meantime, let’s take a look at National Park and the Northern Explorer.

 4) National Park Station - This is one of the few Northern Explorer stops, as government-owned KiwiRails passenger trains are now oriented under the premise of attracting tourists, rather than serving public necessity. It’s interior is occupied by a pricey, but very good, restaurant. 

 In 1988, New Zealand Rail electrified the North Island Main Trunk between  Palmerston North (the endpoint of Wellington’s suburban electrification) and Hamilton, a city that sits well outside the limits of Auckland’s own suburban electric lines. Though the project was hailed as a tremendous breakthrough in self-sufficiency and environmental responsibility, the gap between the latter two cities was never closed. Three decades later, the government has concluded that traffic levels do not justify the heavy ongoing expense of maintaining the wires and the cost of new electric locomotives, let alone the cost of closing the gap. Current plans, announced last December, call for the withdrawal of the existing fleet of three-decade-old, breakdown-prone electric locomotives over the next two years, but not replacing them. The wires will remain up and electrified (to prevent  copper theft, I suppose) for the time being, allowing the government the flexibility to reverse course should the need arise.

 5) Northern Explorer - Here we see our train pulling into National Park. For about 15 years (since the yanking of the Rotorua Branch trains), the Explorer has been the North Island’s sole passenger train outside of museums, but its success has spurred proposals within the government to expand this type of service to other lines on both the North and South Islands. Rather than incur the delay of the change between diesel and electric locos at Hamilton, the Explorer employs the former for the entire route.

 The power is #7160, one of 30 DFT class 2400 hp locos which entered service in 1979 with normally-aspirated engines that were turbocharged in the 1990’s. They can be found nearly anywhere on the North or South Islands.

Today’s train consists of six cars, which using American terms, were: A semi-enclosed sightseeing car behind the loco, followed by a coach, a cafeteria-style lounge car, two more coaches and an open platform baggage car. I don’t know if this represents a typical summer consist, but at any rate the train was FULL. Prospective passengers take note and act accordingly.

 6) The baggage car is certainly a unique, interesting arrangement with that open platform. I should have been paying closer attention, because I’m now unsure if it also functioned as a power car, but it must have…) Nope, it is not open to passengers, sadly-enough. I believe that I shot this photo at Palmerston North. That’s Wellington suburban equipment at right.








Date: 04/02/17 10:54
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: hogheaded

7) Departing National Park station, we see the town’s fairly distant proximity to Mt. Tongario and the National Park proper. The town is small with no taxi (forget Uber!) service, so visitors must hire shuttles to take them to up to the park.

  We also see the interior of a coach, well lit, what with all of those windows, and quite spacious, especially when one considers that it is what we Yanks regard as narrow gauge equipment. The cars are also smooth riding, partly in tribute to their design; partly due to the well-maintained track. In terms of general ambiance, they beat any and all of Amtrak’s offerings, IMHO. This coach is a 2012 product of KiwiRail’s extensive Dunedin shops on the South Island. Once the coach order was complete, the shops were shuttered. More about that towards the end of the series. 

 8) The train manager (nearest to the camera), the equivalent of a US conductor, consults with his on-board crew: I stupidly failed to get his and the others’ names after spending an extended period conversing with him: they were an excellent example of professional courtesy and friendliness. He had toured the US on Amtrak fairly recently and  was quite knowledgeable about US railroads. When I mentioned that I was a retired Amtrak engineer that worked on San Francisco Peninsula commuter trains, he knew that Amtrak did not serve San Francisco, so I had to explain that Amtrak was the contractor for Caltrain at the time.

 9) The majority of the route was hilly, sometimes downright rugged. This a a through-the-window shot of one of the several deep, need I say “gorgeous”, gorges traversed by the train. A good part of the scenery reminded me of what you see from the Coast Starlight south from San Luis Obispo to the coast, save the sheep factor. On the whole, NZ’s long distance train service is quite leisurely, because the tracks are always tightly wrapping around some hill or another. This surely beats riding the California Zephyr through Iowa. 








Date: 04/03/17 02:35
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: BoilingMan

EO- do you have a map you could include?
Thanks
SR



Date: 04/03/17 02:40
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: gaspeamtrak

Nice ! Thank you for sharing ... :):):)



Date: 04/03/17 03:47
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: andersonb109

So did they get ride of the open observation cars? If so, probably some sort of bogus safety issue. 



Date: 04/03/17 05:54
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: hogheaded

BoilingMan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> EO- do you have a map you could include?
> Thanks
> SR

Good idea, SR. I'll start including one showing progress in my future posts.
EO



Date: 04/04/17 10:34
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: Hartington

 andersonb109 - when I rode the train from Christchurch across to Greymouth (South Island) the only time I was asked to go back to my seat was when we were passing through the Otira Tunnel.   Otherwise I spent almost all my time in one of those open cars.
 



Date: 04/04/17 13:15
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: march_hare

Please, please keep this up.  I'm currently trying to convince dear spouse to book a trip to New Zealand in September.  I'm hoping that's far enough into the springtime to get good weather.  So far, you're making a good impression!!

I understand they still haven't repaired the seaside track on the south island; hope they can get it done in another 6 months.



Date: 04/04/17 13:48
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: retcsxcfm

Photo seven,
Look how nice and comfortable.
Nothing like those lousy things Amtrak calls "lounges"
Most trains around the world are better than ours.
I have always wondered the impression of tourist's
that "ride" our trains.

Uncle Joe
Seffner,Fl.
 



Date: 04/04/17 15:11
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: hogheaded

march_hare Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Please, please keep this up.  I'm currently
> trying to convince dear spouse to book a trip to
> New Zealand in September.  I'm hoping that's far
> enough into the springtime to get good weather. 
> So far, you're making a good impression!!
>
> I understand they still haven't repaired the
> seaside track on the south island; hope they can
> get it done in another 6 months.

A month or so ago I read on the KiwiRail website that they were shooting for a September date to begin running the Coastal Pacifc again, but now I see that they are no longer giving an estimation at all. From all of the coverage that I've seen of the earthquake damage, they really have their work cut out for them. If I remember my figures right, the sea floor rose about six meters in some spots along the coast near the slides that took out the railroad, and is now dry land. Man, how is that possible?

I can't imagine how your wife would not like New Zealand if she likes the outdoors (bonus points for rugby).  Go to Doubtful Sound and skip Milford Sound, BTW.

EO



Date: 04/05/17 12:46
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: march_hare

Oh, I'm sure she will enjoy the trip.  We both like drinking wine and eating lamb with down to earth people.  And my geology background dealt a lot with hot springs deposits, so the volcanic portions of the parks are a must for me.

September down there is effectively March for us northern hemisphere types, but its the only time that dear spouse can get away, so even if its a bit cold, that's pretty much when we go.

As for the earth uplift during the quake, yes 6 meters is well within reason in a single jump.  There are some photos out there of the coastal landslides that are really impressive.  They're not so much repairing the rail line as building one.



Date: 04/05/17 14:50
Re: A Casual US Railfan Tours New Zealand: 2 - The Northern Explo
Author: hogheaded

march_hare Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> There are some photos out there of the coastal
> landslides that are really impressive.  They're
> not so much repairing the rail line as building
> one.

Here's a couple of news photos of the Kaikoura earthquake that impressed me. You can imagine what those poor cows were mooing amongst themselves.

EO






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