So close but so far. To Nelson’s older generations the railway was a hard fought battle that divided the region but to today’s generation it is a mere fragment of the past that once stood where the Warehouse and Countdown now stand.
Referred to as ‘the Nelson Railway…to nowhere’, the dream to link Nelson with the rest of the South Island via tracks just fell short of becoming a reality.
Nelsonians had wanted a railway from as early as the 1860s but when construction began in 1873, locals did not foresee the 80 years of construction and roadblocks ahead.
A section of rail between St Vincent Street and Foxhill was opened in 1876 and 21 years later an extension to Kohatu via Belgrove was completed.
To say progress was slow is an understatement.
Fast forward to 1929 and the railway had made it as far as Gowan Bridge, but the Depression hit and work on the railway was suspended from January, 1930. Three-hundred men lost their jobs.
This was as far as Nelson’s dream went, 70km from Inangahua Junction, where it would connect with the main trunk line, the railway fell short.
The threat of closure reared it’s head in 1931 when people were urged to “use it or lose it” and in 1952 the decision to keep it open until the major highways were completed was announced.
In 1954, the trains came to a halt.
Locals signed petitions but the last Nelson train arrived on Friday September 2, 1955.
After hearing the lines were to be ripped up, Nelson women held a week-long sit-in on the line. Nine were arrested for their protest but the railway was dismantled regardless.