Taieri Gorge Railway
The Taieri Gorge Railway is owned by a trust. It is New Zealand's longest tourist railway and stretches from Wingatui, 14 km south of Dunedin, to Middlemarch, a distance of some 60 kilometres. Between Dunedin and Wingatui its trains operate on the Government owned tracks via a running rights agreement.
The railway line travels through spectacular scenery along the banks of the Taieri River, through numerous tunnels and climbing along the Taieri Gorge to the Strath Taieri. The "Taieri Gorge Limited" tourist train operates daily to Pukerangi and on summer Sundays to Middlemarch.
Construction of the Otago Central Branch Railway began in 1877 and the 27 km section to Hindon was opened in 1889. The line was completed to Middlemarch two years later. The branch line was eventually extended to Cromwell, at 236 km, by 1921. The Clyde – Cromwell section (20 km) was closed in 1980 due to construction of the Clyde hydro-electric dam in the Cromwell Gorge (the gorge of the Clutha River). The line remained open until 30 April 1990 used to move construction materials for the dam project. The Otago Excursion Train Trust which had been formed in 1978 and operated many excursions on the branch line, then stepped in to form the Taieri Gorge Railway Ltd with support from the Dunedin City Council to purchase the line to Middlemarch, along with some locomotives to operate trains. The remaining line beyond Middlemarch was lifted during 1991. The trackbed was handed over to the Department of Conservation in 1993 and is now the Otago Central Rail Trail, a major tourist attraction in the area.
The branch originally began at Wingatui, a station on the Main South Line south of Dunedin. After the branch line closed, the first four kilometres of track were retained in the national railway network as a service line to local industries. The Taieri Gorge Railway begins at the 4 km peg and shortly thereafter passes around a spectacular horseshoe curve at the foot of the Salisbury bank and begins a climb at 1 in 50 to the summit at 145 metres, the entrance to the Taieri Gorge. The railway remains in the gorge for 35 km, crossing 16 major bridges with a total length of 1020 metres and passing through 10 tunnels with a total length of 1491 metres. In the second half of the gorge section the line climbs steadily to exit the gorge at Pukerangi (45 km, 254 metres altitude) and then descends into the Taieri Plains before reaching Middlemarch at 64 km. Features of interest are the many high viaducts, the biggest at 13 km is also the highest (47 metres) and longest (198 metres). It was recognised from the outset that the scenery of the Taieri Gorge section was a major attraction and this provided the impetus for the formation of the heritage railway company.