I keep wondering if I can somehow incorporate the railways in my university studies. Of course, it's a rare university that offers a railway course (I don't think I know of any in Australia), but the railways would appear in some courses, especially as much of the 19th century's development rode the rails. Once I move on to my Honours year and higher study, I'm thinking I may be able to focus in on railway history. But that's a long way in the future and you never know what can happen in three years.
There is one project I have been developing in my head lately, though, that I would love to be able to do. It would require a huge amount of time and effort, not to mention significant access to old documents, but if it were ever completed, it would be an invaluable record. What I am talking about here is a comprehensive and exhaustive book - or volumes, or encyclopaedia - on the railways of New Zealand. There are many books on New Zealand's railways, and that's part of the problem here: there's many books. You'll have one book on the history of a specific line, another on a specific era, another about the more prominent locomotives, et cetera. There is one fantastic book that has articles on every railway line that formed a part of New Zealand's national network, but its major problem is that it is not sufficiently detailed - the North Island Main Trunk may have its own chapter, but some branches in Southland only receive a paragraph or two. Sure, they were insignificant lines, but they still had a rich history. Another fantastic book is one that lists all the remnants of now closed railways, but it's from the mid-1990s and development does awful things to old lines (or in rare cases, remnants of a deteriorating line are restored and preserved).
Basically, what I'd like is a resource that covers a huge swathe of ground:
1. The railway network: including both the national government network as well as private railways and bush tramways. For each line:
- Reasons for construction (both those given and what was present in the area to justify the line)
- Construction process, with details of the approval process, building the line, and sectional openings
- Operation details over the years, complete with passenger and freight data, and motive power and typical rolling stock used
- If applicable, closure, with justification (both what was officially given and in reality)
- If closed, comprehensive details of what remains, including a comparison with the 1995 book (preferably conducted by following the line's former route as precisely as possible, with permission to follow it along private land)
- Photos of the line in operation
- Any relevant diagrams: map of the line's route, track plan of station yards, et cetera
No less than a page for each line.
2. Locomotives of New Zealand: including both those used on the national system and private lines
- Technical details on every single class and subclass: wheel arrangement, constructor, years constructed, top speed, power generated, total in class, etc.
- Data on where the class operated and services it hauled
- Photo of at least one member of each class
- Scale diagrams of each class from multiple angles
- Preservation details, if withdrawn
3. Rolling stock of New Zealand: see #2 and you get the idea of what I'd like for this
4. Preservation and restoration societies:
- Formation and origins
- Locomotives, wagons, and other railway items possessed (and their restoration status)
- History of their work to preserve trains
- Services operated
- Details on each society's depot/line
5. Infrastructure: details on railway related infrastructure such as railway stations, tunnels, bridges, depots, water tanks, etc.
It would be the ultimate resource, huge in its scope, immense in its depth of detail. Basically, it's what I would dream of possessing. I know it could be done, I just don't know if I could ever be able to do it or if anyone else would bother. It wouldn't displace all other railway books and that wouldn't be it's job: although it would include pages of details on specific branch lines or locomotive classes or whatever, it couldn't hope to replace a whole book on that individual topic (there's just not 100 pages available for every single line/locomotive/whatnot in the country, unless we want a book over 20,000 pages in length!). It would, however, be much more detailed than the simplified overviews that I do not find particularly helpful. What a historical resource it would be ...
I doubt this is ever something I could do, but I keep reminding myself that no-one knows what circumstances the future may bring. It's a nice dream anyway, that such a resource may one day be compiled and published. For now, I'll just keep writing on Wikipedia ... or go to bed, as is the case right now!
Have a good one, folks.