Axver (axver) wrote,

  • Music:

Just another stop down the line ...

There is a bit of a saying in the railfan and model railway community, that most fans will favour and model the era of their youth, perhaps as a (subconscious) method of reliving their boyhood (or, I suppose, girlhood, but female railfans are an incredibly scarce commodity indeed). So, by extension, younger fans prefer modern trains, streamlined expresses, diesels with loads of grunt, long and heavy container trains, rakes of bogie coal wagons, and the like. This reality goes a long way to explaining why the most popular era to model is presently the transition from steam to diesel and (increasingly) the first generation diesels and introduction of the second generation - because the majority of railfans are past the age of 40 or even retirement age, and the transition from steam to diesel took place in earnest in 1945-1955 in the US (though it wasn't completed until 1971 in New Zealand) and the second generation of diesels were introduced in the seventies. Furthermore, from my own personal observations, I have noticed that when not preferring or modelling a local branch line that ran to or through one's home town, railfans prefer main lines: the majesty of a Kb class smoking up a storm as it charges along the Midland Line to Arthur's Pass, the speed of a Ja class roaring along the Canterbury Plains "racetrack" around Rakaia, the grunt of two DX diesels hauling a massive freight train through the central North Island.

I must then be somewhat of a rarity amongst railfans. Well, I am by definition, as I have an overwhelming preference for New Zealand's trains, whereas your average railway modeller is American or British. But besides that preference, I too don't conform in any way to the typical fan traits that I just described. I should be interested in modelling New Zealand's trains from the early 1990s through to today; I should be fascinated by the sleek, high speed trains of Europe and Japan. I'm not. I find that stuff interesting, sure, by virtue of the fact it's railways and you can interest me just by shaking a sleeper (or, for the Americans, a "track tie") in front of my eyes. But my primary interest lies in the late days of steam of New Zealand, around the 1950s when steam was still prolific but the first diesels (especially my beloved DA class) had been introduced, railcars were being introduced but had not yet risen to dominance on country passenger services, and the electrified suburban network in Wellington was in full swing with the D/DM commuter units and ED and EW locomotives - and most important of all, New Zealand's beautiful and enchanting branch lines still operated and crisscrossed rural regions. Forget main lines; branch lines are where it's at for me. They have such rich character, a calm beauty, and often a quiantness. I love little country stations, with their small yards, goods sheds, and spurs to loading bays. I love the 1950s branch line trains, typically hauled by an Ab class steam engine, plenty of four-wheeled goods wagons, a passenger carriage or two tacked on to the end. All this modern streamlining, containerisation, and standardisation just sucks out the character and life of the trains for me. A container train hauled by a couple of DFTs is neat enough, but an Ab chuffing by with a rake of four-wheeled wagons of all shapes, sizes, ages, and conditions has an indescribable and unmatchable charm.

So I'm sad. Not only have the few remaining long distance trains in New Zealand been progressively discarded since 2000 to the point that the species is almost extinct (yesterday's entry being the starting point for the train of thought in this entry), but fact is, most passenger trains - especially the rural ones I'd love to ride - were cancelled decades before I was born, and most of the branch lines were closed to all activity, freight or passenger, before 1987 too! I can't even go sit in Lumsden and watch trains come in from all four points of the compass, because the lines in all four directions vanished by 1983 (even though they were all still in place at the start of 1978)! And with the demise of the Overlander, I have very little choice left open to me to ride regular service passenger trains in New Zealand. Excursions are fantastic and I love that they afford a chance to travel down lines normally closed to general passengers, but I take most delight in the regular workings of a railway and I prefer to travel on general, everyday services. Alas, I was born over a decade too late to ride a Standard railcar from Wellington to New Plymouth, and decades too late to enjoy a trip through the Catlins or to Methven. Why am I so young? I'm decades too late. It makes me feel very sad; lonely, too, because it feels like no-one can even understand or empathise. By Kiwi railfan standards, I'm extremely young - your average railfan was around when many of the branch lines and services I wish I could have seen still ran. They may no longer have the pleasure today, but at least they had it once. The best I can do is look at photos and maybe go find leftover relics that the scrap crews missed.
Tags: history, model railways, new zealand, nzr, passenger trains, railways, trains

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