List of railway lines in New Zealand

The railway network in New Zealand consists of four main lines, six secondary lines and numerous short branch lines in almost every region. It links all major urban centres except Nelson, Taupo, Queenstown, Whakatane and (since 2012) Gisborne. The network is owned and managed by KiwiRail. The network was constructed from 1863 onwards, mostly by government bodies, initially provincial governments and later central government (usually by the Public Works Department) under the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR or NZGR). In 1981 NZR was corporatised as the New Zealand Railways Corporation, and in 1991 New Zealand Rail Limited was split from the corporation. New Zealand Rail was privatised in 1993 (and later renamed Tranz Rail), with the New Zealand Railways Corporation retaining the land (due to Treaty of Waitangi claims on land taken for railway construction). In 2003 the government renationalised the network. KiwiRail operates all freight and a small number of passenger services primarily for tourists on certain routes in both islands; Transdev operates Auckland Transport "AT Metro" suburban passenger trains in Auckland and Metlink passenger trains in the Wellington region; Dunedin Railways (formerly Taieri Gorge Railway) operates tourist passenger trains in Dunedin.

New Zealand national rail network

North Island rail network map (as of 2006)
South Island rail network map (as of 2006)

Lines in bold type are currently operated by KiwiRail

Main trunk lines

North Island Main TrunkWellingtonPalmerston NorthTaumarunuiHamiltonAuckland681 km (423 mi)Freight & passenger
East Coast Main TrunkHamiltonMorrinsvilleKaimai TunnelTaurangaKawerauFreight only
Midland LineRollestonSpringfieldArthur's PassStillwaterGreymouth212 km (131 mi)Freight & passenger
Main North LineChristchurchKaikōuraBlenheimPicton348 km (216 mi)Freight & passenger
Main South LineLytteltonChristchurchTimaruDunedinInvercargill601 km (373 mi)Freight & passenger (Christchurch – Rolleston)
Freight only (Lyttelton – Christchurch, Rolleston – Invercargill)

The last two lines are sometimes referred to as the South Island Main Trunk Railway.

Secondary main lines

Marton - New Plymouth LineMartonWhanganuiHāweraStratfordNew Plymouth212 km (132 mi)[1]Freight only
North Auckland LineWestfield JunctionNewmarketSwansonWaitakereHelensvilleWellsfordWhangāreiOtiria281 km (175 mi)[2]Freight and Passengers south of Swanson
Freight only Swanson to Otiria
Palmerston North–Gisborne LinePalmerston NorthWoodvilleWaipukurauHastingsNapierMuriwaiGisborne390 km (240 mi)[3]Freight & Passenger(charter/cruise). Mothballed: Napier to Muriwai 2012. Open: Muriwai to Gisborne, leased by Gisborne Vintage Railway from June 2013[4][5]
Stillwater–Ngakawau LineStillwater – ReeftonWestportNgakawau136 km (85 mi)[6]Freight only
Stratford–Okahukura LineStratfordWhangamōmonaOkahukura144 km (89 mi)[7]Passenger: leased to a private operator June 2012.
Wairarapa LineWellington – Upper HuttMastertonWoodville176 km (109 mi)[8]Freight & Passenger Wellington to Masterton
Freight only Masterton to Woodville

Branch lines

Dargaville BranchWaiotira – DargavilleClosed leased to private operator
Donnellys Crossing SectionDargaville – Kaihu – Donnellys CrossingClosed 1959
Kumeu-Riverhead SectionKumeū – RiverheadClosed 1885
Okaihau BranchOtiria – Kaikohe – ŌkaihauClosed 1987
Onerahi BranchWhangārei – OnerahiClosed 1933
Opua BranchOtiria – Kawakawa – OpuaClosed 1985
Kawakawa – Taumarere operated by Bay of Islands Vintage Railway
Newmarket LineQuay Park junction – NewmarketFreight & passenger
Southdown BranchWestfield Junction – Southdown Freight CentreFreight only
Mission Bush BranchPaerata – Glenbrook – Mission BushFreight only
Onehunga BranchPenrose – OnehungaPassenger
Manukau BranchWiri – ManukauPassenger
Waiuku BranchGlenbrook – WaiukuClosed 1967
Now Glenbrook Vintage Railway
Suburban passenger rail lines
Auckland suburban rail network (in 2005)
Eastern LineBritomart Transport Centre – Glen Innes – Manukau
North Island Main Trunk Line, Manukau Branch
Southern LineBritomart Transport Centre – Newmarket – Papakura – Pukekohe
North Island Main Trunk Line, Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line, North Island Main Trunk Line
Western LineBritomart Transport Centre – Newmarket – Swanson
North Island Main Trunk Line, Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line
Onehunga LineBritomart Transport Centre – Newmarket – Penrose – Onehunga
North Island Main Trunk Line, Newmarket Line, North Auckland Line, Onehunga Branch
Waikato / Coromandel
East Coast Main Trunk Original sections from PaeroaFranktonMorrinsvillePaeroaWaihiTaurangaTāneatuaClosed Paeroa to Apata, September 1978. Waikino to Waihi reopened 8 November 1980 by Goldfields Railway. Hawkens Junction to Tāneatua became Taneatua Branch.
Cambridge BranchRuakura – Hautapu – CambridgeFreight only. Closed Hautapu – Cambridge 1999
Glen Afton BranchClosed, partially remains as the Bush Tramway Club's Pukemiro Line. Remainder became Rotowaro Branch
Kimihia BranchCoal only. Closed 2015.
Rotowaro Branch Coal only
Thames Branch/Waitoa BranchMorrinsvilleWaitoaPaeroaThamesMorrinsville to Paeroa part of East Coast Main Trunk, 1928 to 1978. Freight only. Closed Waitoa – Thames 1991. Mothballed Morrinsville to Waitoa, reopened 2004 as Waitoa Branch.
Wilton Collieries LineNgāruawāhiaClosed, 1958 (Line owned by NZ Mines Dept, operated by NZR after 1940)
Bay of Plenty
Kinleith BranchWaharoa – Kinleith MillFreight only
Mount Maunganui BranchFreight only
Murupara BranchFreight only
Rotorua BranchPutāruruRotorua/KoutuLeased to a Private Operator, 2010
Taneatua BranchMothballed 2003
Whakatane Board Mills LineAwakeri – Whakatane millClosed 2003 Leased to private operator
Gisborne – Hawke's Bay
Napier Port Branch/Ahuriri BranchFreight only
Moutohora BranchGisborneMakarakaMoutohoraFreight only. Closed Makaraka – Moutohora 1959, Makaraka – Gisborne mothballed 2012.
Ngatapa BranchGisborne – NgatapaClosed 1931
Central North Island
Raetihi BranchOhakuneRaetihiClosed 1968
Castlecliff BranchWhanganuiCastlecliffFreight only.
Opunake Branch/Kapuni BranchElthamKapuniOpunakeFreight only. Closed Kapuni – Opunake
Mount Egmont BranchClosed
Waitara BranchLeppertonWaitaraClosed 1999. Leased to private operator.
Waitara Railway Preservation Society
Whanganui BranchAramohoWhanganuiFreight only
Foxton BranchLongburnFoxtonClosed 1959
Taonui BranchTaonui – near ColytonClosed 1895
Greytown BranchWoodsideGreytownClosed 1953
Gracefield BranchWoburnHutt WorkshopsGracefieldFreight only. Hutt Workshops – Gracefield mothballed 2002
Johnsonville LineWellingtonJohnsonvillePassenger only. Former North Island Main Trunk Line
Melling BranchPetoneMellingPassenger only. Former Wairarapa Line
Te Aro BranchLambtonTe AroClosed 1917
Suburban rail lines
Wellington suburban rail network (in 2006)
Johnsonville LineWellington – Johnsonville
Johnsonville Line
Kapiti LineWellington – Waikanae
North Island Main Trunk Line
Hutt Valley LineWellington – Upper Hutt
Wairarapa Line
Melling LineWellington – Melling
Wairarapa Line, Melling Branch
Wairarapa LineWellington – Masterton
Wairarapa Line
Nelson SectionNelsonKawatiriIsolated from South Island network. Closed 1955
Blackball BranchClosed 1966
Cape Foulwind RailwayWestport, New ZealandCape FoulwindClosed 1930
Conns Creek BranchWaimangaroaDenniston, New ZealandClosed 1967
Hokitika Branch/Ross BranchGreymouthHokitikaRossFreight only. Closed Hokitika – Ross 1980
Ngakawau Branch/Seddonville BranchWestport – NgakawauSeddonville – Mokihinui MineFreight only. Closed Seddonville – Mokihinui Mine 1974, Ngakawau – Seddonville 1981
Rapahoe BranchGreymouth – RapahoeFreight only
Rewanui BranchGreymouth – RewanuiClosed 1985
Eyreton BranchKaiapoiWetheralHorrelvilleBennetts JunctionClosed Horrelville – Bennetts Junction 1931, Wetheral – Horrelville 1954, Kaiapoi – Wetheral 1965
Fairlie BranchWashdykeEversleyClosed 1968
Pleasant Point section operatred by Pleasant Point Museum and Railway
Proposed Fairlie Rail Trail
Ferrymead BranchChristchurchFerrymeadClosed 1868
Now Ferrymead Railway
Hornby Industrial Line/Southbridge BranchHornbyPrebbletonLincolnSouthbridgeFreight only. Closed Lincoln – Southbridge 1962, Prebbleton – Lincoln 1967, mothballed 2012.
Little River BranchLincoln – Little RiverClosed 1962
Now Little River Rail Trail
Methven BranchRakaiaMethvenClosed 1976
Mount Somers Branch/Springburn BranchTinwaldMount SomersSpringburnClosed Mount Somers – Springburn 1957, Tinwald – Mount Somers 1968
Tinwald – Frasers Road section operated by Plains Vintage Railway
Oxford BranchRangioraOxfordSheffieldClosed Oxford – Sheffield 1930, Rangiora – Oxford 1959
Waiau BranchWaiparaWaiauClosed 1978
Waipara – Waikari section operated by Weka Pass Railway
Waimate Branch/Waimate Gorge BranchStudholmeWaimateWaihao DownsClosed Waimate – Waihao Downs 1953, Studholme – Waimate 1966
Whitecliffs BranchDarfieldWhitecliffsClosed 1962
Catlins River BranchBalcluthaFinegandTahakopaFreight only, Closed 1971 beyond Finegand
Dunback and Makareao BranchesPalmerstonInch ValleyDunback/MakareaoClosed Inch Valley – Dunback 1968, Palmerston – Makareao 1989
Fernhill BranchAbbotsford – FernhillClosed 2003
Kingston BranchKingstonFairlightPassenger only – Kingston Flyer Ltd.
Kurow Branch/Hakataramea BranchPukeuriKurowHakatarameaClosed Kurow – Hakataramea 1930, Pukeuri – Kurow 1983
Moeraki BranchHillgroveMoerakiClosed 1879
Ngapara and Tokarahi BranchesWaiareka JunctionWindsor JunctionNgapara/TokarahiClosed Windsor Junction – Tokarahi 1930, Taylor's Siding – Ngapara 1959, Waiareka Junction – Taylor's Siding 1997
Ocean Beach RailwayDunedinForbury ParkClosed beyond Gas works and Andersons Bay Rd warehousing 1942. Closed as far as Strathallan Road level crossing 1990. One rail shared with DCC Tramways and electrified 1908 along Royal Crescent.
Otago Central RailwayWingatuiMiddlemarchClydeCromwellPassenger only beyond Taieri. Closed Clyde – Cromwell 1980, Middlemarch – Clyde 1990
Taieri – Middlemarch operated by Dunedin Railways, Middlemarch – Clyde now Otago Central Rail Trail
Outram BranchMosgielOutramClosed 1953 beyond Woollen Mills private siding, remainder closed 1990
Port Chalmers BranchSawyers BayPort ChalmersFreight only
Roxburgh BranchMiltonLawrenceRoxburghClosed 1968
Shag Point BranchShag Point – Shag Point Coal MineClosed 1934
Tapanui BranchWaipahiTapanuiHeriotEdievaleClosed Heriot – Edievale 1968, Waipahi – Heriot 1978
Walton Park BranchBurnsideWalton ParkClosed 1957
Balfour Branch/Waimea Plains RailwayGoreBalfourLumsdenClosed Gore – Balfour 1971, Lumsden – Balfour 1978
Bluff BranchInvercargillBluffStandard gauge 1435mm, 1866 to 1875. Freight only
Browns Branch/Hedgehope BranchWintonBrownsHedgehopeClosed Browns – Hedgehope 1953, Winton – Browns 1968
Kingston BranchInvercargill – MakarewaFairlightKingstonClosed completely 1982 except:
Kingston – Fairlight (Otago) operated by Kingston Flyer Ltd, Invercargill – Makarewa part of Wairio Branch
Mokomoko Harbour BranchAwaruaMokomoko HarbourClosed 1875, Standard gauge 1435mm from 1866, connected to Bluff Branch
Mossburn BranchLumsden – MossburnClosed 1982
Riverton Branch/Tuatapere Branch/Orawia BranchMakarewa – ThornburyRivertonTuatapereOrawiaClosed Tuatapere – Orawia 1970, Riverton – Tuatapere 1976, Thornbury – Riverton 1978
Makarewa – Thornbury part of Wairio Branch
Tokanui (or Seaward Bush) BranchInvercargill – TokanuiClosed 1966
Waikaia BranchRiversdaleWaikaiaClosed 1959
Waikaka BranchMcNabWaikakaClosed 1962
Wairio Branch/Ohai Industrial LineInvercargill – Makarewa – Thornbury – WairioNightcapsOhaiFreight only, mothballed beyond Nightcaps
Wyndham BranchEdendaleWyndhamGlenhamClosed Wyndham – Glenham 1930, Edendale – Wyndham 1962

Private lines

Parts of the network were constructed by private companies, and most were unsuccessful. All except the Whakatane Board Mills line and the Sanson Tramway were later acquired by the government. The most successful was the Wellington and Manawatu Railway, which operated between Wellington and Longburn (near Palmerston North) from 1885 to 1908. After the WMR, perhaps the best-known private railway was the New Zealand Midland Railway Company, which constructed parts of the Midland, Nelson and West Coast lines. After the company was dissolved in 1900 the railway lines and their construction were taken over by the government. Some lines were built by companies for access such as to coal mines, and by local government bodies.

Significant proposals

Many railway lines have been proposed, especially in the 19th century, but never constructed. An 1873 map indicated that it was intended to link up all the current and authorised routes into a national network.[9] Some proposals have been particularly significant due to their extent, publicity, or how close they came to being realised (in some cases, the track bed was built). Some significant proposals include:

See also Hawera & Normanby Star, Volume LVII, 23 August 1910, Page 5 for a list of railways authorised, proposed and under construction, with estimated cost of completing them as at 1 April 1910, many of which were not built.

Nelson – Blenheim notional railway

The Nelson - Blenheim notional railway was created in November 1957 to help manage the political backlash from the 1955 closure of the isolated Nelson Section. State Highway 6 between Nelson and Blenheim was deemed by law to be an NZR railway for the purposes of calculating passenger and freight rates between railway stations in the South Island and Nelson or other places on the notional railway. Passengers and freight travelled by road, with the difference between the road carrier's rates and railway rates subsidised by the government. Rail rates were significantly cheaper than road rates, so the scheme provided significant benefits to its users, while imposing significant costs on the government. The scheme lasted for 22 years, being withdrawn in October 1977.

Bush tramways

These were lines principally constructed to haul timber or minerals, often in isolated areas. A variety of gauges was used, including the New Zealand standard 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm). Typical bush trams were more lightly constructed than ordinary rail lines and had steeper gradients and sharper curves. With the low speeds that were commonplace, rolling stock and locomotives were generally built to lighter standards than main-line vehicles. It was not uncommon for road vehicles to be adapted, either as haulage power or rolling stock. As road vehicles became more suited for these operations the trams gradually faded away and none are now operating.

A prominent example of a bush tramway was the Taupo Totara Timber Company's line between Putaruru and Mokai, and an example of a mineral tramway was the Dun Mountain Railway.

Other bush and mineral tramways included -

North Island

Piha Tramway
Smyth Brothers' Tramway Kennedy's Bay, Coromandel Peninsula 1897–1908 3 ft
Piako County Tramway Kaimai Range 1884–1924 2 ft 9in
Ellis and Burnand Tramway Ongarue 1922–1958
Knight's tram Raurimu
Makatote Tramway
Taringamotu Tramway
Price's Bush Tramway Hutt Valley to Waikanae
Driving Creek Railway Coromandel Tourist attraction

South Island

Bell Hill mill tramway
Koranui Incline
Mount Somers Tramway 1886–1963
tramways linking to Ross Branch
Kokiri Tramway
Fortification sawmill tramway
Port Craig tramway Port Craig, Percy Burn Viaduct, Wairaurahiri River 1919–1928 Marlborough Timber Co

Street tramways

Major street tramway networks were constructed in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, with smaller operations in Gisborne, Napier, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Nelson and Invercargill. Employing horse, steam or electric power, they operated in most cases until the 1950s when improved buses saw most of the tracks scrapped. Urban tram operations, built from scratch as tourist attractions, have more recently been restarted in Christchurch (1995) Auckland (2011), and Wanganui (2013). See Trams in New Zealand.

Heritage and Private railways

A large number of societies operate working heritage railway lines and museums. Most of these are run largely or wholly by volunteer labour, except commercially operated private trust owned Dunedin Railways in Dunedin, which employs paid staff.


  1. Yonge 1985, p. 10.
  2. Yonge 1985, p. 1.
  3. Yonge 1985, p. 12.
  4. New Zealand Railway Observer, June/July 2013 Edition
  5. "KiwiRail to mothball Napier-Gisborne line". 2 October 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  6. Yonge 1985, p. 21.
  7. Yonge 1985, p. 11.
  8. Yonge 1985, p. 14.
  9. "Sketch map of the Colony of New Zealand shewing authorised and proposed railway lines". National Library. Department of Lands and Survey. 1873.
  10. Hendery, Simon (9 March 2017). "Cape tourist rail project". The Southland Times.
  11. "Papers Past — Evening Post — 13 Hereturikōkā 1907 — RAILWAY ROUTE". 13 August 1907. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  12. "Papers Past — Nelson Evening Mail — 11 November 1886 — THE MOTUEKA-TADMOII RAILWAY ROUTE". Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  13. "New Zealand : Anno Tricesimo Victoriae Reginae : No. 33" (PDF). Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  14. "Papers Past — Marlborough Express — 2 July 1913 — THE WAIRAU VALLEY RAILWAY". 2 July 1913. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  15. "Papers Past — Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle — 4 Hōngongoi 1867 — WESTPORT AND CHARLESTON RAILWAY". Retrieved 7 December 2015.


  • Yonge, John (1985). New Zealand Railway and Tramway Atlas (Third ed.). Quail Map Company. ISBN 090060932X.

Further reading

  • Stott, Bob (1973). Rails through the bush. Southern Press.