History

The History of the Southbridge Branch Line

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By the 1860s railways were beginning to be built all over Canterbury by the Provincial Government. Ellesmere had become an economically significant grain growing region, and residents thought that a railway to the growing towns of Leeston and Southbridge from the Great Southern Railway would greatly help the Ellesmere district.

In 1867 the Canterbury Provincial Engineer submitted a report to the Provincial Government, proposing that a line be run from Rolleston through the Springs District to the terminus at Southbridge. He estimated the cost of building the line at £650 per mile using wooden rails and £1000 per mile using iron rails. This plan, however, was not used but by 1872 a new plan had been drawn up for a railway line starting at Hornby and serving Prebbleton, Lincoln, Leeston and Southbridge.

On the 20th of July 1872, a report was submitted from the Engineer in Cheif of the Public Works Department, to the Minister of Public Works, on the Southbridge Branch Line. In this report he stated that the proposed railway 'passed through one of the richest and best settled districts of Canterbury'.

Rails and rail fastenings had been ordered from England, and twelve small 'A class' engines had been imported from Dubs and Company in Scotland, by the General Government to work on various Canterbury railways. Two of these engines had been allocated for the Southbridge Branch Line.

Initially, construction was slowed due to delays in acquiring materials and financial difficulties, but by the 26th of April 1875, the line was opened to Springston, and the line was declared completed on the 13th of July 1875. An advertisement in The Press on the 10th of July 1875, stating that a special train bound for Southbridge would leave Christchurch at 10.30am on Tuesday the 13th of July 1875 stopping at Hornby at 10.52am, Lincoln at 11.30am, and Leeston at 12.16pm. The return train would stop at stations as necessary, arriving at Christchurch at 7.30pm. 

A whole day holiday was declared at the terminus of Southbridge, although the satisfaction of the people didn't last long due to the slow speed of the 'A Class' engines. In fact, complaints appeared in papers such as the Ellesmere Guardian, saying things such as bicycles had beaten the train from station to station. The engines on the Southbridge Branch line in those days were not supposed to exceed 18mph.

Southbridge's area was one of the best grain growing parts of New Zealand, and many loads of grain and seed were railed in and out of Southbridge. Sheep were also frequent travellers on the freight trains, bound for Addington Market. There were many facilities at the Southbridge terminus such as stockyards, a large goods shed, loading banks, a water tank, a turntable and a locomotive depot, which all assisted in the smooth running of the line. 

In the early days of the railway, a passenger train ran twice daily between Christchurch and Lincoln, but this service soon ended, and a mixed train operation started, carrying both goods and passengers on the line to Christchurch twice daily, along with a daily goods service.

Passenger numbers were at their greatest in 1924, (34,000 carried), but by the late 1920s the line started losing money, and the locomotive depot in Southbridge was closed to save money. All engines ran out of Christchurch, and due to this, the line made a profit in 1938, but the line never made another profit after that.

The passenger service was completely closed by April 1951, and goods trains only ran 3-4 times a week. With traffic on the line seriously declining due to more efficient motor cars, it was decided in June 1962 to close the 28km stretch of track between Lincoln and Southbridge to all traffic.

By the 1st of December 1967, the section of track between Prebbleton and Lincoln closed to all traffic, and the name Southbridge Branch Line disappeared as well. Only the Hornby Industrial Line remained.

It was the end of an era.

 

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