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Hawke’s Bay’s first railway, between Napier and Hastings, was opened 90 years ago, on October 12, 1874.
When this 12-mile section of what was then known as the Napier-Paki Paki Railway was opened, there were only two other short lengths of public railway in operation in the North Island, apart from the wooden-railed, horse-drawn Palmerston North-Foxton tramway.
These were the Auckland-Onehunga and the Wellington-Lower Hutt lines, each 8 miles in length. Before the opening of the Napier-Hastings line, the total railway route mileage opened throughout New Zealand was 155 miles, a figure which was ultimately to reach almost 3,600 miles.
No official ceremony was held to mark the opening of the new line, but it was reported that a “private picnic” was held by about 100 people to celebrate the historic occasion.
A month later, on November 25, the 2-mile line from Napier to the port of Ahuriri, then named Spit, was opened. Passenger train services ran on this line until 1908.
Meanwhile, railway construction was continuing on the extension of the railway southward from Hastings, and on January 1, 1875, the Hastings-Paki Paki section was opened. In the following year the line was opened to Opapa (then Te Aute) on February 17, Waipawa on August 28, and Waipukurau on September 1.
Six months later, on March 12, 1877, trains were running through to Takapau, and on January 25, 1878, the line was opened to Kopua, 62 miles south of Napier. To celebrate the event, a general holiday was declared at Napier, and a well-patronised passenger train with 22 carriages ran through to Kopua.
Nine years later, on March 22, 1887, the railway, which had been opened section by section, was opened to Woodville.
Hundreds of people, in a queue 10-deep, crowded around the Napier booking office window to purchase tickets for the special train which ran through to the new railhead 95 miles away.
Three “large” steam locomotives headed the special train which consisted of 19 carriages and two vans, carrying, according to a contemporary report, a total of 1,500 passengers