Topic: Hamilton's Underground Railway
By 1884 the economic activity of the Waikato district demanded transport. Land was being cleared and farms established in the east between the Waikato River and the Kaimai ranges. In towns like Te Aroha a fledgling tourist industry was developing. People and goods needed to be transported in both directions.
In that year the railway was sent across the Waikato River towards Morrinsville. The railway engineers followed a route as flat as possible and the river was bridged by what is now the Claudelands road bridge. The bridge was officially opened on 1st October 1884.
To achieve this at a minimum cost and maintain a near-level profile, the railway crossed through the city intersecting Lake Road, Seddon Street and Victoria Street. At each location was a level crossing. Anglesea Street terminated at the railway yards.
The railway had right of way - all traffic stopped for the trains. In 1884, with a population of 1200, only 2 trains per day and no motor cars, this presented few problems. But increasing population and road traffic and an expanding volume of rail usage inevitably created stress. Long goods trains could close the streets for several minutes at a time. If shunting operations extended to level crossings, traffic could be held up for very lengthy periods indeed.
As early as 1912 the Hamilton Borough Council suggested to the Railway Department that the line could be lowered. The suggestion was turned down as it was again in 1919. In 1929 Council took a new proposal to the Railways - that the line be redirected to the south end of Frankton. The Railway Department was unimpressed.
By 1932 the condition of the Traffic Bridge (Victoria Bridge) was such that repairs and maintenance were needed to be done sooner rather than later. One option was for the Borough to use the railway bridge (suitably converted) whilst Victoria Bridge was repaired. Discussions at that time with the Railway Department seemed to be confused as to any permanence of the proposed conversion - the matter lapsed yet again.
The effects of growing traffic volumes had seen the Council cut through the hill at Anglesea Street in 1931 to allow a second street through to Ward Street which was the entrance to the Railway Station. This alleviated the road traffic problem somewhat but did little to help traffic to cross the railway when trains were present. Right up to 1964 Anglesea Street terminated at Ward Street.
By 1938 the Railway Department had looked again at the idea of a lowered line and completed preliminary plans which were substantially as the line now exists. The cost would be £529,000 - that is approx. $50,000,000 in today's money. But this was money the Council could not contemplate on its own and the Railway Department seemed reluctant to take the lion's share of the costs.
The declaration of war in 1939 suspended all but the most essential work. No further progress was made until the National Roads Board decided it was a better option than any other being considered at the time. In September 1959 the Ministry of Works commenced the project which was to bridge the river twenty feet below the existing level, cut through to the west gradually rising to ground level at Frankton with traffic over-bridges at Tristram/Hinemoa, Seddon Streets and Lake Road. The days of level crossings were over. There were now five streets traversing Hamilton including Victoria, Anglesea and Tristram. Only traffic lights were now going to hold up the motorist.
The new bridge and underground line opened on 19th September 1964.
Included in the new line was an underground station- Hamilton Central - beneath the Transport Centre where the Warehouse now stands. The rail line runs under Centreplace roughly midway between (and parallel to) Ward Street and Bryce Street. All the line between the river side of the ASB building and the west side of Anglesea Street is fully covered in. The line sees daylight again just to the west of Anglesea Street before Tristram Street.
The method of underground construction used is known simply and appropriately as 'cut & cover'. A large cutting was excavated alongside the old Hamilton Station and covered over with concrete then filled with spoil. This effectively means that the railway that had once thundered its way across the Hamilton cityscape now slipped through a tunnel.
Initially the old railway yard was used as a car park until the building of Centreplace shopping mall and the Transport Centre which was built as the new home for the N.Z.R Road Services buses. New Government buildings were built where the Station had stood and to the unknowing eye today, there is no sign that there ever was a railway crossing Victoria Street.
To accommodate the lowering of the railway there obviously needed to be a new bridge across the Waikato River. This also involved a new cutting to the north of the existing line declining from Grey Street to the river at a point some twenty feet below the old bridge level. Curiously there were no further works to avoid the level crossings at Grey Street and Peachgrove Road but River Road got a traffic overbridge.
The new bridge was designed to allow the navigation of the river as before.
The piers are set more or less in line with the old bridge and the spans are seventy feet above 'normal' water level.
This left the city with a rail bridge with all rails and sleepers removed leaving gaping holes through the iron work. The bridge was converted to a road traffic bridge which now carries all classes of road vehicles - a testament to the skill of the Victorian engineers. Major works were required to give access to the eastern end of the bridge and an overbridge was built on River Road carrying traffic not only over the railway but over the road traffic as well. This work resulted in the creation of Claudelands Road parallel to the railway and on roughly the same decline with a steep up slope to the bridge level.
Trevor Terry is a railway enthusiast who photographed the changes as the railway was lowered. To listen to him talk about his memories of the process click here (Hamilton City Libraries OH0031). This clip is 2 minutes and 24 seconds in length.