here is a trip report , from a member of a yahoo group that covers nz locomotives . thanks Geoff ( copied with his permission . )
Subject: Last ride on the Northerner
My way of saying goodbye to the Northerner was to book a return trip from Auckland to National Park on it's final night, although we didn't quite make it there, with the two services crossing at Oio, 20km further up the line. No problem with that though, as I would have been happy with Taumarunui, and had been fully expecting delays.
The trip started by catching a DMU at Ranui at about 1900hrs for a ride into Britomart. One of the Northerner train managers (Bob) also boarded this DMU, at Glen Eden, and I soon learned the northbound Overlander was delayed by heat restrictions, so after arriving at Britomart, it was off into the city for a couple of hours, then back to the station for another hour of waiting. Quite relaxing with the peace and quiet Britomart has to offer after the end of the Connex day, and with a quiet background clasical music played over the PA system. Northerner farewell messages rolled across the electronic displays on the platforms, until eventually going on the fritz and displaying "Northerner.....Encounted *#*#*" which is presumably an error message although no one was sure if encounted was a word.
A few patrons who chose to arrive closer to the train departure time had trouble getting into Britomart after 10pm, as security had locked the station down, assuming all intending passengers would be inside by now.
At about 2245 the Overlander arrived, and after waiting for carriage cleaning to be completed, and meeting fellow group members Jonathan Law and Grant Pendergrast, I boarded the observation car at the rear of the train. May have met a few other group members too - one on 202 from Kent in the UK (rings a bell), one on the van deck out of Hamilton, and one or two others who seemed to know more about trains than is healthy for otherwise ordinary passengers.
Departure was at 2311hrs, setting back out of the station, through the tunnel, and around to the base of the Parnell bank, the observation lounge being the leading vehicle. We then moved forward through Strand station and were underway proper at about 2316.
One of the Tranz Scenic Overlander staff who stayed with us to her home in Papakura, joined railfan Norm Daniel in singing a farewell song to the train, over the carriage sound system, not quite completing it after giving way to laughter. Train consist was DCP 4790, van AG 222, AO 117, buffet car ASO 136, AO 48 and rear-observation car AO 209.
Train managers Graeme and Bob kept the buffet service and van viewing decks open all night, which was much appreciated.
First stop was Middlemore, and thereafter we had a clear run through to Huntly, thanks to Papakura and Pukekohe passengers having already been picked up by the northbound Overlander, so they were already on board our train.
The first train crossed was MP28 at Papakura station, headed by DFM 7145 with around 30 odd containers for Metroport.
With all the carriage lights off, we soon had a great view of the stars from the back carriage, as the city lights dwindled behind us, and plenty of leg room thanks to the fact that other passengers were not interested in visiting the rear lounge, choosing to settle in for the night in their allocated reclining seats. Four people in a lounge designed for 12 was something of a bonus. All up there were about 63 passengers on board from the Auckland area, with a few more picked up in Hamilton.
One interesting observation that has developed since my last trip on the Northerner was the high number of glowing screens in the carriages, as people cuddle up with their cellphones to play games, access the internet or text one another. These often created a blue glow throughout parts of the otherwise unlit train.
When the carriages are completely dark, it can be an experience walking along the aisle. I tried getting used to the spacing of seat head rests to sturdy myself on curves, but unless some seats are designed to have the feel of a bald head, I may have misjudged at least one.
Train 220 was crossed at Frankton with a pair of DC's on the head, and arrival in Hamilton was at 0120, two hours and nine minutes after departing Britomart, and it was time for a quick photo op of the loco and final baggage loading. Plenty of camera flashes around, and certificates were handed out to the loco engineers.
It had been decided to run both Northerners through with diesels for a more traditional experience, so no loco swap took place, and at 0130 we were underway once more with DCP 4790 still in charge, but with a new loco engineer. It was a slow run out of Hamilton with a couple of kilometres of speed restriction in force on the southern outskirts of the city, but once out around the 539km metrage, we were soon picking up speed to settle in for 100km/h running through to Te Awamutu where a taxi was waiting to pick up a passenger from our train.
This was a great time to be out on the observation deck, where I chose to remain from Hamilton to Te Awamutu.
South of Te Awamutu we crossed 524 from New Plymouth, with diesels in charge, then it was two more stops before Taumarunui, one at Otorohanga for passengers, and one further south (Kopaki?) where we took the loop to wait for 222 which came by within little more than a minute of our arrival, with a pair of EF's in charge of 35 or so wagons.
From the buffet car I couldn't say no to purchasing a mince pie. A final run on the old night limited wouldn't be the same without it.
The stop at Taumarunui was brief, and as we departed it was pleasing to see a lady loco engineer in charge of EF's 30013 and 30007 on the head of 237 which we overtook there.
Word came through that 202 had been delayed by having to assist 210 express freight somewhere further down the line, so despite our being very late, we still made it all the way to Oio where we arrived in the loop at 0418, followed three minutes later by the arrival of 202. Said goodbye to Johnathan, then it was a quick step down, brief carriage-length walk between the two final Northerners, and back up into the buffet car of 202. Departure from Oio came at 0426, and as we pulled away I watched the green signal appear at the south end and could see 203 also departing at 0427 from my new perch in the back of 202's rear-observation lounge, which remarkably only had two people despite about 100 people being on board this train.
I wondered how far they would get before daylight appeared, then soon noticed a light patch in the sky toward the east at about 0435hrs. It was getting light by the time we reached Taumarunui, so I would guess 203's passengers would have had a glimpse of Mt Ruapehu on their approach to Waiouru. We were in bright sunlight by Te Kuiti.
We crossed 237 again at Owhango, and later 215 in daylight at Porootarao, also with double EF's on the head.
Possibly the best part of the trip was as the stars were giving way to daylight, lying back on the "couch" watching the track fade to infinity behind me. Almost went to sleep, but not quite!
Unlike the southbound train which had limited food supplies thanks to Overlander passengers cleaning them out, 202 was loaded with goodies, so it was time for a final feed complete with chocolate cake.
As daylight began to creep in a Dominion Post photographer joined me in the observation lounge, who must have taken a couple of hundred photos of the misty valleys and carriage window reflections as we sped northward through the king country.
Kopaki to Puketutu must be one of the slowest sections of the electrified NIMT as it is almost continuous 50km/h curves, and at the south end of Kopaki station is a 45km/h curve. The sharpest NIMT curve or are there more further south? Not that one notices them too much. The feel of movement as perceived from the rear lounge is that one is moving quite fast. Looking ahead on these curvy sections it was almost hypnotic watching DCP 4663 winding in and out of left and right hand curves at near constant speed.
As daylight increased it became obvious that they don't make weed spray like they used to! Newly ballasted sections excepted, the NIMT track from Taumarunui to Hamilton has quite a green appearance.
At Te Kuiti the short branch line down to the lime and shingle plants is still there, although disconnected from the NIMT and heavily overgrown.
Noted DSC 2312 parked in the Fonterra siding at Te Awamutu, and from there we had a quick run to Hamilton, with Transfield staff moving onto the track behind us within the speed restriction area south of Hamilton station.
Time for more photos as DCP 4628 was added to the front of 4663, and it was back out onto the deck for the run northbound out of the city behind double-headed DCP's. There was a quick stop at Te Rapa, where the yard is no more, with almost the entire site now cleared of tracks and buildings, although a new or upgraded siding has been laid to form the first part of the new CT site. The industrial siding over the far (west) side of the yard, complete with signals, is however, still intact, presumably in strategic reserve in case any of the private sidings over that way are reopened. DBR 1295 was nowhere to be seen, although the DXR was noted along with the usual line up of EF's and the odd DC.
We stopped again at Huntly, taking the loop where the platform is now located, and then continued north to Pukekohe, then stops at Papakura and Middlemore, before final arrival in Britomart at 0940hrs.
Sitting at the rear of the last carriage it occured to me I was the last person out of millions to arrive in Auckland at the end of 96 years of history. That was a bit sad considering the number of people who didn't make it on Christmas Eve 1953, so they became my final thought before alighting from the train.
The 1015 DMU to Ranui had been rescheduled to depart at 0950, so along with Train Manager Bob, it was back onto yet another train to take me home (and a bus from Mt Eden to Avondale). Ranui station was reached at 1100hrs.
It is interesting to note that many of the Tranz Scenic staff remain very upbeat about the future of long distance passenger trains in New Zealand. Toll have apparently been taking a serious look at the business and have concluded that a future lies in high value tourist services. This does not mean cut the Northerner and leave the rest dangling. They are looking to build on the concept of high value services with the same approach being taken to building and expanding the freight business.
While this may not include the Northerner, it has been said that it may however include restarting the Bay Express and a Southerner service north of Dunedin. For now I am going to put aside my doubts and see what happens. If the staff can be upbeat about it based on what they are hearing, then perhaps we railfans should hold back on criticising the Northerner's demise, at least for now.
All in all, it was a fantastic and highly enjoyable ride, and the staff were brilliant. The only negative part of the journey was the presence of a reasonably well known railfan on the southbound journey who only likes to speak to people after he can think of something condescending to say (he can't sing either). Upon being corrected on his claim that West Coast Rail cancelled the Southerner (they didn't as they never purchased it) he proclaimed "this is why I don't like travelling with other railfans as they think they know it all". It was a reminder to me of the importance of staying at least ten feet away from anyone who covers their clothing in a million and one train badges!
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The only train trips I regret are the ones I didn't take.