Tawa Flat tun­nel un­locks cap­i­tal


Con­struc­tion of the Tawa Flat rail tun­nel and de­vi­a­tion dur­ing the early 1930s opened up Welling­ton’s ex­pand­ing north­ern sub­urbs and the area be­yond while ush­er­ing in a new era of engi­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Hemmed in by its steep hills, the cap­i­tal had be­gun to slowly breath af­ter the com­ple­tion in 1886 of seven tun­nels along the rail line to John­sonville, which was then the rail route north.

But that te­dious trip was re­placed in the 1930s by the cur­rent main line route through to Tawa Flat, via the long­est dou­ble-track tun­nel in New Zealand.

En­gi­neers em­ployed ma­chines used for the first time in do­mes­tic tun­nelling, in­clud­ing a ce­ment gun and a pneu­matic pick known as a ‘‘mucker’’ that gouged out loos­ened soil and dropped it back into wooden tip trucks hauled by elec­tric lo­co­mo­tives.

The muck­ers were de­scribed by The Evening Post on March 23, 1929, as ‘‘mar­vel­lously compact yet tremen­dously pow­er­ful’’.

The Post her­alded the build­ing of the £2.05 mil­lion ($236 mil­lion now) 11-kilo­me­tre de­vi­a­tion as open­ing up ‘‘a vista of greatly in­creased pas­sen­ger and freight fa­cil­i­ties for the Port of Welling­ton’’.

‘‘The com­plete com­bined scheme, which in­cludes the new rail­way yard, in which will be in­cor­po­rated the Thorn­don sea wall and recla­ma­tion, pro­vides for a cen­tral rail­way sta­tion, linked up with the ferry ser­vice.’’

Part of the con­nec­tive tis­sue of the city, tun­nels have played a cru­cial role in Welling­ton’s tricky ex­pan­sion.

The Karori tun­nel was com­pleted in 1900 and in 1907, the Hataitai and Seatoun tram tun­nels helped the sub­urbs move south and east.

The slopes of North­land were opened up in the 1920s by the North­land tun­nel and with the au­to­mo­bile age came the Mt Vic­to­ria tun­nel in 1931 and the mo­tor­way tun­nel un­der The Ter­race in 1978.

Tawa was rel­a­tively sparsely pop­u­lated in the 1930s, but its pop­u­la­tion re­cently passed 15,000.

It is served by the five sub­ur­ban pas­sen­ger rail­way sta­tions of Kenepuru, Lin­den, Tawa, Red­wood and Takapu Road, with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of com­muters trav­el­ling daily by train into the Welling­ton CBD to work.



Tawa Flat tun­nel un­der con­struc­tion in the early 1930s.

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