Monday, 6 May 2013

Iconic "Kingston Flyer" Steam Train For Sale (Again....)

The "Kingston Flyer" at full regulator,
circa 1975
[Credit : New Zealand Railways Publicity]

The iconic Kingston Flyer Steam Train, track, rail corridor, ancilliary equipment and buildings have again been placed on the open market at a virtual "give-away" price of NZD$2,500,000 (USD$2,133,000 or UKP£1,370,000)

Kingston Flyer Sale Advertisement
[Source : Trade Me]

The two locomotives and carriages are truly priceless. Having been saved from imminent closure and dispersal a couple of years back by Mr David Bryce one hopes that a new and equally passionate owner can continue to keep this unique and historic steam train operating.

The Original Route of the Kingston Flyer
shown from Gore to Kingston via Lumsden,

The New Zealand Government Railways line from Lumsden to Kingston in Central Southland, at 1,024 feet above sea level and the most inland place in New Zealand, had been opened in its entirety on the 10th July 1878. Initially all trains leaving Invercargill in the deep south were mixed passenger and freight. The timetable for 1879 notes a departure time of 6.50am from Invercargill and arriving at Kingston at the south end of Lake Wakatipu at 12.30pm, taking five hours and 40 minutes and stopping at 24 stations en-route.

The Working Timetable showing services north from
Invercargill to Kingston effective July 1879

The private Waimea Plains Railway Company was then formed in 1878 to build a line from Gore to Lumsden where it joined the Government Railways Invercargill to Kingston line. This shortened the rail distance for passengers and freight from points north to Central Southland and "The Cold Lakes" region of the interior. But in competition with the Govenment Railway, subject to hefty "transfer fees", and unable to adequately recover construction costs from local landowners who had benefited from its construction and operation, the company went into voluntary liquidation. In 1886 the Government purchased the line and assets for £110,000

The original 'Kingston Flyer' and crew at Kingston Railway
Station.  The engine is one of the famed "K" class American
Rogers locomotives. A half "birdcage" carriage is visible
 just behind the engine tender.
[Photo credit : NZ Railways Publicity]

To coincide with the Government purchase of the Lake Wakatipu steamer service in 1899, a new dedicated passenger "express service" (rather than a mixed freight service) commenced on the old Waimea line between Gore and Lumsden and through to the rail-head of Kingston. The locomotive chosen for this route, requiring up to 18 stops, was the decidedly flashy "Yankee K" class, having been built in the late 1870's by the Rogers Locomotive works of Paterson, New Jersey, USA.

Rogers K94 of 1878 on the
"Kingston Flyer" at Athol on the Kingston
Branch line, circa 1900-1910
[Source : WW Stewart Collection]  

Having been 'cascaded' from the main line, these decidedly light and spindly looking but surprisingly sprightly Rogers 2-4-2 locomotives with [then] distinctive "wagon top" boilers and looking more like something out of the American Wild West were ideally suited for light 'express' trains, having become famed for their quick turn of speed. They could also easily out-run any equivalent British made locomotive. The 'Rogers K' class thus proved eminently suitable for this predominately flat line, faithfully serving up until the 1920's. Passengers would transfer onto one of the lake steamers at Kingston wharf to continue their journey onto Queenstown.

My Grandmother's 'chaperone' travelling in a First Class
'birdcage' compartment carriage on the original
'Kingston Flyer' between Lumsden and Kingston.
Photographed by Mr Charles Loveday, Oct 1913
[From my own collection]

Thus was born the era of the legendary "Kingston Flyer" which forever made famous these sprightly 'Rogers K' class locomotives. But by the mid 1930's, and during the "Great Depression", passenger numbers had sharply declined. By 1936 a bus had, except at peak times, replaced the regular steamer service, now using the newly opened road around the lake between Queenstown and Kingston. Finally, in October 1937, the passenger service between Lumsden and Kingston was also discontinued, again being replaced with cramped Railways Service Buses running over dusty and often bumpy gravel roads. The line continued thereafter to solely carry freight.

"Snow Drift at Fairlight" - Our version of "Bleath Gill"!
An AB Class Pacific stuck in a snow drift on the Fairlight Straight
during the heavy snow fall of July 1939. It took three days to
 cover 37 miles. Photographed by the late Jim Graham.
[Credit : Spankiebnz

The Waimea Plains line between Gore and Lumsden was finally severed in April 1970 with the closure of a substantial part of the route. But local protestations against the impending closure of the branch line from Lumsden to Kingston were convincing. Promises of continued support spurred the then sympathetic Minister of Railways, The Right Hon. JB (Peter) Gordon to quite creatively devise a tourist steam train service based on the old "Kingston Flyer". The service over the 38 mile route would also operate as a mixed train, thus satisfying local freight requirements. Thankfully, two 1920's AB class Pacific steam locomotives along with sufficient vintage wooden carriages dating from 1900 to 1923, including a very rare 'birdcage' compartment carriage, were still in New Zealand Railways ownership and able to be lovingly refurbished. A new station building had to found for Kingston and part of the Riversdale Station on the old Waimea Plains line was found to be suitable. The first run of the new Flyer service ran on the 21st December 1971, operating each Summer season thereafter. The principal locomotive driver from day one was Russell Glendinning who is still associated with this vintage train. The now historic 1975 New Zealand "National Film Unit" film featuring the Kingston Flyer, "A Train For Christmas", can be viewed Here.

The route of the new Kingston Flyer service from
Lumsden to Kingston, effective from 1971
[From my own collection]

But the famed 'Yankee K class' locomotives were however not forgotten. It was during this period that no less than three of the original "K class" locomotives were exhumed from their muddy graves in the Oreti River in Southland, having been ignominiously dumped over a railway embankment for flood protection in the late 1920's. But this was also to be their salvation. Two of these, being K88 "Washington" [built 1877] and K92 [built 1878], were fully restored. K92 is now situated at the fledgling Waimea Plains Railway at Mandeville. Amazingly, although being re-tubed, the boiler is still the original it carried from 1904 until dumped in 1927. K88 "Washington", which is located at the Plains Vintage Railway in Tinwald, along with it's unrestored sister K94 [built 1878], now has a new boiler, is main-line certified, and will continue to run for many more years. The tender and frame of sister locomotive K87 "Lincoln" are known to have been dumped for flood protection in an embankment alongside the Bealey River near Arthur's Pass but has not as yet been found.

You can see a video of K88 undertaking a spirited run after starting from a stationary stop on the Plains Railway by clicking Here. If you're still curious, David Fletcher has compiled an excellent article on the first and second restorations of the Rogers K88 "Washington" Here.

A Timeless Image -
The "Kingston Flyer" on the Fairlight Straight, circa 1975
[Source : New Zealand Railways Publicity]

But increasing costs, minimal freight, and the requirement for heavy expenditure on the isolated Kingston Branch line brought this wonderfully nostalgic tourist service to a close in 1979. Thereafter the 'Kingston Flyer', but in name only, and only through the stubborn support of the colourful and outspoken National Party Member of Parliament for Invercargill, The Right Hon. Norman Jones, ensured that the locomotives and carriages remained in Southland. But in 1982 a private consortium leased then eventually purchased the two locomotives and carriages and returned the train to run on just six kilometres of line between Kingston and Fairlight.

A brochure from 1977-78
evoking a 1920's theme
[From my own collection]

But now having been through a number of owners, financial difficulties, and finally the insolvency and placing of all assets into the hands of receivers [the vintage train had been used as security for a commercial loan unrelated to the 'Kingston Flyer"], the train's "saviour" Mr David Bryce bought the entire operation from the receivers in 2011. It is only due to ill-health and the strain of running a vintage rail operation using now aged and temperamental equipment requiring expensive upkeep that he has placed the business on the market at what is still a bargain price. The carriages are authentic for the 1920's era of the original "Kingston Flyer", while the locomotives are of the same type that regularly ran freight trains on this route from the 1930's to around 1967. Interestingly, the railway track is still the original, having been laid in 1878. I was reliably told many years ago that the track at Fairlight still bore the scars of the frequent slipping while trying to advance during the 1939 snow drift.

A "Kingston Flyer" set of playing
cards dated 1970's
[From my own collection]

We can only hope that a new dedicated and passionate benefactor comes forward to rescue this unique operation as obviously continued running in the future is not guaranteed. I understand that covenants are in place that would hinder the removal of the assets from Kingston. But hopefully we can witness for many more years the sight of a steam train climbing the grade out of Kingston and running along the relatively remote high country expanse of the Fairlight Straight, just like it has for over 130 years.

But if you can, please support this unique but expensive operation by actively riding the rails (operating summer months only) and experiencing the clickety-clack of the wheels on short bolted 1870's era rail, the sound of the engine's throaty exhaust as smoke and steam waft past the carriage windows, hearing the shrill NZR whistle reverberating around the hills, and imagining those early travellers in the days of the original "Kingston Flyer" as they gazed out their carriage windows across the flat glacial moraine at Fairlight and watched the timeless passing high-country scenery.

A "VIP Cab Pass" issued circa 1982
[From my own collection]

The sale details (as per below) maybe accessed Here and the "Kingston Flyer" website Here.

An excellent modern UTube film featuring the Kingston Flyer with great sound along with line-side, aerial and on-board views can be accessed Here.

Bibliography :

- Images are only from my own collection where specifically noted and may be freely copied for non-commercial use provided a link is given back to this page.
- "The Story of the Kingston Flyer" by FWG Miller, 1975
- "All Aboard" by RJ Meyer, 1980

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