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Lyttelton Rail Tunnel marks 150 years

8 December 2017

Lyttelton Rail Tunnel marks 150 years

Tomorrow (Saturday) will mark 150 years since the opening of the Lyttelton Rail Tunnel, an engineering marvel which remains a key part of the KiwiRail network and important contributor to the local economy.

When the Lyttelton Rail Tunnel opened on December 9, 1867, it was the first rail tunnel in New Zealand, and the first in the world to be drilled through the side of an extinct volcano.

Before the opening of the tunnel, it was difficult to transport Canterbury’s goods, such as wool, throughout the world. To reach Lyttelton Port, people and goods would need to travel over the Bridle Path or take long and complicated routes involving river and sea crossings.

With the support of Superintendent William Sefton Moorhouse (known as ‘Railway Billy’), it was decided a direct rail tunnel between Christchurch and Lyttelton was the best option.

The tunnel presented unprecedented challenges to the engineers involved, such as how to drill through hard volcanic rock, and was one of the country’s first great engineering works.

It has stood strong for 150 years, and while passengers no longer travel through the tunnel, it remains a vitally important transport route for exports from the region.

“Every year, our services carry 1.1 million tonnes of coal, 300,000 tonnes of logs and around 30,000 tonnes of general freight through the Lyttelton Rail Tunnel,” says KiwiRail Network Services Group General Manager Todd Moyle.

“The tunnel is essential to KiwiRail’s operations, those of Lyttelton Port Company and to the people of Canterbury, who rely on our services to export their goods to the world.

“Volumes are increasing into and out of LPC, which last year opened its Inland Port in Rolleston to help service increasing productivity from the Canterbury plains, making the tunnel as important as ever.

“We’re grateful to the engineers and officials who, more than 150 years ago, had the foresight and perseverance to design and build what has become a significant part of KiwiRail’s network and of New Zealand’s history.”


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