Picton Express

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The Picton Express was a passenger express train operated by the New Zealand Railways Department between Christchurch and Picton. It ran from December 1945 until February 1956, and was thus the shortest-lived provincial express in New Zealand.[1]


The Main North Line took over half a century to build, and passengers using the northern portion in Marlborough were primarily catered for with mixed trains, while the southern section was the route of the Culverden Express.[2] As of the mid-1920s, the Culverden Express began to terminate at the coastal Parnassus terminus rather than the inland Culverden terminus, and this was the forerunner to the Picton Express. The route north of Parnassus was completed as the Main North Line on 15 December 1945, and from this date, the Picton Express was introduced, operating the length of the line.[1]


The Picton Express began life as a daily service, offering a swifter connection between Canterbury and Marlborough than previously available. However, after operating for only a month, coal shortages in January 1946 meant that it was cut to thrice weekly, running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It operated to this schedule for the rest of its existence, except when extra trains were run at peak holiday times such as Christmas and Easter.[1] In 1950 the northbound journey took 8 hours and 15 minutes, departing Christchurch at 8:25am and arriving Picton at 4:40pm. The southbound journey took 8 hours and 22 minutes; its Picton departure was at 9:45am and it arrived in Christchurch at 6:07pm. The two services passed each other north of Kaikoura. In Blenheim, passengers could make road connections to Nelson. As the Railways Department did not operate dining cars at any time during the Picton Express's life, stops were made at Waipara and Kaikoura for passengers to buy refreshments.[3] The train was always hauled by steam locomotives, typically of the AB class.[4]


As the 1950s began, competition increased from airlines, buses, and private cars. Passenger numbers began to dwindle, especially during off-peak periods, and the Railways Department began to investigate railcar alternatives that would be better suited to the service. In February 1956, just over ten years after the Picton Express began operating, it was replaced by the much faster RM class 88 seater railcars.[1] The Fiat 88 seat railcars, however, proved expensive and time-consuming to maintain, and from 1967 began to be phased out with Picton route reverting to older Vulcan railcars and summer passenger trains. The Picton service was regarded as a local service for North Canterbury and Malborough locals and for their convenience and because of an agreement with the Union Steam Ship company not to compete with its Lyttelton Wellington steamer express Ferry service, no southbound ferry-rail connection was available at Picton and only a limited connection with the 6:45 pm ferry northbound. When the railcars wore out in the 1970s, they were replaced by a carriage train, which was introduced partly because of the abandonment of the rival Lyttelton Wellington steamer express, with the withdrawal of the 'Rangitira' in 1976 and this reborn Picton express proved something of a success to the amazement of the Railways management who did not expect, much patronage, given the early morning departures in 1976-7 due to track damage and repairs and this train was later rebranded as the TranzCoastal.[2] Before the rebranding, this carriage train was sometimes also referred to as the Picton Express.


  1. ^ a b c d J. D. Mahoney, Kings of the Iron Road (Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1982), 105.
  2. ^ a b Geoffrey B. Churchman and Tony Hurst, The Railways of New Zealand: A Journey Through History (Auckland: HarperCollins, 1991), 177.
  3. ^ Mahoney, Kings of the Iron Road, 106.
  4. ^ Mahoney, Kings of the Iron Road, 111.