Silver Star (NZR train)

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The Silver Star was a luxury passenger train that ran overnight between Auckland and Wellington on the North Island Main Trunk railway of New Zealand. The train ran from Monday, 6 September 1971 until Sunday, 8 June 1979, it replaced the Night Limited express passenger trains, which provided a faster service than the "Ordinary" Expresses by stopping at only six intermediate stations en route and not dragging postal or parcels vans at the rear. Designed as a "hotel on wheels", its carriages were distinctive in New Zealand; rather than being painted in the traditional red, the Silver Star's carriages were made of stainless steel, and silver in appearance. Original planning of the train envisaged the sleeping cars being the basis of new standard NZR passenger stock with future passenger trains of 6 carriages and van, 7 stainless steel units of 30 tons each (210) tons pulled by a 1425 hp DA. However planning for the Limited replacement became more ambitious in the early 1960s, moving away from 25 ton, 55 ft stainless carriages of the type used on the 3 ft 6inch, QR Sunlander to sleeping cars of standard gauge 9 ft 9inch, standard gauge loading gauge. As a result, the usual Silver star consist of 35 ton carriages would weigh 410 tons and lead to the order for superpower DX locomotive of 2750 hp from General Electric to pull them and express freight on the NIMT and result in a large trackside work on the NIMT and the Silver stars alternative route via Marton- Wanganu-Stratford - Taurmaranui, to accommodate standard gauge width carriages running on 3 ft 6 inch.


The train was NZR's attempt to compete with the introduction of jet aircraft for business traffic between Auckland and Wellington. It was intended to improve the Railways staff morale and image, and the concept was based on a shorter version of NSW Railways,standard gauge, Southern Aurora,75 ft, 20 Passenger berth, sleeping cars introduced in 1962, providing luxury equal to the last US trains Broadway Limited, Chief, Crescent and Panama Limited, providing sleeping berths and Pullman comfort for all. Planning of the new Auckland and Wellington overnight express began in 1963 and 1964, and the concept of the train, as involving, an order for 31 stainless steel carriages - with two trainsets each night, of 5 twinette carriages, 5 single berth sleepers (16 beds per carriage), a licensed buffet car and a power car, never changed, the public announcement of plans for the new train were announced in December 1965 [1] Extensive study was made of other early 1960's Australian overnight train sets, particularly the Sundlander and Overland and similar designs in the USA, the final Santa Fe High level and Burlington cars. New Zealand built cars were estimated to cost by NZR CME, J.Black in 1958, 25,000 pounds for a second class carriage and 35,000 pounds for a first class car.[2] By 1960 NZR had concluded that stainless steel carriages, which lowered maintenance needs and avoided the need to paint were preferable, even with at a cost premium of 12-20%, that effectively meant, in 1970 a carriage cost of $100,000+ for Japanese or Australian stainless steel construction, cf with $60,000 to 70,000 for conventional Italian or Swedish built first class cars.( In 1941 NZR built 31 seat 1st class cars cost 7140 pounds, 2nd class 56 seat carriages, 5920 pounds [3]) In 1967 the new train was vigorously promoted by Minister of Railways, J.B. Gordon, on the grounds it would deliver a clear return, on its purchase cost and operation. Ironically most equivalent overseas services ceased that year and following US Mail ending its use of almost all US rail passenger services for 1st class mail, in Sept 1967, Santa Fe applied to ICC to withdraw 33 out of 39 of its long distance expresses,[4] that is, all but the LA-Chicago Super Chief and its Frisco connection, the Texas Chief (Chicago-Houston), its Dallas connection and 2 LA San Diego locals. Nevertheless, approval for NZR to release tenders for the new train were belatedly made on 19 November 1968, the Silver Star service broke new ground in New Zealand by providing a full on-board crew of car stewards (sourced from the inter-island rail ferry service) who doubled as dining car staff at meal times. A great deal of study had been made of on train meal provision, particularly of German and British Rail, the high wage and other industrial demands of the ferry stewards used, were one of the reasons the service failed. However, the product was effectively ten years too late. Travel by National Airways Corporation 737 took just over one hour; the Silver Star, by contrast, took around 12 hours and 30 minutes. Due to the freeze on rail fare and charges imposed by the Kirk Labour Government, which effectively meant the overnight price from Wellington to Auckland was held at $18 from late 1971 to early 1976, use of the train was high in 1974-5 and 1975-6; in the late 1970s the usual overnight patronage was only about 65 on most runs and only half the carriage stock was used for most of the year except during a few airline strikes.


New Zealand Railways at the time also ran another overnight train service, (the Night Express) which stopped at more than double the stations of the Silver Star, which had much older (1930s/1940s-built) rolling stock, and which had no on-board buffet service, but had cheaper fares (and three classes of accommodation). By refurbishing this train in 1975, which became the Northerner, many rail passengers preferred to pay around 33% less for a large reclining seat or 15% less for a 2-berth sleeper cabin without shower or toilet, than pay for a Silver Star cabin - more upmarket travellers simply preferred to fly.

Rolling stock and motive power[edit]

The 31 coaches were manufactured by Hitachi and Nippon Sharyo and hauled by diesel locomotives (initially two DA class locomotives, and later one DX class) for a six-night-a-week service. All passengers were carried in sleeping cars, with 12 being eight two-berth (incorporating separate bathrooms with showers for each cabin) "Twinette" and 12 being 16 single-berth (with toilet/basin facilities) "Roomette" cars. Passengers could purchase dinner, breakfast and other refreshments including alcoholic beverages and souvenirs in the buffet car, of which three were built, with 42 alcove-style tables. Four power-baggage vans completed the consists.


All 31 cars ran on bogies of a newer design, classed X28250 by NZR, which offered a superior quality ride, through better absorption of inertial dampers and better suspension, and bore a resemblance to the Kinki-Sharyo -manufactured bogies, classed X27250 by NZR, under steam vans and postal vans built by Kinki, the bogies built especially for the Northerner trains four years later and the FM - class vans two to six years after that, classed X28280, were heavily modeled after those under the Star cars.


The Railways Department attempted to replace the Northerner and Silver Star with a refurbished Silver Star which would be a 50% seating and 50% sleeper train, redeploy eight 30-seat cars from the Northerner rolling stock to the Wellington - Napier Endeavour service, and relocate the three 32-seat and three 36-seat Endeavour cars to the Christchurch - Picton route, but these plans came to nothing after the Silver Star stock was withdrawn from service and blue asbestos insulation was found inside the coaches. The relevant union refused to work with the dangerous material, and the carriages lay parked in sidings for over ten years while their future was debated; in 1982 Minister of Railways, George Gair, facing a cost of $7 million, for the asbestos removal and modernisation of the carriages, as well as rail losses and demand for other new rail equipment, commission Boston consultants, Booz Allen Hamilton to review NZR and in particular to investigate the most economical way of providing the rail passenger options. The NZ Ministry of Transport refused to accept, NZR estimate that the rebuilt Silver Star would exceed the Northerners patronage by 60% and operate profitably [5] The Railways then suggested that higher utilisation of the rebuilt Silver Star cars would be achieved by using them on both night and day services on the NIMT allowing Silver Fern railcars, to be redeployed on other routes. In 1985 Minister of Railways, Richard Prebble[6] delayed a decision, and with the full cost of removing the blue asbestos and reconstructing the train reaching, $20 million, cancelled the conversion; in line with the Booz Allen Report, which found modern rail car trainsets, vastly more economic than small trains. By 1986 NZR GM considered conversion of Silver Star into seated carriages as an uneconomical way of renewing the Northerner or Endeavour trains.

In December 1987, the Wellington-based Silver Star cars were hauled to Auckland, where private tourist firm Pacific Trailways intended to convert 27 passenger cars into a luxury tourist train that would travel around both the North and South Islands for NZ$1000. Nothing eventuated and all the cars languished in Auckland for two more years.

In 1990, the 31 cars were purchased by the British luxury travel company, Orient Express Trains & Cruises (of Orient-Express Hotels) and taken to A & G Price, of Thames, for regauging from New Zealand's 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge to 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) gauge for Thai and Malaysian railway lines. 24 cars (19 sleepers, three buffet cars and two power vans) went to Singapore where an extensive internal rebuild and fit-out as well as exterior painting and badging on was undertaken by the new owners at their (then) newly constructed maintenance depot on KTMB land in Singapore's Keppel Road rail yards. A 25th car also went to Singapore, and was stored unrefurbished for some years, but was scrapped when the E&OE moved its engineering workshop from Singapore to Johor. Since then the refurbished consist has, along with non-Silver Star stock, operated a regular 5-star luxury cruise-train service between Singapore and Bangkok as the Eastern & Oriental Express.

Six cars remain at A & G Price - two double sleepers, two single sleepers and two power vans. All are owned by Orient-Express Trains & Cruises. They have had their interiors stripped, asbestos removed, and are no longer on bogies, they were for sale from December 2012 until 2016 when all six were sold to individual buers.


  1. ^ Dominion 20-12-65
  2. ^ NZR CME. Lightweight Rolling Stock 8-6-1960. File 65/327 NZ National Archives
  3. ^ NZR CME 22/12/64
  4. ^ G. Glischinski. Santa Fe Railway. Voyaguer Press & MBI publishing (2008)p154
  5. ^ T. Hayward.CME. NZR to G. Gair Minister of Railways, 1-7-1983. National Archives
  6. ^ R.Prebble,Letter, 10-7-1985. Nat Archives

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