Main Trunk: Portrait of a Railway

Author(s): Christine Johnson


One hundred years since it was opened, the North Island Main Trunk linking Wellington and Auckland remains the country's most important railway and a symbol of what railways have stood for in New Zealand's history. From the early aspirations of colonial politicians to its long and at times troubled construction; from its boom years to the later decline of passenger services; from competition with road to electrification, the North Island Main Trunk has charted the ebb and flow of New Zealand's railway history. This book brings together many photographs and images, including colour, to tell the story of this line and its role in the development of New Zealand. 152 pages. Review by Geoffrey Churchman: Quite a few books have been published about the North Island Main Trunk railway over the years—most notably the comprehensive tome from 1981 by the late Bill Pierre—which is understandable given that it is the country’s most important railway line, but it means that the obvious first question about this one is “what haven’t I seen/read before?” The short answer for those who have collected the literature is ‘not a whole lot’, but for those who haven’t it provides a useful summary of the line’s history. The amount of body text is not great; probably the compilers felt there was little point trying to duplicate previous works and have decided to talk as much about social aspects as about engineering, with naturally for a government owned organisation, a whole chapter on relations with Maori land owners. The first chapter is a kind of general scene-setting for life in New Zealand in 1908, the year the line was completed, thereafter we get Wikipedia style articles on different topics, arranged in a loose chronology. Some 220 illustrations are included, 91 in colour, although as is typical of this publisher the bulk of them are given mingy proportions. While this is acceptable with memorabilia items, personage portraits and photos that have been published before, it becomes a cause of exasperation with others. Why for example is the impressive decor of Auckland’s recent Britomart Station allocated a measly Wheetbix card? Also as can be expected with this publisher, W.W. Stewart paintings are scattered through the book. In all, lightweight reading, but like last year’s Trainland, the government subsidized price makes this worth adding to one’s bookshelf.


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Christine Johnson was once a rail employee and has had a lifelong interest in railway history. She is the author of Learning the Hard Way, a history of railway accidents in New Zealand Kevin Ramshaw is general manager, Public Affairs with ONTRACK (New Zealand Railways Corporation). He began his career as a journalist, working in New Zealand and the UK. Back in New Zealand he joined TVNZ's current affairs programme Eye Witness News. He left the media in 1985 to work in the public relations industry in Wellington and Hong Kong before being a co-founder of the firm Busby Ramshaw Grice. Ruth Larsen, an ONTRACK senior communications officer, trained as a journalist before moving into the public relations industry She worked in the arts sector before joining ONTRACK.

General Fields

  • : 9781869341077
  • : Grantham House Publishing
  • : Grantham House Publishing
  • : 240mm X 210mm
  • : New Zealand
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 385.09931
  • : Very Good
  • : 152
  • : over 200 colour and black & white plates
  • : Christine Johnson
  • : Hardback
  • : 1st Edition