Steam trains could return to city

Sam Mackwell (left) and Nico Haima, of Christchurch firm Mackwell Locomotive Ltd, with plans for a wood-powered steam locomotive they hope will see machines like JA 1274, now based at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, return to the rails. Photo: Stephen Jaquie
Sam Mackwell (left) and Nico Haima, of Christchurch firm Mackwell Locomotive Ltd, with plans for a wood-powered steam locomotive they hope will see machines like JA 1274, now based at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, return to the rails. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
More than 60 years after the last locally-made steam locomotive rolled out of Hillside workshop, a Christchurch firm wants to wind the clock back and return steam power to Dunedin’s railways.

Mackwell Locomotive Co has approached Dunedin Railways with a proposal to trial its design for a modern, environmentally sustainable, wood-powered steam engine on the company’s tracks.

‘‘Getting away from fossil fuels one option is electrification, which would have a massive cost in infrastructure,’’ company director Sam Mackwell said.

‘‘This doesn’t have the carbon footprint of building the infrastructure, or building a power station ... it can use any wood fuel, including from waste streams.’’

Steam technology was replaced by diesel and electric locomotives decades ago, but reviving it was not a fanciful dream, Mr Mackwell said.

Modern steam locomotives operated in South America, Switzerland and England, and Mr Mackwell’s company had built a prototype boiler which Mr Mackwell said had operated above expectations.

‘‘We have eliminated smoke and spark emissions, it can be ready to go in about 20 minutes, and uses 90% less energy than a traditional steam engine to get up to speed.

‘‘We have calculated it could go from Dunedin railway station to Middlemarch and back, twice, without taking on water or wood.’’

Mr Mackwell had approached Dunedin Railways about it hosting a trial of his engine design as it had the longest stretch of privately owned tracks in New Zealand.

‘‘We are hoping it could increase patronage on Dunedin Railways, reduce costs, and aid their carbon footprint.’’

Dunedin Railways operations manager Grant Craig said the Mackwell design had merit in its environmental credentials.

‘‘We have been in talks with them and we’re interested in seeing what they can offer us.’’

Mr Mackwell has already drawn up ambitious plans for his locomotives to replace the KiwiRail fleet, which he said would cost less to build and run and could aid a substantial drop in carbon emissions.

Wood was a low-cost, efficient, carbon neutral energy source — Mr Mackwell said less than 2% of New Zealand’s current pinus radiata crop could supply fuel indefinitely at current KiwiRail traffic levels on a 22 year crop rotation.


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Here is an opportunity not to be missed. Cruise ship passengers will be champing at the bit to ride into the city via a modern steam train. Relaxing on plush seats taking in the water and penninsula views with the knowledge they are riding a modern environmetally friendly train, as the carriages gently wind their way into town. Oh, geez, hang on, they will have to walk from the railway station to the Octagon, heaven forbid a 200mtr walk! So that puts a spanner in the works. We can't think of any other way to shuttle the cruisers from the railway station. No, leave it be, best to keep the bashed up old smoking buses clogging up the roads, choking the Octagon and hand feeding the businesses with fresh customers. As you were everyone...sigh

Agree! Would be excellent entry to city for cruise ship tourists.

Tourists with mobility problems could have taxi mini vans available at station during cruise/train times.

And while we're at it, put these trains on for commuting workers. A car park at Wingatui, regular train timetable and incentivised so people actually want to ride the train to work rather than driving to town and then finding we're short on parking. Running a commuter train northward to townships could allow more housing to be built along the way, further easy the pressure on the city. Rail, especially something like Mackwell's loco should be seriously investigated. I believe it would be very good for our city. Good job Sam.

Certainly worth a look at imo.

Dunedin railways shouldv'e snapped up the Kingston Flyers when they were going for a song and put them to use . They are awesome locos. Sadly that boat has sailed....

Excellent idea!

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