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From Sea To Alps - Steam On Midland Line

The New Zealand Railways operated a fleet of 35 Ka class 4-8-4 steam locomotives for exclusive use on the North Island rail network from 1939 until their final retirement in 1967. Most of these locomotives were built at the Hutt Workshops (Wellington) although ten were built (but not assembled) at the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin.

KA942 'Nigel Bruce' steams into the heart of the Southern Alps in New Zealand.  Photo: © Compak Telepictures Ltd (Used under license)

KA942 'Nigel Bruce'

The Ka class locos were used for freight and passenger services, and they saw considerable service on these tasks during the Second World War. Post war a national coal shortage meant that the New Zealand Railways converted a number of the Ka locomotives to be oil burners instead of coal with all 35 examples of the type being converted between 1947 and 1953.

Three examples of the Ka class have been preserved. Ka942 as seen in this film was rescued by Ian Welch in 1972 and after stints in both Auckland and Christchurch, is now based in Wellington. Ka935 was was preserved by the Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society in 1967, and is currently in Silverstream (Wellington) awaiting restoration after being out of service since 2003. While the Silver Stream Heritage Railway has plans to eventual restore the engine it's not currently on the priority list for work to be undertaken. The final extant Ka is 945 which was preserved by Len Southward (Of Southward Car Museum fame) and which is now part of the collection at Steam Incorporated in Paekakariki. It is also planned that this engine will be eventually restored to working condition, but the project is currently progressing slowly.

Ka942 on the turntable at Otira in the heart of the Southern Alps. This shot illustrates the streamlined shrouds on top of the engine.  

Over the years two Ka class locomotives were lost in accidents. The first was Ka949 which was wrecked in the Tangiwai Disaster of 1953 (when a bridge over the Whangaehu River was destroyed by a lahar flowing from from Mount Ruapehu)—this remains new Zealand's worst ever rail disaster. The second was Ka951 which was swepted into the flooded Manawatu Gorge by a landslide killing both the fireman and driver.

Ja1211 on a run toward Arthurs Pass in the South Island. The distinctive boiler streamlining that was reinstated on the engine after it was restored is plainly visible in this shot.  

Ja1211 'Gloria'

The New Zealand Rail Ja class locomotives were 4-8-2 steam locos built by the North British Locomotive Works in Glasgow. Forty of the class were built and all were operated in New Zealand up until their eventual retirement in 1971. The bulk of the engines were used on North Island lines, but ten were utilised in the South Island between Dunedin and Oamaru.

As with Ka class locos, the post-war coal shortages meant that a dozen of the Ja class engines were converted to be oil burning, and these were re-designated as the Jb class, though they were only used in the North Island as coal reserves in the South Island were plentiful.

The full documentary film presented by Mainline Steam, shows two steam locomotives, J1211 'Gloria' and KA942 'Nigel Bruce' in action on the Midland railway line of Canterbury, New Zealand.

As with the Ka class, there are currently three Ja class locomotives that have been preserved (none of the Jb class were saved).

J 1211 "Gloria" was recovered for use with Steam Incorporated in 1972, and after being restored fro mainline running by the Glenbrook Vintage Railway it was used on excursions during the Rail 125 event in 1988. In 1996 it was converted to be an oil burner in the same manner that the Jb class engines were converted. The engine is still based at Glenbrook.

J 1234 was also purchased by Steam Incorporated in 1972 and was serviceable until 1992 when it was certified for use on the mainline network. It was used at Glenbrook for a number of years but is now back at Steam Incorporated in Paekakariki and is currently stored awaiting eventual overhaul.

J 1236 "Joanne" was initially purchased by the Railway Enthusiasts Society for use with JA 1250 on its "South Pacific Steam Safari" tour, but has been eventually purchased by Ian Welch of Mainline Steam. This locomotive has also been restored as a JB class oil burner. In 2011 it moved to the group's Plimmerton depot for an overhaul and returned to service in 2017. "Joanne" is one of Ian Welch's daughters.

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