The railway line from Lumsden to Kingston was opened on 10 July 1878.
Before the age of the car, the Selwood family would have been frequent users of the railway as the principal means of travel. From Kingston and Parawa they would have used the railway to visit the larger towns of Lumsden, Invercargill and Gore for supplies and to conduct business.
With improvements in engine power and in tracks, the Railways Department introduced in 1900 a regular “speedy” trip to Kingston and Lake Wakatipu by what become popularly known as the Kingston Flyer. It served Kingston every weekday. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, it ran from Kingston to Gore, where it connected with Main South Line expresses between Dunedin and Invercargill. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it operated from Kingston to Invercargill.
In the early years, services were typically operated by K and V class steam locomotives. At peak periods, especially Christmas and Easter, special services had to be operated to cater for demand, with some operating from Dunedin through to Kingston, where they connected with Lake Wakatipu steamboats to the popular holiday destination of Queenstown. For many years, this was the primary means of travelling to Queenstown.
For the Selwood children in the 1901 to 1906 period, the train left Kingston Station, just 50 metres from their Lake Wakatipu Hotel, at 9am in the morning on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This train, destined for Lumsden then onto Gore, would make a request stop at Garston at about 9.40am to disembark. There was no morning train on Tuesday and Thursday. In the 40-minute ride between Kingston and Garston the train would climb to Fairlight, the highest point on the Invercargill to Kingston line. The climb would be over the terminal moraine that led to the creation of Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand’s third largest lake.
For the return trip from school, the Flyer would arrive at Garson about 4.50pm and at the Kingston terminal at 5.30pm. This would again be on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with no other afternoon service on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The train was a mixed one, meaning passengers and freight, so the schedule was a guide only because if wagons needed to be dropped off or picked up at a station the shunting time would be extra.
The Kingston service continued through the 1930s to the 1950s with decreased patronage, brought about by the opening of the road and the introduction of bus travel between Kingston and Queenstown, past the notorious Devil’s Staircase. Changes in road cartage distances also made it more economic for farmers to move their stock and fertiliser supplies by truck rather than by rail.
Rail services diminished and became an “as required” service until the final Kingston Flyer at Easter in 1957. As a somewhat surprising innovative move on the part of the New Zealand Railways Department, they announced in 1971 that they would reintroduce and operate the Kingston Flyer as a heritage service. This coincided with the last use of steam locomotives on the New Zealand rail network but the retention of two steam locomotives, Ab778 and Ab795, relic examples of New Zealand’s most successful locomotive, the Ab Class.
For eight years, from December 1971 and operating seven months of the year, the Kingston Flyer operated two round trips a day, seven days a week, between Lumsden and Kingston. It was very popular, carrying over 30,000 people annually. Flood damage to the track, not too far from where the Selwoods once resided at Parawa, finally put paid to the through service in April 1979.
After some heavy political and economic discussion, Kingston Flyer Limited, a private venture company, took over the running of the isolated Kingston to Fairlight section and retained the two Ab steam work-horses. After ten years the New Zealand government decided not to renew the $1.00 a year lease agreement for a variety of “complex political reasons”. New Zealand Rail was then privatized and Tranz Rail took over and energized the tourist vintage train. But sadly, the Kingston Flyer operation was closed down in 2012 for safety reasons. Even sadder is to see the engines and derelict rail equipment lying deteriorating at Kingston rail sidings without an apparent reactivation plan.
But here is some good news. Richard Soper, a farmer at Athol and a local historian, tells me that there is some activity at Kingston in carriage maintenance and on the Fairlight Railway Station. So just maybe there will be a reopening of the Kingston Flyer in the near future.
Fortunately for those of us who attended the 2001 Selwood Reunion, we were able to enjoy the thrill of riding on the Kingston Flyer and imagining what it would be like for the young Selwood children travelling to school 100 years prior. Indeed, one of the carriages on the train, called the open air “birdcage”, was introduced in 1898 and hence some of the attendees of the Selwood Reunion would have sat in a carriage in which Selwood children actually travelled some 100 years previously.
Kingston Flyer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIR_14sDbS0