Miss B has a best friend, Master B (no relation), who she met in Kindy.
As their friendship blossomed, we got to know his parents.
As it turns out Mister B is into model trains, like I am, but the cherry on top was with his job as a driver for Kiwirail, he offered to take me on a ride in the cab of a freight train one day.
This was a dream come true!
I’ve been a train nerd for some time and how can you not be?
I mean, come on, they are SO COOL!
A thousand or so tonnes of steel and cargo, pulled by a thousand-plus horsepower engine, rolling along long, snaking tracks through New Zealand’s gorgeous countryside is appealing to admirers of engineering, physics, environmentally-friendly logistics AND aesthetics!
I had previously travelled on the commuter trains in Wellington and Auckland, but the last time I had been on a train in Hawke’s Bay, was taking the Bay Express down to Wellington in the mid to late 90s, shortly before the passenger service was terminated.
He said there was a catch – He would have to pick me up at 4am.
This was no catch – For more than a decade my (non-writing, but paying) job has seen my alarm go off at 3:30am six working days out of ten.
With the excitement of the trip ahead of me I had been waiting outside, staring at the stars, for 15 minutes by the time he arrived to pick me up.
In the cab of DL class locomotive number 9135 we leave the Napier yard not long after 5am and after rumbling through a slumbering central Napier, the throttles are opened and we started out along the Hawke Bay coast and over the Tutikuri and Ngaruroro river bridges at the (appropriately named, given the day) Waitangi Wetlands.
As we exit Hawke’s Bay’s major urban areas the train doesn’t immediately speed up a whole lot, as rail repairs and recent hot temperatures mean the pace is kept relatively slow in case rails have buckled, or moved in the heat.
But that’s fine, because it’s safer and means I get to take in more of a view few get to see these days.
One thing that stands out is all the cool old stations in places like Opapa and Ormomdville.
Where small settlements were set up around these refueling and watering posts and local produce, goods and livestock would have been loaded and unloaded as little as 40-50 years ago, there are often just the station buildings remaining now.
Crossing the braided Waipawa and Tukituku rivers is also very cool.
Occassionally I look out the back window of the engine and watch the train’s wagons snake around curves behind us.
After several more hills and bridges, rivers and sidings we reach the Ormondville Rail Viaduct – A rather impressive (and slightly more than impressively high) structure.
For safety’s sake we cross it at 10km/h, but given its height, narrowness, and the fact it is taking the weight of our several-hundred-tonne train (and us) I am quite happy to be safely across it as quickly as practicable.
Not long after that we are heading towards my destination of Woodville.
The train will carry on to Palmerston North, but as I am not qualified/certified to go through the tunnels of the Manawatu Gorge in an engine, I must wait here for the driver to return.
I end up having a decent wander round and seeing lots of little bits of this town many just pass through and, since the closure of the Manawatu Gorge road, many have bypassed altogether.
Today, despite several more empty shops than last time I passed through, the town still seems quite busy – Likely with people on their way to see Phil Collins at Napier’s Mission Concert that night.
As we drive back to Napier I get to reflect on what a great experience this trip had been.
It’s always important to be open to new or different perspectives. Recent events in my life have certainly made this awareness somewhat stronger, and riding in a freight train has certainly been that.
It would be great to see more trains operating in New Zealand again, especially when every wagon represents at least one less truck on already busy and often fast-deteriorating roads.
And, as I stated at the beginning of this piece, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.