Wednesday, 23 August 2017

MSL Part 6: Hinds, Rangitata and Arundel

So now I have detailed down to 138 km which is just north of Orari and here is today's Mid Canterbury history lesson. 

Hinds is the next major station still open south of Ashburton today. It is just a crossing loop although I have yet to draw that loop onto the map, a clue is seen in the labelling for Bridge 54 which is in fact a double track structure. Note left middle is Hinds Arundel Road. As the highway existed in 1935 you would turn inland from Hinds to cross the Rangitata River at Arundel as there was no bridge at Ealing as there is today.

This photo is from the Auckland Weekly News of 6 March 1935 and it shows a new railway bridge being built at Rangitata. Since there were two branches of that river we can't be entirely sure which one it was; the north branch was the more significant of the two, and the length suggests this is probably that one. The footway on the old bridge and the caption both imply there was no highway here at this time. All road traffic had to be diverted through Arundel and Geraldine up to this point. Understandably there was originally only one main road that crossed the Rangitata River.

This is a 1901 photo of a road bridge over the Rangitata River and it can be reasonably assumed that this was the bridge at Arundel. From looking more closely at the site it would appear this photo is taken from the north end of the said bridge, where the road comes down over a river terrace. Both the the bridge shown above and the current bridge are built at a low level and therefore do drop down over this terrace on the north bank.

Study of old maps shows that the current bridge at this site (Rangitata River crossing at Arundel) is downstream from what existed there in 1935. The main road (which for many years was classified as State Highway 72, the inland highway from Rangiora to Winchester, but has in more recent times lost its SH status) at the time went from Hinds to Arundel, crossed the Rangitata River on the bridge shown above, then the road turned off opposite Ferry Road to go back onto the same route as the current bridge takes, thus bypassing the township. As the survey boundaries show Arundel had some population at one stage or another. However the town has faded away, probably starting from the time that the highway was straightened, and today is little more than a waypost for travellers en route to the Peel Forest beauty spot further inland.

The caption of the 1935 photo made it clear that there were proposals to divert the highway between Hinds and Winchester to put it alongside the railway line and this 1939 photo appears to show the actuation of this idea. But it may not have been done by converting an old railway bridge. Labour was elected to government in late 1935 and immediately set about creating a massive public works programme to generate employment and pull the country out of the Depression. This is one of the two bridges that was built at the Rangitata River (we don't know whether this is the north or south branch, and to confuse things further, some part of another adjacent bridge can be seen in the top right corner of this photo). It would seem however the actual straightening of the highway was put into effect at this time, but I don't have older enough maps to show if there was any other bridge at this location. However we know that both the north and south branch bridges on SH1 are of the same style as that shown above and are still in use as of today. My guess is this may be the south branch bridge, since there was probably local road access to the area then known as "Rangitata Island". The south branch has virtually disappeared these days with the land it occupied now being farmed, but both the road and rail bridges still exist there.

The last map serves to illustrate the convenience that was achieved by straightening the highway at this point. The railway of course enjoyed this advantage from the very beginning. Rail enthusiasts often complain that the highways have had many improvements compared to the railway in terms of straightening, but they ignore the fact that the railways had to be built to a much higher standard from day one and the highways were much less suited to the type of work that the railway has been capable of 100 years ago. Geraldine has survived the impact of becoming a secondary rather than main highway route but many of the smaller towns on the former SH72 are shadows of what they were even in the 1980s.