What if the USA ran New Zealand Railways?

When modelling the prototype, we distort reality to meet the constraints of our environment. Distances are massively compressed; buildings too are usually distorted; many details are out of scale … and so on. I believe in re-writing history and even geography where it suits me to give me the railroad I want. Creatively distorting the world a little allows you to combine elements you want that did not come together in the real world in space or time.

There are plenty of 1:120 and 1:64 modellers of NZR, (in fact I am a NZMR Guild member), but still limited products available. I just don't have time for the scratch building and kit bashing involved. I need to model standard gauge HO, so I invented a scenario:

“When the USA drove the Japanese out of New Zealand in 1945, the infrastructure was left in ruins.

As part of the reconstruction, the Americans rebuilt much of the rail network in standard 4'8" gauge, although many of the curves and gradients were still extreme due to the terrain. They imported a lot of US rolling stock and locos, but the Hillside Workshops survived the war and built many uniquely Kiwi steam locos for the new gauge.

“When the Kiwis insisted on an end to US administration, finally cutting loose in 1953, much of the infrastructure was still in poor shape (but we are an independent bunch, so we were not going to wait). Some of the smaller branch lines remained 3'6" gauge, getting by with pre-war equipment that had survived. The roads were still very poor, as the Americans had rightly concentrated on getting the rail network up and running. So the rail network was at least highly profitable, and did not face serious competition from road haulage until well into the eighties. By that time diesels were finally established (steam having survived until the early eighties) and much of the mainline was later electrified, so the rail network held its own against the trucks.

“However the infrastructure was still shaky when the Americans left. The government struggled on for years trying to fund the needed improvements, but in 1960 a conservative government privatised the railways to introduce private capital – a visionary move for the times, but New Zealand has always taken the lead in social engineering. A number of local enterprises sprang up, but after a series of mergers and acquisitions, most of the rail network was dominated in the 1970s by the famous Allied Transport and Shipping Federation (AT&SF).

“But a few local lines held out. In 1960, the Pukerua Meat Company and a group of Manawatu businessmen pooled their resources to form the rather ambitiously named South Pacific Lines, which was in fact a short branch line hauling stock to the Pukerua freezing works, meat and by-products to the world, logs from the hills, some freight to and from local industry, and goods to the wealthy farming community.

“The SPL trackage runs from the Pukerua mainline interchange into the Manawatu region of rolling farmland, with a smaller branch climbing hard into the Tararua Mountains to haul logs out.

“In 1975, the SPL battles on with a mix of motive power and rolling stock. Some is owned by SPL, such as the old U 4-6-0, Ww 4-6-4T and other aging locos which run the local freight, the stock trains and the log trains, and the Ab XXXX which runs the daily passenger service. A saddle-tank 0-6-0 steam switcher was bought second-hand from AT&SF (which has recently converted to diesel switchers), after its predecessor gave up the ghost. The SPL is making its first foray into diesel with a range of EMD diesels leased from RailFleet, a leasing company that specialises in third-hand ex-US equipment and a shiny new diesel switcher which will replace the 0-6-0 if it ever has the decency to give up and expire. There is no servicing facility for diesels yet in Pukerua except fuel – they have to run down the line to the AT&SF facilities in Wellington. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen often enough.

“Rolling stock tends to be small and old, although the SPL has managed to acquire a few more modern refrigerated cars and box cars of late.

“Recently the SPL began running tourist excursions across the pass in restored vintage carriages. This is proving very successful and lucrative.

“A range of AT&SF equipment rolls through the Pukerua interchange. The big Ka class 4-8-4s still do the heavy lifting and and J class 2-8-2s haul fast trains. The new EMD diesels are starting to bring the daily express passenger trains through and it won’t be long before the AT&SF steam fleet disappears, but for now the cheap West Coast steaming coal keeps them viable.

“A new competitor to the AT&SF has appeared on the scene. An Auckland/Wellington fast container freight service is being offered by TranzRail, whose trains roar through each day.

“Some legacies of the period of US administration are the presence of a number of US companies in New Zealand, a strong connection between the economies, the continuing purchase of much US equipment including all the diesels, and a regular RORO shipping service operating on the three hour trip to California.”

OK, so it involves some gross distortions of history and geography (the Japanese never touched New Zealand, our country remains much more strongly aligned with Britain than America, the railways lost a lot to road haulage, and it is many days' sailing to California).

In return I get to use US-prototype rolling stock on standard gauge rail in a New Zealand setting. I will have to hunt around to find buildings with a New Zealand look, but with more choice than in S or TT scales. Some strongly American-style buildings are acceptable too.

The South Pacific logo and colour scheme bear a remarkable resemblance to the US Southern Pacific, and the AT&SF to the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe of course. I can even run stock without repainting it to my liveries, as the RORO provides regular traffic originating on the US west coast. When I get more time on my hands, I can increase the New Zealand flavour by repainting, and by kitbashing hypothetical standard-gauge locos built to the New Zealand designs.