Why Canterbury – Why Christchurch?

The first public railway to open in New Zealand was between Ferrymead and the newly settled town of Christchurch on the 1st of December 1863.

The area at Ferrymead that this railway occupied is now largely a Heritage Museum, with an operational railway, rebuilt on much of the old original track foundation. What better place to position a museum dedicated to the saving of railway history, and displaying it for all who wish to visit?

The Canterbury Railway Society has what is generally considered to be the finest collection of railway equipment, artifacts, and records in the country, and much of this may be transferred on permanent loan to the National Railway Museum. The Canterbury Railway Society will continue to operate the Ferrymead Railway as part of the Ferrymead Heritage Park.

The National Railway Museum concept is supported by the Federation of Rail Organisations of New Zealand, the N.Z. Railway & Locomotive Society, the Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand, and numerous other local bodies, corporate organisations, and individuals.

The museum in itself will provide an important additional tourist attraction for Christchurch, and be a ‘mecca’ for rail enthusiasts from all parts of the world. The original Ferrymead Railway opened in 1863, the Canterbury Railway Society started on the ‘new’ Ferrymead Railway in 1965, it is our ambition to open the National Railway Museum of New Zealand, in Christchurch by the end of 2021.

What can you expect to see in the Museum?

Railways are locomotives, wagons, & carriages, but they are also a lot of other things, like cranes, bridges, stations, signals, maintenance and lineside equipment. The museum will contain examples of steam, diesel, and electric locomotives from many eras.

Passenger carriages from the 1870’s to more recent times, together with two very special carriages, a Vice Regal carriage used for the visit of the Duke of Gloucester in 1934, and also for the later visit of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1953-4, together with a second carriage built in 1927 for the visit of the Duke & Duchess of York in that year.

Freight carrying vehicles are many and varied, with special wagons for sheep, cattle, horses and bulk handling vehicles for logs, coal, and petroleum.

Not to be forgotten are the smaller day to day items like crockery, tickets and very distinctive railway uniforms. The list has no end.

Of use to historians will be the vast collection of blueprints, photographs, books & equipment, and operational files. These will be housed in a purpose built building that will have special humidity and temperature controls for the preservation of these very old documents.

A description of the Railway Museum

The Museum is being developed in stages, using where possible existing structures on the Ferrymead site and adding new buildings and infrastructure as the project progresses. Stages to establish the Museum are:

  • Installation of a Turntable and connecting track, with tracks attached to facilitate the storage of locomotives and rolling stock. This stage is complete.
  • Conversion of the existing Albert Hall building into a small Museum, which will include some rolling stock, the Library and displays of railway-related artefacts. This stage is in progress and we expect the building will be ready by the end of 2021, and displays to be built and installed through 2022. As part of this stage rolling stock items will be moved on site from the various locations where they are currently stored. It is intended that the existing Archives container will be moved from its current temporary location to the Albert Hall environs and used for storage and access to Archive documents etc.
  • Population of the Turntable and ancillary tracks with displays focussed around various rolling stock items. This stage will include tidying and providing security for the site.
  • Expansion of display areas that we can display more of our artefacts. Planning for how exactly we will do that is still to commence.