History of the railways in New Zealand

The Government's re-nationalisation of the railways , buying the assets off Tranz Rail for $655 million, has rewound history.

A potted history of New Zealand railways:

1862 - first railway opens - a horse-drawn tramway from Dun Mountain copper mine to Port Nelson.

1863 - first steam railway opened on the Christchurch-Lyttleton line, via the Lyttleton tunnel.

1870 - with less than 100km of track operating, Prime Minister Julius Vogel calls for railways to aid economic development, and a narrow gauge is chosen to save money.

1873 - first train in North Island, Auckland-Onehunga.

1878 - first express trains Christchurch-Dunedin cover 370km in 11 hours.

1879 - possible to travel 600km from Christchurch to Invercargill by train.

1880 - Almost 1900km of railway open.

1886 - Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company opens line to Longburn, near Palmerston North, introducing gas lighting and dining cars. It was profitable for 22 years, until taken over by Government.

1908 - North Island main trunk line completed after 23 years work - the crowning achievement of the "railway age". First train carried MPs on a junket to Auckland, in August.

1923 - West Coast line opens - its Otira tunnel, at 8.55km the longest in the British Empire and containing the nation's first electric railway.

1930 - Rotorua Limited introduced for tourists from Auckland, with observation car.

1936 - First successful railcars, Wairarapa route.

1945 - South Island main trunk from Christchurch to Picton completed.

1953 - the length of railway line operating hits its all-time peak - 5656km. Christmas Eve crash at Tangiwai kills 151 rail passengers.

1955 - Rimutaka tunnel opens, eclipsing Otira as the longest at 8.8km.

1982 - Railways Corporation created as statutory corporation from Railways Department.

1983 - Start of deregulation of "distance limits" on trucking companies opens railways to road-based competition. Rail employs 21,000 workers.

1984 - Electrification of North Island main trunk starts. Completed in 1988 at a cost of $250 million.

1986 - Labour government makes railways a state-owned enterprise. In six years the workforce is cut from 21,000 to 5000, while productivity of the land-based workforce is lifted 300 per cent.

1990 - Finance Minister says Railways Corporation has accumulated debt of $1.1 billion, and the Government is considering restructuring it.

1990 - Limited liability company, New Zealand Rail (NZR) is formed.

1993 - Government announces sale of NZR to a consortium of Wisconsin Central Transportation Corp and Berkshire Partners (60 per cent stake) and Fay Richwhite (40 per cent) for $328.3m.

1995 - Company re-named Tranz Rail.

1996 - Wisconsin Central and Fay Richwhite strip cash out of the business before exiting. They took $322m of equity out before floating 31 million shares to the public at $6.19/share.

1997 - Tranz Rail share price peaks at $9.

1998 - Tranz Rail share price slumps to $2.71.

2002 - David Richwhite and Michael Fay quit their stake at $3.60/share, netting an $87m profit on their original $31m investment, plus collecting $10m in advisory fees. Wisconsin quits two weeks later at $3.70/share, netting a $100m profit on its $37m investment, plus getting $8m in advisory fees.

2002 - Tranz Rail's operating loss $70.7m (net loss $122.7m).

2002 - Finance Minister Michael Cullen's spokeswoman says speculation the Government may buy back the national track network is "premature".

2003 - Standard & Poor's suspends Tranz Rail's BB- plus credit rating, saying only that the suspension was extremely rare.

2003 - Stock plunges towards 30c/share, details emerge of how the company needs to sell assets to meet lease payments and repayments of debt required by bankers.

2003 - RailAmerica makes a $158m takeover bid, saying it would refinance $235m of Tranz Rail's existing lease obligations and debt.

2003 - Australian firm Toll Holdings Ltd discloses a strategic 6.1 per cent stake in Tranz Rail, bought at 76.37c. Tranz Rail shares jump nine cents to 95 cents - a 20 per cent gain in two days.

2003 - RailAmerica chairman axes bid after due diligence investigation. Tranz Rail shares plunge 23 cents to 70 cents immediately.

2003 - Toll Holdings puts in a lowball bid for the company at 75 cents/share, 13c below previous day's closing price of 88c. Share price falls 5c.

2003 - Tranz Rail receives formal notice of Toll Holdings' takeover offer, Toll will also assume debt and lease obligations - estimated by RailAmerica at $236 million - taking the total value of its bid to $394 million.

2003 Government announces $75.8 million bailout of Tranz Rail, in which it will buy the rail network for just $1, take a 35 per cent stake in the rail operator through a rights issue, and give it an immediate $44 million cash injection.

Transport Minister Paul Swain said if the Government had not acted the trains would have stopped running within a week.

2006 - Toll Holdings and government agency Ontrack in face off over how much Toll should pay towards improving the tracks.

2006 - Toll NZ reported it had nearly doubled its June year net profit to $53.3 million. It made a $30m profit in the second half.

2006 - Toll NZ said to face rail track access fees as high as $100 million a year by 2013, more than double the amount it was paying at that time. The Track Access Charge (TAC) would rise once the $200m the government was investing in the network ran out.

2006 - Toll NZ threatens to slash services on much of the national rail network including the main trunk line unless it gets a long-term agreement from the Government on its track-access fee.

2007 - Toll Holdings buys another 10 per cent of railway shares, triggering a compulsory takeover for the remaining shares at the same price of $3 each. Toll could finally take full control of its New Zealand assets and "grow the business more quickly", it said.

2007 - October: Rail buffs speculate Toll Holdings is finding New Zealand too hard a place to make a dollar and may sell its rail business to the Government, Toll NZ spokeswoman Sue Foley said Toll NZ was absolutely committed to rail in New Zealand and freight was increasing on a number of its services.

2008, May 5 - The Government buys back Toll's rail and ferry business for $665m, after several months of negotiations.

- NZPA

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