Station lifted to secret location

By Mathew Dearnaley

Newmarket's century-old railway station building and signal box are being moved into storage over this week and next, pending decisions on permanent homes for them.

The top half of the signal box was lifted off its base yesterday for overnight removal to a secure place which railways agency Ontrack did not identify for fear of attracting vandals.

It will be followed over successive nights by the main station building, which has been cut into two 25-metre sections, and the rest of the signal box.

That includes the original set of 36 cast-iron signal levers which were installed when the box was built sometime between 1905 and 1907, and remained in service until the end of January.

Ontrack spokeswoman Jenni Austin said the cuts were made carefully, under the supervision of a conservation architect, and the two sections of the main building had been strengthened for the move.

Its verandas had been removed and its tiled roof and three brick chimneys dismantled.

Ms Austin said a temporary corrugated iron roof would be built over it, for shelter during its time in storage at a yard which was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and guarded by dogs.

Ontrack and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority are confident of finding a new home for the signal box somewhere close to the railway corridor in Newmarket, where the two agencies are developing a new station and junction between now and the end of next year for $70 million.

But uncertainty remains over where to restore the larger building, even though officials are keen on ultimately moving it to Parnell, where the transport authority wants to open another railway station.

Businessman and heritage enthusiast Bob Macintyre is disappointed the building will disappear into storage for now, saying he could have moved it at no cost to ratepayers or taxpayers to a highly visible spot beside the southern railway line on the other side of a stone wall from his Greenlane home.

Although it would not have been fully open to the public, he would have developed it into a creativity centre for artists and craftspeople.

Ontrack has a Government allocation of up to $5 million to store the building and then to reassemble it as part of a working station.

But it says it will need only about half of that sum if such a scheme proves impractical, and it ends up somewhere else within "a railway environment".

Mr Macintyre said he shared a concern of the Newmarket Business Association that it would never re-emerge from storage.

He said last week's arson attack which destroyed a 121-year-old railway carriage at Auckland's Motat museum showed the risk facing artefacts once they were removed from their natural environments.

Ms Austin expressed confidence the building would be safer in storage than in its original position, where it had been vulnerable to graffiti and to vandals who had thrown objects on to its roof, smashing some of its tiles.

Parnell Mainstreet business association manager Debbie Harkness said she did not share the Newmarket group's pessimism, and was reasonably confident the building would end up beside the railway line at Parnell, where it could make a fitting entry point to the Domain.

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