The development of railways changed the world forever in the 19th and early 20th centuries and New Zealand was no exception. The construction, maintenance and operation of a national rail network for over 120 years was arguably the largest single enterprise undertaken by the New Zealand state. As such, railways have played a central role in New Zealand politics, colonisation and land development, economic and regional development, industry, labour and trade union history, tourism and leisure, community life and popular culture. Yet rail history, like transport history in general, has been largely neglected by professional historians. While the field has long been popular with enthusiasts, they have tended to focus on locomotive and rolling stock minutiae, engineering feats and so on, and have paid little attention to social and cultural aspects It includes a brief outline of the development of rail in New Zealand; who uses the trains and why; tourism and leisure; daily life on and off the rails; the rail in popular culture and the collective memory.
First published October 2007.
Neill Atkinson is an historian at the History Group, Ministry for Culture and Heritage. He has an MA with first-class honours in History from Auckland University, and now lives in Wellington. He has a keen interest in the history of transport and has also written on New Zealand politics and government, the labour movement, and the social history of working people. He has written four books: Crew Culture (2001), Rewarding Service (2002), Adventures in Democracy (2003) and Hell or High Water (2005). He also wrote a chapter on the interwar years for the book Frontier of Dreams: The Story of New Zealand (2005).