Today in Transportation History – 1878: Dunedin to Christchurch Gets a Rail Line

On New Zealand’s South Island, a railway between Christchurch and Dunedin made its official debut. “The opening of the Dunedin and Christchurch line, the great event of connecting the two commercial cities of the South Island by means of the iron horse, was consummated today,” announced the Wellington –based Evening post in its coverage of the early-morning festivities for the new railway. “The train left Christchurch punctually at six o’clock, so punctually, indeed, as to cause several laggards to lose their passages, and they could be seen from the train looking after us with rueful glances.”

A band performed “Auld Lang Syne” as the train pulled away and, during the inaugural ride that followed, members of the Dunedin Glee Club entertained their fellow passengers with a variety of melodies. The train made a few stops en route (including a luncheon in the town of Oamuru), finally reaching Dunedin at around dusk.

“Long before we ran into the station we could see the colored electric lights and illuminations with which Dunedin was ablaze, and on reaching the station every nook and corner was packed with people, and as the electric light fell upon them we could see a perfect forest of faces,” recounted the Evening Post. “The train ran into the station, which inside was lined with volunteers; the guns thundered out a salute; the vast crowd gave cheer after cheer, and the marriage of Dunedin with Christchurch was an accomplished fact.”

The Christchurch and Dunedin Railway subsequently became a major part of the Main South Line, which covers nearly 374 miles between the port town of Lyttelton and the city of Invercargill on the South Island. The Main South Line continues to serve as one of New Zealand’s leading rail networks.

For more information on the Main South Line, including the railway between Christchurch and Dunedin, please check out

The Evening Post article about the opening of the Christchurch and Dunedin Railway is available at

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