Half a century since the last train left Roxburgh

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Rail was once a vital part of fruit delivery to Dunedin but the last train left Roxburgh 50 years ago, and on June 14, 1968 the railway lines began to be dismantled.
The last train steamed away from the township to the strains of Now is the Hour and the Last Post performed by the Roxburgh Silver Band as a 200-strong crowd of locals looked on, the Otago Daily Times reported at the time.
Railways fell victim to increased use of trucking, said historian and writer Bill Cowan, who wrote the book Rails to Roxburgh.
The extension of good quality tarsealed roads, and a change by the Apple and Pear Marketing Board to use roads instead of rail sealed its fate, Mr Cowan said.
‘‘They made the decision that they would use road instead of rail from about 1967 on, and they built those great big bulk stores at Ettrick,’’ Mr Cowan said.
‘‘Tonnages had fallen off, log traffic was going by road, fruit — which used to serve as a real staple commodity to be hauled during the fruit season — by 1967 it started to all travel by road.’’
Reg Orkney, of Alexandra, worked at the Roxburgh railway station in the summer seasons of 1963 to 1965 and said the fruit was all ‘‘manhandled, as there were no forklifts’’.
Some nights more than ‘‘100 tons of apricots, in 40lb bins’’ were handled at Roxburgh by railways staff.
‘‘Sometimes, the train would have more than 300 tons of fruit on it when it left Roxburgh and it would need a second engine, sent up from Milton, to pull it over Tunnel Hill,’’ Mr Orkney said.
Teviot Orchard owner Gary Bennett recalled how he used to help his father to load the wagons.
‘‘I can remember going down with my father, loading on to a truck at the shed here, and going down and loading into the railway wagon.
Fruit seemed to have a habit of going ‘‘missing’’ on the way to Dunedin when it travelled by rail, he said
‘‘There was a bit of a self­help system, I think; there were always boxes missing.’’
Mr Bennett didn’t think that the railway would ever return to Teviot Valley, saying the benefits of road transport were you didn’t have to load twice.