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The North Island main trunk line

Page 1 – Introduction

The 'Limited' express train
The 'Limited' express train

On 7 August 1908, the first train to travel the length of the North Island main trunk railway left Wellington bound for Auckland. The construction of this 680-km line had posed enormous engineering challenges and taken more than two decades. It would not be officially opened until 6 November, but three months earlier a 'Parliament Special' ferried politicians north to meet the United States Navy's visiting Great White Fleet.

That first trip took more than 20 hours. By the mid-1920s the new 'Night Limited' Express linked Auckland and Wellington in 14 hours. That might still seem like an eternity today, but compared to the alternatives – a long, uncomfortable sea voyage, or a challenging stagecoach or car trip over primitive roads – the main trunk was a great leap forward.

For decades after 1908 this was New Zealand's most important transport route. Up until the Second World War at least, almost everyone travelling between New Zealand's capital and its biggest city – politicians, governors-general, royal visitors, businessmen, public servants, entertainers, sports teams, soldiers bound for war, local holidaymakers and overseas tourists – took the train.

How to cite this page

The North Island main trunk line, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated