History of the Oxford-Rangiora-Sheffield railway line

The need for a railway line to Oxford became necessary as the timber industry grew in the area.  Oxford was one of only two significant stands of timber in Canterbury, and by 1870 the number of mills operating meant that rail was the best solution to getting the large amounts of timber out.

In November 1870 the Canterbury Provincial Government decided a tramway or railway should be constructed to Oxford.  By February 1872 most of the line had been settled upon, with a railway line to be constructed from Rangiora to Oxford.

In mid-1872 work began on the branch, several months before the Canterbury Provincial Railways line reached Rangiora. By 1 December 1874 the line had opened to Cust, and on 21 June 1875 the section to Oxford opened.  Two stations were situated here, East and West Oxford, the East one being the main station.

The Rangiora-Oxford line opened Monday 21 June 1875.  A miscommunication led to the first train turning up at the West Oxford station, only to be told the celebrations were being held at the East Oxford station, which they had already passed through.  However, they returned there and the dignitaries who had come out for the day were welcomed warmly.

At one stage there was a planned Canterbury Interior Main Line, which was to follow the loop of the Canterbury interior branch lines from Rangiora through Sheffield and down to meet up with the main line at Timaru.  However, this was only completed as far as Sheffield because of the Depression of the 1880s, this section being opened on 28 July 1884.

Once it was open, the line from Rangiora to Oxford operated two mixed trains each way, carrying passengers and freight. A train also came into Oxford in the evening from the Eyreton branch line.  It took an hour and forty minutes for the uphill trip from Bennetts to Oxford, or a full three hours for the run from Christchurch. 

An order was made that the Waimakariri Bridge only have one engine at a time crossing it. However, this only really applied to picnic trains, the only ones large enough to require two locomotives.  In the end, it did not really matter as the Sheffield line saw very little use even before the road was completed.  It only carried two trains a day during the First World War when wartime needs increased traffic, and decreased to only one train a week over a part of the line, so it was no surprise when it was closed on 14 July 1930.  All other trains were cancelled and the locomotive depot at Oxford closed.  The bridge is still in use today as the one lane road bridge crossing the Waimakariri Gorge, part of State Highway 72.  From 9 February 1931 passenger services were also closed on both the Oxford and Eyreton lines.

After 1945 the service to Oxford was reduced even further with only two goods trains operating weekly until the line closed permanently on 19 April 1959, as the competition from road freight increased.


Hawkins, D N  - Beyond the Waimakariri : a regional history. Christchurch : Whitcombe and Tombs, 1957.

Leitch, David and Scott, Brian - Exploring New Zealand's Ghost Railways. Wellington : Grantham House, 1995.