Tunnel Opening Explored

There may be a glimmer of light at the end of the Caversham tunnel but Gerard Hyland is having trouble seeing it.

The 865m-long rail tunnel was built in 1871 from Caversham to Kaikorai Valley and has not been used by trains since 1910 when the dual track tunnel just south of it was opened. If the also closed Chain Hills rail tunnel was opened the route would provide a flat run between Mosgiel and central Dunedin for cyclists and walkers.

However, Mr Hyland's submission to the Dunedin City Council in 2006 to make the tunnels safe for cyclists ended up with padlocked gates at either end of the Caversham tunnel.

"I feel a little embarrassed about that," Mr Hyland, a keen Dunedin cyclist, said.

"Here I was trying to keep it open and in fact the opposite happened. "

He has set up a website www.cavershamtunnel.org.nz - to tell people about the tunnel and to gauge support for it.

After three weeks there have been more than 230 responses with many saying they would use the tunnel for recreational cycling and walking.

The results will be given to council.

The long term goal of Mr Hyland and others who want the tunnel reopened is a "coast to Clyde" rail trail.

Beginning at the Dunedin Railway Station, cyclists would follow the cycle way to the Caversham Rail Tunnel and through to Kaikorai Valley. Turning southwest, the old rail track can be followed past Abbotsford then west near the current rail line and through the former Chain Hills tunnel to the north end of Gladstone Rd.

The Taieri Gorge Railway train could then be boarded at the Wingatui Station for the trip through the gorge to Middlemarch and the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail, which finishes in Clyde.

The Chain Hills tunnel is 200m long and both ends are on private land.

While the Caversham tunnel would need to have lighting installed for safety, Mr Hyland wanted the Chain Hills tunnel to stay unlit to give "the tunnel experience" to users.

He said the structures of the tunnels were sound but both had council sewer and water pipes and high-voltage cables running through them.

Council infrastructure services committee chairman Andrew Noone said he and councillors Bill Acklin, of the South Dunedin ward, and Kate Wilson, of the Mosgiel/Taieri ward, and council staff members were meeting on Thursday with Mr Hyland and others wanting to open the Caversham tunnel.

"We'll be deciding whether to take it to the next step of a feasibility study and determine what the issues are."

Mr Noone said he walked about 100m into the tunnel from the Caversham end a couple of years ago.

"It was pretty boggy and not really a place I wanted to be.

"My gut feeling is it would be great to incorporate it into a cycle route but whether it is a practical option I don't know."

Mrs Wilson said she was also interested in the tunnel as she was a Central Otago Rail Trail trustee.

"Hopefully it can be a win-win for everyone. There is certainly a great community feeling to have the tunnels reopened."

She said next year was the 130th anniversary of building of the rail line between Dunedin and Central Otago.

"And it was these tunnels they were using then, not the present ones."

Valley End: The Kaikorai Valley end of the tunnel is below road level on the eastern side of Kaikorai Valley Rd between Ensor St and Townleys Rd.

Tunnel Vision: Gerard Hyland, of Dunedin, at the Caversham end of the former rail tunnel. The cutting to the tunnel entrance runs along the main road into Dunedin heading down towards the Caversham lights and is hidden from view from passing motorists by a board fence. To access it, park in Rockyside Tce or Barnes Dr and walk down to the footpath on the side of State Highway 1.


Your Views.
Some of the 230 replies to the survey on the website after the first three weeks:

  • (It would) be a very safe way to ride to the Taieri. Most of Cycling Otago races are out that way.
  • Brilliant idea. It’s the big hill that stops me cycling to work
  • As an ex-cub/scout leader, we took the opportunity (when open) to take our scouts through the tunnel as an outdoor activity
  • An annual race could be run from Mosgiel to Dunedin through the tunnel
  • Fantastic idea. Makes good practical use of some of our city’s heritage
  • I have experienced similar re-opening of disused rail tracks in Aberdeen district, Scotland, and they are used extensively for both commuting and recreation
  • I have many times diced with death cycling from Mosgiel to Dunedin for work. With the rising cost of petrol I’m more than confident that this route would be well used
  • This is a beautiful piece of Dunedin history. With the popularity of the Otago Central Rail Trail and the Taieri Gorge Railway, it should be reopened
  • Do it Dunedin, don’t talk about it for 20 years like everything else. Just get it done

From Taieri Herald, Karen Trebilcock