In preparaton for the construction of the Waitakere Dam in the early 1900s, a tramway was constructed to be able to transport all materials and supplies, including the 28ft cast iron pipe lengths, from Swanson Station to the dam site.
Most of the tramway route land was secured in 1904 from Mr A. Wright for seven shillings and sixpence an acre. Anthony Christian offered to lease a strip of land 66 feet wide for the tramway route section through his land at the very top of Christian Rd.
The 2ft 6in tramline was over four miles long. The first major tender was for a 2226ft tunnel under the main ridge south of Pukematekeo for the tramway and pipe track, and for a 200ft tunnel through a spur en route to the dam site. The largest tunnel was known as Georges Tunnel (named after the George family who had purchased 307 acres above it in 1863).
The tender of John Mclean & Sons for £3614 5s 0d, was accepted. The tender for the formation of the pipe track west of Georges Tunnel and the 200 feet tunnel was let to Messrs E H & A J Holt who also did a great deal of the drilling and blasting.
In September 1905 the tender to supply and lay sixteen miles of pipeline from Waitakere Dam to Ponsonby Reservoir was let at £61,668 1s 0d to Wanganui pipe company Mephan-Ferguson Steel Locking Bar Pipe Company Ltd. The company established a large factory at New Lynn to manufacture the locking bar pipes which were made from quarter-inch steel and bitumen coated.
The tunnels and tramway were completed in 1907. Men working on Georges Tunnel, the tramway to Swanson station and the break pressure tank, lived in a small camp on either side of the tramway, approximately 100 metres downline of the break pressure tank.
Other campsites on the western side of Georges Tunnel were used by men working on the pipe route, quarry and crusher above the western portal of the tunnel. The main camp was sited on the spur above the eastern dam abatement.
Once the dam was completed in 1910 the tramline from the break pressure tank to Swanson was lifted. The upper part, about 2.4km, was retained for pipeline maintenance, but narrowed at a later date to the present gauge of two feet.
For many years the Waitakere Tramline Society (previously the Two Foot Gauge Society) had an arrangement with Watercare Services to operate tourist train rides on Sundays along this remaining section of the tramline. The tramline began from the end of a short private road above the filter station. It immediately enters George’s Tunnel, to cut under the ridge carrying the Scenic Drive. At the far end of the 0.7 km tunnel are glow-worms. The line then crosses two bridges as it winds through bush to Picnic Flats. There used to be a caretaker’s cottage here, where the dam construction camp site was located.
The track continues through the bush to a short tunnel, then rounds a curve with a magnificent view of the 350 feet Waitakere Falls — spectacular if the dam is overflowing but fascinating even when dry. The line passes under a wooden chute that carries Kelly’s Stream over the train before a climb up to the end of the line. All work in building and looking after the train was done by members of the Waitakere Tramline Society Inc, as was the maintenance of the track.
[Historic sites of the Waitakere Ranges]