Group has tunnel vision

Two tunnels 'great asset' as a Coast to Clyde trail.

HIDDEN, but not forgotten, is the Abbotsford end of the former Chain Hills rail tunnel

Through a muddy cutting, crowded with native bush, the entrance is a surprise after almost an hour's walk through farmland.

Clare Noakes, of Janefield, inherited the 60ha block from her mother.

The other end of the 200m-long tunnel is also on private land - near the north end of Gladstone Rd.

The tunnel is one of two a group of Dunedin people want to see reopened for public use to form a "coast to Clyde" rail trail.

The Caversham tunnel, from Kaikorai Valley to Caversham, was built in 1871 and closed in 1910 when the nearby dual-track tunnel was built. Locked gates were installed on it by Dunedin City Council in 2006.

The Chain Hill tunnel, also single track, was finished in 1875 and September 1 was a public holiday in Dunedin to mark the official opening of the line as far as the north bank of the Clutha River.

A new tunnel, with dual tracks and less of an incline was built in 1914, speeding up the time it took from Mosgiel to Dunedin by rail.

However, nearby residents still used the old tunnel as a walkway between the two suburbs for many years.

Mrs Noakes thinks the locked gates were installed about 20 years ago.

"It used to be a great party thing for kids to come out here and go through the tunnel. The scouts used to use it as well.

"It's sad really. They've closed so much around here. You used to be able to ride horses all around here from Mosgiel to Abbotsford and Fairfield and now you can't."
She said she would be happy if the tunnel was reopened for public use. "It would be a great asset to the town."

Gerard Hyland, a keen cyclist and a one of a group of people who want to see the tunnels used again by cyclists and walkers, set up www.cavershamtunnel.org.nz in July and has had almost 500 replies, mostly supportive, to a survey on the site.

His long-term goal is to have the tunnels opened and access cleared so cyclists and walkers can use them as a flat route between the Dunedin suburbs and Mosgiel.

A link with the Otago Central Rail Trail was also possible, with cyclists picked up at the Wingatui Railway Station by the Taieri Gorge Train for the trip to Middlemarch and the start of the trail.

Although the structures of both tunnels are believed to be sound, the Caversham tunnel has sewer and water pipes and high-voltage cables running through it and the Chain Hills tunnel has pipes carrying effluent from the Burnside freezing works which has recently closed. Lights will also have to be installed in the longer Caversham tunnel, although Mr Hyland believes Chain Hills tunnel can stay unlit to give users the ‘tunnel experience’.

Mr Hyland and others met with DCC staff  and councilors at the end of August following submissions for several years to the annual plan.

DCC general manager city environment Tony Avery said last week staff were working on a report on opening the tunnels but it might not be ready for the Infrastructure Services Committee meeting on November 24.
“Instead it may go to the annual plan process in January.” Mr Avery said.

© Karen Trebilcock, Taieri Herald

28/10/2008 from Taieri Herald 28 October 2008, Page 4, Karen Trebilcock