Wellington Railway Station

Bunny Street, Waterloo Quay and Featherston Street, WELLINGTON

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Wellington Railway Station has dominated Wellington's northern gateway since 1937. It was built as the climax of an extensive governmental programme to upgrade the city's railway facilities. Wellington's first station was built in 1874 as part of the city's first railway line, to the Hutt Valley, which opened that year. The station building burned down in 1878 and was replaced in 1880 to service the Wairarapa line. Six years later a second station was erected to service the privately-run Wellington-Manawatu line. By the early 20th century, following purchase of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway by the Government in 1908, pressure from the public began to build for a single terminal, prompting plans for a major remodelling of Wellington's railway facilities. The government finally opted for a co-ordinated development that included not only a new station building, but the reclamation of about 28 hectares [68 acres] for the construction of a new double track railway and the provision of extensive train marshalling, goods yards and sheds. The reclamation began in 1924 and was finished by 1932. In 1933, falling construction costs caused by the Depression enabled the Government to begin work on the station. The Fletcher Construction Company was contracted to build the station to a design by a leading architectural firm Gray Young, Morton and Young for £339,137. Work commenced in July 1933. The station building was built on land reclaimed in 1876, close to the new rail yards, the wharf and the city. It was officially opened in 1937 by his Excellency, the Governor General, Viscount Galway. The station was designed to reflect the importance of the railways in the nation's progress and development. Enclosing the platforms on three sides, the U-shaped building is 23.5 metres [77 feet] high and 105.5 metres [346 feet] long. It is constructed on reinforced concrete piles grounded on the original harbour bed and has a base of Coromandel granite. Its steel frame is encased in reinforced concrete and the dull-red bricks on the building exterior are reinforced with vertical steel rods. An example of neo-Classical architecture, the front entrance of the station building is dominated by a colonnade of eight, 13 metre [42 foot], Doric columns. Five floors of the six-storey building were used as office space by Railway Department staff who had previously been accommodated in 11 leased buildings. The ground floor was designed to have the facilities of a 'first-class modern hotel' but without accommodation and included multiple facilities and services for railway travellers. Spacious lawns and brick-edged paved paths arranged in a herringbone pattern create a park-like atmosphere in front of the station. The station entrance opens into a large booking hall decorated with delicately mottled dados that extend to the high, vaulted ceiling. A compass design decorates the marble terrazzo floor. The booking hall opens onto the concourse, which provides access to the fully canopied platforms that initially accommodated up to 12 carriages. The concrete arches and glazed roof of the concourse were designed to give it the appearance of a 'vast sunroom'. This area originally led to waiting rooms and restrooms, a large dining room, a barbershop, book and fruit stalls and a first aid room. Inspired by a similar provision in the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, the architect also incorporated a well-equipped, spacious nursery on the top floor to allow parents to leave their children while they shopped or waited for their train. The new railway station also provided a social hall for its staff above the garage for vehicles belonging to the Railways head office at the north-eastern side of the station. This was not uncommon for the Railways Department, which saw the value of providing facilities where employees could meet and socialise. Over the years the hall was used as a venue for staff functions, social club meetings, private parties, as well as conferences and union meetings. Reflecting Wellington's central position within the national rail network, the Wellington Railway Station has remained New Zealand's busiest terminal. It is used daily by thousands of commuters and by sports enthusiasts travelling to the nearby Westpac Trust Stadium. In 1982 the Railways Department was reorganised into the New Zealand Railways Corporation. Staff numbers were cut dramatically and the spare office space was leased to other organisations. In 1989, a year before New Zealand Rail was incorporated as a limited liability company, the ground floor of the station was rearranged. The barber's shop and men's toilets were converted into 'Trax Bar and Café' and the ladies' waiting rooms were converted into toilet blocks. The original dining hall and kitchen were converted to provide more office space. In 1993 a private business consortium, later named Tranz Rail Holdings Limited, purchased New Zealand Rail. In 2000, Tranz Rail transferred their head office from the station building to Auckland. In 2003 Victoria University took up a lease of three floors on the western wing of the station, which resulted in considerable changes to the lay-out of these floors. In 2004 Tranz Rail was sold to Toll NZ Ltd. They then sold the track and infrastructure back to the Railways Corporation (now known as Ontrack). The operational management of the national rail network was continually managed from the Wellington Railway Station. Other physical changes have included the construction of a supermarket in the booking hall (2007) and the removal of the kiosks from the concourse (2007). Wellington Railway Station has national architectural significance and demonstrates the design skills of local architectural firm Gray Young, Morton and Young. Its architectural and technological value has been acclaimed since the opening of the station. The station is an important national landmark and is held in high esteem by the public. Historically, the monumental scale of the building reflects the importance of railways in New Zealand during the first half of the twentieth-century. The station is also an important symbol of governmental centralisation and consolidation of railway facilities and staff. Once acclaimed by the Dominion newspaper as the finest public building in New Zealand, the Wellington Railway Station remains in an excellent condition and is an authentic example of public architecture.

Wellington Railway Station at night. Image courtesy of www.pro-photography.co | Alex Efimoff | Alex Efimoff
Wellington Railway Station. Aerial view. Image courtesy of www.pro-photography.co | Alex Efimoff | 24/03/2013 | Alex Efimoff
Wellington Railway Station. Ceiling detail. Image courtesy of www.pro-photography.co | Alex Efimoff | Alex Efimoff



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

9th September 1986

Date of Effect

9th September 1986

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Lot 1 DP 17895 and part of the land described as Pt Lot 1 DP 10550 and DP 13123 Wellington Land District and the buildings and structures known as the Wellington Railway Station thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. This includes the Main Building and 1938-39 extensions, the Garage and Social Hall, the platforms (including all canopies), the tracks and the landscaped space (Refer to map of extent in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information). It does not include the elevated walkway or ramps off platforms 3-8 which give access to the Westpac Trust Stadium.

Legal description

Pt Lot 1 DP 17895 and Pt Lot 1 DP 10550 (RT WN53C/751) and DP 13123 (RT WN508/152), Wellington Land District.

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