Methven railway station, early 1900s. Ref PAColl-5482-010. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
According to Robin Bromby in Rails That Built a Nation (2003), the rail line to Methven began as the result of a private company, the Rakaia and Ashburton Forks Railway Company, forming after the passing of the District Railways Act. This allowed companies like the R & AFRC to "construct lines and levy rates on properties served by them." The area known as Ashburton Forks was eventually decided as the terminus, where six roads meet. This became Methven.
Christchurch Press, 10 June 1878
Landowners opposed to the plan tried setting up a rival company, the Rakaia, Mt Hutt and Alford Forest Railway -- but Ashburton County Council raised objections, and the plan never left the drawing board.
The first sod was turned for the Methven line 19 November 1878, and the line was completed in February 1880.
Rakaia and Ashburton Forks Railway.—The line to Methven was inspected on Tuesday by Mr F Back, Government Traffic Manager…Shortly, after leaving Rakaia, and near to Hatfield station, two lads, who it was ascertained were cooking for Mr Dearden were seen to lay two pieces of firewood across the rails and run behind the hedge. The train was immediately stopped and Mr Back, accompanied by Mr Dickenson, ran to the whare the boys had hidden themselves and turned them out. Constable Bowse, who happened to be in the train, at once apprehended them and took them to Rakaia, as well as the pieces of wood, which were quite large enough to have thrown the train off the line, and small enough to pass under the cow-catcher. Mr Back expressed himself pleased with the construction of the line, but there are several little matters yet to be attended to before it will be quite fit for traffic. … It is intended that the first train shall leave Methven at 5.30 a.m., so as to arrive at Rakaia in time to catch the 7 a.m. train for Christchurch. Mr Sydney Dick has made arrangements for opening a post-office at Methven at once, and has appointed Mr Charles Hibbs of Morgan and Hibbs as postmaster.
Christchurch Press, 26 February 1880
It had nine stations: Hatfield, Somerton, Mitcham, Sherwood, Lauriston, Urrall, Lyndhurst, Cairnbrae and Methven. Two tank locomotives were imported from the United States, while goods wagons on the line were built in New Zealand.
After a settlers' petition, the government bought the line from the company in 1885 for £75,000. "After the sale was completed on 1 April 1885," Bromby writes, "the government moved to cut costs by raising charges and eliminating some services -- race-day trains were abolished, as were the daily mail service to Methven."
The branch line retained its own locomotive crew until after World War II. From that point, it was operated from Christchurch, surviving longer than other Canterbury branches because it retained freight business into the 1960s.
In July 1976, however, it came to an end, just short of the centenary. Bryan Blanchard, of Pleasant Point Museum and Railway, very kindly gave permission for me to reproduce his photos from that day here.