Ashburton station was demolished in mid 2013. This page remains as an historical record.
Ashburton railway station served a large hinterland, ranging from the high country holdings to the west, to pastoral and cropping farms on the plains to both west and east. Although there was (and still is) a freezing works at Fairton a few kilometres to the north, there were for many decades heavy loadings of sheep to the four freezing works close to Christchurch. All the stock and station agencies were well represented in the town; they were connected to rail either by a siding from the yard, or via a wagon turntable for those which could not be serviced by more conventional means. Until the 1960s, most general freight traffic from Christchurch came by rail overnight, either with Railways or by one of the earliest freight forwarders, Mid Canterbury Transport, which provided road pickup and delivery service at each centre.
It was a busy station for freight, marked by a strong seasonal peak over January-April as the significant proportion of the grain harvest that was not used by the local flour mill was railed to mills at Temuka, Timaru, and around Christchurch. Until the 1960s most grain was still handled in sacks; the change to bulk handling during the 1960s saw most of this short haul traffic move to road transport. But at about the same time the interisland rail ferries were introduced (from 1962), and grain from Mid Canterbury was moved to North Island mills by rail until well into the 1980s.
The Springburn branch line, curtailed to Mt Somers in 1957, left the Main South Line at Tinwald, 4 km south of Ashburton. Until it was closed in 1968 the branch trains operated to and from Ashburton. Traffic levels over the last decades were light, with usually only two or three trains a week. Passenger services had ceased in 1933.
The inward traffic was traditionally coal for the gasworks, domestic markets, and local industry and larger users, such as schools. Timber from the West Coast continued to come to Ashburton until that resource ran out in the 1960s. Until about the same time there were locomotives based at Ashburton, to work local shunts and, until the 1950s, to run the daily passenger train to and from Christchurch. In 2013 a shunting locomotive handled all local work.
The station building provided office space for the Stationmaster and his clerical staff looking after ticket sales (for NZR Road Services as well as rail passengers), the large task of processing waybills for the many freight consignment through both Ashburton and local stations and private sidings, and the pay and rations functions for outdoor staff and those at smaller stations. In the 1960s there was a Chief Stationmaster there to oversee all mid Canterbury stations and staff; his role disappeared as traffic levels fell sharply through the 1970s as freight increasingly turned either to road, or ceased to exist e.g. coal for domestic use, and local timber usurping West Coast supplies. At this time most of the several dozen small stations in the area were closed. For many years until the Southerner passenger train began in 1970, the Refreshment Rooms catered for the South Island Limited Express, as well as Road Services passengers. The Southerner provided buffet service on the train; it too disappeared in 2002.
In the 1950s there were more than 30 staff based at Ashburton station. In 2013 there are two people at the container terminal, and three men in the track gang.
The progressive deregulation of freight traffic through the 1970s until protection was phased out in the mid 1980s saw major reductions in rail freight traffic levels. Today Ashburton is a small but significant container terminal, handling mainly container or bulk traffic from local primary industry processing plants, plus regular consignments of barley for brewing going to Marton. Over 1000 tonnes of freight is handled in a day on occasions, with a reasonably steady base level throughout the year.
The privately owned station building (sold in 1990) was demolished in mid-2013, to be replaced by shops. This occurred after several resource consent hearings and a valiant attempt by local people to muster financial support to purchase the station. But an agreed value of $580,000 was too much to achieve, and one of Ashburton’s most significant heritage buildings, still in reasonable condition and in a town with a limited range of notable heritage buildings, was laid waste.
The platform, bowstring footbridge and a small and rarely used vintage engine shed remain, along with the core of a once much larger freight yard.
A long but narrow structure, Ashburton has extensive elevations, with verandahs, to both the track and town. It is a Troup Vintage station with a corrugated-iron roof and, somewhat unusually, shiplap weatherboard cladding. It is divided by a large brick and plastered wall. Many of the distinctive Troup Vintage elements arc there: elegant gables, some with eave brackets, bay windows to the platform elevation, diamond-shaped lattice windows, and decorative valancing. The platform verandah is a long but relatively simple structure, with a broad pitch, supported by railway-iron posts. By contrast, the short street verandah has wooden posts and a narrower pitch, and is broken by a gable that defines the principal entrance. Among the numerous additions to the building is a gabled appendage to the south which faces both the track and street. The interior has been greatly altered with many of the original partitions removed, and the bulk of this large building has been converted to alternative uses.
Ashburton's first station was probably built when the Main South Line reached there in 1874. This building closed on 15 June 1917 and the new station opened three days later, built in conjunction with a major rearrangement of the yard. Ashburton has had many alterations and additions in its life. From 1937, when a bicycle rack was put in the lamp room, the building has had few years when work has not been carried out. Among the principal additions were new booking and transport offices in 1953 and a ladies’ waiting room in 1960. The station included a refreshment room for many years until the late 1960s. The railway has always run alongside the main street of Ashburton and in 1974 the Ashburton County Council petitioned the Minister of Railways to lower the railway. The Government baulked at the cost and the proposal was never pursued. In 1982 part of the building was leased to the Christchurch Star and since 1991 the building has been in private hands. Resource consent has been granted to demolish the building.