The Lyttelton (Moorhouse) Railway Tunnel Opened – 9th December 1867

On 9 December 1867, the most ambitious and controversial project ever taken on by such a young city as Christchurch was completed.

Since the formation of the Canterbury Provincial Council in 1853, an easier route from Lyttelton to Christchurch had been a hot topic. Only two ways seemed possible – a railway following the harbour line around to Sumner OR a tunnel going through the hills.

It wasn’t until 1858 that William Sefton Moorhouse – now Superintendent – picked up the project and began to run with it. The ambitious choice was made to go through the Port Hills and 13 miners drove trail shafts into each end of the future tunnel. They encountered water (heaps of it) and harder rock. The firm demanded a further £30, 000 to continue, which the council declined. The English miners went home.

Engineers Holmes and Richardson from Australia took over in 1861 for the fee of £188,727. It took until May 1867 for the two ends to finally break through. Tracks were laid by November, the first train travelling through on the 18th November 1867. It was not officially opened until June 1874.

The Lyttelton Tunnel is the oldest operational (pre-quake) and longest (2.7km) railway tunnel in New Zealand. It is the first tunnel in the world to be taken through volcanic rock.

For a more in depth look at the Lyttelton Railway Tunnel, check out the following link:

*image courtesy of The Alexander Turnbull Library (

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