Born with railways in her blood: Christine Johnson

This week we acknowledge the departure of a quiet yet significant contributor to the Paekākariki community; Christine Johnson. Friend Michael O’Leary tells us about the rich rail history of Christine’s life and the indelible mark she leaves both within the community and on the station platform.

Christine Johnson

From Taumarunui, Christine Johnson’s family moved to Woburn, Lower Hutt, where she attended Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College. Christine came from a ‘railway family’, her grandfather and her father as well as two of her brothers worked for the railway, so it was a natural choice of employment when Christine left school and joined the NZ Railways aged 16 in 1977, working in the Chief Civil Engineers Office, Wellington.

And true to form two years later she married fellow railway worker, David Johnson, in July 1979.

After being made redundant from the Railways in March 1989, Christine started work at the Locomotives Engineers Union in May 1989. After which she worked for the Combined Union of Railway Employees until again she was made redundant in September 1994.

However, this did not stop her interest in railways. From 1994 until her recent death Christine Johnson has been a celebrated name among rail people throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. Her continued promotion of rail heritage programmes and encouragement in rail travel through her articles and books are widely known and celebrated among the railway whānau.

Several examples come to mind: She spent 30 plus years volunteering at Steam Incorporated at Paekākāriki working on locomotives, (unusual for a woman), running the souvenir shop, as well as being secretary and organising excursion trips. She also spent 20 plus years on the original Station Museum Trust, which included saving and restoring Paekākāriki Station and opening of the museum, which today plays such an important part in Paekākāriki’s identity. In 2008 she was instrumental in raising money and eventual return of one of the original signal boxes to the south end of the station platform.

Also in 2008, Christine Johnson assisted Ontrack Railways Corporation in celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT), including co-authoring a book for the occasion, having in 2003 organised the running of a special train to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Tangiwai rail disaster. Including arrangements for the Governor-General to travel on the train. This involved, among other things, meetings in Whanganui, Kariori Timber Mill and Ohakune Marae.

Among some of her more recent achievements; in 2009 she assisted Ontrack and Main Trunk Rail with the train running and opening of the Hapuawhenua Viaduct walkway — now a major tourist attraction. Also in 2009 Christine assisted the Department of Conservation and Main Trunk Rail with information for the Ohakune Rail Trail walkway, and in 2010 she received the Heritage Restoration Award for the Paekākāriki signal box. In 2015 she was instrumental in the creation of Betty Perkins railway crossing for the safety of our young people going to school.

Christine Johnson always had a great love of Paekākāriki and was one of the first people elected to the first Paekākāriki Community Trust which was created for the community by the community.

Her works include photographs published in many magazines, journals and calendars, and she assisted with information for a television documentary about the Tangiwai Disaster. Her main publications are:

Learning the hard way: A case study of selected railway accidents in New
Zealand since the 1920s (New Zealand railway history series) 1991.

Main trunk: portrait of a railway: A Celebration of 100 Years of North
Island Railway History by Christine Johnson (Compiler), Ruth Larsen (Compiler), Kevin Ramshaw (Compiler) – 2008.

Thunder in the Mountains: about the railway between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay which has just been published by PSPT 2020. (Completed  from her hospital bed 2 weeks before passing away).

Christine was also working on a book about the Gisborne Line and one about the history of NZ Railway Refreshment Rooms which it is hoped will be published in the near future. 

Christine Fiona Johnson (neé Brown).
Born 05/12/1961 Taumarunui – Died 12/09/2020 – Wellington – aged 58.