Dunedin Railway Station
Possibly the best-known building in the southern half of New Zealand's South Island, Dunedin Railway Station is a jewel in the country's architectural crown. Designed by George Troup, the station is the fourth building to have served as Dunedin's railway station. It earned its architect the nickname of "Gingerbread George".
Dunedin was linked to Christchurch by rail in 1878, with a link south to Invercargill completed the following year, and the first railway workshops were opened at Hillside in South Dunedin as early as 1875. Early plans were for a grand main station on Cumberland Street, but these never got any further than the laying of a foundation. Instead, a simple weatherboard-constructed station was built next to the site in 1884, though this was only ever intended to be a temporary structure. It took close to 20 years for government funding to be allocated to the new structure, and planning for the new station only really commenced as the 19th century was drawing to a close.
The logistics of constructing what would be (for a time) New Zealand's busiest railway station took three years before construction finally began in 1903. Dunedin, at the time a major commercial hub, required a station suitable to a wide range of activities: it was a commercial and industrial centre, close to still-active gold and coalfields, and was surrounded by a hinterland that was dependent on both livestock and forestry for its economy.
In its early days, the station was the country's busiest, handling up to 100 trains a day, including suburban services to Mosgiel and Port Chalmers, Railcars to Palmerston and the Otago Central Branch and other trains to Christchurch and Invercargill. The city's economic decline and the reduction in the prominence of rail transport mean that only a handful of trains use the station today.
The station used to have dock platforms at both the north and south ends and a crossover midway along the main platform. Large shunting yards, most of which have now gone, occupied land to the south of the station. Much of this land has now been subdivided into wholesale and light industrial properties.
With the decrease in passenger rail traffic, the station now serves more functions than the one for which it was originally designed. Bought by the Dunedin City Council in 1994, the station's uses have greatly diversified, though it is still the city's railway station, catering for the Otago Excursion Train Trust's Taieri Gorge Railway tourist train. Much of its ground floor is now used as a restaurant, and the upper floor is home to both the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and the Otago Art Society. A produce market is held in the station's grounds to the north of the building every Saturday morning. Every year in March, the station takes centre stage in the South Island's main fashion show, with the main platform becoming reputedly the world's longest catwalk.
A thorough refurbishment of the exterior took place in the late 1990s, accompanied by the landscaping of the gardens outside the entrance, in Anzac Square.
In October 2006, the centenary of the station was celebrated with a festival of railway events, including the operation of eight steam railway locomotives from all over New Zealand. In 2006 the Dunedin Railway Station was recognised by DK Eyewitness Travel as one of "The World's 200 Must-See Places".
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