In a tidy, new West Melton workshop, a Christchurch man is building his dream – a new type of steam train he hopes will be used for commuter rail.

Mackwell Locomotive Company director Sam Mackwell has spent three years researching and developing a boiler for a sustainable new steam locomotive, to run on wood rather than the coal used in traditional steam trains.

He has prototyped the boiler and is starting to build an entire locomotive, which he aims to have ready for testing in about a year.

“Obviously there is a lot of pressure on to get this built and tested quickly because we see it as a really good option for Christchurch, which doesn’t currently have a commuter rail.”

He believes it would be suitable for a Canterbury passenger rail service because the engines would be relatively cheap to build, would be fuelled by an environmentally-sustainable source and would attract passengers because of its nostalgia value.


The prospect of commuter rail has become more prominent. Many see it as a reasonable solution for an ever growing Canterbury region. Steam trains are mainly being used in a small-scale for tourism in New Zealand but this could be open to change.

A substantial amount of steam locomotives are still being used throughout the world, including in the UK where some railways operate in over 15 kilometre tracks, as well as in Poland for regular rail services.

While some believe Steam was a method of the past, Steam engines themselves themselves have had their own technological advances. A number of projects from the Coalition for Sustainable Rail in the USA, who are sponsored by various groups including the University of Minnesota Institute on the Enviornment, as well as the American Boiler Manufacturer’s Association, have proposed ideas on how steam rail could benefit the environment.