31 Dec 2019

New Year Honours: Bob Norling for services to railway heritage and community

8:22 am on 31 December 2019

To describe Ōhakune man Bob Norling as a train ethuasist doesn't really do him justice.

Bob Norling is the recipient of a Queens Service Medal for services to railway heritage and the community.

Bob Norling is the recipient of a Queens Service Medal for services to railway heritage and the community. Photo: Supplied / Bob Norling

The recipient of the Queens Service Medal for services to railway heritage and the community has spent years ensuring the railway heritage in the Ruapehu District isn't lost.

That includes projects to install an authentic signal box, the reinstallation of the locomotive timetable at Ōhakune, restoring the Ōhakune Railway Station and the Ōhakune Coach Road.

Bob Norling began his career with NZ Railways in 1959, in the big steam locomotive depot of Palmerston North, as a communications technician.

In those days the railways had their own communication network with equipment that was shipped from England.

Norling was responsible for looking after the system from Tangawai to Masterton on the weekends, when it was a 24/7 job.

"We had plenty of faults those days, plenty of storms, all sorts of things upsetting the early electronics of the era, the transistors," he said.

And he's seen his fair share of changes, starting in the steam era, moving to diesel and finally the electrification.

He moved to Ōhakune to put in the new centralised system where all the signals, points and yards are operated by one man sitting at a desk.

"It was a really innovative idea, ahead of its time way back in 1963 and unfortunately we put a lot of the station agents out of work, because now one man could work everything," he said.

He left the railways in 1977, but stayed in Ōhakune, where he'd always started working on railway heritage.

One of his first projects was the restoration of the Ōhakune Coach Road as a cycle track.

In the early 1960s the road was used to access the Main Trunk Line. Norling formed a group called, Main Trunk Ōhakune to restore the road which is now a popular walking and cycling trail and led to efforts to seek Heritage One recognition for it.

He is also involved in the Tangawai Memorial.

When he first moved to Ōhakune one of his jobs was looking after Tangiwai, servicing the flood alarm system and upgrading the signalling system so trains would stop automatically when the river rose. In 1963 he led the effort to lay a 10 year anniversary white cross out at the site of the Tangiwai disaster.

He's now involved in a project to upgrade the Tangiwai site.

He said he owes much to the people who have supported him and worked with him on the various projects, especially his wife and family.

"It does make it easier when you get the support, especially from the local community here," he said.

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