11 October 2018
Although the much-loved Durie Hill Elevator is currently closed for repairs, Whanganui District Council says it has been well-maintained and is in good shape for its years.
The elevator has been closed since late September, when one of its four cables failed during operation. The Council’s General Manager, Property, Leighton Toy, says an operator was in the elevator at the time.
Mr Toy says, “All the failsafe mechanisms worked as they were supposed to: the emergency brake activated and the remaining cables held the elevator securely.
“The staff member, a rostered elevator operator, contacted the Council’s Property Officer in line with our emergency procedures.
The elevator was then raised using the elevator’s manual winch, so the operator could be safely released.
Mr Toy says, “I have reviewed the detail of the breakdown and can assure the public that this venerable old piece of equipment performed exceptionally well.
“I’ve also reviewed the service history of the elevator and am satisfied that we were on top of its service and maintenance requirements.”
Maintenance was carried out in August, which included adjustment to the braking mechanism, and the elevator’s Certificate of Compliance has recently been renewed.
Mr Toy says the elevator provides an iconic means of transport for visitors and locals alike.
“We all love this unique ride and the special view at the top. It’s an interesting job to maintain a piece of equipment that’s nearly 100 years’ old and we have a range of skilled contractors who understand its quirks and requirements.
“New cables are on their way and with centenary celebrations for the elevator taking place in August 2019, we are taking this opportunity to give the elevator a complete overhaul. We anticipate that the elevator will be back up and running by the end of October/early November.”
Facts and figures – Durie Hill Elevator
In 1912, engineer Edward Crow put forward a proposal for “an electrically-operated passenger elevator” to improve access to the new Durie Hill suburb. The proposal included an elevator terminal station and a flagstaff station at the hilltop.
A cable car had been considered but by 1915 the elevator scheme, with a pedestrian bridge between the tower and Blythe Street, was preferred.
Construction was awarded to Maxwell and Mann of Westport in April 1916 and tunnelling soon began. A new site had to be found after landslides cut off the approach and work had to be resumed at an adjacent site.
By Christmas 1917, the tunnel was finished and the elevator shaft was completed by October 1918.
By January 1919, the tower was under way and by June the shaft wiring and all machinery were installed. The elevator cage was swung and the four steel cables that support it were tested to ten times the weight they were designed to carry.
The elevator project was the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere when it opened on 2 August, 1919. The tunnel is 213m long and the shaft and tower are 66m and 10m high respectively.
The elevator was originally supplied by the same powerhouse that generated electricity for Whanganui’s tramway network, with the elevator running on 500 volt direct current electricity.
When Whanganui’s tramway closed in 1950, a Mercury Arc Rectifier, which converts alternating current (AC) electricity to direct current (DC) electricity was installed in the elevator tower to convert the new AC grid supply to DC electricity. This unusual and rare piece of equipment is still in operation.