The Driving Creek Railway of today is the second railway Barry has built, the first being located just up the road at 90 Driving Creek Road, Coromandel. It was 250 metres long with a 10½-inch (266mm) track gauge being smaller than the present day railway at 380 Driving Creek Road. The railway infrastructure was removed to the present day railway, all that remains of the original railway on the property today is a 20-metre tunnel.
The present day Driving Creek Railway climbs 2.7km from the Base Station at 55 metres above sea level to EyeFull Tower at 167 metres above sea level, a total climb of 115 metres. With an average gradient of 1-in-24.1 (1 vertical metre for every 24.1 metre of length) the Driving Creek Railway is New Zealand’s steepest railway.
The gradient varies considerably, with the steepest section being 1-in-14.
The track gauge is 15 inches (381mm), a gauge chosen to allow for tight track curves and to limit the amount of earthworks required on site.
Beyond the main line there are a number of branch lines into the forest, used to access clay and to collect and store firewood.
The railway as a tourism business started in 1990 with the granting of a railway licence. However there had been a number of earlier excursions with donation paying passengers.
The track at that time went as far as the Double-Deck viaduct to the Hoki Mai Station terminus.
The railway is still a work in process, with future plans to extend out from the mainline to the Museum, Wildlife Sanctuary and Sculpture Park, Copeland’s Stream and to a new future workshop and new kiln wood storage shed.
Barry Brickell, founder of Driving Creek, began laying railway track on the new property in 1975, not long after he had established the pottery workshop on a corner of the 24Ha, property known as 380 Driving Creek Road, which he purchased in 1973. The 2.7km railway from Base Station to EyeFull Tower took 32 years to complete on scrub and pasture covered land. Early surveying of the tortuous route was done using a homemade instrument and miles of survey tracks had to be cut through the steep scrubby land. A maximum workable adhesion gradient of 1 in 15 was decided upon but the average gradient of the line is about 1 in 26. Despite the narrow gauge of 15 inches (381mm) that allowed for sharper curves, there are plenty of heavy earthworks along the line that necessitated the use of a bulldozer contractor and the digging of some very deep cuttings. The trains are wide enough to accommodate two adults per seat. There are several major civil engineering features on the railway. Some of the big viaducts were built under difficult conditions, a reminder of the early colonial engineering feats. The three short tunnels were made by the cut and cover process. Ceramic art works that can be seen from the train along the track that complement the engineering.