Southland town uncovers history by rescuing 135-year-old locomotive from a muddy river

A Southland railway town has dug up a slice of history by pulling an old steam locomotive out of the Oreti River.

The intact engine's the only one of its kind left in the world and has been buried deep for 93 years.

Contractors and rail enthusiasts worked together to haul out a heavy 1885 V Class locomotive from its wet and muddy grave in the Oreti River.

The historic engine and its tender dumped here by New Zealand Railways.

"I actually thought it was an old wives tale that there were trains buried down here. And to actually see the top of the cab sticking out of the ground, I thought well this could be an interesting project," said Southland District Councillor Rob Scott. 

Six years - and $160,000 later - the project's succeeded in unearthing a piece of railway history.

The Lumsden Heritage Trust says the discovery is "brilliant". 

"Just beyond brilliant. It's just huge," chairman John Titter told Newshub. 

Surplus rail stock was buried here after World War One, for flood protection and to stop erosion.

"Quite a good idea in a way for us, because otherwise, they would have been scrapped, and we would have never seen them again," said Titter. 

A second identical train is still stuck in the mud - buried deep in the river bed.

Lifting that one would be a mammoth task, and may be impossible without snapping it in two, meaning it's likely to remain its final resting place

The recovered steam locomotive will be installed along this specially-built track at Lumsden's Railway Precinct.