The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 1 (May 1st, 1926)
Railway Policy — Ministerial Statement
On taking over the Portfolio of Railways, I entered upon my duties with an open and, let me be frank, a somewhat perplexed mind. The practical working side of the business was new to me. I was a novice and I knew it. This last was, perhaps, half the battle. I soon realised that I must put aside all preconceived notions of how this, that and the other thing ought to be done, and listen, with every endeavour to understand, to the statements and explanations of those who, in these things, spoke with the voice of authority, backed by theoretic knowledge and practical experience. This done, after much searching, sifting and analysing, the position, as it appeared to me, resolved itself into a recognition of the fact that what our Railway System stood most in need of at the time was a specific policy. That point reached, the next step was to formulate such a policy. This was not as easy as it may appear to some. Soon, however, circumstances forced me to the conclusion that a particular feature of our Railway policy must be the recognition that, while the commercial aspect of the undertaking was of most vital concern, our aim must not be merely to pile up profits for the Government, but to render the best possible service to the public by the adoption of advanced commercial methods in every branch of the System. That conviction reached, we immediately went about setting our house in order. There were many vexatious delays—a hindrance here that had to be removed, a rough corner there that had to be negotiated with care, and, that most unreasonable and likewise most obstinate of obstacles, “It has always been done this way,” which to be removed must be simply but emphatically ignored—and it was! Several drastic changes were introduced. One-man-management gave place to a Managerial Board of three. A Commission, consisting of eminent Railway experts from the Old Country, were taken over our Railways with a view to their advising the Minister and the Government as to the more efficient and economical working of the System. Their Report, after being considered by the Government, was made public and steps taken to act upon such of their recommendations as could be put immediately into effect. The more important of their recommendations, involving heavy expense on the part of the Department, will be pushed ahead with all possible expedition. Fuller particulars of these appear in another part of this issue of our “Magazine.” (See page 46.) I would mention here, however, a change that already has met with marked appreciation on the part of the travelling public, namely the appointment of Divisional Superintendents for North and South Islands respectively. This has been found to yield a more personal form of management and has given greater freedom for the settlement of matters of detail.
Much yet remains to be done. Let me briefly outline the chief points of the various issues facing the Administration.
At the beginning of the current financial year, the Railway Department's finance was separated from the General Fund, thus enabling the Department to conduct its operations on lines approximating to those of a private company. By this means the Administration's responsibility was increased; room was given for exercising greater initiative, and the Department's financial operations rendered sufficiently flexible for carrying out a sustained programme of works, and meeting other emergencies without by one iota diminishing Parliamentary control. Services previously performed gratis for other State Departments, are now debited against such Departments, and vice versa. The new system will have the great advantage of letting the country know just what it is costing to work those lines which, as commercial propositions, would not be worked at all but which are considered to be justified for developmental purposes. Under the old system of finance, the Department was required to return what was called a “policy” rate of interest on capital invested in the railways. This was less than the actual rate of interest payable on the moneys in the railway capital account, and it was generally stated in justification for fixing page 9 this lower rate of interest that this was in consideration of the fact that the railways were performing developmental services which constituted a burden on its finance. But the value of these services never seems to have been calculated with any degree of exactness, so that it was never really known where the railways stood financially. Under the new system the position will be quite clear and the country will know precisely what its non-paying developmental lines are costing, and the Department, while being required to return the proper rate of interest, will get credit for the exact amount involved in providing the experimental services—no more and no less. The Railway now meets its own obligations—interest on capital expenditure, insurance and depreciation reserves and sinking funds, etc. At the close of the current financial year the balance-sheet, together with Departmental accounts prepared after the usual company form, will show clearly where the Department stands as a business concern. Please note that some years must elapse before funds now accumulating for replacement of wasting assets can meet any considerable portion of renewal requirements.
Closely allied with finance is the new system of statistics, which has for its purpose the securing of accurate representation of movements in any direction of every phase of operation and expenditure, and clearly showing every fluctuation of same. Information so obtained will prove a reliable guide in promulgating improvements in directions indicated as being necessary or advisable. By the effective use of comparisons, it provides an opportunity to ensure the best being done.
The whole train service has been systematically and thoroughly reviewed; conditions in each district carefully weighed and changes and improved running adopted where such seems likely to stimulate traffic. In a country such as ours where settlement shows a steady upward trend, with population increasing, new industries springing up and intensive development and progress taking place in every direction, it is obvious that the time-table must be amended from time to time to keep up with current requirements. The heavy overhaul of all train time-tables during the year just completed, in order to give a more efficient service, is, to some extent, a confession that the Department, hitherto, had lagged behind. Now, however, the constant endeavour will be to make the time-table more readily responsive to every District's needs and possibilities.
The Management, by mutual arrangement with the Shipping Companies and Motor Service proprietors, is engaged in evolving a scheme to provide a system of “through booking” by train, steamer and motor. This, it is hoped, will meet a public need by removing the necessity of procuring separate tickets for each mode of conveyance and also eliminate unnecessary delay in the completion of long journeys. In this way the motor may be made a feeder of, instead of a competitor with, our Railways.
It is gratifying to learn that the improved time-table has been much appreciated by the trading and travelling public in every part of the Dominion. I take this opportunity also of extending thanks to all in the Service who have co-operated so heartily in the efficient handling of the unprecedented numbers who have travelled by train to New Zealand's record Exhibition.
Precautions For Safety.
Precautions for the safety, and care for the comfort of the travelling public have been fully maintained at the high standard previously set by the Department. In regard to the speeds at which trains are permitted to run, there are now in operation on all lines certain maxima for the various classes of trains, applicable to specified sections of track, in every case in keeping with requirements of world standards for safety in train running.
The greatly improved timing of trains obtained under the recent re-organisation of time-tables has been secured by better distribution of the through-cut time, a reduction in the number and length of stops, a general smartening up of work at intermediate stations, expediting despatch and, in certain cases, a limitation of load to secure better time on the up-grades. Slacks on the various runs have been taken up also, but, in every case, timing of trains from point to point has been made to keep within the maximum limits which engineering theory and experience have shown to provide an adequate margin of safety.
All-Round Co-Operation Desired.
In effecting the re-organisation of the Department on strict business principles it has been necessary to adopt methods entirely dissimilar page 10 to those which hitherto have played their part in the working of the Railways. A further extension of these principles is intended in the near future. A constant endeavour is being made by the Administration to get to grips with the problems confronting employees in the course of their daily duties, and the public in their dealings with the service, and to anticipate the just requirements of both. The ideals, aims and standards of each require sympathetic interpreting and careful fashioning with the object of guiding economic endeavour along those routes where waste of material and energy may best be prevented and wherein greater gratification may accrue to all concerned through the more satisfactory functioning of Departmental operations.
Admitting that there is a best way of doing everything, the Department is seeking just that, holding high all the while the ring of Progress inscribed with the slogan, “Traffic is secured by courtesy, held by efficiency, and turned to profit by co-operation and economy.” This ideal embraces the preservation of the best of the past and the fullest use of all Railway assets, material, manual and mental.
The best that has been gleaned from abroad by officers who have returned after a world-wide survey of Railway structural and operating conditions will be incorporated in the future working of the Department.
From time to time other officers will be sent to other countries to ensure that the Department may be kept advised by first-hand information of any new details in railway management or equipment which may be of assistance in improving operations on our own system. The whole matter of definite advance in the internal working of our transportation business is indissolubly intertwined with the question of
What we have started out to do in this direction is fully dealt with on another page of this issue of our “Magazine.” (See page 32.)
Hitherto, the Annual Statement to Parliament has been the only means by which the intentions of the Administration, and the effect of Departmental operations have become known to the staff. This was not always in a form easy of assimilation by the bulk of the Department's employees. Being convinced that the confidence and assistance of the personnel in co-ordinated action are essential to obtaining the best results, and that this can be done only by taking more frequent opportunity for keeping them advised of the Department's position, progress and aims I have arranged for an illustrated Magazine to be published by the Administration. In this journal the employees and the business public will be kept apprised monthly of the Railway situation, any contemplated or approved innovations, matters of an educational nature relating to the various phases of Railway working, general news of personal or employment interest, and such other information as may help to develop, with the spirit of team work, a sense of comradeship and joint participation in the welfare of the service.
Although, in general, the new time-table has proved satisfactory to the public, and the running of trains is mostly good, it is felt that something further in the way of supervision is required. This is not with the idea of finding fault with a keenly alert staff, but rather for the purpose of discovering remedies for delays and hold-ups to particular services in various localities. In order to effect improvement in these directions two specially qualified members are about to examine the existing working methods, and recommend remedies for dislocations in transport arrangements where these occur. It is felt that their investigations will assist them materially in deciding what alterations are advisable for accelerating movements of traffic.
It is the hope and intention of the Board of Management that these officers shall come into close personal touch with railway employees in their districts. This, not merely as officials on a round of periodic visitation, but as fellow workers in the same Department; members of the same team. They shall give advice where such is asked or seems likely to be helpful. They will receive also and transmit to Head Office suggestions from any employee for improvement in the working of the service in any of its branches, with the names and status of their authors adhibited thereto. Every suggestion will receive the most careful investigation, and, if accepted, their author will be communicated with immediately.page 11
I feel sure that by improved management in operations and by developing the habit of looking ahead much economy in running costs can be effected. In view of the high cost of operating materials, particularly stores and fuel, a saving in this direction, which would effectually reduce the working ratio, is much to be desired.
The improvement in locomotive tractive power amounting to 42.48% during the last decade, is disproportionately greater than the increase in engine mileage. This leeway can and will be overtaken. I look to every employee to loyally do his bit to aid the speedy and satisfactory solution of this economic problem.
In any comparison of Capital and Costs per mile with those of other countries, recognition must be made of the fact that the cost of railway construction is necessarily heavy in New-Zealand, owing to the exceptionally difficult nature of the country through which most of the lines have been driven. On the other hand tariff rates, to a great extent, are governed by competitive conditions both by sea and road, where the competitors are freed largely from the cost and upkeep of a permanent way, of a safety signalling system, and of terminal accommodation facilities. The hard logic of existing conditions points the only way to a betterment in the financial situation as being through an improved operating ratio between earnings and working expenses. Herein lies the opportunity for a great forward movement by co-operative effort and improved industrial and commercial management.
To achieve the best results it is further necessary that every one employed on our Railways should be equipped with the best machinery and other appliances for his work. The greater the volume of traffic the less will be the unit cost of transport. Therefore the obtaining of more traffic (in which every member of the service may assist the efforts of the Commercial Branch) is the first feature of a policy likely to benefit the Department, its employees and the Dominion.
The cost of construction and repair work on rolling stock is being reduced by improved methods of workshop management. New workshops are about to be erected in the vicinity of Auckland and Petone, and extensions at Addington and Hillside, with the latest world-standards of construction, arrangement, operation and machinery. When these are available this feature will be further developed.
Improved methods for the purchase, standardisation and control of stores are among the economies to be effected.
Better ways for the handling of passengers, parcels and goods traffic are being devised, and already standard elementary works on Railway Economics have been obtained and distributed throughout the various districts as a beginning of vocational instruction, with a view to improving the individual and collective capabilities of every department of the Railway Service.
Efficiency is being promoted also by safety propaganda to reduce accidents among employees. A Safety-First campaign among the staff is under way. This includes the exhibition of posters in Workshops, etc., graphically impressing the lesson of self-preservation, and the Departmental Magazine also will be used to further the same purpose by the exchange of safety-first ideas. Action also is being taken regarding the distribution and exhibition of poster and sticker warnings for the public emphasising the need for taking the greatest care at level-crossings.
Although a most gratifying response has already been made to the new policy I bespeak a still keener interest in, and a still more earnest application to the work in hand. With educational and managerial development along the lines indicated, a fuller appreciation of the spirit of co-operation within all ranks of the service, coupled with increased skill and the elimination of useless waste, the outlook for improvement in the operating ratio—on which staff betterment in conditions and prospects depends—will be brightened considerably, and the likelihood of better rates and accommodation for the public materially increased. Given these, we can look to the future with a cheerful optimism, being well assured that the only dependable method of securing the confidence and goodwill of the public is to deserve them.
The Spirit Of Co-Operation.
A fair exchange of coins makes no one the richer: a fair exchange of ideas benefits all. The day for secrecy and selfishness has gone by. Give freely of what you know. It will help others and strengthen yourself.