The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 2 (June, 1926)
A most interesting feature of the month from a Railway point of view, has been the conference held at Wellington, of Business Agents from all parts of New Zealand.
Seven is commonly called the perfect number. The term “we are seven,” besides being the title of a notable poem, might be applied with equal felicity to the team that assembled, not from the Seven Seas, certainly, but from the seven commercial areas of our Railway world, to tell the story of their year's work to the Administration and to each other, and to put forward proposals, based on their experience, for the betterment of the service.
Unanimous were they in the opinion that the trading and travelling public liked to have the chance to talk over their wants, their difficulties, and their perplexities with accredited representatives of the Department. For Business Agents, instead of waiting, Micawber-like, for somebody or something to turn up, go out into the highways and by-ways, the stores, warehouses, farms, clubs, show grounds and other places of public resort, for the express purpose of encountering clients and assisting them in the transaction of business with the Department. They are specially trained and instructed to see the public point of view and clear the track for additional deals in railway transport. They have opportunities and methods never previously available to members of the Department for extending the scope of railway operations, and bringing greater contentment to that public in whose special interest this vital national transport system is operated.
There is a certain natural demand for railway service, just as there is for butter, or beef. People who want to travel in comfort, travel by train as a matter of course. What the Railway will carry at rates so low as to be practically unremunerative also comes to the train without any coaxing. But when rates rise sufficiently high to make the business worth while for a competitor, the traffic will turn, other things being equal, to the carrier that offers the better service. The inequality of “other things,” however, has often in the past lost traffic to the Department even where the service rendered by the Railways was demonstrably better than that of its competitors. Chief among these “other things” was the art of propaganda.
“Traffic” says the Ministerial slogan, “is caught by courtesy, held by efficiency, and turned to profit by co-operation and economy.” But until “more business in Government” became operative, the soul of propaganda, advertisement, both of the personal representation, and printed and pictorial appeal varieties, had been used hardly at all by the Railways for educating the public to an increased knowledge of available services, whilst its competitors had made a most extensive use of this powerful ally in diverting traffic away from the track.
The Business Agents all felt the need for adequate backing to their efforts through publicity channels; that the spoken word and the printed page should be the infantry and artillery to make a combined attack on the residual inertia of public appreciation. In this direction the hearty co-operation of the Administration is now assured.page 3
Business-getting methods have produced a tonic effect on the service. This is reflected everywhere in greater attention to points of courtesy, helpfulness, and consideration towards the public. Pride in the service and desire to help things along, are found all through the ranks. Combined with these is an increase in the team spirit whereby engine crews, guards, and station staffs unite in effort to make the train services prompt, comfortable, and reliable for passengers and clients. By such means is business-getting made possible, and business-holding made easy.
While it may not now-a-days be all moonlight and roses for those who want to progress, there is certainly a rough and thorny track for those who hold back against the urge of modern business enterprise. In this field the Railway is fast coming to the fore.
The press of the Dominion has recently been filled with vigorous criticism of the law designed to protect the road-using public at level crossings. We have read all that has been written in this connection very carefully, but not one satisfactory objection to the validity of the law could we discover. That it is both reasonable and eminently practicable, indeed that its observance is capable of achieving what the most ardent votary of safety desires—the total cessation of level crossing accidents—is surely revealed by the following facts for which we are indebted to one of our great scientific journals, “The Engineer.”
During 1924 the vehicles operated by the Standard Oil Company crossed railway tracks 31,000,000 times without an accident. This is an average of 85,000 crossings a day. This record is attributed to the effort on the part of the management to impress all employees with the need and desirability of careful driving. The Company pointed out the dangers of careless driving and furnished placards reading, “This car stops at all railway crossings.” Each driver was asked to pledge himself to co-operate and to evidence his good intentions by displaying the placard on the rear of his machine.
The enormous popularity of the Dunedin Exhibition and the constant stream of railway traffic to that temporary “hub of the universe,” brought a gratifying orientation of public interest and confidence in the railway and in the achievements of railwaymen of all ranks. Public confidence and appreciation of the spirit of efficiency and courtesy which pervades the whole service to-day were evident on every hand. Railwaymen in every sphere should be ever solicitous to preserve and intensify this confidence, for such ideals of service are rich in advantages alike to themselves and the State. In large measure we are the custodians of our own futures in the matter. As a great railroad president expresses it: “When conditions are favourable is the very time to be most diligent in keeping them so. This applies to public relations with the same force as it applies to all other phases of business conduct. Satisfaction is dangerous if it results in a slackening of effort. We seldom stand still. We are either making progress or slipping back.”
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In a recent address to the Melbourne University Public Questions Society Mr. H. W. Clapp, Chairman of Commissioners of the Victorian State Railways, made some interesting observations on the question of service in business. He spoke as one of the 26,000 men who operated the Railways for the citizens of Victoria. It was no “one man's” job, he said, but team work, and it had reached a high degree of organisation.
Collectively, they ran the largest manufacturing business in the State, and the commodity they sold was service. By co-operative effort they were helping the rest of the community to make a success of producing and marketing.
This is the secret of successful business to-day —service. It is gratifying to observe that this ideal of service inspires our own staff from top to bottom. It is a healthy sign of the times and cannot fail to bring rewards to all concerned.
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Owing to want of space in the last issue of the Railway Magazine, it was necessary to curtail the report of a recent speech made by Mr. H. H. Sterling, late member of the Railway Board. In the course of his speech, in referring to his association with members of the Department Mr. Sterling expressed a hope that when passing through Hamilton they would renew acquaintanceship. He assured them that it would always give him the greatest pleasure to meet any of those with whom he had been associated during the term of his connection with the service.
The Board's Message
In reference to the traffic carried during the last financial year, and particularly in regard to the good work accomplished, through the united efforts of the staff, in handling the extraordinary increase of business occasioned by the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition at Dunedin, the Board desires to place on record its keen sense of appreciation of the excellent work done, and its thanks to all concerned for the fine spirit displayed in making the necessary arrangements and effectively carrying them out. The capacity shown by the personnel has brought much credit to the Department. Our exhibits at the Exhibition created great interest, and in the preparation of these also much commendable originality and alacrity was shown.
The progress made in re-organisation, education, staffing, discipline, and operations is to be carried further during the present year, bringing improvement in the status of the Department and increasing its capacity for rendering better public service.
Putting the year's work in round figures, there has been an increase of 1½ millions in passenger journeys and of 200,000 tons in goods. With an increase of 1¼ million train miles there has been a decrease of 4½d. in the net operating earnings per train mile.
After paying interest charges of £1,900,000, there is a net surplus of £21,000 as against the net deficit of £87,000 last year.
While subsidies on account of Branch lines and isolated sections amount to £359,000, renewal provisions (in excess of expenditure) have been made to the extent of £317,000.
Prospects for the coming year are, however, not so bright. Beside effort to obtain more business there is need for the practice of economy in small things as well as in great. Here every member may help.
Our business is sensitive to overseas as well as to local conditions. With labour troubles of unparalleled intensity in Great Britain and Australia, lower prices for our staple products, and the Exhibition a thing of the past, it cannot be expected that business in the coming financial year will be as buoyant as in that from which we have just emerged.
The exercise of care in the use of supplies of every description and also of prudence in expenditure will be necessary to enable us to produce at 31st March, 1927, a satisfactory financial result. The attainment of this result can be materially assisted by increased efficiency, to which loyalty, industry, economy, enterprise and co-operation are essential.
Competition by road has seriously depleted our revenue from suburban traffic, and while effort is being made to counteract this tendency by, (a) experiment with rail cars, giving a more frequent service, (b) putting Departmental motor vehicles on the road, and (c) reducing rail services in proportion to the traffic lost, the general effect of motor competition is to reduce the earning power of the Railways in suburban areas. There is, however, opportunity for the development of new traffic in other directions, viz.: in passengers, by encouraging the public to take advantage of the various low rates provided in the tariff for parties travelling for special purposes or to special events; in parcels and goods, by prompt attention to consignments, and the creation of a friendly, helpful atmosphere in the conduct of business; and generally, by the offer of transport facilities wherever or whenever they may be needed. In this respect the possession by each traffic member of full knowledge regarding the products, attractions, and potentialities of his own district is essential.
In the securing of new traffic every member may help by suggestion, good service and good-will towards our customers.
Increased attention to safety rules and practices will help to reduce the number of accidents amongst employees. In this also the co-operation of the staff is essential, and their assistance is now invited in setting up Safety Committees at the principal stations and workshops.
Recognising the inter-dependence of each branch of the service on every other branch, and on the public in whose service we are engaged, and feeling assured that only by approaching difficulties with an open mind,—and with the interests of public, employees, and management fully represented,—can matters be adequately dealt with, the Board is prepared to place all its cards on the table in any negotiations and work heartily, by conference or any other feasible method, for the common good of the public and the employees alike.
The Board, in its efforts to meet public requirements by adequate transport services, looks with confidence for a continuation of the splendid backing already afforded by the public, and for the fullest assistance and co-operation from every member of the staff.
Mr. P. G. Roussell, Secretary of the Railway Board, is among the best known and most trusted of New Zealand trained Railwaymen. A strong sense of right, a keen mind that sees all round a subject to its ultimate issues, and a safe instinct for doing the right thing unhesitatingly, are among the qualities which have helped him to win the unstinted confidence of all those engaged in, or concerned with, the Railway Service.
Joining the Department in 1893 as a cadet at Auckland he was, during the next twelve years, located at various stations in the Auckland and Wanganui districts. Thereafter he filled successively the positions of stationmaster at Turakina, Otahuhu and Te Aroha, Assistant Relieving Officer in the Auckland District, and stationmaster, Henderson. In 1916 he was taken into the District Traffic Manager's office at Auckland. With a year of auditing to his credit and experience of control work in all phases of District Office duties, he was fully equipped for appointment as Chief Clerk to the District Manager at Ohakune in 1922. In 1924 he was promoted to the position of Chief Clerk at Head Office, Wellington, and in the beginning of 1925 was selected as Secretary to the then newly created Railway Board of Control.
Mr. J. S. Hunter, the affable and efficient official secretary of the Railway Department, has been associated with various Ministers of Railways in a secretarial capacity. He was born at Picton in 1889, educated at Hawera High School, and joined the Post and Telegraph Department as a Telegraph Messenger in 1903 Eight years later he was transferred to the P. & T. Head Office Staff Division and in 1914 was placed in the Public Service Commissioners’ office. He became Private Secretary in a temporary capacity, for Sir Frances Bell in 1915, and in 1918 was associated with Sir A. Myers in the Ministry of Munitions and Supplies. The following year Mr. Hunter was made Private Secretary to the late Mr. W. F. Massey who then held the portfolio of Railways. The portfolio passed successively to Hon. H. D. Guthrie and the Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates, Mr. Hunter passing with it, and on the re-organisation of the Railway Department in 1924 he received his appointment as Official Secretary. In the course of his career, Mr. Hunter has been entrusted with some very important work, including laying down the Base Records system for the Main Body Defence Camps at Awapuni in 1914. More recently he has been connected with the Railway Department's housing scheme for Hutt Valley.