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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 6 (October 24, 1926)


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The Public and the Railways

At no time in the history of the Railways has the public attitude towards the Department been more friendly than during the financial year just past. Instead of captious fault-finding, any criticism put forward on behalf of the public has been constructive, while much more space has been occupied by business men in letting executive officers know how satisfactory the service rendered has been than in the elaboration of complaints.

It is therefore right that the public should be given to understand how greatly this attitude towards railway affairs is appreciated by the staff working the system. In railway life perhaps more than in any other, the saying of the wise Hippocrates—given more than two thousand years before the first train ran—is fully borne out: “Opportunity is fleeting, experiment slippery, judgment difficult.” Whatever will help to make that life happier—and nothing helps more in this respect than appreciation—is worthy of the fullest commendation and encouragement.

The staff have been at special pains to meet the requirements of the Department's clients in every possible way, with the aim in view of making travelling and trading with the Railway a pleasure rather than a nuisance, and the result of this effectual co-operation as recorded on the practical index of the year's work should give pleasure to all parties. For this year the Railways of New Zealand are in the fortunate position of being the only railways in Australasia to show a credit balance on the year's working. So much for the benefit resulting from the people of this country standing solidly behind their own system of transportation.

While our goods traffic is making good progress there is opportunity for a considerable expansion of passenger traffic, and in securing this everyone can help.

Used as railwaymen are to the routine of train work, there is always a chance that members may overlook the romance of travel in this, the most alluring of all countries in the world. If they keep it in mind it will help them to enter into the spirit of the passengers for whose enjoyment it is their privilege to cater.

A kind of mild intoxication overtakes all but the most seasoned travellers as soon as they enter on a crowded railway platform for the purpose of making a train journey. As their worries fall away they become a little excited, develop a holiday care-free feeling and gratefully expand under the social spirit that always pervades a passenger station when an express is about to depart. Whether it is the bells, the lights, the whistles, the hiss of escaping steam, the come and go and general bustle of the place that produces this feeling, or whether it is the mere anticipation of “going out on the long trail… the trail that is always new” would be difficult to decide; but there it is—a factor that must be taken into account. It is something that we, the guardians of the train travelling public, must allow for, and encourage. These travellers are our guests. How can we help them? Most of our station staffs, guards and porters have just the right way with them to please passengers. They welcome questions about routes, times, refreshment places, points of interest, and railway practices and facilities. They are friendly without being forward, helpful without being tiresome. They succeed in making passengers feel at home, care-free, relaxed, and happy. The train itself, its strength, reliability, equipment and punctuality, all help to add to this feeling, a feeling pleasurably accentuated by the gregariousness and holiday sense surrounding railway dining and refreshment rooms and bookstalls.

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Then the travel itself gives ample opportunity for variety of entertainment. Loaded up with an ample supply of magazines, cigars, cigarettes, cards and chocolates, the passenger is ready to sit in at a game of poker, carry on animated conversation with chance-met acquaintances, dream awhile in the luxurious haze of the smokers’ paradise, loll idly over the latest fiction, or hand sweetmeats to an appreciative lady, while the good train steadily coils the miles behind it.

Our own people are learning more and more the benefits of train travel, the meeting with new people, viewing new scenes, catching glimpses of the country's progress, seeing throughout the land evidences of industrial progress, and gaining ideas for improvements at home. We have the facilities. By good service we can fill the trains.

Suggestions and Inventions

Since its inception in June of last year, the Suggestions and Inventions Committee of the Railway Department has dealt with fifteen hundred proposals, each one of which has aimed at producing improvements in railway operations. These have come freely both from the public and the staff, and indicate the great interest taken throughout the country in current railway transport problems.

The vast range of subjects chosen by those with improvements to propose is such that it would tax the imagination of a Wells to think of a single practical particular in regard to which no suggestion has yet been put forward or invention submitted. Track, signals, and rolling-stock; locomotives and rail-cars; timetables; the equipment of yards, stations, cabins, workshops and sheds; devices for safety, comfort, and convenience in travel; the handling of goods; carding methods; ways to increase business; advertising and publicity schemes; these constitute the principal headings under which the various matters submitted to the Committee may be classified.

The importance of the work and its diversity require the attention of a committee possessing an aggregate knowledge and experience sufficiently diversified to enable the members to deal effectually at their meetings with most of the problems presented. This is secured under the committee as at present constituted, for amongst its members are officers directly acquainted with railway conditions in Great Britain, India, Canada and Australia, as well as those having an intimate knowledge of our own system, its needs and possibilities. They are authoritative representatives of the Transportation, Locomotive, Maintenance, Commercial, and Signals Branches of the service and, meeting weekly to examine the budget received since their last gathering, they have reached, through practice and experience, the point where they can quickly appraise the value of most of the notions put forward. Some proposals are old or impracticable; others have already been weighed in the balance and found wanting; but many are obviously useful, others are intricate and require close study, while others again clearly show the rare working of genius.

When the information possessed by the committee is not sufficient to enable them to judge the value of a suggestion, they do not hesitate to call in specialists in the subject under review, or to refer the matter for trial to the head of the branch concerned. Every suggester may, therefore, rest assured that his idea will obtain full consideration on its merits. The arrangement by which members of the committee are kept in the dark as to the identity of every suggester lends an additional assurance that the suggestion shall receive the unbiased consideration of the Committee.

Already the effect of providing this outlet for suggestions and inventions has been to place at the disposal of the Department many devices which have facilitated operations. It has set members thinking how to produce improvements in their work. It has scotched many foolish notions, and made operative a scale of awards sufficiently attractive to induce enterprise along right lines in all grades of the service.

Railways In East Africa.

At a dinner given recently by the Manchester Cotton Association, the Right Hon. Mr. Amery, Secretary of State for the Dominions, replying to the toast of “Empire Development” observed that the Cabinet had authorised him to introduce a measure asking for a guarantee to British credit for the raising of loans to the extent of £10,000,000 for a progressive railway policy in East Africa. He did not for a moment suggest that that sum would be sufficient, for he believed much more would be required in the future. He had also secured the sanction of the Treasury to devote an appreciable portion of that fund to research. The whole problem of Africa was largely one of research into diseases.