The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 2 (June 1, 1932)
Railways Commercial Branch — Development and Organisation
Dominion Transport In Retrospect.
Pausing, amidst the present disturbed social and economic conditions for a look round, and confining one's vision to a retrospect of the development that has taken place in the Dominion's transport system since the foundation of New Zealand as a British colony in 1840, then following the evolutionary progress of that transport, decade by decade, we are compelled to appreciate the distinctive benefits and advantages which railway communication has conferred upon this Dominion and its people as a whole.
New Zealand's transport requirements, in the first twenty years after its foundation, were served by bullock wagons, horse-drawn vehicles and coastal vessels, these methods serving—perhaps inadequately—to meet the needs of those hardy pioneers who, with a fortitude truly characteristic of the race and worthy of our highest admiration, faced and surmounted the difficulties and discomforts associated with the new land of their adoption.
With the progress of settlement over a period of twenty years the inadequacy and inefficiency of such transport methods became apparent, and the necessity for improvement became dominant, resulting in the inauguration of the first section of railway in the “sixties.”
Increasing Railway Progress.
The genesis of progress is necessity. Hence we visualise the extension of railway enterprise through the next three decades—small sections here and there with the ultimate objective of a main artery—till we arrive at the “nineties,” and then a rapid railway advance is made. Lines are flung far and wide, culminating with to-day's 3,280 miles of railway system. The goal has been attained—the development of this fair land accomplished and the transport needs of its people well and truly served.
True, coastal shipping service has survived and prospered, but horse traction is merely a speck on the horizon—the “iron horse” has taken its place. For practically sixty years steam has held sway, commanding homage from all sections of the community; and the acknowledgment of its power as the principal agency of development, progress and prosperity has been undisputed.
The supremacy of steam power over that of the horse did not occasion resentment, in fact its advent and progress were applauded and appreciated as it supplied benefits hitherto unenjoyed, cheapened the cost of haulage, opened up fresh markets far afield, and in this way expanded industry.
Its institution and advancement was essential to promote prosperity and it can be claimed as the primary and principal factor associated with the welfare of this Dominion to-day.
The Coming of the Motor.
Commercial Manager And Staff.
(Rly. Publicity photos.) Mr. D. Rodie, Commercial Manager (centre), and members of the Commercial staff at Railway Headquarters, Wellington. Top (from left) : Messrs. F. K. McKav. F. G. Craig, and A. P. L. Andrew. Below (from left) : Messrs. H. A. Steers and D. S. Broughton.
With the coming of competitive forms of transport traders and travellers were provided with an alternative means of conveyance which caused them to weigh the relative values of the two, not only from the point of view of cost, but also of facility and convenience, to an extent never previously indulged in.
The position that arose was one calling for prompt and expert attention. On the one hand was the Railway Department, the largest organization in the Dominion, selling its commodity—transport—to all and sundry, and compelled by law to publish or notify all its charges; its tariff scale open to everyone's inspection, and (subject to one or two minor conditions) compelled, as common carriers, to cater for all classes of traffic. On the other hand was a new form of transport enjoying the advantage of free selection of its business and at liberty to adjust its prices to what it might consider the purchasing power of any individual trader, manufacturer or farmer.
On the passenger side was arising a form of travel which, in spite of obvious discomforts, possessed an attraction for travellers which could only be ascribed to its novelty.
This led to a new appreciation of travel values by the public and engendered an anxiety on their part to secure more and more transport value for their money.
How the Railways met the Challenge.
Faced with such a position, the formation of a body of specialists to watch the interests of the Government Railways was a natural step, and in 1925 the Commercial Branch, comprising a Commercial Manager and a Business Agent (allotted to each section of the lines) was formed. The object of these officers is to maintain a liaison between the public and the Department, to ascertain the requirements of the communities, to place the facilities and conveniences of the Department before those desiring transport, and to keep closely in touch with farmers, traders, manufacturers, all local bodies and others with a view to affording them assistance in their dealings with the railways.
These members are experts in their business and their specialised knowledge of all branches of transport renders them invaluable to those requiring information.
These agents do not wait for the public to come to them, but maintain close contact with both actual and potential customers, and the non-static character of public requirements in the matter of conveyance renders the life of the Railway Business Agent an extremely busy and varied one.
The agent must be a man capable of making a rapid summation of the whole position when confronted with a problem, and able to place all essential facts before the management, so that a prompt decision may be given when required; the goods are, in many instances, ready to be despatched, and the keenest man secures the business.
The aspects of passenger and goods transport vary in many ways. In the case of the passenger, increased business can be induced by providing sufficient attractions, either in low fares or in added refinements in the accommodation provided. In this way bulk conveyance can often be secured and business induced at times and in localities where the rolling stock might otherwise be standing idle or, at any rate, not fully employed.
With goods business, the position is somewhat different, and increased traffic can, as a rule, be secured only by diversion from other means of hauling; and it is in dealing with the varying conditions of such that the knowledge of the Business Agent—a knowledge bred of long experience—safeguards the interests of the largest business organisation of the Dominion—The National Railways.
The co-ordination by the Department of rail, sea and road transport has brought about such a well-integrated service that the railway officer is in a position to provide the public with any means of transportation for which there is a real demand, and which can be rendered at a sound economic charge, whether by train, bus, ship, lorry, or service car.
The Railways and the Future.
In view of recently enacted legislation to co-ordinate and stabilise road haulage, it is page 15 no mere fanciful picture of the future to visualise the Railway Department as the general carriers of the Dominion, and catering for every transportation demand of the public.
History shows that the most prosperous nation is that having the most efficient and economical transport organisation. New Zealand will soon have its stock-taking of transport costs completed, and this important industry placed on a sound footing. When this is done, the Railway Department, by reason of its specialised knowledge and organisation should occupy a still stronger position in the carrying business of the Dominion.
What benefit is the Dominion to receive from this unification of transport control? One short pronouncement by the Hon. the Minister for Transport affords an adequate reply:—
“One did not have to look back very far into the history of the Dominion,” said the Hon. Minister, “to find a point when there were no motor transport charges, but to-day motors were costing £32,000,000 per year, and if present conditions were allowed to continue the cost would increase rapidly and even to-day the cost was much greater than the country could afford.
“There had been a great deal of public anxiety because the annual loss on the railways was £1,500,000, such a loss was a serious one, but the annual loss caused by road transport was infinitely greater.
“Furthermore, by lessening the volume of transport on the roads they would relieve the burden of rates and again the farmer would benefit. There was no doubt that many of the roads were carrying excessive traffic and the consequent wear and tear was a big item for the ratepayer.
“The condition of the Dominion at the present time justified every measure of economy.
“Between 1914 and 1929 the population of the Dominion had increased by 29 per cent.; production had increased by 102 per cent., but transport charges had increased by 147 per cent. In the same period the capital charges of transport had increased by 128 per cent.
“There was now one motor vehicle for every 6.8 persons. In 1914 the annual cost of land transport was £17,750,000, and in 1929 it had risen to £43,750,000.”page 16