The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 5 (September 24, 1926)
Few countries possess finer natural resources in water power than New Zealand. The economic utilisation of water power to the running of their railway systems is at present engrossing the attention of the Railway Engineering Departments of the British Railways. Yet as water power is scarce, except in Scotland, while coal is abundant all over, proposals are on foot to utilise that mineral at the pits mouth for the generation of electricity, leaving water as a secondary consideration. These proposals are being considered by a Board of Experts especially appointed some years ago by the Government. Not only so, but they are also considering the possible barrage of rivers for the same purpose. Who has not heard of the proposed Severn dam? This proposition, however, stands almost alone amongst water power schemes. Here in New Zealand coal is limited, while water power is abundant, for we possess at least a dozen lakes situated for the most part hundreds of feet above sea level. More especially is this true of the South Island, and it is here that we should look for a test to be made, as made it must be, to ascertain whether it is more economical to retain steam as our railway motive power or to utilise our water power resources.
The function of a railway is to aid a community to the easier acquirement of wealth, and it cannot do this if it abstracts wealth from the community. In the latter event the community will take such steps as are needed to render the system efficient, for efficiency must be the criterion. Such, it seems to me, is the logical conclusion of Mr. Jones' admirable address pp. 42 and 43 of the first number of the Magazine. In engineering the utilisation of our water resources we must proceed on lines that will leave motor buses and lorries (figuratively speaking) standing still even with fuel at 6d. per gallon. There is a place in New Zealand's economy for these of course, but it should not be in competition with our railways. In other words, railway services must be made so cheap and efficient that no other means of transport will supplant it.
The important question is: “What lake lends itself easiest to the generation of electric power sufficient for a portion (if not all) of our railway system (1) in the North Island, (2) in the South Island?” Before deciding, there are several conditions which will help to limit the choice. To mention one, “What suitable lake is nearest to railway service?” Overland haulage by traction engines (such as was used at Lake Coleridge) is too expensive altogether. A railway line must connect the main system with the power house, so that the material required in its erection and equipment are delivered on the spot quickly and cheaply. This factor being ascertained, it follows naturally that the easiest got-at site for a power station should be utilised first, whatever may be the power lost either above or below it, as that can afterwards be brought into service when required. Another consideration in the choice should be the fact that branch lines lend themselves easier to a “change-over” from the present system without much disturbance to their everyday operation. Without mentioning other facters the position can now be stated as follows. “What branch line (a. in the North Island—b. in the South Island) is nearest to a source of power supply at any point?” Answering for the South Island I assert that the Timaru-Fairlie line should be the first to be electrically operated from that magnificent body of water—Lake Tekapo, which is over 2,000 feet above sea level and has an overflow quite suitable to operate a great portion of the main South line. It is a branch line becoming more popular every season with tourists for Mt. Cook and its glaciers. Incidentally, its terminus might be much nearer the Hermitage, but I am convinced that once it were electrified this desideratum would soon follow. I grant that the district served is mostly devoted to wool growing at present, but there is no reason why in the future the McKenzie country should not carry a large population. Economic progress page 34 depends largely on the development of transport facilities, but such development should first materialise in districts where the probable revenue at least would balance the outlay. It would seem that these conditions can be satisfied on this line when electrically operated. From the remarks made by the Prime Minister when opening the additions at Lake Coleridge, surveys are in progress on this Lake and one or two others adjacent for auxiliaries to Lake Coleridge supply. But this is perhaps hardly enough. Railway requirements must have first place in all such schemes. Foresight of a superior degree is required at the present time to gauge approximately what power will be needed to equip our locomotives ten years hence-say. And in the arrangements therefore this-Department must be represented if our transport system is to forge ahead. On the Gore-Lumsden-Kingston section there is conveniently an enormous storage reservoir (Lake Wakatipu) as yet untapped at 1,000 feet above sea level, not to mention the adjacent lakes. Whatever is done by our legislators should be so done that our Railway Department shall obtain this cheap power in unlimited quantity as required, without the risk of stoppage for a single moment, from one or all of these stores, but uniformity must be the rule in the equipment of the works. Anything else would be confusion.