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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 1 (April 21, 1927)

Railway Impressions. — Other Countries, Other Ways

page 24

Railway Impressions.
Other Countries, Other Ways

Mr. J. S. Hunter, Official Secretary of the New Zealand Railways, recently returned after a year spent overseas, and has kindly supplied, for the information of our readers, the following summary of railway impressions gained during the course of his itinerary. He travelled by rail through the United States and Canada, and on many of the railway systems of Great Britain and the Continent.

So much has been written, by railwaymen who have preceded me on tours abroad, that I am somewhat loath to follow the usual course of narrating experiences from a purely railway point of view, fearing that the probable reiteration may have a tendency to bring about a slackening of interest in the valuable material appearing in each issue of the Magazine dealing with current railway matters in the Motherland.

The Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates, Prime Minister and Minister of Railways, and Mrs. Coates at Niagara Falls, Canada.

The Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates, Prime Minister and Minister of Railways, and Mrs. Coates at Niagara Falls, Canada.

In the first place I would like to say that my mission abroad was not primarily a railway one, but, naturally, my close association with railway affairs during recent years was an incentive to study—so far as time permitted—the methods followed in countries I passed through.

Concentrated Publicity and the “Personal Touch.”

My route to England was by way of Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Washington and New York, returning via Canada. On this route I was vividly impressed by the wonderful public interest manifested throughout Canada and the United States in the various railroad activities. This is certainly a remarkable tribute to the work of railwaymen in reaching the publie by means of the “personal touch” and concentrated publicity. Every patron is a potential agent; and the universal slogan is—“service.” To illustrate the effectiveness of this branch of the American railroad service, I may say that the itinerary of the party to which I was attached was drawn up in Wellington some weeks before departure, and sent ahead for the necessary reservations of hotel rooms, sleepers and scats. These arrangements were made without a single hitch. Also at each point en route a courteous Passenger Agent presented his card and saw us on our way to the next section, and so on. Undoubtedly the popularity of railroads is to a very large extent due to the activities of these agents, and one hears on all sides appreciation of the service they are rendering.

Comfort and Service.

Most railwaymen have read the numerous booklets issued by American and Canadian Railroad Companies and are fully conversant with the enormous tractive effort of their locomotives, the comfort of their Pullman sleepers and chair cars, the excellence of their commissariat, and general facilities. From practical experience of these services I think they come up to expectations. In some cases, however, these would not be acceptable to the travelling public of New Zealand: for instance, the standard Pullman sleeper does not offer the same privacy or comfort, in my opinion, as the compartment type of sleeper in use in Great Britain, the Continent and New Zealand. The day-accommodation in these cars is somewhat similar to that of our first-class suburban ears, and the bulk of a passenger's time is, of course, spent in sitting in his seat. Neces- page 25 sarily the length of the journeys across the North American Continent entails the use of a combined night and day coach, and possibly the type of car in use has been standardised after many years of experience; but for New Zealand conditions I think our latest sleepers are the most convenient and comfortable.

The Pullman chair corridor cars with two single rows of swivel easy chairs are probably the most comfortable type of day-coach in use, but the additional charge levied would not tend to make them popular here. I have heard quite a lot in support of the view that the adjustable chairs of our Main Trunk cars have no superior for rest for long journeys.

Railway Refreshments.

Every traveller is, I think, struck with the excellent fare provided by the railway refreshment branches in Canada and America, and there again a perfected service has been called for by reason of the length of the journeys. The food is not superior to that secured on the New Zealand Railways, but the American travelling public has long been accustomed to a very wide variety of diet, and railroad companies have had to maintain that standard. It is extremely doubtful whether “a la carte” service would, in New Zealand, be preferred to the present method, especially as charges would necessarily have to be considerably increased. In passing, I may say that one course costs as much as the whole menu in a New Zealand Railway refreshment room.

View of steel structure, Forth Bridge from Edinburgh end.

View of steel structure, Forth Bridge from Edinburgh end.

Travel Notes.

In travelling from Seattle to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans over the Southern Pacific Railway, one passes through country very like our own, and the entire route, I think, is equipped with two way electrical automatic signalling. This railroad passes through one of the greatest oil fields in the world and the wonderful facility thereby presented has been taken advantage of by the railroads, all locomotives being equipped for oil burning. The “wig-wag” level crossing alarm is also very noticeable, but the barrier type is common on crossings of more than one track. This is a very obvious additional safety device and—where within reach of a signal box—simple to operate.

Most of the railroad companies are running limited de luxe services for which an additional fare is usually levied, the main attraction being a saving in time. Such services are well patronised, the experience generally being that the public is willing to pay for improved service.

The American railways are entitled to praise for the manner in which they operate their goods and passenger traffic, particularly the former. One is not struck with the speed of their expresses so much as with the service provided.

British Railways Fascinate.

I make no apology for “falling to” the fascination of the British railways. Many writers have expressed the view that all railway students within the Empire have the same preference, instinctively accepting the Motherland as the birth place of the railways. It is unfortunate that, owing to physical differences in our country, it would not be possible to plant in New Zealand a replica—on a modified scale—of one of the leading British railways. One finds, there, a permanent-way unsurpassed; the fastest locomotives built; single berth sleeping coaches that enable passengers to secure rest equivalent to that in a first-class hotel; comfortable day coaches; the comparative absence of level crossings; and all the modern conveniences that follow in the train of population. Yet they have their branch line troubles, much the same problem as other countries respecting axle load, strength of draw gear, and motor competition (but this, I think, is not so potential as in New Zealand). page 26 With all the splendid equipment, the transportation of holiday crowds is still a worrying problem to the British railways. But the holiday spirit of the race is a great help and goes a long way in avoiding confusion or complaint. Indeed, the London termini during these rush periods furnish remarkable sights, which help one to bear with patience the relatively small inconvenience experienced here at such times.

Car Comparisons.

It is well known that the British railways have pretty well universally adopted the compartment type of car, and, undoubtedly, with the huge crowds to be handled and the necessity for quick egress and access, they are the most suitable for those conditions. It does not necessarily follow, however, that that particular type would be the most suitable here, where different climatic and other conditions exist. In the compartment type there is a tendency for small parties of three or four passengers to monopolise the entire compartment by judiciously spreading their luggage over the seats. Single passengers, too, are often diffident about (what appears to them) breaking into small parties of the kind. For summer months it is probable that the covering material used for seats would be too hot for New Zealand conditions as well as being subject to the collection of dust.

Relative Position of New Zealand Railways.

I, like many others, have returned to the Dominion with the opinion that for our length of track and small population we have a service in advance of actual requirements, but I hold the view very strongly that we cannot rest at that point. The progress made in New Zealand during the last year or two in road improvement and harbour development is surely an indication that, with our sparsely populated areas, road transport in the near future is going to be a much more important factor, both for passengers and goods transport, than it has been in the past.

At Railway Station, Niagara Falls.Left to Right—F.D. Thomson, C.M.G., Permanent Head, N.Z. Prime Minister's Dept.; J. S. Hunter, Official Secretary, N.Z.R.; Miss Piper, Prime Minister's Office; C. A. Berendsen, Imperial Affairs Officer, Prime Minister's Dept.; Mrs. Coates and The Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates.

At Railway Station, Niagara Falls.
Left to Right—F.D. Thomson, C.M.G., Permanent Head, N.Z. Prime Minister's Dept.; J. S. Hunter, Official Secretary, N.Z.R.; Miss Piper, Prime Minister's Office; C. A. Berendsen, Imperial Affairs Officer, Prime Minister's Dept.; Mrs. Coates and The Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates.

Improvements can be made in rail services, but I am of the opinion that we must look to methods of transport to suit special conditions existing in various districts. There can belittle doubt that in certain localities road services are not only more economical, but are the obvious and most efficiently suitable method of dealing with the traffic. Every possible avenue must be explored to enable the Department to retain its traffic and secure the natural increase due to the general growth of the Dominion, and to this end every railwayman is vitally interested, for his livelihood is in the balance. Every competitive bus and lorry on the road means a reduction in railway staff requirements, and, the railways being a national undertaking, the management must not retain services which, by reason of their unsuitability, cannot possibly secure the traffic. For short hauls, such as many in New Zealand require, motor service—from farm to waterfront and vice versa, or from door to door—is a very serious menace to railway transport, but for long hauls the every-improving steam locomotive is holding its own.