The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 11 (March 1, 1929)
Service First — General Manager Enunciates the Railway Problem
General Manager Enunciates the Railway Problem
“The standard of demand on the part of the public can be developed overnight, but the ability to supply this demand cannot be adjusted so easily,” said Mr. Sterling, when replying to the toast of the “Railway Department,” at a dinner given to celebrate the electrification of the Lyttelton tunnel. Mr. Sterling enunciated this as the railway problem in tabloid form, and showed that there were certain services which the railways performed which were community services and were not capable of being put down on the Department's balance sheet as a direct asset.
He said that demand altered so rapidly and radically that what was suitable yesterday would not suffice to-day. The trouble was that the standards of demand altered much more quickly than those of supply. One thing was certain, the people of to-day would not tolerate smoky tunnels. Better accommodation, speed and safety were all demanded by the public, but finding the finance to supply them was quite another matter.
No one realised this better than he and his colleagues. It was not a question so much of what they wanted, but what they thought they should ask for. “We must be dubbed not only askers but also constructive thinkers, so that we may be able to estimate our position,” he added. “We try to think beyond the present.”
As for his management of the railways, he said he had no magic wand. The adjustment of the supply to the altered demand would take money and effort, and both these required time. This adjustment could not be effected overnight.
He realised that it was sound logic for a standard to be set and for the executive officers to be expected to attain it. This standard had in recent times been stated by some in the form of “making the railways pay.”
Social Service Values.
“The railways can pay only as a community investment,” Mr. Sterling continued. “You can put the debit down in £ s. d.—but what about the credit? You cannot evaluate social service, which must reach a certain standard the same as any other. Regard the problem as one of accountancy if you like, with a capital of 55 millions. If it were then said to the executive, ‘Do what you like, but make the railways pay as a self contained commercial proposition,’ the first thing one would light on would be the workers' weekly tickets. They are quite unremunerative so far as the railways are concerned. But would anyone say these ought to be abolished?” This was an example of the kind of service which the railways performed, the value of which was well known and universally accepted without question, but which value could not be stated in terms of money so as to enable the service to be shewn in the figures of the accounts.
“Looking back over the intervening years from the humble beginning of our railway system, we cannot but be struck with the pioneering work of the railway builders of those days. The construction of the Lyttelton tunnel was a large work for the Canterbury Provincial Government to undertake, and it says much for the foresight, enthusiasm and courage of the pioneers that such an important link in the transport system was brought to a successful conclusion.—Hon. W. B. Taverner.