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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 2 (June 1, 1929.)

Goods Traffic — Where the Railway Department Helps the Public — Great Fluctuations In Wagon Requirements

page 44

Goods Traffic
Where the Railway Department Helps the Public
Great Fluctuations In Wagon Requirements

We append hereto a graph, showing the fluctuations in traffic carried by the Railway Department in the South Island from the 1st of April, 1925, to 31st March, 1929. This graph shows the monthly variation in the tonnage carried during four years, and is a most illuminating exposition of the difficulties with which the Railway Department has to contend in meeting public requirements in the matter of trucks.

The graph indicates that the minimum quantity carried was during January, 1927, when slightly over 150,000 tons were carried in the South Island. The maximum quantity is shown in March of 1929, when 270,000 tons were carried. The difference between these two maximum and minimum points is sufficiently striking, but when the intermediate variations are taken into account it is not surprising that the Railway Department finds difficulty at times in supplying the needs of the Commercial community. The graph shows fluctuations as startling in their magnitude as those found in the temperature records of a hospital fever ward. It might well be the saw-backed fever chart of a typhoid patient.

Supposing the payable quantity which the Railway Department could carry per month to be in the vicinity of 200,000 tons. Then the graph indicates:—(1) that twice in the 1925–26 year the figures fell far below this—down to round
Each vertical division represents a four-weekly period.

Each vertical division represents a four-weekly period.

page 45 about 160,000 tons per month; (2) that for the greater part of the winter months of each of the four years the figure was below 200,000 tons; and (3) that in the summer months of each year (round about February and March) high peaks were reached: In 1925 over 230,000 tons; in 1926. 260,000 tons; in 1927, 250,000 tons; in 1928, 269,000 tons; and in 1929, 272,000 tons.

The statement is particularly interesting in view of the loose ideas set afloat regarding the Railway Department, such as that the growth of motor traffic had definitely put the Department in an inferior position in regard to capacity for conveying the goods of the people.

There have been occasions, at each of the peak periods, when the Department has found difficulty in carrying all the traffic offering at the exact time that the consignor desired to send it, but no business could afford to carry a big proportion of rolling stock which would not be called into action except for a few brief weeks in each year. On the other hand the fluctuations indicated are so great that nothing but a service which was capable of a great deal of expansion could deal with them. In this respect the Railway Department has a definite advantage over the motor for, whereas the maximum load of a motor varies very little from its minimum economic load, the quantity conveyed by any particular train may differ in amount by 200 or 300 tons from that of another train, yet both be running on an economic basis. The advantage of this elasticity is that the Railway Department, by working long hours and putting on additional trains and arranging for faster turnover of its wagons, is able to expand its services very extensively for short periods and still be in position to retain in service its same transport units and staff, throughout even the dull periods of the year, without serious reduction. In other words, with the same staff it is able to handle both the maximum and minimum tonnage offering in the Dominion without adding in any way to the unemployment difficulties which any country, subject, to some extent, to seasonal fluctuations in its traffic developments, is so apt to be faced with.

Supposing that the traffic which the Railway Department has carried had been in the hands of road hauliers, it is perfectly clear that either the goods could not have been carried at all or that, if they had been carried, a large number of vehicles and a large number of men would have had to be employed at the busy seasons of the year and their services entirely dispensed with at the slack periods. This would have led to an enormous amount of economic waste, a condition which it is the purpose of those who have the welfare of the country at heart to obviate.

The point regarding the relative inelasticity of the motor as compared with the train for pulling the country through times of maximum traffic has not previously been stressed, but it is undoubtedly an extremely important factor and one which more than outbalances for general purposes the movement mobility advantages of motor transport.

The whole effect of the graph produced with this article is to show very clearly how impossible it would be for any service but the railways to handle the bulk of the Dominion's goods traffic.

It is hoped, too, that its publication will reconcile those who are at times inconvenienced through the Department's inability to supply all the trucks that may be required at any particular time and place.

We find that periods of stress in the coal industry, for instance, which invariably occur at the beginning of the winter season, coincide with a rush of grain to ports and stores and heavy press of shipping traffic bringing imports to the Dominion. Circumstances such as these cause congestion in the stores which are unable to take the produce quickly enough. This in turn slows down the turnover of wagons and prevents the best service being made even of the rolling stock that is available. So also the non-arrival of ships at due time has a similar effect. All these circumstances have a tendency to accentuate the position which, as the graph shows, would be difficult enough under the best possible circumstances. The wonder is that the railway copes with the difficulty as well as it does.

“When the North Express Comes in.” The Christchurch-Invercargill Express arriving at Invercargill Station.

“When the North Express Comes in.”
The Christchurch-Invercargill Express arriving at Invercargill Station.