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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1 (April 1, 1940)

Our London Letter

page 25

Our London Letter

New Zealand Forces in Britain.

Radio broadcasts of concerts given by the New Zealand Forces in Britain will have assured all of you of the cheery and confident spirit which exists among this splendid body of men. This optimism is everywhere apparent throughout the length and breadth of the country. We do not under-estimate the difficulties which face us, but we know full well that ultimately right will triumph over might, and to this end one and all are pulling together as never before, sustained by the knowledge that across the Channel our very gallant French allies, like the peoples of our own Empire, are with us to a man.

“King of the Road.”

In normal years, with the coming of the long summer days, the Home railways are busy perfecting their arrangements for the movement of the season's holiday traffic. This year, of course, the situation has been entirely altered by the war, and holiday business will undoubtedly be on a much smaller scale. Actually, there are no restrictions upon civilian travel, and such amenities as restaurant and sleeping-cars continue to be placed at public disposal. With so many men serving in the armed forces, on munitions, aircraft production, and so on, and with the enormous call for transport on the part of the Government, however, the railways could hardly be expected to launch out on ambitious holiday campaigns. Such a move would, in any event, be unpopular with the general public, and so our vacation arrangements this summer will be on a modest scale. Excursion travel is mostly confined to the running of trains conveying parents anxious to spend a few hours with their evacuated children, and of the big passenger publicity campaigns commonly launched at this season there is practically no evidence.

Very wisely, the Home railways are working on the assumption that Government demands for transport will increase, rather than decrease, in the months that lie ahead. Priority always must be given to troop and supply trains, while important freight business such as foodstuff handling also ranks before ordinary passenger movement. The freight train is, indeed, “King of the Road” on the Home railways today. Smoothly and efficiently the railway freight machine is backing up the national effort, and a few figures recently officially released, relating to activities on a typical line—the London, Midland & Scottish—may be quoted.

During the first four months of the war, the L.M. & S. operated the highest loaded wagon mileage (520,600,000) since its formation. During the same period of 1938, the figure was 428,000,000. The number of loaded wagon journeys was approximately 10,500,000, or roughly 2,000,000 more than in the same period of 1938. For the conveyance of loaded traffic the L. M. & S. has run a daily average of 4,000 freight trains, an increase of 500 trains per day. Empty wagon trains have, of course, also shown large increases to correspond.

Interior of a saloon car on the Southern Railway Continental Express.

Interior of a saloon car on the Southern Railway Continental Express.

Fifty Thousand Wagons in Constant Use.

At this season out-of-gauge loads are always conspicuous on the Home lines. The war has resulted in a big increase in this class of traffic, and the large stock of special wagons (totalling some 50,000) is kept in constant employment. One new traffic is that rising out of the supply of gas cylinders to the barrage balloons. Special wagons, styled “lowfits,” are utilised. They are equipped with drop sides and ends, and road vehicles loaded with the gas cylinders are run direct on to these trucks, thereby saving handling. There is also a big demand for the heavier rail wagons employed for the movement of big guns and armour plates. Explosives, too, are handled in immense quantities, and a great deal of ingenuity has been shown in converting trucks to this purpose by the provision, for example, of suitable racks for shells and bombs. All this special business, as well as the ordinary day-to-day movement, is being handled like clockwork in fair weather and in foul, in daylight and during the black-out.

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Heavy-freight locomotive, London, Midland & Scottish Railway.

Heavy-freight locomotive, London, Midland & Scottish Railway.

German Railway Difficulties.

In these Letters we have always taken extreme care that all our news should be true and authentic, and when speaking of conditions in Germany particular watchfulness is called for, in view of the great distortion of official news emanating from Berlin. There have been many reports of the unsatisfactory state of affairs, from the enemy viewpoint, on the railways of that country, mostly from neutral observers. Carefully sifting these, there is undoubtedly point for the belief that the German railways are by no means coming up to the expectations of the Nazi war-makers in their day-to-day efforts. Although the German army mobilisation was completed long before the outbreak of war, the railways controlled from Berlin have found themselves unable to cope with civilian traffic over many routes. During the past winter, coal and other vital supplies have suffered great delays, while the long series of serious railway disasters on the German lines tells its own tale. Now there is proposed a four-year plan for the complete reorganisation of the German railways. A strange time is this to set about a job of that sort!

Railway Air-Raid Precautions.

The absence of enemy air attacks during the winter enabled the Home railways to perfect their precautionary measures, and complete air-raid precaution schemes are now in operation at all points, enabling railway operations to proceed with a minimum of interference during a raid. At each of the larger stations there have been appointed from among the staffs a chief A.R.P. warden and deputy wardens, with fully-trained squads of fire-fighters, first-aid contingents, and decontamination and demolition squads. Railway workers have entered into A.R.P. training enthusiastically, and lectures and demonstrations have been well attended.

Railway Anniversaries.

Just fifteen years ago there was celebrated, with appropriate ceremony, the one-hundredth anniversary of the opening of the world's first public railway—George Stephenson's Stockton & Darlington system, now embraced in the London & North Eastern Group. The present year sees the one-hundredth birthday of quite a number of important Home lines, so that both here and in New Zealand this is a time of centennials.

Among lines forming the L.M. & S., there is the Midland Counties Railway, opened from Trent to Leicester on May 5th, 1840; the North Midland Railway, which reached Rotherham from Derby on May 11th, 1840, and pushed forward to Leeds on June 30; and the Manchester & Leeds Railway, opened between Normanton and Hebden Bridge on October 5th, 1840. Of course, that colourful figure in Home railway history—George Hudson, the “Railway King”—comes into the story, for on July 1st, 1840, Hudson—then Mayor of York —attended at York station to witness the dispatch of the first train to leave that point with through passengers for London. On the Great Western line, March 30th, 1840, saw the opening of
Coal traffic handling on the London, Midland & Scottish Railway.

Coal traffic handling on the London, Midland & Scottish Railway.

the London-Reading tracks. On August 31st, 1840, G.W. trains commenced to run from Bristol to Bath. Rounding off the 1840 record, on May 11th of that year through trains began to operate between London and Southampton on what is now the Southern system; while on May 12th, 1840, there was opened the first railway in Sussex—the Shoreham and Brighton line.

One-Class Accommodation.

Commencing February 1st, one-class accommodation became the rule on all London Transport trains except the through-trains between the Aylesbury and Watford Joint lines and the Metropolitan Railway. The vast majority of travellers were third-class passengers, and year by year there has been less and less demand for first-class accommodation. The war, too, has led to a considerable increase in business, and the first-class cars on the Metropolitan and District lines reduced the accommodation for passengers as a whole and led to unequal loading. This move for the withdrawal of first-class accommodation is one which ultimately will extend to all the Home railways. In days gone by, we had three classes— first, second and third. Second-class disappeared some years ago, and first-class will undoubtedly follow suit before long. The classification arrangement is a relic of the old stage-coach days, and while there are still a few passengers who prefer to pay a little more for special accommodation, their numbers decrease year by year with changing ideas and the gradual improvement of the third-class car. Incidentally, as recorded last month, the French railways are considering abolishing first-class on all but the principal long-distance trains.

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