The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 7 (December 15, 1926)
Christchurch Railwaymen's Economic Class
On October 20th Mr. P. R. Angus gave us a resume of his experiences abroad and the lessons to be drawn therefrom. The following is a condensed report on the same:—
In Britain, U.S., and South Africa, it would appear that the divisional controlling officers, have very much more power than is the case in New Zealand. In the United States, where the railways are owned by private companies, the first job of the chief controlling officer (who is called the President) is to make the business pay, and, within the law, they do as they like. No man's tenure of his job is very secure. It is a case of “deliver the goods or get out.” With the exception of the Presidents, Financial Vice-Presidents and Commercial Vice-Presidents, practically all the controlling officers are young men. The officers in charge of transportation are, generally, civil or mechanical engineers who have also had a thorough training in transportation working.
The South African railways are the most interesting from a New Zealand point of view, because conditions are, in many ways, comparable with our own. There the departmental spirit is almost entirely absent; members all think in terms of “our Division.” One difficulty in South Africa is the problem of co-ordination of divisions. Regional control has grown up naturally on the basis of the old estate systems which were in vogue before the union. Happily, we in New Zealand are not faced with many of the problems such as, race, colour and language diversities, which are the fruitful causes of friction in South Africa. Mr. Angus gave us many illustrations of these. The fact that all the instructions and regulations must be printed in both English and “Afrikans,” and that all employees must be proficient in the use of the latter (very difficult to learn because of its hybrid composition) gives some idea of one aspect of these problems.
The savings effected by keeping engines running practically all day and night were illustrated by examples from the United States and South Africa. For instance:—
(1) Johannesburg to Cape Town—956 miles in 30 hours. One engine, four gangs.
(2) Peitermaritzburg-Komatipoort and back 680 miles run with one engine, caboose and relief gang.
(3) Mafeking-Buluwayo and back—980 miles run with one engine, caboose and relief gang.
On services two and three, the caboose system is in vogue. The gangs work eight hours on and off in turn, sleeping and eating in the caboose. A negro cook attends to the needs of the train crews. This system is responsible for a reduction of almost 50 per cent, in loco, costs.
Engine Power and Rolling Stock in South Africa.
Almost all the locomotives and rolling stock have been imported as that has been found most economical. There were at one time many classes of locomotives, but these are being reduced to approximately 14. There are about 200 standard goods train engines, each of approximately 41,000 lbs. tractive power (twice that of our “Ab”): Ninety-five Garratt engines up to 54,000 lbs. tractive power, and some engines of 58,000 lbs. tractive power. Main Line passenger coaches are each of approximately 35 tons tare, coupled with M.C.B. automatic couplings. It is not uncommon for 25,000 tons of coal to pass through Ladysmith in 24 hours in addition to passenger and mixed trains and this on a 3 ft. 6 in. gauge with frequent 1 in 30 grades through country similar to the King Country.
Alongside each Loco. Depot a repair shop has grown up. In these shops almost every class of repair is undertaken and this tends to uneconomical practices. Our new system of specialised shops is much preferable, and it must be seen that repairs of a heavy type are not permitted to be done in Running Depot shops.
This is a system of dividing up the jobs in groups according to the class of work. Men are placed according to seniority and ability. It is the best system for the men because—(1) they know what their job will be for a period ahead and therefore can arrange their social and other engagements accordingly; (2) every man gets a “fair deal” because he takes his turn at all the jobs to which his seniority and ability entitle him.
In the United States seniority is not considered to the same extent as in New Zealand; ability is the principal test. Managements do not worry about rotation of day and night shifts, and length of the working day is not restricted by regulation to the same extent as it is in New Zealand.
Payment by Results.
In the United States, enginemen are paid on engine power and mileage basis—passenger trains 100 miles or five hours equals one day. Goods trains 100 miles or eight hours equals one day. Actually the men made good money, but it is difficult to make a comparison with the similar state of affairs in New Zealand as the cost of living is generally so much higher. However, the conditions under which the men work in New Zealand appear more than to balance any appreciable benefit that may be given the United States' enginemen by the payment of higher scale wages.
Owing to seasonal fluctuations in the amount of traffic offering, men are engaged or their services dispensed with according to the demand. This must be taken into consideration when comparing with the rate of pay ruling in New Zealand where the men are engaged permanently.
Enginemen do not receive the thorough training considered necessary in New Zealand. If firemen are required, the loco, foreman engages the men as they come along. Such men receive a few days training from the firemen instructors (road foremen) and have practically only one examination to pass—that of enginedriver, and this an oral examination. Mechanical coaling appliances and oil fuel locomotives reduce to a certain extent the need for experienced men.
Premium Bonus and Piece Work.
Conditions in the United States and South African shops were explained.
Mr. Angus made a strong plea for the introduction of some similar system whereby men are rewarded according to their output, though guaranteed their daily wage as well. He appreciated the fact and regretted that men who have experienced such systems in Britain, had cause to look with suspicion on such schemes. A man who had been brought up under the United States methods would, however, not have the same outlook. Modern business men recognised that rates or times once set must never be altered unless an alteration occurred in the design of the article being manufactured, or in the method of manufacture, and if this rule was maintained piecework or the bonus system gave harmonious and satisfactory results.
The method in South Africa where shops committees confer with the management and arrange basis for piece-work or bonus rates was explained.
In the United States safety devices in the operation of trains are not up to modern high standards except in thickly populated districts in the Eastern States. Train control officers regulate the movements of trains, arrange crossings, etc. When the train stops on a main line for any purpose the guard's assistant runs back a few hundred yards and plants a “Flare” on the track. When the train is again ready to proceed he lights the “flare” and then rejoins the train. Engine-drivers of following trains estimate the clearance of the train ahead knowing that the flare takes a certain time to burn out.
Mr. Angus gave numerous illustrations of the methods adopted by the United States railways to obtain business and meet the intense motor competition. Everywhere one is treated with the utmost courtesy. Everything possible is done for the comfort and convenience of clients, not only on railways, but in every class of business.
For instance, you do not obtain your ticket from an official who is hidden behind a poky window; a commodious concourse is provided and you obtain your ticket over a well appointed counter. The idea is that clients become irritated and impatient when kept waiting in a long queue outside a booking window, but, when they can see that the man selling tickets is doing his best they will exercise more patience. The methods of controlling road traffic in the United States were explained. The hotel accommodation and services were commended, and amusing illustrations of their business methods proved that the lecturer is no tyro at the game. Members were so interested that the two hours passed far too quickly. Mr. Angus was accorded a hearty vote of thanks, in appreciation of, perhaps the most interesting lecture of the session.