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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 7 (December 15, 1926)

Train Running Problems

Train Running Problems

As Seen by An Outsider

The Dunedin “Star” recently had something to say about the train running diagrams used in railway transport offices. To trained railway-men the outsiders' viewpoint regarding the intricacies of graph plotting is very refreshing. The report runs as follows:—

“On a series of boards or sliding panels, on the walls of the room are the graphs, which at first sight look like the charts drawn up to show the daily rainfall, or the weekly exports of gold, or some such statistics beloved of Government departments, and at second sight appeared to be a hopeless muddle of crooked lines.

But on examination it is seen that the lines Which ran obliquely from the top or bottom of each graph meant something; there was method—much method—in all this apparent mad riot. Each line represented a train which was to enter, start from, or finish in the district controlled from Dunedin; a district reaching from Ashburton in the north to Milton in the south. The time of departure is noted against it, and its course is followed through small spaces, each representing five minutes of time, until its destination is reached. So that at any time of its journey the men controlling the road know where it is, or should be.

Specials—and some of these have to be provided at very short notice—are shown in red lines, with brackets to indicate any hold-up, that should be necessary to allow the ordinaries to pass. It is in the arranging of the times of departure of all these trains that the skill and experience of the train-running staff comes in. Just imagine having 160 strings in your hands, as ‘twere, with a train at the end of each, and being obliged to keep the strings from tangling, and the long, heavy trains with their human freight from coming together. The up-trains dodging the down-trains, and the expresses winding up to and around the slows!

It is a puzzle all right to the layman; but these officers in the little room in Anzac Square coolly move the pieces into their right places, and at the end of the day the whole thing turns out just like the picture on the box, so to speak.

One would think that the strain and anxiety of the work would tell on these railwaymen; but no calmer or more courteous officers could be found in the service.”