The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 9 (January 1, 1928)
Freight on the Rails
The subject of freight on the rails could, of course, be made as heavy as the last Christmas pudding from which we are all speeding at a steady 24-hour a day pace (with one hour cut off for Sidey time); or it could be made as light as a comic opera, or the traffic on some of our branch lines. It deserves neither treatment, however, for it is a matter both of great moment to the community and also has a romance that is all its own.
When you hear the rumbling roar of a freight train as it tears across a detonating viaduct in the small hours of a murky night, with what Harold Munro calls the “tittle-tattle of a tame tatoon,” and what non-poetic plain people like ourselves call the sound of half-a-thousand wheels clicking their way along the iron road—when, I say, that roar grows to a menacing intensity, every practical fellow is inclined to wonder what it's all about; and that is just what I shall endeavour to tell you to-night.
The actual quantity of goods handed over to the railways of New Zealand for conveyance during the twelve months ended 31st March last was 7,308,449 tons. This quantity is a New Zealand record, and is equal to the total carried by the South Australian, Western Australian and Tasmanian railways combined. New Zealand's total is two million tons greater than the tonnage carried on the Queensland railways in one year, and is only a little more than a million tons short of the Victorian total. New South Wales is the only other Australian State having a greater freight traffic by rail than our own Dominion, the quantity being in proportion to the difference in the population of the two countries, that is, at the ratio of two to one.
It may be interesting to look for a moment at the proportions in which the goods that go to make up the seven million tons of freight on the rails are distributed. The farmer looms up large in the freight use he makes of the rail. Fertilisers and the products of agriculture, such as grain, fruit, root crops, fodder, flax and seeds total one million tons. Animals and animal products total another million tons. More than half of this tonnage is incurred in the conveyance of the animals themselves — the cattle, horses, sheep and pigs that earn for New Zealand her great reputation as a pastoral country. But the secondary industries, arising directly from the pastoral, supply an equal tonnage; for there are 170 thousand tons of butter, cheese and dairy byproducts carried, 148 thousand tons of meat, and 134 thousand tons of wool represented in the million tons for which the skilled attention given by our men on the land to certain branches of the animal kingdom is in the first place responsible.
Mining plays an important part in the supplying of work for the railways, and accounts for the heaviest classified tonnage carried last year, amounting to over 2½ million tons. Of this there was about a million tons each of New Zealand hard coal and New Zealand brown coal. Road metal and agricultural lime comprised most of the balance. The amount of imported coal carried was 82,000 tons. The products of New Zealand forests in the shape of timber, firewood, posts, etc., made up 750,000 tons, the tonnage of imported timber being 45 thousand
Amongst the manufactures railed New Zealand cement totalled 78 thousand tons, and benzine page 11 zine 61 thousand tons, while miscellaneous manufactures accounted for the remaining million and a half tons.
Fired by Figures.
Having heaved that weight of statistical stuff off our chests let us look around a little for the romance of goods transport.
It is not everybody who can be fired by a string of figures, but they always seem to set my mind working in the valley of symbolism. Have you ever seen a crowded goods yard on a foggy night, with No. 81 held up for two three four running late, a cattle train waiting in one siding, a sheep train in another, several coal specials crowding the yard, a miscellaneous assortment of mixed goods to be pushed through, the up express expected every minute, and No. 85, the paper train, shrieking for a chance to get through in time to tell the news of the world for to-morrow's Backblocks' breakfast! With fogmen out to repeat the signals, engines slipping on the greasy rails, shunters waving frantically and shouting through the fog, and signalmen at their wits' ends to know how to clear their yards before the first glimmering streaks of the raw dawn arrive to find them ready for the new day's work—if you have never lived through that, then the world of romance has not yet revealed to you all its secrets.
Among the Horses.
Now, let us consider some of the uses to which the freight services of the railways are put.
Everybody, I suppose, loves a horse; and one of the general means of relaxation amongst our people is found on the racecourse.
The seasonal race meetings held in various parts of New Zealand, both for trotters and gallopers, make considerable use of the railways in achieving their success. First, it is recognised that for transport over any considerable distance, no method of conveyance is more suited to the highly-strung organism of the thorough-bred than that supplied by the railways. The “horse-boxes” in the degree of comfort they provide for their racers, compare quite favourably with the carriages in which the owners are transported. The big double-bogie “Ug” horse-wagon is used on express trains, and rides as smoothly as a first-class car. In each compartment every part where chafing might occur is protected by thick leather-covered padding, and in other respects the vehicle has all the comforts of a loose-box in a modern stable. Special attention has been paid to strength, convenience, and ventilation in the design of these wagons. A quite cosy compartment in each is provided for the boys in control of the horses, so that their charges may be under constant and effective super-vision throughout the run.
The ordinary four-wheeled, appropriately named “G” horse-box, is generally used on “goods” trains, when there is no urgency about the transport of the boxes. Sometimes, after a big meeting, a “horse-special” is run, and then a fast schedule is arranged, and a train, running perhaps all through the night with nothing but horses and a car for trainers and attendants, will land them safely at their destination, hundreds of miles away, as day breaks on the following morning. These “specials” are particularly in demand when “meetings” in distant districts come close together.
Sheep and cattle, too, have their fine airy wagons, chocked for their feet to prevent slipping. When the days are hot it is no unusual thing for the staff at intermediate stations to treat the cattle to a shower-bath by turning on to them the hose-pipe of the engine water-tank—and it has just as much reviving effect on these four-legged animals as the ordinary home shower-bath has on their owners. They buck up immediately, and decide that life is still well worth living.
But when it comes to ordinary goods, what a vast variety is handled by the railway staff, and carried on the railways' wagons! From the bottle of medicine that may mean the saving of a human life, to a train-load of coal to page 12 keep the home fires burning in a whole town, the railway accepts the lot and asks for more. It has wagons to suit every kind of goods, and special instructions to the staff covering their safe conveyance.
Even railway-men seldom realise the value of the freight they carry. A train load of butter (say 400 tons) is worth £70,000, and a train load of meat over £20,000.
One thing about the railway that makes its use of value to everyone, at times, is the fact that its service is always available. Merchants receiving orders from their country clients know that the railway can take delivery, no matter what the commodity. At small country stations, of course, it is often necessary to order trucks beforehand; but at the main stations, where large shed space is available and supplies of wagons are accumulated, the railway can, and does, accept all manner and sizes of consignments, so freighters are able to clear their floors as they go, and the railway takes over the delivery and sees it to its destination.
It is interesting to note the average distance that goods are carried in New Zealand. Fruit averages the longest haul, the figure being 165 miles. Fish comes next, the average for this being 157 miles. There is a wealth of meaning in these figures; for they show how highly our people prize the best health food (fruit), and the best light diet food (fish) by the distance over which they are prepared to order their freightage. New Zealand brown coal, as produced by the: Huntly and Wairio district mines, comes text, the average distance it is hauled being 120 miles; the significance of this figure is that it shows how large a part coal still plays in the operation of industries, and the assistance the railways lend to manufacturers by providing low freights which enable secondary industries to be carried on at considerable distances from the mines. After brown coal comes New Zealand timber and cement, the average haul of the latter being 100 miles.
The railway freight rates show some surprisingly low freight cost figures. The basis upon which comparisons are usually made in railway circles is that of the ton-mile. This means when applied to freight, the average charge for conveying one ton of freight a distance of one mile. Applying this figure to the classes of goods carried on the N.Z.R. we find that on the average a ton of each of the following is carried a distance of one mile for less than twopence. The items are:—Fruit, fodder, agricultural lime, New Zealand coal, road metal, lime and coke, New Zealand timber, firewood and fertilisers.
The tariff has been laid down with reference to the general requirements of the country. For instance, on account of the railways being a State-owned concern, advantage has been taken by the Government from time to time to use the railways tariff as a means of protection for the people of the country against imported goods. As an example, timber which is grown in New Zealand is railed at a certain rate. Timber imported to New Zealand is in general charged at this rate with 50 per cent added. Other New Zealand products and locally manufactured goods are also, under certain circumstances, given preferential treatment in this way.
A Picturesque Tariff.
To the unseeing eye the railway tariff appears as a book just as books of the kind usually are, dull, heavy, a toilsome tome of multitudinous discriminative charges, with no “magic casements opening on the foam of perilous seas,” rather does it seem flat, stale, though possibly profitable; a weary trail through a sandy desert under a broiling sun to a deserted village!
But to the eye of understanding the tariff of the N.Z.R. is full of life and vivacity—a whole library—dictionary, encyclopaedia, atlas, history, statute book—all in one, with fiction the only missing element. Here the scales of justice are seen busily at work, weighing in 1,500 different articles to be carried by one of the 13 alphabetical horses entered for the railway rates race.
Under the modest title “Coaching and Goods” is hidden a world of hard fact bearing on the whole science of rating, and the extent of the field covered may be judged from the proposition page 13 that the Department carries a different commodity for every two of its 3,000 miles of track. It deals with wharves and rumours of wharves, with parcels, goods and livestock; with ton lots and small lots, local rates, and general conditions.
Mechanical calculators have enabled a grouping of commodity classes and the revenues derived therefrom. Apt use of these figures makes possible an adjustment of rates to requirements.
Some think that our rating is too complex, but the cry for a “simplified” tariff is the cry of the primitive, who would hold that a truck of coal, or treacle, or sand, or bullion, or bulls, drapery, or dynamite should all be carried at the same rate. As it is, it must have been no small contract to allocate properly the 1,500 commodities listed among the 13 classes provided on the railways goods scale and avoid misfits.
In regard to the general facilities for freight railage, these are being constantly added to; better cranes, longer sidings, through goods trains and improved shunting facilities, are the order of the day.
I trust that this little talk about freight on the rails will help you to understand something of what the State-owned railways of New Zealand do for the community they serve.
An Unusual Shipment.
The photograph below shows a train load of chaff at Picton ready to load by the “Kawatiri” for Australia. 17,500 sacks requiring 125 trucks were forwarded in this consignment.
The following letter of appreciation was received by the Stationmaster in Charge from the sender, Mr. A. M. Corry:—
This is merely to let you know that we appreciate very much the assistance and facilities your Department afforded us in getting away our shipment of chaff per “Kawatiri.”
The consignment was an unusually large one and the trouble your Department took to facilitate our operations enabled us to keep the steamer fully employed and her agents to give her record despatch.
We thank you very heartily for your cooperation which rendered the contract we undertook with the Union Company to be carried through smoothly and without a hitch.