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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 2 (June 1, 1928)


Sir Henry Thornton, president of the Canadian National Railways, recently spoke as follows:—

Those who represent the mechanical division of the American Railway Association have been engaged for many years in improving that fine, old servant of the North American railway system known as the steam locomotive. Every few years somebody collects a sheaf of flowers and brings them to what is thought to be the funeral of the steam locomotive, but somehow or other it continues doing business at the same old stand in the same old way, and apparently with improved efficiency. It is a matter of congratulation to the mechanical genius of the railway industry that the locomotive has been developed as it is to-day, and that it is so efficiently playing its part as an instrument of propulsion in every land.

North Island East Coast Railway. Commencement of work at Te Puna, July, 1920.

North Island East Coast Railway.
Commencement of work at Te Puna, July, 1920.

In the early ‘90's the United States was just springing into its industrial destiny. Great combinations were forming in the steel trade and other industries. Business was forging ahead by leaps and bounds, and that meant that a tremendous traffic burden was placed upon the transportation systems, and unless those transportation systems had succeeded in rising to the emergency the progress of the United States industrially would have been seriously retarded.

What part did the mechanical experts of the railway industry play in making possible that continued development? I say, without fear of contradiction, that it was the introduction at that critical period of heavier and constantly heavier vehicles of greater capacity which permitted the United States to develop as rapidly as it did develop.

The railway industry is confronted by two conditions which work to reduce net earnings—constantly decreasing freight rates, and constantly increasing wages. True, the civil engineer in improved track and permanent way has played his part, but I venture the assertion that the great economy in railway operation which has permitted railway companies in the United States to meet the burden of lowering rates and increased wages has been the genius, vision and courage of the mechanical engineers.