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

Steam Locomotive Holds Its Own

page 48

Steam Locomotive Holds Its Own

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.

Tribute to Mechanical Department.

In looking over the last thirty years or so of the railway industry in the United States, the mechanical division may congratulate itself upon having largely contributed to the achievement of two objectives; first, the railway companies have handled a constantly increasing traffic successfully and to the satisfaction of the shipping public; and, secondly, economy of transportation as a result of mechanical progress has permitted the railway companies to maintain solvency. No finer contribution could be made to any industry than those two objectives which you gentlemen of mechanical science have accomplished in so short a period.

I think sometimes what you have done is insufficiently known, and it is a pleasure to take advantage of this opportunity to pay a well-merited and well-deserved tribute to the mechanical engineers of the railways.

However important mechanical progress may be, however important improved transportation methods may become; however important any activity of any of the railway departments may be, the whole thing, and all of the efforts of any department is subordinate to one single fundamental fact, which is the genesis of the railway business, and that is getting the traffic.

A well-handled train, a skilful engineman, a polite conductor, a good dining car service, all of these things contribute to getting traffic, and I claim that every officer and every employee of a railway can contribute something in the course of the year either directly or indirectly to attract traffic to the railway.

Your function as mechanical engineers is to provide a constantly improving power, to maintain your power and equipment in a serviceable condition with minimum cost, but back of all that is getting the business.

page 49
”Her voice was soft, gentle and low …“—Shakespeare. (A. A. Eoult, Photo.) Guide “Rangi,” one of the charming Maori guides at Rotorua.

Her voice was soft, gentle and low …“—Shakespeare.
(A. A. Eoult, Photo.)
Guide “Rangi,” one of the charming Maori guides at Rotorua.