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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 3 (July 1, 1929)


The time-keeping of the heavenly bodies must be the envy of every transport organisation. In his “Yankee at the Court of King Arthur,” Mark Twain tells how the hero saved his neck by remembering the exact time at which an eclipse of the sun was due to occur, and giving orders accordingly.

Not many would care to stake their lives upon the exact arrival of any train, steamer, service car, bus or airship, though careful scheduling and precise working allows a large margin of correct timing in most of these means of movement.

But earthly affairs are subject to so many unpredictable happenings that approximate accuracy is the utmost that can be hoped for even in those things that seem most amenable to systematic prearrangement. Even in factories, where supplies of material are constant and the piece-work principle has been applied to the limit on standardised jobs, variation in output cannot be wholly prevented.

The causes of checks to regularity in the realm of transport are numerous, and railroading has its fair share. This last month has seen, in addition to an unusually heavy budget of disturbances to traffic through floods, slips, and break-downs, the most serious earthquake that modern New Zealand has experienced. Geological studies of rock formation in most parts of our country indicate that in by-gone times the land was the plaything of subterranean forces. The strange contortions of strata found in most parts of the Islands have added to the engineering difficulties of railway building and maintenance. But settled conditions over a long span of years seemed to give assurance that whatever disturbances occurred above the surface, the earth was firm. Even that assurance, however, was shaken by these recent serious earthquake shocks in the north-western sector of the South Island.

The railway habit of keeping the services going, no matter what happens, is well established. Periods of coal shortage, war, and flood have caused curtailment, but never cessation. Continuity and reliability of service is the aim towards which all our energies are directed. And this habit has served the country well on the present occasion. From the Nelson and Westland provinces have come unanimous tributes both to the excellent railway arrangements made to assist through the time of trouble, and also to the steadfastness of the staff in attending to their jobs though the earth rocked.

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An apt story upon the point is told by the general secretary of one of our leading staff organisations. He had written expressing regret and sympathy to one of the West Coast Branches of his Society, and his letter crossed in the mail a letter from the same Branch. He expected this to contain a tale of earthquake troubles, but on opening it found no reference to the upheaval at all—merely the usual catalogue of local railway matters about which societies of the kind generally correspond.

The only sensible course is to let disturbances of any sort interfere as little as possible with the regular routine of work. Viewed in that way, and excepting when of a scale to cause calamity, they are rather welcome than otherwise, for they give occasion for the exercise of initiative, and for that triumphing over difficulties which is the chief source of individual development, as it is the main pleasure of life.