The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 5 (September 1, 1929)
“The Manawatu” — A Story of Pioneer Railway Enterprise in New Zealand. — Part IV
The people of Wellington and Manawatu were astonished at both the speedy comfort in travelling over the line and the beauty as well as the potentialities of the countryside. For a great part of the distance covered by the railway two solid forest walls flanked it with open cleared spaces about the stations. To the people of Wellington the opening of the line brought fresh vistas of beauty, new fields for commerce and added chances for settlers.
On November 29th., the first through train carried 500 passengers on an excursion from Wellington to Palmerston North, the 87 miles being covered in 4 hours 35 minutes. Palmerston banqueted its visitors in the Theatre Royal, and appropriate speeches were delivered. The practical operation of the line on a regular time-table commenced on December 1st., two trains running daily in each direction and connecting at Longburn with trains of the Government system.
From conversations with the last of the company directors it appears that the company did not expect ever to run a train. Their “job” was to build a line even at a loss. However as we have seen the Government had already found these hard headed and honest business men difficult to deal with. The Government did not seem inclined to take over the railway except as a bargain, and this would jeopardise the security of debenture holders and the English share-holders. Thus the Company still had a railway, but at what cost? The line was open but was not unencumbered. As already stated, creditors stood at £111,097 (most of this was due to the Colonial Bank at a high rate of interest) while coupons to the value of £14,000 were almost due and bills payable stood at £15,000. Already also it was seen that the rolling stock, both passenger and freight, was insufficient for special periods; it was also thought that capital could be very profitably expended in draining 15,000 acres of the Makerua swamp.
In their endeavours and plannings the directors were encouraged by the receipt of £3,258 as deposits from land sales and £16,845 as the net profit from the line, both before and after December 1st., 1886 equalling a return of 5.76% on the total cost of the railway (£831,961). The Board now asked for and received permission to sell 30,000 further shares, with the debentures complementary to them. The issue of new shares was quickly subscribed and the debentures all sold. Of the shares, 24,000 were taken in London and 6,000 in New Zealand. The debentures were sold at par. The money obtained was used to wipe out the last overdraft page 41 —(£100,715) thereby saving the difference between the English and Colonial money rate—a matter of over £3,000 per annum.
The capital now consisted of £850,000 subscribed in £5 shares and £680,000 in debentures. This was the last charge in the capital of the Company until near the end when the total debenture stock was reduced out of accumulated reserves.
The staff of the Company were highly capable, remained loyal throughout, and gave good service. Mr. Higginson, the chief engineer who saved the Company over £20,000 in profits by completing the line ten months in advance of schedule, was awarded a bonus of six months salary, or its equivalent in land.
Here was a railway built by a company which had been floated and enthused by a merchant, a lawyer and a none too successful grocer. Later the grocer became general manager and showed the way a railway should be run, the indebtedness of the Company being diminished and reserves built up. Years after his decease in 1919, the Company he had controlled in its early struggles returned, in liquidation, £3 for every £1 share.
One of the chief factors which contributed towards the success of this railway was the attention given to the engines and rolling stock.
Many of the cars and wagons were built in the workshops of the Company from imported parts. Most of the new passenger and freight stock or materials came from the United States. The passenger cars had a great reputation for comfort.
Speaking of the lighting at the annual meeting in 1898 the Chairman (Mr. T. G. Macarthy) said: “I think that we can claim that our trains were the first in the Southern Hemisphere to which the principle of lighting by electricity has been successfully applied.” This was at a time when the Government railways were still experimenting with the “Pintsch Gas” system without mantles. In 1903 the cushioning of the second class cars was proceeded with and the same year all rolling stock was equipped with the latest type of quick-acting Westinghouse brake. The first dining car in New Zealand ran over this line in 1888. A six-coupled Vauclain compound engine, built by Baldwin, hauled, in 1896, a train estimated at 432 ½ tons from Long-burn to Paekakariki over a ruling grade of 1 in 100. Another hauled from Wellington to Johnsonville over a 1 in 36 grade a train of 160 tons 16 cwt. while a similar engine hauled 320 tons from Paekakariki to Wellington.page 42
The Government engineers frequently inspected the railway in all its branches and their reports indicated a high standard of maintenance throughout and good provision for the future or the unexpected.
We notice in the report of the Company in 1889 the following phrases: “We have opened up a vast area of country for settlement, and have already located on the lands a large number of farmers, who with their families, are already converting the forest into grass lands, carrying large quantities of valuable stock. Through the facilities we have been able to offer, numbers of sawmills and flaxmills have been completed adjacent to our line, employing many hundreds of people and putting an end to any cry of unemployment within a hundred miles of the city.” Numerous writers in the press of that day echoed those sentiments, indicating the rapid transition from depression to prosperity when other districts had not reached the worst period of the “slump.”
In the annual report of 1890 the chairman (Mr. T. G. Macarthy) said that of lands allocated to the Company 45,573 acres had been sold to date for £78,594, but 8,955 acres had realised £22,999. This indicates the difference in qualities and values. Before the line was finished the land accounts were all too heavy on the debit side and too light on the credit side. Expenses of surveying, sub-dividing, advertising and roading tied up much capital needed for the line. After the opening of the line settlement proceeded apace, most of the fertile flat on slightly undulating land being taken up and profits made.
(To be continued in our next.)