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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 11 (June 1, 1930)

The People's Responsibility

The People's Responsibility.

It was not those who worked in the railways that put the railways there to be used. It was the people through their representatives deciding in accordance with the constitutional methods existing in this country. The railways were put there without reference to those who had to work them. He was not criticising in any shape or form whether that was desirable or otherwise, but the point he wished to bring out was this: that inasmuch as those railways were put there by the people it was the duty of the people to use them or abide by the consequences. The utmost responsibility that could be fastened on those who had to run the railways was to make the use of them as cheap and attractive as possible. Those responsible were endeavouring, and as he hoped and believed with success, to do that. Whether the people discharged their responsibility, if he might put it in that light, was a matter, of course, entirely for themselves. The job of the railwaymen was to make the service worth while for the people not only in their capacity as members of a community supporting their own investment, but as users of the railway finding it profitable and pleasant to do so.—Mr. H. H. Sterling.

Zealous Conscientious Staff.

He did now and again come across some people who railed against the railways because they had probably bumped up against some member of the staff with whom they had got at cross purposes. It would be queer, indeed, if in a fold of that size there was not an occasional black sheep. He said that, not by any means by way of apology, but simply in recognition of the known frailties of human nature. But surely the whole outfit was not to be judged by such exceptional cases as those mentioned. The great body of the men of the railway service were guided by a sincere desire to do their best for those who were employing them. It had been his happy experience in recent times to hear many testimonies supporting that view.

Certain Handicaps.

In the application of business methods to the affairs of the Department, he said, the management was, however, under some disadvantages, many of which were inherent in State ownership. It could not have the flexibility of a private concern in either its external or internal relationships. It could not have that freedom of action which the owner-driver of a motor vehicle could have in quoting rates. The people of the country, impelled by their democratic instincts, insisted on uniformity of treatment and the slightest deviation was enough to bring down upon the railways a very emphatic protest. The efforts of our competitors were not in that way circumscribed. There were other points in connection with State ownership that had similar effects. He did not mention them by way of excuse, because he did not think that any excuse was necessary.

Faith in the Service.

He pinned his faith to the service they were able to give, service that was demonstrated in the figures he had given—the fact that the railways were able to carry 86 per cent, of their tonnage at a rate that no competitive form of transport could possibly look at. If to-morrow they were told that the railways were formed into a commercial institution and told: “Now, go to it on that basis,” he would not hesitate to say, without the slightest possible doubt, that page 23 the railways could be made to square the ledger. Whether it would be good was the question. He personally believed that it would not.

Internal Co-ordination.

Within the Department the managerial policy had been one of co-ordination of effort. In the external relationships it had been along similar lines. Within the Department, by frequent conferences of executive staffs and by receiving sympathetically and suitably rewarding suggestions and inventions, they were making an immense collective effort.

External Co-operation.

In their relationship with the outside public they had endeavoured to merit their co-operation. His presence at the meeting was an illustration, if he might put it, of the policy in endeavouring to make the utmost possible contact with those who were sufficiently interested in the railway problem of the country to want to make contact with them. In order to carry out that policy it was necessary that he, as the executive head, should move freely about the country. He had endeavoured to do so, and believed that the fact that he had done so had been helpful to a great many earnest thinkers on the railway problem. It had certainly been helpful to him, because even criticism represented a point of view, and inasmuch as the capacity of all to know the facts at first hand had a definite limitation, it was only by a constant contact with people and exchange of ideas that satisfactory progress could be achieved.

The Department's Lake Steamer Service The dining saloon of the P.S. “Mountaineer,” one of the Railway Department's fleet of steamers on Lake Wakatipu, South Island, New Zealand.

The Department's Lake Steamer Service
The dining saloon of the P.S. “Mountaineer,” one of the Railway Department's fleet of steamers on Lake Wakatipu, South Island, New Zealand.