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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 11 (February 1, 1935)

On Time

On Time

It is now some years since the Department first produced an “on time” design for the cover of its Pocket Guide—the locomotive on top of the clock; and in the intervening years the punctuality record of the New Zealand Railways has certainly not sagged. Including delays from all sources, such as slips, floods, wash-outs, engine and other mechanical failures, in a train mileage of over ten million miles last year late arrivals of express and mail trains average less than 4 minutes and of suburban trains less than 1 minute.

The general public, and more particularly the travelling public, gain the benefit of this high standard of punctuality, but probably have little conception of the array of inter-related factors which go to make this record possible. Everyone can realise, of course, the part that the “alarm” clock has to play in securing the prompt arrival of early morning train crews, signalmen and station staffs, amongst whom even one failure to be in his place “on time” may set back the running of a series of trains. For, with so many miles of single track, some of which at times carries maximum traffic, and the necessarily varied distances between crossing-places, traffic in both directions is usually adversely affected by a hold-up to any one of several trains in the same transport area.

The great range and variety of physical factors which go to the making or breaking of train punctuality can only be understood by those in the service who have to deal with some or all of them. The engines themselves must be in good condition and be handled properly, besides having good fuel and water. The rolling-stock generally must be up to standard in all running parts. The trains must be safe, smooth and dependable. Signals must act accurately, whether worked by hand or automatically; the work at stations must be planned properly, handled expeditiously, and loads must be prepared according to pre-arranged schedules.

These are among the multitude of factors that come into play whenever the “on time” record is placed against a train's running. And these, again, are dependent upon the skilled arrangement of station yards and sidings, watering-columns and coaling stages and facilities, and the method of booking passengers and handling luggage. As an instance it may be recalled that for many weeks on end last year the “Limited” maintained an unbroken “on time” record of arrival daily at both Auckland and Wellington. The yard improvements at Auckland doubtless had a definite bearing on this result.

Then there is the inevitable human factor—the understanding and co-operation amongst all trainmen that facilitates the work.

Railwaymen take pleasure in having their trains run to time, not only because such service is pleasing to the public, but because late running disorganises the work and increases the liability to error.

The public can help, of course, by arriving for trains and booking in plenty of time, and by joining and leaving trains with despatch. By doing so they are taking a useful part in promoting the romance of the rail, a romance which loses its glamour when “late arrival” displaces “on time,” but which gains in popular estimation (as doubtless the sun does for the same reason) when, as in plenty of country places throughout New Zealand, clocks can be set in safety by the passing trains.