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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 3 (June 1, 1938.)

Grand March of Railway Figures — Magic of Machines - - Clever Human Element

page 9

Grand March of Railway Figures
Magic of Machines - - Clever Human Element

(Rly. Publicity photos.)

Busy with an adding machine.

Busy with an adding machine.

In come masses of figures every day to the Accountancy Branch at the Wellington Railway Station. It takes more than 13,000 square feet of floor space, a staff of 120 (including 60 women and 44 machines) to cope with that invasion. An onlooker may think of the place as a parade ground on which all manner of figures are assembled. They are inspected, drilled, formed into platoons, companies, regiments, divisions, corps. Those figures soon know why they are in the big building, and are quickly moved into the right positions to tell the true story of railway business to the owners, the general public.

Ponder for a few moments on some of the totals for the year ended 31st March: A gross revenue of more than £8,600,000; 13 million train miles; 7 1/2 million tons of goods; 22 1/2 million passengers by rail and 5 1/2 millions by road; £5 1/2 millions in salaries and wages for a staff of more than 22,000; £3 1/2 millions in purchase of stores.

The carrying of II million sheep started a train of thought. If Shakespeare's Macbeth, who murdered sleep and in the dreadful night heard a voice cry “Sleep no more,” had tried counting sheep to induce slumber, a tally of II millions, at the rate of two a second, the round of the clock, would have taken him 58 days, without stopping a moment for a drink or a bite of a pie.

Anybody who is fond of playing with figures, has plenty of scope for the pastime in the huge totals of the railways.

Wellington Accountants Surprised.

When the Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Society of Accountants recently arranged to begin its winter series of lecture-meetings at the Railway Station it had several pleasant surprises. The first was an attendance of about 250, the largest in the history of the branch; another was in the quality and quickness of the Refreshment Branch's service in one of the big social halls; the third was in the demonstrations of modern accounting and statistical machines.

After the Chief Accountant (Mr. W. Bishop) had given a clear exposition of the scope of operations in the Branch, he invited his hearers to ask questions when they were watching the machines. Well, they took full advantage of the invitation, and found the operators ready with the right replies. They had expected some thrills from those machines, and their remarks indicated that high expectation had been surpassed by reality.

Altogether in Wellington the Accountancy Branch has 44 machines, comprising key-punchers, sorters, tabulators, calculators, adders, book-keepers, addressographs, a multigraph and one known as a “ditto.” This name is due to its ability to give fifty or sixty good copies of one large sheet of closely-typed tables. The copies, from one striking of the ribbons, are in perfect alignment, in three colours.

No doubt a modern poet somewhere could write some smart lines about the girls who work those machines with such quick cleverness, but perhaps a better tribute could have been paid by one of the old-time bards.

General view of the Main Machine Room which has a floor space of more than 2,000 square feet.

General view of the Main Machine Room which has a floor space of more than 2,000 square feet.

Promotion for “Old Bill.”

“Old Bill” is, of course, the waybill of ancient lineage, dating back to the stage-coach days. The waybill is the basis of accounting for goods and parcels, becaùse it is a complete record of a consignment—its designation, weight, journey, charge, consignor and consignee. This information is transferred to a tabulated card by a machine which punches holes in the appropriate places. In an hour a skilled operator can make 350 waybills tell their stories to the cards, which are then ready for various kinds of magic in other machines. At the rate of 300 a minute the cards can be sorted for any category desired, and then the tabulators will carry on the good work at the rate of 100 cards a minute. One sees wonderful deals of cards.

A Start from Guards’ Dockets.

Apart from the big machine-room, page break page 11 which has a floor-space of 2,000 square feet, there is a room which has some calculating and adding machines. This is where the guards’ dockets yield their treasure trove of train statistics. Mr. Bishop says that practically all of the train statistics are compiled from the original information entered by the guards on their running sheets. Small dockets are attached to these sheets, and are forwarded daily to the Chief Accountant's office.

Yes, a train-guard has to do much more than punch tickets, blow a whistle and wave a hand. A small boy's ambition to be a guard, to enjoy all-day rides in trains all the year round would vanish with a vision of the figuring on those dockets.

Figures for Use.

There is no figuring merely for figuring's sake in the Railways Accountancy Branch. “Our endeavour is to produce live figures and not merely historical records,” remarked Mr. Bishop. Indeed, after a tour of the rooms, one feels that the figures have to earn their living. It is mentioned officially that the statistical returns now prepared by the Department are in conformity with the modern developments in operating statistics on British, European, American and Australian systems. In designing the statements special attention has been given to the practical needs of the New Zealand system. The various operations and data relating to the cost of train-working are segregated in such a manner that the information available will provide useful tests of efficiency and accurate records of working results. Executive and administrative officers are supplied with up-to-date figures, summarised for each district and section, dealing with every phase of the work under their control.

A feature of all the railway accounts and cost statements is that the figures are always shown for the four-weekly period and the year to date, with comparisons for the corresponding periods of the previous year. This practice ensures that a comprehensive view of the movements of the various items of revenue and expenditure is obtainable at a glance.

The Budget Plan.

“Look before you leap” is a proverb which is never out of mind in the Accountancy Branch. There is no issue of “guessers’ licenses.” The budget system, which is advocated by leading accountants in England, is in operation at the Railways Head Office. Budgets are prepared by District Officers four-weekly for their anticipated expenditure for the ensuing four weeks. These budgets are submitted to the respective heads of Branches for perusal and revision, if necessary. A Committee consisting of the heads of the operating Branches and the Chief Accountant then meets and the various estimates of increases and decreases are discussed. If the Committee is satisfied that the budget is reasonable, it is passed for submission to the General Manager for approval. The great benefit of the budget is that District Officers and heads of Branches are kept constantly in touch with the many items of expenditure and are in a position to reduce any proposed expenditure which is not considered essential. The actual results are also reviewed by the Budget Committee.