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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 10 (January 1, 1940)

Our London Letter

page 25

Our London Letter

Vital Work of the Railways.

New Year Greetings to one and all! Stirring days are these for every individual member of our great Commonwealth of Nations, but with such remarkable unity of purpose, and such faith in the righteousness of our cause, there cannot be the slightest doubt as to the ultimate issue. Nazi aggression is definitely doomed, and sooner or later the world will once again move along the more peaceful paths of progress.

From the heart of the Homeland let me tell you of our deep appreciation of New Zealand's magnificent response to liberty's call. Britain's half-a-million railway workers, like their colleagues in New Zeaalnd, do not seek to crush the honest German worker, but they are determined that never again shall peaceloving individuals here and throughout the world constantly have to exist under the menace of aggression and brute force. Once the misguided German people rid themselves of brutal and senseless authority, good neighbourliness among nations will automatically return and world-peace become an established fact.

Normally, at this season it is my custom to review, in these Letters, the activities of the Home railways during the preceding twelve months. Now, however, this review must give place to a brief account of how the railways are meeting the peculiar conditions with which they are faced, and the remarkable work they are performing in the struggle.

For four months we have been at war with Germany. Since they were taken over by the Government, the Home railways have never before performed such vital national service, and never before have railway employees of every grade worked together more determinedly, or with more successful results. Railways have for long been recognised as the arteries of the army, and the railway machine, harnessed to the tremendous requirements of the Forces and of Home Defence, once again has risen to the occasion in striking fashion. One responsibility alone—that of moving across the Channel men and supplies in the opening stages of the campaign—called for phenomenal effort. Thanks to wellprepared plans, however, and the united and unstinted labours of the railway rank and file, this immense movement was carried through without a single casualty, and now, day by day, vital transportation services between England and France operate as if by clock-work, protected by those two sure shields, the Navy and the Air Force.

The Railway Executive Committee.

Controlling the Home railways, as Chairman of the Railways Executive Committee appointed by the Ministry of Transport, we have that well-known and able officer, Sir Ralph Wedgwood, the former Chief General Manager of the London & North Eastern Railway, who, during the last war, held important Transportation appointments in France and elsewhere. Another most happy appointment is that of Mr. Gilbert S. Szlumper to the post of DirectorGeneral of Transport and Movement at the War Office. Mr. Szlumper vacated the position of General Manager of the Southern Railway to engage in his new work—a job which he actually commenced to study a quarter of a century ago as assistant to Sir Herbert Walker, then Chairman of the Railway Executive
Ambulance cars constructed in Home railway workshops.

Ambulance cars constructed in Home railway workshops.

Committee functioning during the 19141918 struggle. Large numbers of other able railway officers are now engaged in various capacities in the transportation department of the forces, and as time goes on there will be made other appointments to the Transportation Staffs from the Home railway service. In the last war Railway transport officers on all Fronts were largely drawn from the railway world, while the Operating and Construction Companies of the Railway Troops of the Royal Engineers consisted in the main of skilled men from transporation systems all over the Empire. Incidentally, your correspondent, then a somewhat younger man, had the privilege of commanding operating units in France and Belgium, and also serving as Railway Transport Officer in France and Germany.

Passenger-train Services.

Little by little, as the first uncertainties of wartime operation disappear, the ordinary passenger-train services of the Home Railways are being stabilised. At the outset, many of the long-distance expresses were withdrawn, or re-timed so as to permit of stops en route at the principal towns. Restaurant and sleeping-cars ceased to operate, adn everywhere ordinary passenger-trains had to be withdrawn to permit of the passage of troops, supplies, and the like. To-day, page 26 page 27 while preference naturally always is given to Service requirements, it is being found possible to place improved train connections at the disposal of the ordinary traveller, and restaurant and sleeping-cars are being reintroduced in many long-distance runs.

Actually, there is no restriction on civilian railway travel in Britain, nor have there been any increases in passenger fares. Journey times are naturally somewhat longer than in ordinary circumstances, and excursion facilities were withdrawn on the outbreak of war Limited excursion facilities, however, will probably have been resumed before this letter sees the light of day, especially to enable parents to visit their evacuated children in the country at week-ends. Night travel by rail was, for the first month or two of the war, something of an adventure. Because of the necessity for a complete “blackout,” interior lighting of passenger compartments was sometimes impossible, while in other instances only dim lighting was permissible. Now a standardised system of carriage lighting is being developed, both on the main-lines and on the London local systems. In the case of the London Passenger Transport Board services, there was sometime ago installed standardised lighting for use during the “black-out” hours on open sections of line, this applying to the District Railway, and the Northern, Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central Tube Lines. The regulations allow three special low-wattage lamps, with the lower half of each painted dark blue, to be fitted in each car. In the tunnel sections, full lighting is maintained.

Freight Traffic Arrangements.

Turning to the freight side, we find various altered arrangements introduced on the Home railways to meet the special conditions. Railway goods depots have, for some time, been closing at 5.0 p.m. for the acceptance of freight, and earlier closing is probable as the days shorten. This is largely to enable the staffs to get through the bulk of their work before darkness falls. In order to facilitate the handling of traffic, goods tendered for conveyance by rail are required to bear a white label clearly addressed in black ink or type. To assist operations during the “blackout,” railway consignment notes have also to be clearly typed or written in black ink. Where a consignment consists of a number of packages or articles, traders are asked to label all packages to facilitate sorting and dispatch. Senders are also encouraged to forward their shipments in bulk as far as possible, to save transhipment and handling generally. As regards road collection and delivery services, these are being maintained in skeleton form, a daily collection or delivery, for example, in one particular rural area, being cut down to a service on alternate days, and so on. Registered transits by the “Blue Arrow” and “Green Arrow” services, and the railway cashon-delivery arrangements, have been withdrawn, and various other subsidiary services curtailed.

“Black Out” Problem.

Many ticklish problems have been presented by the “black-out” in connection with marshalling-yard operation, but by degrees these have been solved, and it is remarkable how marshallingyard staffs and trainmen are adapting themselves to the necessary lighting restrictions. Passenger stations, of course, have to be watched as regards the obscuring of lights, and roof glass has been specially treated. Locomotive precautions include the use of blue headlamps, and the fitting of anti-glare curtains to engine cabs. Colour light signals and station hand-lamps are controlled by the employment of long shades over the lenses. A.R.P. activities of the railways also include the provision of secure shelters at the principal stations for the use of passengers and staff, while as a measure of precaution many headquarters and divisional offices have been moved to safe sites in the country, merely skeleton staffs being maintained in the city offices.

Interior of Casualty Evacuation Train showing arrangement of stretchers on brackets.

Interior of Casualty Evacuation Train showing arrangement of stretchers on brackets.

Construction of Ambulance Trains.

At this time, every branch of the Home railway service is engaged on the most vital work in freedom's cause. Recently we were enabled to view a typical railway workshop activity—the conversion of ordinary passenger-trains for use as ambulance trains and for casualty evacuation service.

Each of the Home railways is constructing ambulance trains for use both at Home and overseas. Several trains already have been completed, and to enable further trains to be placed into service rapidly, work upon different sections has been entrusted to various railway shops throughout the country. Each of the trains is fully equipped for travelling staffs of nurses and doctors, kitchens, and wards for stretcher and sitting-up cases. Cars also are provided for infectious cases and as travelling pharmacies. Casualty evacuation trains are available for immediate use in the event of casualties occurring through air-raids, in order to assist in the distribution of injured civilians to hospitals throughout the country. The fitting-up of these trains includes electric lighting and steam-heating, and numerous devices are incorporated to ensure the comfort of patients.

All things considered, the Home railways have real reason for pride in their accomplishments of recent months. Best of all, every one of the half-amillion railway workers on the payroll, convinced of the ultimate victory of democracy, faces the future with extreme confidence.