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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Brief History of the Railway Reform Movement in New Zealand

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Brief History of the Railway Reform Movement in New Zealand.

The Stage System of railway administration was invented by Samuel Vaile in 1882, and first laid before the public in a letter to the Editor in the 'New Zealand Herald' of the 3rd January, 1883.

A long newspaper controversy immediately followed.

On the 4th July, 1883, Mr. J. A. Tole, M.H.R., asked the Minister for Public Works if he was prepared to give Mr. Vaile's system a fair trial. He replied that he was not prepared to do so.

On 12th November Mr. Vaile read a paper on 'Our Railways' before the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute. This immediately commanded attention, and was reproduced in most of the leading papers of the colony.

On July 29th, 1884, Mr. Vaile delivered his first lecture on Railway Reform in the Lorne Street Hall.

On 9th October, 1884, Messrs. W. R. Moody (formerly of Great Northern line, England), James Stodart (of Swindon district, Great Western), and T. D. Edmonds (Great Western and Hurunui—Bluff) signed a certificate to the effect that they had carefully examined Mr. Vaile's system, and that its adoption would lead to greatly increased traffic and revenue.

At the same time, and without knowing what these gentlemen were doing, Mr. W. Conyers (formerly Commissioner South Island Railways) wrote from Invercargill to the same effect.

On December, 1884, on the invitation of the Tamahere Farmers' Club, Mr. Vaile went to the Waikato and lectured at Tamahere, Hamilton, Cambridge, Te Awamutu, and Alexandra.

On March, 1885, Mr. Vaile left Auckland, and commencing at Napier, lectured in all the chief Southern towns as far as Invercargill, going down one coast and returning by the other. He was everywhere well received, the Mayor of the city in each case presiding.

On May, 1885, the first New Zealand Railway Reform League was formed in the Waikato.

On the 8th July, 1885, Mr. Samuel, M.H.R., asked the Minister of Public Works whether Mr. Samuel Vaile's proposals had been considered by the Government. The Minister, the Hon. E. Richardson, replied that Mr. Vaile had proposed page 10 so many schemes that it was impossible to say if they had all been considered. As a matter of fact Mr. Vaile has never proposed any but the one scheme.

In August, 1885, petitions from all parts of the colony, and signed by many thousands of citizens, were sent to Parliament, praying that a Royal Commission might be appointed to investigate and report upon Mr. Vaile's proposals.

On 28th May, 1886, a Parliamentary Committee was appointed, consisting of Hon. Major Atkinson, ex-Premier, Hon. E. Richardson, Minister Public Works, Hon. Mr. Macandrew, ex-Minister Public Works, Hon. Mr. Ormond, ex-Minister Public Works, Hou. E. Mitchelson, ex-Minister Public Works, Mr. Gore, Mr. Hatch, Mr. Walker, Mr. O'Connor, and Mr. J. B. Whyte, M.H.R's.

This Committee commenced its sittings on the 2nd June, and concluded on the 11th August.

Mr. Joseph Prime Maxwell, General Manager New Zealand Railways, conducted the case on behalf of the department, and Mr. Vaile conducted it on his own side. All the chief officers of the department were examined and cross-examined, as were also the witnesses produced by Mr. Vaile. The Minister and the officers offered the most strenuous opposition, but the Committee reported that the new system ought to be tried.

The minutes of evidence and report of this Committee form Parliamentary paper, 1—9, 1886.

During the session of 1886 numerous petitions were sent to Parliament, praying that 'Vaile's system' might be tried.

During the session of 1887 nearly every local governing body in the colony sent petitions to Parliament, praying that 'Vaile's system' might be tried.

On 23rd June, 1887, Mr. J. Aitkin Connell, Public Accountant, wrote saying he had carefully examined Mr. Vaile's financial calculations and found them to be sound.

In 1887 Mr. Vaile contested the seat for Auckland North, but lost it by 35 votes, 36 votes having been thrown out, said to be informal.

In the session of 1887 the Government Railways Bill, vesting the railways of the colony in three absolutely irresponsible Commissioners, was passed. A great effort was made to get a clause inserted in this Bill providing for a trial of the new system. The Minister (Hon. E. Mitchelson) offered a most determined opposition and carried his point.

In August, 1887, the Whangarei-Kamo line being in a state of utter collapse the department applied the Stage system to it, with the result that both traffic and revenue largely and immediately increased.

In August, 1888, a number of leading Auckland citizens joined Mr. Vaile in making an offer to the Government to lease the Auckland section of railways for five years, for the purpose page 11 of trying the new system. They offered to give substantial guarantees that they would maintain the lines in good order, under the supervision of the departmental officers, pay an increased revenue to the Government, give reduced rates to the public, and after the first year hand back the lines in good order on a six months' notice to do so. This offer was somewhat curtly refused.

On 28th January, 1889, the railways of the colony were handed over to the irresponsible Board to deal with as they pleased. To readers outside the colony this will appear incredible, but it is a fact! The Commission was composed of Mr. J. McKerrow (lately Chief Surveyor), Mr. J. P. Maxwell and Mr. Hannay (lately General Manager and sub-Manager.) As the two latter gentlemen were the avowed and most bitter enemies of the reform movement this was a great blow to it.

In August, 1889, the Hungarian Government commenced to work their railways on the 'Zone' system. This is supposed to be an adaptation—Mr. Vaile says a very faults-adaptation—of his stage system. It is certain that the late Baron Hubner was in New Zealand while Mr. Vaile was arguing his case before the Parliamentary Committee. This system has shown increasingly good results.

In September, 1889, the New Zealand Railway Reform League was formed. This comprises the most influential Auckland citizens.

In 1890 the Auckland Chamber of Commerce appointed a special Committee of seven—Captain W. C. Daldy, Messrs. J. Reid, N. A. Nathan, J. Russell, Gilmour, W. Lodder, and S. Vaile—to deal with railway matters. This Committee reported to the Chamber that, in their opinion, no financial loss could result from trying the new system.

In the session of 1890 further petitions, numerously signed, were presented to Parliament, praying for a trial of the new system. As a result another Committee of inquiry was appointed. After a great deal of delay the Chairman (Mr. Harkness), took the unusual course of asking Mr. Vaile to send his evidence in writing. Mr. Vaile refused to move in the matter unless he was allowed to conduct his case in person. When this Committee presented their report Mr. T. Thompson moved: 'That the report be referred back to the Committee for reconsideration, and to take further evidence.' Motion lost by 41 to 24.

In the session of 1891 Mr. W. L. Rees moved: (1) 'That seeing it is a matter of paramount importance to secure the most efficient method of administering the railways of the colony, this House is of opinion that the Vaile system should be fairly tried, prior to the expiration of the Government Railways Act of 1887.' (2) 'That the said system should be page 12 tried on the Auckland railways under the direct supervision of Mr. Samuel Vaile.' Motion lost by majority of 9 (34 to 25.)

In the Public Works Statement of 1892 the Hon. Mr. Seddon stated: 'The returns from the working of our railways do not show at all a satisfactory condition of affairs, and the representations of Mr. Samuel Vaile, of Auckland, as to the working of the new system, indicate that, at no distant date, possibly on the expiry of the Commissioners' term of office, it might be as well that a trial of this system should be made on our railways.'

On the 16th March, 1893, Mr. Vaile was presented with a handsome service of plate, and also a fire-proof safe to keep the records in, in recognition of his services in the cause of Railway Reform. The presentation was made by Sir George Grey, K.C.B., who, with the other speakers, warmly eulogised Mr. Vaile for the ability, energy, and patriotism he had displayed.

In the session of 1893 petitions were sent to Parliament asking that Mr. Vaile might be heard at the bar of the House in support of his railway scheme. The Public Petitions' Committee reported in favour, but the Government declined to call Mr. Vaile.

When the Government Railway Bill of 1893 was in Committee, Mr. T. Thompson moved a new clause, providing that 'a trial be given to Vaile's system on the Auckland or other section of the New Zealand Railways.' Lost by majority of 12; voting, 37 to 25.

In November, 1893, Mr. Vaile again contested a seat in the House, but was again defeated.