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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Have We Sufficient Population?

Have We Sufficient Population?

Fairly beaten on every point of the argument, our late Railway Commissioners say that the new system must fail in New Zealand for two reasons. First, we have not sufficient population, and second, people do not want to travel and will not travel no matter what facilities may be given or inducements offered. They stoutly affirm that two fares would not be taken where one is taken now. Of course, these are safe assertions to make seeing that nothing but actual trial can prove their incorrectness or otherwise.

In support of their first assertion they have produced elaborate papers to show, what we already knew, that New Zealand does not possess such a dense population per square mile as many other countries, and they have especially drawn comparisons between this country and Hungary. They, how-ever, have forgotten this important fact, that nearly the whole of our population is located on the sea shore and in the immediate neighbourhood of our railways, and it is probable that in relation to railways our population is more dense than that of Hungary. If we take the entire population, as shown by the page 53 census of 1891, of the following twenty-five (25) counties:—Mongonui, Whangaroa, Hokianga, Hobsou, Rodney, Otania-tea, Coromandel, Ohinemuri, Tauranga, Whakatane, Rotorua, Kast Taupo, Waiapu, Cook, Sounds, Kaikoura, Collingwood, Inangahua, Amuri, Cheviot, Maniatoto, Vincent, Lake, Fiord, and Stewart Island, and if we add to these half the population of the Bay of Islands and Whangarei Counties, half of the Thames County and Borough, and half of the entire population of the Taranaki Province (in all these last four there are railway's running), all these united contain only ten point two (10.2) per cent, of the white population of New Zealand. This shows not only what a very small proportion of our population is removed from proximity to our railways, but it also shows what a very feeble influence they have exercised in the distribution of population.

As a matter of fact our railways were not built in the right positions to, or with the view of opening up and settling the country. They were built more with the object of competing for the existing coastal and river traffic, and that has always been the policy pursued. The first consideration was, and is, to make them pay interest on the cost of construction.

If I am asked where the population is to come from to give the requisite two fares for the one taken now, my reply is, from the seventy-five per cent, of our population who now practically make no use of our railways, but who would certainly make great use of them if they could.

Where did the population in Hungary come from to give them the three fares they now get for the one obtained under the old system? Did the Government import them? Certainly not. They were there already, and as soon as facilities were given them they moved. So it would be here. Give the people facilities and they will move fast enough. The late Commissioners and their friends deny this, and say that two fares will not be taken instead of the one now. It therefore becomes a question whose opinion should be taken, that of the two gentlemen* who have been repeatedly proved to be wrong, or the opinion of the five who so far have always been found to he right. Messrs. Conyers, Stoddart, Moody, and Edmonds all in the most positive manner asserted their belief that the new system would increase the passenger traffic two hundred per cent. These are all practised and competent men, and they have thoroughly studied the new system. I also have always asserted that the least result would be an increase of two hundred per cent.

We therefore on the one side have five men who, after the page 54 most patient investigation, say that the new system for the same expenditure will increase the passenger traffic of the colony at least two hundred per cent, and, on the other, we have two officials who in all that they have written and said have given abundant proof that they know nothing about it, who say that it will mean loss of revenue and no increase of trade. Again I ask, which side is most entitled to credence? In this connection I may mention that Mr. Hannay gave evidence that on the Hurunui-Bluff section, which is two-thirds of the whole of our railways, the average number of seats occupied per carriage was seven only, whereas they were capable of carrying forty.

In view of the support given to the new system by Parliament, the Press, and the community generally, the determined opposition of the railway officials is, to say the least, remarkable, and it does not appear to arise from a regard for public interests.

Many people say to me, 'You want a thickly populated country for your system.' 'Yes,' I reply, 'London, I suppose, would be right.' 'Certainly, see the enormous population you would have to work upon; it must succeed there.' 'Yes, I believe you are right, it would succeed, but as regards finance, which is what you are thinking of, it would be a far greater success here.' Many years ago I have stood at Farringdon Street Station and watched them despatch trains at one and a-half minutes' interval, and I am told that now they are sent away every half minute. What does this mean? It means that those lines are taxed to their utmost carrying capacity, and that in order to double the traffic they must double their lines, double their rolling stock, and double their staff and working expenses.

Now in this country neither our lines nor our rolling stock are a quarter utilised, and we could easily treble our traffic without perceptibly increasing our working expenses. My system was specially designed to meet the requirements of a sparsely populated country, and in such a country it will give the best financial results.

* One of these gentlemen (Mr. Maxwell) when he first committed himself to this statement had little, if any, more knowledge of railway management than I had. It was then a new study both to him and to me.