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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

Railway Committee, 1898

Railway Committee, 1898.

My object in publishing the following correspondence and remarks upon it is to show how determined the Railway Department is, by every means, fair and unfair, to prevent any improvement in the administration of our railways, or any further inquiry into their working.

Early in the last session of Parliament, I again sent in a petition praying for a trial of the Stage System. This, of course, was referred to the Railways Committee, who not only refused to entertain it, but also declined to hear me in its support. In this respect my position is unique, as I believe I am the only page 9 man in New Zealand who has been refused a hearing in support of his own petition. If it had been on some private matter no doubt I should have been heard, but as it was a matter of great public interest, which I am known to have studied closely, the information I had to give was not wanted.

On ascertaining this, I addressed the following letter to the chairman of the committee:—

"Auckland, "The Chairman Railway Committee, Wellington.

"Dear Sir,—So far as I am aware, your name has not been published here, and as you have not thought it necessary to officially advise that you decline to hear me, I have no means of knowing it, and am therefore obliged to address you thus.

"The impression left on my mind by the investigation of 1886 then was, and still is, that at any rate three out of the four departmental officers then examined had no wish to assist the committee to arrive at the truth. Their sole object appeared to be to prove me to be in the wrong. At any rate, subsequent events, and the evidence supplied by their own accountant, have placed me in a position to prove that the committee of 1886 was grossly misled by their evidence.

"One of two things is now quite apparent: either they gave evidence that they knew to be untrue, or they were so ignorant of their own business as to be quite unfit for the posts they occupied. My own belief is that they wilfully misrepresented.

"I regret very much that I should be forced to take up this position. I have had no wish to in any way injure any of the officers of the Department, but as I am driven to it I now say that I am in a position to prove that either through design or ignorance they grossly deceived and misled the committee of 1886. For twelve years I have patiently worked and waited, hoping that one of the numerous Railway Committees set up would do justice to the cause I represent; but I have waited in vain. One and all, they appear to have considered it their business to condemn me unheard.

"I trust you will not think that I wish to treat you or your committee with any disrespect; all I wish is to be placed in a position to elicit the truth. With that object in view I am coming to Wellington.

"I have the honour to be,

"Faithfully yours,

" (Signed)

Samuel Vaile."

On arriving in Wellington I saw the chairman of committee, Mr. fanner, who told me that nothing could be done with my petition. In the course of conversation he informed me that the Hon. Mr. Cadman had placed a notice on the order paper of the committee that he would move that Mr. Vaile be "invited" to page 10 Wellington to explain his system, to the committee, "but," he said, "someone, I do not know who, altered this notice by substituting the word 'allowed' for the word 'invited.' "

The object of this alteration is clear—the intention was, of course, to throw the expense on myself. Had the motion been carried in its altered form I should, I presume, have been told that I could come to Wellington at my own charges. Had I done so no doubt delay upon delay would have been made, great expense piled up upon me, the time of the session got over, and nothing done.

Mr. Tanner also informed me that when the Hon. Mr. Cadman gave notice of his motion, he was careful to impress upon the committee that I was certain to occupy their undivided attention for at least three weeks.

Failing to accomplish anything in the Lower House, I petitioned the Upper. This committee reported against me. The Hon. Mr. McCullough thereupon, on the 18th August, gave notice that on the following Tuesday he would move that the report of the committee on S. Vaile's petition be referred back to the committee for the purpose of taking evidence.

The order paper in this case was also altered by substituting the word Friday for Tuesday, consequently the debate came on at half-a-day's instead of five days' notice. The result was that the Minister and his party were there in full force, the other side had a surprise sprung upon them, and Mr. McCullough's motion was defeated. The Speaker was pressed to say who had altered the notice paper, but of course nobody knew.

On the 3rd November, 1898, I posted the following letter to Messrs. Joseph Prime Maxwell, William Mowatt Hannay, Charles Hudson, and Alexander Grant. These were the departmental officers examined by the special Parliamentary Committee of 1886, ordered to investigate and report on the Stage System.


"Dear Sir,—A gentleman deeply interested in the railway question asked me a few days ago if I had sent you and the other officials interested a copy of the letter I addressed to the Chairman of the Railways Committee on the 23rd July last. He drew my attention to the fact that some of these officials are not now in the service, and, further, he expressed his conviction that from some cause or other none of you could have seen the letter in question.

"In order that nothing may be wanting on my part, I now enclose for you, and shall forward to the others, a copy of the said letter, and shall forward a copy of this to the Minister for Rail-wars. It therefore will not be my fault if you remain under the imputation cast upon you in common with the others.

"I am,

"Faithfully yours,


Samuel Vaile."

page 11
The copy sent to the Minister was enclosed in the following letter:— "Auckland, Hon. A. J. Cadman, Minister for Railways, Wellington.

"Dear Sir,—I herewith enclose copy of a letter I have sent to Messrs. J. P. Maxwell, W. M. Hannay, C. Hudson, and A. Grant.

"I think all honourable men will agree with me that if they are able to clear themselves of the imputation cast upon them, (or their own sakes, and the credit of the Department, they are bound to do so.

"The fact that the officers in question are content to lie under the accusation of giving false evidence, will no doubt be accepted by the, public generally as a proof that they know my contentions as to railway administration are just, right, and financially sound.

"I have the honour to be,

"Faithfully yours,"


Samuel Vaile."

To not one of these letters have I received any reply, not even an acknowledgment of their receipt. This shows that the Department is working: on a concerted plan. The letter sent to the Chairman of the Railways Committee has been published in the "Post" of Wellington, the "Telegraph" of Napier, the "New Zealand Herald," and probably other papers. It has been commented on to my knowledge by the editors of the "New Zealand Herald," the "Telegraph," the "Post," and the "Lyttelton Times," but nothing shames the Railway Department.

The position of the Department then is this. Its chief officers are practically charged with perjury, and they dare not attempt to defend themselves. The Minister at their head dares not call upon them to do so, and the Premier does not dare to order his Minister for Railways to clear his Department of the accusation brought against it.

All New Zealand knows that if they were not certain that I could fully justify the position I have taken up, that they would long since have taken action against me, and would have been the first to demand an inquiry.

Unfortunately, in 1886 I did not know that I could demand to have the evidence taken on oath. Had this been done, it would not have been my fault if some of those concerned had not been called upon to answer a charge of perjury. This is strong language, but I am prepared to justify it. I will give just two instances of the utter disregard for the truth they displayed during this investigation.

Among other things, I claimed that under the Stage System two people could be carried where one is carried now, without appreciably increasing the cost of working. This the officers page 12 stoutly denied. Mr. Hannay (sub-manager) in particular gave strong evidence that it would cost £55,000 per annum extra to double the passenger traffic on the Hurunui-Bluff "main line only from Waikare to Bluff," without "any provision for increased trains on the branches, being nearly half of the whole section," and that they would require to run 312,000 extra train miles per annum.

This is Mr. Hannay's statement. See Parliamentary Paper, I., 9., 1886, Questions and Answers 515-519.

The following evidence given by Mr. Hannay is also worthy of note:—

601. Mr. Vaile (to Mr. Hannay): Do you consider that our rolling-stock is now fully employed?—Certainly not; that is to say, every waggon and every carriage is not run every day full.

602. Nor anything like full?—No.

603. Do you think they run half full, taking the rolling-stock all round?—It is fairly employed. In order to give a definite answer to this I might say that the average number of passengers which are carried on the Hurunui-Bluff line is seven to each carriage.

604. That shows they are not a quarter full?—Yes; but you must not entertain the idea, that I do not think the carriages are not fairly employed.

605. You say that the average is seven to a carriage?—Yes.

Most of these carriages are capable of seating 40 passengers, and Mr. Hannay thinks them "fairly employed" when only carrying seven.

Soon after giving this evidence he was appointed one of our Railway Commissioners, and then this is what happened:—

During their five years' term of office as Commissioners they actually did an extra business that was equal to carrying an average of five million one hundred and seventy-eight thousand (5,178,000) passengers per annum.

They also during this period worked on an average 200 more miles of railway per annum than was open during the previous five years.

To do this large amount of extra work they found it necessary to increase the working expenses only £28,878, and the train mileage only 22,457 miles per annum.*

To repeat a little, as this is important:—

In 1885 the average cost of working each mile of railway was £480. Two hundred miles at £480 per mile is £96,000, but the Commissioners only spent £29,000 per annum extra, so we see that if their former expenditure was necessary, that page 13 while these gentlemen were irresponsible Commissioners, for the sake of making it appear that they earned a trifle more interest, they starved our railways to the extent of £70,000 per annum, and in addition they further pressed them to an extent equal to carrying 5,200,000 extra passengers per annum.

In 1885 the average number of train miles run on every mile of railway open was 1,951. This, for 200 extra miles, would involve 390,200 extra train miles per annum, but the Commissioners contrived to get through with only 22,457 extra miles, and also did the extra work mentioned above.

These, then, are the indisputable facts, and yet Mr. Hannay had the unblushing effrontery to tell the Railway Committee of 1886 that merely to carry another 1,500,000 passengers on the best-constructed line in the colony would cost £55,000, and necessitate running 312,000 extra train miles.

I ask, is it possible that, such evidence could have been given honestly?

At any rate, I may now without presumption claim that I, the "amateur," knew far better what could be done on a railway than the so-called "experts" did.

Before leaving this part of the subject, I may point out that the above statement clearly proves that the late Commissioners are responsible for the present dilapidated state of our railways, only we were mad enough to make them irresponsible, so we must suffer without redress. I know enough of railway working to be aware that to work another 200 miles of railway, and to carry another 5,000,000 passengers, would add greatly more than £29,000 to the working expenses, if it were done honestly.

It would be interesting to know how Mr. Hannay reconciles actual work done as a Commissioner with his evidence given as a sub-manager, and it is to save him and others from having to answer awkward questions like this that I am not to be allowed to be again heard.

* The actual average annual increase of work done was as follows:—300 miles more of railway were open and worked; 298,277 more passengers were carried; 325,292 more tons of goods and live stock were carried. The tonnage and extra passengers actually carried are equal to 5,177,657 extra passengers, and there were the 200 extra miles of railway to he worked in addition.