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War Economy

New Zealand Railways

New Zealand Railways

For New Zealand's state-owned railways, the war brought a much heavier load of passenger and goods traffic, to be handled by a page 405 depleted staff, whose efficiency was hampered by shortages of suitable types of coal to fuel locomotives, then almost entirely coal-burning.

For every three passengers carried by rail in 1939, five were being carried in 1944 and, in terms of ton-miles, goods and livestock carried increased by some 45 per cent over the same period. Engine mileage increased by nearly one-fifth.

The extra organisation involved was greater than would be indicated by these figures. During the war thirty-two thousand special trains were provided to move troops, and over seventeen million individual journeys for members of the Armed Forces were made on these trains. Many other special trains were arranged to carry munitions and other war materials. With the build-up in numbers in the armed forces serving in New Zealand to meet the possibility of Japanese invasion, the extra strain on the railways became particularly severe. In each of the years 1940–41 and 1941–42, rather more than one million troop movements had been arranged on special trains, but in 1942–43 and again in 1943–44 the numbers were over five million, and in 1944–45 over four million.

In addition, the railways workshops, as befitted the largest mechanical engineering establishment in New Zealand, played an important part in the manufacture of war materials such as Bren-gun carriers, trench mortars, bomb casings and camp equipment. All this was essential work, but work which, with a depleted staff, made it more difficult to keep up to date with maintenance of railway rolling stock.

The 1946 report of the Railways Department1 makes reference to some of the resulting backlogs of normal work:

‘Programmes for the building of locomotives and rolling stock of all types have of course been seriously interrupted during the war years. The interruption has been felt very keenly in the case of open type LA2 waggons. During the years 1942 to 1945 inclusive, there would have been constructed in normal times an average of 700 LA waggons per annum, while actually none were constructed during the years 1942 to 1944 and only 130 in 1945.’

1 Parliamentary Paper D–2, p. 3.

2 This is a high-sided open four-wheeled steel waggon.