Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

War Economy

Railway Staff Shortages

Railway Staff Shortages

As in the 1914–18 war, well over a quarter of all railwaymen enlisted. In June 1940 arrangements were made to provide two Railway Operating Companies for service abroad, and in this page 406 capacity over eight hundred railwaymen served in the Middle East. This, however, represented only a part of the strain on the staff of the Department. Larger numbers of railwaymen enlisted for other types of war service, especially in the Railway Survey Company and in the two Railway Construction Companies.

Some railway work was declared essential in January 1942. In July of that year, the declaration was extended to all railway activities. This was a little late in the day. By March 1942 Railways Department staff had fallen to 86 per cent of its level in September 1939. Staffing difficulties were particularly acute in the workshops, where the numbers, by August 1942, had fallen by a third. The workshops staff had to cope with the manufacture of a wide range of war materials, superimposed on the normal repair and maintenance work essential to keep the railways running.

Staffing difficulties generally were most difficult in February and March 1943. This was a period when the Department was carrying a very heavy load of extra work for the armed forces. In February 1943, nearly seven thousand railwaymen were serving in the Forces, representing 27 per cent of the pre-war staff. The need for replacements had become urgent. Opportunities for women to substitute for men who had joined the services were limited in the railways, where a good deal of the work was unsuitable for women. Women were employed as office and station assistants, on light manual work in stores, and in similar occupations. The number of women on the staff increased from some six hundred in September 1939 to over two thousand by March 1943. With nearly seven thousand men from the Railways serving in the armed forces, still more assistance was needed. Part of the deficiency in staff numbers was made good by the return to work of railway superannuitants, but, in spite of this, total staff was, at March 1943, over three thousand below the pre-war figure.

Towards the end of 1942 some servicemen in New Zealand had been demobilised to meet civilian staff shortages; and the railways received further relief in July 1943 when most of those serving in the Railway Operating Companies returned. Nevertheless, staff was to remain over two thousand lower than before the war for the last three years of war, when the greatest amount of extra work was placed upon the Department.

Considering the exceptionally heavy extra load carried by the railways in the war years and their key position in the transport industry, the degree of manpower protection was quite inadequate. Other countries gave much more protection to their railway systems, as the following table shows:1

1 Parliamentary Paper H–11A, 1946, p. 44.

page 407
Railways Systems Percentage of the Pre-war Strength who were Serving in March 1943
Canada 8.1
Victoria 9.9
New South Wales 11.5
Great Britain 14.5
New Zealand 26.0

The deterioration in the railways staffing position was pointedly brought home to the Government by a Board of Inquiry which reported to the Minister of Railways concerning the derailment of an Upper Hutt - Wellington passenger train in November 1943. The Board said:1

‘The condition of the track cannot be dissociated from the weight and density of the traffic movement upon it, on the one hand, and the available strengths of the maintenance gangs, on the other. It is disquietening, therefore, to find that, against large increases in train-miles, train-loads and gross ton-miles on the Hutt Valley Section from 1938–39 to 1942–43, there has been a marked decrease in the effective man-power of line gangs.

‘It cannot be too emphatically stated that the standards of maintenance of the railway-transport system, whether of track, signals, or locomotive or rolling stock, must be sustained at a high level, and in no circumstances must the level be allowed to fall so low as to jeopardise public safety and the transportation requirements of the national war effort. Our investigation of the circumstances of the present derailment has afforded strong indications of a close approach to such a level, insofar, at all events, as the Hutt Valley track and the work in the repair-shops and in the locomotive running-sheds are concerned, and the position must be regarded as being potentially serious.

‘We very strongly recommend that every effort be made by the Government and the man-power authorities to meet the requirements of the Railways Department for sufficient manpower properly to maintain the permanent-way, locomotives, and other rolling stock.’

1 Report of Board of Inquiry dated 23 December 1943, p. 12. (Copy held by New Zealand Railways Department.)