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War Economy

Shortages of Hard Coal

Shortages of Hard Coal

It had been common before the war for coal production to exceed demand, and a good deal of attention had been given to finding uses for the coal which was being mined. The war changed this, to the extent that in the years 1940 to 1945 there was an acute shortage of coal. This shortage, mainly of bituminous coal, was accentuated as imports from Australia fell away under war conditions. By 1943 coal imports, which stood at 112,000 tons in 1939, had fallen to 37,000 tons, and in 1944 and 1945 there were no coal imports at all.

The reduction in imported supplies of hard coal had to be made good from local production and, if demand was to be fully met, it had to be made good in the best quality bituminous coal. In the event, users tended to be supplied with lower grades of coal than previously. The railways found that, because of the decreasing proportion of hard coal, even greater quantities of coal were required to provide the necessary locomotive running. Similarly, in gasworks more coal was required to give comparable results.

The proportion of soft coal used by the railways increased from 41 per cent in 1939 to 64 per cent in 1945. With the lower efficiency of this type of coal, the average amount used for each engine mile increased by a quarter, from 64 lb per engine mile in 1939 to 80 lb in 1945.

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Coal production by 1945 was 21 per cent above that of 1939. Even with the complete loss of the imports from Australia, the quantity of coal available for use in New Zealand increased 17 per cent over this period. However, with the imports from Australia not being reproduced in kind, there was a fall in the quality of coal available. Local production of bituminous coal not only failed to replace the loss of Australian imports, but, in spite of a short spurt in the early war years, actually fell by 8 per cent over the period 1939 to 1945. Moreover, with decreased supplies of oil fuels, electric supply restrictions and increased wartime demands for factory output and rail services, the demand for coal increased much more than 17 per cent.