THE RAILWAY COMMISSION’S REPORT.
The report of the Railway Commission is now before the House. After some introductory remarks, the Commisiouers say that the limited time at their disposal prevented them from following the entire route of every projected line of railway in the colony, of which flying surveys have been made, but their personal observation of the various districts has qualified them to understand and clearly appreciate the weight of evidence given by the settlers who came before them in the various districts. They then go on to remark : At the .outset of our investigations we were met by the fact that the already constructed railways of New Zealand do not, as a whole, yield returns sufficient to pay half the interest upon their cost, and we felt it necessary before we could take upon ourselves the responsibility of recommending an extension of existing, or the construction of new lines, that we should endeavor to learn the causes to which this unsatisfactory state of things was attributable, and the extent to which the causes may be prevented or the operations modified. One leading cause was sufficiently apparent. We refer to the making of railways in some parts of the colony far in advance of existing settlement, and consequently of an amount of traffic adequate to their support. In Great Britain the population to each mile of railway is 1901, in the United States it is 800, New South Wales, 1,108, Victoria, 924, while in New Zealand wo have only a population of 382 to each mile of railway already made. It should, however, be borne in mind, in consideration of these figures, that our exports per head of population are much larger than those of the neighboring colonies, and that the country traversed by the railways of New Zealand is generally of a more fertile character than that served by the lines of Victoria and New South Wales, and is therefore calculated to provide a greater amount of traffic per mile of railway, although more thinly peopled. We are led to the conclusion that the present expenditure may be largly diminished by converting many small and unremunerative stations to flag stations, by greatly reducing the train mileage on many lines, and smaller branches especially, and by making the rates of wages more in accordance with those paid by private employers of labor in the colony. All the heavy and almost all the paying traffic of the branch lines in purely agricultural and pastoral districts is confined to the grain and wool seasons, which are almost concurrent, and during what may be termed the dull season, comprising about six months in each year, trains running during three or four days in each week would in our opinion meet the requirements of the traffic. Our recommendation in reference to train mileage in short amounts to this that the running of trains should everywhere be reduced to a number that will actually pay. The receipts of revenue upon the working railways are an element in the question of profit and loss. On comparing tlie railway tariff of New Zealand with those of the Australian colonies, we find that while the average of rates charged upon the Australian railways for haulage of wool and agricultural produce is somewhat lower than the rates on these commodities current in New Zealand, on the other hand the average Australian rate for minerals (a term which serves to_ include coal, building stone, bones, bricks, clay, lime, and road .metal) is higher than the New Zealand rate to the following extent : —First 10 miles, 80 per cent, higher ; from 10 to 50 miles, 9 per cent ; from 50 to 100 miles, 47 per cent. ; from 100 to 150 miles, 80 percent. ; or taking coal itself the first 10 miles, 1C per cent, higher ; from 10 to 50 miles, 11J per cent. ; from 50 to 100 miles, 33 per cent.; from 100 to 150, 68 per cent. With respect to timber, the evidence we have taken leads irresistibly to the conclusion that whenever that product is carried under the existing tariff for a distance exceeding seventy-five miles it is so carried at an absolute loss, and when at the same time the haulage is over heavy grades the cost to the colony amounts to 50s. for every 20s. received to the credit of the railway account. We desire to express or firm conviction that maintenance of uniform scales of charges .applicable to every railway in every part of the colony, without regard to the amount of business to be done, cost of service performed, or amount and nature of the competition to be overcome is absolutely incompatible with favorable traffic. We urge, therefore, most strongly that the tystem of uniform tariffs should be abolished, and the railways conducted upon commercial principles—that is to say, by charging for each rate proportionate to the cost of that particular service upon that particular line, varied from time to time as competition shall increase or diminsh. We are of opinion that the constructed railways of New Zealand should not continue to be as at present under the management of commissioners, subject to the control of the Public Works Minister, and we recommend that in the place of that . system a Beard be appointed, consisting of men of knowledge and business habits, free from political influence, and having as nearly as may be the same status and holding the same powers and exercising the same functions as a Board of Directors of the English railway companies. LOCAL RAILWAYS. Regarding the railways affecting this district, the report of the Royal Commission says
‘ ‘ Timvald to Mount Somers. —This bran oh is already in progress. The cost [of the extension] would be small, and it will serve a large agricultural district, and at the same time open a coal mine and stone quarry at Mount Somers, which would, it may fairly be calculated, bring considerable traffic to the line.
“ Coalyata to Temulca. —lts construction would entail very heavy expenditure in bridging the Selwyn, the Rakaia, four branches of the Ashburton, the Hinds, the Rangitata, the Orari, and some minor streams. The traffic over it would, in our opinion, bo small in proportion to the cost of the work, and the districts through which it would pass are already to a great extent served by the existing branch lines. Any further development of those districts would, we are convinced, be more economically and more effectually promoted by the formation of additional branch lines, and the extension of existing ones, as the expenditure becomes warranted by the progress of settlement in the back country.
‘ ‘ CoahjatetoEakaia Gorge. —The line from Homebush to the Hororata cannot be recommended as part of the proposed Canterbury interior main line, which as a
whole we altogether condemn ; but an extension of the White Cliffs branch to the Gorge of Rakaia will hereafter be desirable, with a view to its ultimate coi> tinuation to the Acheson coal fields, which are the most valuable yet found on the eastern side of the Middle Island. As regards the alternative routes by way of the Wairiri Valley and Hororaia Downs, the balance of advantages and disadvantages in each case is nearly equal.. The Hororata route would serve the largest number of settlers, and would also be the cheaper to construct ; while that by the Wairi Valley is shorter and would open up some seams of brown coal of the same quality as that obtained at Glentunnel. We consider the latter to be the preferable route : but as we do not recommend the early construction of either line, and as the circumstances may materially change before a final decision upon this point will bo required, we do not think it necessary to enter more fully into that part of the subject. . - ' . ‘ ‘ Soiithhridfje to Malcaia and Water ton. —We think it desirable that the work should not be undertaken.”
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