Subsidiary Transport Operations
The non-railway activities of New Zealand Railways embrace transport by sea, by road, and by air. As a shipowner, the Railways Department has been in business since 1902 when it acquired the fleet operated by the Lake Wakatipu Shipping Co. In 1962 it entered the coastal trade with a new “roll-on”, “roll-off” vehicular ferry, the Aramoana, plying between Wellington and Picton. This 4,160-ton diesel-electric vessel serves as a floating bridge between the North and South Islands and has relieved the Department of much of the inconvenience of operating what virtually amounted to two separate railway systems, one for each island. Carrying both railway wagons and motor vehicles, the Aramoana is manned and operated for the Department by the Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand Ltd. So successful has this venture proved that a second vessel, named Aranui, was placed in service early in 1966.
An earlier link between these two sections of railway was the Rail-Air freight service, which the Department inaugurated in 1947 as a means of accelerating the inter-Island transfer of rail freight. In 1951 the Department engaged an aerial contractor to provide and fly the aircraft; at the same time a mechanical system of loading and unloading was devised. This venture has been an outstanding commercial success and at the end of 1961 six Bristol Freighter aircraft were carrying inter-Island rail freight over Cook Strait at the rate of more than 50,000 tons annually. One of the few air-freight services to be operated by a railway administration in any part of the world, Rail-Air is today regarded as a very efficient undertaking. Although the actual aircraft operation is carried out under contract by a private company, Straits Air Freight Express Ltd., the Department handles all freight and arranges for the loading of the aircraft.
The Railways Department is the largest operator of road vehicles in the country, and the Road Services Branch has been in existence since 1926, when several competitive bus services were purchased. The genesis of railway-owned road services, however, was 1907, when the Department began a bus service between Culverden Railway Station and Hanmer Springs, in Canterbury. Today the Road Services Branch runs over more than 5,000 miles of routes in both islands, providing long-distance motor coach, suburban omnibus, rural passenger, and freight services. The fleet consists of more than a thousand vehicles.
Over the years rail transport has contributed greatly to New Zealand's transition from colonial outpost to progressive nation, and there is no reason to doubt that in the future New Zealand Railways will continue to play a prominent part in the economic development of the country.
by Albert Noel Palmer, Assistant Publicity Manager, New Zealand Government Railways, Wellington.