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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




In a normal year's operations New Zealand Railways carry nearly 50 million passengers by rail, road, and lake steamer. An analysis of passenger traffic during the year ended 31 March 1965 shows that 2.8 million passengers travelled by long-distance trains and railcars, and 22.3 million by suburban trains in the Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin districts. N.Z.R. Road Services carried 23.0 million passengers – 14.0 million on suburban omnibuses and a further 9.0 million on long-distance coaches.

The Cook Strait rail-road ferry vessel Aramoana conveyed 206,712 passengers between the North and South Islands, and on Lake Wakatipu the veteran steamship Earnslaw carried a further 25,432.

Long-distance rail-passenger traffic, which for many years fell steadily in the face of competition from private motorcars, bus services, and airlines, appears to be becoming stabilised as a result of improved services, concession fares, and more aggressive promotion. Much lost traffic could undoubtedly be regained, and new traffic won, with the aid of thoroughly modern equipment and facilities. A great deal has been achieved in recent years, but a considerable leeway has to be made up. For example, no new passenger coaches have been built for Main Trunk express trains since 1945, and some innovations such as air conditioning and on-train refreshment facilities, regarded as essentials in other countries, are not yet provided in New Zealand.

Like the railroads of America, the railways of New Zealand are primarily freight carriers. Indeed, more than 90 per cent of their operating revenue comes from goods and livestock traffic. During 1964–65 more than 11.2 million tons of freight and 6.6 million head of livestock were transported over an average distance of 119 miles. Raw materials for farms and industries – in the form of coal, lime, fertiliser, timber, and cement – constitute almost half the total freight traffic. Other important commodities are the products of the land – dairy produce, wool, grain, fruit, vegetables, and meat. Destined for both domestic consumption and for export, these commodities add up to over 1 ½ million tons a year. A sign of the times is the gradual falling off in the quantity of coal and grain carried by rail, and substantial increases in the tonnages of manures and timber. Timber has become one of the most important individual commodities handled, particularly since the establishment of pulp and paper mills at Kinleith and Kawerau. Whereas in 1946 timber represented only 7 ½ per cent of the total tonnage, in 1965 it represented 21 per cent.

Merchandise and general goods constitute approximately a quarter of the total tonnage. An important development in the transport of this class of freight has been the institution of the bulk-tonnage system, which is a means whereby large firms and forwarding agents, who can provide regular traffic in wagonload quantities, are encouraged to use rail transport for inter-city freight movements at adjusted or compensating freight rates.

Classification of Freight Traffic

(Year Ended 31 March 1965)
Commodity Tons Carried Percentage of Total Tonnage
Animals 483,554 4.12
Cement 313,524 2.67
Coal 1,707,312 14.56
Dairy produce 261,274 2.23
Dairy by-products 155,772 1.33
Fats, hides, and skins 78,415 0.67
Fish 5,221 0.04
Fruit and vegetables 66,858 0.56
Grain and seeds 261,042 2.23
Lime 192,370 1.64
Logs, ex Murupara 1,125,666 9.60
Manures 1,324,391 11.30
Meal 92,364 0.79
Meat 541,074 4.61
Miscellaneous 2,915,945 24.98
Petroleum products 418,881 3.57
Road materials 57,575 0.49
Root crops and fodder 103,950 0.89
Timber 860,792 7.34
Timber pulp products 494,657 4.22
Wool 252,478 2.16
11,713,115 100.00
Local haulage 244,656
Road traffic, door-to-door 13,863