Report of the railway timetable commission

In late 1919 a royal commission investigated why a coal-saving railway timetable had been introduced in July that year. It found that ‘the curtailment to train services’ was caused solely by the shortage of coal, and its report outlined the reasons for the shortage.

The 1919 coal shortage

When the First World War broke out, New Zealand was still very dependent on coal. As well as being widely used for heating and cooking, coal powered the railways and shipping, the main means of transporting goods and people throughout the country. It also fuelled gas and steam plants, which generated electricity for many households and industries. Difficulties maintaining a sufficient supply of coal for these services began almost immediately after the declaration of war. Internal production was disrupted by a shortage of miners and strike action, while coal could not be imported because of a shortage of shipping and heavy demand in other countries. The problems maintaining supply were compounded by increased demand for coal from the military. After the influenza pandemic struck New Zealand in October 1918 the coal shortage worsened. Mining areas were badly affected, leaving the workforce even more depleted, and quarantine regulations further disrupted shipping.

In late June 1919 the government introduced a number of measures to address the worsening crisis. The working hours of public servants were cut to reduce the need for heating, and restrictions were placed on coal consumption during the July 1919 peace celebrations. The most severe measure was a coal-saving railway timetable that saw train services cut to a bare minimum. The timetable was in force from 2 July until 27 September, by which time coal supplies were improving. But it was not until December 1919 that a full pre-war timetable was reintroduced.

Community contributions

No comments have been posted about Report of the railway timetable commission

What do you know?