31 July 2010

Travelling rough on New Zealand railways

Countries where the railway came late seemed to lag well behind in provision for passengers. A journalist travelling on New Zealand's first major railway in 1864 reported how he and fellow passengers were 'politely requested by the guard to leave the carriage and help to push the carriage and engine to the summit of the bank ... and on returning to our seats, the guard promptly collected 2s 6d from us as our fares!'

The accommodation on the trains was a throwback to the Europe of thirty years before: 'The standard carriages of the 1870s were tiny four and six wheel boxes with rigid axles, longitudinal (lengthways) bench seats and gloomy colza-oil lamps. Heating, toilets and passageways between carriages were non-existent'. There were only two classes but despite paying 50 percent extra, first-class passengers were in the same carriages separated only by a partition and benefited only 'from horsehair cushions, coir floor mats, brass spittoons and the "quality" of one's travelling companions'.

An English visitor described it as barely up to second class back home but far slower since the trains averaged 20 mph.

- Christian Wolmar, Blood, Iron & Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World, London, 2009

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