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How Well Do We Know People In Our Community?

June 13, 2022 June 2022 No Comments

Seamus O’Sullivan 

With a name like Seamus O’Sullivan there must be an Irish connection. Yes. His father emigrated from Cork to NZ.

At age 16, I found myself a job as a porter carrying suitcases to the Southerner”. I remember that my mother cried when she heard what I had done, expressing “That no son of mine will work on the railways”.

Following that I worked at most stations South of Dunedin learning everything I could. I studied and sat exams which provided an opportunity for early promotion.  In 1975 I became Stationmaster Middlemarch, becoming the youngest in NZ – not even old enough to drink at the pub!!!!!  

A move to Train Control in Greymouth followed in 1977. My job was to manage the safe operation of trains, including those crossing the Taramakau combined road and rail bridge.

“Railways” was a big business with over 23,000 employees and as many wagons. There were workers in the workshops, track and mechanical maintenance, engine-drivers, guards, track gangers and office workers.

In 1980 I returned to Dunedin and 5 years later moved to Wellington where my career really took off, eventually leading to me becoming GM Operations, responsible for over 2,500 employees. 

In 1986 ‘Railways’ became an SOE, signalling several years of restructuring and downsizing. During this period workshops were closed and scaled back in Addington, Whanganui and Dunedin. Track maintenance was overhauled with the introduction of ‘continuous welded rail’ requiring significantly less track workers.

By 1990 NZ Rail Ltd was regarded as one of the best “small railroads” in the world. 

Within the next 10 years NZ Rail became Tranz Rail and was privatised and sold to an American led consortium. This resulted in further restructuring, including out-sourcing of maintenance functions to outside companies.  By 1995 there were less than 4,000 people employed by Tranz Rail Ltd.  

We were pretty much ‘bought to our knees” by 2002, by large share-holders demanding far more dividends than the capability of the business could provide. Thankfully, the Australian transporter, Toll initiated a ‘takeover bid ’for the business and an arrangement was made whereby the government owned and maintained the tracks while Toll owned, operated and maintained the above rail assets.

By 2006, “the Interislander” business was in trouble with its regulators following four years of being remotely (and badly) managed from Australia. I was asked to step-in and manage the business back to its former glory, becoming its Group General Manager. During the next three years the Kaitaki was acquired, the Arahura underwent a considerable upgrade and the Aratere’s reliability, safety and crew relations improved markedly.    

In 2008 the Government decided that it should again own the “railway”, including its ships. It was at this stage that retirement seemed like a good idea and following a 6-month handover, I retired in 2009. 

Following a stint in Taupo, we discovered the Wairarapa, moving here in 2021. We love the small village appeal. It is now definitely home.

Lyle Griffiths

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