Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/52

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42
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

tical genius made the realization of the idea possible. Railways add enormously to the national wealth. More than twenty-five years ago it was proved, to the satisfaction of a committee of the House of Commons, that the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway effected a saving to the public using the railway of more than the whole amount of the dividend which was received by the proprietors. These calculations were based solely on the amount of traffic carried by the railway and on the difference between the railway rate of charge and the charges by the modes of conveyance anterior to railways. No credit whatever was taken for the saving of time, though in England preeminently time is money. Considering that railway charges on many items have been considerably reduced since that day, it may be safely assumed that the railways in the British Islands now produce, or rather save to the nation, a much larger sum annually than the gross amount of all the dividends payable to the proprietors, without at all taking into account the benefit arising from the saving in time. The benefits under that head defy calculation, and cannot with any accuracy be put into money; but it would not be at all over-estimating this question to say that in time and money the nation gains at least what is equivalent to ten per cent, on all the capital expended on railways. It follows that, whenever a railway can be made at a cost to yield the ordinary interest of money, it is in the national interest that it should be made. Further, that, though its cost might be such as to leave a smaller dividend than that to its proprietors, the loss of wealth to so small a section of the community will be more than supplemented by the national gain, and therefore there may be cases where a government may wisely contribute in some form to undertakings which, without such aid, would fail to obtain the necessary support. And so some countries—Russia, for instance—to which improved means of transport are of vital importance, have wisely, in my opinion, caused lines to be made which, having regard to their own expenditure and receipts, would be unprofitable works, but in a national point of view are or speedily will be highly advantageous.

A question more important probably in the eyes of many—safety of railway-traveling—may not be inappropriate. At all events, it is well that the elements on which it depends should be clearly understood. It will be thought that longer experience in the management of railways should go to insure greater safety, but there are other elements of the question which go to counteract this in some degree. The safety of railway-traveling depends on the perfection of the machine in all its parts, including the whole railway, with its movable plant, in that term; it depends also on the nature and quantity of traffic; and, lastly, on human care and attention. With regard to what is human, it may be said that so many of these accidents as arise from the fallibility of men will never be eliminated until the race be improved. The liability to accident will also increase with the speed,