A History of Inland Transport and Communication in England/Chapter 27

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[ 385 ]



To say that the railways have revolutionised trade and industries would be simply to repeat one of the commonplaces of modern economic history. Taking the general statement for granted, I would invite the reader to look a little more closely at some of the actual results that railways have, or have not, brought about.

In the first place it would be going too far to say that the Railway Age inaugurated the Industrial Era. The invention of, or the improvements in, machinery which gave so immense an impetus to our national industries preceded the opening of the particular lines of railway—the Stockton and Darlington and the Liverpool and Manchester—that were more especially to lead to the great development of the railway system on present-day lines. All the same, it was the railways that, by offering a far more effective means of transport than was already afforded by canals, rivers or roads, made it possible for the industries then already started, or for those following thereon, to attain to their present proportions.

For the creation of what is known as the factory system, with its teeming industrial populations aggregated into busy urban centres, the railways are certainly far more responsible than the earlier modes of transport. The merits or the drawbacks of that system, from the point of view of general interests, are matters that need not be discussed here. Suffice it to say that as soon as the railways had allowed of great quantities of raw material being conveyed, at especially low rates, to particular localities; of machinery being set up there, also at lower cost than before; of labour from the rural districts being brought in and concentrated in the same localities, and of an efficient distribution, again at lower rates, of commodities produced on a large scale under the most economical conditions;—it was inevitable that factories should supplant home [ 386 ]industries, that manufacturers should succeed small masters, and that great towns should grow up in proportion as rural centres declined.

In helping to bring about these results—results that so materially accelerated the "economic revolution" already proceeding—railway transport also supplied a ready means for providing these urban communities with the necessaries of life.

It is only with the help of the railways that the provisioning of such vast collections of humanity as are to be found in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow and other centres is rendered possible. As compared with the earlier conditions of life, when households were mainly self-supporting, each providing for its own needs from its own fields, pasture or garden, the average urban family to-day is dependent on the trader for practically all domestic necessaries, and the same is mostly the case in suburban or even in country districts except, it may be, in regard to vegetables, eggs and table poultry. It is doubtful if London or any other of these great centres ever has more than, at the outside, a fortnight's supplies on hand. The complete stoppage of the railway system for any such period would thus be a national disaster. Food might still come to the ports in the same quantities as before; but without the railways there would be no adequate means for its distribution, and the large inland towns would more especially be at a disadvantage. The mere possibility of such an eventuality may help one to realise the extent of our dependence to-day on rail transport from the point of view, not alone of trade, industry and commerce, but of our daily life and sustenance.

While it is true that many rural centres suffered a decline in population when the railways led indirectly to so many agricultural workers leaving the fields for the attractions and the supposed advantages of urban life, it is no less true that the expansion of the towns gave to those who remained in the rural centres greater markets for the sale there of such produce—and especially for such market-garden produce, eggs and poultry—as they could supply to advantage. The railways may not have annihilated distance, but they were engaged in curtailing distances; and such curtailment became still more effective when the achievements of the locomotive were [ 387 ]followed by the adoption of the sliding-scale principle under which the rates per ton per mile decreased in proportion as consignments were sent for a greater distance than twenty miles.

The towns and the industrial centres expanded further as rail transport afforded increased facilities for the conveyance of raw materials to works which, thanks to the steam-engine, could be set up in any part of the country, regardless of the once indispensable water power; and the procuring of these raw materials not only gave a further great expansion to national wealth, but led to the opening up to industrial activity of many a district previously isolated and undeveloped.

Increased congestion in the towns was thus none the less supplemented by a widespread development of the interior resources of the country; and in this respect the railways accomplished results that could not have been attained by the most complete system either of canals or of turnpike roads. There certainly were losses, besides those in the rural districts, and this was notably the case in some of the county, market, or smaller towns which no longer command the same distinction in the social and economic world as before; but the balance as between gains and losses was in favour of an industrial expansion, a commercial development, and an unexampled increase in general prosperity.

On the general trade of the country the railway was to produce results no less striking than those that related to individual industries.

When the facilities for distributing domestic and other necessaries throughout the inland districts, and even in the most remote parts of the country, were so greatly increased, the reason for the fairs which had for many centuries played so all-important a part in English trade and commerce no longer existed, and the country hastened to deserve Napoleon's sarcasm by becoming "a nation of shopkeepers."

To the country trader the railway gave new opportunities. There was no longer any need either for his going to one of the periodical fairs or for his awaiting a call from a travelling middleman with his troop of packhorses in order to obtain supplies. Nor was it now necessary for him to purchase comparatively substantial quantities of wares at a time. Thanks to the railway, he could generally have goods sent to him [ 388 ]direct from the manufacturer or the warehouseman in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Glasgow or elsewhere, and those goods, sent for one day and delivered the next, could be ordered by him in exactly such quantities as would suit his immediate requirements. In this way he was enabled to keep smaller stocks of a greater variety of articles, trade with less, or with better distributed, capital and anticipate a much larger turnover. The advantage of these facilities became greater still in proportion as the post, the telegraph and the telephone gave the retailer greater opportunities for communicating his wants to the wholesale trader who supplied them.

In these circumstances village stores are to be found to-day in rural districts where shops had been non-existent down to the Railway Age, while the conditions of retail trade in probably every country town have no less changed, and have altered to a proportionate extent the conditions, also, of wholesale trade.

On the other hand, the same transport facilities which gave these opportunities to the small trader are now, to a certain extent, operating to his disadvantage, since there is an increasing tendency for retail trade to be done by the large houses which are to-day more and more dealing direct with the public, consigning to retail customers either by rail or by parcel post. In this way many of the small traders are sharing the fate of the small masters who had already been suppressed by the factory system.

The movement here in question is, of course, only a development of the dual tendency now prevalent throughout the commercial world for (1) the substitution of large or associated undertakings for numerous small and independent ones; and (2) the abolition of middlemen; yet such a movement could hardly have been carried out to its present actual extent but for the opportunities offered by the railway for the regular, speedy and economical transport of commodities under just such conditions as will alone allow of this further transition in trade being brought about.

So far as the railways themselves are concerned, these various developments have not been an unmixed blessing, since they have increased the tendency for the general merchandise traffic to travel in small or comparatively small consignments or parcels, involving a greater amount of [ 389 ]handling and of clerical work, and, therefore, an increase in working expenses, without a proportionate gain in revenue.

The vast majority of traders in the country seem content to live "from hand to mouth," ordering only just what they want from day to day or from week to week, and depending implicitly on prompt delivery by the railway whenever they need fresh supplies. Thus we get such conditions of trade in respect to general merchandise (distinct from minerals and raw materials) as are suggested by the following table, showing the total tonnage of traffic dealt with, and the average weight per package handled, at the goods depôts mentioned:—

Broad Street, London 0906 23,067 3004
Curzon Street, Birmingham 1615 51,114 2014
Liverpool Stations 3895 79,513 3026
London Road, Manchester 1341 28,277 3022

How this small-parcel-at-frequent-intervals arrangement, so convenient for a large number of traders, increases the work of the companies in a greater ratio than it increases their receipts is shown by the following typical figures, worked out by a leading railway company in respect to the comparative increases in traffic receipts and number of invoice entries respectively at four large stations on their system:—

A. 1899 and 1906 02.93 40.0
B. 1903 a"d 1907 05.74 028.46
C. 1902 a"d 1905 10.36 22.0
D. 1902 a"d 1905 14.33 24.3

The tendencies in the direction of repeat orders for small consignments are no less prevalent in the case of raw materials and bulky commodities than in that of general merchandise. The cotton-spinner has frequent consignments of cotton, in quantities sufficient to meet immediate needs, rather than less frequent consignments in greater bulk. The average builder saves yard expenses and cartage by ordering from time to time [ 390 ]the exact quantities of timber or the precise number of bricks he wants for the particular work, or for a certain stage of the work, on which he is engaged. The coal merchant orders forward from day to day, or at intervals according to the state of business, only the particular quantities of coal he requires for present or prospective early needs, since the railway arrangements generally render it unnecessary for him to provide for more than a few days' supply at a time. So it goes on through almost every department of present-day trade.

The advantages for the trader himself are enormous, and the railways have encouraged him in the tendency here in question by giving, for 2-ton or 4-ton lots, minimum special or exceptional rates which on the State railways of the Continent would be available only for 5-ton, 10-ton or still higher quantities. Yet when a trader has delivery made to him in several consignments rather than one, it is evident that, whatever the convenience to himself, the company must do more work for their money and incur the risk, also, of having to run two or more partly-filled waggons on separate days in place, it may be, of one full one. Hence a further problem in the railway world of recent years has been how to adjust traffic arrangements to commercial conditions based on the now established requirements of the British trader for small consignments at frequent intervals, and yet secure for the railways themselves the advantage of economical loading. Much has been done in this direction by the leading companies in the setting up of transhipping depôts and otherwise, and substantial economies have been effected thereby.

Another respect in which railway facilities have influenced the course of trade lies in the fact that the large warehouses, provided by the railway companies at certain of their goods depôts enable a large number of merchants, agents or other traders to dispense with warehouses of their own and carry on their business from a city office, whence they send their instructions to the railway companies as to the destination of particular consignments when these are to be despatched to the purchaser. The railway companies are thus relied on to (1) collect the goods, (2) load them into the railway waggons, (3) transport them from one town to another, (4) unload them, (5) remove them to the railway warehouse, (6) store them there until they are wanted, (7) pick out, as and when required, [ 391 ]a particular bale or parcel from a possible pyramid of bales or parcels warehoused for the same trader; and (8) deliver it to a given address.

In some instances all these services are included in the railway rate, a certain period of free warehousing being then allowed. In other instances, or when the free period is exceeded, a charge is made for rent; but the trader still saves considerably as compared with what he would have to pay for a separate warehouse for himself, with rates, taxes and cost of cartage in addition.

At the autumnal meeting, on October 3, 1906, of the Executive Council of the National Chamber of Trade, held at Bradford, it was declared, in reference to the inequality in assessments for local rates, that there were in Bradford certain large concerns whose business turnover amounted to more than £40,000 a year, while the rental of the premises they occupied was not more than £100. Some exceptionally large and commodious railway warehouses in Bradford are certainly made use of by local traders under precisely such conditions as those here in question; and it is, probably, because of these railway warehouses that the concerns alluded to are able to carry on a £40,000 business in £100 premises.

Even when the traders own extensive mills or factories they often find it convenient to allow the railway company to warehouse most of their raw material for them, sending on supplies to them as needed, a saving thus being effected in respect alike to capital outlay on land and buildings for store rooms and to rates and taxes thereon. In other instances goods are sent, as ready, to the railway warehouses at the port to await shipment, the manufacturers once more saving in not having to provide extra accommodation on their own premises for the storing of goods until a large order has been completed or until a vessel is due to leave.

The extent of this railway warehouse accommodation will be better understood if I mention that two sets of premises which constitute the Broad Street goods depôt of the London and North-Western Railway Company, in the heart of the City of London, have a total floor space of 29,500 square yards; that the same company have at Liverpool a series of warehouses with a total of about 30,500 square yards of floor space; that the Great Northern Railway Company have at Bradford one [ 392 ]wool-warehouse which can accommodate from 50,000 to 60,000 bales, and another that has a storage capacity of 150,000 bales; and that an exceptionally large goods depôt and warehouse in Manchester, with floor space equal to one and a quarter acres, cost the Great Northern Railway Company no less a sum than £1,000,000.

To illustrate the nature of the accommodation offered by, and the work carried on, in these great goods stations and warehouses, I offer a few details respecting the Bishopsgate Goods Station of the Great Eastern Railway Company.

Situate in the midst of one of the busiest of London's commercial centres and in the immediate proximity of docks, wharves, markets and warehouses carrying on, in the aggregate, an enormous business, the Bishopsgate Goods Station is a hive of activity of so extensive and varied a type that the working bees employed form a staff of no fewer than 2000 persons.

The premises, which have nine exits and entrances, are divided into three levels, known as the basement level, the rail level and the warehouse level. The total area covered by the goods station, including railway lines, yard and buildings, is twenty-one acres.

The basement level consists of a series of arches on which the lines leading into the goods station have been built. Originally the arches were designed by the railway company to serve the purposes of a general fruit, vegetable and fish market, and this market was opened in 1882; but the lessee of the Spitalfields market claimed certain monopoly rights under an ancient charter, and the Bishopsgate market had to be closed; though the railway company continued to carry on a market they had previously opened at Stratford, E., subject to the payment of certain tolls to the aforesaid lessee in respect to his rights. The Stratford market, located immediately alongside lines of railway bringing produce from the most important agricultural districts of the Eastern Counties, has conferred great advantages alike on traders and on residents in the East of London. The basement arches at Bishopsgate are to-day let mainly to potato salesmen and others, who find them of the greatest convenience because loaded trucks arriving on the rail level can be lowered into the basement, there to be moved by hydraulic power to the particular arch for which the consignment is destined.

[ 393 ]The rail level is the goods station proper. It has eleven sets of rails and five loading or unloading platforms, or "banks," while two shunting engines are constantly employed in taking loaded or empty trucks in or out. In 1910 the business done gave a daily average of 725 trucks inwards traffic, and 632 outwards traffic, a total daily average of 1,357 trucks. About eighty goods trains leave or arrive at the station during the twenty-four hours. These include two which are fitted with the vacuum brake, and give the traders and inhabitants of Lincoln and towns beyond all the advantages of an express goods service at ordinary rates—a service, that is, equivalent to what, in Germany, traders would have to pay double or treble their own ordinary rates for if they wished to ensure a corresponding speed.

Of potatoes from the fenland districts of the Eastern Counties the total quantity received at Bishopsgate during 1910 was 100,000 tons. Of green peas from Essex as many as 1000 tons have been received in a single day. Fish from Lowestoft and Yarmouth runs into an annual total of many thousands of tons.

Passengers' luggage in advance is also dealt with at Bishopsgate. This system, saving the traveller much trouble, and greatly facilitating the working of passenger traffic at the stations, is evidently advancing in favour, the packages handled at Bishopsgate having increased from 18,617 in 1900 to 87,129 in 1910.

In the matter of general merchandise, the experiences of the other railway depôts already mentioned are confirmed by those at Bishopsgate, the taking there of the number and weight of all consignments of merchandise forwarded on a particular day having shown the following results:—

Number of consignments 7,932
Average weight per consignment 3 cwt. 2 qrs. 25 lbs.
Number weighing less than 3 cwts 6,056

The total "carriage paid" entries on outwards goods traffic in 1910 numbered over 970,000. For the month of November alone the total was 87,659.

A large proportion of the commodious and well-lighted warehouse level on the top storey is let off to individual traders in what are known as "fixed spaces," the demand for [ 394 ]which is always in excess of the supply. Goods of great variety and of great value are stored here. The warehouse is found especially useful in connection with the extensive goods traffic carried by the Great Eastern Railway Company between England and the Continent.

Mention might also be made of the fact that the cartage work done at Bishopsgate requires a stud of about 1100 horses and 850 road vehicles, and gives employment to nearly 800 carmen and van-guards; that nine weighbridges have been provided; that a large staff of railway police is always on duty to regulate the traffic in or out of the station and to protect property; that the station has its own steam fire-engine and fire brigade (the company likewise undertaking the fire insurance of goods warehoused); and that the general arrangements include a complete ambulance equipment for the rendering of first aid in the event of accidents to the workers.[1]

Apart from the provision of depôts and warehouses, the railway companies facilitate the operations of traders by giving them certain free periods in respect to the unloading of coal, potatoes, hay, straw and various other commodities from the railway trucks, which serve the purposes of warehouses on wheels and involve the trader in no further cost, in addition to the railway rate, provided he can find a customer and arrange for the unloading to be done within the free period allowed to him, thus escaping the alternative charge for demurrage. Other conveniences afforded by the English railway companies to traders include the provision—for hire at cheap rates—of grain sacks, meat hampers and meat cloths. The Great Eastern Railway, for instance, who serve a district mainly agricultural, keep on hand, for the convenience of traders, from 700,000 to 750,000 sacks, 1200 meat hampers, and between 4000 and 5000 meat cloths.

Railways, as developed in England, have thus done more than increase the facilities and decrease the cost of actual transport. They have, in various ways, increased the facilities for, and decreased the cost of the exchange of, commodities, since there is many a trader in the country who conducts his business much more with the help of a railway company's [ 395 ]capital than he does with his own. It is not alone that trade and industry have vastly increased in volume as the result of railway operation. Trade and industry have, also, completely changed in method, while thousands of men can carry on a business of their own to-day who, in the pre-railway epoch, must have been content to be little more than hewers of wood and drawers of water.

The economy in time, also, due to the speed at which the general merchandise traffic of the country is carried, has been of no less importance than the economy in cost of transport. Of these two elements speed in delivery may often be by far the more important. Slowness in transport, as is the case on canals, may cause no inconvenience where time is immaterial and large, or comparatively large, stocks can be kept on hand; but these considerations do not apply to the great bulk of English trading and industrial enterprises as carried on under present-day conditions. Hence to the direct saving in the cost of transport, and to the greater advantages in the exchange and distribution of commodities brought about by railways, must be added a fair allowance for gains secured indirectly through this further saving of time. So far back as 1838, and long, therefore, before goods trains were run at an equivalent to express speed, Nicholas Wood wrote in the third edition of his "Practical Treatise on Rail-roads," in comparing rail and canal transport:—

"In our comparison of the two systems of transit, we must not lose sight of the very important consequences, resulting to the commerce of the country, by the rapidity of communication effected by the railways, which far outweighs any trifling balance of economy in favour of canals, even if such do exist; and, therefore, we presume, whenever the balance between the two modes in any degree approach each other, a preference will be given to railway communication."

Against the various advantages that improved means of transport have thus brought to the British trader must, nevertheless, in his case, be set certain disadvantages. If he can forward his commodities with greater ease, at lower rates, and in less time, to the leading markets of the country than his grandfather before him could do, he finds that, in practice, the foreigner can do the same. Where the foreigner produces at lower cost, gets the lowest available rates by reason of size [ 396 ]of consignment, style of packing, etc., has the benefit of an earlier season and so on, he may well be able, under a system of free imports, to compete with the home producer on his own markets; though the cost of transport to the foreigner has naturally to be reckoned from the place of origin, and not simply from the English port through which his consignments pass.

The general effect of rail transport on the trade and industry of the country was thus described by Sir John Hawkshaw in his presidential address at the Bristol meeting of the British Association in 1875:—

"Railways add enormously to the national wealth. More than twenty-five years ago it was proved to the satisfaction of the House of Commons, from facts and figures which I then adduced, that the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, of which I was the engineer, and which then formed the principal railway connection between the populous towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire, 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 railways and on the difference between the railway rate of charge and the charges by the modes of conveyance anterior to the railways. No credit whatever was taken for the saving of time, though in England pre-eminently 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 Isles 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 of 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 10 per cent on all the capital expended on railways."

Sir John Hawkshaw, it will be seen, arrived at this result on the basis of the saving in rates and charges and in speed; but one must further allow for those various supplementary services on which the railways enable the traders to effect savings in the carrying on of their business.

[ 397 ]Nor have the political and social results of the railway system been in any degree less remarkable than the economic.

Politically, the railway has been a factor in the rise of Democracy.

The construction of railways, by giving employment to large numbers of navvies in various parts of the country, to which they moved freely as occasion required, did much to break down the restrictions to which the labouring classes had so long been subjected under laws of settlement now found to be no longer operative; and this greater freedom of movement, combined with the wider opportunities opened out to them, had effects on the workers far beyond the results accruing to them from an industrial standpoint alone.

Under, again, the influences following on the spread of railways throughout the country, England ceased to be simply a collection of isolated communities, and attained to a greater degree of national life. Better communication helped to make men better acquainted with one another, to broaden their sympathies, to spread a better knowledge of public events at home and abroad and to establish closer links between town life and country life.

Then the railways which rendered this closer communication possible proved to be among the greatest of social levellers. The claims of the third-class passenger were recognised in course of time, in spite of the unwillingness of the pioneer companies to make them due acknowledgment; and the day was to come when the artisan would go by the same express train as the noble lord, arrive at his destination just as soon, and, though not having quite so luxurious a seat, be afforded facilities of travel greater far than those that could once be commanded even by kings and princes. Cheap excursion trains gave to artisan and agriculturist the opportunity of visiting great towns or pleasure resorts to which, in the old coaching days, the well-to-do would alone have thought of travelling. In the same way the advantages of a concentration of life, of thought and of movement in the capital were spread by the easier means of communication to country districts, and brought the population in general into closer touch with the leaders of public opinion. The railways were the greatest disseminators of intelligence through the newspapers or books carried by train or by the post, itself no less dependent, in turn, [ 398 ]on the railway for the facilities it conferred on the country. Without the railway a cheap and widely distributed newspaper press, such as exists to-day, would have been impossible.

So the tendency of the railway was not only to advance trade, travel and transport, but to open men's minds, to broaden the intellectual outlook of the artisan and the labourer, to place them more on a level with their social superiors, and to make them better fitted for the exercise of greater political powers.

Socially, too, the railway system constitutes a paramount factor in the national life.

Thanks to the greater facilities the railways afforded for the distribution of commodities, and thanks, also, to the greater division of labour following on the changed economic conditions, there was no need in the Railway Age for householders to practise the same domestic arts that had been more or less obligatory in the case of their forefathers. There was no longer the same necessity for each family to brew its own ale, to bake its own bread and make its own cloth, or to provide stores of salt beef and other supplies in the autumn as if for a winter siege. When the railway enabled the village shopkeeper to satisfy promptly all local requirements, in winter as readily as in summer, the whole conditions of rural life were changed.

In towns, as in villages, the railways allowed not alone of a better distribution of domestic necessaries but of distribution at lower prices. The distance at which a commodity was produced or from which it came had, as a rule, comparatively little effect on the actual selling price. The large towns, especially, had the entire country open to them as their sources of supply, and were no longer limited to the produce—and the prices—of, say, a fifteen or a twenty-mile radius.

Following closely on the necessaries came the luxuries, the cheapening of which, mainly owing to the lower cost of transport, gave even to artisans' families alternative food supplies of a kind beyond the reach even of the wealthiest in the land a century ago.

The greater consumption of fruit and vegetables, sold at the lowest possible prices, must have been of incalculable advantage to the health of the community; though this advantage would not have been possible but for the facilities [ 399 ]afforded by the railway in the bringing of huge quantities at a low rate from even the most distant corners of the three kingdoms.[2]

If, again, the railways had to share with invention and industrial expansion the responsibility for the great increase in town life, and for the overcrowding of many an urban centre, they have, on the other hand, helped the towns to spread out into healthy suburbs, or have otherwise relieved them of much of their overcrowding by providing workmen's trains for the conveyance of artisans and labourers between their place of labour and entirely new centres of population in what once were country districts.

As for the town workers who can afford to live at greater distances, the issue of cheap season tickets and the running of business trains morning and evening have greatly extended the suburbs of London, so that City men now have their homes as far away as Brighton, Folkestone and Southend.

The encouragement thus offered by the railways to the setting up of country or even seaside homes for town workers has further tended to the improvement of the public health, in addition to effecting a complete revolution in social conditions as compared with the days when the merchant or the tradesman lived over his place of business in the very heart of the City of London.

What shall be said, also, of the effect on the national life of that "travel habit" which received its greatest development from the railways, though further encouraged in recent years by the bicycle and the motor-car? Under the combined influences of fast trains, corridor carriages, dining, luncheon and sleeping cars and cheap fares, whether for day excursions, short-date or long-date periods, tours at home or abroad, or any other of the various combinations for which facilities are offered, the making of pleasure trips has entered so thoroughly into the habits and customs of all grades of society that the social and domestic conditions of to-day offer a complete contrast from those that prevailed in the pre-railway period. It is now only the poorest of families that fail to have an annual holiday at a seaside resort or in the country, and even in their [ 400 ]case the children may be provided for by one of the philanthropic organisations established for this purpose.

Nor does the annual summer or autumn holiday now suffice in a vast number of British households. There are supplementary holidays at Easter and Whitsuntide; there are the trips taken on the other bank holidays besides; and, lest all these opportunities may not suffice, the railway companies now enable their patrons to take a little holiday, at reduced fares, every week-end. Thanks, in fact, to the ever-expanding facilities for travel, holiday-making—a former innovation now developed into an established national institution—is no longer confined to a regular holiday season. Winter holidays, also, are coming rapidly into vogue.

The question might well be asked if indulgence in the holiday habit is not often carried too far, especially when trips unduly long for the time at the tripper's disposal leave it doubtful whether the holiday-maker should not have a second holiday in which to rest after the fatigues of the first; though if English people are indeed giving themselves up far too much to pleasure, sport and recreation, the railways must certainly share the responsibility for what is happening.

Leaving medical authorities and social reformers to decide on the questions just raised, one may, at least, safely affirm that the railway has been a great promoter of friendship and family life, since visits can now readily be exchanged between those resident in distant parts of the country, and ties can thus be maintained that, at one time, would have been in danger of complete severance by the difficulties or the undue cost of journeys by road.

In addition to doing so much to re-establish our industries, our trade and our social life and manners on the new bases here indicated, the railway companies have also sought to play their part in the great and responsible question of national defence. The gravity of the issues that, in case of invasion, would depend on the railways being able to arrange for the rapid and safe movement of troops, of war material and of supplies from one part of the country to another is self-evident. It is equally clear that the necessary plans should be carefully prepared long in advance by those most competent to make them.

Happily the requisite provisions to this end exist in an [ 401 ]organisation known as the "Engineer and Railway Staff Corps," concerning which Mr C. H. Jeune says in the "Great Eastern Railway Magazine" for June, 1911, in an article accompanying a portrait (in uniform) of the general manager of the Great Eastern, Mr W. H. Hyde, who is a Lieutenant-Colonel of the corps in question:—

"In the case of the great Continental powers, with their system of compulsory military service and the State ownership of railways, immediately war is declared practically the whole of the efficient male population, including the railway staff, is ready to place itself under military discipline; the effect being that the transport or railway department, like the infantry or artillery, becomes an integral part of the armed forces of the country. But in England the transport arrangements must of necessity be largely carried out by the railway companies with the aid of their civilian employés. As a link between the army and the companies there is an organisation, the existence of which is not widely known, designated the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps. One of the peculiar features of this body is that it consists of officers only, many of whom we dare to say have no practical knowledge of the goose step. It never drills, no band of music heralds its approach, yet its members are men of high technical ability, and the duties it performs are of great value in the schemes of national defence.

"The corps was formed in 1864 by the patriotic exertions of Charles Manby, F.R.S., an eminent civil engineer, who held the post of adjutant with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the corps. It is composed of civil engineers and contractors, also general managers and other officers of railway and dock companies. At present there are, in addition to the Commandant, one honorary Colonel, thirty Lieutenant-Colonels, and twenty-four majors. Their function is to advise on the transport of troops by rail and the construction of defensive works; to direct the application of skilled labour and of railway transport to the purposes of national defence, and to prepare in time of peace a system on which such duties should be conducted."

Selected members of the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps join with representatives of the Admiralty and the War Office in forming the War Railway Council, which [ 402 ]deals with transport and other arrangements for mobilisation.

Before leaving this branch of the subject I may, perhaps, be excused if I look still further afield, and turn, for a moment, from what railways have done for the nation to a few examples of what they are doing for the Empire.

In Australia the railways allowed of settlements established on the coast-line of a continent (covering three million square miles) gradually stretching far inland, utilising for agricultural purposes great areas of land that must otherwise have remained little better than barren wastes.

Canada, as we know it to-day, owes her existence to the railways. "Without them," said Mr E. T. Powell, in a paper read before the Royal Colonial Institute on February 14, 1911, "the vast dominion which we are proud to call the Canadian Empire would have remained a loose aggregate of scattered agricultural communities. Quebec and Alberta must have known as much of each other as do Donegal and Kamschatka.... A few thousand miles of steel rail ... have saved Canada for the Empire.... Every year they draw the Dominion into closer cohesion as a self-governing unit, while at the same time they cement it more firmly into the Imperial fabric."

In South Africa the railways have rendered invaluable service from the point of view alike of trade, of commerce, of colonial expansion, and of Imperial policy. Rhodesia, especially, will have been indebted to her railways for much of the future greatness to which she hopes to attain; and no one would yet venture to limit the possible results of the Cape-to-Cairo line, when that bold undertaking shall at last have been completed.

Less generally known, perhaps, is the story of what the railway is doing both for the Empire and for civilisation on the West Coast of Africa.

Little more than a dozen years ago no railways at all had been constructed there, and most of the colonies were in a more or less disturbed condition, even if they had not been the scene of successive massacres, of sanguinary wars, of much expenditure thereon, and of human sacrifices in districts steeped in slavery, barbarism and superstition.

This was especially the case on the Gold Coast, where the [ 403 ]Ashantis waged wars against us in 1875, 1896 and 1901. Two years after the last of these wars the Gold Coast main line of railway was taken up to Coomassie, the capital of Ashanti. To-day the Ashantis carry on strife with us no longer. They work in the gold mines instead; and the railway that brings the gold down to the coast has paid a five-per-cent dividend from the day it was opened.[3]

Of "Sierra Leone and Its Commercial Expansion" Mr T. J. Alldridge said, in a paper he read before the Royal Colonial Institute on March 21, 1911 (reported in "United Empire," May, 1911):—

"The extraordinary increase in the revenue of Sierra Leone during the last few years fills one who knows the circumstances of the Colony with amazement. It could never have been achieved had communication by railway into oil-palm belts, formerly quite unworked, not been introduced by the Government. The results have been extraordinary, although as yet hardly more than the fringe of these rich forests has been reached.... Only since the putting down of railways into our Protectorate has the Colony of Sierra Leone made such noticeable or commercial progress. The extension in the volume of imported merchandise, the expansion in its export products, and the greatly increased revenue, stand out to-day as an extraordinary revelation of what railway communication is capable of effecting in places that were not long since un-get-at-able, but which Nature has lavishly filled with a never-failing store of indigenous wealth."

Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria—the former having an area of 77,000 square miles and a population of 6,500,000 Africans, and the latter an area of 256,400 square miles and an estimated population of 8,000,000—are both of them countries of enormous natural resources which are being steadily developed by railways already built or in course of construction. A writer in "United Empire" for July, 1911, says of South Nigeria: "The trade returns of 1910 have surpassed even the most optimistic expectations, but there is good reason to look forward to further considerable increases in view of railway developments, harbour improvements, road [ 404 ]construction, river clearing," etc., while of Northern Nigeria he says: "When we remember that a densely-populated area, twice as large as the United Kingdom, and little more than a decade removed from the horrors of slavery, savage warfare and wholesale human sacrifices, is run by about 300 Europeans on £500,000 a year, and is rapidly arriving at conditions favourable to a great development of commerce"—such conditions including the fact that a trader can now travel from Lagos to Zaria in three days by rail, instead of taking three weeks, as before—"it is, perhaps, a record in the annals of British expansion."

As for the civilising effects of railways in West Africa, Mr P. A. Renner, an educated native, said at a Royal Colonial Institute meeting on May 24, 1910: "In the few years I have lived on the coast I have seen an improvement which has so astonished us as to make us almost worship the white man. Previously to the introduction of railways the clan feeling and tribal strifes and feuds were very rife, and the people of one village would scarcely visit those of another. Now all this is changed."

When one looks back from the work the railway is doing to-day, in all these different directions, to those very primitive beginnings of which I have told in earlier chapters, the whole story appears to be far more suggestive of romance than of sober fact and reality. From the colliery rail-way along which John Buddie's "waggon-man" led his horse, encouraging it to greater exertion with a handful of hay, to the railway that conveys, not only passengers, but goods, at express speed, that has revolutionised our industrial, our commercial and our social conditions, and is now consolidating our Imperial interests and effecting the civilisation of once barbarian lands, it is, indeed, a far cry; yet the sequence of events can readily be traced, while all has been done within a century and a half of the world's history.

  1. See an article on "Bishopsgate Goods Station," by Frank B. Day, in the "Great Eastern Railway Magazine" for July, 1911.
  2. In the week ending April 17, 1909, the broccoli sent from the Penzance district to various destinations throughout the country filled 1012 railway waggons, and necessitated the running of 34 special trains.
  3. See speech by Mr Frederick Shelford at a meeting of the Royal Colonial Institute, May 24, 1910, reported in "United Empire; the Royal Colonial Institute Journal," for August, 1910.