A History of Inland Transport and Communication in England/Chapter 31

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[ 494 ]



Having now traced the important part that improvements in the conditions of inland transport and communication have played in the economic and social development of this country, and having seen, also, the action taken therein, on the one hand by so-called "private enterprise" (defined by Samuel Smiles as "the liberality, public spirit and commercial enterprise of merchants, traders and manufacturers"), and on the other hand by State and local authorities, we have now to consider, in this final chapter, what are the prospects of further changes and developments in those transport conditions to which, judging from past experience, it would not be wise to fix finality in the matter of progress.

Thus far the railway certainly represents the survival of the fittest; and, curiously enough, although great improvements have been made in locomotive construction, in rails, in signalling, in carriage-building and in the various departments of railway working, no absolutely new principle has been developed since the Liverpool and Manchester Railway definitely established the last of the three fundamental principles on which railway construction and operation are really based: (1) that a greater load can be moved, by an equivalent power, in a wheeled vehicle on a pair of rails than in a similar vehicle on an ordinary road; (2) that flanged wheels and flat rails are preferable for fast traffic to flat wheels and flanged rails; and (3) that a railway train should be operated by a locomotive rather than by either animal power or a stationary engine.

It is true that, in regard to the last-mentioned of these three main principles, material changes have been brought about by the resort to electricity as a motive power; but this, after all, is an improvement in the means of rail transport rather than a complete change in the principle of transport [ 495 ]itself; and, though electricity may supersede steam to a considerable extent, especially for suburban traffic, the resort to it is a reversal, in another form, to the earlier idea of motive power distributed from a fixed point, as originally represented by stationary engines, before the locomotive had established its superiority thereto.

In any case, the railway is still the railway, whatever the form of traction employed, and there is, after all, no such fundamental difference between an electric railway and a steam railway as there was between the railway and the canal, or between either railway waggon or canal barge and the carrier's cart travelling on ordinary roads. The question that really arises here is, not whether electricity is likely to supersede steam for long-distance as well as for short-distance rail traffic, but whether the railways themselves are likely to be superseded, sharing the same fate as that which they caused to fall on the stage-coach and, more or less, on the canal barge.

For the physical, economic and other considerations already presented, there is no reasonable ground for expecting much from the projected scheme of canal revival. When the country comes fully to realise (1) the natural unsuitability of England's undulatory surfaces for transport by artificial waterways; (2) the enormous cost which the carrying out of any general scheme of canal revival would involve; (3) the practical impossibility of canal-widening in the Birmingham and Black Country districts; and (4) the comparatively small proportion of traders in the United Kingdom who could hope to benefit from a scheme for which all alike might have to pay;—it is hardly probable that public opinion will sanction the carrying out of a project at once so costly and so unsatisfactory in its prospective results.

Still less than in the case of canals would any attempt to improve the conditions of transport on rivers—serving even more limited districts, and having so many natural drawbacks and disadvantages—be likely to meet any general advantage or to foster any material competition with the railways.

Developments in regard to road transport are much more promising—or, from the point of view of the railways, much more to be feared—than any really practical revival of inland navigation.

[ 496 ]Dealing, in this connection, first with personal travel, we find that the main competition with the railways proceeds from (1) omnibuses, motor or otherwise; (2) electric tramways, and (3) private motor-cars.

An omnibus, whether of the horse or of the motor type, is the equivalent of the carrier's van or of the old stage-coach in so far as it has the complete freedom of the roads. The electric tramway, while having to keep to a certain route, and involved in greater capital expenditure by reason of its need for rails, overhead wires and power stations, may, if owned by a local authority, still be materially aided, directly or indirectly, out of the local rates. Thus the omnibus and the electric tramway may both be able to transport passengers at lower fares than the railways, which, as regards the municipal tramways, may even be called on to pay, through increased taxation, towards the maintenance of their rivals.

In London itself the motor-omnibuses have undoubtedly abstracted a considerable amount of short-distance traffic from the Central London Railway, which, however, still has the advantage in regard to longer distance journeys.

That electric tramways and motor-omnibuses have also diverted a great deal of suburban passenger traffic from the trunk railways is beyond dispute. But here the companies are seeking to meet the position (1) by operating their own suburban lines by electricity, giving their passengers a quicker transport than they would get with tramways or motor-cars stopping frequently, or held up by traffic repeatedly, on the roads or streets; or (2) by offering to town workers greater facilities for removing from homes in the inner to homes in the outer suburbs, if not in the country proper or even on the coast itself—in other words, to such a distance that they would naturally be dependent on the railway and the business trains that are now run thereon from the places in question to meet their special convenience.[1]

[ 497 ]Of these two developments the former has not yet been generally adopted, whereas the latter is in full activity, and, in combination with the heavier local taxation which is steadily driving people away from London boroughs, is helping to produce results of much interest and importance.

The population, not only of London, but of great towns in general, is undergoing a considerable redistribution. Land at greater distances from urban centres, and hitherto devoted only to agriculture or market gardens, is being utilised more and more for building purposes; the increasing values of land within the radius of these outer suburbs improves the position on urban markets of producers in rural centres whose lower rents may more than compensate for their slightly heavier cost of transport as compared with the suburban growers; the health of town workers taking to what are not merely suburban but country homes should improve. Social and domestic conditions generally are, to a certain extent, in a state of transition; while the trunk railways are getting back from their long-distance suburban traffic some—though not yet, perhaps, actually the whole—of the revenue they have lost on their short-distance traffic.

On the other hand, results are being brought about in the inner suburbs which are viewed with much uneasiness by the local authorities. The removal from the inner suburbs of considerable numbers of those who can afford to live further away from their business means (1) that population in the inner suburban circle is decreasing, or, alternatively, that a better-class population is giving place to a poorer-class one; (2) that much of the house property there is either standing empty or is fetching considerably lower rents; and (3) that the taxable capacity of the areas in question is declining, although the need for raising more by local taxation is to-day greater than ever.

Where the local authorities who are experiencing all these consequences of an interesting social change have themselves helped to bring them about by setting up municipal tramways to compete with the railways, thus, among other consequences, driving the latter to resort to measures of self-defence, they may find that attempts to change, if not to control, the operation of economic forces have their risks and perils; while the position for the authorities concerned will be even worse [ 498 ]if their municipal tramway, in turn, should suffer materially from the competition of the motor-omnibus.

Private motor-cars may appear to have deprived the railways of a good deal of their passenger traffic, and they certainly constitute a most material and much-appreciated increase in the facilities now available for getting about the country. It must, however, be remembered that a very large proportion of the journeys taken in them would probably not be made at all if the motor-car did not exist, and if such journeys had to be made by train instead. The actual diversion of traffic from the railway only occurs when journeys which would otherwise be made by rail are made by motor, in preference. Here the railway certainly does lose.

Against the loss in the one direction in railway revenue, owing to the greater use of motor-cars, there can at least be set the constant growth in the taste for travel which the railway companies (partly, again, to make up for the competition in suburban traffic) have done their best to cultivate by means of abnormally low excursion or week-end fares based, as one leading railway officer put it to me, "not on any idea of distance, but on the amount that the class of people catered for might be assumed to be willing to pay."

The travel habit has thus undergone a greater expansion of late years than has ever before been known, so that a falling-off of railway traffic in some directions ought, sooner or later, to be compensated for by increases in others, if, indeed, that result has not already been attained.

The actual position in regard to passenger travel on the railways of the United Kingdom during the years 1901-10 is shown by the following figures, taken from the Board of Trade Railway Returns:—

1901 1,172,395,900 39,096,053
1902 1,188,219,269 39,622,725
1903 1,195,265,195 39,985,003
1904 1,198,773,720 40,065,746
1905 1,199,022,102 40,256,930
1906 1,240,347,132 41,204,982
1907 1,259,481,315 42,102,007
1908 1,278,115,488 42,615,812
1909 1,265,080,761 41,950,188
1910 1,306,728,583 43,247,345

[ 499 ]These figures give evidence of, on the whole, a substantial advance in railway passenger journeys and receipts, notwithstanding all the competition of alternative facilities, and we may assume that although tramways, motor-cars, motor-omnibuses and even the latest new-comer, railless electric traction, may supplement and more or less compete with the railways, there is no suggestion that they are likely entirely to supplant them for passenger travel.

In the matter of goods transport in general, it is the fact that during the last ten or fifteen years, more especially, there has been an increasing tendency for the delivery of domestic supplies to suburban districts or towns within an ever-expanding radius of London and other leading cities to be effected by road, instead of by rail. The same has been the case in the distribution by wholesale houses of goods to suburban shopkeepers, and, also, in the reverse direction, in the sending of market-garden or other produce to central markets.

Where the railway companies have really created new suburban districts through the running of specially cheap workmen's trains, it may seem hard upon them that they should be deprived of the goods transport to which such districts give rise.

The fact must be recognised, however, that when the distances are within, say, a ten-, a fifteen- or even a twenty-mile radius, and when only small or comparatively small parcels or consignments are to be carried, the advantages in economical transport may well be in favour of the road vehicle rather than of the railway. The road vehicle can load up in the streets as it stands opposite the wholesale trader's warehouse; it pays nothing for the use of the road; it does not make any special contribution to the police funds in recognition of services rendered in the regulation of the traffic; nor is it taxed by the local authorities on the basis of the quantity of [ 500 ]goods carried and the extent of the presumptive profits made; whereas the railway company must have a costly goods depôt, acquire land for their track, lay lines of rails, maintain an elaborate organisation to ensure safe working of the traffic, and submit to taxation by every local authority through whose district the goods carried may require to pass. There is, also, the further consideration, of which I have previously spoken, that in the case of short-distance journeys the cost of terminal services makes the rate per ton per mile appear much higher, in proportion, than when, while remaining at the same figure, it is spread over a substantially greater mileage.

While, with the increasing facilities for road transport, the railways must expect to lose more of their short-distance traffic, they should be able to retain their long-distance traffic, and more especially their long-distance traffic in bulk, commercial motors notwithstanding. Where commodities are carried either in considerable quantities or for considerable distances, and more particularly when both of these conditions prevail, transport by a locomotive, operating on rails, and conveying a heavy load with no very material increase in working expenses over the carrying of a light load, must needs be more economical than the distribution of a corresponding tonnage of goods among a collection of commercial motors, for conveyance by road under such conditions that each motor is operated as a separate and distinct unit.

The results, too, already brought about in the case of the suburban passenger traffic may, possibly, be so far repeated that railway companies deprived, also, of suburban goods traffic by the increasing competition of road conveyances, will show further enterprise in encouraging long-distance goods traffic to the same markets, or to the same towns. In this way they might seek to avoid, as far as practicable, any falling-off in their revenue at a time when taxation, wages, cost of materials and other working expenses all show a continuous upward tendency.

Should the policy here in question be adopted, market-gardeners, more especially, may find that, while they have effected a slight saving on their cost of transport by resorting to road conveyance, they will have to face increased competition from produce coming in larger quantities from long-distance growers who, with a lower cost of production, and, [ 501 ]also, with increased encouragement from the railways, might have advantages on urban markets fully equal to those of the short-distance grower located in the suburbs.

The whole question of the steadily increasing competition between road and rail has thus become one of special interest, at the present moment, alike for the trading, the motor and the railway interests.

That the use of motor-vehicles is destined to make even greater advance in the immediate future has already here been shown. Yet there are distinct limitations to its possibilities, although this fact is apt to be overlooked by motor enthusiasts, some of whom are, indeed, over-sanguine. One of them proclaims that "the new locomotion" is "designed to be the chief means of transit to be used by humanity at large," and "eventually will probably to a large extent supersede all others." He further writes: "Many of us will live to see railway companies in places pulling up their rails and making their tracks suitable for motor-car traffic, charging a toll for private vehicles and carrying the bulk of the traffic in their own motor-cars."

Granting that motor-vehicles are likely to supersede both tramways and horse-vehicles, what are really the prospects of their superseding railways, as well? Should railway shareholders at once sell out and put their money, preferably, in motor-omnibus and commercial motor companies?

In regard to goods we have the fact that the quantities thereof carried by the railways of the United Kingdom in 1910 were:—

Minerals 405,087,175 tons.
General merchandise 109,341,631 t"ns.
————— tons.
Total 514,428,806 tons.

Motor transport could obviously not be adapted to the transport of 400,000,000 tons of minerals, and for these, at least, the railways would still be wanted. But the number of motor-vehicles necessary to deal with 109,000,000 tons of general merchandise would still be prodigious, apart from considerations of distance, time taken in transport, wear and tear of roads, and, also, of the question whether a locomotive, doing the work of many motors, would not be the [ 502 ]cheaper unit in the conveyance of commodities carried in bulk on long or comparatively long hauls. The suburban delivery of parcels is one thing; the distribution, for example (as mentioned in a footnote on page 399), of 1000 railway waggons of broccoli from Penzance, all over Great Britain, in a single week, is another.

In the matter of passenger traffic, while people of means may prefer to make such journeys as that from London to Scotland in their own motor-car, the railway will continue to form both the cheaper and the quicker means of travel for the great bulk of the population as distinct from private car-owners, whose number must needs be comparatively small.

It is in respect to urban and suburban traffic that motor-vehicles have their best chance of competing with the railways on any extensive scale; yet even here, and notwithstanding all that they are already doing, their limitations are no less evident.

Taking only one of the many railway termini in London, the average number of suburban passengers who arrive at the Liverpool Street station of the Great Eastern Railway Company every week-day (exclusive of 12,000 from places beyond the suburban district) is 81,000, and of these about 66,000 come by trains arriving, in rapid succession, up to 10 a.m. To convey 81,000 suburban dwellers by motor-omnibus instead of by train would necessitate 2382 journeys, assuming that every seat was occupied. On the basis of the average number of persons actually travelling in a motor-bus at one time, it would probably require 4000 motor-bus journeys to bring even the Great Eastern suburban passengers to town each day if they discarded train for bus, and the same number to take them back in the evening. So long, too, as a single locomotive on the Great Eastern suffices for a suburban train accommodating between 800 and 1000 passengers, the company are not likely to pull up their rails and provide tracks in their place for a vast "fleet" of motor-cars or motor-omnibuses.

In some instances tramways and motor-omnibuses have, undoubtedly, deprived the railways of considerable traffic, and certain local stations around London have even been closed in consequence. In other instances tramways and buses have been of advantage to the railways by relieving [ 503 ]them of an amount of suburban traffic for which it might have been difficult for them fully to provide. But any general supplanting of railways by motor-vehicles is as improbable in the case of passenger travel as it is in that of goods transport. Motor-vehicles are certain to become still more serious rivals of the railways than they are already, but they are not likely to render them obsolete; and, taking the country as a whole, the "bulk of the traffic" may be expected still to go by rail, motor-vehicles notwithstanding.

Although, at the outset, some of the railway companies were disposed to regard the motor as a rather dangerous rival, the most enterprising have themselves adopted various forms of motor-vehicles, alike for establishing direct communication between country stations and outlying districts unprovided with branch lines, for enabling passengers arriving in London to pass readily from the terminus of one company to that of another, and for the collection and delivery of goods.

In regard, again, to the outlook for the future, important possibilities were foreshadowed by a letter addressed to "The Times" of August 23, 1911, by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, concerning "Road Transport during Strikes." The hope of the leaders of the then recent railway strike had, of course, been to produce such a paralysis in the transport arrangements of the country that the railway companies would have been forced, owing to the resultant loss, dislocation of traffic, and, possibly, actual famine conditions, to surrender to all the demands made upon them. While the attempt failed on that occasion—thanks to the loyalty of the majority of the workers, the almost complete lack of public sympathy with the strikers, and, also, the employment of troops for the protection of the railways—there will always be the possibility of a renewal of the attempt. Pointing, therefore, to the large number of motorists in the United Kingdom, and mentioning, also, that there are, in addition, at least 10,000 commercial motor-vehicles as well, mostly running in or near the larger industrial centres, Lord Montagu wrote that, if supported by the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association and Motor Union and assisted by his brother motorists in general, he would undertake in the case of a national emergency to carry out the following operations:

(1) The carriage of all mails where railways are now used.

[ 504 ](2) The supply of milk, ice and necessaries to all hospitals and nursing homes.

(3) The supply of milk, fish and perishable produce to London and other large towns.

(4) The supply to country villages of stores not produced in or near their area, such as sugar, tea, etc.

(5) The carriage of troops or police.

(6) The conveyance of passengers if on urgent business in connection with family matters or trade.

Lord Montagu added that "the Government would, of course, have to guarantee open roads and protection for loading and unloading vehicles, and provide for the swearing-in of motorists as special constables, who would be thus engaged in saving the community from starvation and chaos." He further thought that the compilation of a national register of motorists willing to lend their cars should be proceeded with at once.

The existence of such an organisation as this, with the inclusion, also, in the proposed registry, of horsed waggons, waggonettes and other vehicles owned by the country gentry and others, might be of incalculable service both in enabling the railway companies to stand against the coercion of a really general strike, and in saving the transport of the country from any approach to a complete dislocation, pending the time when the full railway services could be resumed.

A further example of the possible usefulness of motor-vehicles was shown by a War Office memorandum, issued on September 26, 1911, giving particulars of a provisional scheme for the subsidising of petrol motor-lorries already manufactured and owned by civilians, complying with certain specified conditions, the War Office thus acquiring the right to purchase such lorries from the owners for military service, in the case of need.

Measures of the kind here in question would, of course, be temporary expedients only, there being, as shown above, no probability that motor transport by road would ever take the place altogether of transport by rail.

Nor is aerial locomotion likely to be a more formidable rival of the railways than either inland navigation or motor transport by road. One may safely anticipate that further great advances are yet to be made in the art of flying; yet [ 505 ]one may, also, assume there is no prospect of aerial locomotion becoming a serious competitor with the railway. It is extremely interesting to know that the journey from London to Scotland has now been made in quicker time by aeroplane than by the fastest express, and that a 1000-mile flight round England has been accomplished with perfect control of the machinery employed. Yet, even allowing for the greatest possible improvements in the construction of the aeroplane, the number of passengers who could be carried is so limited, and the fares charged to cover capital outlay must needs be so high, that there could be no idea of rivalry between the aeroplane and the railway in regard to passenger traffic.

Like considerations should apply in the case of goods traffic.

In theory the idea of an aerial express goods service looks very promising. Yet, as a business proposition, one must needs again consider: (1) the capital cost of the aeroplane; (2) the comparatively small quantity of goods that could be carried on a single journey; and (3) the high rates that would necessarily have to be paid for their transport on commercial lines. A "record" in the aerial carriage of a 38-lb. consignment of electric lamps from Shoreham to Hove (Brighton) was established on July 4, 1911, by Mr H. C. Barber, of the Hendon Aviation Grounds; but this particular exploit was suggestive mainly of an advertisement for the lamps in question. I ventured, therefore, to put the following proposition to Mr Barber:—

"Assume that, owing to a railway strike, no goods trains could pass between London and Liverpool, and that a London merchant had a consignment of goods which it was of the utmost importance should be taken to Liverpool for despatch by a steamer on the point of sailing. Then: (1) What would be the maximum weight, and, also, the maximum bulk, of such consignment as an aeroplane could carry? (2) In what time, approximately, could the journey from Hendon to Liverpool be made? (3) What sum would the London trader have to pay for the transport?"

Mr Barber informs me that the maximum weight of such consignment as could be carried would be about ten stone (1 cwt. 1 qr.); that the maximum bulk would be about 30 cubic feet; that the journey would take about four hours; [ 506 ]and that the charge for transport would be ten shillings per mile. The distance "as the crow—or the aeroplane—flies" between Hendon and Liverpool being about 200 miles, the charge would come to £100. Mr. Barber adds: "There is no doubt that within the very near future it will be possible to make much smaller charges; also charges could be very much reduced if there were sufficient business to make it worth while." This is what one would expect to hear. Yet, assuming that the aeroplane rate were reduced even by fifty per cent, it could not, even then, compete with the railway rate under normal conditions; while to convey through the air the 150 tons of general merchandise which a single locomotive attached to one of the many goods trains passing between London and Liverpool will haul would, on the basis of 1 cwt. 1 qr. per machine, require the use of 2400 aeroplanes. This calculation leaves out of account, too, the much greater weights of grain, timber and other heavy traffic in full truck-loads which pass from Liverpool to various inland places, and could not, of course, be dealt with by aeroplane at all.

After surveying all these possible competitors or alternatives we are left to conclude that, as far as foresight can suggest, the railways are likely still to constitute at least the chief means of carrying on internal transport and communication in this country.

If this be so, then the main proposition as to the outlook for inland transport in general relates to the outlook for the railways in particular.

Here the first consideration which presents itself is that, as regards main lines, our railway system to-day may be regarded as approximately complete.[3] There may still be good scope for the construction of extensions, new links or of short cuts; but these should count as improvements rather than as fresh lines of communication.

In London there are to be extensions of some of the existing tubes with a view to affording to the public increased facilities both for reaching the termini of the great trunk lines and for [ 507 ]a still easier interchange of traffic between the different tube or underground railways themselves.

An exceptionally important scheme of improved transport was announced, on November 18, 1911, by the London and North-Western Railway Company, such scheme comprising (1) the electrification of 40 miles of suburban railway, including a material portion of the North London Railway; (2) the construction by the London Electric Railway Company of a new tube, extending their Bakerloo line from Paddington to the L. & N. W. system at Queens' Park; and (3) the running, for the first time, and by means of specially-constructed carriages, of through services between a trunk line and a tube.

While the existing tube companies may thus extend their lines, and while the trunk companies may seek to co-operate more with them in providing for suburban traffic, the outlook for any new tube companies in London would not seem to be very promising in view of the fact that the holders of £9,300,000 of ordinary stock in the London Electric Railway (controlling the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Hampstead lines), out of a total capitalisation of £16,200,000, received in 1911 a dividend equal to only one per cent.

In the country what is most wanted is an increase in transport facilities between existing railways and outlying districts, the traffic from which would not be sufficient to justify the construction of branch lines of ordinary railway. There are fishing villages, agricultural districts, market gardening areas, and innumerable small communities which would gain a material advantage by being provided with better means of communication with the nearest railway.

Whether or not such facilities should be provided by (1) road motors, (2) railless electric traction, or (3) light railways, is a question that must depend on the conditions, circumstances or prospects of the locality concerned; but if more people are to be sent "back to the land," and if colonies of small holders are to be established thereon with any hope of success, then it is desirable, if not essential: (1) that each colony of such settlers should form an agricultural co-operative society; (2) that each society should set up its depôt to facilitate the combination of purchases or consignments into grouped lots; and (3) that between the depôt and a convenient railway station there should be provided some means [ 508 ]of collective transport under the most effective and economical conditions.

It is thus mainly in the direction of railway feeders that the need for increased transport facilities exists to-day.

In this absence of any general necessity for additional railways, the policy of the railway companies of late years has been directed more to the consolidation and economical working of the existing system of lines. This policy has especially aimed at the furtherance of those mutual agreements and amalgamations which, as we have seen, have constituted a prominent phase in the development of railways from a very early period in their history. Present-day tendencies in this direction are especially due to the fact that working expenses have greatly increased while the powers of the companies to increase their charges are still subject to the restrictions of the Act of 1894, under which they may be required to justify before the Railway and Canal Commission any increase in a rate since the 31st of December, 1892. Increase of expenditure is found in the higher wages bills, in the ever-expanding items of rates and taxes, in the heavier cost of raw materials, in the greater amount of clerical and other work resulting from the sending of frequent small consignments in place of consignments in bulk, and in the provision of greater conveniences and luxuries in travel.

An increased volume of traffic has, to a certain extent, compensated for these heavier expenses; but it has not done so sufficiently, and the ideal remedy has appeared to lie in the direction of effecting economies in operation and management, either by individual companies or through arrangements between two or more, to their mutual advantage, and without, as the companies have claimed, any disadvantage to the public.

In some instances companies have had to grant such concessions to local communities as a means of overcoming threatened opposition to their proposed arrangements that the value of the advantages eventually obtained has been represented almost by a negative quantity. In other instances the opposition has been so keen, and the "prices of assent" have been so exacting, that the companies concerned have preferred to abandon their schemes rather than go on with them. In still other instances companies have refrained from attempting to carry out amalgamations requiring [ 509 ]Parliamentary sanction, and thus likely to provoke opposition, and have made such arrangements between themselves as were within their powers and were likely to give them some of the advantages they wanted, though not, perhaps, all.

Following on certain developments in these various directions, a Departmental Committee was appointed, in June, 1909, by the Board of Trade to consider and report "what changes, if any, are expedient in the law relating to agreements among railway companies, and what, if any, general provisions ought to be embodied for the purpose of safeguarding the various interests affected in future Acts of Parliament authorising railway amalgamations or working unions." The report of this Committee [Cd. 5631] was issued in May, 1911.

In so far as they deal with the principle that even Parliament itself is powerless to prevent the tendency to co-operation between railway companies originally designed to compete with one another, the Committee do little more than re-echo what was said, not only by the Joint Committee of 1872, but even by Morrison in the speech he made in the House of Commons on May 17, 1836. There is, also, a close resemblance between what I have stated concerning the position in 1836 and at subsequent dates—namely, that there was no allegation that the railway companies had abused their powers, only fear that they might do so—and the following extract from the report made by the Departmental Committee in 1911:—

"It is, of course, to the interest of the railway companies not to raise rates or stint accommodation to an extent that will reduce traffic unduly, but, subject to this, a policy of self-interest might frequently lead the companies to charge rates which, judged by any existing standard, would be unreasonable."

So, in 1911, no less than in 1836, and at any time between those dates, the policy of the State towards the railways, as far as it can be summed up in a single word, is represented by this word "might." The attitude of distrust and suspicion originally engendered towards the railways by the canal companies evidently still survives, and is expected to form, even to-day, the approved basis of State action. The principle of railway co-operation is, indeed, frankly and fully accepted by the Departmental Committee, who declare they have come to the unanimous conclusion "that the natural lines of [ 510 ]development of an improved and more economical railway system lie in the direction of more perfect understandings and co-operation between the various railway companies which must frequently, although not always, be secured by formal agreements of varying scope and completeness, amounting in some cases to working unions and amalgamations." But, although they admit that mutual competition between railway companies exists to-day in only a "limited degree," and although they do not show that the agreements and amalgamations thus far carried out have been in any way really detrimental to the public interests, they are still influenced, as Parliaments, Select Committees and Departmental Committees before them have been for the last three-quarters of a century, by that one word "might." Railway companies may be allowed to co-operate—more especially because they cannot be prevented from doing so; but fresh restrictions and further obligations must be imposed lest they might abuse the facilities granted to them, in seeking to cover increased taxation and other items of heavier working expenses. Thus among the recommendations of the Departmental Committee are the following:—

"That it should be provided that when a facility or service is diminished or withdrawn, it should lie upon the railway company to show that the reduction or withdrawal is reasonable.

"That it should lie upon the railway company to justify a charge made for a service hitherto rendered gratuitously.

"That it should be declared that the law with regard to increased charges applies to passenger fares and other charges made for the conveyance of traffic by passenger trains."

These proposals are, no doubt, inspired by a genuine desire to protect the public interests; yet the effect of carrying them out would be effectually to destroy the small amount of elasticity that is still left in the relations between the railway companies and the public. If, in addition to having to "justify" the increase of any rate for goods or minerals, the companies were required to run the risk of having to "justify" the taking off of any train they found no longer necessary, or even the slightest increase in any of the now often extremely low railway fares, the result would be to tie their hands still further in the making of experimental concessions, [ 511 ]and, in the result, the travelling public, as is the case already with the traders, would stand to lose through a policy nominally designed to protect their interests.

Whatever course may be actually taken in regard to these particular aspects of the question, the trend of events in the railway world will probably be more and more in the direction of continuing the policy of agreements and amalgamations on lines which, while giving the fullest transport facilities to the public, should check wasteful competition and ensure all practicable economy in the matter of working expenses.

That the trade of the country would suffer, in consequence, is hardly to be anticipated. Assuming that three railway companies, who had already agreed as to the rates they would charge, had each been conveying goods between A and B, and that they arranged for the consignments entrusted to all three to be taken in one train by one route, instead of in three trains by separate routes, a clear economy would be effected without any detriment to the traders, since the goods would reach B all the same, while savings in the working expenses should render the companies better able to meet the wishes of traders in other directions.

In regard to the possibility (as already told on page 448) of an increase in railway rates to enable the companies to meet increases of wages or other betterment of the positions of their staffs, any general increase might well occasion uneasiness, and even alarm, to traders who already find it difficult enough to meet foreign competition, and to whom greater cost of transport might be a matter of no little concern. On the other hand there is an undoubted anomaly in the fact that whilst the burdens on railway companies have greatly, if not enormously, increased of late years, and whilst other commercial companies are free to pass on to the consumer increased costs of production or heavier working expenses, including, especially, a much heavier taxation, the statutory standard for railway companies' rates and charges should still be that of the last day of December, 1892.

A further result of the railway strikes in the autumn of 1911 was to revive the agitation in favour of railway nationalisation. In some quarters it was argued that an effective guarantee against the recurrence of railway strikes would be found in State ownership; but this theory is certainly not [ 512 ]confirmed by the actual experiences of Holland, Hungary, Victoria, Italy and France. There is no suggestion that, if the railways were owned by the State, the railwaymen would voluntarily abandon the right to strike; but State ownership is favoured by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (which passed a resolution approving thereof at the annual conference at Carlisle on October 4, 1911), in the expectation (1) that, under these conditions, the unions would be certain to get "recognition"; (2) that they would then be able to bring such pressure to bear on the Government that they would be sure to get what they wanted without having to strike; and (3) that, owing to the economies to which State operation would lead, the Government would be in a position to give the railway workers higher pay and shorter hours. Here, however, the questions arise whether the country would be willing to allow the railway unions practically to control alike the Government and the economic situation; whether the assumed "economies" under State ownership and operation of the railways would really be effected; and whether any such changes in railway service conditions as those that were demanded in the National All-Grades Programme could be conceded even under a nationalisation system without imposing on the railway users greater burdens in the way of higher rates and fares than they might be disposed to tolerate.

On the other hand there is the consideration that if the working expenses of the railway companies are to be swollen to still greater proportions by heavier wages bills, abnormal taxation, public demands for greater facilities, and State requirements in equipment or operation; if, at the same time, the companies are to be subjected to statutory restrictions in regard to the charges they may impose for the services they render; and if, also, the danger of strikes and of outside control or interference is to be increased, the day may conceivably come when transfer of the railways to the State, under, presumably, fair and equitable conditions, would be the only effectual means of relieving the railways themselves from what might then be an otherwise hopeless position.

While the outlook for the future has various elements of uncertainty, and, in regard to matters of detail, gives rise to some degree of concern, a review of the conditions [ 513 ]under which trade, industry and communication have been developed throughout the ages leads to the conclusion that the country may, at least, regard with feelings of profound thankfulness and generous appreciation the efforts of that long succession of individual pioneers, patriots and public-spirited men to whose zeal, foresight and enterprise we are so materially indebted for the advantages we now enjoy.

  1. A good example of these tendencies is offered by the Southend district, situate at the mouth of the Thames, a distance of 35 miles from London. Season tickets between London and Southend are issued by the railways at a low rate, and on the London, Tilbury and Southend line there are 6000 holders of these tickets. In the special interests of wives and daughters cheap tickets to London by an express train are issued on Wednesdays to allow of shopping in town, visits to the theatre, etc., and by this train there is an average of from 600 to 700 passengers, consisting almost exclusively of ladies.
  2. Exclusive of those by season-ticket holders.
  3. In an address delivered by him as president of the Railway Students' Union at the London School of Economics on October 24, 1911, Mr Sam Fay, general manager of the Great Central Railway, said: "There is little prospect of any extensive opening out of new competitive routes in this country, and, but for a few comparatively short lines here and there, the railway system may be considered complete."