Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Trains and tramways

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The aristocracy of Marylebone have rushed to the rescue, and the projected train is off the line for the present. Lord Portman heads the onslaught in defence of vested rights, though the inhabitant householders of Gloucester Place, Portman Square, acknowledge “that private interest must yield to public convenience when a clear ease is made out.”

Lord Portman and his clients are quite right in defending themselves from injury; and we may go further than that, and add that they ought to have compensation for any proven injury—as is the case of railways—which may occur from benefitting the public. Only, they must not be compensated first, and discover afterwards that the supposed injury has put their property at a premium, as has been the case with many railways.

Now, what are the public advantages to be obtained—we will not say by tramways—but by some system of road improvement which shall enable the public to ride in a better class of carriages as a matter of convenience? First, a saving of 75 per cent. in the cost of haulage, and 50 per cent. in drivers and conductors, putting that extra profit into the pockets of the proprietors. Or—Secondly, extending the sphere of riding to a far larger class of the population, and all this without in any way interfering with the public convenience as regards other vehicles or foot passengers.

What are the objections made?

1. That Mr. Train’s system will make a nuisance by reason of monster omnibuses.

Not proven; inasmuch as one omnibus is less nuisance than two. But, in truth, Mr. Train’s specific system is neither more nor less than a very bad class of railway, with a very heavy railway carriage on it, drawn by horses instead of an engine. It is likely to prove a nuisance only by means of mechanical inefficiency.

2. That the streets chosen are not wide enough to permit the railway carriage to pass along the centre, while leaving way enough on each side for the passage of other carriages.

If this be so, the result would be mischievous, aggravating its mechanical deficiencies.

3. That the present small omnibuses “run at such a pace, and at such a rate of charge, as to meet the requirements of all classes.” They who make this statement are probably good easy people who never experienced the curse of Robert Burns “making a guinea do the work of five pounds.” If the poor could ride three miles for a penny instead of twopence, they would express a very strong opinion on this matter, and claim to be better judges than the richer classes in the matter of their especial vehicular conveyance.

No one with a sense of justice will say that the wealthy classes should be deprived without reason of their ease and convenience; but one thing is quite clear. The whole of the streets, save some portion of the parks, and the special reservations of the Duke of Bedford and others, are open to every kind of vehicle, and the omnibuses select those streets where a sufficient number of customers are to be picked up along the line of route. Baker Street, of course, comes under this category.

Now, of all noisy vehicles, an omnibus is about the worst. It is a contrivance to create noise; and the process of noise creation, jumping from stone to stone, produces a mass of dust in dry weather, and mud in wet weather. Whether as regards noise, or dust, or dirt, Mr. Train’s carriage running on a rail would be comparatively noiseless, and free from all dirt nuisance; and were the experiment tried with the omnibuses one day, and the rail carriage next, it is very certain that the inhabitants, if polled, would give their suffrages in favour of the latter; the difference would be as great as that between wood pavement and stone pavement, though subject to disadvantages of other kinds.

Mr. Train’s system is unquestionably a clumsy one, but it is not on that ground that the objections are made against it. It is simply because they do not understand it that persons raise objections against it. If the objectors once understood the theory and principle of traction, their objections would cease. It is the roughness of a road of stone in blocks or Macadam that causes the noise and vibration. To this the objectors will probably reply that all railways are noisy and vibrative. But a railway carriage moving at seven miles per hour is comparatively noiseless and free from vibration. It is the question of speed: the rough road at a slow speed is as noisy as a smoother road at higher speed. This may be experienced by riding in an omnibus over the smooth granite trams in Bread Street when Cheapside pavement is taken up.

How many of the readers of this paper will get these facts into their brains, that a smooth road is a less nuisance than a rough one, and that an ordinary omnibus would lose half its noisome qualities by running on a smooth surface, and save half the cost of horse flesh and human labour? Perhaps five per cent. of my readers will realise this in their minds, and then throw down the paper and think no more of it. The ninety-five others will go on believing that a street railway is a nuisance—until they see it realised.

The first move towards success will be to coin some new word, eschewing the words “rail” and “tram” altogether, and getting some rolling Greek phrases that will set up new ideas, purging these ninety-five brains of all the perilous stuff therein gathered. The next move will be to get a lecturer to visit all the parishes with a model apparatus to demonstrate the practical fact of the superiority of a smooth surface, whether for passengers, for horses, for proprietors, or for paving-boards; after that, a special piece of ground should be selected for a six months’ trial. No other process can get over the prevailing prejudices. And it is to be feared that the imperfect contrivances, introduced by Mr. Train, will rather retard than forward this most important question of transit. People will assume that all systems must necessarily be imperfect, because one has been imported which is capable of further improvement.

W. B. A.