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falling steadily but not slowly on a scale beyond that which the change in the market value of money could justify, were equally dissatisfied. Everybody agreed that something must be done.
A Royal Commission, constituted, contrary to most recent precedents, wholly without representation of the interest mainly affected, was appointed in October 1913 and at once proceeded to hear evidence. Many traders and manufacturers appeared as witnesses and recounted in appalling details scores of petty personal and local grievances. Indeed they planted so many trees, if indeed most of them should not rather be called saplings, that the chances of the Commission ever seeing the wood appeared small. At the outbreak of the war the Commission suspended its sittings, we may assume for good. For events since August 1914 have so entirely transformed the situation that it is quite impossible that matters can be taken up where they were before. We are confronted with a wholly new situation. On the one hand railways, after the war, will not be able to pay their way without higher rates; on the other, in the fierce struggle for business after the war manufacturers and traders will claim, and in some trades at least with justice, that they cannot hold their own in international markets without lower rates. The situation is serious, and it must be boldly faced. It cannot be dealt with except by radical reform of English railway methods. Let us see what a comparison with our three chief commercial rivals, Germany, France, and the United States, has to teach us.
It will be necessary to use figures, but while the figures for Germany, France, and the United States are accurate statistical calculations, the corresponding figures for this country will have to be guessed. The men who manage the English railways say, and the Board of Trade has hitherto been content to agree with them, that it is not necessary for the public, or even for themselves, to know what is the average rate charged for carrying a passenger or a ton of goods a mile ; what is the average weight of goods conveyed in a truck or in a train ; or what is the volume of traffic carried over a given line. Yet these are the figures by which in other countries railway men, as also the controlling public authority, and the outside critics financial and other, judge performances. In
order to make comparisons, it is necessary for us to guess as nearly as we can at the corresponding English figures. They will probably be correct within a margin of error of, say, 20 per cent. as a maximum.*
A word in passing about passenger traffic. Passengers are much less important than goods for two reasons. In the first place, passenger journeys are largely in the nature of luxuries. They represent in many cases an expense altogether avoidable, while in other cases, such as family holidays at the seaside or commercial travellers' journeys, they account for but a small percentage of the total outlay of the persons who pay for them. Goods rates, on the other hand, are a necessary addition to consumers' prices. Further, passenger receipts are always the smaller part of railway revenues. Even in England, where the proportion is higher than anywhere else, they amount to a good deal less than half : in France about three-sevenths ; in Germany not much more than one-third ; and in the United States only about a quarter. Now in an international comparison of passenger fares England comes out well. The average rate of charge for carrying a passenger a mile is, in round figures in America id., in France and Germany }d., and in England (probably) not more than three-fifths of a penny. The extra tenth of a penny by which England is in
* Studying the Board of Trade Railway Returns and, judging by the only traffic figures given, the number of tons dealt with, one is led to believe that the North London Railway (14 miles in length) is a much more important carrier of goods than the London and Brighton, and is indeed more important than the South-Eastern and Chatham combined. Similarly one finds that the Taft Vale is a much more important carrier of coal than great systems like the Caledonian and the Great Northern. On the other hand, from the carriage of goods the North London only earned £174,000, while the London and Brighton earned £501,000, and the SouthEastern and Chatham £715,000. From the carriage of coal, the Taff Vale earned under £600,000, against £936,000 on the Caledonian and £1,280,000 on the Great Northern. What is the explanation ? Is it that the rates of the companies with the smaller volumes of traffic are much lower than those of the companies with the larger volumes of traffic ; or is it perchance that the companies with the larger systems normally carried their traffic for two or three times the distance ? The Board of Trade Returns, as also the accounts of the respective companies, give us no help in the solution of the problem.
excess of France and Germany can be fully justified by the superior quality of service given.*
Goods rates, however, are on a very different basis. In round figures, in the United States a ton is carried three miles for Id. ; in France or Germany three miles for 2d.; and in England three miles for (probably) 31d. What is the explanation ? It is not the 'waste of competition. It is true there is no internal competition in France and Germany, though there is a good deal in the case of international traffic, but in America competition is far more keen and more ubiquitous than in this country. Nor is the explanation to be found, as is sometimes suggested, in the fact that the proportion of high-class traffic is larger in this country than elsewhere. The contrary is the case. The Board of Trade returns show that, out of 568,000,000 tons carried on our railways, coal alone accounted for 345,000,000 of tons, practically three-fifths; other minerals 102,000,000 tons; while 'general merchandise' was only 121,000,000—that is, about 22 per cent. of the total. In America the 'products of mines' of all kinds only amounted to about 56 per cent. of the traffic against the English 80 per cent. German coal traffic, again, amounted to only 33 per cent. of the total. The French statistics do not separate the figures, but notoriously French mineral traffic is a bagatelle compared with that of England.
One of the main causes of the larger average mileage rate in England—and it is a cause which must always remainis the comparative shortness of the haul. The average ton in America is hauled about 150 miles, in France 78 miles, in Germany about 60 miles. In England the average haul is (probably) somewhere between 25 and 30 miles. Now, apart from the fact that, as every railway man knows, it is for various reasons cheaper to haul one ton 150 miles than to haul five tons for 30 miles, it is evident that the cost of constructing,
* The figure given for English railways is based on several actual calculations that have been made of particular railways for short periods. The common assumption that the average English fare is one penny per mile takes account of full fares only, and makes no allowance for the numerous dilutions of the penny fares due to the hundreds of millions of journeys taken by passengers who travel on season tickets, return tickets, week-end tickets, excursion tickets, workmen's tickets, &c., at fares often not more than one quarter or one-fifth of a penny per mile.
equipping, and working the stations and yards, and loading and unloading the traffic at each end, is precisely the same, whether the traffic travels 30 or 150 miles between its points of origin and destination. But in the one case these terminal costs have to be covered by the rate for 30 miles; in the other case they can be spread out five times as thin over the whole 150 miles. Let us take an actual instance and see how it works. From London to Tring is 30 miles. The maximum rate which the North-Western Railway is allowed by statute to charge for Class C traffic, which includes grain and other important staple commodities, is 6s. Iid.; and this is probably just about the sum which the company does actually charge. The charge is made up of 25. 8d. 'statutory maximum 'terminals' and 45. 3d. 'statutory maximum for conveyance.' The total amounts to 83 pence, which, for 30 miles, is approximately 2.8 pence per mile. Now suppose that the traffic was carried 150 miles, and that the same conveyance rate was charged (which in practice it would not be, as the rate per mile always decreases as the mileage increases), the conveyance rate would then be five times 45. 3d., or 215. 3d.; and adding 2s. 8d. as before for terminal charges, we should have a total rate of 235. IId., which is equal to 1'9 pence per mile against 2.8 pence. This single instance sufficiently shows the important effect of length of haul on the average rate, and proves that English rates can never be brought down to the level of Continental countries. English traders, however, can console themselves by the fact that it is better for them to pay 28 pence a mile for 30 miles than I'9 pence a mile for 150 miles.
Length of haul may then justify a higher rate in England than in the rival countries ; but it cannot explain rates double those of France and Germany and three-and-a-half times those out of which the United States railways make a living. And here we come to the root of the matter. We can only approach the standard of rates charged in other countries when we approach their methods of doing the business. And this in England means nothing less than a railway revolution. Everybody has heard American visitors express their amused surprise at our toy trains. Most people have seen goods trains in France and Germany and have noticed that their length is very different from what we are accustomed to at home. Many people have seen the enormous American freight trains with their never-ending procession of colossal cars. But the average English trader who still consigns his traffic by the hundredweight would probably be startled to learn that trains with 4000 tons of net load are not uncommon in the United States, and that one single modern American coal car carries a load much heavier than that of an entire English goods train. American rates have only been made possible by American methods—the largest possible cars, loaded to the fullest possible extent, put together in the longest possible train that the most powerful possible engine can draw. Thirty years ago the average American car only held some 15 or 20 tons, and the average train load was somewhere about 170 tons. To-day the smallest car built can carry 40 tons, while the largest will take 100; and the train load has gone up to 500 tons. Simultaneously the rate, which even in those days was only fd., has dropped by 33 per cent., with the wonderful result that, taking the average of all traffic, the railways make a profit on carrying three tons for id. a mile ; while individual coal lines, such as the Norfolk and Western, are rich beyond the dreams of avarice as the result of carrying five to six tons for id.
The average load conveyed in an American freight car is about 22 tons. Prussia has not revolutionised its methods like America, but it makes full use of its small old-fashioned equipment. The Prussian system of rates penalises small senders so heavily that fully 95 per cent. of the total traffic is sent in full truck-loads. The average capacity of a Prussian truck is 12 tons, and the average load is 75 per cent. of the normal capacity. But the Prussian train-load is only 246 tons, or half that of America; and the Prussian ton-mile rate, largely because the train-load is so small, is double the American.
What the corresponding figures for England are it is difficult even to guess. The English truck is supposed to hold ten tons. It is safe to say that the normal load of merchandise which it carries is not more than 25 per cent. of the nominal capacity, while, if anyone were to assert that the average English goods train—for coal traffic not even a guess is possible -carries as much as 70 tons, he would probably be guilty of considerable exaggeration.
We can never get serious reduction in goods rates in this