Слике страница
PDF
ePub

country until we have much better truck-loads and much better train-loads. To carry such a reform into effect means nothing short of a revolution. The essence of the English system has been small consignments and rapid delivery. If traders want cheap rates, they must abandon their belief that a railroad is only a glorified carrier's cart. They must consign in large quantities, and they must be content to allow two or three days for the goods to reach their destination, instead of expecting them to arrive next morning. Nor is this all. Goods-sheds and goods-yards, and traders' private sidings, and colliery-screens and shunting-necks, and turntables, and so forth, will have to be altered and reconstructed all over the country. It will cost a good deal of money, and involve a great deal of disturbance; but it will be abundantly worth while. Yet it can only be done if there is a strong compelling force behind the movement.

To expect the separate companies to do it on their own account is out of the question. A reform of this kind can only be carried through as a whole. A single general manager who lagged behind the rest and failed to give whole-hearted and energetic support to the movement, still more a manager who deliberately set out to obtain traffic from his rivals by falling in with the natural desire of the traders to be allowed to keep to the old methods,would suffice to block the whole scheme. There would be companies, too, who would lack the financial strength to fit their lines to cope with the new conditions. From this point of view alone it is clear that the thing can only be done by the railways organised as a combined system. But there is more than this. If the companies were bold enough to attempt so drastic a change unsupported and on their own account they would certainly fail, and be forced to surrender to the opposition of the traders and their vested interests. There may have been a time in the dark ages of railway history when what is called the railway interest' had a powerful influence in Parliament. But nowadays, as recent history has abundantly shown, the railways are powerless to contend against the influence of Chambers of Commerce and other similar organisations in the press and in Parliament. If our antiquated and extravagant methods are to be modernised, the active support of the Government is absolutely essential.

There is more than this. We have on the railways of this country about 600,000 or 700,000 private coal wagons, belonging partly to the colliery companies, and partly to coal merchants. Conceive what this means. A train of fifty trucks starts for London from some gathering-ground in Derbyshire or Yorkshire. When it gets to London it has to be sorted for a dozen different local distributing points; then the wagons have to be sorted again to go back each to their own colliery to be reloaded, though the wagons making up the train are practically identical, and any wagon of the lot would do as well as any other, if only it happened to have the right name painted on it. The waste, in blocked lines and sidings, in extra shunting, in empty running, is simply appalling. And it is no small additional point that, speaking broadly, private owners' wagons are less well maintained than those belonging to the railway companies, and consequently break down much more frequently, not often causing but always risking serious accidents, and resulting in numerous obstructions to the rest of the traffic on the running lines. Here again the companies are powerless, unless the Government supports them. The coal-owner has a statutory right to run his own trucks; and though it may not be in the general interest of all the coal-owners that each owner should continue to do so, it is distinctly in the interest of each individual coal-owner to do so while his neighbour does it, and still more if his neighbour does not. For thereby he not only advertises his own business, but secures, when trade is brisk and trucks are at a premium, that at least his own trucks are available for his own exclusive service.

The pages of this review are not a suitable place to discuss in detail the economies that might be effected by insisting on consigning in bulk and on the abolition of private wagons. It is safe to say that no one who knows the facts will doubt that a good many millions might be saved. It should be added that it is not only operating expenses that would be reduced; there would also be an immense saving in future capital outlay. The operating units on a railway are the truck and the train. Nowadays we are hardly likely to build new railways to any great extent. The new capital goes into widenings of existing lines, construction of relief lines and sidings, and the enlargement of terminals. A full truck with ten tons in it takes no more room in a shunting-yard than a truck with two tons in it. A train of twenty trucks occupies a whole block section, and a train of eighty trucks occupies no more. If we were to double the load per truck we should halve the number of trucks that have to be accommodated in shunting-yards and sidings. If we could double the load of a train, we should halve the number of trains, and there would be little need to talk any more of widened and relief lines till the indefinite future.

There is another matter that must be faced by the Government before the railways are handed back. Competition, as has been said, is for all practical purposes dead. Combination and agreement have taken its place. And this being so, two things follow. Some of us may

grieve that e'en the shade Of that which once was great has passed away’; but at least let us not pretend that the shadow is the substance, and let us do away with the shadow. And secondly, let us appreciate the self-evident truth that a system of State regulation which sufficed when the main regulative force was that of competition will not suffice for the control of a noncompetitive system, and let us act accordingly. To the new system of regulation required we must return later on. Meanwhile a word as to the meaning of the words 'abolition of 'competition.'

France has never allowed competition. From the beginning of railway history France has been divided into six districts, each the monopoly of a single company. Five of the districts radiate from Paris; the sixth, the Midi, is in the far south and south-west. If we are to secure the advantages in economy and simplicity which the abolition of competition ought to bring, we must follow the French example. Great Britain lends itself excellently, from a geographical point of view, to a similar system of districting. There would naturally be, radiating from London, a south-eastern system composed of the South-Eastern and Chatham with the addition of the Brighton Company; and an enlarged Great Western absorbing the South-Western and serving the whole of the South-West and West of England and Wales as far north as a line drawn roughly from London to Shrewsbury. The North-Western, VOL. 225 NO. 459.

H

Midland, and Lancashire and Yorkshire combination would take everything else west of a line drawn from London through Manchester to Carlisle. The Great Northern, Great Central, and Great Eastern united would cover the rest of England as far north as the line of the Humber; while the North-Eastern would practically keep the same territory as at present. The five Scotch companies would be combined in a single system. Of course the far-stretching antennæ of some of the existing companies would have to be cut off. The North-Western, for instance, and the Midland, would release their hold on Cardiff and Swansea ; and the joint line of the Midland and Great Northern would cease to compete with their partner, the Great Eastern, for traffic to Yarmouth and Cromer. Further, the small companies which still remain as enclaves in the territory of their great neighbours, the Cambrian, the North Staffordshire, the Hull and Barnsley, and a host of smaller fry, would have to be bought up outright and absorbed in the surrounding systems. And thereby the righteous soul of the railway reformer, who vexes himself from day to day because the directors' fees of some score boards of petty companies absorb perhaps £20,000 out of a total revenue of £140,000,000, would attain great peace.

All this, needless to say, would take time and imply much financial readjustment. There cannot be a better opportunity for carrying it out than a time when the old financial system is in abeyance, and when the shareholders are for the moment disinterested in the results of ordinary railway operations.

At this stage not a few readers will doubtless say:

'What is the use of making two bites at a cherry ? If the Government is to take the responsibility proposed; if it is to carry the burden of substantial railway deficits for an indefinite number of years to come ; if it is to stand behind the companies in revolutionising all the methods of railway business; if it is to undertake a complicated and difficult series of rearrangements and amalgamations, with all the readjustments of capital that this implies, is it not much simpler to take over the railways outright and work them as a State institution like the Post Office and the telegraphs and telephones ?'

Undoubtedly it is simpler. It is always simpler to cut a knot than to untie it. But when one comes to fastening up the parcel again and finds the string too short, one often wishes that one had adopted the slower but in the end more satisfactory method.

It is impossible within the limits here available to discuss the pros and cons of State Ownership of Railways. Thirty-five years ago a famous Royal Commission in Italy exhaustively investigated the question. President Hadley,* of Yale, has summed up their conclusions in the following words :

'I. Most of the pleas for State management are based upon the idea that the State would perform many services much cheaper than they are performed by private companies. This is a mistake. The tendency is the other way. ... The State is much more likely to attempt to tax industry than to foster it. ...

2. State management is more costly than private management. . .

3. The political disadvantages would be very great. Politics would corrupt the railroad management, and the railroad management would corrupt politics.'

Much railway history has been made since 1881. Italy herself, having failed satisfactorily to adjust the relations between the railways and the State, in a fit of what might almost be called petulance, nationalised her railways in 1906. Switzerland has done the same. More recently the French Government has taken over the system of the Western Company. The State systems of Australasia and South Africa have greatly increased in importance. But an impartial study of the railway history, not only of the countries mentioned, but of State ownership all over the world, shows little to invalidate and much to confirm the conclusions of the Italian Commission.

One fact, and it is of vital importance, stands out preeminent. In every country with a democratic constitution politics corrupt the railroad management and the railroad management corrupts politics.' Everywhere wages are the sport of politics. They are regulated quite as much by the voting power of the employees as by their reasonable rights and their technical qualifications. Belgium offers a locus classicus. One fine day in June 1912 there were sent out by telephone from the cabinet of the Minister of Railways orders that a substantial advance in their wages was to be made to a large number of employees. The advance was antedated

* Railroad Transportation. Its History and its Laws.' By Arthur T. Hadley. New York : Putnams. 1886. p. 228,

« ПретходнаНастави »