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ways. One great cause of loss, the difference in the balance of goods sent in opposite directions, would be absolutely unaffected by any change in the size of the waggons. Nor is there any ground for the assumption that a train of small carriages, or small waggons, would, as a matter of course, be habitually more loaded up to its full capacity than a train of larger vehicles. As matter of calculation, in comparing weights and capacities, the 84 inch plant designed by Mr. Brunel provided for a greater proportionate net weight than any other description of vehicle on our ordinary railways. As matter of experience, the working cost of this plant was less, as a percentage of receipts, than on any other English line conveying approximately equal quantities of passenger and of goods traffic. We cannot therefore see that the advocates of a 36 inch gauge, except under special circumstances, have as yet made out even a primâ facie case for serious consideration.
Our hopes of increased profit for the proprietors of railways point in an altogether different direction. They refer, in the first place, to the publication of annual reports in a more businesslike form. The French returns may be imitated with much advantage; and if the accountants and auditors of our railways will only take the same pains to ascertain what part of their business pays best, and what part pays least or not at all, we shall have gained a first step of primary importance.
Secondly, and as a consequence of the first step, the attention of the traffic managers should be steadily bent towards the reduction of tare. The fact that the running of empty vehicles is the main quicksand that absorbs profit should be brought fully home to the managers of the traffic; and their attention should be scrupulously directed to the avoidance of this source of expense in every possible manner.
Thirdly, comes the question of the true economy of mineral and other bulky traffic. It is almost a truism to say that artificial methods of forcing traffic on to a line of railway are contrary to true economy. The public, at all events, will be the ultimate loser, and so, in most cases, will be the grasping traffic manager. Now there can be no contradiction to the statement that the whole policy of the railway boards towards the canals has been based on the principle of rendering fair competition for such traffic as was water-borne before the construction of railways impossible. Had the railway been essentially a cheaper and better medium for mineral traffic, the canals would have been let alone. The public would soon have found out the truth, and the traffic would have followed its best natural channel, whichever it were. It is only necessary to observe what
are the facts of the case, to see that railway directors were instinctively aware that the canals, if let alone, would successfully compete for a large share of traffic. Out of 4,135 miles of inland navigation in the United Kingdom, 1,716 miles have been actually purchased by railway companies. In-other cases a certain annual payment has been made to canal companies, on the condition that certain tariffs should be adopted. In yet other cases the railway companies have impeded the operation of canals by reducing their own charges, generally, to a minimum, but at the same time raising them to a maximum on any points where by so doing they can check great lines of water communication. For highly instructive details on this score
we refer to the work of M. de Franqueville.
If we count the cost at which the railway companies have forced upon their lines the amount of mineral traffic for which they now receive some 12 millions sterling per annum gross income, we shall find good reason for the opinion that the country would have been in a more prosperous state, or at all events that railway proprietors would have been far more amply remunerated than is now the case, if the Legislature had insisted on the performance of the conditions originally prescribed in order to prevent monopoly. In the first place, the purchase of 1,716 miles of canal cannot have cost less than six millions sterling. The guarantees and rents paid when the lines of canal have not been actually purchased are not easy to be ascertained. The Leeds Canal alone is said by M. de Franqueville to receive nearly 40,0007. per annum from the NorthWestern and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Companies, by way of bribe to keep up its rates. For the destruction or command of the canal traffic, it is probable that the net revenue of the railway companies, including interest on actual expenditure, is diminished by more than half a million per annum.
The second item for consideration is the interference with the regularity and safety of the passenger traffic that is caused by the requirements for the accommodation of the slow heavy traffic. The amount paid by the railway companies, in the year 1874, as compensation for personal injury and damage to goods, amounted to the sum of 596,2167. We shall thus be under the mark in rating the average annual damages paid in consequence of what are called accidents at half a million sterling. This figure, however, by no means represents the actual loss incurred by the companies, as it takes no heed of the damages caused to their own plant, and even to their own
Du Régime des Travaux Publics, tome ii. p. 294.
works, by collisions. A large proportion of these disasters occur from the interference of the slow with the rapid traffic; and if the whole inconvenience thus occasioned is taken into account, we shall find that, in addition to a lamentable loss of human life, a cost of another half million per annum must be attributed to the choking of the passenger lines by a heavy mineral traffic.
Thirdly comes the fact, as to which we have already given some detail, of the large increase of capital, and consequent diminution of rateable dividend, required by the plant and fixed accommodation for the mineral traffic. If we suppose the mineral traffic of 1874 to have earned a nominal profit of 2 per cent. on actual working charges, we still find that by removing the corresponding items from the two sides of the balancesheet, we should reduce the proportion of working expenses to gross revenue to rather less than 44 per cent., instead of the actual rate of 55.6 per cent. And if we then consider over how much smaller a capital the increased proportionate net profit would in that case have been divided, we shall see that the high dividends enjoyed by the ordinary stock-holders of the French lines would have been very largely exceeded by those of the United Kingdom, if the heavy traffic had been left to water carriage.
How superior in earning power a passenger line may prove, as compared with one conveying a mixed traffic, may be seen by comparing the results of the working of the Metropolitan Railway with the average figures given by Captain Tyler. The cost of constructing this subterranean line has exceeded the prodigious price of 650,000l. per mile. Many circumstances tend to make the cost of working higher than on other lines, and the cost per train mile is rather more than 10 per cent. higher than the average. If the working expenses bore the same proportion of 56 per cent. to gross income as the average, for 1874, on the lines of the United Kingdom, it would require a traffic of 59,000l. per mile to pay 4 per cent. on the capital. The traffic for the last half year was only at the rate of a little over 18,000l. per mile per annum; and yet per cent. per annum was divided on the ordinary stock.
The reason of this apparent anomaly is to be found in the fact that the Metropolitan is almost exclusively a passenger line. It carried, last half-year, only 5 per cent. of mineral and merchandise traffic. On this, if we assume the same cost per train-mile for all trains, it lost upwards of 1,2007. But the high profit of the passenger traffic, which we make to be per cent. of the gross revenue, is such as to overcome the
great disadvantages mentioned, and to render the Metropolitan Railway a property of steadily increasing value.
It must be admitted that no time should be lost in arriving at a definite and practical solution of the great question above raised. The affair is urgent. For the first time since the accounts of the annual movement of the railways of the United Kingdom have been published, an increase in the gross revenue, to the amount of 1 millions, has been accompanied by a decrease in the net revenue, to the amount of 363,0007. That decreased net earning has to be divided over a capital larger, by the sum of 21 millions sterling, than that of the preceding year. The cause of this unsatisfactory change is the increase in the working expenses to the ratio of 56 per cent., while the capital account is being steadily swollen. Thus the percentage of net receipts to total share and loan capital has fallen from 4.51 in 1872, to 4-14 in 1874. If this. rate of relative decrease continue, by the year 1908 the railways of the United Kingdom will not be able to pay a single farthing by way of dividend or of interest.
It is not to legislation that we can look for a check to this downward movement; at all events in the actual state of obscurity in which the relative profit and loss of the three great divisions of traffic is involved. The wisdom of Parliament, in all that concerns the railways of the United Kingdom, has been conspicuously negative. Under parliamentary sanction private individuals have invested 610 millions sterling in the construction of 16,500 miles of railway. No provision has been made for the extension of the benefits of the railway system to any part of the country in need of such benefit. Where companies think it will pay them to run new lines, Parliament usually grants them the power. Not only so, but it grants them the power and the property absolutely. Thus, if ever the time arrives in which it should become evident that the Administration can no longer abdicate one of the great functions of government, the maintenance and supervision of the highways of the country, the State will only be able to acquire the control of the existing railways by doubling the national debt.
In France the State has already expended nearly 48 millions sterling in the partial construction of the railways of the country. It is further liable to an annual payment by way of guaranteed interest, which amounted in 1872 to 11,157,0007. Against this it receives from the companies, by way of taxes, imposts, and economies, the sum of six millions and a half sterling per annum. Allowing interest and a sinking fund
for the money expended, the actual annual charge to the State, which diminishes each year, is about eight millions sterling. But at the expiration of the existing concessions, the entire network of the French railways, which had cost 296,000,000l. at the end of 1872, will have become public property. Nor is this all. In the concessions granted to the great companies these associations have not been allowed to execute merely such lines as were at once plainly profitable. A second and third series of lines have been designed, and are in course of execution, with the object of serving the country rather than the railway proprietors alone. Out of 16,296 kilomètres already constructed in France, 10,969 kilomètres do not as yet carry a traffic sufficient to pay for the cost of working and the interest of capital. 1,296 kilomètres do not receive enough to cover the mere working expenses. Thus, while the net receipts of the entire system are equal to 4.98 per cent. on the total capital, and while the proportion of shares and loan is such as to allow a dividend of 10 per cent. to the former, due provision has been made for the extension of the greatest benefit of modern civilisation to those parts of France into which the mere desire of lucrative investment would not have led the companies to penetrate for an indefinite period of time.
The mode in which the railway companies of the United Kingdom have been allowed to ruin the canal property is another mark of the indifference of Parliament to an important feature of public policy. It would have been as justifiable, on the score of public welfare, to allow the railway companies to buy up the turnpike bonds, and to charge what tolls they pleased on the turnpike roads, as it was to wink at the purchase and stoppage of the canals. The danger of allowing such a change of mastership is admitted by the clauses inserted in several Acts of Parliament regulating the maximum tollsclauses which have been allowed to remain a dead letter. The Board of Trade declared that it had neither advice nor assistance to offer to complainants in the matter.† Mr. Farrer, the Secretary to the Board of Trade, expressed his opinion, in 1872, that the actual state of canal property, which was held by the railway companies just so far as to enable them to destroy the traffic, was the worst possible, as regarded the public interest. It is now too late to attempt to remedy the
Really 10.74 per cent. 'Du Régime des Travaux Publics,' tome ii. p. 416.
Du Régime des Travaux Publics, tome ii. p. 305.