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altogether in favour. But it is lamentable to note the number which are built still uncovered; and the neglect of steel, which is both stronger and lighter than wood, is one of those puzzling phenomena which occasionally confront us when we study the doings of the railway director.
Our passenger service has long been our pride, and, perhaps, even in these degenerate days, the community has no great cause to complain. As might be expected in so densely populated an island, our trains are exceedingly frequent. But, with the exception of the longdistance expresses, they are often disgracefully dirty, chilly, and ill-lighted. A very short sojourn in the United States will open our eyes to our shortcomings in these respects. Possibly the public are as much to blame as the companies. The utter recklessness with which the British workman wipes his boots on the newest cushions, and the disgusting manner in which he renders compartments, smoking and non-smoking alike, uninhabitable to the ordinary individual, are interesting commentaries on the refining influence of our national system of compulsory education. But all this provides no reason why we should catch our deaths of cold when we venture to travel in winter.
Hitherto we have believed that our trains run faster than those of any other nation. The developments of recent years have reduced this comfortable notion to a polite fiction. America and France beat us
with quite consummate ease. Fast trains may be good or they may be bad; but, in the modern sense of the phrase, we have dispensed with them. Our settled policy is deceleration, and judging by the 1900 Bradshaw, we intend to follow it merrily for some years to come. Most unfortunately, the records of American expresses are regarded, not as scientific facts, but rather as a means of advertisement, and their reliability is sometimes similar to that of the cures effected by certain well-advertised patent medicines. But it is still unquestionable that Uncle Sam completely outstrips us in the railway race, despite the fact that he uses one engine to a train while, as a rule, we content ourselves with two.
It is sometimes asserted that the civilisation of a country may be accurately gauged by the rapidity of its methods of locomotion.
If there is any
truth in this saw, we are certainly allowing the land of General Mercier to stride far ahead of us. According to French speeds, the journeys to Manchester and Edinburgh from London should each be shortened by a shortened by a clear hour. Possibly our neighbours may be stimulated by a desire to make things lively for visitors to their Exhibition. But the fact remains that their single engines are doing work which is far beyond anything attempted by our locomotives, running two to a train.
A popular fallacy has always existed whereby it has been thought that, by multiplying
competitive routes between given centres of population, you are sure to compel the companies to race for traffic. The wisdom of the man in the street has here turned out to be folly. The actual effect of encouraging competitive routes has been to split traffic to such an extent that high speeds are given up in disgust. The Great Central, for instance, refuses to race to Manchester with practically empty trains. Moreover, between real rivals, it is always possible to strike a secret agreement. A treaty is said to exist between the North-Western and the Great Northern, whereby the former promises to crawl to Manchester, on condition that the latter shall only amble to Edinburgh. In fact, it may safely be said that so long as four or five companies take a bite at each cherry, such bargains must be struck. On the other hand, where a route has a monopoly, it is well worth while to run fast trains, for they can always be filled from start to finish. In France, the fine speeds are in no way due to competition. They pay by virtue of their essential attractiveness.
In making comparisons between our speeds and those attained by our rivals, one fact in our favour should not be forgotten. It is far easier and cheaper to run lightning expresses through a sparsely populated country like France, than through the dense network of cities which stretches over much of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and the Midlands. We mention this point because it
leads on to a principle which we have never yet seen stated in print, but which undoubtedly contains the secret of the magnificent simplicity of the combined North-Western and Cale
donian system. The ordinary man who sits down to design a railway says to himself, "I must begin by selecting a chain of large towns-A, B, C, and D. I will build a line from London to A, from A to B, from B to C, and from C to D. After that, I will think about branch lines." The North Western alone of British railways recognised the golden rule that a main line should never run through a big city. Deliberately, the directors left Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh all on branch or looplines. Originally, the firstnamed city had its place on the main line. But for years it has been relegated to a loop, and has gained thereby. The results of this somewhat startling piece of strategy gradually dawn upon the mind which is prepared to think the matter out.
First, it is possible to run right through to Aberdeen without adding a fraction to the burden of traffic in any of the above - enumerated cities. Secondly, it is possible to run a train to any of the said cities without disturbing the arrangements of the remainder. Thirdly, the whole of the Welsh traffic escapes the congested areas. Fourthly, all the marshalling of trains takes place at points like Stafford, Crewe, Rugby, Carlisle, Carstairs, where land is cheap, and where the town itself, apart from its railway
population, is not important. These considerations apply with an even greater force to the goods traffic, which is always more burdensome than passenger. To put the matter in a nutshell, if you start from Euston for any of the leading cities on the system, you have never to plough your way through the suburbs and heart of any other leading city.
Curiously enough, the Great Western has at last learnt the advisability of diverting its main line from the only firstrank city on its system, that is, Bristol. Hitherto traffic has streamed through Swindon to the port of the west, and has there been split, to be sent, some through the Severn Tunnel to South Wales, other southwards through Exeter to Devon and Cornwall. By the new arrangements, all through traffic to South Wales will escape Bristol, and be despatched direct to the tunnel; while the Exeter traffic will also be sent by a route which will entirely leave the main city out in the cold. But Bristol will not suffer any more than Birmingham has suffered.
The reductio ad absurdum of the old axiom that main lines should run through big cities, is to be found at Waverley Station, Edinburgh. It is generally agreed that in its reconstructed form this station is the biggest in the United Kingdom. Placed in a narrow groove, blocked at each end, further expansion is out of the question. Yet it is scarcely possible even now to deal with the requirements of the traffic. The marshalling of trains, which
ought to take place right outside the city, is conducted at its heart. The whole of the East Coast passengers to and from Glasgow and the Highlands have to be carried through the bottle-neck at Waverley, whereas, by the utilisation of lines, most of which already exist, a simple diversion could almost immediately be effected, to the great relief of all concerned.
In the discussion of speeds, the question seriously arises as to whether our locomotives are up to their work. This is a point upon which specialists are extremely chary of giving a definite opinion. But it is agreed that our engines are not allowed to show what they can do. Moreover, the system of coal premiums, whereby a driver receives a commission on the fuel he saves, militates against fair firing. Still, there is an ugly symptom to be explained, and one which requires to be carefully noted. Pilotingthat is to say, the placing of two engines instead of one at the head of a train-is common upon almost all our lines. It is confessedly a pernicious practice, leading, as it does, to extravagance and waste of power: it is, we believe, scarcely ever resorted to in France or America; and it would seem as if there could only be one explanation of it, so far as this country is concerned. It is said that our gradients are severe and that our loads are heavy. But it is a question whether these excuses really account for our indications of failure.
The fact is, that the whole system of locomotive building
in Great Britain is open to a good deal of criticism. It is entirely different from that in vogue across the Atlantic, where a great proportion of the engines are built by private firms, like those associated with the names Baldwin or Schenectady. With us each railway builds its own locomotives on its own engineer's designs. Let us see what this distinction amounts to. Of the dozen engineers in Great Britain it is not likely that all possess ability of the very highest order. Some must be very much more brilliant than others. Moreover, it is exceedingly difficult for a company to change its engineer when he has been once appointed, provided that he continues to fulfil his obligations in a reasonably creditable manner. Also, it is hard to condemn any of his pet devices without calling upon him to resign. It is therefore a question whether our railways are served as well as they would be by an independent firm with a reputation at stake, and in whose offices is concentrated a fair proportion of the designing genius of the world. This is what actually takes place in America. The works which build locomotives are so enormous, that at every point of time they are able to produce absolutely the latest type of machine. They allow themselves to be hampered by no previous errors. Ordering from them, you may be certain that the experience of the last five minutes will be embodied in the goods supplied.
The net difference between ourselves and the Americans may, perhaps, be best sum
marised as follows: they build for time, while we build for eternity. Our engines are exquisitely finished, and their parts are made throughout of the finest material. The worst of them will last for thirty years. But the objection to this idealism is that within such a period the best of them will have become obsolete. The American realises this. He does not wish his locomotive to last more than ten to fifteen years. By that time he considers he will require a new type, and, in the name of common-sense, is he not right? The two engines really cost him no more than our one. For they are made for use, not ornament, and, moreover, they are built according to types which, at the time, are practically universal throughout the land, a fact which greatly conduces to cheapness. It would seem to be obviously the most economical plan for the railway companies to combine to support colossal firms of locomotive builders, rather than to salary engineers, working in isolation because working in competition, to design the paltry dribblets which each company may require from time to time.
I am leaving the reader to judge how far the depression of railway profits is due to circumstances, and how far to positive bad management. Upon one source of expense, however, there is no justification for an indictment of directors. Heavy expenses are undoubtedly forced upon the companies by Parliament in the
constitutionally a grievance, for the companies have no vote in electing the men who spend the money. In some districts the railway provides a good half of the local revenue, despite the fact that its property has no value in the open market for purposes other than those of a railway, and that the whole of the other rateable property obtains a higher value owing to the proximity of the line. Actually, the Great Central, with a round fourteen millions of absolutely unproductive capital, pays £100,000 every year to the localities it has sacrificed itself to develop.
interests of public safety. The the price of transport. It is tremendous rush of traffic necessitates some such supervision, but its effect upon the balancesheet is none the less apparent. In America, if a man is killed at a level - crossing, it is considered that he should have known better. With us, such an occurrence implies that the level-crossing must be a source of public danger. This, at any rate, is the spirit in which we approach the problem of safety working. Every accident of the nature of a collision or derailment is carefully investigated, and blame is given where blame is due. When we remember that a bill is now before Parliament which enacts that the Board of Trade may declare any sphere of railway activity to be a dangerous area, and subject to inspection by the State, we see that the troubles of Government intervention are as yet only begun. It may be quite right and proper that such attentions should be paid to the traffic working, but the development is certain to prove costly.
The taxation of railways has always been a sore point with the management. The Treasury exactions are not, perhaps, so weighty as to arouse a protest. But the local rates amount to an aggregate which will awaken astonishment with the uninitiated. The North-Western pays £440,000 every year to local authorities, the Great Western £380,000, the Midland £340,000, and others are mulcted in proportion. This tax on means of communication is economically unsound, for it directly raises
The justification for the above observations, as well as for many criticisms made earlier in this rapid survey, must be the undoubted fact that our railways require strong, far-sighted management, together with help, rather than hindrance, from the State. Some attempt should be made to provide a proper and specialised education for young men desirous of entering the service. The pay of the clerical staff should be increased above starvationpoint, and a stringent examination should be provided for candidates who desire to enter. Promotion should be strictly by merit, instead of as at present. Above all, it is necessary, once and for all, to drop the insular pride which allows us to imagine that our present difficulties can be best removed by invariably reversing the policy which has commended itself to railway authorities outside these islands.