Page images

great company, extending from London to Edinburgh, and embracing all the central districts of England. The Great Western, which already has spread its ramifications into Wales, and which extends northwards to Manchester and Liverpool, will naturally ally itself with the Bristol and Exeter, and embrace Cornwall. On the other hand, the South-Eastern, now damaged by competition, is certain to amalgamate with the London, Chatham, and Dover; and the union of the Brighton and South-Western is not improbable. If things are allowed to take their course, we may expect that ere long three or four great companies will have in their hands the whole railway system of Great Britain.

“As competition injures, and has injured, the proprietors of railways, so must amalgamation, in its present form, prove detrimental to the public."*

The following extract, from the same pamphlet, gives an idea of the condition of railway property in Great Britain :

Though the traffic of the country has greatly increased, railway property is still unremunerative. The Great Western, with its magnificent works, which at one time yielded 8 per cent., yielded in 1863 but one-half, and is now yielding only 31 per cent. The Great Eastern yields but L.1, 17s. 6d. per cent.; the London, Chatham, and Dover yields no return whatever. In 1862 the London and North-Western shares were at 6 per cent. discount; till lately the shares of the North-Eastern were quoted at a discount of 30 per cent. ; and were there perfect confidence in the ultimate value of railway property, this line, from its last dividend of 64 per cent., should be quoted at 25 premium, instead of 11 or 12, the present market price. Even the Chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincoln--who so eloquently opposes Government interference with railways-pays only a dividend of 2} per cent to his shareholders, while he proposes to them a loan

*“Plan for lessening the Taxation of the Country by the assumption, &c. of the Railways of Great Britain and Ireland by the State." London : 1865.

of upwards of a million sterling to better his condition, but apparently throwing good money after bad ! In Scotland the whole of the railways on the east coast, from the northern borders of England to Elgin, are almost wholly unremunerative, while the few lines in the south-west that pay a dividend are apparently about to sustain serious damage by new schemes which their directors contemplate for self-protection."*

These results sufficiently discredit “the plain common-sense way” of dealing with railways which was preferred to the recommendations of the Irish Commissioners and of many public officers in England. Other consequences, however, of the private monopoly system are still more conclusive of the fact, that neither the public nor the capitalists have fared so well as they would have done had the railways been placed under more complete Governmental control.

Mr Edwin Chadwick, in a recent publication on the subject of railway reform, supplies us with the means of comparing the state of the railways in this country, and in those in which they were undertaken by the State, or at least not left to private companies. He says that at the outset of the new means of communication, he, in common with other public officers, advocated in England the views which the Irish Commissioners so

*“The shares of the Edinburgh and Glasgow are now at 80 to 84, a discount of from 16 to 20 per cent.; those of the North British are at 55, a discount of 45. Yet these companies contemplate laying out about two millions in bridging, by stupendous works, the Forth, and competing for the traffic to Perth and Dundee, to which there are two lines already. The Caledonian, a few years ago, compounded with its creditors. It has now recovered tone again through better management and an improvement in traffic. But being obliged for self-protection to amalgamate with the Scottish Central, it plans a new and shorter line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, between which there are three lines already, besides the Union and Clyde and Forth Canals!"

earnestly desired to have carried out in Ireland. They objected to giving up to irresponsible private speculators the public highways and means of communication as sources of private enterprise and profit, and urged that the Government, on behalf of the public, should determine upon the lines, provide the capital for their construction, and put them up for competition to construct, maintain, and work responsibly :

“Much of this course has been taken in Belgium, Wurtemburg, France, Switzerland, and other continental States. Now, let us consider the position of the simple shareholders. In England, the net receipts, less interest on preference shares and loans, is even now under 4 per cent. on ordinary share capital ;* and the shareholders would have gained largely if they could have kept their money in Government securities. In Belgium, the net profits on the Government and private capital expended, average nearly 51 per cent. ; in France, more than 61; in Prussia, 71, with fuel and iron much dearer. But let us look at the results to the public. It may be stated that in England, the average fares for 100 miles are—for first-class passengers, 15s. 10d.; the second class, 11s. 6d. ; third class, 7s.6d. In Belgium, they are for the first class, 6s. 6d.; the second class, 5s. 6d.; for the third class, 3s. In France, they are 13s. 6d., 10s., and 78. respectively; and in the German States somewhat lower. But it is reported by Captain Galton and generally admitted, that their third class is generally as good as our second class, and their second class as our first. Then, as to security, it is proved by the returns, that in France travelling is seven times, in Belgium nine times, and in Prussia sixteen times, less dangerous than in England

On official inquiry into the causes of our railway accidents, more than nine out of ten have been pronounced to have arisen from causes under control, from want of discipline, from insufficient

* In 1853, and again in 1859, the dividends derived from the railways in Britain were calculated not to amount, on the average, to 3 per cent.—“M'Culloch's Commercial Dictionary,” editions of 1857 and of 1859-60. Art. Railroads.,

regulations, or from the misplaced parsimony of the directors or the superior officers; in other words, from inferior administration. Whatever we may be as regards the past means of communication in this country, in respect to those immediately available, we are slow, and dear, and not safe.”

* “ Address on Railway Reform. By Edwin Chadwick, C.B." Lond. 1865. Mr Chadwick’s pamphlet, like most of the productions of his pen, is a very able paper, and well worthy a careful perusal. Mr Galt's “Railway Reform," Lond. 1865, is a more exhaustive discussion of the whole question raised, but, necessarily, merely skirted in the text. Any one who desires to form a judgment on this, which has recently again become a question of public interest (owing to Mr Gladstone's foresight in 1844, in reserving to Government the right to purchase, on certain specified terms, all the railways in the United Kingdom that from that time should be constructed), will find abundance of materials in Mr Galt's book, taken along with Mr Francis' “ History of the English Railroad," Lond. 1851. As bearing on this question, I annex an abridgment of a letter, dated January 25, 1867, from M. Corr-Vander Marren, a Belgian official, to the Chairman of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce :—“The telegraph in Belgium is, like the Post-office and the principal lines of railway, worked by the Government, under the direction of the minister of public works. It was first introduced by an English company, who obtained the concession of the line from Brussels to Antwerp. The Government afterwards purchased the Antwerp and Brussels line, and planned a general system of telegraphic lines all over Belgium. The tariff established by the State at the outset was calculated by dividing the country into three zones, and fixing the rates respectively at 24 f., 5 f., and 74 f. for twenty words. As the use of the telegraph increased, the tariff was reduced time after time until the 1st December 1865, when the rate of } f. for the whole of the country was introduced. Previous to the 1st December 1865, the tariff for simple telegrams of twenty words was fixed at 1f. The first month, December 1865, produced an increase upon the corresponding month of 1864 of 102 per cent. on the number of telegrams, and of 15 per cent. on the produce. Taking the whole of the year 1866, we find the increase, as compared to 1865, as follows :

1865—Number of telegrams, 332,721 : produce, 345,289 f. 1866

692,536 :

407,532 f. In the figures for 1865 there is one month's application of the


We have thus been taught by experience a lesson which we would not otherwise learn, that to railways, at least, the principle of laissez faire is wholly inapplicable. Mr Drummond's benevolent scheme for the improvement of the masses of the Irish was destined to be thwarted through British selfishness and obtuse

Its results at least were lost when, by his untimely death, the genius that had conceived and directed the project was withdrawn. Some of those who were foremost in opposing him are now, I am assured, the most clamorous for the purchase by the State of the Irish Railways. It is the old story,the good that might have been done can only be conjectured,—the evil that might have been averted we must suffer as best we may.

reduced tariff. Upon the other hand, the incessant permanent increase of 17 per cent. in the telegraphic correspondence must be considered. The real figures to be compared are the following :

1865—Supposed traffic, if no reduction had taken place in De

cember, 320,000 telegrams : produce, 352,000 f. 1866–Supposed traffic, if no reduction had taken place that

year, 374,000 telegrams : produce, 411,840 f. 1866–Real traffic by 1 f. tariff, 692,536 telegrams : produce,

407,532 f. "As is here shown, the produce of the receipts of 1866 at the reduced tariff of 1 f. are, in reality, about the same as had been previously obtained at the 1 f. tariff. This may be considered a most favourable result, particularly when we take into account the deplorable state of prostration into which all commercial transactions were thrown in 1866. The Belgian Government has worked out the telegraphic system with great advantage to the country. The telegraph has not only paid off the whole of the cost of its plant and construction, but its tariff has been gradually reduced ; and the people of Belgium are now enjoying, at less cost than any other country in Europe, the full advantage of this splendid invention. I have no doubt that in the course of two or three years the increase in the number of telegrams will bring back the profits to an extent which will justify further improvements.”

« PreviousContinue »