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What, then, I ask, are the objects we ought to aim at-what are the benefits we have a right to expect-what are the particular mischiefs against which we must guard ourselves-and what are the special means we ought to adopt, what the principles by which we ought to be guided in order to insure to the public the good, and to prevent the evil, which may result from this new method of conveyance
Considering the peculiar circumstances of this country, the first great advantage at which we ought to aim, and to which we are certainly entitled, is, that the transport of goods and passengers should be CHEAP, as well as expeditious; and to me it appears clear to demonstration, that the railroads of England ought to afford the cheapest means of transport in the world.
In the first place, we have a great command of capital, with the rate of interest generally low compared with other countries; we have a dense, active, intelligent, and striving population. There is, if I may so express myself, more of activity in our social life, than exists among any other European people. Take a given number of Englishmen, and it will be found that they, from habit and necessity, travel a much larger number of miles within the year than the same number of any other European nation. But not only have we thus capital, and a great demand for the means of travelling, but we have all that is required for the construction of these roads, the produce of our own country, cheap and ready at hand. Iron and coal abound, and can be obtained more cheaply by us than by any other people. We have, besides, the most perfect machinery, and great experience and skill in its application. Am I not, then, justified in saying, that ours ought to be the cheapest railways in the world? Yet what has been, and what is, the fact? We have-and unless something more effectual be done by way of regulation than has yet been provided, we shall continue to have the very dearest railroads of which the whole world affords any example. Let any one look at the continental railroads, and their rates of toll-I will not take the Belgian lines, because, as is well known, they were constructed, and are worked by the Government; but I solicit the attention of the House to the railroads of France. The French have, it is true, taken advantage of our experience, and gathered wisdom from our mistakes; and I submit that we might now in return very advantageously take some hints from them. The Orleans railway was established after the line to Rouen; and it is now generally understood, that the Orleans tariff is to be adopted on all future French railroads. The fares upon this line are fixed at the rate of 5, 7, and 10 centimes per kilometre for third, second, and first class passengers, being a little more than half the charges generally levied in England. The cost of construction was about 23,000l. per mile, and the line not being, as with us, the property of the shareholders in perpetuity, but after a term of years lapsing to the Government, the company are of course compelled to lay by annually a portion of the profits as a sinking-fund, to make up the outlay at the termination of the
lease. Yet, notwithstanding all these conditions, I believe that a better paying line than the Orleans railway does not exist in this country; and the cause of this prosperity will be found to be, mainly, if not solely, in the lowness of fares. I believe, moreover, it will be found, in our own lines, taking them at the very highest estimate, that Id., 14d., and 2d. per mile will afford a fair remunerating profit; and that the only chance of making any railway successful, lies in the adoption of a low tariff. High prices will not bring about high profits. Upon the true principles of mercantile science, it will be found that in railways, as in all other mercantile speculations, large profits are most surely attained by a large trade brought into existence by low prices. If the railroad proprietors properly understood their own interests, they would, therefore, in all cases, foster the wish to travel, and afford facilities for the constant transport of goods, by establishing a low scale of fares. But the railway companies are not wise enough voluntarily to adopt this mode of proceeding; it then behoves the Legislature to step in and to compel the new lines to pursue this wise course of conduct, which will prove not only beneficial to the public, but profitable to themselves.
I may here be asked the principle upon which I would regulate the rate of tolls; and my answer is, that I would determine the rate of toll in every case, by the sum for which the particular line of railway could now be constructed. The public are not bound to inquire what the line really has cost, but merely to ascertain the sum for which it could, at the present time, be constructed; and the railway proprietors ought to be compelled to carry the public and their goods for such fares as would yield a fair profit upon such outlay. The means of so compelling the present companies are twofold-either so to arrange and extend existing lines, as to bring about complete competition among them, or to allow new lines to be constructed at that cheaper cost which improved experience and skill render possible.
The existing railways have no ground for considering such a course of conduct on the part of the legislature as unjust or oppressive. In the same way, and on the same principle that these railroads have been allowed to supersede the old common road, so will the new and cheaper railway be allowed to supersede its more expensive predecessor, if that predecessor be so blind to its own interests as to refuse to adopt the tariff which the public have a right to require.
Hitherto, indeed, the railway companies have not generally acted on the liberal principles which their interests really suggested; but they have constantly striven to keep up the rates of toll, and have employed all their ingenuity to evade the effects of every plan proposed by the legislature to regulate and lower their fares, These legislative plans have, indeed, been but little calculated to attain their proposed end, if the railroad companies chose to oppose, or not to fall in with the views of the legislature. This was but too plainly shown by the mode adopted at the commencement
of the system, when, instead of fares and charges, tolls were collected. So little, indeed, was the system of railways understood at its commencement, that the original rates were fixed upon the supposition that railway proprietors would be proprietors of the road only, and that persons using it would pay merely for the means of transit as upon canals. It is well known that such has not been the case. Railway proprietors are almost universally not only the owners of the line, but the carriers upon it. Still, strange as it might seem, the legislature have continued in every railway bill down to the last bill of the last session to repeat these lists of tolls, although in no single instance, I believe, has it been found practicable to carry them into effect. Some honourable gentleman, too, three or four years ago, moved that railroad companies should be compelled to affix to every station a table of these tolls. The motion was carried in utter ignorance, apparently, of what I have just stated; and the tables I have spoken of are universally exhibited, although it is well known that the rates of toll they show are practically a mere delusion. In truth, Parliament might just as well have ordered the several companies to exhibit in their stations a set of old sheet almanacs. They were a mere useless incumbrance.
The right honourable gentleman, the late President of the Board of Trade, appeared last year to feel that something was required to be done on this important subject of tolls; but, unfortunately he selected his committee, and entered upon its appointed inquiries with the vain hope of being able to bring about some arrangement with the old companies, before he began to legislate for the new. The time for effecting this object, by means of direct legislation, has, however, been allowed to pass away; and nothing now, in fact, remains to the legislature as a means to this end but parliamentary control. Mere arrangement had become impossible. It was evident that with the existing high price of shares upon the old lines, and the prevailing opinions respecting the necessity for high tolls to ensure large profits, no plan proposed by the right honourable gentleman would be accepted. It was obvious that no board of directors would consent to such terms as those which the right honourable gentleman, having the interests of the public in view, could have felt justified in offering them; and even if any directors could have been found who would have come into the views of the right honourable gentleman, no proprietary, in the existing state of opinion, would sanction the acceptance of any such offer. The consequence was, as might have been anticipated, that nothing really beneficial was effected. I am, indeed, quite prepared duly to appreciate the importance of some of the objects aimed at by last year's bill, and more especially the attempts to compel companies to run third-class trains at 1d. per mile. This attempt clearly makes out my proposition as respects cheap fares; but it also illustrates the unwillingness of railway companies to adopt low fares, and the inefficacy of any means yet employed to compel them to do so.
By the report of the Grand Junction Company it appears that upon their line the increase of third-class passengers was 308 per cent., and of revenue 76 per cent. It is deserving of notice, too, that while these new arrangements produced these results, they have not caused, as was anticipated, any decrease in the number of second-class passengers, whose numbers had a little increased, the only falling off being a trifling diminution in the number of first-class passengers.
While such were the actual results of this regulation, I cannot but deem the railway companies deserving of severe reprobation for their systematic, cruel, and but too successful attempts to evade and elude the law. Every effort is made to render such third-class trains irksome, and therefore useless. The trains are made to go at an exceedingly slow rate; and this not because any saving is immediately derived from the slower pace; the truth being, that the slow pace rather enhances than diminishes the cost. Not only does this cheap train travel slowly, but frequent and long harassing stoppages are made, which wear out the patience of the poor travellers, and induce them to give the higher price of the quick trains, rather than undergo the annoyance and pain of the slow one.* Some means ought surely to be adopted to prevent companies keeping poor passengers upon the road for fifteen hours, when the journey might easily be performed in five; and, extending the principle adopted last year respecting these cheap trains, railway companies might be compelled to run two cheap trains up and down their line with their ordinary trains every day. At present, in place of adopting this humane expedient, coals or goods, in fact, anything in preference to poor passengers, are joined to light fast travelling trains, and the thirdclass passengers are left behind to wear away long and tedious hours within the narrow precincts of the railway station.
The next scheme to which I would direct attention, is what is called the 10 per cent. clause, which has, in fact, rendered nugatory the power of revision granted by the Act of last session. This clause professes to restrict the dividends of the company to 10 per cent. upon the capital expended, giving the surplus to the public in the rate of lower rates of toll, or diminished fares. I must own that I was extremely surprised when I saw the late President of the Board of Trade admit this clause; for the right honourable gentleman knew full well, that experience had shown in all similar cases that similar clauses had been utterly disregarded, and that the public had never reaped from them the advantages which they were intended to afford. If the House will consider for a moment, they cannot fail to perceive the multitude of ways in which this clause might be eluded. For example, a company might expend vast sums of money in un
* Note in 1848.-Many of the railway companies continue to fix the thirdclass trains at hours the most ill-suited for passengers, and resort to other means for rendering travelling by these trains as irksome as possible.
necessary repairs, or in expenses of management; or might consider as an outlay of capital what ought really to be considered as annual and regular expenditure; or, in the last resort, the company might set the law at defiance, and divide the surplus among the proprietors as new shares. In fact, the clause is in reality a bounty on bad management. It has given the public the semblance of a protection, has created a fatal security, and left the real evil wholly untouched, and without a remedy.
But while the public have been thus apathetic, and the Government backward in devising the means of protection, the companies themselves are active and intelligent in projecting schemes for the increase of their power, whatever may be the result of their plans as respects increased profit. Among those most deserving attention is the attempt to amalgamate, as it is called, several lines of road. We have seen to what an extent this attempt has been carried, and we have learned that, whether amalgamation be a good or a bad thing, it cannot be entirely prevented; all that we can do is, to take precaution that the several companies who have recourse to it shall not thereby acquire a dangerous monopoly. I am inclined, indeed, to think that the advantages to be obtained from amalgamation, if proper regulations be adopted, will preponderate over the mischief it threatens. But this will only be if we are prudent and watchful.
Now the various lines of railway will in some way or other be amalgamated into large, distinct, and separate schemes; and the very certainty of this fact furnishes the strongest possible reason for adopting towards them limitations and restrictions more stringent than any that have yet been enforced, and especially with respect to new railways; otherwise the whole country will soon be in the hands of a few railway proprietors, and at their
The means proposed by which amalgamation is to be effected is a matter of great and immediate importance, calling at once for the serious consideration of Parliament; I allude to the power proposed to be taken by the promoters of many if not all of the schemes now before the House, of leasing their lines to existing companies, without any stated and fixed terms and conditions. This is, in my opinion, the most objectionable form of amalgamation, and one which the House, I am persuaded, when its attention is properly awakened, will not sanction. It is, in fact, taking a power by anticipation to make arrangements and conditions respecting these leases, without the necessity of again applying to Parliament with reference to them. But this is a power which has never yet been conceded by the legislature, and it is evidently one which will lead to great abuses, the more especially after the passing of the Act of last year. By that Act it is provided, that after twenty-one years, any surplus which may exist over 10 per cent. profit, shall go to the public in reduction of fares. The public consequently has a direct interest in taking care that this revisionary interest, if I may so call it, is