1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Railways/General Statistics

General Statistics

Mileage.—At the close of 1907 there were approximately 601,808 miles of railway in the world, excluding tramways. On the whole, the best statistical source for this information is the annual computation published by the Archiv für Eisenbahnwesen, the official organ of the Prussian Ministry of Public Works; but the figure quoted above utilizes the Board of Trade returns for the United Kingdom and the report of the Interstate Commerce Commission for the United States. In the United States and in certain other countries, a fiscal year, ending on the 30th of June or at some other irregular period, is substituted for the calendar year.

The partition of this total between the principal geographical divisions of the world is given in Table I.

Table I.—Mileage of the World
Europe 199,371
America 309,974
Asia 56,181
Africa 18,516
Australia 17,766

Table II., classifying the mileage of Europe, shows that Russia has taken the lead, instead of Germany, as in former years. If the Asiatic portions of the Russian Empire were given in the same table, the total Russian mileage would appear nearly as large as that of Germany and Italy together.

Table II.—Railways of Europe in 1907
Germany 36,066
Austria-Hungary, including
Bosnia and Herzegovina 25,853
Great Britain and Ireland 23,108
France 29,717
European Russia, including Finland 36,280
Italy 10,312
Belgium 4,874
Holland 2,230
Switzerland 2,763
Spain 9,228
Portugal 1,689
Denmark 2,141
Norway 1,607
Sweden 8,322
Servia 379
Rumania 1,995
Greece 771
European Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumelia 1,968
Malta, Jersey, Isle of Man 68
Total 199,371

In the United States railway mileage now tends to increase at the rate of slightly over 5000 miles a year, which is about 2⅕% on the present main line mileage. In the ’eighties, the country passed through a period of competitive building, which was productive of much financial disaster. Thus, in 1882, 11,569 m. were built—an addition equivalent to more than 11% of mileage then existing—and in 1887, 12,876 m. were built. Unjustifiable railway expansion had much to do with the American commercial panics of 1884 and 1893. After the reconstruction period of the 1893 panic, however, the tendency for a number of years was to spend larger sums in bettering existing railways rather than in new extensions. The decade from 1896 until 1905, inclusive, saw huge sums spent on yards, passing tracks, grade reduction, elimination of curves, substitution of large locomotives and cars for small ones, &c. During those ten years, the route mileage increased 34,991 m., or 17%, while the mileage of second, third, fourth and yard tracks and sidings increased 32,666 m., or nearly 57%. The number of locomotives increased 12,407, or 35%, and the number of freight cars, 545,222, or 42% Moreover, the average tractive power per locomotive and the average capacity per freight car advanced greatly in this period, although specific figures cannot be given.

Thus it may fairly be said that the railway system of the United States was reconstructed between 1896 and 1905, so far as concerns rails, sleepers, ballast and the general capacity of a given group of lines to perform work. About 1905, however, a new tendency became apparent. At that time the so-called transcontinental railways, connecting the Pacific coast of the United States with the central portions of the country, and thus with the group of railways reaching the Atlantic seaboard, consisted of five railways within the borders of the United States, and one in Canada. In Canada the Canadian Pacific was the only transcontinental line, extending from St John, on the bay of Fundy, and from Quebec, on the river St Lawrence, to Vancouver, on the strait of Georgia, the distance from St John to Vancouver being approximately 3379 m. Within the boundaries of the United States the northernmost of the transcontinental lines was the Great Northern railway, extending from a point opposite Va-ncouver, B.C., and from Seattle, Wash., to Duluth, on Lake Superior, and to St Paul and Minneapolis, Minn., where connexion through to Chicago was made over an allied line, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, owned jointly by the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific.

Next, south of the Great Northern, lay the Northern Pacific railway, starting on the west from Portland, Ore., and from Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., and extending east to Duluth, St Paul and Minneapolis by way of Helena, Mont. The Central Pacific–Union Pacific route to the coast, with its important affiliated companies, the Oregon Short Line and the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company, extended from San Francisco, Cal., and Portland, Ore., to Omaha, Neb., by way of Salt Lake City; the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé extended from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Cal., to Chicago and to Galveston, Tex.; while the Southern Pacific had its line from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Galveston and New Orleans, running for the greater part of the distance just north of the Mexican border.

Thus it will be observed that the five great cities of the Pacific coast—Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., Portland, Ore., and San Francisco and Los Angeles, Cal.—were already well supplied with railways; but the growth of the fertile region lying west of the transcontinental divide was most attractive to American railway builders; and railways serving this district, almost all of them in trouble ten years before, were showing great increases in earnings. In 1903 the Gould lines determined to enter this Pacific territory. Hitherto the western terminus of this group of lines had been Salt Lake City, Utah; by the exceedingly bold construction of the Western Pacific from Salt Lake City to Oakland, Cal., opposite San Francisco, an additional line to the Pacific coast was provided, having low grades and being in all respects well adapted for cheap operation.

Shortly after the plans were announced for building the Western Pacific, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul also decided to extend west. Before that time the St Paul had been a great local railway, operating primarily in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois; but by the construction of a long arm from the Missouri river to Spokane, Seattle and Tacoma, it became a transcontinental line of the first importance, avoiding the mistakes of earlier railway builders by securing a line with easy gradients through the most favourable regions.

At the same time that these two extensions were being undertaken by old and well-established railways, a new company—the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient—was engaged in constructing a line almost due south-west from Kansas City, Mo., to the lower part of the gulf of California in Mexico; while an additional independent line was under construction from Denver in a north-westerly direction towards the Pacific coast. The guarantee for this activity may be illustrated by a single fact: the combined building operations, in 1908, of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Spokane and Salt Lake City exceeded the combined building operations of Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore and Cincinnati during the same year. San Francisco spent more in new permanent structures than Philadelphia, and Seattle spent more than Pittsburg.

Recent American railway development, viewed in its larger aspects, has thus been characterized by what may be described as the rediscovery of the Pacific coast. How far this movement will extend it is impossible to say; it is certain, however, that it will be enormously important in re-aligning trade conditions in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Table III. illustrates the railway mileage in the continent of America at the close of 1907.

Table III.—Railways of America in 1907
United States 236,949
Canada 22,452
Newfoundland 666
Mexico 13,612
Central America 1,392
Greater Antilles 2,430
Lesser Antilles 336
Colombia 449
Venezuela 634
British Guiana 104
Dutch Guiana 37
Ecuador 186
Peru 1,332
Bolivia 702
Brazil 10,714
Paraguay 157
Uruguay 1,210
Chile 2,939
Argentina 13,673
Total 309,974

Outside the United States and Canada, the most interesting American developments are in Mexico and Argentina, these countries having nearly the same amount of railway mileage. In Mexico the national government is carrying out a consistent policy of developing its railway lines. It has succeeded in restoring the credit of these enterprises, and is proceeding with care and skill to form the lines into an efficient transportation system. In Argentina about 15% of the railways are owned and operated by the government, the balance being in the hands of private companies, largely controlled in England. Development of these lines has been primarily an extension from the large cities in the East to the agricultural districts in the West, but a change of great importance was brought about in 1910 by the completion of the last tunnel on the Argentine Transandine Railway, which serves to connect Santiago, Valparaiso and the other great cities of the west coast with Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and the other great cities of the east coast. Naturally the company named does not reach all of these points, but its line across the Andes supplies the indispensable link of communication, in the absence of which the east coast towns and the west coast towns have hitherto been as widely separated as if they had been located on different continents—indeed, far more widely separated in point of time and of freight charges than Great Britain and the United States.

Table IV. shows as closely as possible the railway route mileage open in Asia at the close of 1907.

Table IV.—Railways of Asia in 1907
Central Russia in Asia 2,808
Siberia and Manchuria 5,565
China 4,162
Korea 688
Japan 5,013
British India 29,893
Persia 33
Asia Minor, Syria, Arabia and Cyprus 2,930
Portuguese East Indies 51
Malay States 636
Dutch East Indies 1,509
Siam 571
Ceylon 561
Cochin China 1,761
Total 56,181

Although more than half of the total mileage of Asia is in British India, it is probable that the greatest proportionate gains in the near future will be in China, Siberia and Manchuria, and Central Russia in Asia. In proportion to its population China has the least railway development of any of the great countries of the world; the probability that its present commercial awakening will extend seems large, and in that case it will need a vast increase in its interior communications.

In Africa, it will be seen by Table V. that the railway mileage in the British possessions amounts to almost five-sixths of the total.

Table V.—Railways of Africa in 1907
Egypt 3,445
Algiers and Tunis 3,049
Congo States 399
Abyssinia 192
British South Africa 7,028
German Provinces 1,148
British Provinces, except South Africa 1,235
French Provinces 1,246
Italian Provinces 71
Portuguese Provinces 703
Total 18,516

The so-called Cape-to-Cairo route shows occasional extensions, particularly in the opening up of new country in Central Africa by the Rhodesian railway system. The Rhodesian railway system in 1910 had penetrated north of Broken Hill, which is just above the fifteenth parallel of south latitude, while the Egyptian railway system had reached Gondokoro, located close to the fifth parallel of north latitude. The intervening distance, through country exceedingly unhealthy for white men, and therefore promising no traffic except raw materials, does not seem a likely field for rapid railway extension.

In Australia the increase in railway mileage in the five years ending December 31st, 1907 was about 7%—a small proportion as compared with America, Asia or Africa. The greatest increase, both relative and absolute, was in Queensland; the smallest in South Australia, which added only 24 m. during the five years. Yet the mileage open per 10,000 inhabitants in Australia, as a whole, far surpasses that in any other of the broad geographical divisions.

Table VI.—Railways of Australia in 1907
New Zealand 2,571
Victoria 5,517
New South Wales 3,471
South Australia 1,924
Queensland 3,405
Tasmania 620
West Australia 2,259
Hawaiian Group 88
Total 19,855

Table VII. illustrates the mileage open to the end of 1907 per 100 sq. m. of territory and per 10,000 inhabitants. It will be observed that Belgium leads all the countries of the world in what may be called its railway density, with the United Kingdom a far-distant second in the list, and Persia last. In railway mileage per 10,000 inhabitants, however, Queensland, in the Australian group, reports a figure much greater than any other country; While at the other end of the list Persia holds the record for isolation.

Table VII.—Miles open at the End of 1907


Per 100
sq. miles.
Per 10,000
Germany 17·2 6·4
Austro-Hungary 10·0 5·5
United Kingdom 19·0 5·6
France 14·2 7·6
Russia in Europe, including Finland 1·8 3·4
Italy 9·3 3·2
Belgium 42·8 7·3
Holland 15·0 3·9
Switzerland 17·2 8·3
Spain 4·8 5·2
Portugal 4·7 3·1
Denmark 14·3 8·7
Norway 1·3 7·2
Sweden 4·8 16·2
Servia 2·1 1·5
Rumania 3·2 3·4
Greece 3·1 3·2
Turkey in Europe, Bulgaria, Rumelia 1·9 2·0
Malta, Jersey, Man 16·1 1·9
Total 5·3 5·1

America, 1907

Per 100
sq. miles.
Per 10,000
United States 6·4  26·8
Canada 0·6  42·1
Newfoundland 1·6  31·1
Mexico 1·8  9·4
Colombia 0·08 1·0
Venezuela 0·16 2·6
British Guiana 0·11 3·5
Ecuador 0·16 1·3
Peru 0·32 2·9
Bolivia 0·16 3·1
Brazil 0·32 7·1
Paraguay 0·16 2·5
Uruguay 1·8  13·0
Chile 1·0  8·9
Argentina[1] 1·3  28·0

Asia, 1907

Per 100
sq. miles.
Per 10,000
Central Russia in Asia 1·3   3·6 
Siberia and Manchuria 0·11  9·8 
China 0·1   0·12
Korea 0·8   0·68
Japan 3·1   1·1 
British India 1·4   1·0 
Ceylon 2·3   1·6 
Persia 0·005 0·04
Asia Minor, Syria, Arabia, Cyprus 0·5   1·5 
Portuguese Indies 3·5   0·9 
Malay Archipelago 1·9   8·8 
Dutch Indies 0·6   0·5 
Siam[2] 0·16  0·6 

Africa, 1907

Per 100
sq. miles.
Per 10,000
Egypt 1·0 3·5
Algiers and Tunis 0·8 4·5
Cape Colony 1·3 21·6
Natal 3·5 12·6
Transvaal 1·1 15·7
Orange Colony 1·8 42·6

Complete estimates for the balance of Africa not available.

Australia, 1907

Per 100
sq. miles.
Per 10,000
New Zealand 2·4  30·9
Victoria 3·9  28·5
New South Wales 1·1  25·4
South Australia 0·16 53·0
Queensland 0·5  70·2
Tasmania 2·4  36·0
West Australia 0·16 54·8
Hawaiian Group 1·3  8·1
Total 0·6  35·9

Capital.—The total construction capital invested in the railways of the world in 1907 was estimated by the Archiv für Eisenbahnwesen at £8,986,150,000; the figure is necessarily incomplete, though it serves as a rough approximation. This total was divided nearly evenly between the countries of Europe and the rest of the world. The United States of America, with a capital of £3,059,800,000 invested in its railways on the 30th of June 1906, was easily ahead of every other country, and in 1908 the figure was increased to £3,443,027,685, of which £2,636,569,089 was in the hands of the public. On a route-mileage basis, however, the capital cost of the British railway system is far greater than that of any other country in the world, partly because a vast proportion of the lines are double, treble or even quadruple, partly because the safety requirements of the Board of Trade and the high standards of the original builders made actual construction very costly.

The total paid-up railway capital of the United Kingdom amounted, in 1908, to £1,310,533,212, or an average capitalization of £56,476 per route mile, though it should be noted that this total included £196,364,618 of nominal additions through “stock-splitting,” &c. Per mile of single track, the capitalization in England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the United Kingdom, is shown in Table VIII.

Table VIII.—Paid-up Capital, 1908
England and Wales 15,999 29,748 [3] £1,080,138,674 £67,513 £36,309 [3]
Scotland 3,843 4,531 [3] 185,345,494 43,229 33,510 [3]
Ireland 3,363 4,037 45,049,044 13,396 11,159
United Kingdom 23,205 39,316 1,310,533,212 56,476 33,333

The table excludes sidings, because they cannot fairly be compared with running tracks, mile for mile. Yet the mileage of sidings in the United Kingdom amounted to 14,353 in 1908, and the cost of constructing them was probably not far from £60,000,000.

On a single-track-mile basis, the following comparison may be made between apparent capital costs in Great Britain and the United States:—

Paid-up Capital
per Mile.
United Kingdom, 1908  39,316 £33,333
United States, 1908 254,192  10,372 [4]

The figures for the United States are from the report of the Interstate Commerce Commission for the year ended 30th of June 1908, and comprise mileage of first, second, third and fourth tracks, and paid-up capital in the hands of the public only. The British figures are from the Board of Trade returns for the calendar year 1908. In comparing the figures, it should be noted that main line mileage in the Eastern states, as for example that of the Pennsylvania railroad and the New York, New Haven & Hartford, does not differ greatly in standards of safety or in unit cost from the best British construction, although improvement work in America is charged to income far more liberally than it has been in England. But there are long stretches of pine loam in the South where branch lines can be, and are, built and equipped for £2400 or less per mile, while the construction of new main line in the prairie region of the West ought not to cost more than £4000 per single-track-mile, under present conditions.

The problem of the early railway builders in the United States was to conquer the wilderness, to build an empire, and at the same time to bind the East to the West and the North to the South. There can be little doubt but that the United States would long ago have disintegrated into separate, warring republics, had they not been bound together by railways, and standards of safety were rightly subordinated to the main task to be accomplished. Conquest is not usually bloodless, whether achieved at the van of a marching column or at the head of a hastily-built railway, and the process under which the American railway system took form left the way open for a distressing record of accidents to the traveller and the railway servant. But as traffic becomes more dense, year by year, the rebuilding process is constant, and American railway lines are gradually becoming safer.

In Europe the average route-mile capital is £27,036, and Table IX. shows the differences between various countries.

Table IX.—Route-Mile Capital in Europe
Germany (1907) £22,298
France (1905) 25,285
Belgium (State railways 1906) 35,381
Italy (State railways 1906–7) 26,008
Denmark (State railways 1907–8) 10,433
Norway (1907–8) 8,027
Sweden (1905) 6,647
Russia (excluding Finland; 1905) 16,534
Finland (State railways 1907) 7,300

Statistical Study of Railway Operation.—The study of railway operation through statistics has two distinct aspects. It has been well said that statistics furnish the means by which the railway manager disciplines his property; this is the aspect of control. On the other hand, the banker, the government official and the economist use railway statistics to obtain information which may be characterized as static rather than dynamic. Both uses ultimately rest upon comparison of the observed data from a certain property with the observed data from other properties, or with predetermined standards of performance.

In general, the British working unit supplied as public information has always been the goods-train-mile and the passenger train-mile, these figures being the products of the number of trains into the number of miles they have travelled. In America, the basic units have been the ton-mile and the passenger-mile, and these figures are now required to be furnished to the Interstate Commerce Commission and to most of the state commissions as well. Both the British manager and the American manager, however, are supplied with a considerable number of daily, weekly and monthly reports, varying on different railways, which are not made public. The daily sheets usually include a summarized statement of the performance of every train on the line, covering the amount of business done, the destination of the loads, &c. For a number of years there has been a movement in Great Britain to require the inclusion of ton-mile statistics in the stated returns to the Board of Trade, but most railway managers have objected to the change on the ground that their own confidential information was already adequate for purposes of control, and that ton-mile statistics would require additional clerical force to a costly extent. The Departmental Committee of the Board of Trade, sitting in 1909 to consider railway accounting forms, while recommending ton-miles to the careful consideration of those responsible for railway working in Great Britain, considered the question of their necessity in British practice to be still open, and held that, at all events, they should not be introduced under compulsion.

References.-Annual Reports of the Interstate Commerce Commission; Poor’s Manual of Railroads (annual, New York); Statistical Abstract of the United States (annual, Washington, published by the U. S. Bureau of Statistics); A. T. Hadley, Railroad Transportation, Its History and Laws (New York, 1885); E. R. Johnson, American Railway Transportation (New York, 1908); L. G. McPherson, Railroad Freight Rates (New York, 1909); S. Daggett, Railroad Reorganization (Boston, 1908); M. L. Byers, Economics of Railway Operation (New York, 1908); E. R. Dewsnup (ed.), Railway Organization and Working (Chicago, 1906); Interstate Commerce Commission; Rate Regulation Hearings before the U.S. Senate Committee (Washington, 5 vols., 1905); and on current matters, The Official Railway Guide (monthly, New York), the Railroad Age Gazette (weekly, New York) and the Commercial and Financial Chronicle (weekly, New York).  (R. Mo.) 

  1. No accurate returns for Central America, Greater and Lesser Antilles and Dutch Guiana.
  2. Estimates of area and population incomplete for Cochin China, Cambodia, Annam, Tonkin, Pondicherry, Malacca and Philippines.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 These figures are derived from a total. They are not exact, but may be taken as representing an approximation correct within one per cent.
  4. Dollars to pounds sterling @ 4·87.