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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/600

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

venience in the shape of waiting and refreshment rooms, forming altogether one of the most important, not to say intricate, railway-depots in the United Kingdom. One arrives at a platform by a train belonging to one company going in one direction, and by turning right about, or walking three yards on the same platform, one may secure a seat in another train belonging to an entirely different company going no one knows whither. Once give way, or lose your head at this particular junction, and you may find yourself, should you happen to be wanting to go to the west of England, suddenly whirled away to the south, and vice versa. Even your traveling Londoner has an instinctive dread of "the Junction," as he familiarly terms it. Should you ever take up that indispensable requisite of English traveling, a Bradshaw, and stumble upon Clapham Junction in the list of stations your train is timed to stop at, go no farther. Don't tempt Fate. Rather court resignation. Throw yourself upon the cushions of your carriage, pitch Bradshaw out of the window, and in a moment of leisure work out this sum: If upon the average eight hundred trains (to say nothing of specials, excursions, and stray locomotives) pass through Clapham Junction in the course of twenty-four hours, allowing just about two minutes' interval of time between train A going out and train B coming in, what should be the chances of train B dashing into the tail of train A?

So remote as scarcely to be thought of, the reason being that the "block" system is in full force. What is this "block" system? To endeavor to answer that inquiry is the very object of this article.

To understand thoroughly what railway traveling in England really means, one should bear in mind a few facts now given for the purposes of this article, in the order of their importance.

At the beginning of last year there were in the United Kingdom about 15,500 miles of railway, distributed as follows: England and Wales, 11,000 miles; Scotland, 2,500 miles; Ireland, 2,000 miles; and 290 companies shared these miles of railroad between them. The total number of depots, or stations, as they are termed in England, including junctions and sidings, is about 10,000 for the whole kingdom; of these 6,000 are passenger-stations, giving approximately one station to about every two miles of railway, but not in reality, because there are no less than 150 stations in London and the suburbs alone. As a matter of course the great centre of the railway system of the United Kingdom is London. Every company which can by any possible means find a way to the capital does so, and strives to provide the route which will be most attractive to the public. To do this the majority of the companies must, of necessity, make use of the lines of the great companies having their termini in London. Only imagine the number of branch lines, junctions, and sidings, this must involve; what "shunting" of trains and adjusting of points there must be; what an efficient system of signaling must be required; what care,