Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/629

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ON the 20th of February, 1898, the Swiss people accepted by an overwhelming majority a law referred to them providing for the purchase and operation by the state of the railroads of the country. The vote marks the end in Switzerland of the system of private management of railroads, and the coming in of a new system of state management. The action is one of interest and importance to all people everywhere, because it evolves momentous political and financial as well as economical and social considerations.

The agitation of the question whether the railroads should be constructed and managed by the state began in Switzerland almost with the beginning of railroad building. The first railroad, from Basle to Baden (Switzerland), was opened in 1847. A plan for the construction of a system of railroads by the confederation and the cantons concurrently, prepared by the federal council at the suggestion of the national council, was rejected by the national council, which voted in July, 1852, by a large majority, in favor of construction by private companies, under charters issued by the cantons with the approval of the confederation. This condition was not satisfactory to the federal authorities, and a law was passed in 1872 enlarging the powers of the confederation and giving it the control of the concessions. That law, with supplementary provisions making it stronger, has continued in force till the present time.

All the concessions, both cantonal and federal, contained provisions looking to the ultimate repurchase of the railroads, opportunity for which was given at certain stated intervals (apparently every fifteen years) upon five years' previous notice. On the coming of the first of these periods of maturity, in 1883, the question of repurchase was raised in the federal council, but the financial condition of the railroads not being very good then, no action was taken. This opportunity having been allowed to pass, no other would be afforded till 1898. Still, the friends of the national system pushed their measures, urging that the state enter into friendly negotiations with the railroads for buying them in, or buy enough of their stock to secure control of the disposition. Tentatives were made in both these directions, but they all came to an end in one way or another before any material results were accomplished. Then the idea of expropriation was started, its advocates maintaining that the state was not bound by the limitations in the concessions, but could take the railroads at any time upon paying a just price. The federal coun-