The Working and Management of an English Railway/Chapter 15
A considerable amount of controversy has taken place during recent years amongst those engaged in the management and working of railways, and also amongst statisticians and others who, as amici curiæ, have taken an interest in the subject, upon the question of the relation of the classes one to another, and their relative productiveness from a revenue-earning point of view, and a great deal of diversity of opinion has been shown to exist, even amongst experts, as to the number of classes into which passenger traffic should be divided, the fares which should be charged, and as to what should be the composition, the speed, and the weight of trains, so as to reduce the amount of unprofitable haulage to a minimum, and, while accommodating to the fullest extent the requirements of the travelling public, to secure the best paying load, and preserve a reasonable margin of profit for those whose capital is embarked in the business of conducting railways.
This question—or group of questions—is to form one of the subjects of debate at the forthcoming meeting of the International Railway Congress at Paris, and as the writer has accepted the honour of acting as reporter on that occasion for the English railway companies, and has consequently had occasion to consider the topic with some care, it may be of interest not only to those professionally engaged in the working of railways, but to the public whose interests are largely concerned, to give here some of the conclusions to which he has been led. It is only fair, however, to premise that although the views expressed in the following pages are fully endorsed by some of the leading English railway managers, there are others with whom they find less favour, and they must therefore be taken merely as representing the result of the writer's own experience.
There can, at least, be no question as to the great importance of the subject to all who are engaged in conducting railway traffic, whether in Great Britain or upon the Continent of Europe, since it is a fact that in these modern times the demands made upon railway companies on behalf of the public, not only for the reduction of fares, but for increased speed, more frequent trains, and improved accommodation, have increased, and continue to increase, in such ratio as to render it exceedingly difficult for the companies to keep pace with them without altogether sacrificing the interests of their shareholders. There is, in fact, a great tendency to regard railway companies as monopolists—a reproach to which, in these days of unrestricted competition, few of them are open—and to bring to bear every sort of influence to exact new concessions without any regard to the profit derived, or the loss incurred, in carrying on the business. Thus, while the travelling public benefit, the railway shareholder finds himself filling the doubtless honourable, but not always profitable, rôle of a philanthropist, investing his capital for the advantage of the community at large. It may be, perhaps, that on the Continent, where the railways are more or less under State control, the case may somewhat differ from that of Great Britain, where all the railways have been constructed by private enterprise; but, in the main, the pressure of public opinion will no doubt operate in the same direction, and there will be a constant tendency to require greater and still greater facilities, and thus continually to diminish the revenue-earning powers of the railways. The facts and figures which are here adduced will probably suffice to convince any impartial student of the subject that this process has continued upon the principal railways of Great Britain, to such a degree as to bring about a state of things which can scarcely be defended on sound commercial principles—at any rate from the shareholder's point of view.
Prior to the year 1872 the general practice of all English railway companies was to convey by the mail, and principal fast passenger trains, only first and second class passengers, third class passengers being compelled to travel by less important trains calling at a greater number of stations, or by the Parliamentary trains, so called, which stopped at every station, and which the companies were bound by statute to run over their lines at least once a day in each direction. For example, in 1872 the Parliamentary train from Euston to Liverpool, a distance of 201¾ miles, started at 7.40 a.m., stopped at every station on the route, and reached its destination at 6.35 p.m., thus occupying nearly eleven hours on a journey which the more fortunate third class passenger of to-day is enabled to perform in four and a half hours. The fares charged at that period averaged 2d. per mile for a first class passenger, 1½ d. per mile for second class, and 1d. per mile for third class by Parliamentary trains, while fares at a fraction over 1d. per mile were charged for third class passengers conveyed by a few fast trains of a secondary character, to which third class carriages were beginning to be attached. At this time the third class carriages, although they were covered in as a protection from the weather, were not upholstered in any way, and contained nothing more than plain wooden seats.
Taking a period of thirteen years, from i860 to 1872, during which the traffic was conducted under these conditions, a table which has been prepared showing the gross receipts of the London and North Western Railway from each class of traffic, and from the three classes combined, per passenger, and per passenger train mile run, from year to year, gives the following averages for the whole period:—
|Average Receipts per Passenger.||Average Receipts per Train Mile.|
|All Classes combined||22·17||52·30|
Space would not admit of the details of this table being given, but an examination of it shows that from about the year 1869 third class traffic began to assume greater importance, and that the receipts per train mile from this class were gradually increasing; the fact being that the companies about that time commenced to extend the practice of attaching third class carriages to some important trains—other than express trains—while the receipts per train mile from the first and second class had begun to fall off. For instance, in 1868 the first class earnings were 16·05d. per train mile, and the second class 18·05d., while in 1872 they were only 13·21d. and 10·82d. respectively. On the other hand, the third class receipts, which in 1868 were only 16·99d. per train mile, in 1872 had risen to 24·63d. The same causes, however, had led to an increase in the train mileage, which had the effect of reducing the average earnings per train mile, from all classes combined, from 51·09d. in 1868 to 48·66d. in 1872.
In April, 1872, the Midland Company adopted the practice (immediately and necessarily followed by all the other leading railway companies) of conveying third class passengers by all the trains, while nearly three years afterwards—viz., on the 1st January, 1875—they introduced the further innovation of abolishing second class in their trains altogether, and running only two classes, which they termed, rather paradoxically, perhaps, first and third, at the same time reducing the first class fares to about 1½d. per mile. The London and North Western Company did not follow the Midland Company's policy as regards abolishing second class, for the reasons which have been already set forth (see page 125), nor with one or two exceptions, and then only to a limited extent, have any of the other leading railway companies done so, but all were compelled by the exigencies of competition to place themselves on an equality with the Midland Company so far as regarded the re-adjustment of their fares, which was effected by reducing the first class to about 1½d. per mile, and making the second class about 1¼d. and the third 1d.
The striking effect of these changes upon the passenger earnings of the London and North Western Company is very clearly shown by a table which has been drawn up, and which gives the same particulars in respect of the period from 1873 to 1888 inclusive as are given in the table previously referred to, for the period from 1860 to 1872, viz., the gross earnings from each class of traffic per passenger and per train mile. Comparing the average gross earnings of each class for the two periods, we arrive at the following results:—
|Average Receipts per Passenger.||Average Receipts per Train Mile.|
|During period of 13 years—
1860 to 1872
|During period of 16 years—
1873 to 1888.
|During period of 13 years—
1860 to 1872.
|During period of 16 years—|
1873 to 1888.
|All Classes combined||22·17||14·97||52·30||43·08|
The average receipts per passenger were thus reduced in something like the ratio of the reduction of fares, but the increased mileage consequent upon the greater weight of the trains, coupled with the reduction of the fares, had the effect of reducing the average receipts per train mile from all classes, comparing the two periods, from 52·30d. to 43·08d.
Taking the classes separately it will be seen that while the average receipts per passenger train mile from first class passengers fell in the later period to about one-half what they were in the earlier period, and the second class to about one-third, the receipts from third class traffic were nearly doubled.
But it must not be forgotten that during the last fifteen years other causes, besides the conveyance of third class passengers by all trains, and the reduction of the fares, have been at work in the direction of increasing the cost of the service, and reducing the profits from the conveyance of passengers.
In the first place, there has been a great increase in the speed of the trains generally, and particularly in that of the express passenger trains. For example, in 1872 the fastest trains between London and Liverpool, 201¾ if miles, performed the journey in 5¼ hours to 6 hours, while now it is accomplished in 4½ hours. Between London and Manchester, 188¾ miles, the shortest time occupied was 5 hours, while now the distance is covered in 4¼ hours. Between London and Birmingham, 113 miles, one train ran in 3¼ hours, but the others were much longer on the road, while to-day the fast trains all perform the journey in 2¼ hours. But the most remarkable development in the rates of speed is found in the running of the express trains between London and Scotland; and as regards these it will be a sufficiently striking illustration to mention that the 10. a.m. Scotch Express from London which, in 1872, reached Edinburgh at 9.10 and Glasgow at 9.30 p.m., now starts from London at the same time but is timed to reach Edinburgh at 6.30 and Glasgow at 6.45. The journey to Edinburgh is thus performed in 8½ hours, and to Glasgow in 8¾ hours, but even this rate is sometimes exceeded, and during the tourist season of 1888 the journey to Edinburgh was accomplished in less than 8 hours, the distance being 401 miles, giving a speed throughout of 50 miles an hour, including all stoppages.
The 8.50 p.m. train from London to Scotland, well-known for many years as the "Limited Mail," and which formerly ran to Aberdeen in 14 hours and 50 minutes, conveying, under contract with the Post Office, a limited number of passengers as well as mails, has been superseded in its functions as the principal mail train from London to Scotland, and since the 1st July, 1885, a special train, conveying no passengers, but only the mails and postal parcels, has left Euston at 8.30 p.m., and reaches Aberdeen at 9.55 a.m., thus performing the journey (540 miles) in only 13 hours and 25 minutes, and travelling at the rate of about 40 miles an hour, throughout, including all stoppages. Between London and Carlisle, this train travels at an average speed of 46 miles an hour.
These exceptionally high rates of speed add to the cost of working in more ways than one; in fact they have a tendency to increase almost every item of expenditure. In the first place, there is a greater wear and tear of the engines and vehicles, and more frequent repairs and replacements become necessary. Secondly, the engines must be worked at much higher pressure, and be of greater capacity, and the increased consumption of fuel, as has already been shown (see page 104), is a very serious item. Then again, to permit of heavy trains being run at such high rates of speed the permanent way must be proportionately strengthened, and becomes more expensive to provide and maintain in the perfect condition which is essential. It is also in a great measure the high rate of speed at which the trains have to be run that necessitates the elaborate and complicated system of signalling and interlocking which has been described in Chapters V. and VI.
Again there has been a very striking increase in the size and weight of the carriages employed for the conveyance of passengers, arising from the popular demand for improved accommodation, and the extent to which that demand has been met.
The standard third class carriage of 1872, for example, was 30½ feet long, and weighed 10 tons, but the standard third class carriage of 1889 is 42 feet in length, and weighs upwards of 18 tons. The carriage of 1872 was capable of seating 50 passengers, but that of 1889 only seats 20 more, or 70 in all, so that while the weight of the vehicle has increased by 80 per cent, the seating capacity has only increased by 40 per cent.—in other words, the weight has increased in double the ratio of the accommodation provided. To take another illustration, the standard composite carriage built by the London and North Western Company in 1872, 30 feet 5 inches in length, weighed 10 tons 8 cwt, but those of the latest type, built recently, measure 42 feet in length and weigh from 18 to 19 tons. These contain lavatory accommodation for the first class compartments, and a cupboard for luggage, and they only provide seats for 44 passengers, as against 36 who could be conveyed in the smaller vehicle of the earlier period.
To keep pace with the increased weight of the vehicles, the power and weight of the engines employed to draw them has also had to be correspondingly augmented. The most powerful passenger engines in use on the London and North Western Railway in 1872, having driving-wheels 7 ft. 6 in. in diameter, weighed, without tenders, 27 tons 1 cwt.; but the compound engines now being made by Mr. Webb at the Crewe Works, having triple cylinders, and driving-wheels 6 ft. in diameter, weigh 42½ tons; while an even more powerful type of engine on the compound system, having 7-ft. driving wheels, weighs no less than 45½ tons, or, with the tender attached, 70½ tons.
The effect of this increase in the weight and dimensions of the vehicles employed is seen by the diagram given at page 159 (fig. 27), showing the growth which has taken place in the length and weight of some of the typical trains on the London and North Western Railway during the past five-and-twenty years. All the principal trains have been affected in the same way, and of course when trains, under ordinary circumstances, are of such great weight and length, they cannot easily be strengthened to meet any abnormal increase of traffic or sudden pressure, and it becomes necessary, instead, to run extra, or duplicate trains, thus adding in another way to the working expenses. The increased speed has also indirectly had the effect of adding very considerably to the number of trains run, and to the amount of train mileage. In order, for instance, to enable a train to run last year from London to Edinburgh in eight hours, it became not only necessary to maintain a high rate of speed throughout, but very few stoppages at intermediate places could be permitted, and other trains had to be run to serve the stations where the stoppages were omitted, and to enable the passengers from those stations to get on to other stations at which the train did stop.
Another cause which has tended greatly to increase the weight and bulk of the trains is the introduction of saloon carriages of various descriptions, to which allusion has been made in Chapter VIII. (page 126) since these vehicles, although of exceptional weight and dimensions, and extremely expensive to build and maintain, yet accommodate but a very limited number of passengers. For instance, a sleeping saloon 42 feet in length, weighing 2½ tons, and costing £1,300, only contains berths for 16 individuals. A family carriage measuring 32 feet, weighing 15 tons 4 cwts., and costing £820, accommodates eight first class passengers (sleeping) and six second class passengers. The ordinary first class carriages have also lost part of their seating capacity from the fact that no first class passenger in these times is satisfied unless he is provided with lavatory accommodation, and this requirement is being met in building all new stock, so that practically nearly all first class carriages used on the main line are furnished with lavatories. If we take, for example, a first class carriage of the largest size, 42 feet in length, which under ordinary circumstances would provide seats for 40 passengers, with a luggage compartment, we find that, when the necessary space for lavatories has been abstracted, we have only accommodation left for 28 passengers; so that nearly one-third of the accommodation is lost, and the weight of the train is correspondingly increased. It may be added that some of the companies are now commencing to provide lavatory accommodation, not only for first class, as hitherto, but for second and third class passengers also.
Another cause which has a tendency to increase the length and weight of the trains, especially in the busy tourist season, is the growing desire on the part of the travelling public to secure the exclusive use of compartments for a small number of passengers. The companies very generally offer this facility to any one who desires it, subject to the payment of fares as for a minimum number of passengers, viz., four first or second class, or six third class. Great numbers of people, however, seek to obtain the privilege on one plea or another without the payment of the minimum charge, and where the traffic is highly competitive there is a disposition on the part of the companies to make the concession somewhat freely, and often without adequate grounds.
Having thus briefly touched upon the principal causes which have operated during the past fifteen or sixteen years in the direction of reducing the profits derivable from the conveyance of passengers, and more especially of those of the higher classes, it will probably be of interest to refer to certain calculations which have recently been prepared showing (1) a comparison of the receipts from passenger traffic of the three classes carried by the London and North Western Company in the years 1871 and 1888 respectively; (2) the number of passenger miles run (i.e., taking the unit of one passenger conveyed one mile, which is arrived at very simply by dividing the gross receipts of each class by the assumed average fare per mile); (3) the cost at which each class has been worked in the two periods; and (4) the net profit derived from each class. It is found, then, that during the two years mentioned the gross receipts of the London and North Western Railway from passenger traffic (including season tickets) were as follows:—
|Year.||First Class.||Second Class.||Third Class.||Total.|
So that the first class receipts decreased 27 per cent., and the second class 59 per cent., while the third class increased by 151 per cent., the total increase from all classes being 28 per cent., while within the same period the capital invested in the undertaking increased to the extent of about 46 per cent.
The passenger miles (not to be confounded with passenger train miles) calculated in the manner above described by assuming the average fares to have been:—
|In 1871 …||1·80||1·35||·90|
|In 1888 …||1·50||1·25||·90|
give the following results:—
|Year.||First Class.||Second Class.||Third Class.||Total.|
So that while the total receipts from all three classes shew an increase of only 28 percent., the work done, measured by passenger mileage, has increased by just twice that amount, viz , by 56 per cent.
If the reader will now refer to the figures given at page 125, he will find that the number of seats provided in the company's carriage stock at the present time is:—
In 1871 the numbers were:—
Thus the accommodation has in the aggregate been increased by 76 per cent., while, the gross receipts, as stated above, have only been augmented by 28 percent., which shows—assuming that the carriage stock provided in 1871 was proportionate to the requirements of the traffic—that under present conditions the trains are not so well and fully occupied as under the old state of things, and that unprofitable mileage of carriage stock is being run.
It has always been a somewhat vexed question amongst railway statisticians as to what is the most reliable method of arriving at an estimate of the relative net profits derived from the various classes of passenger traffic; that is to say, that, having ascertained the total cost of working the traffic as a whole, the difficulty is to find a sure basis upon which to apportion it between the three classes. The number of passengers carried is obviously not a safe guide, because it is necessary to take into consideration the wide difference in the conditions under which they are conveyed. To divide the amount in proportion to carriages employed is impracticable, because a great number of the carriages contain accommodation for all three classes in varying proportions. The number of seats provided in the carriages employed is a somewhat more reliable basis; but even this leaves something to be desired, because a first class seat occupies more space in a train, and adds more to its weight than a second class seat, while even a second class seat occupies more space than a third. In addition, the lavatories for first class, and the great size and weight of the saloons of various descriptions have to be reckoned with.
After very careful consideration of the subject, the writer has arrived at the conclusion that the nearest approximate results are to be obtained by apportioning the total passenger working expensesthe three classes in the ratio of the seat space occupied in the entire carriage stock of a company, and a calculation made upon this basis, with regard to the passenger traffic of the London and North Western Railway in 1888, and in 1871, the last year before the introduction of the changes which have been enumerated, gives the following results:
|Year.||First Class.||Second Class.||Third Class.|
|Working Expenses per cent.||Net profit per cent.||Working Expenses per cent.||Net Profit per cent.||Working Expenses per cent.||Net Profit per cent.|
If it be assumed that these figures are approximately correct, and that the principle adopted in arriving at them is theoretically sound, which there is probably not much reason to doubt, their significance can hardly be exaggerated. It will be seen that the net profit on first class traffic, which, in 1871 was nearly half of the gross receipts, has by reason of the reduction of fares and the greatly enhanced cost of working (from causes which have already been dwelt upon) diminished until in the year 1888, it represents not quite eight percent, of the gross receipts. The profit upon second class traffic, which, in 1871 was also neatly half the receipts, has row, from the same causes, dwindled to little more than a quarter, while even the profit on third class traffic has fallen off to some extent, although not so seriously, owing to the fares remaining practically undisturbed. Another calculation shows that the net earnings per passenger per mile, after payment of working expenses, for the two periods under comparison, were approximately, as under:—
|First Class.||Second Class.||Third Class.|
So that, under the old state of things, the first class traffic paid best, but the second class paid better than the third; while, under present conditions, the third class is the most remunerative traffic, the second class comes next, and the profit en first class appears to be very small indeed.
During the period of eighteen years which has elapsed between the years 1870 and 1888, although the mileage of railways owned and worked by the London and North Western Company has only increased to the extent of forty-five per cent., the passenger train mileage has increased by sixty-one per cent, and the gross amount of fuel consumed per annum by passenger engines has been augmented by no less than 142 per cent, or in more than double the ratio of the increase of train mileage, showing the unmistakeable effect of the increased speed, and the heavier weights to which motive power has to be applied. The total number of passengers carried has increased, it is true, by eighty-seven percent, but the earnings have only been improved to half that extent, or by forty-four per cent, while the number of passengers conveyed for the expenditure of one ton of fuel has fallen by 22 per cent.—that is to say, that the amount of fuel, which in 1870 was sufficient to convey 100 passengers, in 1888 only sufficed to convey about seventy-eight, owing to the greater amount of dead weight to be hauled, and the higher speed to be maintained.
Mr. Price Williams, Mem. Inst. Civil Engineers, who has achieved a considerable reputation as an indefatigable statistician, and an authority on most questions relating to railways, submitted to the writer, about four years ago, some very interesting calculations which he had prepared with the view of demonstrating what he believed to be the unproductive character of the first and second class traffic upon the principal railways, consequent upon the altered policy which had been brought about since 1873, and to which reference has been made. These calculations assumed the form of an analysis of the passenger receipts and working expenses of the London and North Western Railway during a long period of years, viz., from i860 to 1884, and as they impressed me very much at the time as showing striking results, and bearing out to a great extent the conclusions at which I had already arrived, it may be worth while to give a brief abstract of them in this connection.
Mr. Williams' figures, which were most carefully prepared, showed that from i860 to 1871 the net profits from first and second class continued to be over 50 per cent, of the gross receipts, although the average gross receipts per passenger and per train mile were gradually reduced. In 1873, the first year in which the policy of attaching third class carriages to all trains was brought fully to bear, although the gross receipts from first-class traffic continued to increase, there was a larger growth in the working expenses, and the first class net receipts therefore fell off from 2s. 9½d to 2s. 3¼d. per passenger, and from 7⅓d. to 5¾d. per train mile. The second class suffered to an even greater extent, the number of passengers of that class having decreased from 8,281,366 in 1871 to 5,418,494 in 1873, and the gross receipts from £867,099 to £557,200. The second class net receipts fell from is. 3d. per passenger to 9d., and the net receipts per train mile from 10d. to not quite 4d. The third class receipts, as might have been expected, were very largely increased.
Coming to the year 1875, the year in which second class was abolished on the Midland Railway, and the fares were consequently reduced, as previously described, we find that, although the number of first class passengers conveyed by the London and North Western Company reached its maximum of 3,288,661, the net receipts were, owing to the reduction of the fares, only 1s. 6½d. per passenger, and 4d. per train mile, as against 2s. 3d. per passenger, and 5d. per train mile in 1873. The second class net receipts, from the same cause, were similarly affected.
From 1875 to 1881 the number of first and second class passengers and the receipts continued rapidly to decrease, and the third class to increase, in a remarkable degree. The net receipts from first class fell from is. 6½d. to 1S. 2d. per passenger, and from 4d. to 2d. per train mile, and in the second class, although the gross receipts per passenger were slightly increased, the net receipts were reduced from 5d. to 4d. per passenger, and from 2½d. to less than a penny per train mile.
The figures for the last period compared, from 1881 to 1884, continue to show the same tendency, but in an accelerated degree, the effect of the decrease, year by year, in the first and second class gross receipts, combined with the increase in the working expenses, being to still further diminish the slender profit upon these classes of traffic, until we find that in the year 1884 the net profit per first class passenger has come down to 5·71d., as against 3s. 5d. in 1860, and from 11d. per train mile to ·68d. The net profit upon each second class passenger, which in 1860 was 1s. 2d., in 1884 has fallen to 2d., and the net profit per train mile has been reduced from nearly a shilling to less than a halfpenny.
It will be seen that the tendency of these figures, although they have been compiled by a different hand, and arrived at by a different process, is to confirm the conclusions based upon the more recent calculations prepared under the writer's directions, and which have already been quoted, and to show that the altered conditions under which the business is carried on have contributed to render the profits derived from first and second class very small indeed, and that the companies must now look chiefly to the third class traffic for their revenue. In fact, in contemplating the returns for a series of years, nothing is more striking than the enormous and uninterrupted growth in the number of third class passengers from year to year, no matter how the other classes may fluctuate. The companies, in short, have spent and are spending large sums of money in providing the most luxurious accommodation, and every facility and convenience for the benefit of the superior classes, but they are doing this practically at their own expense, and it is really the humble and once despised third class traveller who furnishes the sinews of war. It must be borne in mind, moreover, that although the figures show a profit, however small, upon the carrying of first class passengers, this result is only arrived at as an average, by treating all first class passengers alike, and while it may still be a profitable business to carry first class season-ticket holders, or passengers by local and suburban trains, it may well be doubted whether, under present circumstances, upon first class passengers carried long distances by express trains—say between London and Scotland—there is any profit at all.
On the whole, therefore, it would appear that the revenue to be derived from the conveyance of passenger traffic upon English railways is a diminished and diminishing quantity, and that it is only the fall during recent years in the value of materials, especially of coal, and other favourable circumstances, that have enabled the principal companies to fairly maintain their dividends; while if the present conditions with regard to passenger traffic remain unaltered, and there should be any material rise in prices of stores, or loss upon the working of the goods traffic by reason of bad trade, or if there should be any considerable reductions of the Parliamentary powers of the companies, which are now undergoing revision at the hands of the Board of Trade in conformity with the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of last Session, then the outlook for railway shareholders would be a serious one for them to contemplate.
There seems to be no reason to doubt that the state of things thus described, so unfavourable from the railway shareholders' point of view, has been brought about chiefly by reason of the lengths to which the companies have gradually proceeded, under the pressure of competition, in making concessions without adequate remuneration for the privileges bestowed. These concessions have certainly been very great, and they have had the effect of placing railway travellers in Great Britain in an extremely favoured position as compared with the public who use the Continental railways, since there need be no hesitation in saying that although the methods of working in France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria may be sufficiently well adapted to the circumstances of those countries respectively, they are not such as would commend themselves to the British public. On most Continental railways the express trains carry, as a rule, only first and second class passengers, and the fastest trains travel, on an average, ten miles an hour less than the express trains in England. The permanent way—constructed with Vignoles, or flat-bottomed rails bolted to the sleepers, without chairs, and weighing considerably less to the yard than the rails commonly in use in this country—is not adapted to bear the enormous strain which would be imposed upon it by long and heavy trains running at the high rates of speed which prevail upon English railways.
It is evident that the readiness of English railway companies to yield to the demands of the public, and to proceed from one concession to another, has arisen from the peculiar nature of the traffic of a country of limited extent like Great Britain, and where the business is so extremely competitive. Most of the railways in Germany, Austria, and Belgium are either State railways, or are controlled more or less by the State, and are worked not only for the benefit of the travelling public, but with an eye to the improvement of the State revenue; and in France, although the principal railways have been constructed by private Companies, it has been done upon a system of territorial concession for a period of time, the State reserving a control over the fixing of the rates and charges, so that the question of competition seldom arises. In England, on the contrary, the Legislature has fostered the principle of competition by sanctioning the construction of railways forming alternative routes between most points of importance. For instance, between London and Manchester there are three routes open to the intending traveller; between London and Liverpool there are three, between London and Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, or Aberdeen, three; between London and Leeds, three, between Liverpool and Manchester three, between London and the principal places in the West of England two; and so on throughout the country.
From London to Manchester the London and North Western Company are running 16 trains daily, the Great Northern Company are running 8, and the Midland Company the same number. From London to Liverpool the North Western Company are running 13 trains daily, the Midland Company 9, and the Great Northern Company 6. From London to the principal places in Scotland, the North Western Company run 8 trains daily, the Midland Company 6, and the Great Northern Company 6. Between Liverpool and Manchester the London and North Western Company run upwards of 20 express trains a day in each direction, the Cheshire Lines Committee run about 25, and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company will shortly be running about an equal number. Many of these trains run at the same times, or nearly so. For example, both the North Western and Great Northern Companies have trains leaving London for Scotland at 10 a.m., and the Midland Company have a similar train only half-an-hour later. By three different routes a train leaves Liverpool for London at or near 4.0 p.m., and such instances might be multiplied indefinitely, the trains in most cases performing the journey in about the same time, and at precisely the same fares. The traffic is thus acutely competitive, and the conditions being so equal, it requires but a trifling inducement to influence the travelling public in the choice of route, so that there is a constant temptation to the competing companies to make fresh concessions so as to attract the business from their rivals; and as any new departure by one company is immediately followed by its competitors, it becomes at once stereotyped, and merely forms a basis for still further concessions.
It may be, of course, that during the busiest season—extending over four or five months of the year—there is sufficient traffic to utilise the whole of the trains run by the various routes; but there is no doubt that during the remaining seven months the accommodation provided is, in the aggregate, far in excess of the requirements, and that, as a matter of fact, the trains are frequently run with very few passengers in them, doing little more than paying their expenses.
So far as the public are concerned there is, of course, in all this nothing to be complained of; but if it be asked from a railway shareholder's point of view, what is the remedy for the loss of revenue which has been indicated, although it is not impossible to find an answer to the question, the solution of the problem is one involving many difficulties. As regards increasing the traffic greatly beyond its present volume, there is probably not much to be hoped for, the country being limited in extent, and the possibilities of expansion being circumscribed by the amount of the population, although it will, naturally, always fluctuate with the prosperity of the country. The only thing to be done in this direction is to follow out the policy which has already been adopted by most of the companies, of granting low fares and season ticket rates between all the large centres of population and places within a radius of about twenty miles, so as to build up a residential traffic, by encouraging the people to live in the healthier suburbs instead of in the large towns in which they pursue their avocations. As regards long distance traffic it is very doubtful whether the reduction of fares, or any other concessions, tend to materially increase the volume of business; as a rule people do not take long journeys unless they are called upon by actual necessity to do so, and in that case they will travel, whatever the fare may be, within reasonable limits. Of course, however, this remark is not intended to apply to the traffic between large towns and seaside or other holiday resorts, which all the companies encourage by granting return tickets at low fares during the summer months, this being a case in which, by judicious concessions, a traffic is created which would not otherwise exist to anything like the same extent.
A return to the earlier practice of conveying third class passengers only by secondary trains, combined with a general reduction of speed, is practically out of the question, for if anyone were sufficiently bold to propose any such retrograde policy, it would encounter the strongest tide of public opinion in opposition to it, and it would be impossible to get all the companies to adopt and adhere to it in the face of the pressure which would be brought to bear upon them. For good or evil these concessions have been granted and cannot now be withdrawn, and it only remains for the railway companies to make the best of the situation as it exists, and to endeavour to protect themselves against further losses. In the end, it seems probable that the companies, if they are wise, will achieve this object by some kind of combination amongst themselves by which excessive competition may be obviated, and two or more companies carrying between common points may be enabled to reduce their train mileage, to curtail the running of unprofitable trains and a great deal of unnecessary expenditure, and to keep the speed of the trains within reasonable limits, so as, without lessening the accommodation afforded to the public, to preserve conditions under which the business of carrying passengers may again be conducted with a fair margin of profit to those whose capital is engaged in it.