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Art. 1.—The Official Reports and Returns of the Railway
Department of the Board of Trade. 1850-1861. THE British public naturally desires to travel at as little cost
, , : It has practically only one means of conveyance. The iron rail has superseded the road of other metal; the six-legged horse has, for long journeys, driven the quadruped out of, or into the field; and the single stage-coach has made way for the train of more convenient carriages. The United Kingdom is—to its infinite advantage — intersected by 10,500 miles of railway, of which two-thirds are constructed with a double line of rails; and the gaps over the country are being filled up at the rate of 400 miles a-year. The enormous sum of 400,000,0001. has been expended within the last thirty-five years upon these works; the total receipts derived from them during the year 1860 amounted to 27,766,6221.; and the net revenue for the same period was upwards of fourteen millions and a half.
It would no doubt have been better in many ways, for the shareholders as well as for the public, if the Government had exercised a judicious control over railway operations at an early stage, and had contrived, during the laying out of the different lines, to insure greater uniformity of system, better routes, and superior management. But it is useless to regret the past. We prefer to look forward, and, with a view to the public benefit, to scan the present position of affairs, and to cull only from the experience of former years the ideas that will best serve for future guidance.
There are now in the United Kingdom upwards of 300 railway companies, leasing and leased, working and worked, agreeing and combining, quarrelling and competing, entering into every conceivable complication with each other, and possessing in all directions ties of common ambition or objects of conflicting interest. They vary in the length of their lines from 2 miles to 1,000 miles, and in the amount of their capital from 20,0001. to 37,000,0001. They employ, altogether, 120,000 officers and servants; and they possess 6,000 locomotive engines, 15,000 passenger-carriages, and 180,000 trucks, waggons, and other Vol. 111.-No. 221.
vehicles. They carried, in the year 1860, besides 48,000 season and periodical ticket-holders, 163,000,000 passengers, of whom about an eighth were first-class, five-sixteenths were secondclass, and nine-sixteenths were third-class; and they received from them thirteen millions of money as the price of their conveyance.
These various companies command patronage, money, custom, -all that confers power,—to an extent previously unheard of in the history of associations. They have Noble Lords and Honourable Members for their active agents and astute rulers. They have opportunities of affording advantages, or of withdrawing them ; of granting or withholding favours; of indulging in civilities, and of acquiring popularity, which they often employ to great advantage. United, they form a strong party in Parliament. Separately, they have the issues of life and death, as we shall presently show, pretty much at their disposal. The press is too much at their service ; and one section of it is specially devoted to them. The neighbourhood is sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile to them. The Bench is often insufficiently informed in technical matters. The most eminent scientific witnesses are at their beck and call. They possess in all quarters an influence which may some day, unless proper precautions are observed, become alarming.
To the tender mercies of this heterogeneous society of companies are our 163 millions of travelling public handed over, a helpless mass. They are all, as a rule, equally ignorant of the condition of the engine and carriages, and of the line over which they are to pass ; of the strength of the bridges, the efficiency of the signals, or the regularity with which they are worked. They cannot, of course, know what train is before them, or what train will follow them ; nor can they be aware of any of the thousand and one risks to which they are exposed.
The public cannot, then, be expected to exercise, of itself, any efficient control over this vast, highly organised, powerful conveyance-machine ; but it has nevertheless great power if its influence be properly directed; for railway companies are extremely sensitive to well-instructed public opinion. The public knows very little of the dangers that it incurs, but is a good judge of the inconveniences which it encounters. It is patient under them to an extraordinary degree. Railways are worked for profit ; and whilst a company is in undisturbed possession of its territory and traffic, it naturally strives to get as much as it can out of the public, and to give as little as possible in return.
Nevertheless, when the public convenience is at stake in a particular locality, local boards, local authorities, and local news