OUR CHAOTIC RAILWAY TRANSPORT.
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The Imposition of Conditions which Act in Restraint of Trade. By Granville F. Bilbrough.
FROM ALL SIDES come loud complaints of .inefficiency and maladministration in our premier . transport system, and not a few of the traders .affect to see some subtle connection between the rapid deterioration of traffic facilities and the
inchoate proposals of the Ministry of Ways a.nd Com munications. It is felt that the conditions are being made so intolerable that the country will readily fly into the hands of the hew administration as a way of escape from a position which is rapidly becoming impossible.
Probably, there is. little or no truth in this suspicion. We are more likely experiencing the effects of the new schemes of "economy," which are designed to secure some savings to the railways themselves, but must certainly involve the traders in extra costs which, in the aggregate, will far outweigh in amount any advantages which the railways. may hope to realize.
We have, in the past, prided ourselves upon the extreme mobility of our traffic arrangements, and not the least advantage to the trader has been the facility to consign his traffic to the nearest depot of a railway company, to the aonsignee's premises, or even to his siding, though it chanced to be on the line of a so-called "foreign" company. As long ago as 1854, it was enacted that "every railway and canal company should, according to their respective powers, afford all reasonable facilities for the receiving, forwarding, and delivering of traffic upon and from the aeveral railways and canals belonging to or worked by the respective companies," and in the past this provision has been liberally interpreted to the general advantage of trade. It has ensured fluidity and by affording accessto the contiguous depots of a terminal railway, has avoided lengthy and expensive cartage& on arrival at its destination.
Now, utterly ignoring this statutory obligation and thus violating the law of the land, the railways have embarked upona territorial scheme which is known euphoniously as "the Allocation of Traffic." Under the arrangement specific railways are regarded 'is having a predominating interest in a particular town or area, and all goods destined for that place are rigidly forced into the one channel regardless of conaequeriees.
In justification of this policy, it is shown that considerable economies may be made by bulking. Wher&. there are three hitherto competitive lines between fixed points, as Midland, L. and N.W. and Great Northern between 'London and Leeds, obvious economies are possible by forcing all the' traffic to one railway system„and as a general rule the principle is desirable and commendable. The mistake, however,
,is that of driving the arrangement too rigidly, and with an utter disregard to the circumstances of the -trader.
From all directions justifiable complaints are being received. One instancewas mentioned in Parliament the other day, wherein building operations. were impeded because the railway insisted uponigiving delivery at a depot several miles further from the site than the point at which delivery had been given . before the introduction of the allocation scheme. Other instances are cited in the "Times Trade Sapplement" for August 2nd. One concern state that their haulage costs had been quadrupled. Another -large company affirm that an oldstanding route had
been cancelled and the traffic was now being worked to another company in the town, from which they could only secure .delivery by an expensive cartage or, alternatively, by paying an additional junction fee for transfer from that company to their private siding. • This is not only unjustifiable: it is iniquitous. It is
frankly a denial of the statutory rights of the trader, and one is constrained to ask upon what authority the companies can thus over-ride their obligations. An." allocation scheme" for unconsigned traffic, i.e., where the trader has no special prAilection as to what depot he is willing to take delivery at, is an economy and a public convenience, but where, through the possession of a siding or geographical position, he elects thatthe traffic go to a particular point, it should follow his directions, as in all probability his losses otherwise will outweigh any advantage to the railway.
What would the people of London think if the Great Eastern were declared the predominating company in that area, and the traders were compelled to accept delivery at Bishopsgatel There are many instances quite as flagrant in the provinces, and the indisposition of the authorities to meet these • legitimate grievances does not augur well for the relations between the traders and the Ministry in the future.
Or consider, again, the innumerable complaints of wagon shortagethroughout the country. If there is one thing which has been drilled into the public it is the wonderful success of the wagon pool. Until quite recently this common user applied to some 50 per cent, of the total ownership. Such shortages as occurred during the war period were attributed to the exceptional conditions, and we were assured that great savings had been effected in shunting and the net result had been to place-more wagons at the disposal of the trader through their more efficient movements and increased user.
llowever, the war conditions have passed, so far As the acute stage is concerned, and additionally the whole of the box wagons have been brought into the pool. • What is the outcome? There appears a greater shortage than ever.
In inverse ratio to the alleged savings the railways are effecting is the. inconvenience to trade. This chronic shortage has a marked effect upon industry and interferes both with production and output in fact, many works have had to suspend operations, decks have become congested, collieries have had -to cease coal 'winning, all of which, being indeterminate losses, are not put on the debit side when the new policy is under discussion.
One supposes that the private wagons will shortly come into the same ...pool, and there, too, the price will have to be paid by the traders of the country in wagon 'hires, demurrages, wagon shortages, etc. There is every disposition upon the part of the public to further and to assist in all well-directed measures for securing economy in transport operation, and the ideas embodied in the schemes briefly alluded to are generally unexceptional in character. But such schemes. depend upon the mariner in winch they are applied and must have due regard to detail. At present they appear to have been put-into operation in all ill-digested manner, and to afford a maximum of discomfort and inconvenience all round.