Transport in National Emergency
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pEACE in our time is a longing felt by the Security Demands that Roads majority of the people of and Vehicles Should at Once be this world. In this connection, Restored .to Pre-war for many years Britain has not been an aggressor, but has been forced by circumstances and the policies of dictators into participating in wars, for which, in the initial stages, we were ill-prepared. In the past two great wars we were fortunately saved by the desperate valour and self-sacrifice of the few, which gave us time to adjust our internal economy and manufacturing processes to great rearmament measures.
Good Communications Aided Preparation In each case the Nation was backed by excellent systems of transport, whilst in the earlier stages we could call upon powerful neutrals, one at least with a huge manufacturing capacity, to supply our immediate needs during •the change-over from peace to war conditions. Even in 1914 our Armies were comparatively well supplied with motor vehicles drawn from civilian fleets, whilst our railways were in excellent condition and well maintained.
These factors were of even greater importance in 1939, in which year and for the whole period of the recent war both road and rail performed their respective functions magnificently and carried unexpected and exceptionally heavy btirdens, whilst replacements were few and adequate _maintenance almost impossible. In addition, we had an immense tonnage of shipping, both ocean and coastal; also our roads, although not quite up to the standard required in the matter of capacity, were on excellent foundations and well surfaced.' In fact, in these last two respects they were probably amongst the best in the world.
The situation today presents a vastly different picture, and one which the expert can contemplate• only with trepidation. Our railways are in a deplorable condition as regards both tracks and rolling stock. Most of our road vehicles are long past the time at which they should have been replaced, and many of the roads are showing the joint effects of years of hard wear and little attention.
In these days a war is largely made up of movement. Transport in all its phases may well be the vital factor in victory or defeat, and what would our position be during future Efficiency years, and however distant, if we once again had to face a powerful enemy fully prepared and well equipped? We are not saying that a war in which we might be involved is likely, but the present peace, to say the least, is a disturbed one. It is a pool bubbling with the noxious vapours of national grievances and hates, stirred by conflicting ideologies, all accentuated in vast areas by living conditions which in themselves breed distrust and revolt.
In the meantime, it is our manifest duty as the mother country of a still great, but sadly diminishing, Empire to be fully prepared in every way for every possible exigency. We, as a journal, are concerned only with the road transport side amongst all these matters, but even road transport alone is of great importance, and it will become more so, particularly, if, as seems likely, any future war would be in great part an atomic one. However well the railways stood up to ordinary bombing, it is impossible to believe that they could continue to function in areas so devastated as they might be under such new conditions. In that case, the mobility and individuality of the road vehicle would be qualifications of inestimable value.
Road Transport Must Be Rehabilitated However we suffer in other respects, a sane Government with a full appreciation of the dangers of neglect should do everything possible to bring road transport and the roads upon which it must run into first-class condition. Vehicles and, highways must be made ready for any and every emergency, and always with the presumption that this form of transport for both goods and passengers might conceivably be the only one available to cater for the entire needs of the whole community. To bolster up the railways at the expense of road transport and the roads would be a policy so short-sighted-as almost to constitute criminal negligence.
Although we appreciate the many problems and difficulties involved and the insistent claims of all industries and of export upon available supplies of materials and man-power, we feel strongly that the Government has not yet been brought to realize how vital road transport is to our safety.
Instead of reducing the number of commercial vehicles allocated to the home market, cutting down schemes for road improvement, and lowering. the number of workers engaged upon road building and maintenance, there should be increases in all these directions. Until road transport be allowed to reach the highest stage of efficiency and a strength considerably above that of pre-war days, the Nation will remain in dire peril.
In our leading article of last week we dealt with the possible economic effects of the serious cuts which are contemplated in connection with roads and vehicles.