Packing and Empties.
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The Elimination of the "Returned Empty" Keenly Sought in Railway Service.
By G. F. Bilbrough.
Burden of Packing. .
Only those actively engaged in trade can adequately appreciate the vast leakage included undur the heading uf " parkin, " In many branches of trade it restricts considerably the area within which business can be conducted at a profit ; especially is this so in the transit of low-priced bulky traffic. This relatively-high cost of packing is.a matter for continual dissatisfaction, yet the traders have adopted an attitude of resentful acquiescence because no alternative has presented itself. • If the idea of a pool has been suggested. the possibility has been dismissed as chimerical, and the fatalistic motto adopted, " What cannot be cured mutt bc endnred." The wasteful and cumbersome methods of to-day seem almost too obvious for enumeration. It is necessary to state them briefly, however, as an illustration of the evil requiring remedy. in many branches of trade, it has become a generally accepted practice to provide packing capable of undertaking several transactions. In the ultimate issue thia results in economy, although the drawbacks are numerous. The term applied to this type of packing is itself indicative of a serious evil. The "returned empty " must perform two journeys (there and back)in the execution of every order reeeived. This, of course, involves
(a) That the actual life is lessened by at least one-half. This is au understatement, as the risks of depreciation on the return journey are greater than on the outward, from the considerations that the same obvious necessity for care is not imposed upon the carriers, and additionally the contents of a full case increase the power of resistance against external Pressure.
(b) The necessity for a return journey also operates adversely in another direction. The traders are required to stock more than twice the packing. the actual needs of their business warrant, .because the number of their packages en route as " returned empties " always exceeds the number in transit full—a state of affairs explained by the recognized inferior transit of empties on the railways. (c) Further, the traders are called upon to pay vast stuns for carriage on these empties, a charge operating most adversely on trade, No statistics are available of the amount involved, but a recent test made at the principal depot in a large provincial manufacturing centre showed that the traders in that city were paying some £20,000 per annum on this item alone. This sum may be regarded as representative, and is indicative of the wastage through existing methods as well as the scope for economy.
Position of the Carriers.
Nor is the position of the carriers much better. They suffer severely by the transportation of the traffic at totally unremimerative rates. From the particulars appended it will be seen that under ideal conditions the charges, do not equate the actual cost of terminal services only. This will be appreciated-when it is remembered .how small is the weight of "returned empties " in relation to bulk. Additionally the, traffic absorbs valuable space at the traffic depots, impedes tile working of more important :branches, and accentuates every disposition towards congestion—thus forcing upthe working scale. The occupation of vehicles-rail and cartage—prevents their use by more remunerative traffic, absorbs the reserves of 'transit space," thus throwing expense on the working of the hue and aggravatin!, any tendency toward wagon shortage. These, together with the heavy cost of handling' all emphasize the unremunerative character of the traffic to the carriers.
From these premises we may surely deduce that any arrangement, worked by an authoritative body, pooling this. traffic And establishing a " general user " should secure the active support of all interests. It is the object of this precis to -outline an effective and simple method for achieving this end, and. its adoption would ensure marked economies. The machinery is designed to establish an effectual pool; afford absolute freedom in the movement of the packing ; reduce the cost of administration to a minimum; operate with scrupulous fairness to thewhole of the interest involved, and ensure the costs being divided amongst the members pro rata with the benefits derived.
B22 It is proposed as a commencement to confine the scheme to the larger centres of population (say, over 50,000), extensions being made to smaller areas as practicable.
Identification of Pool Members.
To identify pool members, the adoption of a private mark (not copyable except under penalties) is recommended, and parties to the pool would be required to endorse their invoices, order forms, and general stationery therewith. This would ovoid the cumbersome method of keeping lists of subscribers, and prevent the possibility of the packing being sent to nonpool firms, unless certain definite arrangements (to be named later) had been made.
Local Empties Depots.
. Each town or area would need a local." empties depot." If run by the trading interest, the " pool " might secure relatively cheap warehousing ; or firms might undertake the duties on a reasonable consideration. If the pool is run by the railways, • however, spare accommodation would undoubtedly be available at existing railway depots, which are usually central and convenient. If, as is anticipated, the present Government control leads to a centralization of work, removal of competitive enterprise and unification of services, these proposals will help to solve the problem of utilizing the premises and accomodation likely to become unnecessary in the changed conditions.
Standardization of Packing.
An essential condition to the scheme would be the standardization of packing, in respect of quality and types. It would be necessary to ha-vs a gradation of sizes to inset the exigencies of trade, though these should be kept as few as possible, and efforts directed to standardize also the methods of packing. It hardly needs to be pointed out that a maximum umformiey means a maximum of utility, and guarantees greater freedom, whilst a multiplication of types only increases the number of those unsuitable to individual traders. It is not advantageously practicable to pool packing of exceptional types, such as earthenware crates, long tube cases; and the like, where -the possibility of back loading is very restricted. This exception, however, would not include areas like Lancashire, where the exceptional packing is " common " within a well-defined area.
Brands for Identification.
Following logically Lipon the standardization of packing is the necessity for providing adequate marks for identification, registration, etc. It. is, therefore, recommended that a private brand, identical with that appearing on the pool member's order forms, etc., shall be indelibly stamped upon each case or hamper, together with7a consecutive number for registration. Further, the net cost of the case, etc., will also appear indelibly thereon.
All pool packing will issue initially through the pool authority, either from their depots or under their agis, and will be registered numerically to the firm taking delivery. 'This record would constitute delivery book and debit ledger.
Providing First Cost of Packing.
The initial cost would be raised by subscription in the ordinary way. Under Government control, the funds would be met "by loan or be a charge to the general railway account. If, however, the traders undertook the scheme, it is suggested that all members of the pool should credit the pool authority to the extent of one-half of their average " packing " charges, arid to oake this subscription equitable, the interest thereon would be added to the "net first cost," as branded on the case. Thus the first cost of a packing case might be :— (a) Actual maker's charge (say) ... ... 4 10 (b) Proportionate interest charge ... 0 2 Branded cost ... 5 0 With regular use the value of a case would certainly be exhausted within a year, so that the interest factor is wellnigh negligible.
Transfer of Initial Cost.
On procuring packing, the trader will be debited with " first cost," as already explained, but on forwarding the case or hamper to a customer, he will not he under tha necessity for retaining responsibility ice' the, cost, as at present. On the contrary, he will be empowered to show the branded first cost on his contract with the carrier as a. " paid-on," and recover the amount from them in the next settlement. The railway will invoice the amouut forward to destination station as " paid-on " and " to pay "—a well-known part of railway procedure and accountancy needing no explanation—and it will be debited to the consignee in the same way as carriage charges. So long as the consignee retains the packing, he retains the debit also. The appendix to this article elaborates the points. If it be 'objected that the railways would' not be willing to mulertake the work outlined, or would alternatively prefer a prohibitive charge for the services, it remains to he said that the success of the scheme is not bound up in the attitude of the companies. It is open to the traders to arrange a direct transfer of the initial cost of the packing on their invoice to the customer, and the prevention of collusion between individual firms (which is the principal reason for passing the
paid-on " through the railway) may be compassed by other means. As a matter of fact, the urgency of the packing prorilem may preclude a long negotiation, and, if traders are to receive assistance during the existing critical period and passe, some modifications may be regarded as inevitable.
Consignee Becomes Equivalent to Sender.
The acceptance of a debit for pool packing delivered will he filo exact equivalent of a primary purchase from the local
i,pat, and the packing may be treated identically. The conrigriee becomes the sender, and may reforvvard it to any of his customers again allowing the amount as " paid-on." This gives absolute freedom in the movement of the packing.
Credit for Packing Unfit to Travel.
When a, ease has exhausted its " life," or needs repairs, the railway or pool authority will issue a condemning note, showing number of case and branded first cost. Upon return of the iracking to the depot, this condemning note will become a credit note for the value.
Method for Meeting Depreciation of Packing.
It now requires to indicate the method for meeting the depreciations to packing; and to ensure that each_ member bears his 'quota of the cost pro rata with the benefits gained, and the following arrangements are recommended : Pending evidence of an absolute character—and this could only be obtained by taking the figures over a fixed period—it is pieposed to fix the " average life " of the packing, i.e., the number of journeys, it might make with safety. Once this is fixed, the method for meeting depreciation emerges. This average life is the vital factor.
It has been pointed out that each trader despatching pool packing is empowered to show the first cost .-on his consignment note to the carrier. To ensure, however, that he paid his full quota to the depreciation fund, the pool would deduct from his claim for packing despatched a percentage pro rata with the ascertained normal life of the packing. To make this clear, let us suppose a trader's claim for packing forwarded in a particular month is .£8. If the normal life of the packing he 20 journeys the pod would deduct 5 per cent., or 8.s. ; if 25 journeys, 4 per cent., or 6s. 54., and so on. This would ,,vork with exactitude, and ensure the trader paying his just amount for depreciation at the time he receives payment for the packing sent off. It only requires to be said that the average life should be fixed, in the first instance, to leave a margin for contingencies.
Excess of User.
It is, of course, recognized that some trades by their nature involve a higher scale of depreciation than others, e.g., metal trades, as against light goods. This difficulty, if deemed essential, could be adjusted by a graduation in the percentages retained by the pool for depreciation, on the basis of a shorter (or longer) average life.
Payment for Clerical and Other Services and Expenses.
If this scheme is organized under the tegis of a State Department, it is presumed they would run the machinery free as one of the benefits which a .Government control of our rail. ways conferred upon trade, and as it ia commonly understood that a more thorough-going policy in the direction of nationalization might involve considerable displacement of staff, such a scheme as is here outlined might fund work for this otherwise, redundant labour. If, however, it is deemed advisable tc make some charge toward cost of upkeep, the most economical and fairest. way would be to issue " pool " consignment notes, franked to the amount per transaction it. was decided to make, and to issue them in book form for supply to the traders.
Firms Not Party to the Pool.
Pool empties could only be sent to firms not parley thereto under certain well-defined conditions, and on the liesponsibility of the firm so doing. Such packing would -require to he. returned by consignee to the local pool depot, and du. latter would be empowered to recover the usual.' returned 'empty " charges (made according to Q.R.C. scale) without any reference to the manner in which such.empty was ultimately disposed of, and the amount creditA to the general expenses.
-Within the scope of this arrangement conies the vast proportioo of the general trades of the country, but to make: it more effective, and produce the fullest freedcim of movement, it is recomine.nded that the pool depots be also used as pack. ing exchanges, where packages cauld be exchanged for types more suitable to the exigencies of a trader's requirements. Similarly, pool firms not baying outward traffic might dispose of them for a clearing-house fee. Other details are capable for adjustmentwithin the limits of the scheme.
Analysis of the cost of one terminal service at, a repeesentative station, where the traffic is.specialized and worked under the most ideal conditiens. •
54 hours a week.
Cartage. s. d £ s. d.
28 carmen at 25s. 35 0 0 20 youth at 10s. ... 10 0 30 horses at 20s. 30 • 0 0
42 drays at 2s. 111. . 4. 7 79 7 6 minus 2-9th 61 15 9 (Less 2 hours per day for'6 days, in collecting, etc.) Cartage foreman (approximate half services) ... 0 15 0' Porterage.
1 foreman at 345. 74. 114 7 2 chcekers at 29.5.... 2 18 0 6 loaders at 258. 7 10 0 • 8 porters at 22s. ... 8 16 0 20 18 7 Delivery sheetman ... 1 • 4 0 Porter slieetmaii .... 1 2 0
Other _dockage (estimated) , 4 10 . 0 6 16 0 • (Other clerkage. is for tracing disputes claims.) Miscellaneous (estimated). Claims paid . ... 4 0 0 4 0 0 Station terminal on 320 tons at 1s. 6d. ... 24 9 0 , 24 0. (3 Second handlings, yard
empties, bonuses, etc. ... 0 :0 (Estimates are all inside figures.) Total ... ... 123 4 7
Receipts by carriage ... ... 935 (1 0 Percentage cost of one terminal ... 52 per cent.
The carriage charges, theeefore, do not cover the ccst of the two terminal services Actual carriage and the perpetual use of 200 wagons (estimating the average transit at two days) receives no compensation.
[We refer to this?seherne in the course of an Editorial aiiicie on the secon4 pogc of the issue._Erli