The Improvement of Roads.
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The future of commercial automobilism is intimately Wrapped up with the road problem, and the efforts of the Roads Improvement Association are invested with no small degree of interest for makers and users alike. It was stated by Mr. Rees Jeffreys at the banquet of the Association in London last week that there are no less than 72 different authorities controllingas many sections of the road between London and Carlisle, and this statement of fact was folloWed by an invitation to picture the state of the L. and N.W. Ry. if the ultimate control of its line were so split up and divided. We think that railway practice might be further utilised to point out that even two companies find it in every way desirable to provide joint stock and joint.committees of management rather than to have any diversity of control, as is witnessed by the West coast and East coast routes to Scotland. We need only to hark back some fifteen or twenty years to be in the midst of all the glories of six changes of carriage and system in a trip of zoo miles, which state of affairs can still be experienced to-day in some crosscountry journeys. It occurs to us that road management in respect of the highways does not differ in essentials from road management of. our great railway systems, and that, IS general managers of the chief lines have found it a matter of economy and convenience to centralise organisation and control, a greater improvement should result from some co.. ordination in respect of the great multiplicity of authorities within whose jurisdiction any ion miles of road in the country at present falls. The only solution appears to be the assumption of financial responsibility for trunk roads by the Treasury, leaving it open to arrangement as to the devolution of executive duties. Administration must be centralised, else the present chaotic state of our highways will continue to the detriment of the country as a whole.
Another speaker at the banquet in question remarked that the abolition of turnpikes was a false step, because their use was the only practicable method of levying charges upon users in proportion to the wear and tear caused by their
vehicles. To this expression of opinion we demur, for any reversion to the turnpike system is contrary to the spirit of the nation, and we. further look upon it as a retrograde step because it supports the narrow view that any particular users of the highway benefit nobody but themselves. :1s a matter of fact, every vehicle which passes along the roads is working for others besides those immediately in or upon it and is merely a link in the great system of exchanges which constitute the trade of the country. The cry of rural authorities that the roads are frequently damaged by heavy traffic which passes through their area during its transit between two external points is a just one, and one which calls for a solution, but we are confident that the solution will not be found in a return to toll-gates. Good roads benefit the whole community, and their construction unquestionably provides the most promising outlet for labour at the present juncture, especially in view of the pressing nature of the unemployed problem in all parts of the country. No better investment could be made than to expend money in the building of additional roads where they are wanted, unless it be in the improving of steep gradients upon existing main roads or the proper care of others which are now neglected. The difficulty, as in all schemes 'where the ultimate expenditure is bound to reach several million pounds sterling per annum, is the first step, and not a few useful suggestions have been rejected because of their being, apparently, relatively insignificant when regarded in the light of what was to be immediately achieved by their adoption compared with the magnitude of the whole proposition. But,. surely, there is no attitude more blameworthy than that of laisser faire I Again, all experience proves that successive postponements of a settlement in any matter only render the adjustment of differences more and more involved when procrastination is no longer of any avail, and it is inevitable that a decision be arrived at within the next two or three years at the outside in respect of our main roads. All that is required is a recognition by the Government of the change that has been brought about in traffic conditions by the increased range of action possessed by modern road vehicles, and that it should approve, in principle, the acceptance of Imperial responsibility for a proportion ofthe main road traffic in this country by reason of its growing volume and the national character derived from its wide scope. Nothing more promising than the bare academic concession that a change has occurred would mean the first step secured, and the natural sequel must be a supplementary allocation of, say, one million pounds sterling per annum for additional grants—conditional on efficiency—to the various County and Borough Councils of the •country. This procedure could not fail to bring forth such ample fruits by a proper application of the money voted that Parliament would quickly recognise how advisable it was to increase the amount year by year. It appears to us that the guidingprinciple of any division of expenditure as between local rating and the Imperial Exchequer should be established upon the closest possible approximation to the ratio between local traffic and through traffic for each district under consideration. A fixed division
of 3 1 or 4 :I must be inequitable in certain cases, one example being the township having very heavy internal traffic of its own on a main road passing through it.
A Revival in Orders for Heavy Wagons.
Many anxious months were passed. by manufacturers of lorries and wagons between the day on which Mr. Long informed Mr. Arthur Stanley in the House of Commons, during the sweltering days of August 1903—when the Motor Car Bill was passing through the committee stage—that the highly debateable matter of the unladen weight of motor vehicles should be referred to a departmental committee. The sittings and findings of Mr. Hobhouse's committee arc new a matter of history, and the appearance of the longexpected Order on December 28th last set at rest the doubts which had previously existed in the industry. eVe observe from the annual report of one of our leading manufacturers of steam lorries that they attribute the fact that this branch of their business barely earned interest on capital to the uncertainties which thus arose, We have reason to know that Messrs. Thornycroft are not alone in this experience, becausu intending purchasers deferred the placing of orders in anticipation of the greater liberty which it was known the Heavy Motorcar Order would bestow. The consequence was that the number of orders for vehicles necessarily requiring a weight unladen in excess of three tons fell to an abnormally low level on the books of the principal makers in Great Britain. Had it not been that every allowance was reasonably made for the promised degree of freedom which the Order was to confer, a feeling akin to alarm must have been experienced. In a minor degree, the omnibus business in this country, which had been struggling along for several years in the shape of public service systems using open vehicles oi the wagonette type, was affected by the maintenance of the old limit of speed of five miles an hour in respect of a motor vehicle having a weight unladen of two tons or more, for it is only since January 1st, 1904, that one has been legally entitled to run a motor omnibus at a greater speed than live miles an hour in cases where, as is generally found, the tare exceeds that minimum weight. The Heavy Motorcar Order has now been published to the world for close upon live months, and has been in operation for eight weeks, but the terms of its provisions are only slowly being appreciated by various managers and others responsible for businesses where the scope for heavy motor vehicles and motor omnibuses is very great. It is correspondingly gratifying to know from reports and information furnished to us by those who. were in a somewhat desponding frame of mind during the fall of last year, that there is a distinct revival in the steam lorry business and that this branch of the industry is by no means on the decline, as some people are always ready to assert. We hold that it will he more years than we care to contemplate in so rapidly moving a field as automobilism has proved itself to be before the steam wagon yields pride of place to the internal combustion engine for many classes of heavy haulage work. Any such relegation will certainly exceed the life of a machine. Hence the increase of orders which has accrued to practically the whole of our established builders of steam lorries, which is a matter for mutual congratulations.
Will Supplies of Petroleum Spirit Last ?
We published an article on this subject, which was contributed by one of the leading authorities.in the world, in our second issue, but fresh interest has been aroused in the question by the discussion on industrial alcohol which took place last week at a meeting-•of the Society of -Motor Manufacturers and Traders. It is variously computed that the requirements for users of petroleum spirit will reach a minimum. of thirty million gallons two years hence', and that they may reach as much as fifty million gallons. Naturally, the question arises as to whether the oil fields of the world can supply the demand of the four continents and guarantee what the United Kingdom calls for. If England might rely on any preference in the matter of • shipments, the general question of the world's consumption need not be taken into account, but the fact that the American source of supply will soon he of little interest to any but Americans indicates that demand is overtaking supply there. In the early days of motoring, and for several following years, Great Britain received practically. the whole of its petroleum spirit_ from America, and had this condition been 'maintained there is no doubt that there would be serious cause for anxiety at the present day. Fortunately, the importations of spirit from Borneo and Sumatra, not to name the other promising fields, have advanced with leaps and bounds as improved transport facilities have been provided. The home consumption of spirit is so large, and is likely to increase in volume so rapidly, that it is practically of no use to spend time considering processes for the production of any possible substitutes of which the output would be necessarily and comparatively insignificant. Alcohol is, probably, the one substance which deserves serious enquiry, and that it is certainly receiving at the hands of all interested parties. The results are by no means encouraging, for it is difficult to see how it can be put on the market, even should the Government eiford all the necessary facilities, below is. a gallon for the 93 per cent. grade, the heat value of which is only half that of ordinary petroleum spirit. A further practical difficulty as regards the introduction of alcohol for internal combustion is thc necessity for very high compression, reaching as much as isolb. on the square inch, this being due to the relatively slow velocity of tlanm propagation in the explosive mixture formed by air and vapourised alcohol. We quite agree that the prospects for alcohol have been seriously prejudiced by the careless use of unsuitable carburetters, but we fail to see that it will conic within the range of practical politics for internal combustion motors unless it can be sold in large quantities at sixpence a gallon or less. We are assured that this can be done where alcohol is produced from molasses, but Scotch and English distillers hold out no hope of such a price where it is produced from grain. Whether the production of alcohol from cellulose tissues—such as waste wood shavings and sawmill refuse– can result in a cheaper production does not seriously matter, because the quantity so produced would not be very great, but it is possible that its production from peat, as is now being undertaken near Aalborg, will he free from the disadvantage of small output if successful.
There is no occasion for owners and intending purchasers of petrol motors to be in any way concerned with the fear that the price of spirit will rise to, such a point as to render their machines uneconomical, except in the event of a war interfering with our supplies, which are necessarily seaborne. As promising to provide a source of power in the future, the matter is one for serious investigation without further delay, but, whilst conceding to this alcohol question the prominent place it deserves, we protest against the suggestion that there is any imminence at the present day of a shortage in petroleum spirit supplies of any nature calculated to prejudice the purchaser of an internal combustion engine, We have indisputable evidence before us, the details of which are confidential, but upon which we can place implicit reliance, thet users will have available not twenty or thirty million gallons, but, should it be necessary, fifty or sixty minion gallons for the year teio6, and even greater quantities than those in subsequent veers. The total imports to date, for the Year 1905, reach el millions of gallons, and a fair estimate for the twelve months is 23 millions. More than four-fifths of this quantity is used for th.e production of motive power, in which connection the material increases are being experienced. There is no reason why stocks should not be run up to a sufficiency to allow of temporary-mterruptions, and we are informed that large additions to " tankage " are in hand. Upon manufacturers of motor vehicles using internal combustion engines, we most strenuously urge the necessity for fitting two tanks—the smaller for 0.700 sp. gr. spirit, and the larger for spirit ranging about 0.750 sp. gr.—as this is the most practicel solution of the difficulty.