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27th June 1922, Page 12
27th June 1922
Page 12
Page 13
Page 12, 27th June 1922 — THE RAILWAYS' CHANGED TACTICS.
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

The " Inspector " is of Opinion That the Railways Will Now Proceed to Develop Motor Haulage by Subsidiary Companies.

THE same date which witnessed the termination of the very distracting lock-out conditions in the engineering and other industries brought with it the rather startling news that the railway companies had with somewhat dramatic suddenness decided to abandon the promotion of the famous Bill, which would, had it become law, have furnished them with Parliamentary powers to run motor services independently of any railway association.

The explanation of this sudden decision was clearly given in the last issue of this journal, but, owing to pressure on space, my own comments have had to be held over for a week. The question of approving a principle of rating which should be fair to traders, should attract new traffic, without robbing the railways and so tending to reduce the revenue from railway-borne traffic, and should not wipe the haulier off the road or render useless the fleets of vehicles employed by manufacturers and traders in the transport of their own goods and wares, was certainly a difficult one, and the only way out—the establishment of equal rates for railway and road-borne traffic—did not commend itself to the railways. I have a feeling that the railways were glad of an opportunity to drop the Bill because of the large measure of opposition which it has aroused all over the country ; indeed, this has disclosed itself to be of such unexpected proportions during the Committee hearing that even such colossi as the new railway amalgamations must have thought it inexpedient to press their suggestions in their present crude form, or to proceed further with their cleverly devised programme of eliminating opposition to the Bill by concessions which were more apparent than real.

The suddenness of the decision is disconcerting. The railway eompanies have this question of combating the rapidly growing opposition of road haulage far too much at heart to abandon their schemes for meeting it so light-heartedly, as would appear from the first announcement of the changed attitude. The writer, for one, in no sense believes that the railway companies have made up their minds to abandon their schemes to use the road independently of any direct connection with rail haulage. It is, indeed, more than probable that they have already, after mature Consideration, decided to alter their plan of campaign entirely and to endeavour to achieve the elimination of road haulage competition by other means and from another angle. The motor industry must not be lulled into a sense of security by this temporary setback to the plans of the railway companies. This is not by any means the first hitch that has been experienced in the present campaign. The point upon which those of us who have time to give such matters careful thought must concentrate at once is to discover, without delay, what is the favoured alternative the railways have in mind—for they undoubtedly have one or more from which to choose.

During the past few months it has become increasingly evident that there was a steel hand under the velvet glove. More or less confident, as many of the

principal railway officials were, that the proposals would go through Parliament despite the opposition they must arouse, they • had already grown to disregard the necessity of maintaining the attitude of illused public servants, only anxious to secure for themselves by fair means their proper share of the facilities for which they pay as ratepayers. Confident in their ability to get what they wanted with remarkable n14

speed, the word had gone round to departmental chiefs, and even subordinate officials, that the railways had to fight for their lives against the opposition of motor haulage and that all their negotiations were to be based on die theory that nothing must be done to encourage the co.mpetitIon.

It has already been recorded in these columns that so far had this doctrine permeated the staffs of certain of the big railway companies that their advertising contractors and publicity departments had begun to stipulate that no advertisements must appear on their premises extolling the advantages that arise from motor haulage. Indeed, instances are on record where such advertisement departments have actually refused to permit the exhibition of motor vehicle manufacturers' announcements, solely because they illustrated a machine loaded for service. We cannot imagine that such petty means were endorsed by those concerned with the higher politics of the railway world, but it is desirable to quote such instances as evidence of the fact that the real aims of the railways, so far as possible to eliminate motor haulage were no longer confined to the higher officials who direct the destinies of the railway companies' affairs, but had already become part and parcel of the departmental instructions and routine of their far-flung organizations. Other instances of the same sort are well illustrated by notices to quit served on proprietors of chars-a-banos and lorries, who have hitherto been allowed to enjoy garage facilities under railway arches and on other parts of the railways' premises.

We must be up and doing, keenly alive to the alternative schemes which will undoubtedly soon be forthcoming to enable the railway -companies to obtain what they want. The threat to railway traffic has been a serious one and continues to be so, and the railway companies have not yet realized that the proper way to get their true share of the nation's traffic is by sparing no pains to improve their own facilities and to make rail haulage as efficient in its own way as motor haulage has proved to be. * The public has realized that what the railway companies have been asking for is a set of entirely new facilities, facilities that will in no way increase the efficiency of their existing organization but may merely prove that new plant may bring new business. If opposition be maintained and proposals be scrutinized as carefully as they have been in the present case, the railway companies will, at last, be forced to see that their correct policy is to speed up their own methods on their existing equipment, to lower their costs and charges, to simplify and codify their regulations and control, and to encourage the public to use the railways more and more and, at all costs, to check the present tendency of traders to cast about for alternative methods, speedier, cheaper, and with less liability to pilfering, and to avoid terminal transference troubles.

The most likely direction in which the change of plan may be looked for is by way of subsidiary companies; indeed, certain railway officials have already announced their intention to proceed along such lines if their recent application for such powers proved not to be successful. At the time of writing it does not appear very evident as to how such steps are to be countered, but it at least appears to me likely that this will he the direction in which railway activities will now develop. The motor user and the manufacturer will like to know whether the recent agreement made between the railway companies and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders for the regulation of railway orders to the industry and their distribution to various makers, for the restriction of the purchase of eecond-hand machines and so on, will automatically lapse now that the companies have abandoned their present attempt to obtain Parliamentary powers. It is to be hoped that the whole of this not very satisfactory. agreement with the Society of Motor Manu, facturers and Traders will go by the board, and that should a necessity for any similar arrangement arise In the future far more businesslike arrangements will be made, and then only after the most searching examination of the proposals and after assurance has been secured that the industry is not jumping at the shadow and missing the substance, which was most certainly the case when the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders so glibly swallowed the bait the railway companies offered them in return for a promise not to manufacture for five years—just the period in which it would have been perfectly satisfactory for them and no longer. ' It was most interesting, too, to observe the attitude of the Select Committee in regard to the agreement not to buy second-hand vehicles, thus closing the door of an• outlet for surplus war vehicles. Whatever may be the merits of the latter, the position adopted by the railways was illogical.

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