Railways Want All Trunk Traffic
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ALTHOUGH the railways are appealing against the Metropolitan Licensing Authority's derision in the Bouts-Tillotson test case, the application by Northern Motor Utilities, Ltd., Manchester, for the renewal of its A licences is being fought by the railways with almost more vigour than in the Metropolitan Area battle.
As previously announced, the hearing was continued on November 19 and 20, these being the third and fourth days on which Mr. W. Chamberlain, NorthWestern Licensing Authority, has had the case before him. For practically the whole of those two days Mr. Ashton Davies, chief commercial manager of the L.M.S. Railway Co., was under cross-examination by Mr. Henry Backhouse, for the applicant company. Ile was still in the witness chair when the hearing had to be adjourned until December 4, Rail Policy Made Clear.
Northern Motor Utilities, Ltd., operates 37 vehicles on regular services from Manchester to Liverpool, Rochdale, .York, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Hull, Birmingham and London. During the cross-examination, the position of the four main-line railways, with regard to road transport, was made explicit.
Mr. Ashton Davies's chief points were as follow:—
The railways offer a service which is both adequate and suitable for the current needs of industry. They have kept in step with industrial requirements at great cost.
The N.M.U." traffic has been obtained by charging less than the railway rates. and not through any deficiency in the railway arrangements. Railway charges are based on a scientific system, devised in the interests of trade and industry.
The continuance of the ability of the applicant company to operate means the continuance of its ability to attract traffic, which, • from the point of view of the senders, can well he rail-borne at rail rates. The abstraction of such traffic (generally of the higher-class commodities) is contrary to the public interest, in that it tends to undermine the principles of railway classification_
" I Want It All."
An attempt to assess the railway claim from another angle was made towards the end of the second day of cross-examination. Mr. Ashton Davies was asked how much traffic would be left to road operators, and he replied. "I want it all! " When railway control of all trunk services was suggested, witress replied, " I should say that would be in the national interest." On the question of the definition of a trunk route, Mr. Ashton Davies classified the Liverpool-Manchester road (35 miles) as a Bunk route.
Mr. Chamberlain : "You are making an attempt, at this stage, to take from the road operators all long-distance traffic. That does not mean to say that, it these objections be successful, shorter distance traffic will not, in the future,. receive attention so far as objections are concerned! "
Mr. Backhouse : "You are talking about a division of function. What are you suggesting you would leave to the road operator? "
Mr. Ashton Davies: " I am not suggesting anything without the facts of the particular case."
There was, he added, an enormous amount of local transport, which, at the moment, was a gift to the road operator. This it would be unreasonable to place on rail, Mr. Ashton Davies added, however, that longdistance trunk traffic, which was almost the railways' last strength, should he conserved to the railways if they were to be able to give satisfactory service. He did not suggest, for a moment, that it would be right to ask for every ton of traffic that the railways could reasonably carry.
The witness insisted that it was essential that the railways should retain control of all deliveries from their depots and of deliveries by road from one depot to another. • The main point, which Mr. Ashton Davies stressed again and again, was that the under-utilization of the railways, as compared with the position in 1927, was equivalent to £22,000,000. and that tie abstraction of the higher classes of goods traffic must ultimately cause the railways to fail.
It was to this matter that Mr. Backhouse devoted the greater part of his cross-examination. He sought to establish that 1927 was, for many reasons, not a comparable year ; that if the railways had not had to spend £51,000,000 on modernization since the war, they could have reduced their rates ; that the figures submitted differed from the railway statistics issued by the Board of Trade; that the reduction in coal carried by the railways was accounted for by the diminution of production; that empty-returns traffic had been lost as the result of the introduction of containers.
Among other submissions, Mr. Backhouse declared that the railways had abstracted traffic from themselves by their own road operations and'those of their associated companies.
When confronted by the returns for the past 11 months, showing the improvement in railway revenue, Mr. Ashton Davies calculated that, if that improvement continued at the same pace, the railways would recover the position of 1927 by 1941. He admitted, when questioned as to rail charges -being higher than certain industries could afford to pay, that between 1927 and 1932 textile rates to Hull were reduced from 33s. 10d. per ton to 20s. per ton on the understanding that price levels did not permit of higher charges.
Mr. Backhouse suggested that it was only the cheap transport developed in recent years that had made possible this long-distance selling. No direct answer was forthcoming from Mr. Ashton Davies, but in one of his innumerable speeches, in reply to questions, he said that 100,000 railway men were put out of employment by the loss of traffic.
Unemployment Made Good.
Mr. Backhouse pointed out that the number of road vehicles had increased during the period under review from 257,000 to 433,000, and that, therefore, in motor drivers alone the loss of• employment was made good.
Mr, Ashton Davies refused to be drawn into a discussion of the superior merits of road facilities in the event of war. Mr. A. Taylor, leading counsel for the railways, ended the proceedings by presuming that Mr. Backhoase would bring a witness from the War Office.
At one time the debate was in danger of " running hot." Mr. Chamberlain threatened to close the inquiry if the parties concerned were going to squabble.