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7th February 1918
Page 8
Page 9
Page 8, 7th February 1918 — MOTOR TRANSPORT AND RAILWAYS.
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

A Survey of the Situation and Outlook for the Two Systems of Freight Movement. By Granville F. Bilbrough.

THE OPINION was expressed by " Vectis " in the issue of 10th January to the effect that railways may be using the present crisis for their own advantage, with the object of maintaining their priority in the world of transport. This is not merely a " possibility" but a certainty—unless the railway authorities are a good deal, more simple than they are credited with being. It is an elementary business proposition, and they would be very slow if they did not make, every effort to safeguard the interests of their shareholders. As a matter of fact, there is among railway men a deep-seated hostility to motor transport as a dangerous rival, and those connected with road vehicles would do well to remember that fact in any negotiations they may undertake.

The analogy of the canals is not quite on all fours. The inherent defects of the canals in themselves, in their multitudinous locks, in. their slow conveyance, in their constant subjection in bad weather to the threat of frost and other weather conditions, have always rendered them an inferior .means of transport to the railways. Repeated commissions and official inquiries have indicated that they could never hope to give an efficient competition to the iron roads. It was this realization which prompted a policy of encouraging competition between the railways themselves. Now that this latter form of competition has failed also and the railways have reached a measure of agieement in the matter of their policy, rates and charges, it is galling to them to find another form of competition looming in the immediate future, which— in contradistinction to the canalsis ultra-efficient and likely to displace them in respect of many important and remunerative traffics. Hence, their hostility is normal and inevitable, and their policy of discouraging the new rival as much as possible quite the ordinary procedure of a big trust when confronted with a dangerous opponent. Anyhow, they themselves make no mystery of their hostility and antagonism. They are out to retard it 030 and, if possible, to impose such conditions and restrictions as will make the terms of the competition equable in respect of the alternative services. It will be realized that at the present, time the motors have many advantages which they can the expense of the railways. For instance, " Vectis" asks, "Would not the railways like to see motors compelled to pay rates for the roads on which they run." To be sure they would. In fact this is a part of their programme, for here is one of the anomalies in respect of transportation law. Railways, as a matter of fact, do indirectly pay rates for the upkeep of the roads in the areas through which they run and, as they are ubiquitous, it follows they have a large liability in regard to most of the roads in the country. This is a point often overlooked, and is illustrative of one of the disadvantages a railway has to overcome in competing with the motor vehicle.

The point will warrant a little elaboration. The railways, in the first place, have .built their lives at immense cost. When all charges are reckoned, the construction costs do not fall far short, of £50,000 per mile, and the interest on this vast sum is a charge in perpetuity upon the 'undertaking. The motors have their roads ready made for them, and their owners soon make a loud complaint_ if the roads are not maintained in a condition satisfactory for the purposes of traffic.

Of course, the,owners of such cars pay their local rates, but no less do the rail-way proprietors, but the point of distinction is that as the railways are national in extent, so d.Iso are their liabilities for rates. The amounts paid by the railway companies in respect of local taxation exceed 25,000,000 per annum. This amount is arrived at by charging the railways as " owners " of the property in which they are interested, and further as " tenants " of-their own Property, so that every ton of goods and every passenger carried though a district or parish pays a quota to the support of the highways, even though no railway

vehicle passes over them—as is frequently the case. No such charges are borne by the 'motor owner. He has free, access to the highways of the country without let or hindrance, a vital advantage of which the railways will never fail to keep before them in any policy they may adopt. •

Why Co-operation is Impossible, •

The situation is like that of a business man who takes an expensive piece of land in the centre of a town, establishes a factory, only to find that his rival gets a piece from the community free, and is relieved of the local taxation. .

Another undoubted disadvantage of the railways. lies in the fixture of their track. Once a railway always a railway, and in the same spot. But the motor is mobile. It estik divert its course in accordance with the requirements of its traffic. The only limit to its efficiency is imposed by the railways themselves, in the construction of bridges which will not accommodate the road traffic necessitated by modern, requiTements. It is this utterly divergent interest which renders the co-operation of the two services impossible to any large extent, and the only coordination which is at all likely to achieve lasting results (though not satisfactory, I suppose) will be one subordinating the use of the motor to the requirements of the railways.

Personally, I cannot think that a co-ordination of the two services is in the public interest. The railways are now so completely monopolistic that the necessity of finding an adequate competition is one Of the essential needs of the time. As the canals have failed, let -us try the roads.

Where Motors Can Compete.

In saying this, I am not ignoring the fact that there is a large volume of traffic which must always be the peculiar province of the railways. Practically the whole of the raw material of trade, the natural products and the rough and bulky traffic which passes in truck loads will probably continue to pass over the metals. And especially is this the case Where the traffic passes to and from private sidings. As siding traffic amounts to some 60 to 70 per cent., the area of actual competition is necessarily restricted. 11t is effective in just those traffics where the railway rates are so excessive and prohibitive, namely, irk/classes 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the General Railway Classification, the charges for transit of which are 2.65d., 3.10d., 3.60d., and 4.30d. per ton mile with terminal and delivery charges ranging between 8s. and 14s. per ton. It is easy, with these figures, to estimate within what areas motors can compete with the railways on the basis of charges alone, though the pro

blem is more difficult when the questions of speed in delivery, risks of conveyance and Other points in connection with transport aresConsidered as they must be. It is, however, in respect of these higher classes of the classification that the sonipanies have always shown the greatest lack of indisposition to quote reduced rates, and here the motor may play its effective part. Furniture, electric fittings and the like all loudly call for reduced rates, and a wholesale transference to the roads would serve to accomplish more than years of agitation.

Protecting Road Haulage Interests.

Speaking generally, it is not possible to fix an exact limit at which motor transport becomes unremuneraJive, and. the present abnormal times furnish no evidence upon which any general system could be established. But as railway rates decrease pro rata with the distance and motor expenses have the reverse tendency, the former undoubtedly have the pull in long-distance transit and, I think, in normal times it will be their inviolable preserve. When times are out of joint and delivery is often the first essential, any distance with a motor may be the soundest investment in the end. After things have settled down again, however, and the railways get back to their usual. " next day delivery system between large centres, a different situation will arise, and the insistence upon long-distance motor haulage will die away. Especially will this happen if, as is expected, there will be sharp cutting in prices to obtain trade and maintain business.. Whilst, therefore, agreeing with the necessity of reorganizing the road transport and putting it under the hand of one controller, it would be well not to go too far on the basis of present 'conditions and build up a structure which will require to be remodelled immediately after the conclusion of peace. Again, if, as is probable, there must be some measure of co-operation between the railways and the motor •transport, the extent of the co-operation should be fixed by a representative committee on which all interests were. adequately protected. As " Vectis" has truly' pointed out, the present arrangements are suspect. The railways appear to be very much behind the cerie..s. They are formidably represented at the Board of Trade, in the Ministry of Munitions, and in connection with all the directing forces. What is more,• the .Prime Minister appears to have a passionate predilection for the genus, which one cannot ignore.

I 'should like to see an effective prganization of motor transport capable' of giving a much needed spur to railway enterp.rise mid, therefore, Welcome the action you are taking to secure it.

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