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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 5 (September 1, 1928)

Railways in Modern Transport

page 42

Railways in Modern Transport

“In the long run, the form of transportation will survive that has the lowest economic cost for the service rendered. In passenger transportation, the railways will continue to take care of the long journey passenger, the overnight traffic between large cities and the mass movement of suburban passengers morning and evening. Railroad traffic will continue to increase in amount, and railroad capacity—in equipment, line and terminal—will be effectively utilised. It is not a question of survival of one and the downfall of the other. It is a question of finding the desirable economic balance, a fairly definite limitation of fields with wise co-ordination, so that each agency of transportation may function in both fields with the maximum efficiency.”

—Professor Cunningham of Harvard University.

Transport is a basic industry. I think it may be said that the growth of civilisation through the ages would not have been possible without it, nor could it be maintained without the means of safe and quick transit.

Again, the cost of living and the general comforts of existence are dependent almost entirely upon the facilities provided for the carriage of goods and produce from the producer to the consumer. In quite a number of cases, in fact, this service costs as much as the article itself.

It is interesting to look back a little to the time when the Romans, in order to maintain their rule in England, built the first roads there. Previous to this, there were only primitive track ways over which goods were transported by pack animals. As far as can be ascertained, these Roman roads were not added to for many centuries.

The “common carrier” made his appearance in the 14th century, at which time wagons, were used at a cost of 1d. per ton mile (which was about one day's wages for a labourer of that period). This rate of one day's wages per ton mile remained practically unaltered from 1260 to 1800, after which the rate was in the neighbourhood of 1s. per ton mile.

In 1555 an Act was passed throwing the responsibility of maintaining the highways on the then local bodies. Carriers of goods by vehicles gradually became more common there-after, until, in the 17th Century, vehicles were used for both passengers and luggage. This increase in traffic, however, commenced to damage the roads. The local bodies of those days, not being so altruistic as they are at present, let things go until the roads were practically impassable. Eventually a way out was found, the roads being farmed out to Turnpike Trusts, the first of which was established in 1663. Two centuries later there were 22,000 miles of roads maintained by a large number of Trusts. The turnpike rights were sold by auction, one, I believe (known as the Whetstone), paying £7,530 for such a right. These trusts, of course, mulcted the predecessor of the present motor car owner to pay for the roads, and also to provide a little more for contingencies. As usual, the good thing was pushed to its limit and ended in riots and the destruction of the gates.

The roads, however, had a competitor when an Act was passed in 1759 to build the first canal. Other canals were subsequently built. They carried bulk traffic and co-operated with the road transport which at best was slow and inconvenient for bulk carriage.

Definite passenger coaches with spring slung bodies came into being in 1754 and continued until supplanted by railways, the first of which page 43 was laid down between Stockton and Darlington, and opened in 1825.

It is interesting to note that it was only after a number of years that railways became common carriers themselves. Originally Railway companies were only empowered to provide a track on which any person could run a vehicle on payment of tolls. The roads promptly started to deteriorate with the growth of railways, and, with the disappearance of the Turnpike Trusts, reverted again to local control.

Railway Handicaps.

May I emphasise one point here: Railway companies built and paid for the roads with their own funds and were not assisted by general rating or votes of public money.

From 1825 until the present day railways have grown until nearly every part of the world is served by them. Moreover, the development of every country has been the direct result of transport facilities which could only have been given by rail.

The development of the motor car into a really serious medium for transport, dates, I think, from the termination of the War in 1918, when large numbers of vehicles and trained drivers were available for commercial purposes.

There were large numbers of vehicles previous to this date, but they did not enter into serious competition with existing transport services.

With the growth of motor traffic in England the roads came in for criticism, allied with objections from local bodies in regard to the repair of the roads which were being knocked to pieces by motor transport. The matter was, however, taken up by the Ministry of Transport and the following amounts have been spent on roads and bridges, etc., during the past few years:—

No. of Motors.
1913–14 £28,413,674
1920–21 £41,581,437 816,000
1924–25 £52,286,165 1,501,000

Of the expenditure for 1924–25, local bodies contributed (from current revenue), £51,135,603, and £1,150,562 was paid direct by the Ministry of Transport. In the same year local bodies spent (from loans), £10,890,131. (The railways pay about £7,000,000 in rates, out of which about 1 ¼ million is allocated for roads.) This very briefly covers the history of transport in England up to the present time.

The position of the railways in face of the radically altered transport condition of to-day (with serious competition arising from a new means of transport), is receiving the most earnest study of railway authorities all over the world.

The position, as everyone knows, has been brought about by the motor car and lorry and the popularisation of these vehicles as transport units. Communities which had been built up by rail services are, in many cases, now being served by motor services which picked and chose the class of traffic which paid them best. The railways, in almost every case, pioneered and developed the traffic now being lost to them. They provided many services which were necessary (and which they could economically undertake only so long as the whole of the traffic was carried by them), but which are not economical propositions when a large proportion of the best paying traffic was taken by a competitor.

Determining the Economic Basis.

However, there is no question but that the motor has come to stay.

From the point of view of the community, the form of transportation that is required is the one that has the lowest economic cost for services given. It is such a service that will eventually be evolved. An investigation into the advantages of motor transport as compared with transport by rail was recently made. In order to put the matter clearly, I shall quote some of the reasons as stated by a number of the leading motor transport specialists. (I have in mind a goods and passenger service as opposed to private cars.)

The claims of the lorry have been stated as follows:—

(1) A goods lorry can collect and deliver from door to door.

(2) It is more mobile in its radius of action.

(3) It saves handling in loading.

(4) It presents many advantages to wholesale firms distributing to branches.

(5) It can go right into shopping areas in town and pick up passengers.

(6) Being a smaller unit it can run a frequent service.

As far as I can ascertain, these appear to be the most important claims for the motor vehicle.

Taking these arguments one by one, what can the railways offer to offset them?

(1) At first sight a railway is certainly handicapped in regard to door to door delivery—unless it maintains its own delivery vans, or co-operates with a local firm to do the work. But economically this disadvantage is not so great as would appear. For short distances it holds good without any question, but it is agreed that a motor finds its true field with short hauls, and immediately you increase these distances the advantages of the motor disappear. May I quote one or two opinions in support of this statement.

page 44

In “Modern Transport,” Mr. J. L. Cleeves, (who is the Transport Manager of Messrs. Lipton, Ltd.), shows by figures of actual costs, (for his service of feeding branches from the London depot, using his own vehicles), that, after road haulage of 77 miles, it is cheaper to send goods by rail—the saving increasing with the distance. (The load outwards was four tons, and inwards, one ton.)

Then, again (quoting from the “World Motor Transport Congress,” p. 107), a Mr. Bacon, of U.S.A., states that “a survey covering one year in the State of Connecticut, shows that trucks have the following average radius of economic action. (The figures have been compiled from actual statistics on the road):—

1 ton truck 15 miles.
2 ton truck 25 miles.
3 ton truck 30 miles.
4 ton truck 35 miles.
5 ton truck 45 miles.
6 ton truck 50 miles.

There are many similar conclusions based upon actual running costs. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that the first motor claim of economic superiority for short hauls may be admitted. Beyond that the claim is economically unsound.

(2) The claim that the motor truck is more mobile in its sphere of action must also be admitted. With the growth of traffic, however, motors will have to run specified routes to a timetable. No other method will be possible.

(Photo. A. P. Godber.) Reboring the Cylinders of a New Zealand Railways Motor Bus without removal from the Chassis, at Petone Workshops.

(Photo. A. P. Godber.)
Reboring the Cylinders of a New Zealand Railways Motor Bus without removal from the Chassis, at Petone Workshops.

Now, immediately a timetable and route is required, it seems to me the advantage disappears. To bring out another point: We have heard a good deal about suburban buses picking up a passenger from his door. In actual practice this does occur, but only in the street along which the bus runs. People from other streets must walk to the bus route. The argument, of course, does not apply to buses plying in cities in all directions. The contention in regard to buses in suburban areas is often met by the statement that the bus can traverse a number of streets, which statement and claim can also be agreed to provided the time in which the journey is made is considered.

(3) For short hauls, there again is no question that the motor vehicle scores by saving double handling. But immediately the cost of actual haulage becomes sufficiently great to offset the saving in handling, the advantage under this head disappears. (See observations above on what constitutes an economic haul for a motor vehicle.)

It would appear, however, that there are considerable possibilities in regard to cheapening cost of loading and handling on railways. Among others have been suggested the use of containers, handling appliances and machinery. These matters are now receiving attention on all railways with a view to reducing costs of handling.

(5) The argument in regard to buses going into shopping areas is more a matter of city than of railway transport, and concerns trams rather than trains. However, one remark may not be out of place in this connection: The congestion arising from the concentration in city streets of a large number of cars would eventually so reduce the speed of transport that the public would have to be provided with other means of transport, such as underground railways. I have yet to find an unqualified statement that buses can deal with the peak traffic of a large city.

(To be continued.)