Imagens das páginas

ratio of operating expenses to receipts rose from 57 55% in 1894 to 65% in 1901. And for this increase the coal bill and the labour bill were jointly responsible. Unable to raise rates and confronted each year with rising costs the companies drew together for the elimination of competitive waste. In 1908 the London and North Western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire formed a working alliance; as also did the Great Northern, the Great Eastern, and the Great Central (the old Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway); and there were other agreements elsewhere. To all these public opinion was favourable, for it was concerned at the fall in railway stocks and fearful of an increase in rates. However, the railway labour unions forced the situation. They had secured recognition in 1907; and in 1911 they called a strike, which was only settled after Government intervention. The railway companies made important wage concessions and to recoup them for these the Government sanctioned in 1913 a limited increase in rates (2 & 3 Geo. V, c. 29).

When the war broke out in August 1914, the railways passed under Government control. The companies continued to operate them, but the Government took the receipts, met the expenses and made up to the companies each year the net income earned by them in 1913. After the war the Government returned the railways to the companies together with a sum of £60 millions 'partly as payment for arrears of maintenance for which the Government was responsible, but partly as a free grant to help them over their difficulties during a period of reconstruction.' 1

But the war had shown the economies of unified management; and therefore the return was accompanied by the changes of far-reaching importance embodied in the Railways Act of 1921.

(i) The railways of Great Britain were merged into four great groups: the Southern; the Great Western; the London Midland and Scottish; and the London and North Eastern. The last included the Great Eastern, formerly managed by Sir Henry Thornton, the President of the Canadian National Railways.

(ii) A Railway Rates Tribunal was set up with plenary powers to fix and subsequently vary such actual rates, fares and charges as may produce for each group a standard revenue: the standard revenue being defined as the aggregate net revenues in 1913 of all the companies absorbed into the group. Thus the problem of the future is not to secure power to levy adequate charges, but to raise the standard revenue without losing so much traffic to motor transport that the standard revenue is not earned.

[ocr errors]

1 Sir W. M. Acworth, Grouping under the Railways Act, 1921,' Economic Journal, March 1923, p. 28.

(iii) Special machinery was established for determining national wage rates for railway servants and adjusting disputes by conciliation. On this machinery the public is represented.

(iv) In the words of Sir William Acworth, the Act provides for the compilation and publication of adequate statistics of operation, in order that the Rates Tribunal and the public may be in a position to judge whether the management of the railways under the new conditions is carried on with that efficiency and economy which it is the expressed object of the Act to secure, and on which the right of each company to the standard revenue is made to depend.' 1

Section 6. The Challenge of Motor Transport

The British railways before the war were a fair sample of British efficiency. They performed well their long-established rôle in the life of the country; they were more amenable to change than their biggest customer, the coal trade, and less amenable than the cotton industry, which lived under the challenge of foreign competition. The conquest of the road by the motor car was practically coincident with the peace; for during the war private motoring was restricted. Soon after the peace came a long depression, which was most persistent in the trades which were most valuable to the railways-namely, the heavy industries of coal and of iron and steel. In the year 1925, which fell between the artificial stimulus given to the coal trade by the Ruhr occupation and the paralysing coal strike of 1926, iron and steel traffic dwindled away and there was a drop of 5 million tons in coal for each railway except the Southern. Out of a total loss of 13,650,000 passengers workmen accounted for 6,200,000. This freight and passenger traffic was not lost to the roads it was simply not forthcoming. The motor is not responsible for all the trouble. Before 1914 the new railway competitor was the electric tramway; and tramways too since the war have suffered from the competition of motors. Both are public or semi-public services, and adaptation to new conditions is more difficult for them than for a service which starts de novo and which in addition is comparatively untrammelled by the regulations of organised labour and public authority. American railways are booming, and, although the example of America is only partly applicable to Great Britain owing to the absence of the long haul, nevertheless even in Great Britain there is reason to believe that the ultimate relationship will be complementary rather than rival. The doomed parties are the horse and, in more senses than one, 1 Economic Journal, March 1923, p. 20.

the pedestrian. The railways have lost to the roads much of their ordinary first-class passenger traffic and some of their express freight traffic, but they have gained from the existence of the motor industry both directly and indirectly. They have gained directly from the heavy traffic in road material and motor spirit-stone for road making, creosote tar and pitch, gravel and sand, and oils. They have gained indirectly from the increased 'catchment' area created for them by the motor bus and the motor lorry. Bus services feed the suburban railway station : where the horse van could collect from ten miles around, the motor van can collect from thirty.1

Moreover, though the number of inhabitants per motor vehicle is much greater in Great Britain than in the U.S.A. or Canada-in May 1926 45.6 against 5·8 and 12.0, yet the total of motor vehicles per road mile (5.1) was almost as high as in the U.S.A. (6-6) and five times as great as in Canada (1·0).2

It is not likely that the railways will find financial salvation by general entry into local bus services, where the competition is already cut-throat. But the railways have straight and welllaid routes over which no private cars can ply, and the hope for them seems to reside in the adaptation of their trunk line service to the new road users, perhaps by the entrainment of motor lorries in special carrier trains. By this method they could combine bulk carriage with the avoidance of transhipment and delays. Some alleviation may be gained by the adjustment of tax burdens, but this is not fundamental; and it is by no means proven that as property owners the railway companies are overtaxed or that the motor industry manufacturers and users contribute less than their fair share to the upkeep of the roads.

The motor industry falls logically under industrial production, but like shipbuilding it is more conveniently studied under Trade and Transport. For this emphasises one of the truths of economic history, and of British economic history in particular, the reaction of locomotion on the methods of factory production. Historically the automobile grew out of the bicycle. Coventry turned from silk and watch making to sewing-machines and cycles. For a certain James Stanley of Sussex, a gardener and amateur watchmaker, started in 1857 the Coventry Machinists' Company for the making of sewing machines and in 1868 began to make bicycles after a French model. In 1895 Dr. Lanchester produced his first motor car and in the same year a car designed by Austin was built by the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine

1 Cf. E. H. Davenport, Railways versus Roads (pamphlet of 1927). Cf. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd., The Motor Industry of Great Britain, pp. 8 and 17.

Company. Austin was in Birmingham; and shortly after the Daimler Company began to manufacture in a disused silk mill in Coventry. Thus Birmingham and Coventry became the first centre of the new industry.

The halt between 1868 and 1895 was imposed by the lack of an engine which was sufficiently cheap and light to be used for the propulsion of a small carriage. However in this same period armament firms like Vickers and Armstrong Whitworth, working to the order of the British Admiralty, improved the materials and tools of mechanical engineering. The problem of weight arose in connexion with armour plate. A hard armour plate which was not too heavy was demanded. Similarly the first demand for high-speed cutting tools was due entirely to the need for turning big guns. Both these demands were met by the armament firms before the war; and the torpedo, which was invented to pierce the armour plate of the battleship, was a selfdriven motor car in miniature. When directed to peaceful purposes the new engineering created the automobile industry; and then during the war the aerial automobile industry called aviation. For without a light and highly reliable engine aviation was impossible.

The automobile industry permeated society in the following order-the private car or cycle for pleasure and business, the taxicab, the motor bus, the motor lorry, the motor char-à-banc. The new industry created feeding and accessory industries. The two new feeders were the aluminium industry, two-thirds of the world output of which is consumed in the motor industry, and the rubber industry for motor tyres. The bicycle reached the pneumatic stage shortly before the birth of the motor car. The accessory industries were fuel and repairing services, and the supply of motor accessories in the narrower sense. The filling station is the public house of 1927 and the receiving stomach is a mechanical tank. It is, therefore, not surprising that Great Britain is more sober than ever before even without Prohibition.

Within the automobile factory itself the new industry has advanced engineering technique beyond the point to which it was carried by the armament firms, and along the same two lines. It called for light engines and therefore for strong alloy steels, which would allow of reduced weight. Such steels were prepared by hardening, which had been used hitherto only for cutting tools and in the special business of naval armament. The metallurgist owes his new importance very largely to the motor industry. Secondly and by consequence it called for machine tools capable of working on these harder substances. This has stimulated a second revolution in the machine tool

industry, whose origin in the first half of the 19th century is described below (p. 256). Just as sextants and ships' chronometers were the prelude to Watt, so naval armament and torpedoes were the prelude to the motor engineer. America, a land power, arrived at him through the sewing-machine and Maxim gun. Thus arose the long list of specialised machine tools and interchangeable parts which characterise the motor industry to-day: the multiple-spindle boring machine; the slotting machine for cutting key ways in the solid shaft; machines for gear cutting and grinding (in which foreign countries have led Great Britain); special purpose lathes; together with the small tool outfit and ball bearings. The bicycle had the ball bearing finally, and the bicycle industry grew to sufficient dimensions to demand some improved machine tools, but machine tool designers were conservative, until the new methods of locomotion were sufficiently established to offer a bulk demand for which it was profitable to design standard machine tools. This point in the British motor industry was reached about 1902, shortly before Henry Ford began his great business at Detroit. It is in the marrow of British manufacturers to consider the export trade indispensable; and to the motor industry it is indispensable. For temporarily at any rate the threat of a fuel shortage has been removed, and therefore for Great Britain the saturation point of domestic car consumption is set not so much by the purchasing power of the consumer (which, it must be admitted, in all countries of small families or the instalment system is unexpectedly elastic) as by the smallness of her land surface. Hence the surplus of the output which is necessary to bulk production must be exported. The air, however, offers an extra dimension, and perhaps one day the lover of silent beauty will be left only with the hope of an all-electric world.



Section 1. Posts and the Post Office. Section 2. Telegraphs, Cables and Wireless. Section 3. The Telephone. Section 4. The Economic Significance of the Electrical Industry.

Section I. Posts and the Post Office

KING JAMES I gave a monopoly of the Royal Posts to his Postmaster-General. The House of Commons, to whom monopoly was anathema, contested it, but the Commonwealth Parliament

« AnteriorContinuar »