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Wehave built about 1100 miles of railway,at a cost of over £16,000,000. Do we fully utilise this expensive property? If we do not use it to the utmost of its capacity and of our needs, we are wasting a portion of its powers.
The capacity of a railroad is prop ortioned to its equipment, and not to its length or strength. Let us, therefore, see how our lines are supplied with rolling -stock. It appears that we have 3474 vehicles to 1108 miles of road, while New South Wales owns 3945 vehicles to 688 miles. Or, to put it in another way, the New South Wales roads have one vehicle to every 171 of its population; the South Australian, one to every 181; and Victoria, but one to every 261.
With us the construction of rolling-stock has lagged far behind the construction of permanent way. If we had kept up the proportion between these two items which existed between them no further back than the year 1871, we should to-day have our lines furnished with 6038 vehicles. Instead of this, we have only 3474. If we take as a standard of equipment our position in 1871, we are 2564 vehicles short of our proper complement; if we prefer to take for our standard the present equipment of the New South Wales railways, then our deficiency is 2839. Out of the last loan, Parliament appropriated £180,000 to the construction of additional rollingstock; of this sum, £140,000 has been spent, and the balance in hand, viz., £40,000, will only add some 100 vehicles to the present stock. The total additions we made last year amounted to 332 vehicles, while New South Wales, with a very much shorter and a very much better equipped road, was adding at the rate of 650 per
To make our prospects still worse, the Government propose to limit the equipment on the lines about to be commenced to such as can be provided for a sum of £386 per mile, which amounts to reducing the complement to less than its present low average.
The consequence of this policy is that the vehicles are severely worked, the roads badly punished, and the public inconvenienced. During the past year, the engines ran on an average 22,650 miles a-piece, which is 2630 miles in excess of what is required of engines on English lines, and is 4000 miles over what the same engines did in 1878. The locomotive superintendent protests against the rate at which our goods trains are driven, but protests are useless while stock is so short. As New South Wales employs 54 vehicles per mile, and Victoria only 3}, it
follows that if our trade is equal to our neighbour's—and it is not supposed to be less—then either New South Wales has much idle rolling-stock, or Victoria much idle road. Which is it? We do as much trade as our neighbours, and our neighbours say-officially—that they cannot build vehicles fast enough for their trade; therefore, it must be our own roads which are idle, and not their rolling-stock. Our roads are equal to a traffic immensely greater than that which now exists, but the equipment is quite unequal to our requirements. Now, however much we use our roads, the item of interest will not increase; while, with a growing traffic, there will be a growing profit to defray the charge; but if we restrict our traffic by a defective equipment, we shut out receipts that belong to us, and so paralyse a portion of the capital which is invested in permanent way. Remuneration that might be secured is lost; profits that would help us to lower freights dance before our eyes and disappear.
The effect of a policy that builds roads at an enormous cost, and then delays to furnish them, is easily shown. In 1871, our lines had an equipment of 5) vehicles per mile; now they have only 3}. Then their earnings were £2056 per mile; to-day they are but £1120. The net profits sank during this period from £1150 per mile to £533; or, to look farther a-field, the New South Wales lines, with 5 vehicles per mile, earn £1426 per annum, while the Victorian, with 33, only earn £1120. We will not contend that the difference in the returns is wholly due to the difference in the equipment. Some of the shrinkage is attributable to our having pushed our lines into sparsely populated districts, but as this has been done by our neighbours as well as by ourselves, it cannot have affected our returns without having affected theirs. We say advisedly that this has been done by our neighbours as well as by ourselves, for their entire line has a scantier gathering ground for freight than ours has. For, although every mile of road in New South Wales is nominally fed by 956 persons, yet these are widely dispersed over an immense area, of which large portions, like Riverina, are tapped by our own system, so that their population must be deducted in making the calculation. On the other hand, each mile of Victorian road is supported by 840 persons, fairly concentrated about it, and the Riverina people ought to be accounted to our lines, as being tributary to their revenue.
Therefore, on the whole, our lines are much more strongly supported than are those of our neighbours, and if equipped equally well
should pay better; that they should be so furnished as to pay worse is a misfortune to this colony, and a disgrace to its Parliament. It will be urged, in extenuation, that new lines, from their scantier traffic, do not require to be furnished as amply as old established
This of course is true; but our complaint is that the traffic has been starved of vehicles in order to build new roads—starved to buy votes, and to carry elections. Our railway officials have been more awake to this defect than our politicians. But as the latter gain more credit with their constituents by securing local extensions, than by seeing that the existing lines are properly furnished for their business, the roads out-grow their equipment, and are likely to continue to do so, until Parliament ceases to be able to find lines to construct, or Ministers members to placate.
So much, then, for this great waste of roadway; let us next proceed to discover whether there is any preventable waste elsewhere in the Department. We have challenged the rolling-stock with being insufficient, and it may sound inconsistent for us to suggest, immediately after, that any vehicles could ever be idle. Still it is certain that our railways have their busy and their quiet times, and it is likely that between the seasons there may be considerable periods during which comparatively little freight comes forward, and the freight-cars are only partially employed. Now it is possible that special rates for the slack season might keep this idle rolling-stock busy. The profits earned at these times would certainly be smaller than those received at other times, but small earnings are at least better than none.
Again, why should we not adopt the American system of management, in dealing with small country stations. . For each paltry place we now hire and house one or two men, whose labours are limited to a few minutes' activity half-a-dozen times a-day. Why can we not make the train staff do their work? If
necessary, let the guard have an assistant. A shelter-shed and a time-table are all that is wanted locally, and the utmost that the traffic can afford. The guard could supply the tickets and collect them. At harvest or shearing time some of these places may have small quantities of produce to forward; and, at such times, a porter might be told off for the duty. How many stations could be treated in this way we are unable to say, but the number must be growing considerable on our new lines, and their pay-sheets must, in the aggregate, amount to a good yearly sum.
These items of expenditure may be small taken separately, but VOL. III.-No. 15.
no reduction will ever be effective, which does not consist mainly of small savings. It is due to the Department to state that efforts are being made to economise. For instance, although the coal consumption must have grown considerably, the coal bill is smaller. Again, while a longer line of rail has had to be tended, and more men have been required, the cost of maintenance has been reduced ;-perhaps not wisely, but too well. Thus, in 1877, with 767 miles of road open, the material for repairs cost £21,976; in 1878, the value of the quantity issued was £9483; and, in 1879, it was but £5912, although by that time 1090 miles were in wear. Why, the Hobson's Bay line, under careful management, and with only sixteen miles of roadway, required an outlay of £2418; yet a line 1100 miles long is stinted to £5912! Our surprise at the smallness of the issue increases when we turn to the previous year's report, and discover the Engineer-inChief declaring that, although he had effected a great reduction in this item during 1878, as compared with that of the previous year, still, during the year 1879, “large issues of permanent way material” would be necessary “to keep the lines in proper working order.” Now, as the issues in 1879 were not large, but, on the contrary, extraordinarily small, we must infer that the lines were not "kept in proper working order.” The road must have starved in 1879 if the Engineer-in-Chief reported truly in 1878. Badly as the Department pays, and sore as our financial straits are, it is questionable if it be wise to unduly stint the maintenance account,
We have now endeavoured to indicate the directions in which it might be possible for us to be more economical. We must utilise American experience to reduce the cost of our roads. We must furnish them adequately; we must man and officer them on purely business principles, and pay them in the same way; we must encourage industry and economy by rewards if desirable; we must replace dear money with cheap ; and, finally, while leaving Parliament to determine the policy to be pursued, we must take the administration of the Department out of the hands of politicians, and confide it to a responsible board.
If we will do all this, we may find it possible to secure cheaper freights than we have now, without trespassing on the general revenue, and without waiting for immigrants. But, as it will conduce to the same end if we can augment the earnings, we shall now offer a suggestion which may be worthy of consideration.
The directors of the Hobson's Bay Railway found that it answered their purpose to encourage settlement around their more
distant stations, so they gave free tickets for extended terms to persons who would build in those neighbourhoods. If this course repaid the company, there is no doubt but that a similar policy would repay the Crown, if combined with immigration.
When men enter a new country, a very small inducement will lead them to settle in one place in preference to another, and a slight concession would decide an immigrant in selecting Rosedale before Berwick, or in preferring Wangaratta to Geelong.
We might issue special low-rate tickets to settlers and their families, and grant special low-rate carriage for a certain annual quantity of produce and stores. The extent of the concession might be determined, either by the amount of money invested by the new comer in the neighbourhood, or by the number in family, or by a consideration of both advantages to the locality. The quantity of cheap freight allowed would have to be limited to prevent improper advantage being taken of the Department by such
persons carrying goods for their less fortunate neighbours. If the Crown would combine cheap carriage with cheap land, and would advertise the concession conspicuously in every market place throughout Great Britain, we should attract population, and thereby both assist our railways and advance the colony.
So much, then, for the chances of lowering freights by the different methods of diminishing working expenses and augmenting receipts.
Let us now consider whether there are any special reasons, not already enumerated, why we Victorians, in particular, should favour cheap freights.
It will be allowed that if there is one line of policy more than another which is characteristic of this colony, it is that which seeks to encourage Native Industries. Protectionists and Freetraders may quarrel over the means which are adopted to develop them, but certainly there is no section of society which does not wish them well. Therefore, let us remember that cheap freights foster new trades and consolidate old ones far more effectively than the most skilfully devised scheme of Protection can. Dear freights have precisely the same influence upon internal trade that high duties have upon external. Both are barriers. We have deliberately damaged our foreign commerce with the one; do not let us unwittingly cripple our home trade with the other. Low freights have become, in the present day, a necessity of existence. The poorest living of the poorest classes has developed into a complex