Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Railways of Scotland
Chapter II - The outlook for the future

WE saw in the last chapter that universal and ubiquitous competition was the leading characteristic of the Scottish railway system. We saw too that the earliest lines were built without any thought of such conditions, merely for local traffic; that, for instance, in the immediate neighbourhood of Glasgow, there were, on the north side of the Clyde, alone, six independent companies; and that when, some twenty years later, the idea of through traffic first emerged, even then the- railway magnates of the day contemplated nothing more than a series of allied companies forming separate links in a continuous chain ; and that, accordingly, to take one example, the main high. road from Carlisle to Aberdeen was divided into Caledonian, Scottish Central, Scottish Midland, and Aberdeen Line territory. Similarly it might have been shown that what is now the North British began—even confining ourselves to its main lines—as half-a-dozen separate companies. The Edinburgh and Berwick needed the alliance of the Edinburgh and Glasgow to bring it on to the west; that of the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee, to give it access to the north; while the Waverley route between Edinburgh and Carlisle was originally two separate systems, which met at Hawick. The Great North of Scotland is the result of almost as many amalgamations as it to-day has branches; while the Highland has absorbed the Inverness and Ross- shire, the Sutherland, the Duke of Sutherland's, and the Sutherland and Caithness, into a single company, which, if not in capital and importance, in length of main line at least, is the equal of the Midland, the superior of the North- Western, and the inferior of the Great Western Railway alone.

For practical purposes in all Scotland to-day there are only five companies. Four of them have been mentioned above; the fifth is the Glasgow and South-Western Railway. There is indeed a sixth, the City of Glasgow Union Company. But though it is known to the Stock Exchange as possessing a capital of £1,500,000 sterling, and to engineers as having a mileage of 6- miles to be maintained, Bradshaw is ignorant of it, for it does not own a single engine or a single carriage, and has never yet run a train of its own. It is really a short line round the south and south-east of Glasgow, uniting the North British and South-Western systems, and worked entirely by those two companies. Bradshaw, however, does know of yet another company, the Ayrshire and Wigtownshire, the possessor—it cannot be said the happy possessor—of some thirty miles of single line across the barren South Ayrshire moors. But of this little line, which till recently was worked by the South-Western, I more anon. It deserves notice, not only as an almost unique instance of a semi-absorbed undertaking escaping final deglutition, but also for the pluck and energy with which it is at present struggling, against an unkind fate.

Meanwhile let us admit that the existence of —with this exception—but five railways in' all Scotland, the smallest of them with over 300 miles of line, is a testimony to the business-like capacity of the Scottish mind. From the Humber to the shores of Cardigan Bay, and from Yarmouth beach to the bed of the Mersey, England is strewn with the wrecks of the luckless little companies which—oblivious of the old adage as to the fate of earthen pots which swim down the stream alongside of brazen vessels—have been shattered to pieces in the vain attempt to compete with the overwhelming forces of their great rivals. Company after company in England has raised capital from confiding investors, on the faith of a prospectus showing that it could offer a route between A. and B. shorter by so many miles than the existing- roads. The statement may have been mathematically accurate, but was really beside the point, unless it could be supplemented by evidence to show that the traffic was likely to follow the shortest road.

Take a familiar instance. A new direct line from Reading to Bath would shorten the distance between Paddington and the West of England some 14 miles. A prospectus, which laid stress on this fact, and then went on to describe the vast volume of traffic that flows to and fro between London and Bristol, would have a very enticing appearance at first sight. But the question to ask of the promoters would be: "What reason have you to suppose that you will be able to divert the existing traffic? The Great Western road of course is longer, but it is all their own; it is their agents who canvass in Bristol, in Plymouth, and in London, for the traffic which will be loaded at either end into trucks which are theirs: why do you expect that they will suffer it to pass out of their own control in order to swell the receipts of a 'foreign' line? If you say that you will get your share of the traffic handed to the Great Western by other companies, are you not equally mistaken? Will the North-Western, for example, care to secure the friendship, or fear to rouse the hostility of the Reading and Bath Direct? If they were to offend the Great Western, it might be a serious matter; tens of thousands of pounds' worth of traffic which that great company now hands to them, might in this case be diverted to the Midland or the Great Northern. What bribe have you to offer to induce the North-Western to run this risk?" To such a string of questions the most sanguine promoter would find it difficult to furnish a satisfactory answer.

The truth is that there are only two conditions under which a small railway company can be a success. Either it must have a sharply defined district of its own in which the traffic is wholly or mainly local. Examples of this may be found in lines such as the Metropolitan among passenger railways; the Taff Vale, the Rhymney, or the Furness, among mineral lines. Or, on the other hand, it must be the possessor of a necessary link in a through chain of communication. The Lancaster and Carlisle paid fat dividends for years before it was bought by the North-Western on terms that its shareholders should receive in perpetuity 4-- per cent. beyond the North-Western dividend; the Salisbury and Yeovil was yet more profitable to the fortunate farmers who had money and faith at a time when these two valuable possessions were more than usually wanting to the South-Western directorate. But the Lancaster and Carlisle and the Salisbury and Yeovil have long since been bought up—high though their terms were-by the great lines in whose territory they formed an enclave and their day returns not. The primary lines of communication have all long since been formed, and the investing public seem at length to have begun to apprehend the fact that, where it is a question of supplying what might be termed secondary communications, the natural authority to supply them is the company whose system they lie in with. If it can construct the new line with a fair chance of profit, it is not likely to hold its hand; if the company itself cannot make the new venture pay, still less can outsiders.

Of railways of the Reading and Bath Direct order Scotland has none; with the natural result that there is hardly any—among independent companies not a single pound's worth of railway capital in all Scotland receiving no dividend. On the other hand, competition is too severe to make it possible for any railway capital to earn dividends, not merely such as are paid by the Taff Vale or the Rhymney, but even by the rank and file of the great through lines of England. When it comes to spending between four and five millions sterling—as is being done by the companies which are responsible for the Forth Bridge and its new approaches in order to get a somewhat larger share of the through traffic to Aberdeen and the Highlands, it can hardly be expected that even the most skilful and economical of managers will obtain any very magnificent dividend. Indeed there are those who think that the scramble for traffic, which next year must, it is supposed, witness, is by no means likely to add to the value of Scottish railway securities.

Far be it from me to attempt to describe the great Forth Bridge. It has been described too often, and the literature of the subject, what with popular articles, and papers in the Proceedings of scientific societies, not only English but foreign, has already grown to alarming dimensions. Besides, when Mr. Baker himself has given more than one account of the wonderful structure which his engineering genius planned, and his patience, aided by the mechanical genius of Mr. Arrol, has now executed, it is as well for outsiders to leave him to speak. Let me here merely jot down one or two personal impressions. For one thing I must confess to feeling that a close view of the bridge is somewhat disappointing. Its vastness is so complete and symmetrical throughout that one fails to grasp it. Even the Devastation, as she lies moored close to the Inchgarvie pier, scarcely helps to furnish an adequate measuring-staff. The great ship seems dwarfed to a cock-boat and leaves the bridge no larger than before. The best idea of the size of the structure is obtained from a considerable distance. Seen from the train, as it glides down the slopes of the Pentlands into Princes Street Station, or from near Ratho on the Edinburgh and Glasgow line, or again from the deck of the ferry steamer, as she crosses the Forth between Granton and Burntisland, the great steel towers appear to soar aloft far above the tops of the not inconsiderable hills by which they are surrounded. Only once did the size of the bridge as a whole—there is no question that the size of the individual members is ample enough - impress itself forcibly on my eye. Coming out of the Queensferry Station, the whole length of the structure is full in view. My companion and myself stopped and questioned why no one was visible, and what was the reason that work had been suspended. As we got nearer, we found that everything was in full swing, workmen were clustered thick as flies all along the extremities of the cantilevers, but the flies were so small that they had been invisible.

When trains come to pass over the bridge, they will afford a convenient means of comparative measurement. Meanwhile there is nothing more instructive than a study of a large-sized model which has been erected in the pattern-shop in the Queensferry yard. The girders that carry the rails are there seen to bear about the same relation to the cantilevers which carry the weight of the structure itself that a straw bears to a stout walking-stick. A locomotive is not a small object when viewed under ordinary conditions; but a locomotive, modelled to scale, and shown crossing the bridge, produces much the same impression as a child's regiment of tin soldiers when marshalled on the nursery floor. On the same model is shown also an ingenious device to allow for the adjustment of the rails as the bridge expands or contracts with the changes of temperature. At certain intervals the rails, instead of being cut off square at the ends and fastened to each other by fish-plates in the ordinary fashion, arc gradually tapered to a fine point, and overlap each other for several feet, the length of the over-lap being greater or less according to the rise or fall of the thermometer.

Now that the bridge is completed, its peculiarity of construction is hardly so conspicuous as it was at an earlier period. A year or so back no one who looked at the three great piers towering up, 360 feet in sheer height above the sea, and a third of a mile apart from each other, and just beginning to reach out their huge arms on either side, could possibly have fancied that what he saw was an ordinary bridge, dependent for its support on the principle of the arch. But now that the long arms stretching out from either shore have met the yet longer arms extended to meet them from Inchgarvie in mid stream, at first sight the idea of the arch might naturally be suggested. For all that, of course, the Forth Bridge cantilevers have nothing in common with the ordinary arch. A cantilever is simply a bracket, and the principle of the bridge is merely that three huge towers, each the height of the dome of St. Paul's, have brackets over an eighth of a mile in length, projecting out from them on either side. The brackets are pairs of steel tubes, big enough for a coach and horses to drive through, rising from the base of the piers, meeting at their further end the horizontal girders along which the railway runs, and supported at the same point by equally huge steel bands stretching downwards from the top of the piers. Engineers describe the tubes as compression members, and the bands as tension members; in plain English the tubes are props to support from beneath, and the bands are strings to hold up from above, the arms which are extended out horizontally from the centre. Indeed, Mr. Baker has given a graphic illustration of the design of the bridge, by photo- graphing a living model, in which the piers are men seated on chairs, and stretching out their arms to grasp with either hand one end of a stick, which is attached at the other end to the scat of the chair.

One of the most difficult parts of the whole problem was that which was dealt with after the cantilevers were finished. At the shore end on either side the Fife and Queensferry cantilevers meet the viaducts built out to join them from the land, to the outermost piers of which they are not only held down by enormous weights, but are also fastened by bolts, not however rigidly, but with freedom to move backwards and forwards on rollers, so as to allow for expansion and contraction with the varying temperature. But the cantilevers which balance them on the sides turned towards the stream fall short by more than 100 yards of meeting the pair of cantilevers stretching out from the central or Inchgarvie pier. How then were these two gaps— each twice the width of the widest arch of Black- friars Bridge—to be bridged? Who was to lay, so to speak, the two planks across at a height of 164 feet above the flowing tide beneath? We call them planks, for so in effect they are; but the planks are steel girders, each 50 feet in depth from top to bottom.

The process adopted was somewhat as follows. Let us confine ourselves to one girder only, for they were both constructed in the same fashion. The girder was built up in two pieces, which were carried forward to meet one another in the middle. Till they met, they were rigidly connected, by tics at the top and supports at the bottom, on to the cantilevers of which for the moment they formed a part. And so the building forward went on, till the two halves got within 4 inches of one another. Then the opportunity was carefully watched, as the structure lengthened or contracted with the change of temperature. As soon as they had approached as near to one another as they seemed likely to come, the two ends of the bottom booms were temporarily tied together, the string taking the form of ten plates of steel, 7/8 of an inch thick, each plate 10 feet long and 8 inches wide. Next the top members of the girder had to be joined up, and when that too was completed, it was time for the temporary fastenings to he removed, and for the entire girder to be allowed to drop into its permanent resting-place on rollers at the ends of the two cantilevers. The engineers had calculated that, in order to prevent the completed girder from sagging, the top booms would have to be joined up at a temperature 14° lower than that prevailing when the bottom members were closed. But owing to the extraordinary mildness of the season, it was found impossible to secure such a range of temperature, so hydraulic presses, with a force of 400 tons, equivalent to a variation of some 6°, had to be called into action to aid the natural expansion and contraction of the steel.

To any one who has seen the present structure, which is estimated to have cost £3,201,617 8s. 11d sterling, it is not a little surprising to find that, more than seventy years back, bridging the Forth at this point was looked upon as comparatively child's play. In a pamphlet published in Edinburgh in 1818, Mr. James Anderson, Civil Engineer and Land Surveyor, proposed the construction of a chain bridge, not of course for a railway, but for ordinary cart and carriage traffic. At a height of 110 feet above high water, sufficient to "allow a vessel of 400 tons burden to pass under with her top-gallant mast standing," the cost would, he estimated, amount at the outside to £205,000. Mr. Anderson's project seems to have met with considerable support, though nothing was done towards carrying it into execution. But in the year 1865 a joint committee of the North British and Edinburgh and Glasgow companies, whose scheme, one may assume, had to run the gauntlet of the criticism of Parliamentary Committees, obtained an Act authorizing the construction, not only of a bridge 2 miles in length, but also of 8 miles of approach line, for the very moderate outlay of £650,000.

This second scheme vanished presumably in the commercial crisis of the following year. But in 1873 it was revived, an Act obtained, and a company incorporated, with power to make the bridge, and to connect it on the north side with the existing railways by new lines to Dunfermline and to Burntisland. The capital was fixed at £1,250.000 shares and £416,666 debentures. The engineer was Mr., afterwards, Sir Thomas, Bouch, and the design was for a suspension bridge. But sufficient money was not forthcoming; so in 1878 the great railway companies came forward and guaranteed a net income of £35,000 a year, the North British, the Midland, and the two East Coast companies jointly, each assuming the responsibility for one third of the amount. Before anything was done, down went the Tay Bridge and with it the reputation of Sir Thomas Bouch and the confidence of the public in great suspension bridges.

After another interval, and the promotion, in 1881, of an Abandonment Bill, the Midland in 1882 took the lead in the course which finally secured the erection of the bridge. It induced its partners to increase their guarantees, and to make themselves responsible for 4 per cent, interest on the whole of the Forth Bridge, as well as for the cost of maintenance, repair, and management. Of course the money was at once found without difficulty, Mr. Baker's design for a cantilever bridge was adopted. Mr. Arrol became the contractor, and the work proceeded, which on March 4th, 1890, is to be crowned by a ceremonial opening by the Prince of Wales.

What maintenance and repair will cost, no one yet knows, but for mere interest the Midland will have in future to find £40,000 per annum, the North British £37,000, and the East Coast companies £46,000 between them. The gradual growth of the estimated and still more of the actual cost from the original £205,000 is interesting as showing how thoroughly the Tay Bridge disaster has taught engineers the lesson that, with structures of this magnitude, provision against the weight of the load is a small matter compared with precautions against stress of wind. The new Tay Bridge is 2miles in length, and spans not a deep gorge like that at Queensferry, but a wide open valley and a shallow stream, with foothold for innumerable close-ranked piers, and yet it has cost over £650,000, without leaving any margin for approach lines.

And in the case of the Forth Bridge scheme, the cost of the approach lines, which, except as to the 2 3/4 miles immediately adjoining the bridge, has to be borne by the North British unaided, will certainly be well over a million sterling. First of all, a new direct road has to be made from Edinburgh, or at least from Corstorphine, on the south east, and from Winchburgh, that is from Glasgow, on the south west, to the bridge, as the present road goes round two sides of a triangle. Then on the Fife shore the existing line is down 200 feet below the rail-level of the bridge, and to effect a junction it is necessary to go back a long way and execute very heavy rock cuttings and raise vast embankments. Then again not only are the Fife railways for the most part single line, but they also run as a general rule cast and west, following both the contour of the country and what has hitherto been the natural course of its communications. To form, therefore, a direct through express route to Perth, corners have to be cut off here, there, and everywhere, and of course single line has in each case to be doubled. Finally, when the route gets within about a dozen miles of Perth, an entirely new line has to be constructed to carry it through Glenfarg.

That Glenfarg is not exactly the place which any engineer would choose of his own free will for a railway is sufficiently proved by the fact that, though it was the mail-coach route in the old days from Edinburgh to Perth, no attempt has hitherto been made to run a railway through it. The new line strikes the glen at Damhead, 3 miles north of its junction with the existing line at Mavcarse, and for these 3 miles the country is easy enough. But from Damhead onwards is a narrow glen where stream and coach road jostle one another for lack of space. To find room for the railway by their side, the road is almost re-made, and the stream has more than once to be bridled and trained to run in a new and less rugged bed. Mile after mile, the railway descends with a gradient of 1 in 74 1/2; but the Farg falls faster yet, so in the lower portion of its course the line is carried high above it in cuttings half-way up the precipitous hills which form its banks. Twice over it avoids a sweep of the river by a plunge into a tunnel pierced through solid rock. Emerging from the second plunge, the scenery changes with startling abruptness from a Highland glen to the rolling slopes of Strath Tay, along which the railway descends directly upon Bridge-of-Earn, there to form a junction with the existing line from the Fife coast to Perth.

Glenfarg is likely in the summer of 1890 to see some remarkable feats of speed, but it will hardly sec anything to beat in its own line the record of Captain Barclay's famous "Defiance" coach along the same road. The "Defiance," with her 15 passengers, to say nothing of guard, coachman and luggage, was timed to cover the 129 miles from the Waterloo Hotel in Edinburgh to Aberdeen in 12 hours 10 minutes, including the crossing at Qucensferry and 30 minutes' stoppages. Down Glenfarg, the last 8½ miles into Perth was done in 40 minutes.

Perth, however, is not the only objective point for which the North British is making. It has at present much the shortest road, both in time and mileage, from Edinburgh and the South to Dundee, and vi Dundee to Montrose and Aberdeen. But its road includes a 5 miles' steamboat journey across the Forth from Granton to Burntisland, and when the east wind is blowing in Edinburgh, as it usually is, the would-be passenger not unnaturally puts to himself the question which was asked of the lovely Rosabelle, " Why cross the stormy Firth to-day?" and having put it, takes a ticket for the longer but all-rail route of the Caledonian Company. And if this interruption of the journey is bad for passenger traffic, still more is it so for goods, and especially for the immense traffic in perishables, such as fish and meat, which are sent from Aberdeen and Forfar to the markets of the south. When the connection now being formed from the Forth Bridge to the present Burntisland line is complete, the distance will be some 10 miles longer, but it will be by rail throughout, and will still remain shorter than that via the Caledonian line. And now let us see in brief summary what the North British and their allies will gain to compensate them for the expenditure of about four and a half millions sterling upon the complete scheme of which Forth Bridge is the central point. Let us put it in the form of a table.

* I have altered the figures in the above table more than once. They are probably not accurate even now, but the inaccuracy can only be trifling. As soon as the new lines are open for traffic we shall get official figures; but not till then. Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning, as a proof of the keenness of the competition, that my attention is called from the rival camp to the fact that the East Coast route is really 53 chains (5/8 of a mile) longer than it is commonly set down as being, because the official distances are taken (1) through the short loop at York instead of through the station, a difference of 37 chains, and (2) only to the junction outside Newcastle Station, a difference of twice 8 = 16 chains more.

Magnificent, but not war one feels naturally tempted to exclaim, as one contemplates these figures, especially when one remembers what is likely to be the cost of the maintenance of the bridge, with its acres of exposed ironwork ready to absorb tons upon tons of paint, and to employ the labour of whole gangs of painters all the year round from January to December. And yet, though it is more than probable that the bridge would have never been built at all if the Companies concerned had realized at the outset how much it was to cost them, perhaps the croakers are wrong, and the wisdom of the undertaking may yet be justified. Certain it is, that the companies which have inherited the monumental lines, built regardless of expense by Stephenson or Brunel half a century back, have never had occasion to regret the outlay, and that many a company, whose roads date from the lean years which succeeded 1848, would give a good deal nowadays to secure that the work had not been done so cheaply in the first instance. Another thing is, I think, certain we have hardly yet begun to realise the dimensions to which passenger traffic may grow with another generation. Season-ticket traffic is still in its infancy. Holidays are becoming more and more common, and the number of those who can afford to travel on them is yearly becoming greater. If the working-classes, who arc steadily cutting down the drink-bill, only come to expending half their economies in railway fares, this alone would suffice to pay handsome dividends on a whole series of Forth Bridges.

One thing is clear: the effect of the opening of the Forth Bridge will be felt right away to the extreme north of Scotland. The Highland express leaving King's Cross at 8 P.M. is in Edinburgh at 4.45 next morning. The relief train, which in the height of the August traffic leaves a quarter of an hour earlier, arrives at 4.23 A.M. This train therefore might easily be at Perth, only 48 miles further, by 5.30. Last year, via Larbert, it was seventy minutes later. The West Coast relief train which comes first was only due in at 6.35. But we are promised that in the future, whatever the East Coast does, that the West Coast will do also. So next summer, at least during the fortnight while these relief trains run, we may take it for granted that their passengers will be hurrying northward by 5.45, and that they will atone for the sin of rushing up the Pass of Killiecrankic in their slceping-berths--for the sleeping- cars will evidently have to go beyond Perth in future—by appearing in Inverness in good time for a ten-o'clock breakfast. This is simple enough for the "grouse" fortnight; but what will happen during the rest of the year is by no means so self- evident. The Highland mail for eight months of the year probably takes half as many passengers per diem as in August it takes carriages, and would not be run as an express at all except for the very heavy Post Office subsidy. Now the special postal train does not leave Euston till 8.30 P.M., and is not due at Perth till 7.35 next morning. It is probably impossible for it to start any earlier, certainly quite impossible fr it to start much sooner, for not only must it wait for the London letters, but also it works in close correspondence with the Irish mail, which leaves at 8.20, and runs almost alongside of it between Stafford and Crewe. Nor can the train, a pretty heavy one, be very much accelerated on route. To get it to Perth by 6-30 is the very utmost that the West Coast companies can possibly hope for. But something not much less than this they will be constrained to do. For the 8 o'clock out of King's Cross will be at Perth by 6, and if passengers for the Highland line are kept waiting too long, they will be apt to consider the possibility of going round the other way.

For it must always be remembered that the road through Glenfarg to Perth is henceforward not the only string to the East Coast bow. They are eight or ten miles nearer to Perth than the West Coast, but their advantage to Aberdeen will be just twice as great. Of this advantage the North British might be trusted to avail itself to the uttermost, were it only in order to make certain of securing the whole of the valuable traffic between Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen. But when there is a question in addition whether some of the English traffic, which at present goes through Blair Athole, might not be taken round vü Aberdeen, there is still stronger reason. We shall probably not be far wrong if we say that by the East Coast Aberdeen will be brought within ii- hours of London; and once more, what the East Coast does, that the West Coast undertakes to do also. Will this make it possible for the old Aberdeen route to the north of Scotland to compete with the newer one by the Highland line? That the Great North of Scotland will do all in its power to secure this result, may be taken as certain, and if pluck and energy can secure it they are not likely to fail. To Inverness itself, even if they get their new independent line all the way, they can scarcely hope to obtain much of the traffic; but it may be otherwise with Keith, with Elgin, and the other places lying to the east of the Highland road. Then, moreover, when the new short line from Aviemore, of which more anon, is made, Forres and Nairn also will cease to be on the Highland main line, and accordingly the Great North may secure a share of their traffic also. As for places beyond Inverness, if the Great North gets its Bill, and if passengers will submit to the change into a ferry-steamer, it is possible that they maybe reached almost as quick by the one line as by the other. But the problem in the North is all "ifs" at present.

"But why, in the name of fortune," one may fancy an English reader exclaiming, "take all this trouble and make all this fuss about the traffic to a petty country town like Inverness with a population of under 20,000 people, and to the even more insignificant places in its neighbourhood?" The question would be a very natural one, for certainly no one, unless he has seen Euston and King's Cross about 7.30 in the evening during the first week of August, or (still more remarkable) Perth about the same hour the following morning, can have any conception of the dimensions of the Highland traffic in the height of the season. Here is Mr. Foxwell's account ('Express Trains, English and Foreign,' p. 62), not one whit exaggerated:-

"In July and August the 7.50 A.M. train is the unique railway phenomenon. Passenger carriages, saloons, horseboxes, and vans, concentrated at Perth from all parts of England, are intermixed to make an irregular caravan Engines are attached fore and aft, and the procession toils pluckily over the Grampians. Thus, on August 7, 1888, this train sailed out from Perth composed as follows:-

The present writer was at Inverness on August 16th of that same year, when the fiercest rush of the traffic was already subsiding. The mail train, which starts for the north at 12.10 P.M., left with 20 carriages on, and hardly a vacant seat in any one of them: the up mail at 3 i'.M. consisted of 22 coaches. And this is the normal state of things for a couple of months. When it is added that a very large proportion of this enormous traffic is first-class, and booked for hundreds of miles, with additional fares for sleeping-berths and saloons, or for excess luggage, it is sufficiently evident that, while it lasts, it must be splendidly profitable. No wonder the companies fight keenly for it.

Certainly the travelling public would have every reason to be grateful for anything that might divert some portion of the traffic that blocks Perth Station and its approaches every morning and evening in the month of August. The station cannot well be enlarged any more, for it is a Sabbath day's journey from one end of it to the other already. And in the hour between 6.35 and 7.35 A.M. there are poured into it from the south six or seven trains with a total length of fully half a mile, made up of every kind of vehicle, from horseboxes and dog-carriages to sleeping-saloons and letter-tenders. How many possible permutations and combinations can be formed when three trains from Euston and two trains from King's Cross, with additions perhaps from Manchester and Liverpool, and from miscellaneous roadside stations, are rearranged so to form two trains for Inverness, a third for Aberdeen, and a fourth for Dundee, it would need a mathematician to calculate. But lest he should think his task too simple, it may be added that each train must be marshalled in a particular order, as here a horse-box, and there a saloon, have got to be dropped at roadside stations all along the route. A similar state of affairs occurs in the evening, when the 6.41 from Dundee, the 6.45 and 7.5 from Aberdeen, and the 7 P.M. from the Highland, have all to be marshalled to form the 7.20 for Glasgow, the 7.30 West Coast, and the 7.35 for Edinburgh and London (both King's Cross and St. Pancras) each of these trains in all probability running in duplicate; while perhaps during the operation a couple of fish specials flit through on their way to England.

Nor have those responsible for the management of the station the advantage of exercising an undivided authority. Perth Station belongs, it is true, mainly to the Caledonian Company; but the Highland and the North British have also a share in the ownership, while no less than five other companies, the North-Western, the Great Northern, the North-Eastern, the Midland, and the Glasgow and South-Western, have, whenever they please, the right to run their own trains into it. One curious result of this diplomatic complication was seen the other day, when an assistant to the Perth station-master had to be appointed. The task of selection was assigned to the superintendents of the North-Western and the Great Northern, as representing the two chief rival influences, and they chose their man from the neutral territory of the Lancashire and Yorkshire, on the express ground that he was likely to exercise his authority with complete impartiality.

The passenger who is kept waiting at Perth must at least admit that there is not much fault to be found with the accommodation there provided for him. Even the very dogs are not forgotten, and after their hot night in the train, should enjoy their roomy kennels with fresh water and clean straw. For their masters there are comfortable dressing- rooms with baths all complete, while downstairs the breakfast, with its never-ending relays of fresh Tay salmon, can fairly challenge comparison with the famous bouillabaisse of the Marseilles buffet. If the rival companies, by the way, really do intend to run their passengers into Aberdeen for breakfast, they will certainly have to look after the refreshment arrangements at that station. Even at Mugby Junction itself they would have blushed to charge twopence for a penny bun, and threepence for a sandwich composed of equal parts of gristle, fat, and sawdust. But at Aberdeen they have no such scruples, being apparently under the impression that wine is not the only article in which old age may properly be paid for.

The complication of the relationships between the different companies at Perth is only typical of that subsisting over a large part of Scotland. England has nothing to show at all equal to it, the nearest approach perhaps being on the lines to the east and south of Manchester. Everywhere two companies are to be found competing with one another for traffic, not by different routes, but over the same metals. For example, the Caledonian and the Glasgow and South-Western both use the same road for their Greenock trains as far down as Paisley. Carlisle Station is the joint property of the Caledonian and the North-Western; but the North-Eastern, the Midland, and the Maryport and Carlisle on the English side, and the North British and the South-Western on the Scottish side, have running powers not only into the station itself, but over a good many miles of the road outside it as well. In return, the North British is under statutory obligation to compete with itself by bringing the Caledonian trains from Larbert and the North on into its own Edinburgh station of Waverley. Or again, a branch has recently been constructed off the Glasgow, Barrhead, and Kilmarnock line, which the Caledonian owns jointly with the South- Western, and over it the Caledonian competes with the South-Western to Ardrossan and the watering places on the Clyde. Or once more, the South- Western and the Midland, the Caledonian and the North-Western, unite in the joint ownership of the line which runs across Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire from Castle Douglas to Stranraer, and send their combined trains over it. But the only access to it is along the South-Western metals from Dumfries to Castle Douglas.

These latter intricacies, however, are, as. nothing to those existing to the north of Edinburgh and Glasgow. . Larbert, some eight or nine miles south of Stirling, occupies in railway diplomacy a posi tion as important as that belonging to Luxemburg or Constantinople in European politics. Here from very early times the West Coast and Glasgow traffic of the Caledonian, the Glasgow traffic.of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Company, and the East Coast traffic of the North British, all met, and the whole was taken on northward to Perth by the Scottish Central. In 1865 the North British proposed to amalgamate with the Edinburgh and Glasgow. But the Scottish people are disbelievers in railway monopolies, and were determined to keep open the door of free and unchecked competition, and the Select Committee gave full effect to their desire. Accordingly, in the Act of Parliament authorizing the union clauses were inserted by which all possible powers of through booking, running their own trains if desired, &c., were given to the Scottish Central Company, as well as to what are known as the East Coast Companies, that is to the Great Northern and the North-Eastern.

Then, the same year, the Scottish Central itself applied for leave to amalgamate with the Caledonian. It got its Act; and in the following session of 1866, a second Act authorized a further amalgamation with the Scottish North-Eastern, thus carrying on the Caledonian all the way to Aberdeen. Again the most stringent terms were insisted on. The North-Western and the Midland were given powers to run, not only northward to Aberdeen, but actually into the Caledonian terminus at Princes Street, Edinburgh, and at Buchanan Street, Glasgow. [This was, of course, long before the present Central Station was built, and when Buchanan Street was the chief Caledonian station in Glasgow.] The Glasgow and South-Western Company was treated with almost equal generosity. As for the traffic of the competing East Coast Companies, it was laid down in the Act, that it was to be treated by the amalgamated companies "as if it were their own proper traffic, or traffic which they were desirous of cultivating to the utmost." Yet more remarkable, it was provided that almost equal privileges must be conceded over any lines to the north of Larbert, which the Caledonian might construct at any future time. This last provision, inserted doubtless with the best intentions, has had one effect which its authors can scarcely have foreseen. For all practical purposes the Callander and Oban line is a part of the Caledonian. The larger part of its stock is held by the Caledonian Company, a good slice of the rest being held by the North- Western, and it is and always has been worked by the Caledonian. But, technically speaking, it is an independent company, and over it therefore the statutory rights of the North British over lines north of Larbert do not accrue.

There are not a few persons who think that the Caledonian might have been wiser if they had refused to accept their Amalgamation Acts at all on such onerous terms. For, when the Forth Bridge is opened, they will find themselves in a very peculiar position. The North British will have a route, both to Perth, and to Aberdeen vid Dundee and the Tay Bridge, of which it will have practically complete control. But the Caledonian route will still remain subject to all the existing obligations to accommodate North British traffic. No wonder that the North British star is somewhat in the ascendant just at present. Latterly it has succeeded to the position which was held by the Midland in the days of Sir James Allport. It seems to have taken Danton's words, "De l'audace, de l'audace, ci toujours de l'audace," as its motto, and so far with as much success as was attained by Danton's disciples. For it has by no means confined its attention to the Forth and Tay Bridges, and the east coast of Scotland. Its own proper exit from Glasgow was out to the high ground on the north-east; and when, some years back, it acquired possession of the line down the right bank of the Clyde to Dumbarton and Hclensburgh, it was hampered in the user of it by the necessity of working round the northern outskirts of Glasgow from' east to west.

Recently, mainly by the advice and assistance, it is understood, of the great firm of the Bairds of Gartsherrie, it has taken a new departure. It has constructed a railway, the "City and District," right under the heart of Glasgow. The line commences on the cast side by a junction with the existing lines, passes under the terminus of the original Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway in Queen Street, and joins the Helensburgh line sorne miles out towards the west. With this: one stone, and not a very expensive stone either, the North British has killed a whole covey of birds. It has secured a most 'convenient new road to the docks on the north bank of the Clyde. Secondly, it has obtained a very large urban passenger traffic, which formerly went by omnibus or tramcar--so large indeed that, though 'the line was primarily built as a goods road, goods have never yet been brought on to it. Thirdly, the new railway has enabled the company to try the experiment, which Sir Edward Watkin on the Metropolitan also appears to regard with favour, of combining urban with long-distance traffic. Trains run fast up to the outskirts of the city, from Edinburgh on the one side, and from Helensburgh on the other, and then stop at every station on the underground portion of the journey.

But the main interest of the "City and District" is to be found in its connection with the new West Highland route, for which Parliamentary sanction was obtained last session. It should be noticed that, just as the Callander and Oban is nominally independent of the Caledonian, so the new line is nominally independent of the North British. But as the North British is to work it, and as all the dividend it is likely to pay to start with will be derived from a North British guarantee, the outside public need hardly trouble themselves with the distinction. Starting from the Clyde, nearly opposite Greenock, the new railway will run north along the Gareloch and Loch Long. to the head of Loch Lomond; then up Glen Falloch, till at Crianlarich, on the western slopes of Ben More, it strikes the Cailander and Oban line, as it toils up the valley by which the Dochart runs down to the head of Loch Tay. Still northwards across the head-waters of the Tay, right through the desolate moor of Rannoch—the carriage of whose timber may be expected, so one enthusiastic witness declared, to furnish a handsome source of revenue to the company—and along Loch Treig till it reaches Glen Spean. Then due west till it strikes the banks of the Lochy and the Caledonian Canal, along which it bends round south-westwards, till it finally arrives at Fort William.

As originally presented to Parliament, the scheme provided for an extension to Roshven in Moidart, for the benefit of the fishermen and crofters of the western coast ; but this portion of the undertaking was struck out in Committee in the House of Lords. But even so, the scheme as passed is large and far-reaching enough, and roused a strong though unsuccessful opposition on the part both of the Caledonian and the Highland Companies. As mentioned above, the new line cuts the Callander and Oban at right angles at Crianlarich, some forty miles from Oban. Now, there is a very considerable and a rapidly increasing traffic from Glasgow to Oban, and a line going straight up Loch Lomond is some seventeen miles shorter than a line running round by Larbert and Stirling. Naturally the Caledonian objected to the risk of seeing their traffic taken from them just as their line has begun to pay. They pointed out that the country northwards from Crianlarich could not furnish traffic enough to pay working expenses. If communication was wanted to the north of Oban, it should only be, they declared, along the coast. They would pledge themselves to make forthwith a coast-line from Oban, across Loch Etive and along the shores of Appin to Ballachulish, where at least the slate quarries had attracted the nucleus of a population. But Parliament refused to listen.

The Highland Company had more than one ground of objection. Loch Treig, along which the new line is to pass, is only some dozen miles west of the Highland line, where it takes a great sweep to the westward by Dalnaspidal and Dalwhinnic in order to get over the Grampians through the Drumouchter Pass. And one main source of Highland revenue is the enormous sheep traffic from the moors of Perthshire and Inverness-shire, which it taps at this point. But this was comparatively a small matter. The apple of the Highland's eye is Inverness, and a railway at Fort William, or, what was worse, on the banks of the Caledonian Canal a dozen miles nearer than Fort William, is perilously close to Inverness itself. Where a canal could go, a railway could not find it difficult to follow. Moreover, the proposal of an extension to Roshven suggested only too clearly the possibility of a future competition with Strome Ferry, which even now is suffering from the rivalry of the much more distant port of Oban. But the diplomacy of the North British was equal to the occasion. By some means or other not easily intelligible to the outside observer, the opposition of the Highland Company was disarmed, the West Highland Act is now safely passed, and preliminary work on it has already been begun. As it has the support not only of the North British, but of the local landowners along the route, there can be no doubt whatever that its construction will be pushed steadily forward.

One thing is certain, that the position in which the Highland Company finds itself is no enviable one. If on the one side it is liable to be hard pressed by the opposition of the West Highland, on the other the Great North, a line which has enormously improved within the last few years, is, as has been said, doing its utmost to get access to Inverness and Dingwall. No amount of genius can extract much sustenance for railways any more than for man and beast from the barren hills of Perthshire or Inverness. The Highland must always mainly depend for a dividend upon its through traffic. And its through traffic it is forced to carry over a single-line route so tortuous that, though the total distance from Wick to Perth, as the crow flies, is only 125 miles, the railway is 305 miles in length. A year or two back, in order to keep out the Great North, it took powers for the construction of a new direct line from Aviemore to Inverness, cutting off the great elbow round by Forres and Nairn and so saving no less than 24 miles of distance. Having got its powers, it did nothing towards making the line. But when' the Great North announced their intention to apply for powers to Inverness, the Highland dared not wait longer. It could never face a Parliamentary Committee and maintain that the existing facilities to Inverness were sufficient, when it had taken no steps to supply the additional accommodation whose necessity it had itself asserted only a few years before. So the board resigned itself to the inevitable, and last December contracts were invited for the construction of the new lines.

Small blame, however, to the Highland Company that it hesitated. If the opinion expressed the other day to the present writer by a very competent observer—not, it must be confessed, over- friendly to the Highland Company—may be trusted, the construction of the new road will mean to them: in the first place, a capital expenditure of some hundreds of thousands of pounds ; secondly, the cost of working some thirty additional miles; thirdly, no additional traffic whatever; and lastly, the reduction of the passenger fares by as many pence as the new road will be shorter in miles than the old.

The Forth Bridge and the new Highland schemes are, as has already been said, by no means the only, scarcely even the most important, signs that we are on the eve of -great excitement in the railway world of Scotland. The proposal for an amalgamation of the North British and the Glasgow and South-Western fell upon the Stock Exchanges last summer as a bolt from the blue. Nearly a quarter of a century has elapsed since the latter company tried and failed to secure an amalgamation, first with the Caledonian and then with the Midland. Sixteen years ago Parliament refused its sanction to the yet larger scheme for the union of the North-Western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire. And now the dawn of what seems likely to be a fresh era of railway prosperity is again giving rise to a series of similar proposals.

So far at least, if one may judge from the newspapers, the present scheme has this peculiarity, that it does not seem to have roused much outside opposition. The Midland and South- Western amalgamation fell through largely owing to the natural reluctance of the Scottish traders to have the management of their affairs removed from Scotland to Derby. The other two failed because they would have prevented a competition which it was thought desirable in the public interest to maintain in force. Neither of these objections can be urged against the present scheme. Both companies are purely Scottish, and their systems, which only meet at Glasgow and at Carlisle, nowhere compete with one another, except indeed—a big exception doubtless—for through traffic from England. It will perhaps be said that the North British has not as good a reputation for liberality to its customers as the South-Western. But to this it is only fair to reply that the North British reputation was acquired in days when it was in a position of chronic impecuniosity, and that, now it has got into easier circumstances, it shows considerable improvement.

Anyway, public opinion seems ready to condone the North British sins, if it has any, and though it is understood that some of the leading traders in Glasgow are prepared to oppose, it is probable that the fight will be in the main an inter-railway one. But this limitation will not prevent it from becoming a battle royal. The three great Scottish companies, with their two thousand odd miles of line and their hundred millions of capital, are in it as principals. Then, of course, the Midland must support the amalgamation. The Glasgow and South-Western, whose board is presided over by the Midland chairman, has been a Midland dependency for twenty years past, and it is inconceivable that it could have thrown itself into the all-embracing arms of the North British if the Midland had desired to forbid the banns. Equally of course, the North-Western will support the Caledonian in opposition. The uncertain factor in the case is the attitude of the East Coast Companies, the North-Eastern and the Great- Northern. It is impossible to imagine that they will support the Bill; but will they oppose it, or will they simply remain neutral?

For my own part, I am convinced they are bound to oppose it. Even the proverbial Englishman of the French story-books docs not sell his wife quite for nothing, and the Midland is not surrendering to the North British its control of the South-Western without receiving a quid pro quo somewhere and somehow. One form which that quid pro quo might take can be easily seen. The London traffic with Glasgow, for instance, goes partly by West Coast, partly by Midland and Glasgow and South - Western, partly via Edinburgh and the East Coast. The North British, if it gets its Bill passed, will have no interest in sending anything by this third route. It will have an easier road and will get an equal share of the mileage rate if it sends via Carlisle, and once at Carlisle the Midland would naturally carry the traffic the rest of the distance. Exactly the same considerations apply to the traffic between Glasgow and Leeds. As for traffic from the north of Scotland, the East Coast companies are not likely, if they can help it, to find £50,000 a year to pay their share of the interest guaranteed for the Forth Bridge, and then to submit to see Leeds and London traffic sent south from Edinburgh wholly via Carlisle instead of half via Berwick. But this would naturally be the interest of the amalgamated Company.

Now if all this is obvious to an outside observer, it must be tenfold more evident to the directors and officials of the East Coast lines. In some form or another, therefore, they are certain to oppose. But their opposition may take either of two forms. They may resist the amalgamation outright. If they do, they will in all probability defeat it ; for it is not easy to see how an over-strong case, regarding the matter from the point of view of the public interest, can be made in its favour. The South-Western is no bankrupt local line, unable to stand alone; it is a concern of a respectable size, which for half a century back has served and served well the whole south-west district of Scotland, and paid a reasonable dividend to its proprietors all the time. It is not a natural extension or complement of the North British; on the contrary, it occupies an entirely distinct portion of the country. Any one can see that the two companies may gain by the amalgamation; but where the profit to the public comes in is not equally clear. On the other hand, the East Coast companies may say : "The interests of the public are not our business; it belongs to Parliament to defend them. It is our business to look after the interests of our own traffic." And, acting on this principle, they may content themselves with securing over the whole of the amalgamated system powers such as it has been said they already possess over certain portions of the Caledonian. If this were insisted on, it is conceivable that the North British might prefer to withdraw their Bill altogether.

But we are not yet at the end of the obstacles with which the amalgamation scheme is confronted. The Caledonian has put forth a manifesto in which it declares that it sees no reason why the South- Western should cease to exist as an independent company. But if, it continues, this change is, in the interest of the South-Western shareholders, to take place, then it claims that the undertaking shall be transferred, not to the North British alone, but to the North British and the Caledonian jointly. In effect it says this: "Parliament has sanctioned the existence of three companies, B, the Caledonian in the middle, and A and C, the North British and South-Western, competing with it on either side. Now A and C propose to combine to crush B. We appeal to Parliament that such a combination would not only be injurious to the public interest, but unjust to us."

The claim is undeniably a strong one, and there are of course abundant precedents for the alternative course which the Caledonian proposes. Several instances have been given a few pages back of two competing companies owning lines in common. To these might be added, in Scotland, the Dundee and Arbroath, and the Kilsyth and Bonnybridge, which are joint Caledonian and North British property. In England there are the Cheshire lines; the joint Great Northern and Great-Eastern line from March to Doncaster; the joint Great-Northern and North-Western line from Market Harborough to Newark; the Birkenhead and Shrewsbury and Hereford lines, which belong jointly to the Great Western and the North-Western; and many more. But the Caledonian claim appeals not only to the justice of Parliament. It appeals also to the self-interest of the South-Western shareholders. The North British offers to guarantee to them 4 per cent. in perpetuity. The security is doubtless ample, but a security cannot be too good, and the additional guarantee of the Caledonian would make it even more unimpeachable. Whatever other interests they may have, as South-Western ordinary shareholders at least, they stand to win something without the possibility of losing anything, if they can transfer their undertaking, not to the North British only, but to the two companies jointly. Whether, in case they vote for this, the North British will not draw back from their offer altogether, and leave them in their present position as an independent company, is of course an entirely separate question.

To sum up, I will venture on prophecy this far, that the amalgamation of the North British and the South-Western sans phrase, as proposed last July, is not likely to receive the sanction of Parliament. But whatever be the upshot of the affair, it has already had important indirect consequences. It has stirred up the Caledonian to a fiercely aggressive policy in return. Last session that company obtained powers for an underground line through Glasgow from east to west. This year it has a Bill to form a whole network of connecting lines and junctions at either end of it. Not only this, but a subsidiary company is seeking permission to duplicate the North British line along the right bank of the Clyde, through Dumbarton to Helensburgh, with a branch up the Vale of Leven to Loch Lomond. There will be a rival fleet of steamers on the lake, and what is more important, sidings into all the great works where is manufactured and dyed almost all the "Turkey red" that is used in the habitable world. Then again the Caledonian is applying for power to carry its Edinburgh line forward in tunnel right under the heart of the city to Leith, and so rob the North British of the cream of the traffic of that rapidly rising seaport. The long-looked-for application for powers to build a new line parallel to the South- Western along the Ayrshire coast has not come this winter, but is hardly likely to be postponed much longer.

But enough of this. Let us now see something of the special features of the existing arrangements, more especially of the competition for the summer traffic to the innumerable watering-places along the Firth of Clyde, which has given rise to what is probably the most creditable combination of railway and steamboat services in the world.


Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus