REGULATION OF RAILWAYS.
Two railways stand charmed with betraying the public interests —the Eastern Counties and the South-eastern. The accusation against the Eastern Counties is, that the management exhibits gross disregard of the public convenience. The Times has been inundated with letters on the subject. "A Traveller" complains of constant changes in the hours of departure, quite baffling the calculations of passengers. "J. L. H." complains of delays, and cites a gross instance : the train which left Waltham station at six minutes past seven o'clock on Sunday evening the 30th of August, ought to have reached Shoreditch at ten minutes past eight : it did not arrive till ten minutes past nine; thus being more than two hours in going a distance of fourteen miles and three-quarters ! "A. E. F." alleges flagrant disorders. He tra- velled in the same train as J. L. H., and accounts for the de- lays by a species of rioting- " When the train left the Waltham station' the carriage I was in, and (from what happened at the subsequent stations, I conclude) all the other carriages, were quite full: yet, between Waltham and London, the train was stopped at six intermediate stations, at each of which, as your correspondent observes, hundreds of individuals were anxiously awaitinga conveyance to town; and who, the moment the train stopped, endeavoured by main force to thrust themselves into the already completely packed carriages. Many of these persons, whose patience was appa- rently exhausted by the thne they had been kept waiting, seemed half frantic on discovering there was no accommodation for them; and the struggling that there- upon took place, and the foul language that was used, it is scarcely possible to describe. In many instances, it actually resulted in the carriages being crammed with nearly double the number of persons they are constructed to carry: and in the course of the evening I had twice to protect myself against this outrage,—once, by declaring in the most determined manner, that I would knock down the first man who should attempt to enter, of a mob that had violently wrenched open the door for the purpose of effecting a forcible entrance; and on a second occasion, by my informing the official in attendance, with whose connivance the attempt was being made, that I would report him to his superiors if it were persisted in. "At the Tottenham station, where the confusion and uproar were perfectly ter- rific, it really appeared to me that the train had at last been taken by assault, and remained for some time in the hands of the irritated mob : in no other way can I account for the length of the stoppage that ensued."
The charge against the South-eastern Railway Company amounts to a breach of faith. During the last session, the com- pany was threatened with competition, but succeeded in staving it off; giving it to be understood that the moderate rate of fares on the existing railway would be maintained : the session is scarcely ended before the scale of fares is raised : " Parliament," says "Reduced Dividend," "is up, the North Kent competing company is bought off, and now the power of monopoly is in exercise."
Thus, the Eastern Counties is accused of giving the public a bad article for its money • the South-eastern, of exacting more money than it ventured to do while it was liable to competition. This is very shortsighted policy ; and if it be not mended it will undoubtedly meet with condign punishment. It has been contended, and we think justly, that competition is a motive to cheapness and good management which does not apply in the usual way to railroads. It is true that it cannot apply in detail, because the railway companies are establishments too vast and powerful not to bear down ordinary competition. Competing establishments can be bought up, or persuaded into an amalgama- tion which supersedes mutually injurious contest. Competition is needless, because the self-interest of railway companies, rightly understood, will usually concur with the public interest. What- ever the original cost of a railway., the interests of the share- holders will be best promoted by that rate of charges and that amplitude of accommodation which induce the largest number of passengers and the largest revenue. But a railway company which does not understand its own permanent interests does not thus avoid the influence of competition. The unanticipated ex- tortion of higher fares may draw into the treasury a sudden in- crease of cash : an undue scale of charges, however, cannot but operate ii checking the use of the railroad and the amount of the revenue. Failing to supply the full amount of accommodation for the public, it opens the way for a rival enterprise with every popular sympathy and every hope hostile to the old one. The same view applies to gross defects in arrangements for the public con- venience, like those alleged against the Eastern Counties Railway. Were the Government to invite the establishment of lines in competition with the offending railways, to countenance and support the new enterprises in the earlier stages of the struggle, the others would be ruined, and justly so, unless at the last they were to avoid destruction by yielding up their interests to rivals. This kind of intervention would be a proper function for the new Railway Board, or rather for such a tribunal as that ought to be—one constructed of the ablest men, endowed with ample power judicial and administrative, beyond the influence of Par- liamentary canvassing, and above every corruption. But even in the absence of such a tribunal, railway companies had better beware. Their revenues are always subject to the 'in-
fluences which we have indicated. Let shareholders take heed that they do not trust the control of their affairs to directors who have not the lasting interests of the company really at heart, but are bent on scrambling together, for themselves, hasty fortunes at any cost of future loss to the body of proprietors.