RAILWAY GAUGE—THE BEARING OF THE QUESTION ON THE NATIONAL DEFENCE.
laarrga 'Sirt—In my last letter I drew attentlim to the proofs which we possess, that diversity of railway gauge detracts largely and appreciably from the economical use of railways for the internal traffic of the country, in the conveyance of mer- chandise and live stock: but railways are destined to play no less important a part in the " trade" of war than they are now playing in the furtherance of peaceful commerce.
We have it on the highest military authority, that a power of incalculable im- portance in military and especially in defensive operations is included in an un- broken railway system,—namely, that of rapid concentration of force, and of making a small army do the work of a large one; in which two points the whole secret of success in war may be said to consist. The Quartermaster-General and the Inspector-General of Fortifications were expressly examined by the Gauge Commissioners on this point; and they state in the most unqualified manner that this arm of our national defence—our railway communication—will be crippled if our lines are not on one gauge. The evidence of these witnesses is at the present time most interesting, explaining as it does the scheme of defence to which the military authorities agree in thinking we must have recourse in case of invasion, and of which a system of communication of troops and artillery by railways on one uniform gauge from the interior to the coast forms an essential feature. I will content myself with a single quotation on the point in question. Sir Wil- loughby Gordon is asked—
Q. " Do you imagine that in the event of this country being at war with France railways could be advantageously used in the national defence?"
A. " Certainly the effect of rapid communication by railway, speaking militarily, Is this, that it enables you to do with a small army the work of a large one." Q. "Do you conceive that such utility would be materially diminished by breaks of the gauge in the line of route, involving a transfer from one set of carriages to another? '
A. " Certainly—the practical result would be the inconvenience of a ferry. I can con- ceive no greater inconvenience than shifting from one gauge to another."
The Commissioners, presided over by an experienced officer of Engineerst sum up. the evidence by saying—" The effect of diversity of gauge may be in a military point of view to expose the country to serious danger." Such, then, are the tangible and serious evils consequent on the " laissez faire " system we arepursuing of allowing different engineers to have their crotchets as to the width of lines of railway, and so to break up and interrupt the communica- tions of the country to gratify their individual vanity. How different and how far wiser is the coarse pursued by the more provident Governments of the Continent of Europe. The shores of the Baltic, of Belgium, of France from Calais to Bordeaux, of the Mediterranean, and of the Adriatic, are now either actually or are rapidly being connected with the capitals Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Dresden, Munich, with all the interior parts of the Continent of Europe, and with each other, by a great network of railways, all, notwithstand- ing the jealousies of nations and of engineers, upon one uniform and unbroken gauge.* By this wise and comprehensive design, both the peseeful and warlike resources of these vast territories will receive all that accession of strength which results from unbroken intercommunication, but which we are suffering to slip through our fingers for ever, while Mr. Brunel and Mr. Somebody-else are set- tling their differences as to what is mathematically the precise optimum width for a railway.
To those who have witnessed the advantages of uninterrupted railway com- munication, and the incredible extent to which these advantages are neutralized by a break of gauge, it is mostpainful to contemplate the irremediable evils whick the diversity of gauge we are permitting to extend must (if it be not now reme died) inevitably produce in the course of the next five years. In my third and last letter I will endeavour to point out how far the evil has gone in this country, and how far it is capable of remedy. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, W.
• The ordinary English gauge of 4 feet Ri inches.