31 MAY 1930, Page 20


[To the Editor of the SeEcTAToa.]

SIR,—In the article headed " Agriculture and Wasted Transport," which appeared in your issue of May 3rd last, Mr. E. R. B. Roberts says that " one of the reasons' for the present exorbitant railwairates on agiicultural produee is the privately owned wagon," and, by way of support for this. general statement, declares- that privately owned wagons convey coal to every country station and that they ought to he- ms& available t6 farmers, fdr loading on the backward journey.

May I point out that the quantities of coal carried to country stations in agricultural and thinly populated districts are not large, and that the number of coal wagons employed in this traffic is ndt sufficient to enable them. to be a material factor in' the transport of agricultural traffic ? Furthermore, as' I have' pointed out to Mr. Roberts on previous occasions, empty coal wagons must be sent bank to the collieries in order to load more coal, and if they were swept out- and used to transport the products of agriculture, the work at the collieries Might be hampered. In any case, the agricultural industry is not hindered for want of trucks except at times of seasonal pressure. Nor does farm produce habitually move from the ports and great cities to the colliery districts, which is the route of the vast majority of empty coal wagons.

It is, in my opinion, most unlikely that, if coal wagons"were to pass to complete railway control they would be used for any other purpose than that of the transport of coal. Those, other than Mr. Roberts, who advocate the abolition of privately owned coal wagons have not hitherto claimed more from such a change than a reduction of " empty " and shunting mileage and some derzease in railway working costs. It has not been suggested that wagons which are built for the purposes ' of a particular industry can, in practice, be made to do duty in another.

Although privately owned trucks are not largely used in connexion with agriculture, small wagona in private owner-` ship, which are the particular object of Mr. Roberts' dislike, are found to be a convenience when used for.' conveying farmers' supplies. Small farmers appreciate being able to buy lime, coke and other supplies by the small truckload and having three days in which to empty the trucks, with slower demurrage rate than that charged for a cOmpany's • trucks.

- Railway -rates are undoubtedly an important factor in agriculture and are regarded as a burden on that, as on other' industries, but it is quite incorrect to assert that the rates on agricultural traffic could be materially reduced by an alteration in the ownership of coal wagons.

Mr. Roberts is alone in contending that the abolition of private ownership of railway wagons would solve the agricul- tural problem, the difficulties of the coal mining industry and other economic questions. Complete answers have been given to him in various technical journals from time to time, but these journals are, probably, not generally available to the majority of the readers of the Spectator, who may, therefore, get an entirely erroneous impression of the weight of Mr. Roberts' argaments.—I am, Sir, &c., PHILIP GEE. 5 New Court, Lincoln's Inn, W.C. 2.