From the Dublin University Magazine, Volume 13, Number 75, March 1839.
Nearly ten years have now elapsed since the first railroad in the British empire was opened. In Ireland we have as yet but six miles of railroad formed. England has accomplished gigantic undertakings of this kind, connecting together her remote towns--bringing Liverpool within ten hours' drive of London, and making Birmingham almost the manufacturing suburb of her great metropolis. New railways are proceeding in every direction of the country--immense sums are subscribed for their construction--and it seemed as if in good earnest the whole available enterprise and capital of that country were setting itself to convert the old-fashioned roads, along which our fathers were content to jog at the rate of four miles, and we ourselves to be whirled at the rate of ten, into the new species of highways, along which a power unknown to our fathers is to hurry us with a rapidity to which it is impossible to assign the limits.
In Ireland our conduct has been highly characteristic of the nation--we have talked a great deal, and done nothing--we have had our meetings to support private enterprise, and our meetings to make of government the modest request, that they should obligingly make our railways at the public cost of the empire; but, with the exception of our six miles of railway, from Dublin to Kingstown, we have done literally nothing.
It is worth while to compare the proceedings with regard to railways in the two countries. In England the observer will find but little public excitement on the subject--few, if any, great public meetings--but little discussion in their public journals--and the railways made. The mighty power has been extending its conquests silently, and almost unnoticed. The struggles it has excited have been confined to the contests before the Committees of the House of Commons; and the people at large appeared no more to trouble themselves about railway politics, than by showing a preference for the railways when made over the old stage-coaches.
In Ireland, however, what a turmoil has been excited--how much eloquence spent--how much ill-feeling created--government emissaries have been sent to agitate the country on one side--gentlemen opposed to government views have gone out to agitate it on the other. Requisitions have been signed, and meetings convened. Newspapers have had their columns filled with angry discussions. The whole country seems to have been excited on the subject, and yet not a single line of railway, with the exception we have noticed, has been made.
These differences between the two countries will strike the curious observer as worthy of remark. Perhaps he may also think it worthy of note, that there is an other curious distinction between the two countries in relation to this subject. Ireland has had a government commission sitting, at an enormous expense to the nation--England has had none.
The moral of the whole contrast is two-fold. It teaches the difference between the sober, steady, and quiet energy of business, and the noisy ebullition of unpractical but excited zeal. It teaches also the difference between the efforts of commercial enterprise and the movements of government-seekers for a job.
Deeply anxious for the introduction of railways into Ireland, believing that there exists in this country abundant traffic in many directions to support them, and confident that the resources which they would develope are immense and almost incalculable, we bitterly regret that ever government cursed the country by its interference. To the ill advised appointment of the railway commission we owe it that we have made no progress whatever in railways in Ireland. Government spread their wings of protection over railway enterprise, (the metaphor is a favourite one with their advocates,) but it was as the eagle spreads his wings over his prey. It may be well however, to give a short sketch of the history of railway speculations in Ireland.
We all remember the excitement, we had almost said the mania, which existed a few years ago on the subject of railroads. The expectations of the profit to be realised from these undertakings, were, no doubt, in some instances, extravagant; although in many, experience, has shown that they were nearer the truth than many persons were disposed to believe. The check which the spirit of speculation has received, has not been from disappointment in the income of the actually made railways, but from the unfortunate derangement in the money market towards the end of 1836, which of course depressed the share market, and disappointed the hopes of those who had taken shares, not to hold but to trade on. It is important to bear this in mind, since the check given to railway speculation is too often adduced as a proof that it has failed.
Be this as it may, however, the spirit of speculation extended to Ireland. Various railways were projected, and acts of parliament actually obtained for several, and all seemed to promise fair, that by the usual and legitimate course of enterprise, this country would not be left behind England in the progress of railway improvement. English capital was of course the principal contribution to the projected railways; but Ireland furnished her fair quota; and nothing seemed likely to prevent the experiment being made as to the capabilities of Ireland to support railways.
It was at this time that the unfortunate contest took place between the two competing lines from Dublin to Drogheda--a contest which, we believe, in its origin was a struggle, in its end a compromise between two rival attorneys, and neither in the struggle nor the compromise, were the interests of either shareholders or the public much attended to.
"Quicquid delirant reges plectuntur Achivi."
The attorneys fought their battles at the shareholders' expense; and after a costly and profitless contest, in which large sums of money were wasted on both sides, the differences were terminated by an agreement, of which we believe the principal stipulation was, that the attorneys on both sides, the real belligerent parties, should pocket their costs.
Had the evil ended with the mere waste of money, which this contest involved, it would have been well. But the mischief was too flagrant to escape notice, and it brought upon us a remedy worse than the disease. To prevent in future the ruinous expenses of competing lines, a royal commission was issued to report on the most eligible lines, and when once a line had been sanctioned by the authority of this commission, it was supposed, and reasonably supposed, that no competition would be attempted. This commission was confined to Ireland, although a parallel case to the Drogheda existed in the Brighton in the sister country. It was stated, we believe, that though Englishmen could very well bear the expense of a parliamentary contest, we Irish were too poor to be permitted to throw away our money on such costly amusement--even though the result might be, as in the case of the Drogheda company, the gratification of the taste for litigation of our attorneys.
This important circumstance has not, we apprehend, been sufficiently noticed in the course of the controversy relating to the Commissioner's Report. The avowed object of the issuing of the commission was not by any means to interfere with private enterprise, but simply to prevent it interfering with itself. Where two companies proposed lines, one only of which evidently ought to be made, it was hoped that the researches of the commissioners would furnish a means of deciding their differences less costly than an appeal to the tribunal of a select committee.
In support of our assertion, that such was the avowed object of the commission, we refer to the statements made in parliament at the time. The prevention of competition, and its consequent litigation, was an object which recent examples had proved too desirable for any one to think of opposing. So far from interfering with private enterprise, the commission was apparently a step towards that which should be the first duty of the government in its encouragement--namely, the saving the enormous expense of the preliminary parliamentary proceedings.
Such were the specious pretences under which the Irish railway commission was issued. We shall see in the sequel to what uses it was applied.
The death of the late king made necessary a renewal of the commission, and afforded an opportunity for a piece of trickery which ought not to be overlooked. By a dexterous alteration in the wording of the commission, the objects of it were changed. Their new directions were made to be to report on the best lines of railways in Ireland; omitting altogether all allusion to the joint stock companies, which the first commission had desired them expressly to assist. We do not hesitate to say that this fraudulent, because clandestine alteration in the terms of the commission, is a very high offence in the ministers who assented to it. The first commission was issued with the sanction of both houses of parliament with the objects we have stated--it was a fraud upon parliament and the country, secretly to apply that sanction to objects not only totally different but opposed.
Wherever there is concealment we always suspect fraud; and could the secret history of the fabrication of the report be laid open to the public, it would be found that the proceedings of the commissioners were quite in keeping with this clandestine alteration of their authority. After many and most vexatious delays,a report was at last presented to parliament, discouraging railway speculation in Ireland altogether, and representing it as so bad a thing, that it ought to be given up altogether into the hands of certain parties, friends of the commissioners, who being most disinterested gentlemen, and we believe either quakers or attorneys to boot, were ready to make railways in Ireland, not for their own profit, but their country's good. A body so disinterested ought certainly to have a monopoly; and like all disinterested people, they could expect nothing less than an exclusive privilege of fleecing the public.
It was necessary for this purpose, that all existing companies should be put down, and it was accordingly discovered, that every single line of railway projected in Ireland, ran in a wrong direction. All the engineers had gone wofully astray--even the engineer to the commissioners himself. If the line already projected ran along a flat, the commissioners recommended a parallel one, which would have the slight advantage of several steep ascents. A line to the western coast had been projected to cross the Shannon; and to avoid the tremendous expense of this, the commissioners recommended a line to the south west,crossing an unsheltered bay of the Atlantic, about seventy feet deep, at a cost which would bridge the Shannon seven times. There was not, however, a single line for the carrying of which a company had been formed, which the commissioners did not condemn--in some instances without any substitute, in others proposing competing lines, but in every single instance, putting a stop, as far as their efforts could, to the competition, and then to keep all further competition from the field, declaring that three and a half per cent, was the limit of the profit to be expected from railways in Ireland.
The report of the commissioners had thus a doubly ruinous effect on the progress of railway enterprise. By projecting new lines, directly to compete with every line sanctioned by act of parliament, they made it impossible for the companies, who had obtained their acts in common prudence to proceed, with the threat of a parallel line staring them in the face. By their declaration as to the amount of returns to be expected, they put a negative upon the vesting of any further capital in such undertakings--for with the exception of the disinterested body of capitalists, whom the commissioners have discovered ready to execute railways, not for their own, but the public good, we know of no person who would embark his money in a railway speculation, of which the ultimate return is to be, but three and a half per cent.
It was perfectly clear at the same time, from the commissioners' report, that they calculated on the construction of the lines which they recommended by a private company. Their grand project was to combine into one system of management, the railways of Ireland. But that management was to be in the hands of a commercial company, to whom certain facilities were to be secured, and on whom certain advantages were to be conferred.
We stop not now to inquire into the wisdom or the policy of such a proceeding. The spirit of the age is not in favour of monopolies--but, it is unquestionably true, that in many of the adventures, by which Britain's commercial greatness, has been most advanced--advantages have been in the first instance secured to those embarking in them. And it was no doubt a fair subject for inquiry, whether it might not be prudent to confer on one company formed for the purpose of promoting railways in Ireland, extraordinary privileges and powers.
The report of the commissioners, however, came before the public, with many circumstances calculated to excite both prejudice and suspicion. In the first place, no regard whatever was paid to the vested interests of those who had already embarked their money on the faith of an act of parliament--and in every single instance, where lines of railway were pre-occupied, they were condemned--in the case of the Drogheda and Kilkenny, by the recommendation of competing lines, which were, it is now generally admitted, inferior to those they were intended to supersede--in the case of the line to the west, where it was not possible to suggest a rival line, by an unqualified condemnation of the project of a railway to Connaught altogether.
Many persons began thus to suspect, that the first object of the commissioners had been the establishment of the monopoly alluded to, and that their recommendation of particular lines, and their censures upon others, were influenced more by a reference to this--than by the abstract merits, or demerits of the lines.
These suspicions were strengthened by some other curious discoveries. Some early printed copies of the report, were found to contain a note, which on second thoughts, had been suppressed, a note which actually went the length of naming the parties, who were to be chartered as the great railway company for Ireland. The evidence of several of the commissioners, was adduced in favour of the lines condemned by their report--and errors so gross as hardly to be the result of accident, were shewn in the calculations. Public attention began to be turned to the subject, and public opinion began to pronounce that the report belonged to a certain class of transactions unfortunately too well known in Ireland--by the classic title of "jobs."
The change in the wording of the commission, was now detected and exposed. Mr. Dwyer, a barrister of great acuteness and untiring energy, happened, we believe, to be interested in some of the lines, which the commissioners had condemned. He it was who first discovered the suspicious alteration, and he used his discovery with unsparing and terrible effect. At the same time, the engineering errors of the report were ably pointed out in the several professional publications--and public opinion was unequivocally expressed against the report.
The grand error of the commissioners was, however, unquestionably, their treatment of the west. Of all positions in the country, Athlone is the one which naturally suggests itself as the terminus of a railway from the metropolis. The key of the great province of Connaught, and of the navigation of the river Shannon--at the central point of the entire island, and forming the passage to the entire of the west, and a great portion of the north-west and south-west of Ireland; were there but one railway to be completed in Ireland, every person would naturally say that one should be made to Athlone. With unparalleled advantages in the physical structure of the country through which it must pass -- its western terminus within a few miles, by water-carriage, of the Arigna mineral district, which the commissioners represent as the only depository of working coals in Ireland --a railway to Athlone presented obvious advantages of cheapness of working, and of construction, and the traffic of great and populous districts, in a combination to which no other railway in Ireland could possibly pretend .
In the limited space which we are permitted for this article, we cannot enter into any of these questions at length. The allusions we have made are not for the purpose of reviving a controversy on the subject. We have no doubt that the commissioners' report, and all matters connected with it, will become the subject of early and searching parliamentary investigation. In the meantime, we may be permitted briefly to sum up our general impression of the subject. We trust that we will be cautious in going no farther than we have sure grounds to bear us out.
It is quite evident, from the bare perusal of the report, that the favourite project of the commissioners was, if we may use the expression, to charter one great company to introduce railways into Ireland. Whatever opinion may be formed of this, as a measure of economy, the entertaining of such a project argues nothing corrupt. Had this been openly and fairly recommended, there were many reasons to be urged in its support; and, though upon mature deliberation we incline to an opinion adverse to such a measure, we can conceive nothing discreditable to the commissioners, had they plainly proposed it.
But when we find that, though the whole tenor of the report plainly leads us to this conclusion, that conclusion is no where explicitly urged; when we find that the profit of these undertakings is underrated, so as to deter enterprise from the field; when we find that certain parties were originally named as the trustees of this great charter, and this incautious avowal afterwards deliberately suppressed; and when we find that the lines which had been already projected by independent parties were attempted to be crushed by calculations manifestly erroneous; we confess that we cannot disguise our apprehensions that all is not fair.
The calculations as to the line to the west, at this moment present themselves to our mind. The argument upon which the commissioners rest their opinion of the unprofitableness of this line is, that it would depend upon the passenger returns alone, because the canals would continue to take the entire traffic in goods. This, we confess, is a conclusion which it puzzles us to understand how it has been arrived at. By what process of undesigned blundering it has been adopted it is difficult to conceive, for it is one which the common sense of every one repudiates. That the railway would never, in any instance, be preferred to the canal for the transmission of any species of merchandize, we cannot possibly believe; our wonder is how ever the commissioners were induced to believe it. Yet, upon this one assumption, for which they condescend to give no proof, the commissioners proceed to declare that no railway should run to the west.
This may serve as a specimen of the grounds upon which they rest their assertions. Amid a mass of publications before us, we find a "Report from the directors of the Great Central Railway Company," commenting upon this assertion of the commissioners, in which it is refuted by the statement that upwards of 20,000 tons of merchandize are at present conveyed by the common road-carriers, in preference to the canals, along the road from Athlone to Dublin, a statement to which any person of experience, who is acquainted with the country, will give abundant confirmation.
We have referred to this because it is decisive on the subject. The question then recurs--were the commissioners ignorant of the existence of this traffic, when they sat down to condemn a whole province to exclusion from the benefit of railway intercourse, or knowing it, did they, with that knowledge, put their hands to the report asserting the contrary. To suppose that they took no pains to make themselves acquainted with the facts on which they so dogmatically pronounced, is to make a supposition only less disgraceful than that which the other branch of the alternative involves.
Did space permit us, we could point out numerous instances of errors just as gross and just as easy of exposure. In every case the question which we have put above recurs, were these misstatements wilful or ignorant. In every case, we might wish the commissioners joy of their choice.
If, however, the design of establishing one great company to monopolize the railways of Ireland was the real object of the commissioners' calculations, that design is now, nominally at least, abandoned. The parties interested in it, discovered that public indignation, whether wise or not, would not permit it to be carried into effect. Had the attempt been made openly, it would, in all probability, have succeeded; but to every clandestine plan, notice is necessarily fatal; the instant the railway report became the subject of discussion, the hopes of the monopoly were at an end. Another proposition has, however, latterly been made, which claims a few words of notice.
We must, however, pause to beg of our readers to bear in mind that which we have written. It cannot be too often, or two strongly urged, that the plain and palpable object of the commissioners' report was to vest railways in Ireland in one great company; but still a private company, no matter with what powers or what responsibilities it might be clothed, or what assistance it might receive from the state. A grant of railways in Ireland was contemplated analagous to the charter of the East India company and the banks. If such a recommendation had been made and acted upon without partiality or corruption, stating every thing fairly and candidly, we confess it strikes us it could have been very easy to make out a plausible case in its favour. But then it should have been clear that no private interests were to be subserved, that no great speculators were to be favoured. In its formation such a company should have been open indiscrimately to the whole commercial community without reserve, not even the reservations of the favoured gentlemen as solicitors or directors.
While we have said that on the whole our opinion is adverse to the formation of such a general company, into which, in the first instance, all existing interests should be permitted to merge; the capital of which should be filled up without favor or preference by all persons that chose to embark in it, and the management, in all its branches, left to the election of the shareholders; there can be no doubt that such a scheme would have its advantages. It would have been easy, by proper regulations, to bring such a company under a control of government which would ensure the good regulation of all the railways in the kingdom. To the one great advantage of government control many other minor ones obviously would be added; the diminished expenses of management; the escaping of all the blunders consequent upon inexperience, which attend the formation of almost every new railway. These, and many other advantages, were obviously hinted at in the commissioners' recommendations; but their suggestions were obviously deformed by the sinister effort to throw the management of such a company into the hands of certain parties.
The last proposition on the subject is, however, one essentially different from this--it is, that government should execute a comprehensive system of railways, without the intervention of commercial enterprise at all.
This proposition may bear so many different meanings, and appear in so many different shapes, that it is very difficult to deal with it as an abstract one.
That Irishmen should be perfectly willing to allow government to make as many miles of railway in Ireland as they think fit, at the expense of the empire, we hold to be, of all conceivable propositions, the most natural. In support of such a proposal we should unite with all our hearts, and we will engage that every living soul in Ireland will respond to our shout. Nay more, in the spirit of the old proverb, which hints that "beggars," ought not to be "choosers" we will promise "not to look the gift-horse in the mouth," and be perfectly contented if they execute the worst lines that even the commissioners have laid down. We will most cordially support a bill for granting the public money in the next session for making a railway from Dublin to Cork. Derry, and Athlone, or any one of the three, and let government be paid as in the case of turnpike roads, by a toll from the carriages that use the road.
We have no hesitation in expressing our decided and deliberate opinion, that to a country circumstanced like Ireland, such an expenditure of the national funds should be the first duty of the government. The tolls upon the principal roads, we have no doubt, would abundantly repay the expense of construction, and the indirect returns to the government in the general improvement of the resources of the country, is incalculable.
So far as these principles go, we believe there can be no controversy or even difference of opinion. We can conceive, indeed, no more noble enterprise for the British government to engage in, than that of constructing railways through Ireland at the national expense. We have ever believed the great fault of all British governments a niggardliness of expenditure in undertakings like these--and we say this in the face of the many magnificent undertakings which, even in Ireland, have been accomplished by government. If, therefore, the proposition be understood, that whenever government feel inclined to execute a line of railway, they will confer a boon upon the country by doing so, we cordially give it our assent.
But we confess we are not without our apprehensions that the proposition will meet us in another and a much more questionable shape--that a general plan is meant, by which the country may be left altogether dependent upon the chances of government interference, and by which private enterprise may be prevented from accomplishing any thing. Than such a measure we can conceive nothing more mischievous. It would be to establish a monopoly more dangerous than any in private hands--a monopoly which would be the fruitful source of more jobbing and corruption than it is easy in the outset to calculate on, and which would possibly end in few, if any, railroads being actually made.
It might, perhaps, be proposed to appoint a board of commissioners, (ominous words), and place in their hands the powers of some general enactment, in which would be involved probably the suppression of all private enterprise in railways. Very large salaries would be given, and places innumerable created under such an enactment, and a profligate expenditure of the public money would take place under the name of the public good.
In the meantime, the difficulty of getting money from the treasury would be felt. Whatever might be obtained would, of course, in the first instance, be devoted to the payment of the salaries; and it would be found, in the end, that the board of commissioners would be obliged to place the railways in the hands of some "body of capitalists," who, no doubt, in such a case would be found ready to lay out their own money, not for their own profit, but their country's good.
This would be to arrive exactly at the object of the commissioners' report, by a circuitous route, it is true, but still with so many agreeable "diversatoria" in the way, in the shape of well-salaried places and nice patronage, that after all none of the travellers might complain of the disappointment that compelled them to the circuit.
Lord Morpeth has promised in the House of Commons to state, with all despatch, the intentions of government with regard to railways in Ireland. The announcement of the government plan should be watched with intense anxiety by all the friends of Ireland. Let the measure of government be distinct and clear--let them say explicitly what they will do, and what they will not do; but let them not, under the specious pretence of applying the national resources to works of acknowledged national utility, vest in themselves, or their subordinates, powers which may be used in a manner the most mischievous to the cause of the improvement of Ireland.
Without pretending to enter on a full discussion of the vast subjects involved in the questions attending the introduction of railways into Ireland, we may, perhaps, venture to offer a few observations on some (which appear to us) plain principles, which bear directly on the question of government interference.
We hold that the best, because the most practical, view of the question, is that which assumes, in the first instance, that the construction of railways under any system, being a good, we ought not, from any foolish preference for either government interference or private enterprise, in the present circumstances of Ireland, to reject any feasible prospect of seeing that good accomplished.
It follows then, as a necessary inference, that whenever private enterprise proposes to open up railway communication, every facility ought to be afforded to its efforts--certainly that no obstruction should be thrown in its way from any preconceived notions as to the propriety of placing these works in the hands of government. This is a subject upon which there has been much foolish and mischievous generalization. It has been said, that railways in the hands of private companies are necessarily monopolies; that the public highways should not be allowed to be private property; and the implied, if not the expressed inference from these and such like propositions has been, that the legislature ought not, in any instance, to permit them to be vested in the hands of private companies.
These plausible generalities may, perhaps, require a little examination, to be appreciated at exactly their just value.
There is no one who will assert that, by the establishment of one of these "monopolies," the public are placed in a worse condition than they were before. It is not pretended that the opening of the Liverpool and London railway has caused travellers from London to Dublin any inconvenience which we did not feel when we travelled by the common road and the old stage coach. Quite the contrary. Every one admits the immense improvement in convenience and comfort of travelling. Everyone will acknowledge the great national advantages of the undertaking. This monopoly, then, has not done that, which, though perhaps erroneously, we are wont to associate with the word. It has not taken any thing from the public; all that can be meant by the assertion is, that while a great benefit has been conferred on the public by the construction of the railway, a greater might have been conferred had another system been adopted.
We apprehend that there is not one of the declaimers against railway monopolies who would be inclined to assert their favourite propositions in any other sense than that which we have put upon them. The qualification may appear an obvious one, but it is most important, for it reduces the proposition to this: that railways in the hands of private companies are a national good, although in the hands of government they might be greater.
Consequently it is clearly the duty of the government, and the interest of the public, that whenever private enterprise is willing to execute a railway from one place to another, every facility should be afforded by the state, unless government are ready to supersede its efforts by constructing the proposed railway at the public expense.
Beyond this no reflecting man can be willing to push the argument against private enterprise; and within these limits it is harmless.
But then comes in the analogy of the highways, and the argument that these should never, in any instance, be private property, whether macadamized for the common carriage, or laid down with iron rails for vehicles of a peculiar structure. In many respects the analogy is false, obviously in this one important one--that a system of legislative taxation has been adopted in the case of common roads, by which their benefits are made universal. Wherever there are people to travel, a road is made for them, and it is the very universality of the public accommodation that leaves no room for the efforts of private enterprise. Now it will be hardly alleged that we are near a state of things in which railways will be as general as the common roads--when a railway communication between two towns will be as much the object of attention to the government, as other modes of communication are now. Until this is the case, the argument drawn from the analogy fails in its essential point. Private enterprise is excluded from the work of providing the means of ordinary communication, only because the state, directly or indirectly, holds itself bound in every instance to provide that communication--a machinery of taxation exists for the very purpose, which secures, by a system of local superintendence, that a road shall be made to every hamlet in the land.
Rapid as is the progress of railway science we are very far indeed from the time when railroads will be constructed to every village where a grand juror might wish to have one run.
We beg to be distinctly understood. Our readers will remember that we argue not against the execution of any considerable number of railways by the government, but against the adoption of any general measures which would confine the progress of railways in Ireland to the extent to which government might be willing to expend the public money.
It is, however, very necessary to distinguish between the two propositions. We can conceive nothing more desirable than that the British government should propose to execute a railway from Dublin to Cork, and declare that persons should travel by that railway for a charge that would barely repay the expense of maintaining the road. To any specific measure of this kind every Irishman must give his warmest and most cordial assent. But it will be another and a very different thing if government propose to establish a general board to take railways into their own exclusive control, and exclude the assistance of private enterprise altogether. The result of such a measure would be to stop the introduction of railways into the country, and entail upon us all the inconveniences of government interference, without establishing the reciprocal obligation on the part of the government to make the advantages of railways universal. Government cannot declare railways to belong exclusively to themselves without at the same time engaging that they will construct them wherever they can possibly be wanted.
If we could suppose the case of common roads to be the same as that of railways--that they were an advantage, not secured as a matter of course to the people of every district, but that their introduction into a district was a matter of speculation and contingency; we apprehend that a company which would undertake to open up any district by private enterprise to the advantages of a macadamised road would meet with every encouragement from the state.
The case of bridges suggests an easy illustration of what we mean. In many instances the erection of a bridge across a wide river, has saved a circuit of many miles between two towns, accomplishing exactly what a railway does in bringing remote places near; the effect is just the same, whether the distance be actually shortened or the time. Now, in most instances, the bridges have been built at the public expense and are free to all passengers; but who does not know that in many instances their structure has been raised by private companies and even by private individuals as a commercial speculation, aided by large grants of the public money. It is remarkable that it is in this manner that almost all the really great works of the kind in Ireland have been accomplished. When a private company comes forward to propose to cross a great river by a bridge, some ten or fifteen miles lower down than any that has previously been built, there is not an argument which could be objected to a private railway company that might not be brought against their proposition. If the railway be a monopoly, so is the bridge; the only possibility of direct competition in either case, is by the enormous outlay of a rival railway or a rival bridge. In both instances there is a grant of the public highways to be private property. If the public are benefited by the bridge, so they are by the railway. The principle in both cases is exactly the same; and if experience has proved it right to call in the assistance of private speculation in the one, why is it essentially wrong in the other?
The case of canals has been frequently and with great propriety adduced as parallel to that of railways. We believe, however, the analogy we have taken from the more expensive of the undertakings of bridges to be the more complete.
There is, too, this one important difference between roads and railways; that when a road is once constructed, no superintendence of the travelling is required, except to exact the toll at the turnpike gate, no notice need be taken of the wayfaring man. The peer in his chariot, the farmer in his gig, the loaded waggon and the crowded stagecoach may pass and repass each other on the road. There is room enough for all, and each man's mode and time of travelling is his own concern. The turnpike trust have nothing to do with the stage-coaches, their profits or their losses; it matters not to them how many horses die, or how many passengers may cease to travel. Their management is a plain and a simple one; to keep the road in repair, and take toll from the passengers at the gate. How different this from the case of a railway; private engines cannot wheel upon the road, pay their toll on the way, and wheel off again--rolling past, on their way, the heavy engine of the carrier; or being in turn past by the spanking engine of the new stagecoach. All must be managed by the owners of the road. The trades and the profits of the stage-coach owner and the carrier must, form a portion of the responsibilities, and the profits or the losses of the general management. Far more than the mere highway is involved in the ownership of a railway. This of itself is sufficient to upset the fanciful analogy of roads. A public highway is a road along which every one may drive his vehicle as his taste or his business inclines him--not a road on which the placing of carriages is and must be the exclusive right of some parties.
If it be argued, that it be essential that government should become owners of stage-coaches and carriers upon railways, why should they not become the owners of stage-coaches upon our ordinary roads? The profits that now find their way into the pockets of coach proprietors might form a useful part of the public revenue, or the superabundant returns of some of the great roads might be applied "under one, and a combined, system of management," to keep up the benefit of public conveyances on roads that could not pay. These stage-coaches are essentially monopolies in their nature; the remedy is, it is true, to set up an opposition coach; but this, like the opening of a new railway, is a very expensive and perilous speculation. Immediately the fares are lowered on the old established coach--the weight of capital determines the victor in a contest carried on at a cost that quickly brings the matter to a test; the opposition is driven off the road, the fares are raised, and the successful monarch of the road soon replaces his temporary losses by a proportionate mulcting of the public. This process, indeed, is understood so well, and calculated on with such certainty, that not even the enormous gains realised by some great couch monopolists, and the extravagant fares charged on some of the roads, can tempt speculators to a competition in which they would be certain of defeat.
It will be seen that many of the arguments by which the proposition of giving over the railways into the hands of government is supported, are capable of a much more general application. In fact, the difficulty is to say where that application would stop. They have their full force wherever it is possible, for talent, for business, or enterprise, or capital to create a monopoly in any trade.
There is one species of argument so frequently adopted against the construction of railways by private enterprise, that we must briefly allude to it, although it scarcely deserves even a passing notice. It is alleged that by the directors of the great companies already in existence, the convenience of the public is not attended to as it ought to be, and the supposed unaccommodating temper of these companies is assigned as a reason why the power of conveying the public when travelling on railways should be the exclusive prerogative of the servants of the crown.
To persons who have been in the habit of travelling along the great English lines of railway it is quite unnecessary to refute the assertion that the convenience of the passengers is not attended to. The luxury of travelling is a journey in the mail-carriage from Liverpool to London. When we remember like some dream of our childhood, the coach that used to spend 24 hours on the way--the jolts that every minute shook the aching bones of the passengers--rousing them from the snatch of sleep--if sleep it could be called --that seemed almost to make longer the tedious hours of the night--the constantly recurring memento, "change coachman, sir," that assailed you at every stage--the door of the coach held open to admit the cold blast, while at the same time each passenger slowly unloosed his complicated muffling to reach the silver piece deposited in the inner fold of his voluminous vestments--when we remember all these as sufferings which once were to be endured to accomplished the removal of our precious selves from Dublin to London--and when we find ourselves now wheeled along just as much at our ease as if we were sitting here in our editorial throne--leaving Liverpool after a breakfast made more hearty by the slight heaving of the packet in the night--and reaching London in time for a dinner at a fashionable hour, with not enough of fatigue even to sharpen the appetite--we are almost led to believe that we have lived through centuries instead of years, or that some mighty magician has been upon the earth, and made the changes of years equal to those of centuries.
Whenever we hear of any one complaining of the inconveniences of railway travelling, we always wish that we had it in our power to sentence him for the rest of his days to travel by the common road.
The interest of every railway company is obviously to present as many inducements as possible to travel, and, of course, in every way possible to accommodate the public. Government officers would have no interest in the matter. The fact is, that every possible attention is at present paid to the comfort of passengers--we do not know how the case might be had government the management of the railways. The infamous arrangements with regard to the hours of starting the mail packets from Liverpool--arrangements which, to the travellers from London to Dublin, make the facilities of the railway almost useless in point of time, do not speak much for the anxiety of government carriers to accommodate the public.
We hear occasionally, it is true, of complaints of ill treatment on the railways; but considering the disposition of travellers for short distances to be dissatisfied, and how very genteel a thing it is to find fault, these complaints are not numerous. One old gentleman may write a letter in the newspapers, complaining that, owing to an overloaded train, he was full seven hours in travelling from Liverpool to Birmingham; some young exquisite is deeply mortified that the guard did not touch his hat when speaking to him, and remarks, no doubt, on the incivility of monopolists. Not an old maid who attempts to pass a cargo of soft goods under the name of luggage, but can complain of the extortion of private companies when she is made pay. Every valetudinarian who breaks the carriage window in his fretful efforts to close it, and catches cold from the shattered pane, is ready to lay the blame of his sore throat upon the monopoly of private enterprise. We have actually heard the smoker of cigars, when prevented from indulging his favourite propensity to the annoyance of all his fellow-passengers, declaim most patriotically against the impolicy of trusting any body of directors with the power of making laws.
We suspect that were a railway opened under the immediate control of government, the catalogue of complaints for one month would exceed the entire list since the opening of railways in Britain.
We sum up, therefore, as we began. Private enterprise ought not to be interfered with. Let government execute as many railways as they please--the more the better for the country--but let the spirit of commercial speculation be left to do whatever it can accomplish. Whenever government assistance appears in the solid and substantial shape of a grant for the accomplishment of any given line of railway, it must be hailed as a boon; but if it appear not in the shape of any definite plan of execution, but with a veto upon all efforts except those of the state, it becomes then not a boon but a mischief: it opens the door for jobbing without end, and if it does not indefinitely postpone the introduction of railways into Ireland, it leaves it absolutely to the caprice of government to what extent, or to what parts of the country, they shall be made. If government come forward with an offer of actual assistance, all is fair and right; but if they propose to crush and check the efforts of private enterprise, we call on every one interested in the prosperity of Ireland to oppose their plan.
Unless, indeed, they are prepared to make railways as general as common roads, and arrange a plan by which they will be brought from every village to the next.
It is obvious that this is impossible in the present state of railway science; and until this is the case, they cannot be treated as subject to the principles that regulate the highways of the country.
The duty of government towards railways in Ireland is two fold, that of assistance and of control. That some degree of control should be exercised is admitted by all. The fares should be placed under some regulation, and the hours of departure, and rate of travelling. Regulations like these, are no interference with the just claims of private enterprise. When the nature of an enterprise requires the sanction or authority of the state, it is perfectly fair in return for the sanction to exact any reasonable stipulation for the public good.
It might perhaps be wise in every railway bill, to insert a clause, that government should, at any time, have the power of purchasing it at a certain price. It is evident, however, that this price should be fixed much higher than first-cost--or such a clause would operate as a complete prohibition to the investiture of capital in these undertakings.
We should not, we confess, be very much opposed to the appointment of a parliamentary board of control, to exercise some degree of authority over all the railways of the empire.
With regard to the assistance, we have already said, that however it is to be given, it ought not to check the exertions of private enterprise. It might be given by government executing some lines of railway which they might select. It has also been proposed that loans should be granted at a low rate of interest, to companies who had previously expended an equal sum on the works. To this in some shape or other, we suspect the project of government assistance will come at last. Were such a plan adopted now, it would ensure the completion of a very considerable extent of railway in Ireland. Half a million of money applied in this way, would secure the opening up of some of the most important districts in Ireland.
We have felt it impossible, within the limits of this article, to do any thing like justice to the subject. We have endeavoured, briefly, to advert to some plain practical principles, which may be useful in the present state of the question. We may, perhaps, return to the subject again, when we have both more space and more time at our command. Of the immense importance of the subject to Ireland we feel no doubt. The effects that would follow the completion of even three or four great lines of railway, it is impossible to calculate. Let us take for example the line to Athlone, we confess our favourite line of all that has been projected; this would open up the entire province of Connaught, to the English market. The rich pasture lands of Galway and Roscommon, on which it is now impossible to fatten cattle, on account of their distance from the market, would at once become available. Ballinasloe or Athlone might be the slaughter houses for the Dublin, the Liverpool, or even the London market. The navigation of the Shannon thus connected with the Irish channel, would give an unbroken chain of steam communication either by land or water from London to the remotest point of that noble river.
The agricultural and mineral resources of Connaught would, no doubt, be fully developed--her plains cultivated, and the treasures that are now buried under her hills be brought to light. The fisheries on the western coast would become a source of profitable employment to her people, and a supply of food to the entire empire. It might, perhaps, be like speculation to look forward to ulterior results. To the connection of some one of the western harbours with this chain of railway communication, and the establishment of a great packet station for the United States, for Canada, and the West Indies. Ireland would then be the highway from the old to the new world --the wilds of Connemara would be a picturesque resting place for travellers who had a day to spend on their way from Petersburgh or Vienna to New York--the magnificent but now deserted bays of Blacksod or Clew would be crowded with masts, from which would float the flags of all nations--docks and quays would line the edge of this deserted beech, and the busy bustle of merchandise would be where now the sea-fowl has his undisturbed retreat. Pity it would be--we think we hear "some gentle lover of the wilds of nature" exclaim--"pity to spoil the solitude and romance of such a spot"--perhaps it might be so--but it would give bread to the people who are now famishing amid the barren magnificence of their cliffs--and fortunately the coast of Connaught has miles of wild grandeur, and many a bold headland and bay where the everlasting waves may dash undisturbed at the base of the gigantic cliffs--sacred retreats, where the lovers of nature and the sea-mew may keep company together, in the satisfactory assurance that there neither railways nor steam ships can ever come.
We have selected this one line, because we believe it to furnish the most striking instance of the benefits that may be expected from the construction of railways in Ireland; but we believe it scarcely possible to exaggerate the advantages that must every where follow their adoption. The change which the mighty power of steam is producing over the entire surface of human society would no where be more useful than in Ireland. Just, however, in proportion to our conviction of the importance of the construction of railways to our country, is our sensitive jealousy of any measure that may affect their progress. It must be confessed that we have some right to be jealous of government interference. Three years ago a commission was issued to facilitate the introduction of railways into Ireland, and the effect has been that enterprise has been paralysed--that nothing at all has been done. This experience, we confess, has made us cautious; we dread another commission--a pretext under which all private efforts may be checked, while all public ones are indefinitely postponed. If government come forward with an offer to construct ten miles of railway in any one direction in Ireland, we will hail their offer as a boon; but if it is to be a repetition of the last commission--a condemnation of private, instead of an offer of public effort--then in the name of our country we say to the government: leave us to the exertions of private enterprise, but do not curse us a second time with your mischievous interference.
 This note was first made public in the columns of the Dublin Evening Mail. As the existence of a copy of the report containing any such note, has been denied, we take the liberty of mentioning, that there is a copy of the report containing the suppressed note, in our possession. To the Evening Mail the public are largely indebted for its conduct on this occasion.
 The line to Athlone, like the lines to Kilkenny and Drogheda, had been preoccupied by a company actually formed. If one half of what is asserted with regard to the conduct of the commissioners towards this line be true, their report deserves the most unqualified condemnation which it is possible for language to convey.
We cannot pledge ourselves for the accuracy of the statements that have been made to us; but we have been told, that a strong recommendation of the line to Athlone was actually inserted in the report, and, a very short time previous to its appearance, (it is said after the report was actually printed,) was suppressed, and an unqualified condemnation substituted. It is also said, that the directors of this company are in possession of evidence to substantiate this before parliament.
It has also been stated, and never contradicted, that during the preparation of the report, overtures were made to the parties who had obtained possession of the line to Athlone, to give it over into the hands of the parties to whom the celebrated note proposed to consign all the railways in Ireland; these overtures were refused.
If these facts be satisfactorily established, as we are credibly informed they can be, they will go far to justify the most vehement invective with which the commissioners have been assailed.
 The mail packet from Liverpool to Dublin leaves the former place a few hours before the arrival of the first train from London--this train also carries the mail; passengers are, therefore, obliged to wait in Liverpool twenty-one hours, until the next evening's packet. By delaying the sailing of the packet, and expediting the departure of the mail from London, passengers could be in London one morning, and arrive in Dublin early the next.