Monday, 16 June 2014

Canal Cuttings (25)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 

Newcastle Morning Herald
7th September 1904


With few if any exceptions, the United Kingdom owes its lines of inland communication to private as distinct from public enterprise. Previous to the abolition of the turnpike trusts. Great Britain occupied the unique position of being the only European nation where the State did not provide roads, waterways, or railways at public cost, or reserved to itself any direct control over the means of communications within its frontiers. It has been urged that, after the assumption of public control of the highways a logical sequence would have been the purchase of railways and the system of inland navigation, with the substitution of State for private ownership. Foreign precedents are largely in favour of such a solution to the question of Inland transport. France which has always possessed and regulated her highways, largely owns and controls the canal system, and administers - though not very profitably - and a considerable proportion her railways. Germany owns the greater part of her railways and canals and controls the remainder. 

The same may he said with more or less the same exactness of all other European States, and especially of Russia. The Government of the United States has no control or official interest in the railways but on the other hand the individual States forming the Union have vested interests in the vast majority of the canals, while the improvement of rivers in State business in our colonies and dependences, especially in Canada, the Cape, Australia and India, railways and waterways, as well as high roads, are provided mainly at public expense, and are administered by public officials, or otherwise managed by the State. Omitting the Manchester Ship Canal which is a work apart, the end of 1898, when the last returns were issued by the Board of Trade, the canal mileage in the United Kingdom was nearly one fifth that of the railways, but the cost of the former was little over one twenty sixth of the latter. 

In the same year 1898 the goods tonnage per open mile of canal amounted, including those controlled by the railways to 10,000 tons, while on the railways, when reduced to the equivalent single track length. The tonnage per open mile was only 11,000, not a large difference considering the neglected and depressed condition of the canal and the crowded state of the other. On the free canals the tonnage per open mile was 11,000, and on the controlled canals only 5200 tons. The figures bear eloquent testimony in favour of canal carriage for certain classes of traffic, even when spending to the full force on railway competition, and also to the restrictive policy of railway management if the latter should permit the navigations they control to carry the same tonnage as the free canals, at present rates they would earn enough to pay a dividend of nearly 4 per cent. on the total capital of £11,500,000 at which the canal properties stand in the railways companies books. At the same time they would probably relieve some 1200 miles of more or less congested lines from the worst paying classes of goods traffic. There is, indeed, no essential reason why these canals even without much improvement, should not carry double and treble the average amount transported by the free canals and with good financial results.

Again its the same story, railway companies who owned waterways starved the canals of maintenance. Even though maintaining both systems would have significantly increased their profitability and operating capability. Nationalisation of the canals and railways is proposed in the text, however it would be a further 45 years or so before that idea came to fruition. By which time it was far to late for the canals.

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