This article from the popular Victorian periodical argues that the “proprietors” of railway companies had broken their promises to serve the public not only by providing a safe, convenient means of transportation but also by not charging excessively for it. The ILN argument is based upon the fact that Parliament had provided railways with certain privileges in return for certain promises, which the paper claims have been violated by charging higher than agreed upon prices for tickets. The decorated initial “M” comes from the original article. The following text was created from the web version with ABBYY FineReader. — George P. Landow
terial as is the Railway System, generally to the interests of the community, it has of late acquired a peculiar interest, in consequence of the appointment of a Select Committee of the House of Commons to inquire into the mode in which Railways are managed. The present is, therefore, a fit opportunity for returning to the subject, to which we lately directed the attention of our readers.
When the various leading Railway Companies were first formed, the public hailed their formation, because they were led to believe, that the principal object which their originators had in view, was the accommodation and benefit of the community. The proprietors disclaimed all intention of seeking to obtain anything more than the ordinary rate of interest for the capital invested in these undertakings. And they assured the public, times without number, that they would, by a reduction of fares, give them the benefit of whatever sue ecu should attend their enterprise.
In this, the public have been grossly deceived. The railway proprietors, instead of reducing their fares, have kept them up at the rates which had been filed on, before it could be ascertained what would be the result of the new experiment. The leading lines have proved more successful than the most sanguine had ventured to anticipate. But the benefit is exclusively enjoyed by the shareholders. The public have derived no advantage from the success of these undertakings. Instead of lowering the fares, as the country had been led to expect, the Railway Directors have proposed dividing the unexpectedly large revenue derived from their respective lines among the shareholders.
Hence, instead of the fares being reduced, as they might have been, and ought to have been, to the extent of from one-third to one-half, they have thought proper to keep up the fares at the rate originally fixed, when all was uncertainty as to the success or otherwise of the new experiment, and to divide the profits among themselves. The Railway shareholders are consequently, on the leading lines, dividing among themselves from six to ten percent on the price of the original shares. And hence the fact that the original £100 shares are, in some instances, at from £130 to £140 premium; while other shares on which £50 only have been paid, are at present at a premium of from £78 to £80.
These are stubborn facts; they are facts that speak for themselves. They disclose a state of matters constituting a monopoly of the very worst kind. The Directors of the leading Railway Companies having secured a monopoly of conveyance, act towards the public as they think proper. They make their own terms because they know the public have no remedy. They know that the public, having no other means of conveyance between the places through which their lines pass (the coaches being knocked off the road), are completely at their mercy. And hence, the exorbitance of their charges—charges so exorbitant as to prove that their own pecuniary advantage, and not the accommodation of the public, has been the leading object the shareholders have had in view in the formation of the various railroads which now intersect all parts of the kingdom.
The public are grossly and grievously wronged in this matter. And they have a right to look to the Legislature for redress. The Railway Companies having broken faith with the public, it is the duty of Parliament to interfere, and see that the public be righted. Passengers ought to be travelling in the leading lines at from 50 to 75 per cent cheaper than they are at present. Extravagant prices, as the result of monopolies in corn, and in all other commodities, are now everywhere denounced; and why not the exorbitant prices consequent on the monopoly in the conveyance from one part of the country to another, which is enjoyed by most of the railroad companies? The country has a right to raise its voice against the deception which is thus being practised upon it. And as Parliament has the power to apply the remedy, as it is within its province to redress the wrong, we trust the country will not raise its voice in vain. The committee lately appointed to inquire into the state of matters connected with Railway Companies have had large powers conferred upon them by Parliament. The monopolist-character, and exorbitant charges, of several of these companies are clearly legitimate subjects of inquiry for this committee. The public look to the gentlemen composing that committee to do their duty in the matter. We trust the country will not be disappointed, that one of the results of the appointment of the committer will be the extinction of railway monopolies, by fixing a moderate scale of charges.
- The Select Committee of 1844 on Railways
- Railway mania
- “For Godsake be done with railways and shares!” — the Railway Panics of the 1840s
- Hudson the Railway King
“Railway Monopoly.” Illustrated London News 4 (24 February 1844): 48. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 4 December 2015.
Last modified 4 December 2015