Expensive Economies

CHAMBERS’S JOURNAL September 1 1906

Expensive Economies

CHAMBERS’S JOURNAL September 1 1906

Expensive Economies


The examples supplied in the following article are taken mainly from the world of transportation. The economies introduced by railway and steamboat companies at enormous expense seem to be paradoxical.

TIME is far more precious nowadays than it was in the leisurely days of our grandfathers. Labor, too, grows more costly year by year. Proofs of how keenly these facts are appreciated can be seen on every side, but more particularly in the enormous sums which the great corporate bodies who control locomotion and production are willing to lay out with the object of future economies of these two commodities. So immense are these sums that the ordinarv observer positively gasps at their magnitude, and vaguely wonders “how it can pay.” Yet the practical business men who are at the head of these great companies would certainly not incur such expenditure if the prospects did not justify them. Evidently they have a healthy faith in the future ; and those pessimists who croak over evils to come, especially those who prophesy the speedy decay of the British Empire, should observe what is going on around them, and take courage from what is before their eyes.

With railway companies the allimportant problem is to shorten their train mileage. A striking example of the enormous sacrifices which a company is willing to make for the purpose of reducing the length of a journey is afforded by the newT route to Ireland upon which the Great Western has been engaged for more than eight years past. Hitherto travelers by the Great Western Railway to Ireland have traveled via New Milford and Waterford. The sea journey in this case is ninety-eight nautical

miles, and takes six hours to cover. No less than sixty years ago the company, realizing the fact that the distance between Fishguard Bay and Rosslare was considerably less than that between the Irish coast and New Milford, obtained parliamentary powers to construct a line to Fishguard ; but upon examination the scheme was found to be beyond the resources of the engineers of the time. It was not until 1895 that the company, having acquired the undertakings of the Waterford and Wexford Railway Company and of the Rosslare Harbor Commissioners, obtained the further power to run steamers between Fish guard and Rosslare, and began work in earnest.

It is no light undertaking, even for a wealthy corporation like a railway company, to construct two new harbors ; and the Fishguard or Goodwick harbor presents difficulties beyond the ordinary. Where the present harbor works are situated mountainous cliffs of the hardest vitreous rock dropped sheer into deep water, not even a footpath running between cliff and sea. Blasting had to be resorted to on the largest scale, and every day an average of fifteen hundred tons of rock are torn from the cliff-side and either used for the great breakwater, which will be two thousand feet long, or are crushed for screenings and ballast. Nearly five hundred men are constantly at work, and by the time that the harbor and breakwater are completed more than two million, tons of the mountainside will have disappeared. The magnitude of

the undertaking may perhaps be better comprehended when it is stated that up to date the company has expended some three hundred and eighty thousand pounds on GoodwTck Harbor alone. This sum does not include the money spent on building the new railway from Leath to Llangennech, on Rosslare Harbor, upon shortening the Great Western main line between Wootton Bassett and Patchway, upon the great improvements in the Irish service, or upon the magnificent twenty-two-knot turbine steamers which are being built for the new service.

When all is complete, which will be within another few months, the Great Western will be able to start passengers from Paddington at eight in the morning and land them at Rosslare at half-past five in the afternoon. The sea journey will be only three hours, for the distance from Fishguard to Rosslare is but fiftyfour knots as against the ninety-eight knot crossing between New Milford and Waterford. Not only that, but the new Great Western Railway route will be considerably the shortest and most direct in existence between London and Cork, for from Rosslare to Cork the railway journey will occupy only four hours.

Another railway company which considers no sacrifice too great in pursuit of future economy is the North-Eastern. The North-Eastern justly boasts of the heaviest goods traffic of any line of its mileage. Now, goods traffic is the most difficult form of business that a railway company has to deal with. This is easily understandable, for goods traffic is not a constant quantity, yet the company cannot, of course, wait until they can fill a train before starting it ; they must keep up a

regular service. The consequence is that trains of forty to sixty halffilled trucks are running between the principal centres three or four times a day, and the resultant waste in coal, labor, and wear and tear is very considerable.

The North-Eastern determined that this sort of thing must be put a stop to, and their plan for so doing is a most interesting, ingenious, and—incidentally—an immensely costly one. It is no less than the construction of an immense sorting station for the whole of their goods traffic. The place selected for this station is Northallerton, which is almost in the centre of the company’s system, and lies just half way between London and Edinburgh. Here the company have purchased a vast area of land, a triangle three miles long and two and a half miles across its base, and have begun operations by building five hundred cottages for their workmen. To this collecting-ground will be brought trains from all the large centres, such as Newcastle, the two Hartlepools, Darlington, and Middlesbrough in the north, and Leeds, Hull, and Normanton in the south ; and here the trucks will be sorted and marshalled into proper order, and the newly made-up trains despatched to their proper destinations.

The principle upon which this sorting is to be managed is beautiful in its simplicity. It is what is known as the “gravitation” method, and entirely dispenses with the use of shunting-engines. As each train arrives it will be hauled by a steel rope worked by an electrically driven capstan up to the top of a long incline, technicallv known as a “turtleback.” When it has reached the top there lies before it a great number of sidings spreading out in an immense

fan from a common centre. The train is then broken up, and as the trucks run bv force of gravity down the far side of the “turtle-back,” the men in charge of the points switch them one by one into whichever siding corresponds with that truck’s ultimate destination. Thus, trucks from halfa-dozen different trains, but all bound for the same destination, will be made up into one train. Then an army of men will tranship the goods from half-filled trucks into large, well packed ones, and off goes the new train straight to its proper destination. The immense economy thus effected will be apparent to every one. Lord Ridley, the chairman of the company, states that it will reduce train mileage by two-thirds, save the upkeep of some hundreds of engines, and materially lessen the wear and tear of the permanent way. The cost of the new scheme is estimated at no less than half a million ; but the money will be well spent if the result is, as expected, an eventual saving to the company of eighty thousand pounds a year.

The railway coal bill of this country is about five millions a year. The employment of electric power on all our railways would halve this gigantic sum. Our companies know this ; but as most of them are already staggering under excessive capital charges, they cannot afford to “scrap” their present plant and go in for even partial electrification. In this respect American railways are ahead of our own. One of the wealthiest railway companies in the world is the New York Central ; and this company, fully appreciating the immense economv of electric power, has recently adopted the most gigantic and costly electrification scheme on record. It has already carried its

electric zone fifty to sixty miles out on almost every side of New York. Trains approaching the city are now picked up at that radius by electric locomotives of three thousand horsepower, capable of a speed of eighty miles an hour. The company also works all its suburban traffic by electricity, on the system that each suburban car has its own motive power. This obviates the necessity of using a full-sized locomotive and a full train crew to handle a small train with perhaps only a few dozen passengers. The cost of this transformation has been appalling in its magnitude. It approaches twenty million pounds. Such an expenditure speaks volumes for the company’s faith in electricity as the motive power of the future.

Before abandoning the subject of railway economics some mention must be made of the tremendous feat recently achieved by the Southern Pacific Railway. When the old Central Pacific Railway, now absorbed by the Southern Pacific, was first built, the engineers found that the Great Salt Lake of Utah lay directly in the way of the new railway. It is hardly probable that the idea of bridging this inland sea ever occurred to them. They carried the line round the northern shore. This added fortythree miles to the distance, and necessitated some tremendously heavy gradients. When the Southern Pacific bought the line they saw at once that the expense of taking trains over all these extra miles and of keeping the permanent way in repair was excessive, and they resolved to bridge the lake from Ogden to Luein. The lake at this point is divided into two arms, one of which is nearly twentyfive miles broad. We have here no space to give even the barest details of this colossal undertaking. The

Great Salt Lake is practically an inland ocean, subject to terrific storms. During the progress of the work, over which three thousand men toiled for more than three years, more than twenty thousand pounds’ worth of material and machinery was lost by storm alone.

A pit was found in the bottom of the lake which swallowed two thousand five hundred tons of material a day for thirty days, and it took in all six months before the pit could be filled sufficiently to bear the foundations. The total length of bridge is thirty-four miles, and there are nearly ten miles of embankment besides. The cost was over two millions. The achievement is completely successful, and the resultant saving pays interest on the capital sunk at the rate of about 6 per cent.

The rapid increase in size of ocean steamers both for freight and passenger traffic is directly due to motives of economy ; and monsters like the Amerika, the Oceanic, and Celtic, though each cost a huge fortune to build, rapidly repay the money laid out upon them. A twenty-thousandton ship pays better than two separate ten thousand tonners, because she needs less than two-thirds the crew and staff necessary to man the two smaller boats. She also shows an economy in coal consumption ; while the saving in dock, pilot, and other similar dues is very considerable.

Among the most interesting object lessons in marine economy are the new gigantic five, six, and even seven mast schooners which are once more bringing sails—not long ago considered practically extinct—back to the ocean. When the project of building these gigantic schooners—of which the American Lawson is perhaps the fin-

est example—was first mooted there was a general sneer. Such a ship, it was said, would be hugely costly to construct, would be unmanageable from sheer size, and could not possibly compete with steam. But Captain John Crowley, builder and owner of the Lawson, has shown how completely false were all these predictions. This seven-ton steel-built seven-master is provided with small steam engines for hoisting and lowering sail, and with steam steering gear. Although she can carry eight thousand tons dead weight, she needs a crew of only sixteen men, including her master, engineers and cook. With a good breeze she can do fifteen knots as against the average tramp steamer’s eight. She has no coal bill, and her builder’s faith in her as an economical money-earning investment has been absolutely justified.

Mining companies are often called upon to lay out immense sums with a view to future economies. Perhaps the most astonishing instance of this kind is the gigantic engineering operation now being carried out at Cripple Creek, Colorado. Partly with a view to draining the great mines without the expense of pumping, but chiefly in order to get the ore out cheaply, a tunnel no less than fourteen miles long is being bored through solid rock. When this is completed the ore will be run in trucks down a gentle slope on to the plain below, and thus will be saved the present excessive expense of transporting it over a lofty range of mountains. The cost of this undertaking will exceed a million and a half, which argues great faith on the part of the directors of the company in the resources of their mines.

Here in England we have a similar example of a very heavy expenditure

being incurred by a mining company with a view to future profit and economy. This is no less than an alteration of the Cumberland coast line with the object of extracting iron ore lying beneath the sea bed. In 1899 the Hodbarrow Iron Mining Company discovered that they had worked out all the veins on the land side, but when they began to cut rich ore under the sea a bed of quicksand was tapped and the works were flooded. Nothing dismayed, the company erected a mighty concrete barrier in the form of a bow seven thousand feet long, which has turned one hundred and seventy acres of sea into dry land. The difficulties incurred in building the wall, which is some two hundred feet thick at the base and eighty feet at the top, were enormous. In one place an acre of soft clav was found, into which steel piles had to be driven a distance of forty feet in order to secure a foundation. The wrork cost fifty thousand pounds, but the result is that the bold miners will be able to drive their workings six hundred feet seaward without danger, and to tap a mass of ore estimated at five million tons.

Scores of similar instances might be cited. In South Staffordshire it is proposed to spend no less than eighty thousand pounds in pumping dry the water-logged collieries in which experts declare lie forty million tons of

coal. At the Dawdon Colliery, near Seaham harbor, an immense sum will be expended to clear the mines of water. Here a German firm is at work using a secret freezing process which makes the wet soil as hard as rock and keeps it so while the shaft can be tubbed.

The American Standard Oil Company is spending sixty million dollars (twelve million pounds) in pipe lines for the purpose of bringing their oil cheaply down from the oil fields to the coast, and so dispensing with railway transportation ; while in South Russia an oil pipe line four hundred and eighteen miles long, with a capacity of forty-eight thousand gallons an hour, has been constructed running from the Caspian oil fields down to a Black Sea port. The eight-inch steel pipe used cost eight shillings a yard.

To give one last instance, the Edinburgh Corporation not long since spent nearhsix hundred thousand pounds on the finest and largest gas works in the world, which can carbonize a thousand tons of coal a day. The sum seems prodigious ; but when one hears that the yearlv saving over the old work amounts to fifty thousand pounds, and that therefore the new gas works will pay for themselves within twelve years, no one can assert that the city fathers were not justified in their undertaking.

It is not by regretting what is irreparable that true work is to be done, but by making the best of what we are. It is not by complaining that we have not the right tools, but by using wrell the tools we have.—F. W. Robertson.