HC Deb 02 March 1885 vol 294 cc1777-9

asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether he had seen the following telegram from Philadelphia, published in The Times: With regard to the Suakin-Berber railway, contracts have been recently made with Messrs. Worthington, of New York, for pumping engines, for pipe lines, to be laid alongside the railway to conduct the water supply for locomotives and troops across the desert. Two 4-inch pipes are to be laid underneath the sands for the entire route—260 miles. Pumping stations with tanks and engines are to be placed every 30 miles, two engines at each station, in case one breaks down. These will force water along at 2,000 lbs. pressure. This is the same system as is used in American pipe lines conducting petroleum from the interior to the seaboard. Water will be delivered at the end of the route at the rate of 150 gallons a-minute. One engine has already been shipped to England. Three will be shipped in the course of the week, and about 20 will be sent altogether. The work on them continues night and day, and will be completed in a month. American firms also expect to supply the pipes? The hon. Member further asked whether the contents of the telegram were true; whether Her Majesty's Government considered it patriotic to give their sanction to the inference that manufacturers in England could not make pumps; whether they were aware that the engineers of this country, if asked, could have produced any number of pumps, ready made, and fully capable of doing the work required; and, whether the Government would undertake that no contract for pipes should be sent to America?


The hon. Member has asked me more Questions than I can conveniently answer. I can, however, assure him that this country is in a position to make pumps. The facts are that a contract has been made in this country for the apparatus required for pumping water along the first 50 miles of the Suakin-Berber railway. The pipes are being made here; but the contractors, having had great experience with the American pumping engines, preferred that the six required for this portion of the line—and costing less than l-10th of the whole sum for that portion—should be bought in New York. As these engines were ready, and time was of great importance, it was thought best to accede to their wishes. There is no present intention of buying other engines abroad.


Did the Government ask the manufacturers in this country whether they had engines ready?

[No reply.]


asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether the route for the projected Railway from Berber to Suakin has ever been surveyed; and, if so, by whom; and, whether he can state what will be the probable cost of the same, and the approximate time within which its completion may be expected?


I can only refer the hon. Member to my reply on Friday last to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Baron Henry De Worms), that the Suakin-Berber route has never been surveyed for the purposes of railway construction; that no estimate of cost can be formed beyond an approximation per mile for the cost of permanent way, material, and plant; and that the date of completion must depend on military contingencies which could not be foreseen.


asked, when the House would be asked to provide the means for the construction of the Suakin-Berber railway?


, in reply, said, that the Supplementary Estimates would shortly be laid on the Table. These Supplementary Estimates would contain a Vote for a portion of the funds necessary for the construction of the railway, and a discussion upon the subject would, perhaps, most conveniently be raised when those Estimates were brought forward.


asked, whether the noble Marquess would lay on the Table of the House a Copy of the contract entered into with Messrs. Lucas and Aird, having reference to the railway?


said, he must ask for Notice of the Question.