§ 38. Mr. NEWBOULD
asked the Minister of Transport. whether he can make a statement as to congestion of goods traffic en the railways and the measures he has taken for dealing with it?
§ Sir E. GEDDES
As the hon. Member is aware, many causes have contributed to the existing congestion on the railways, and it is not possible to make a comprehensive statement. I am, however, having a short summary of the principal causes printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
The following is the summary referred to: Delay in transit of goods by railways at the present time is due to an accumulation of adverse factors which are difficult to explain and deal with adequately in a brief statement, but the principal causes may be stated as congestion at terminals and ports; shortage of empty wagons; diversion to railways of traffic which before the war was carried by coastwise vessels; and behind all these the subsidised railway rates, and the adjustment of conditions necessitated by the introduction of the eight hours day. In addition there is at this moment the dislocation caused by the railway strike.
The congestion at terminals and ports is due partly to lack of cartage facilities for clearing the traffic, and to meet this difficulty over 1.000 Government-owned motor lorries are being placed at the disposal of railway companies for the purpose of carting traffic to and from railway terminals. In addition, Government-owned lorries are being utilised under the 22 scheme recently announced for relieving congestion at certain ports at which local committees have been formed to direct the use of the lorries.
Automatically the capacity of railways and ports was reduced by the introduction of the eight-hours day and the measures necessary to adjust the conditions and retrieve this lost capacity include the employment of additional labour and additional appliances, steps which are dependent upon the men and appliances being available
As regards the shortage of empty wagons: the 30,000 wagons which were sent to France are being returned to. this country as rapidly as possible and already about 10,000 have been returned. It is hoped that the average rate of return will be increased very shortly to about 900 per week. In addition, arrangements have been made to hand over to the railway companies about 8,000 wagons which were constructed for the War Office as soon as they can be got back from France.
During the War the maintenance of wagons, was necessarily allowed to fall into arrears, and every effort is being made to expedite repairs.
It is, however, not so much a shortage of wagons as a shortage of empty wagons, and the situation would be eased if traders would avoid keeping wagons under load for extended periods. Traders are urged to assist by releasing wagons at the earliest possible moment.
The continuance of pre-war railway rates for goods traffic has had the effect of diverting to rail traffic which was previously conveyed by coastwise vessels. Pending the consideration by -the Rates Advisory Committee appointed under the Ministry of Transport Act of the question of raising railway freight rates, a scheme is in force under which traffic imported foreign and traffic intended for export foreign can be conveyed by coastwise vessels at rates equivalent to the charges by railway between the same places, the difference being paid out of public funds. By this temporary expedient railways are being relieved to a certain extent of the traffic which is normally carried by coastwise services.