Tuesday, 23 October 1928
Seanad Éireann Debate
“That the Seanad requests the Government to approach the Great Southern Railways Company with a view to the discontinuance of the singling of various portions of the Company's line pending the consideration of the matter by the Railway Tribunal before which it is to be brought.”
I regret that the action of the Great Southern Railways directors has made it incumbent on me to raise this matter here. I would very much prefer to say what I have to say before the Railway Tribunal. I have the greatest sympathy with the directors of the Great Southern Railways Company, and I do not want to cast any reflection on the work which they propose to do. I believe if they handled the motor services  and the bus traffic with more foresight and better judgment two or three years ago they would not be in the position in which they find themselves to-day. My sole and only reason for taking up this matter of the singling of the railway lines is the effect that it will have on the live-stock trade of the country. I feel that I can speak with some experience upon that question. I have attended the loading of live stock at stations where there were single and double tracks, and I have travelled on cattle trains on single and double tracks. I say that the singling of the line from Galway to near Dublin, and also the singling of the Waterford line, is a most retrograde step which the directors will regret if it is put into operation.
One way traffic is the whole trend of modern regulations by traffic authorities to-day. Walk up O'Connell Street and you will find a white line dividing the footpath and an arrow pointing the way to pedestrians and instructing them as to the side to keep. The railway companies are doing the reverse of that. Directors of the railways will say, and have said, that if they are to give cheaper freights for the carriage of merchandise and live stock they must economise by singling the lines.
My reply to that is that I have considered the question, and I say with all the force at my command that cheaper freights will not compensate the live-stock trade for a bad and inefficient line. We certainly want cheaper freights, but, above all, we want quick and efficient transport. Senator Sir Walter Nugent stated in his communication, on the singling of this line, to the Mullingar Town Commissioners, that with the new system of loops and signalling the railways would give a better service even with an increase of fifty per cent. in the traffic. I cannot see how that can be done, and I think it is not possible to do it. This system of looping will entail a lot of delay. It will make it necessary for cattle trains to be shunted and to lie up at sidings, and I am afraid this looping of the loop will be an expensive pastime for the livestock trade of the country. I am firmly convinced that the trick-of-the-loop will not succeed.
 In my experience, most of the damage which occurs in the transit of livestock is caused by lying up at sidings. The cattle then become restless, lie down, and are trampled upon. It will be impossible to avoid that, in putting trains in on the sidings to lie up when it will be necessary for some other trains to pass.
The Great Southern Railways are certainly financially in a bad position, if all that we hear is true, but this economy which they propose to carry out, I am afraid, will not relieve the situation. To my mind, it is like a drowning man grasping at a straw, and the new stunt of singling the line and of loops will just about have the same effect as the straw would have in the case of the drowning man. I put a certain proposition to the Chairman of the Great Southern Railways on behalf of the cattle trade last April. At that time I proposed that he should lease, hire or buy boats from the London, Midland and Scottish Railway — they have a number of them lying idle — and that he should run a service from Dublin to Birkenhead, and from Dublin to Glasgow, to start with. I pointed out to him that, in my opinion, all the live-stock and merchandise would be booked through to the other side by these boats, and I guaranteed on behalf of the cattle trade that we would canvass the traders of every town and village in Ireland — I said that we had members in all these places—to instruct the merchants and manufacturers on the other side to send their goods by the Great Southern boats. This would ensure return cargoes. But the Great Southern Railways are, I am afraid, like the rest of the transport companies with which they are mixed up. They are possibly the weakest member of the Transport Conference. They are held in the grip of the Transport Conference, and they cannot move without the consent and the acquiescence of the majority of that Conference, which is controlled by the steamship companies —by the combine, in every way. For that reason my proposal was turned down. If that proposal were adopted it would go a very much longer way to put the Railways Company in a sound financial position than the proposal to single the lines. The motion states that  we want an opportunity to lay the case before the Railway Tribunal, and I ask the House to agree to it.
Mr. DOWDALL: I beg to second the motion. I am not conversant with the West, but when this proposal, which seemed to me a sweeping and rather important one, was mooted I consulted some of the largest traders in the West, and unanimously they held the view that has been expressed by Senator Counihan, that cattle and sheep bought at the fairs would be delayed in transit if there were a single line, notwithstanding what system might be instituted. Having regard to the opinion of these men, who are really big practical traders, and who know the losses and injuries inflicted on them by delay, I was impressed by what they said to me. Further, if there was any development of trade in a commodity so perishable, let us say, as fish, any delay in transit of such a commodity on its way to the market would be very vital. In those circumstances I think the motion which Senator Counihan has introduced is deserving of support, and I beg to second it.
Sir WALTER NUGENT: I am rather glad that Senator Counihan has raised this question. I can assure him that the attitude of the Railways Company is to try to make the position perfectly clear and plain to everyone. I am very glad to have this opportunity of explaining our position to members of the Seanad. The Senator referred principally to the cattle trade, but, of course, what governs one trade governs them all. He argued that we were singling the line on grounds of economy, quite regardless as to whether we gave good service or not. That would be an imbecile policy. What we are trying to do is to take advantage of modern improvements and appliances, to see what is being done in other countries, and to try to do the same, if not better, in Ireland. In Scotland the whole country is run by single lines, and they have not adopted even these modern improvements we propose to adopt. In America, as anyone knows who has been out there, the whole prairie country is covered by single lines, and thousands of cattle — compared with which our wretched contributions are a  mere bagatelle — are handled on the single lines, even under the old conditions. What are we doing? We are simply making use of modern inventions. We propose to furnish our lines with loops, which have been so much laughed at because they are not understood.
At present Senator Counihan complains of shunting. He told me privately that the main difficulty that the shippers had to contend with in moving their live stock was the shunting difficulty. Of course, Ballinasloe is not well done, because we have not got any loops yet. We have nothing except two lines, and when we relieve one we block the other. In view of the opinion of our experts, of the English companies, and of the best traffic experts we could get on the other side of the Channel, we are perfectly satisfied that we will give a service not only as good as but better than that we are giving at present. Then it was put to me not so much by the Senator as by others, that we would interfere with the development of the country. The other day we discussed Galway as a port of call. No one is more anxious to see it as a port of call, or a terminal port, than I am. We have set up a committee to try to see how we can increase the export of produce from Ireland, in conjunction with the English systems which are co-operating with us. If, at the same time, we are singling the line in such a way as to obstruct the traffic on this side so as to make the increased carriage of stock impossible, we would be lunatics. Do you suppose that the London, Midland and Scottish and the Great Western would cooperate with us if they thought we were doing that?
We realise and we are satisfied that the portions of the line we are singling will be able to carry any conceivable increase in traffic better than we are able to deal with it at present, that if we get 50 per cent. of an increase we can handle it just as well. What is the position? It is simply this, that we are not running the line economically at present. We have two lines, of which one is absolutely non-productive. All the work we are doing on this particular  section under discussion we can do as well or better under the other system. The greater part of our expenses arise from the purchase of rails, for which thousands and thousands go out of the country every year, and if we are using rails for non-useful purposes is it good commonsense? On the one side we are pressed for fair wages and we want to pay them. On the other side we are pressed to lower rates, and we want to do so. Can we do that if we take advantage of no modern inventions and go on as we always have gone on? People will say: “That is Scotland and this is Ireland. Nothing succeeds in Ireland.” We are not so simple. We think we are as capable of doing work properly in Ireland as people are in any other part of the world.
I want to try to meet all the points. When we meet all the arguments that are put up to us we are suddenly met with this attitude: “Oh, yes, that is quite all right. You have answered everything we have put up to you, but nevertheless this is a retrograde step.”—like “The Snark”—“I have said it, therefore it is so,” and no arguments to support it. We say that it is a progressive step, and we say that if we do not take it we are not doing our duty. If you take the other point of view and say that the railway company should not be run as a business concern that it should be run simply to give employment, regardless of whether it pays or not, the alternative would be the State control of the railways and to have the taxpayer pay for the luxury. But as long as the company is going to be run as a limited company, having due regard to the interests of the shareholders, the general public and the country at large, you must allow us to use our discretion as best we can.
I notice that this motion is a very mild one. It only asks the Seanad to request the Government to approach the Great Southern Railways Company with a view to the discontinuance of the singling of various portions of the country's line. All I want to say is that we are dealing with large sums of money. We have to spend a large amount of money for rail and sleepers every year. We have to make our arrangements. The new singling will  cost a good deal, and the looping will cost a good deal, and if you hold up a big scheme like that indefinitely you hold up an enormous amount of money. We cannot buy these things in a minute. We have to make our arrangements a long time ahead, and if we have to wait for an indefinite period it will be a very great loss, not only to the shareholders but to the country at large. That is the reason why we hope that the Minister will not agree to allow the postponement of this question. We have made our arrangements. To give you an idea of the magnitude of these matters, I may tell you that one penny in the ton in the price of coal means £1,000 a year to the Great Southern Railways Company. I hope I have met the various points that have been raised. I will not detain the House further.
MINISTER for INDUSTRY and COMMERCE (Mr. McGilligan): From the point of view of the Government I have only to say this, that so far, in all the agitation that there has been about the proposed singling of the line on certain sections, we have always been treating the situation just as to-day, when Senator Counihan speaks of delay. The root of the matter is in the promise of the Chairman of the Company that there will be no delay owing to the singling of the line. Any argument that rests on delay is absurd. On the other hand, Senator Dowdall stated that well-informed traders said something to him. I do not care what they say. The only people with a precise knowledge of what is going to happen are the railway directors, who can be brought to book before the Railway Tribunal.
Mr. McGILLIGAN: He probably had better sense than the Senator in leaving it as it was. This is the very question about which, if there was no Railway Tribunal, there would be a motion requesting the Government to set up a committee to examine the proposal. There is a committee — the Railway Tribunal — and I am asked now to put a demand before the Railway Tribunal that they should discontinue the singling of various portions of the Company's line pending the consideration of the matter by the Railway Tribunal, before which it is to be brought. This is the first time I have heard that it is to be brought before the Railway Tribunal. I had a very important deputation visiting me from the West more than a month ago. I then suggested that the Railway Tribunal was the better place to have this thrashed out, that it was only there that precise information could be got and examined. Some people said that economies could be achieved by this, and others said that economies would not result. There has been no attempt yet to bring it before the Railway Tribunal.
Looking back at my past course of conduct towards the railways company I hesitate to accept this motion. I have been persecuting the railways company for two years past to effect economies in their system. I have been telling them that so far their whole equipment and their whole facilities had been on the scale that was in existence when the railways were under the control of the British Government, that they are more than what this country can afford, and I have been asking them to bring their equipment in rails, rolling stock and facilities down to what the country can pay for. They are proceeding to do what I think is the first courageous piece of thinking, the first big advance towards economy, and there is an outcry against it. I say here publicly that they are really deserving of nothing but the greatest commendation for this attempt to single the line. It is quite clearly a matter within the powers of the company under the Act of 1924, which gave them power to group lines with a view to better organisation and with a view to more economic working. On the face of it there is nothing unreasonable, as far as I can see, to the public and nothing imprudent from the point of view of the company's revenues in this proposal. Further than that, if this proposal does involve any prejudice to anybody who has a right to be protected the Railway Tribunal is there to give that protection. The people  who feel that they are being prejudiced have so far slept on their rights. They have not gone before the Railway Tribunal, they have not even, as far as I am aware, taken the preliminary steps towards going before the Railway Tribunal. The apprehensions that are expressed by the public are, to my mind, based on no precise data.
Mr. McGILLIGAN: I will deal with that in a moment. There is the further point that inasmuch as the company is barely able to make ends meet one must come to the conclusion that they are giving services that the public are not able to pay for, both with regard to the transport of human beings and of cattle. They must therefore reduce services or else increase freights. But the whole of the company's proposals taking everything into consideration, seem to be reasonable and if people thought they were not they should already have gone before the Railway Tribunal. On the question of the experience of the working of the singled lines, not so very long ago there was a proposal made by the company to single a stretch of twenty miles between Attymon and Galway, and there were very much the same fears and apprehensions expressed about that section as about this other section, but I have not yet heard any complaint made as to the working of that portion of the line which has been singled, or of any other portion singled, even before the amalgamated company came into existence, although the portions singled before amalgamation were singled without any advertence to improved methods of singling and working. There has been no complaint about undue delay. A question was raised here about the cattle and their general ill-health. That was the most humane statement I ever heard from Senator Counihan. If their condition deteriorates obviously there is going to be loss, but where on the face of it is deterioration going to arise in the handling of cattle by reason of the line being singled?
 There is the other point about insurance. It has been said here that it is better to keep a double line the whole way along the system as an insurance. It prevents the block that may occur if there is an accident. Then the question of business comes in. Is it worth while paying a huge insurance to guard against the time an accident may occur? When the question of delay is mentioned, bear in mind the terms of the Company's letter to the people of Mullingar that with the improvements, singling, and better working methods the same amount of traffic and 50 per cent. increase can be handled as quickly. That is a deliberate statement by the chairman of the Railway Company that can be tested in open court. Ballinasloe has been mentioned. I would never ask anybody to run a business on the lines by which the Railway Company have been asked in this country to keep their stock, equipment, and railway facilities to meet peak loads. Ballinasloe represents the peak load as far as cattle coming from the West are concerned. No one would keep a system to meet the single occasion on which Ballinasloe presents the problem, and it is quite unreasonable to ask the Railway Company to keep their lines all through the system ready to meet that emergency. I do not know if there is any necessity to pass this resolution. The matter has been ventilated and various points of view expressed. I do not think the Railway Company will proceed immediately to the singling of the lines as long as there is any evidence given to them that this question will be raised before the Tribunal. I think the Railway Company can be relied on as reasonable people if there is any definite step taken to show that the matter is going to be raised. I would not reverse my policy towards the Railway Company and ask them to hold this matter up unless there was definite evidence to show that the thing was to be raised at once. I praise the proposal as a commendable step, and I think it shows an effort on the part of the directors to meet the situation. A small delay will not matter, but it cannot be held up for any length of time; there must be some evidence given, and  so far no evidence has been given that the people were objecting to this.
Mr. COUNIHAN: I did not mention Ballinasloe, and never suggested that railways should be kept for the sake of Ballinasloe. Only I suggested to the traffic manager of the Great Southern Railway that as Ballinasloe fair was going on perhaps he might work Ballinasloe as if it were a single line.
Sir WALTER NUGENT: I told you just now that could not be done, because in order to handle the traffic at Ballinasloe we have got to block the other lines. We have no sidings there, therefore what you asked the traffic manager to do was impossible.
Mr. COUNIHAN: That is the only case where I mentioned Ballinasloe. I want the House to realise that Ballinasloe has always worked well, and that in connection with the live-stock trade of the country the traffic is spasmodic. For three or four days in one week you might have a number of big fairs in the South, with ten or fifteen specials passing over the line. The rolling-stock is not so plentiful. It would have to come up on Monday, go back, say, on Tuesday, and come up again on Wednesday in that way. With all due respect to Senator Sir Walter Nugent, I contend that we would have a terrible lot of delay, and as far as the cattle fair is concerned it would be very detrimental. I am only concerned with the cattle trade. With the passenger and other traffic it will not have the same effect. The cattle trade is in itself in the interests of the farmer. Everything that will affect the cattle trade will affect the farmer. If you are going to leave the principal industry in this country to be handicapped in this way by single lines, I say it is bad business. From my experience of singling lines, I say that all the damage that occurs to live stock occurs when cattle are shifted into the sidings. Senator Sir Walter Nugent's speech had a greater effect on the academic mind of the Minister than had my practical experience. Consequently he is backing up the railways, and I suppose he believes justly in it, but I am stating positively from the point of view of the cattle trade that it will be a most detrimental  move as far as the live-stock trade of the country is concerned.
Mr. BROWN: I do not see my way to support the resolution. If the singling of the lines is going to do an injury to any trade, cattle trade or any other, the Railway Tribunal is the proper tribunal to consider the matter and it has jurisdiction. If the Railway Company reduces its facilities unreasonably, the Railway Tribunal has power to deal with it. I assume from the form of the resolution that the case is to come before the tribunal and is to be raised by somebody, not by the cattle trade. If that is so, the House ought to be very careful about passing any resolution pending litigation. The only ground on which you could urge the Government to take the step which Senator Counihan asks us to ask them to take is that more or less substantial injury will be done pending the hearing of the case before the tribunal. We cannot come to that conclusion without more or less prejudicing the case. We have no evidence to do it, but, whether we have or not, we as a House have no right to do it. We should not pass any resolution which might in any way prejudice any case that may come before the Railway Tribunal. Might I suggest to Senator Counihan, if there is real injury going to be done to his trade between this and the time the case comes before the tribunal, he will have a very good case to bring if he has even one instance of delay. If he is able to point to one such case between now and then, he will have a magnificent case to present, and I suggest that it would be much better for him to wait until then. Meanwhile, I suggest, we should not deal with the matter.
Colonel MOORE: Some of us who live, or have been living, in districts where double lines of railway have been stopped and single ones put in their place can speak of the great inconvenience caused by that system. I have been travelling all my life on a line in the west of Ireland. The double line stopped at Castlerea and when I get to Claremorris, even on a fast train, I have to wait for at least half an hour. I have been hearing objections raised to that for years but now I am told that there is a new invention which will revolutionise all that and make a single line do as much as a double one. I am not willing to accept that statement though I have no doubt it is given in good faith. I do not accept it because once a double line is torn up we cannot go back on it, whether the new system succeeds or not. We will be told, if it does not succeed, that it was very unfortunate but it had to be done. The West is always suffering by these tricks and dodges. I believe that all the people in the West strongly object to this proposal and there will be a great movement of opinion against anyone who carries it out. What will happen if we have only a single line and delay occurs? It will be poor consolation to say, “We believed that it would be otherwise.” I support the motion of Senator Counihan or anyone else who objects to tearing up the line.
Mr. O'FARRELL: I feel that I cannot support the motion mainly for the reasons mentioned by Senator Brown. I believe that the Railway Tribunal is the proper authority to deal with the matter, and we should not at present try in any way to prejudice the decision of that Tribunal. For that reason I am surprised at the rather emphatic ex parte attitude of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I would have thought that a person in his responsible position would not in a case  of this kind have made any statement that might be quoted as evidence in support of the Railway Company before the Tribunal. I appreciate the speech made by Senator Sir Walter Nugent. He could make no other speech than the one he made. I do not know sufficient about the matter to discuss it on its merits. He would probably be able to justify his statement afterwards. I feel that a person in the position of the Minister should not unduly prejudice the hearing of this case when it comes before the Tribunal. I do not believe in asking a government to come and see any particular firm and ask them not to do or postpone doing a certain thing. The whole is greater than the part, and I believe in this case that the mountain should come to Mahomet rather than the reverse. For that reason I think that Senator Counihan would serve his purpose equally well by not putting the motion to the House, as it might prejudice the case before the Tribunal.
Mr. COUNIHAN: Do I understand the Minister to say—the matter being raised here—that if the Great Southern directors had any solid reason to believe that the matter would be brought before the Railway Tribunal they would desist from singling the line?
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