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PREFACE TO VOLUME XXIII.
ALTHOUGH there is little or no diminution in the bulk of the present volume, in comparison with preceding issues, the number of established corcpanies in the United Kingdom has undergone, during the year, a remarkable diminution. Having expanded in 1867 to the extent of 476, a reduction gradually took place to 430 in 1870. The large number of abandonments and other failures, in conjunction with the usual absorption of the lesser into the larger systems, prevents as from taking cognisance of more than 357 existing undertakings. Of this diminution of 73, which are mainly the result of the excessive legislation of 1865, several have already given notice of their intention to apply for a revival of powers. The applications for extensions of time on the part of others, with the absence of demonstration in respect to not a few which expire by effluxion of time in the course of the present year, indicate a further change of which it will be our duty to make special note for the future.
It is gratifying, however, to have to make mention of the gradual but steady improvement that is taking place in aggregate revenue, an improvement which is, happily, coincident with a spreading reduction in the cost of working. The dividends declared for the year 1870 will be found to exceed, per mile, those of any former period since 1847. So also is the relative value of unprotected railway securities in the public markets. Joint Stock enterprise, however, is not on the decline. Telegraph associations, although not multiplied during the past year, are still prosecuting a thriving business, while the mileage extent of wire is advancing in an almost greater ratio. Tramways, too, are largely on the increase, the capital employed in this mode of traction being at least double that which existed at the commencement of 1869, while a still further increase is promised for the year to come. There is a probability, however, that this department of enterprise may speedily be taken out of the range of joint stock operation, there being a growing determination on the part of municipal or other local bodies to assume control of the tramways within their jurisdiction, after the manner of the purchase of the telegraphs by the Imperial Government. This apprehension, probably, is one of the chief incentives to the applications for tramway extensions that are now before Parliament, as well as the host of petitions to the Board of Trade for certificates under the General Act of last year, and which is given in extenso in the present volume.
The finance companies, which at one time threatened to overwhelm everything which came within their vortex, are now settling down into thorough business as well as useful corporations. They may, in addition to their monetary assistance to legitimate commerce, continue, if restricted within legitimate bounds, to be of material aid to joint stock formation; but they never can become the formidable instruments of assistance or injury which they were prior to the panic of 1866.
The war in France has made sad havoc with railway property. The expectations arising from the fruitful operations of the first seven months of the year have utterly vanished. The revenue derived during that period may possibly be in safe keeping ; but, as no part of it has been, or is likely to be, divided among the shareholders, as the wreck of systems and the ruin of working stock would seem to be almost complete, it is beyond comprehension what must be the immediate future of railway enterprise or management in France. The country, which was considered even more secure than England for investment and its legitimate profits, is, for railway purposes, nearly an unmitigated waste; and much cost, labour, anxiety, and disappointment, have yet to be endured before a return of the earlier half of 1870 need be expected. We had at one time imagined the possibility of an estimate of the desolation produced by the war being made before the close of 1870, and had calculated on being able to hold out some prospect of improvement in the present year; but events which seem to be altogether beyond human control are, as yet, so complicated, and so far from a conclusion, as to render practical deduction alike useless and impossible. We have only to hope that 1872 may witness such a revival as shall assist in obliterating the disasters of 1870-71.
The scandals arising out of the Erie and the Atlantic and Great Western have caused the withdrawal of a large amount of British capital from the United States; but its expansion is spreading, not merely over India and the Colonies, but into the interior of Southern and Central America. It is felt indeed, if not universally acknowledged, that investments in railways, if prudently conducted in the
first instance, are at once the most attractive and the safest; and hence the increasing desire on the part of investors to be furnished with that vade mecum BRADSTAW'S MANUAL alone presents, and on which reliance may be placed for abundance as well as accuracy of detail.
In this characteristic of our publication we remain unrivalled; not altogether on account of the care devoted to its compilation, but also to the assistance derived from the highest and most competent authorities, one and all being, apparently, as interested in the completeness of the Manual as are its compilers and publishers, who again tender their hearty thanks for the co-operation by which alone this publication could have been made, as well as continue, what it is.
The Maps, which accompany the volume for 1871, we need scarcely add are, as usual, corrected and extended to the latest possible period.
The OFFICIAL DIRECTORY, notwithstanding the serious losses incurred by the railway community by the death of so many of its leading authorities, still keeps pace with the express speed of time, and will be found, on examination, to be as accurate and as comprehensive as it is possible to make it.
Manchester, February, 1871.
F. & C. OSLER, CRYSTAL GLASS CHANDELIERS,
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