Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER II: THE SAFETY OF TRAVELERS UPON STATE AND PRIVATE RAILWAY LINES - Where and Why Public Ownership has Failed
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CHAPTER II: THE SAFETY OF TRAVELERS UPON STATE AND PRIVATE RAILWAY LINES - Yves Guyot, Where and Why Public Ownership has Failed 
Where and Why Public Ownership has Failed, trans. H.F. Baker (London: Macmillan, 1914).
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THE SAFETY OF TRAVELERS UPON STATE AND PRIVATE RAILWAY LINES
The Safety of Travelers and the State System.—The Report of Albert Thomas.—Comparisons.—The Minutes of the French Senate.
In a number of articles, published in the Annales de la Régie Directe, Edgard Milhaud has tried to prove that safety is absolute upon government railway systems and precarious in the extreme upon privately managed systems.
The budget commission of 1912 entrusted to Albert Thomas, a United Socialist, the compilation of a report on the budget of public utility franchises. He declares himself that “his report is completely permeated by Socialist thought”; and he winds up by recommending the purchase of those French railways still in private hands.
As he could not bolster up his argument with the results of the Western railway, since a number of accidents unfortunately interfered with such a possibility, he passes it over, and speaks only of the old state system. His argument is not lacking in courage, because the following facts, among others collected by Charles Macler and completely contradicting it, had already appeared in the Journal des Économistes:
“Basing his arguments upon the statistical studies of Edgard Milhaud, M. Thomas maintains the bold theory that safety is assured only on railways operated by the state. The argument of MM. Milhaud and Thomas is rather naïve. There are more accidents upon the railways of the United States than upon those of the Belgian line; there are more upon the English company system than upon that of the Prussian government system; there were more accidents upon the Swiss railways before than after the purchase; consequently, there are more accidents in France upon the systems operated by private companies than upon the state system. ‘However surprising this declaration may appear to many,’ says M. Thomas, ‘the fact is scientifically established’. Surprising, in fact, especially just after the catastrophes of Villepreux, Courville, Bernay, Ponts-de-Cé, Saujon, Montreuil-Bellay. As to whether the theory is scientifically established, let us see:
“In the first place, if we compare the railway accidents upon the systems operated by private companies with our old government system (we pass over the Western system, as M. Thomas has done), we declare that, according to the statistics of the ministry of Public Works, the total average number of passengers killed and injured from 1905 to 1909 was:
“In whatever manner we examine the statistics, the average number of victims of accidents resulting from traffic upon the old government system, the so-called model system, is noticeably higher than upon the private systems. The preceding period, that is to say, 1901–1905, gives precisely the same results. If we consider separately the number of the killed and injured, the results in the case of each of the above items are disadvantageous to the state.
“When we pass on to a comparison of accidents between the French systems as privately operated and the principal foreign government systems, we discover that the victims of accidents have been much less numerous upon the first than upon the second. We borrow our figures from the latest statistics, those of the year 1909.
“First, let us take Belgium. Here are the figures presented by the report of Belgian railway operations compared with the statistics of the Ministry of Public Works in France:
“The superiority of the French companies is incontestably shown.
“Let us take Germany. The following figures are taken from the Annuaire Statistique pour l'Empire Allemand, published by the Imperial Statistical Bureau:
“The advantage is again on the side of the French companies.
“Let us take Austria. Here are the figures taken from the report of the operation of the Austrian government railways, published by the Ministry of Railways:
“Here, again, the advantage is altogether on the side of the French companies, in so far, at least, as the number of injured is concerned.
“Now Hungary. Here are the figures drawn from the statistics of Hungarian railways, published by the ministry of Railroads:
“Once more the advantage is with the French companies.
“Let us take Switzerland. The figures are taken from the statistics of Swiss railways, published by the Federal Postoffice and Railway department:
“In all cases the advantage is with the French companies. It may be said positively that the safety of passengers is much greater upon the systems of the French companies than upon those of the French, Belgian, German, Austrian, Hungarian, or Swiss state lines. This conclusion is again borne out by the figures regarding accidents of all kinds per 100 km. operated. While the figure is 3.81 for the French private lines, it is 5.9 for Germany, 10.1 for Italy, 12.5 for Austria, and 50 for Switzerland.
“Nor is this all. If we compare the statistics of accidents in those foreign countries where public and private operation exist concurrently, we find that accidents are more numerous upon the state-owned systems.
“In Austria and in Switzerland the accident statistics of private lines are not given separately, but a comparison between the figure for accidents upon the government systems considered alone and upon the whole railway system of each country makes clear the measure in which this last figure is influenced by results on private lines. The number of accidents resulting from traffic on all the lines together is smaller than that of the accidents upon the state systems alone, which proves that accidents are much less numerous upon private systems than upon government lines. Here are the figures:
“Finally, let us take the statistics of the victims of accidents, including both passengers and employees. The question of the safety of operation is well worth examining from this point of view.
“We find that the whole number of killed and injured per million train kilometers is 4.49 on the French privately operated systems, as against 15.3 on the Belgian government system; 7.6 upon the Austrian government system; 8.1 upon the Hungarian government system; 40.1 upon the Swiss railways (23 upon the Swiss companies); 5.10 upon the German railways; and 32.4 upon the Italian railways.
“After having seen these figures our readers will find the contention of Albert Thomas still more surprising. In all the European countries that we have passed in review, safety is greater upon the private lines than upon those of the government. It is a fact established by official statistics.”
On August 4, 1907, the accident on the Ponts-de-Cé took place, resulting from the disregard on the part of the government of my order of 1891 for the annual inspection of steel bridges. This accident caused the death of 30 passengers. In August, 1910, the accident at Saujon, near Bordeaux, occurred, causing the death of 40 passengers. On June 18, 1910, came the accident at Villepreux, upon the Western railway, when 18 deaths were reported; and, on September 10, 1910, the accident at Bernay, when there were also deaths. February 14, 1911, occurred the accident at Courville, which caused the destruction of an entire family and ten other deaths.
The six greatest railway accidents that France has suffered during five years have thus all occurred on the government system: three on the Western, and three on the old government system, which the state has operated during nearly 35 years, and which has only 2,292 kilometers (1,433 miles), making the line about fifth in size of the important systems of France.
On November 24, 1911, the accident at Montreuil-Bellay inspired a discussion in the Senate, which resulted in the following resolution:
“The Senate proffers the assurance of its profound sympathy to the victims of the catastrophe at Montreuil-Bellay and its congratulations to the rescuers, and, after taking cognizance of the declarations of the minister of Public Works that efforts are being made to improve the deplorable condition of the Western line and expressing its confidence in the ability of the government to put an end to the insecurity and also to the irregularity of railway operation, lays the resolution on the table.”
Thus the Senate, with the approbation of the ministry, solemnly affirmed “the deplorable situation, insecurity, and irregularity in the operation of the Western,” apropos of an accident which occurred on the old state system.
The Journal Officiel, of July 12, contains the following question, put by M. Engerand, deputy, to Jean Dupuy, minister of Public Works:
“What is the number of engines, coaches and freight cars destroyed or damaged in accidents which have happened upon the Western railway from January 1, 1909, to March 1, 1912?”
He received the following answer:
“68 engines; 30 tenders; 198 coaches; and 451 freight cars.”
If the Socialists cannot cite the financial results of the state system as an argument in favor of the nationalization of the railways, the ill digested statements of Edgard Milhaud and Albert Thomas, regarding the security they offer, will certainly not convince anyone.