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The World's First Railway SystemEnterprise, Competition, and Regulation on the Railway Network in Victorian Britain$

Mark Casson

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199213979

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199213979.001.0001

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(p.386) APPENDIX 2 Notes on the Local and Personal Acts tabulated in Chapter 2

(p.386) APPENDIX 2 Notes on the Local and Personal Acts tabulated in Chapter 2

Source:
The World's First Railway System
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

(p.386) APPENDIX 2

Notes on the Local and Personal Acts tabulated in Chapter 2

The World's First Railway System Appendix 2

The table was compiled by allocating every Local and Personal Act to 1 of 16 categories. The classification was developed using a pilot exercise which examined 1 year in every 10 throughout the period, beginning with 1800. This classification is broadly consistent with the classification used since 1870 for the official Annual Index to the Local and Personal Acts. There are differences of detail, however, because of the objectives of the exercise are different in the two cases. Furthermore, the official classification does not deal adequately with projects such as turnpike roads, which had become obsolete by 1870.

It would have been possible to use an even finer classification of projects involving extra categories, but the number in each category would on average have been much smaller and the influence of random variations correspondingly greater.

The object of the table is to measure the intensity of entrepreneurial activity in the promotion of different kinds of major infrastructure project. In the context of railways, the objective is to generate a summary measure of railway entrepreneurship which can be compared with entrepreneurship in other areas of activity. Unlike the official Index, all Acts promoted by railway companies are therefore ascribed to railways, even though they may involve allied activities such as steamship services or construction of quays. It seemed somewhat artificial to separate out strategically important railway projects promoted by railway companies just because they did not involve the laying of rails.

Many Acts naturally fall into one particular category, but some do not. Many tramway schemes, for example, are linked to the extension of borough boundaries. The focus on infrastructure meant that in such cases the infrastructure component was given precedence over the administrative aspect, and such schemes were reported solely as tramway schemes. Only if several different types of infrastructure were involved would the schemes be classified as town improvement instead. If the tramway schemes were part of a larger plan to pave the streets and improve their lighting, then the Act would be classified as ‘town improvement’ instead.

In some cases an Act clearly specifies two or more separate fields; for example, a Confirmation of Gas and Water Orders. In such cases the convention was adopted that only the first‐named field was recorded. Contrary to the Official index, no attempt was made to report the same Act under different headings in order to reflect the diversity of activities involved. A major advantage of avoiding the duplication of entries, and consequent double‐counting of Acts, is that the sum of the number of Acts in each category in any year is always equal to the total number of Acts passed in that year.

One way of fudging this issue is to place such ambiguous cases into the ‘Other’ category. However, a special effort was made to keep this residual category as small as possible. The category is more heterogeneous than the others, as it contains a mixture of Acts which have little to do with major infrastructure schemes. It includes Acts that deal with legal issues or disputes relating to financial institutions, manufacturing enterprises and charities; to lotteries and fisheries; and also includes general local government measures that deal with several different counties or towns.

(p.387) All Local and Personal Acts are included in the table. It would have been possible to exclude certain types of Act as either irrelevant or misleading. Thus railway Acts are included even if they involve no new construction; for example, they authorize a merger, or a deviation in a previously authorized line. Acts for the abandonment of railway schemes are also included, even though they record the failure of a scheme. These Acts are indicative of measures taken to manage risks in the railway industry. However, where railway purchases of canals are concerned, the schemes are imputed to the canal sector on the grounds that they are more significant as an exit strategy for canal proprietors than as an entry strategy for railway promoters.

A consequence of this approach is that as the stock of railway schemes accumulates, a flow of derivative projects develops, concerned with amendments to or extensions of existing schemes. This means, for example, that the statistics probably overstate the level of entrepreneurial activity in the years following a boom, as Acts will continue to be passed in the absence of any proposals for new construction purely to deal with the problems arising from over‐optimistic expectations at the time of the boom.

In general, it was deemed prudent to include all projects in the database unconditionally, rather than to vet the projects for suitability beforehand; this means that issues of interpretation arise in the context of the examination of unexplained residual variation in the data, rather than through the screening of the data at the outset.

It would have been possible to disaggregate the statistics in the geographical dimension, by reporting separate counts for England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. This has been carried out as a separate exercise, however, as it results in very small numbers for certain types of project in certain countries—for example, tramway projects in Wales and Ireland. The patterns are nevertheless instructive: for example, in Wales and Ireland long‐distance railway projects got off to a much slower start than in England and Scotland. Overseas railway projects are also included in the statistics, but their numbers are not large. The projects enter the dataset mainly because they involved financial problems which Parliament was called upon to resolve.

Despite best intentions, it is unavoidable that over a period of 120 years the nature of the projects in any category will change to some degree. Underground railways, for example, became increasingly common after 1860; most trams were horse‐drawn prior to 1890, but thereafter electric traction became more common; while until 1830 a road scheme normally involved the construction of a turnpike, but from 1910 onwards it was more likely to involve a ‘rail‐less traction’ scheme—that is, a trolleybus.

As a given type of project matures, so its promotion becomes more routine. In addition, minor projects for extension and modification of existing schemes proliferate. As a result, there are administrative advantages which group several incremental minor schemes into a single Act (although if one scheme is particularly controversial, the promoters may seek a separate Act in order to prevent problems in Parliament delaying the more straightforward schemes). Thus by the 1890s most leading railway companies grouped all their minor schemes for enlarging stations, diverting footpaths, and replacing level crossings into a single comprehensive annual Act. This does not seriously distort the data, however, because the entrepreneurial content of all these tiny schemes is probably equivalent to one large scheme of the kind that the company promoted in earlier years.

The routinization of project promotion gathered momentum from the 1860s onwards. For certain types of project, administrative Orders replaced Acts, and Acts were used simply to confirm the legality of the Orders. The framework was set, and precedents created, by the General Pier and Harbours Act, 1861, the Elementary Education Act, 1870, the Tramways Act, 1870, and the Public Health Act, 1875.

(p.388) For some categories of project, the use of these procedures may have produced misleading statistical results. For example, by the time that electricity schemes got underway in the 1890s, the promotion of local utilities had been streamlined. In addition, many local authorities promoted such schemes as municipal enterprises. Thus right from the outset, several Orders for electricity schemes in different towns and cities were often authorized using a single Act. Thus the data may understate the extent to which electricity schemes competed with gas schemes towards the end of the period. Tramway schemes were also grouped in a similar way, but not to the same extent. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that the data also understate the extent to which tramway projects competed against railway projects at this time.

It should be emphasized that a significant proportion of the Acts described here were never implemented in full. There could be difficulties raising the capital, and the scheme might have to be scaled back to fit the funds available. In some cases a scheme would take so long to implement that a further Act would have to be obtained to extend the time allowed for the compulsory purchase of land. The Acts do not, therefore, indicate the actual amount of investment undertaken, but only the intentions of the promoters.

It is also important to emphasize that the data relate to the number of schemes and not to their value. The nominal value of each scheme, as visualized by the promoters, can be determined from the financial provisions of the Act. Where capital reconstructions are involved, however, the real as opposed to the nominal value of the scheme can only be assessed from a knowledge of the share price. Thus valuing all the projects in the dataset is a formidable task which has not been attempted here. The main justification for concentrating on the number rather than the value of the projects is that the cost of promotion to the entrepreneur, in terms of the commitment of time, is largely independent on the value of the scheme, so that the number of projects promoted, rather than their nominal value, is the most appropriate measure of the intensity of entrepreneurial activity.