In doubling the tax on motor fuel and imposing purchase tax on commercial vehicles the Government has given a more than usually clear indication of its determination to back rail transport to the limit. There are other important, though less obvious factors in the road-rail issue that must not be overlooked.
For instance, in an effort to excuse the railways for incurring huge losses, much play is made by their protagonists on the proportionately great rise which has occurred in the costs of operation since the war compared with the increases in charges. How, they argue, can the railways he expected to pay their way if charges are insufficent to cover costs ? This is entirely beside the point.
Railway charges are already above those for road transport. The correct line of action is to encourage the use of road vehicles and cut down the railway system to the point where it becomes an economical unit (plus any sections necessary for defence, the cost of which must be borne by the national purse). The fact that the cost of railway operation has risen out of all relation to the value of the services it provides is no reason for saddling the country with the necessity to meet increased charges and huge deficits ; road vehicles can provide transport at little, if any, more cost than pre-war.
This save the-railways-at-any-price attitude is dangerous. It leads inevitably to the need to restrict private transport. The Transport Tribunal in its report on the application of the Commission to increase railway freight charges states that the annual tonnage carried by “C” licence vehicles will have risen from 130,000,000 in 1946 to 270,000,000 in 1950.