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By SAMUEL SMILES.
FROM THE FOURTH LONDON EDITION.
M DCOC LVIII.
The Invention of the Locomotive Engine and its application to the working of Railways, is one of the most remarkable events of the present century.
Within a period of about thirty years, railways have been adopted as the chief means of internal communication in all civilized countries.
The expenditure involved in their construction has been of an extraordinary character. In Great Britain alone, at the end of the year 1856, not less than 308,775,894/. had been raised and expended in the construction of 8,635 miles of railway, which were then open for public traffic.
This great work has been accomplished under the eyes of the generation still living; and the vast funds required for the purpose have been voluntarily raised by private individuals, without the aid of a penny from the public purse.
The system of British Railways, whether considered in point of utility or in respect of the gigantic character and extent of the works involved in their construction, must be regarded as the most magnificent public enterprise yet accomplished in this country,—far surpassing all that has been achieved, by any government, or by the combined efforts of society in any former age.
But railways have proved of equal importance to other countries, and been adopted by them to a large extent. In the United States, there are at present not less than 26,000 miles in active operation; and when the Grand Trunk system of Canada has been completed, that fine colony will possess railroad communications 1500 miles in extent.
Railways have also been extensively adopted throughout Europe— above 10,000 miles being already at work in the western continental countries, whilst large projects are in contemplation for Russia, Austria, and Turkey. Railways for India and Australia are the themes of daily comment; and before many years have elapsed, London will probably be connected by an iron band of railroads with Calcutta, the capital of our Eastern Empire.
Their important uses need not here be discussed. As constituting a great means of social inter-communication, they are felt to enter into almost all the relations between man and man. Trade, manufactures, agriculture, postal communication, have alike been beneficially influenced by this extraordinary invention.
The following facts as respects railway communication in Great Britain, must be regarded as eminently significant: The number of passengers conveyed by railway, in 1856, amounted to not less than 129,347,592; and of these, more than one half travelled by third-class trains, at an average cost of eight tenths of a penny per mile, the average fare for all classes of passengers not exceeding one penny farthing per mile. The safety with which this immense traffic was conducted is not the least remarkable feature of the system; for it appears, from Captain Galton's report to the Board of Trade, that the proportion of accidents to passengers, from causes beyond their own control, was only 1 person killed to 16,168,449 conveyed.* Those who desire statistical evidence as to the extent to which this new means of communication is employed for the conveyance of manufactures, minerals, and agricultural produce, will find abundant proofs in the same report.
In Canada and the United States, the railroad is of greater value even than in England; it is there regarded as the pioneer of colonization,
* Captain Galton's Report to the Committee of Council for Trade, &c, 21st July, 1857.