From childhood I had longed to see something of the world, and this excursion to Paris was the first gratification of that wish. Paris now is as familiar to me almost as London, but then was strange and new. Rouen and its cathedral we first saw by moonlight, a beautiful and impressive sight, idealised to me by the thought that we were in sunny France. Little I imagined then how much of the world in later years I should see; but strong desires often accomplish their own fulfilment, and so it came to pass.
Of course it was right that Parliament, when conferring upon the railway companies certain privileges, such as the compulsory acquisition of land and property, should, in the public interest, impose restrictions on their charging powers. No one could reasonably complain of this, and had it been done from the beginning in a clear, logical way, and in language free from doubt, all might have been well and much subsequent trouble avoided. But this was not the case. Each company’s charging powers were contained in its own private Acts (which were usually very numerous) and differed for different sections of the railway. It was often impossible for the public to ascertain the rights of the companies, and well nigh impossible for the companies themselves to know what they were. These powers were in the form of tolls for the use of the railway; charges for the use of carriages, wagons, and locomotive power, and total maximum charges which were less than the sum of the several charges. In the Acts no mention was made of terminals, though in some of them power to make a charge for services incidental to conveyance was authorised, and what these words really meant was the subject of much legal argument and great forensic expenditure.
In addition to the tolls and charges, the Acts usually contained a rough classification of goods to which they applied. These were divided into from three to five classes, and comprised some 50 to 60 articles. The railway companies, however, had in existence, for practical everyday use, a general classification called The Railway Clearing House Classification, and this contained over 2,700 articles divided into seven classes.
The tolls and charges in the Companies’ Acts were fixed originally in the old belief (to which I have before alluded) that railway companies, like canal companies, would be mere owners of the route; and when they became carriers and provided stations, sidings, warehouses, cranes, and all the paraphernalia appertaining to the business of a carrier, the old form was not altered, the charging powers remained as originally expressed in subsequent Acts, and the same old model was followed. For several years prior to 1881 complaints by merchants, traders and public bodies against railway rates and fares had become very common. The cry was taken up by the public generally, and railway companies had a decidedly unpleasant time of it, which they bore with that good temper and equanimity which I (perhaps not altogether an unprejudiced witness) venture to affirm generally characterised them. The complaints increased in number and intensity and Members of Parliament and newspaper writers joined in the jeremiad.