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*> THE IRISH TUNNEL. The scheme of connecting Ireland with Scot- j land by rail is undoubtedly "magnificent," but it is not business." The deputation which waited upon Mr. A. J. Balfour on the 7th instant to press the claims of the scheme and to ask for Government assistance was certainly a distinguished one, but there its qualifications ended. In presenting a colossal scheme of this description for serious consideration by the Government, one would expect to find among the spokesmen a man of well-known financial ability, or some experienced railway administrator to show that the undertaking would in all probability pay for itself, or at least be able to pay expenses. The nature of the proposals made to Mr. Balfour does not impress us favourably, and their modesty arouses our suspicion. All that is asked for is approval by the Government, and when the tunnel is completed a guarantee of 3 per cent, on the outlay and of an equal amount towards the reduction of a possible deficiency. This demand on the face of it does not look extravagant, but its vagueness bids us be wary. We should like to know what an "approval" con- sists of. One is given to thinking of an approval" as a polite expression of good wishes, a benign sympathy, or a mere assent—the last to be em- bodied later on in a Railway Bill. If this approval be defined in any of these terms, then we absolutely refuse to believe that financial support can be found from sane men. Financiers are the last class of people to engineer concerns on the strength of simple approbation, unless it be backed by a written agreement to ensure them a profit. The investing public will certainly fight shy of the tunnel, and the financiers have little hope of unloading shares on the market. It is little wonder that Mr. Balfour should express his surprise to find that the pro- moters were willing to take the whole risk of financing the tunnel to its completion. It is evident that the modesty of the demand for ap- proval caused him to pass it by, and to proceed to the guarantee, as the real crux of the matter. If, as they assert they can, the promoters can raise the necessary £12,000,000, on an approval that they would have us believe is non-committing, it is obvious that this approval is nothing more or less than a sugar-coating to the money guarantee. We can thus dismiss the approval and examine the conditions of the guarantee. Granted the guar- antee, the approval, we imagine, is granted too. If a bona-fide risk were taken by the promoters until the opening of the tunnel, it would not be unreasonable to expect them to make a profit commensurate with the risk undertaken. The three per cent. guarantee for interest on the bonds, and the three per cent. against loss does not look excessive, but a closer examination of the conditions shews an unsatisfactory state of things to the guarantor—the British taxpayer. Ih the first place the £12,000,000, including £2,000,000 interest for the promoters or financiers, is given as an estimate only" The history of the Manchester Ship Canal occur to us as an example of the powers of expansion possessed by engineering estimates, and Mr. Balfour very pertinently pins the deputation to a more precise limitation in this respect. The British taxpayer would object to having to pay a guarantee on a capital enlarged beyond the amount that could ever hope to earn a dividend. The probabilities of earning have, if at all, been based on £ 12.000.000, and if the sum required should exceed this, it does not seem to us that the traffic is capable of a corresponding increase. Eminent geologists have no doubt been engaged to investigate the geological conditions, but they are not omniscient, and their estimates are based on probabilities. Faults and fissures may exist in mid channel, and these would increase the engineering difficulties enormously, and render the original estimates worthless. No doubt money would eventually drive the channel through, but to pile on millions and expect to get a very good rate of interest on it is not, to our thinking, a fair bargain for both parties. Let us examine the risks taken by the promoters. In the first place, their interest, estimated at £2,000,000, will be guaranteed until the completion of the tunnel. The time is not stipulated, and this investment may run on for an unlimited time, paying a good interest on a Government backed bond. Allow that the tunnel is finished within five years from the date of the guarantee—yielding 4 per cent, interest—and that the tunnel failed to pay its expenses, the promoters by being in a position to force the Government per annum, would soon take advantage of their power to come to terms and clear out without much loss to themselves. If the tunnel does pay a dividend, the Government receives nothing for the risk it undertakes, and the risk is out of all proportion to any benefit that would accrue to the public benefit. It is not stated whether the Government is expected to guarantee 3 per cent. towards making up a loss, and then to guarantee an additional 3 per cent. interest. In that case we should be called upon to pay £600,000 per annum should the tunnel prove to be a failure. Of course, we do not expect that any Government would be so imbecile as to bind itself without taking these points into consideration, but we have only to do with the demands made by the deputation. Based on these demands, our opinion is that the pro- moters have everything to gain and little to lose; as taxpapers we have little to gain and much to lose. A British Government security is "gilt-edged," and to look for 3 per cent. on such an investment is cool, especially when we bear in mind that the 2! per cent. interest allowed in the Post Office Savings Bank results in a loss to that establishment, The result of issuing 3 per cent. Government guaranteed shares would be to put the shares at a premium, and enable the original shareholders to make a good thing out of it. We have no doubt that a large passenger traffic might be secured between Ireland and Scotland, but we are doubtful as to England. When the steamship companies find their trade threatened, they will soon put on boats that will reduce the journey, say from Manchester and other large towns within easy reach of Liverpool, to Belfast, Dublin, and the South of Ireland, to such a time as will make it futile for the Railway Company to compete with them. One has to reckon with the prejudice that is sure to exist against submarine travelling, and with the very large number of passengers who enjoy the sea trip. Schemes are now on foot to make new communications by sea with Ireland, and one of them promises to reduce the journey from London to a space of time that Holyhead, with its fine mail service cannot hope to accomplish it. in. As to goods traffic, the Tunnel would be com- pletely run out of it by steamer competition. No goods train could ever be run between Manchester and Liverpool at the rates paid by shippers between Liverpool and Dublin or Belfast. Steam freights are getting lower every year with the advent of labor saving machinery, and cheaper steamers which are run at less cost than their predecessors. The goods are better handled by the steamers, the risk of damage is very small, and the insurance rates very low. Fourteen hours is ample time to ship goods in Liverpool and get delivery in Dublin, but a goods train would require at least two days before making its appearance. A steamer starting from Glasgow the same time as a goods train for any port in Ireland, would be there, dis- charged, and on its way back before the goods train could arrive. How this Tunnel is going to pay for itself, we fail to see. The traffic, both passengers and goods, would have to be very heavy, and we do not see that it will even, iE all probability, assume a respectable bulk. We arc not told by the military authorities that it will be of strategic value, and looking at the thinly populated districts on either side within immediate reach of the tunnel, we cannot bring ourselves to mourn its almost certain fate. As an egineering feat. e'est magnifiqne, mais,"—to compete with the present carriers— c'n'est pas ]a guerre."—COMM.





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