Mount Somers Railway.
(Of ago Daily Times. ) An advertisement appears in ourcolumns signed on behalf of the Public Works Department by W. N. Blair, engineer-in-chief of the Middle Island, calling for tenders for the “Ashburton branch extension contract.” On enquiry, wc find' that this is what has been otherwise known to fame as the Mount Somers line, a portion-of:which,•■some twelve miles or so in extent, has been completed, and for a short time at work. Turning to the tables of relative percentage of expenditure to receipts for the month of September, 1 we discover that the Mount; Somers line: has a proud pre-eminence above all other lines in one important respect. It is, par excellence, the line, that is worked at the greatest loss of any on the list; and not only the greatest loss, but far and away the greatest; for, while the short Shag Point branch, of which so much has been said, is worked at a loss represented by 258 per cent, bn the receipts, the Mount Somers branch is worked.at no less than 355 per cent. In other words, for every pound taken for traffic on this remarkable branch three pounds ten shillings is expended This state of things has evidently attracted the attention of the Minister for Public Works.. He has doubtless argued thus“ This line manifestly wants a little stimulus applied to it: as it does not pay—stands, indeed, at the very zero, of non-paying lines, we will make a few more miles of it; the result cannot possibly be worse, and may by a lucky chance be better ■ than at present.” That is what we may-term a bold, farseeing policy ; -any ordinary Minister would have said, Shut it up ; but Mr. Oliver is not an ordinary Minister. On. looking a little further into the matter; we cannot discover that Parliament has
given any warrant for continuing tins line, or that the Minister for Public Works even asked Parliament for any such warrant. In his Public Works Statement he is silent about it, and in the Public Works Appropriation Bill only a. very small vote was taken, a few hundreds in excess of the estimated cost of work done or then in progress. The inference fairly is that this line was not to be exr tended till Parliament could again vote upon it. There is, it is true, in the Railway Commissioners’ report a recommendation regarding it to the following effect: '• This branch is already in progress ; the cost will be small, and it will serve a large -agricultural district; and at the same time open out a coal-mine and stonequarries at Mount Somers, which it may fairly be calculated will bring considerable traffic to the line.” But one more than all the rest marks out this lino as one to be made at all costs. It leads, we believe, to the land and the residence of Mr. E. G.: Wright, one of the Railway Commissioners, who must therefore know something about the capabilities of the country. He is, indeed, probably interested, in a patriotic sense, in the stonequarries and coal-mines which are to do so much for,the traffic:; and just as his colleague and our particular friend Mr. John Reid, of Elderslie, naturally preferred the Livingstone line to the Otago Central, so Mr. E. G. Wright prefers the Mount Somers line to any other line whatever. But how has he managed to impress liis views upon the Government 1 Are all the Commissioners to be gratified for their valuable services by a piece of line being made at the public cost to their doors ? Surely Mr. Curtis will not be left out in the cold ; and if Mr. J. M. Clark, of Auckland, and Mr. Edward Pearce,-of - Wellington, cm not want railways, they are all but certain to want something else. The Government can but deal fairly with them all round. It cann’ot'bc that a Government which we had regarded as above all suspicion of jobbery-is being led into anything_ improper ; that, at least, we will not believe. No ; appeax-ances may be all against them, but somehow, or another it must, be all right. After all, the line is “ only a little one,” and the tender called for at present is only for formation. It may be true ' that formation is usually followed by sundry expenses for sleepers, rails, and ballasting, to say nothing of working it afterwards' at' a loss ; but these may be postponed, as they will almost certainly follow if the lino is formed when Parliament meets. The 355 per cent, expenditure to which we have alluded ortty shows that something must be done to make this branch pay, so why not extend it ? The argument may be somewhat of the Incus (t n<m lucevdo character,.but we cannot help that—it is a matter for faith and not for si edit, and.we are bound to believe that the Government could hot possibly intend to make a line that will continue to cost a large sum annually to work it, merely because the making of it will gratify and mayliajD enrich an ex-commissioner. Some curious Otago • members, however, may like-to put a question or two on the subject to the;Hon. Mr. Oliver; and point out to him'one or two lines that ■ they would like gone on with in the absence, of a Parliamentary vote. There are Gatlin’s River, Orepuki, and other places chat will repay quite as magnificent a return as the Mount Somers line is doing, for rail- ■ way communication. That -pre-eminent “shocking example” of non-payableness can scarcely ho emulated, but it may be approached. .
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