Railways and cyclists (and more 1897)




Your correspondent, who proposes that cyclist, should wait half an hour at the station for the arrival of himself and “the general public” and the commencement of the hustle is obviously one of those persons to whom the gratification of a feeling of hostility is a practical convenience. But he, like others, has failed to reach the root of the matter, for he, like others, assumes that railway arrangements are alterable by individual human agency whereas, I feel, railways and railway management are the products of evolution. Railway managers (who are, Mr. Acworth tells us, very able men) know this, and have always disliked premature interference with evolutionary process—so beautiful in the slowness and accuracy of their operation. They were, for instance, long indignant at the rashness of Mr. Allport, who gave us third-class carriages on express trains, and more lately they deprecated too many years the suggestions of their shareholders that such second class fares as remained might be reduced with profitable results. Such men as Sir E. Watkin and Mr. Forbes have always trusted the adaptability of the British public to its environment they have always known that people who were deterred by high fares and on punctuality from living south of the Thames could build houses in Essex, and that passengers who found Dover inconvenient could try some other route. The same trust has always been displayed by all the companies in the matter of luggage. The railway van is the evolutionary descendant of the boot of the coach, and the evidence of its ancestry remains in its narrow doors and difficult loading and unloading. But in regards luggage the British public has met the difficulty. It is able bodied, in large part and it often knows the dangers of the rout; in spite of the notices of the managers it sees an army of porters, and does not delay; the trains more than is reasonable, considering that, after all, the exertions are those of an amateur, not of a railway manager or a railway expert, as Mr. Aeworth is. As regards cycles, however, the adaptation of the public has only begun. It wheels its cycles to the boot, lifts them into the boot, commends them to the guard in the boot, and cheerfully on occasions travels in the boot to steady its cycle at the curves and the stops. But it still writes letters to the newspapers—evidence of imperfect adaptation which “a true believer” in evolution will accept for the time with patience. In time the cyclist will accept the boot for his cycle, as he has accepted it for his luggage. He will take a policy for his cycle from an insurance company. He will produce more fees for porters. He will fee the guard to put his cycle on the top of the rest. He will, after depositing his cycle, run more swiftly down the train so as not to keep it waiting; he will be content with a less carefully-chosen meat. He will, if he is a constant traveller by The North Western, develop a special set of muscles, which will lift his cycle from the low platforms of that railway without special effort. There is, it must be admitted, some doubt whether the acquired qualities will be inherited by his descendants, but in any case those who are most fitted to get their cycles conveyed by train will be selected; the unfit cyclist and unfit cycle will be eliminated, and the perfect correspondence of relations thus established between the British public and the British railway, will some time in the next century be adduced by some Mr. Acworth as evidence of the ability of railway managers and by some other philosopher as an instance of the all-embracing power of evolution.      I am, Sir, your obedient servant



Sir,—May I be permitted briefly to correct the impression which assuredly was conveyed by the letters of “M. D. “ and others, in your issue of the 15th inst., on the subject of the treatment of bicycles by railway officials? When journeying south at the beginning of last month the whole of the heavy luggage belonging to our party of five was left behind at the London station to make room for bicycles, the majority of which were dragged upon the platform a few minutes before the train was due to start.

A few weeks later a gentleman travelling along the same route shared his first-class compartment for a considerable distance with a bicycle. The company in question was certainly to blame for thus sacrificing the convenience of its passengers in the endeavour to humour the delirium of the cycling fever; but who can wonder at such a concession to the exactions of the patients when the prescribing practitioner asks such excellent profits from the epidemic?

I am, Sir, yours obediently,

September 16.                                                                                     G. S. W.


In the present occasion on” Railways and Cyclists “it is to be hoped that the interests of the general public may not be overlooked. A few days ago I happened to be at Perth Station on the arrival of a train. The platform:—an unusually spacious one—was practically in possession of a swarm of bicycles. Personally conducted by their owners— male and female—to the very serious obstruction of general traffic flow, both as regards passengers and the railway porters and arrange to deal with luggage. And this, too, at a time when it was no easy matter to get trains starting from distant parts of the station. Not a few of the bicyclists seemed indignant because the porters declined to devote their sole attention to wheeling away their cycles for them.

            I remain, yours faithfully,

                                    September 17,             TRAVELLER

The Times, Tuesday, Sep 21, 1897; pg. 8

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