Dispute – The Railway’s Response

21 January 1881

January 21st 1881.

South Yorkshire Coal Rates & The Denaby Main Colliery Company.

In the report of the Directors of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, for the half-year ending December 31st last, which was issued on Wed. evening, reference is made to the recent decision of the Railway Commissioners, on the application of the Denaby Main Colliery Company, with regard to mileage rates, and the report goes on to say :-

” Your directors, therefore found themselves in a position obliging them to alter the uniform system of rates which had hitherto worked so satisfactorily, and to propose a scale of rates based upon the distance of the collieries from the principal ports and places on your railways. They have done this with great regret, feeling that such a course would disturb the harmony which has hitherto existed between the company and their oldest and best customers. It is, however, to be hoped that the general disturbance of the entire district by the action of one company, whose case the Commissioners decided without any reference to it´s effect on the trade of the district, and upon a mere isolated complaint, may bring about some expression of public opinion against the impolicy of attempting to establish equal mileage rates, a system strongly reported against by the Royal Commissioners in 1863 -7, and the joint committee of both Houses of Parliament on Amalgamation Bills in 1872, on which mainly the present Railway Commission was constituted.

The report of the joint committee after setting out the objections to equal rates, went on as follows :-

In short, to impose equal mileage rates on the companies would be to deprive the public of the benefit of much of the competition which now exists, or has existed, to raise the charges on the public in many cases where the companies now find it to their interests to lower them, and to perpetuate monopolies in the carriage, trade, and manufacture, in favour of those routes and places which are nearest or least expensive, where the varying charges of companies now create competition ; and it will be found that the supporters of equal mileage when pressed, often really mean, not that the rates they pay themselves are too high, but that the rates of other companies are too low.

The case of the Denaby Company was exactly what the last paragraph was referring to. Their complaint was in fact, that the other collieries in the district were not charged enough.

The Denaby Company have circulated many inaccurate statements relative to the action taken by your directors upon the decision of the Railway Commissioners charging your directors with vindictively closing their credit account, and so the stopping of their colliery working.

These statements your directors emphatically deny, and they say that the closing of the ledger account – the granting of which is not a matter of right, but of favour – had nothing whatever to do with the decision of the Commissioners. It arose simply from the fact that upon an application being made to the Denaby Company for the balance due from them, they not only declined to pay but signified their intention to make a counter claim against your company in respect of an alleged overcharge during the past six years – a claim for which neither the decision of the Commissioners nor any other circumstances afforded the slightest foundation. Upon this your directors considering, that as prudent traders, it would be unwise to continue a credit account which the customers signified their intention beforehand to dispute, decided to take legal proceedings to receive their balance due to them. They have done so, and whilst those proceedings are pending it is better not to say more on the subject. Before legal proceedings could be taken to recover the balance of the account it was obviously necessary to close the account so as to ascertain the balance, but after this was done no difficulties whatever were put in the way of the working of the colliery, and as a matter of fact the amount of traffic going from the colliery, and which was charged to the colliery company, forms a very insignificant portion of the entire traffic ; to say, therefore, that having to pay beforehand for traffic which did not amount to £20 a day could have the effect of stopping the colliery is manifestly unfounded.

It is well known in the district that the Denaby Main Colliery Company had a large stock of coal on the pit-bank, that their workmen had applied for an advance of wages, which advance would have been far in excess of any reduction in the railway rates, even if the Denaby Company´s extreme view were adopted, and it is probable that this contemplated advance in wages had more to do with closing the colliery than any action taken by this company.

At the same time the new rates were issued notice was given to the Denaby Company that your directors were prepared at any time to re-open the ledger account on the undertaking of the Denaby Company not to continue making the arbitrary deductions before complained of, and this undertaking having been given the account has been re-opened.”