Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, For the Year 1887, Transmitted to Congress, With a Message of the President, June 26, 1888
Mr. Hubbard to Mr. Bayard.
Tokio , June 2, 1887. (Received June 27.)
Sir: I beg to inclose herewith a leading editorial (as translated) from the Jiji Shimpo, in the bold and impartial spirit which always characterizes that eminent Japanese journal. Its well-known friendship for the United States is prominently expressed in this leader. I call your attention expressly to the clipping herewith transmitted.
I have, etc.,
The Kiushiu Railway Company.
The Kiushiu Railway Company, of which so much has been said recently, is reported to have received private intimation of the granting of sanction for the commencement of the work of construction. The formal and official charter will, we learn, he granted in a few days, and, meantime, we are informed that the company has already sent to Germany for rails and other material. We are glad to think that the project has advanced to such a point as the facts we have given indicate; hut if it he actually the case that the order for materials has been sent, not to England or to the United States, but to Germany, then we for our own part must enter our protest against such a course being adopted. Even in the event of the rumor being false, we can not now, in view of the circulation which it has received, afford to disregard it. In international intercourse we ought to make no distinction between one of our treaty friends and another. England, France, Germany, the United States, ought to be the same to us from, this point of view, but commercially speaking matters are very different. Under no circumstances should the conditions of our relation as a state to another country be permitted to influence our commercial and business methods. We do not forget that the Kiushiu Railway Company will be in receipt for a time of a subsidy from the Government, but practically it is a private concern, and as such its interest palpably demands that the work of construction and the maintenance of the line should be accomplished at the least possible cost consistent with efficiency and durability. We are, therefore, at a loss to fathom the reason Why the orders for material should go to [Page 664] Germany instead of England or the United States. That England is the first country in the world in the matter of iron working, that the rails she produces are the best, and that the rolling plant (locomotives and carriages) of the United States are unsurpassed, are facts with which we became acquainted years ago, and which everybody now knows; but we can not call to mind that we have heard German rails or carriages or wagons spoken of in such high terms as would at all warrant the sending there of the Kiushiu Railway Company’s order. All the rails thus far used in Japan are English, of which an immense quantity has been imported since the commencement of railway construction in this country.
From the time of leaving the place of manufacture in England till the rails were actually laid here they were subjected to more or less rough treatment, but it must be noted that they have never suffered injury or been impaired in the slightest degree, and now after years of service their durability has been demonstrated in a surprising way. It has been specially noticed that traffic on the English rails gives rise to very little deterioration for a long time. We are credibly informed that the German rails are far inferior to them in these respects. So in the matter of carriage construction. In this branch the products of the American workshops stand pre-eminent. English-made carriages might possibly be placed in the same rank so far as durability and general quality of workmanship are concerned, but certainly German work is utterly unworthy of a position beside these high-class manufactures. With all these considerations before us we are quite at a loss to understand why the Kiushiu Railway Company should have ordered their material from Germany. It might in such a case as this be advisable for certain purposes to purchase material as cheaply as possible irrespective of quality. In this light we could almost understand the object of the Kiushiu Railway Company; but as a matter of fact the German products do not possess the recommendation of cheapness. It is well known that German rails and German rolling plant generally are not cheaper—but the reverse—than those of England and the United States. For example, when the supply of American rails falls short, whence does the great proportion of the material necessary to meet the demand come? Why, from England; and similarly where cars are wanted for England, the resources of American workshops are drawn upon. If German material is so cheap, is it not strange that there should be no instance of its purchase for either England or the United States? Englishmen are employed everywhere on the continent in railway works; English manufacturers sell rails, cars, and other plant to the railway companies of Europe, which, whether German, French, Russian, or Austrian, have all selected the lines of Great Britain as their model. Not only is there no instance in which German rails have been sent abroad, but Ave have never heard that outside Germany, Germans have been employed in any important railway undertaking.
Another point should not be lost sight of, namely, that a connection has been established between Japan and the manufacturers of England and America, whence we have chiefly obtained our material, and it is only natural to suppose that we will be able to make better terms comparatively than if we were merely purchasing in any market that offered.
It seems now that the Kiushiu Railroad Company have seen fit to ignore the advantages which the past experience of Japan has created, and to give their orders to a country with which hitherto we have had a bare commercial connection. The company will be in the position of a customer who demands a style of article for which the seller has not hitherto had a demand, and the consequence of this must be that the latter will have to charge well to recoup himself for the expense of producing that which will strain his resources and methods.
It is because of the conclusion that is borne in upon us by these considerations that we touch upon the subject. The Kiushiu railway has nothing to do with us or we with the Kiushiu railway; and it might be suggested that we ought to mind our own business and allow the company to follow its own bent in ordering its material. But on behalf of a section of the public, and bearing in mind the extent to which railway construction is connected with the interests of this Empire, we must express our views on the action reported to have been taken by the company. If in this case both buyer and seller were natives of Japan, we should have nothing to say, because the price of the article simply changes hands and does not leave the country. But here we have a transaction with foreigners in which every sen misspent means so much of a loss to the nation. The Kiushiu Railway Company is going to Germany for dear material unsuited to its wants, and the amount of money that is spent in this operation will represent just so much of a national loss. If the company is not interested in the bearing which this question has on the interests of the country, then we have nothing more to say. But if its shareholders and directors are really men of patriotism and loyalty, then we earnestly suggest to them that they should at once cancel the order and send instead to England or America—to the former for rails and to the latter for rolling plant and engineers, if these are required—and thus show that they are animated by the high motives which ought to influence them.[Page 665]
Public opinion was for some time divided in the west as to the standard of width or gauge that should be adopted for railways. One party strongly advocated the claims of the narrow gauge, while another as firmly put forward the merits of the broad gauge. At the present day it may be said that opinion generally is on the side of the latter. People did not at first understand the principles which ought to govern railway construction in this respect. Probably in deciding as to the width of the axles of their carriages, they could not dismiss from their minds the ideas associated with the ordinary vehicles which preceded railways. The requirements of industry and commerce were not then so extensive, and military and other considerations did not present themselves so forcibly as they do now, so that really at first narrow gauge railways were deemed sufficient. But with the advance of civilization it was found that the narrow gauge was unequal to the demands made upon it, and thus the adoption of the broad gauge came about. The advocates of the narrow gauge seem to urge that the broad gauge entails more expense proportionately than the other. Naturally the latter will not necessitate the employment of so much material, and less land will be required for the railway; but for that matter the question of dilference in the extent of ground taken up is really unimportant, and no one need attempt to contend that the cost of a 6-foot gauge would necessarily be double that of a 3-foot one. Among the advantages of the broad-gauge system may be enumerated comparative immunity from accidents, for the greater width will make the trains more stable; increased speed, for the greater stability will permit of the employment of larger wheels and more power; and greater safety in the transport of heavy material, such, for example, as guns, etc., that it might be necessary to carry in time of emergency. Almost all countries have now adopted the broad gauge. In the United States the width is fixed at 4 feet 8 inches, and in the Australian colonies at 5 feet, while strangely enough the Japanese Government has adopted, and in the private railway regulations followed, a 3-foot 6-inch gauge. We do not suppose that the Government officials are unacquainted with the state of matters as we have now presented it, but we presume the view taken is that as the railways now in existence in Japan are all narrow gauge, all lines to be laid in the future should be of the same width, uniformity in this respect being of great importance. If this be the view entertained, it might still be pointed out that the Kiushiu railway, from the position of the country through which it will run, ought to be of broad gauge. The line which it is proposed to run through the Sanyodo will terminate on one side, while the Kiushiu road will terminate on the other side of the strait of Shimonoseki, which, because of its width and of the currents which occur there, can not be spanned by a bridge. The Kiushiu line is therefore an isolated undertaking, and the weight of evidence points in favor of constructing it without reference to any of the other railways in Japan. Unless the Government have really good reasons for following the narrow gauge, we are strongly of opinion that the new line should be constructed in accordance with the principles now observed in all civilized countries.