Publisher Information: 1842.
Vignoles, Charles Blacker (1793-1875). Remarks upon the railway system of France. Manuscript document in a secretarial hand, signed by Vignoles on the last text leaf (f. 71). [2, blank], 71, [2, blank]ff. 4 Trafalgar Square, London, December 1842. 323 x 210 mm. Original plain wrappers, spine and corners chipped; preserved in a 19th-century portfolio (boards, cloth backstrip), slightly worn. Fine.
Unpublished Book-Length Document on Railways by Charles Vignoles, an influential British engineer and pioneer of railway construction. In the 1820s Vignoles worked with the Rennies on the London & Brighton and Liverpool & Manchester railways; in the 1830s he helped to build Ireland’s first railway system; and in the 1840s and 1850s he was employed by several European governments to oversee the construction of various railway lines and bridges. In 1836 Vignoles introduced to Britain the “Vignoles rail,” a flat-bottomed flanged rail designed by American inventor Robert L. Stevens; this type of rail is now used worldwide.
Vignoles’s manuscript “Remarks,” a detailed economic analysis of the French railway system, was prepared in response to the French government’s adoption in 1842 of the “Thiers Plan” to conduct a much-needed expansion and improvement of the country’s railways. France had built its first railway in 1823, but for various political and economic reasons the French were slow to embrace this new form of transport, and by the early 1840s France had only 300 miles of railways in operation compared to Britain’s 1900. In the 1830s the French government consulted Vignoles about a proposed London-to-Paris railway, during which time he met often with Adolphe Thiers (author of the Thiers Plan), who was then serving as France’s Minister of the Interior. Vignoles advised Thiers extensively on railroad construction and funding, advocating for government involvement in both to correct some of the defects in the free-market system that had spawned Britain’s complicated rail network.
Thiers evidently heeded Vignoles’s advice, as his 1842 plan called for a combination of public subsidies and private investment: The French government would supply the land, pay for infrastructure and own the rail system, while private railway companies would cover operating costs and furnish track, stations and rolling stock. The scheme was unfortunately contradictory and confusing, leading to conflict between public and private interests and delaying "the development of French regional rail networks. Vignoles described the current state of France’s railway project in his “Remarks”:
France has shaken off the apathy and indifference, that seemed, at one time, to have closed her public mind against appreciating the boon in store for her, and has seized the favourable moment for executing the long-delayed project of her railways . . . With reference to the broad enquiry into the principles and system, on which these new lines of intercourse should be established, in any country, the very first questions must be, 'Are Railways to be considered in the light of mere Mercantile transactions, not to be undertaken, except with the prospect of a remunerating profit? Or, are they to be regarded as great and beneficial works, to be constructed for the improvement of a Country, and to be sustained by the hand of Government, when private means are insufficient?' It has already been answered officially in France, in favor of the latter principle, and yet it would seem, by the encouragement held out to private Speculators, that there were efforts still making, to unite these two distinct objects; and I cannot help surmising, that between attempting both, the great gift of Railway intercourse, for many parts of France, may be indefinitely postponed . . ."
Vignoles’s manuscript includes several tables analyzing railway construction and operating costs, projected receipts for carrying passengers and various types of freight, and other pertinent economic data.Book Id: 44856