Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

How often since this line has been running-or, let us say, since the war with Japan was over-has one heard of accidents involving loss of life or loss of property on the Trans-Siberian railway? Practically not once. The dangers to life, or even the discomforts of a train journey from Calais to the southernmost extremity of Spain, are trivial compared with those which have attended during the same period of existence the transport-service of modern steamships across the Bay of Biscay to ports in the English Channel. The disaster to the Titanic has given much less impetus to the preference for railways over steamship travel than the unrecorded experiences of many a passenger up or down the English Channel or across the Bay of Biscay; and the recent accidents to important steamers of the P. and 0. line both in the Channel and at the entrance to the Mediterranean, the unforgettable wreck of the Drummond Castle off Ushant and the Jebba off Plymouth, will long live in people's memory as instances of the sea risks which are run even when first-class steamers are used. Of course, in regard to the Americas, qualms of this kind are of no avail; and fortunately the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and the German, French, and Dutch boats plying between North-west Europe, the Gulf of Mexico, the West Indies, and South America have been singularly free from bad accidents or alarming experiences, partly because their course down the Channel is simpler, and because they avoid the Bay of Biscay - and the icebergs of the Atlantic as much as possible. But in regard to reaching America by railway-across Siberia and through Alaska-the project, though it was discussed a great deal at one time, is beyond the horizon of practical politics, and is perhaps unrealisable through climatic difficulties until science has got a greater control over climate.

But the commercial marine of England and other maritime countries need not fear the rivalries of railways as regards having

· It has always been a matter of surprise to me, referred to previously in several of my articles in this Review, that so far as South America, the West Indies, West and South Africa are concerned, the never-to-be-exaggerated dangers and discomforts of the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel are not avoided by all steamers, plying in the directions mentioned, calling at Lisbon to take up or to disembark passengers. There is excellent railway communication between Calais and Lisbon, and the only difficulty which stands in the way is the cussedness' of the Portuguese Government, which for reasons best known to itself does not wish Lisbon to be a port of call for foreign shipping of importance, and effects this purpose by the imposition of preposterous port dues and the most vexatious treatment at the Customs House which they can devise for passengers landing from foreign steamers. The British Govornment has exercised much influence over that of Portugal in regard to wiser measures of colonial development, but it seems powerless to induce either the monarchy or the republic of this westernmost State of Europe to make Lisbon what it might be a free port and the most important place of call for shipping in all Europe. This need will be much increased by the opening of the Panama Canal. But, failing Lisbon, why not Vigo or Corunna ?

plenty of work to do and reasonable profits to make, any more than railways have really suffered from competition with motorcars. For bulky goods, for persons who benefit in health from à sea voyage, and for a multitude of other uses, ships and sea travel, instead of growing less when the great Trans-African and Trans-Persian railways are made, will increase in order to keep pace with the commerce which those railways would create.

In France there has been a revival of interest since the recent settlement with Germany in regard to the Trans-Sahara railway; and the idea has been broached that this line might take the place in British ideals of the Cape-to-Cairo route. At the present day the Cape-to-Cairo through-railway system extends northwards from Capetown to the southernmost province of the Belgian Congo; but as month after month goes by it is steadily approaching Nyangwe on the Lualaba Congo—the place made for ever famous by the journeys of Livingstone—and from Nyangwe it is already constructed in portions, and will before long be complete as far as the French post of Zemio, near the borders of the Bahral-Ghazal province of the Egyptian Sudan. The Sudanese railways have recently been opened as far as El Obeid in Kordofan, and it is not a very desperate undertaking to continue the line from El Obeid to Zemio. Then when the additional blankextraordinary that it should exist !-which still separates Assuan from Wadi Halfa (a gap inadequately filled by river steamers) is completed, the Cape-to-Alexandria line across the Egyptian, Sudanese, French, Belgian, and British territories will be complete. But even then the passengers who loathe sea travel (eight out of ten persons of all nationalities) will find themselves at Alexandria or Port Said with three to six days of sea passage intervening between Egypt and the port of disembarkation in Italy or France. It is true, however, that when a better state of affairs comes about in regard to the Turkish Empire the Egyptian railways may be linked with those of Jerusalem, Damascus, and Aleppo, and it may be possible to travel by rail from Egypt to Constantinople, and thence to all parts of Europe.

But the alternative route that the French are now suggesting deserves, I think, very favourable consideration at our hands, politically and commercially. If once the paralysing dread of an attack from Germany were removed—as it might be, if only Britain, Germany, and France could come to an understandingFrance would easily find in her immense reserve of capital the money to make the Trans-Sahara railway. This line at present only extends for about 700 miles from Oran into the Moroccan Sahara, across the lofty plateaus of Inner Algeria. From the present termination of this line at Colomb-Beshar, the railway might be carried along a route presenting practically no engineer

ing difficulties of importance, and across a region less afflicted with drifting sand than many other parts of the Sahara, to the base of the Ahaggar mountain mass. Here the line would bifurcate; the western branch proceeding to the banks of the northernmost Niger, and thence linking up Senegal, Sierra Leone, the Ivory and Gold Coasts with Europe (all the railways in these countries are tending towards some point like Bamba on the northern Niger); while the eastern bifurcation would proceed from Ahaggar via Agadés to Lake Chad (at Agadés another offshoot would link this Trans-Saharan line with Kano and all British Nigeria). Eastwards of Lake Chad it would be continued to Zemio on the great Mubangi-Wele River. Zemio would be a most important junction with the Cape-to-Cairo line, and from Zemio over that Cape-to-Cairo line the passenger would proceedwill be able to proceed in a very few years—to Capetown and all parts of British and German South Africa, and by the Lobito Bay-Katanga railway to Angola. From Zemio likewise a branch would be carried to effect a connexion with the Uganda-Mombasa railway, while no doubt another would traverse German East Africa, and again another link up Addis Ababa and Somaliland with the Uganda system.

But the great desire of the traveller would be, not to travel to and from Capetown via Alexandria, or even Algiers, but by way of Tangier in the north of Morocco, within reach, through a steam ferry, of the Spanish railways. Of course, from ColombBeshar in South-east Morocco one can proceed by rail at the present day to all parts of Algeria and Tunis, and down the coast of Tunisia to near the frontier of Tripoli. But, in what should be the main line of communication between Western Europe and Capetown and all other parts of Tropical and South Africa, Algiers is very much off the direct route. Oran is less so, but the steamer passage from Cartagena to Oran can be very stormy and disagreeable, and is too long for a steam ferry. Consequently, the great Trans-African railway must eventually start from TANGIER, a place as to the political future of which Britain, France, and Spain are now negotiating. There is a talk of internationalising Tangier, but it is a question whether such internationalisation might not be better achieved by restoring the town to the control of Great Britain, the last European Power to own it. However that may be, the Trans-African railway must enlist not only the sympathies of France and Belgium, but those of Spain, for the railway from Colomb-Beshar to Tangier, to avoid physical difficulties as much as possible, must proceed northwards to Fez, Larache, and along the coast of the Spanish sphere of Morocco to Tangier. It would then, by means of a steam ferry, be linked up with the Spanish railways and the whole railway system of Europe.

With the resources of modern engineering, the making of a railway across this comparatively narrow strip of desert between South-east Morocco and the northern Niger, or Agadés, is not an undertaking more difficult or expensive than many an Australian railway which has been quietly built without straining the resources of Australia. It would certainly be no more difficult than the Trans-Persian railways, which are only difficult because of the political and ethical wrangles which are hampering their construction. Such a railway would be an enormous philanthropic boon to Africa. It would give the Tuareg raiders a new interest in life, far more absorbing than that of robbing and murdering brother tribes or negro peoples. The Sahara is by no means unpossessed of great resources. It is a ridiculous mistake to imagine it as being everywhere a vast sea of drifting sand. The line projected would pass through a country that is rather rocky than sandy, and wind round the bases of great table mountains and plateaus, on which there is a cool climate and from which descend intermittently streams of pure water; mountains by no means denuded of vegetation, and sufficiently provided with pasture to maintain considerable herds of animals, flocks of sheep and goats, and troops of horses and asses. These regions contain deposits of phosphates and veins of minerals. Once the upper Niger or the oasis of Agadés is reached, the railway is within the area of the Sudan--a region which, so far as climate and soil are concerned, should be one of the greatest cottonproducing districts in the world. Throughout the whole course of the line there are scattered at intervals forests of date-palms, producing dates of excellent quality; and the importance of the date as an article of food is only just beginning to be realised. The wonderful climate of the Sahara is of singular efficiency as a health restorative, a fact which the opening-up of Egypt has made clear to us; while the reconquest of the Sahara from its shameless mistreatment by Nature is one of the noblest objects to which any nation can apply itself—an object which, moreover, will in course of time yield a rich reward in the unveiling of great resources.

Meanwhile it is an interesting feature in the discussion of these railway projects (a discussion carried on within the four walls of offices, commercial and political, rather than in the Press) that it would strengthen the position of Belgium as the future ruler of the Congo State, since this region, for its strategical position in the future of Africa, is best held by a small, neutral European nation than by any one of the Great Powers. This fact should be an additional inducement to the Belgian Government to set its house in order, and to remove the very real objections to its administration which are still raised by the Congo reformers and Rhodesian pioneers.

The obstacles which at present lie in the path of a direct railway communication between India and Europe are not connected, as already stated, with lack of money to promote such a linking up, but with a variety of theoretical objections-sentimental, strategical, and political. The sentimental ones are those which deprecate any further interference with Persia lest this shockingly misgoverned region should become more or less governed and advised by two or three nations of Europe, who, though their own home administrations are far from perfect, can

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

nevertheless point to peoples under their sway who are more numerous, more prosperous, and much happier than the present inhabitants of Persia. But these objections will not prevail, nor need the construction of railways across Persia really affect the independence or the distinct nationality of Persia, a region which will always be Persian, and probably always more or less independent. Sentiment plays a part in this, too, as it has done so much in the politics of mankind during the last two thousand years. Greece would have remained a forgotten and desolate prolongation of the

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »