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Friday, 20 May 2011

Statistics for Managers on the 1830s Stockton to Darlington Railway

The Stockton to Darlington Railway (SDR), which was promoted by local businessmen, was authorised as an act of parliament in 1821 and was completed in 1825. Its significance is because it was the first railway to be permitted to carry goods and passengers by steam traction. However, some historians dispute that it was the railway that started the ‘Railway Age’ and only consider it a precursor to it. These views have been formed on the basis that initially the railway ran from collieries to Stockton via Darlington, a mere 30 miles. Secondly the bulk of the early traffic was heavy minerals, and lastly the company sub-contracted portions of its operations. Yet, while many comparisons are made with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, the SDR did help George Stephenson to refine locomotive design, track building techniques and rail profiles.

However, the SDR it soon became more than just a short line, and in 1828 the company extended its line to Middlesbrough. [1] However, it was in 1833 that the company started to truly resemble a modern railway. Prior to this date the company had only used locomotives on mineral trains, with horses pulling the passengers. Furthermore, the company owned only a few trains, and the majority of individuals could pay to use their own traction to pull their own trains on it. Thus, the line was managed in much the same manner as a canal or toll road, and there were no timetables or safety mechanisms.

In 1833, this all changed and the management of the SDR took control of the line. Firstly, double tracks were laid to allow trains to run in opposite directions. Timetables were introduced, as well as a crude system of signalling.[2] Lastly, the Shildon works, which had been established on a small scale in 1825 to build and maintain the company’s own locomotives, came to resemble what we would now know as a locomotive works under the charge of the company’s new locomotive superintendent, Timothy Hackworth.[3] Subsequently, the SDR became a standard railway and was a huge success.

While outwardly appearing like a conventional railway, it cannot be ignored that the company also started to use management techniques that were akin to other early companies. Within the files of the SDR at the National Archives can be seen the SDR’s early attempts at statistical gathering. The data that has survived pertains to the number of passengers conveyed and how far they went. While it is unknown what other data the company kept (at this point at least) the statistics do suggest that very quickly after establishment early railway companies were gathering metrics beyond just revenue and expense.

The first page of data showed me the monthly totals of passengers conveyed and how far they travelled. In 1833 12,829 passengers travelled 101,288 miles on the SDR (7.90 miles per passenger). However, between January and September 1834 the railway conveyed 143,672 passengers 1,049,370.5 miles (7.30 miles per passenger). Thus, while the company was conveying more passengers in 1834 than in 1833, on average they were going shorter distances. Subsequently, financial information (which I do not have at the moment) may reveal that the effect that this had on the company’s profitability. What is for certain is that the company was rapidly becoming more popular, and this also may have had an effect on the statistic of miles travelled per passenger.

In addition, how the passengers were carried was also noted. While we are familiar with the distinctions of First, Second and Third class carriage from later on in British railway history, it seems that the early SDR distinguished the customers by ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ passengers. The evidence, which again showed the monthly totals, indicates that from the 1st January 1834 to the 17th December, 11,270 (25.54%) passengers paid more to travel ‘inside.’ However, 32,857 (74.46%) travelled by the evidently cheaper ‘outside’ accommodation.

Furthermore, by 1835, it is clear that the managers were demanding more complex statistics, and another document evidences the number of passengers each month travelling under specific headings: ‘Number of Passengers on Market Days,’ ‘Number of passengers not including market days’ and ‘total number of passengers.’ For that year 23,485 (45.54%) passengers travelled on market days, with 28,082 (54.46%) conveyed at other times.

Lastly, a document from 1836 shows that the SDR was not just recording the volume of passengers across the line, but was also recording specific detail were passengers were travelling to and from (however, this can be inferred from the details communicated by the first document). Between April and October that year, the company earned £202 10s 0d from passengers conveyed from Stockton to Darlington (58.96%), £41 10s 0d from passengers going from Shildon to Darlington (12.08%), £85 6s 4d from those going from Shildon to Middlesbrough (24.84%) and £14 2s 8d was spent by individuals making other journeys (4.12%). Thus, the management could gauge what their most popular journeys were, and where extra capacity in trains may have been needed.[4]

Overall these documents indicate that even in the early days of railway operation railway managers were using statistics to measure demand, pricing and uptake of their services. Indeed, on the bottom of the first sheet, which showed the number passengers conveyed and the number of miles they travelled, there is a calculation in pencil of how far, on average, each passenger travelled. Later documents also show that these calculations were made. Thus, what these documents indicate is that systems of management accounting were developed very quickly in the early railway industry. Furthermore, as they started at the beginning of the SDR’s proper operation it can be deduced that management recognised, based on prior experience that management accounting was important.

[1] Kirby, Dr Maurice, ‘Stockton & Darlington Railway’, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.478


[3] Ransom, P.J.G, ‘Works, railway manufacture and repair’, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.569

[4] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 667/1364, Statistics of passenger journeys: numbers carried, mileages, receipts etc., 1833-1837

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