Statistics: Spur to Productivity or Publicity Stunt? London Underground Railways 1913-32

James Fowler

Abstract


A rapid deterioration in British railways’ financial results around 1900 sparked an intense debate about how productivity might be improved. As a comparison it was noted that US railways were much more productive and employed far more detailed statistical accounting methods, though the connection between the two was disputed and the distinction between the managerial and regulatory role of US statistical collection was unexplored. Nevertheless, The Railway Companies (Accounts and Returns) Act was passed in 1911 and from 1913 a continuous, detailed and standardized set of data was produced by all rail companies including the London underground. However, this did not prevent their eventual amalgamation into the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933 on grounds of efficiency. This article finds that despite the hopes of the protagonists, collecting more detailed statistics did not improve productivity and suggests that their primary use was in generating publicity to influence shareholders’, passengers’ and workers’ perceptions.


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