Railway Management and Organisational Structure: Its Impact on and Diffusion into the Overall Economy, 1840-1945

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Railway management and organisational structure: its impact on and diffusion into the overall economy, 1840-1945

International seminar at Montecatini Terme, Italy, 5-8 April 1997

How were management structures developed in the railway industry and how were they diffused in other areas of business? Nearly thirty specialists from nine countries and three continents active in the fields of railway, transport and economic history gathered in Montecatini Terme to pursue discussions and debates on this central question, which was formulated by John Armstrong (London), one of the organisers of the seminar, in his introductory remarks. The international perspective for a re-evaluation of this essentially 'Chandlerian' argument turned out to be one of the most important aspects of the conference, since participants came from six European countries (the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany - with an additional paper submitted from Bulgaria), four American countries (Canada, the United States, Mexico, with an additional paper submitted from Argentina) and from Japan. The seminar was the pre-conference for a B Session at the twelfth International Economic History Congress scheduled for Seville in August 1998. It was organised by John Armstrong, Christophe Bouneau (Bordeaux) and Javier Vidal Olivares (Alicante), with local arrangements entrusted to Michele Merger (Lucca/Paris) and Marie-Noelle Polino (Paris), the latter acting on behalf of the Association pour l'histoire des chemins de fer en France. Further sponsorship of a well organised conference came from the Fundacion de los Ferrocarriles Espanoles (Madrid), the Centre de recherche sur l'histoire de l'innovation at the Universite de Paris-Sorbonne, and the Azienda per la Promozione Turistica of Lucca.

In his introductory remarks Javier Vidal, one of the three conveners focused on the position of the Montecatini seminar in the context of recent research, placing it in a series of international conferences on transport-related themes that had been held at Madrid and Leuven in 1990 and at San Miniato and Milan in 1993/94. In both cases, preparatory conferences were followed by sessions at the International Economic History Congresses in Leuven and Milan, respectively, and Montecatini was to continue this 'tradition'. As already mentioned, John Armstrong gave a brief introduction to the business history side of the conference theme, emphasising A. D. Chandler's paradigm on the railways' importance in the opening of markets and in becoming large businesses themselves. The third convener, Christophe Bouneau, stressed the need to compare the development of different sectors of national economies, pitching national models against functional ones such as management, public service, etc., and contrasting the workings of national v. international transport networks.

The seminar itself was divided into five sessions. The first, chaired by Terence Gourvish (London) focused on railway management and industrial relations. Francois Caron (Paris) chaired the second session, devoted to national approaches and comparisons of railway management. This theme was continued in the third session, chaired by Antonio Gomez Mendoza (Madrid). The fourth session dealt with railway management's impact on other businesses and was chaired by Glenn Porter (Wilmington, Del.). The fifth and final session, chaired by Takeshi Yuzawa (Tokyo), opened up perspectives on railway management and industrial engineering.

Labour management structures and policies in the railway industries of Great Britain and in the United States were the subject of Geoffrey Channon's paper, presented in the first session of the conference. Against the background of an increase in industrial conflict in the 1870s, Channon (Bristol) showed that railway managers tended to adopt a `paternalism and patronage model', using discipline and safety as compelling arguments, and welfare schemes as a lubricant to achieve their goals. …