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RAILWAYS AS PUBLIC HIGHWAYS.

 

HORSE POWER VS. LOCOMOTIVES.

THE roadway being constructed, the next important consideration related to the nature of the vehicles and motive power to be used. In some cases very intricate questions arose in connection with this subject. They gained complexity from the fact that there were no precedents for a transportation system adapted to miscellaneous traffic that combined with control and ownership of the road control and ownership of vehicles, and the power by which they were propelled. In this respect, the modern railway, in its relations with the public, has established an innovation of enormous industrial and financial significance. The gradual approaches towards the ascendency of this system form one of the most important features of railway development. At the outset nearly every imaginable divergence in practice was represented by the operations of some one or more of the numerous lines. In some cases, where the use of horse power had originally been contemplated, and had actually commenced, there were serious struggles against the substitution of locomotives, which, it was soon seen, would be incompatible with a continuance of horse power; and on the railways constructed by the state of Pennsylvania, after it had solved the first difficulty by excluding horses, and providing locomotives to furnish motive power, all the vehicles or cars used in moving freight or passengers continued to be owned by individuals, firms, or private corporations until the commonwealth disposed of her public works, after her railways had been in operation under state management for nearly a quarter of a century.

The earnest champions of railway improvements intended for general use speedily became satisfied that the locomotive was an indispensable adjunct. The prevailing feeling in such circles is well expressed by an early advocate of railways, who said: "The public in general entertain wrong impressions respecting railways. They never hear them mentioned without recurring to such as are seen in the neighborhood of coal pits and stone quarries. But such improvements have taken place that they are no longer the same thing; besides which, a railway without a locomotive engine is something like a cart without a horse, a trade without profit, or a canal without water."

PUBLIC HIGHWAY THEORIES.

Of the operations on the Portage road, before locomotives were used, Mr. Solomon W. Roberts says: "The experiment of working the road as a public highway was very unsatisfactory. Individuals and firms employed their own drivers, with their own horses and cars. The cars were small, had four wheels, and each car would carry about seven thousand pounds of freight. Usually four cars made a train, and that number could be taken up and as many let down an inclined plane at one time, and from six to ten such trips could be made in an hour. The drivers were a rough set of fellows, and sometimes very stubborn and unmanageable. It was not practicable to make them work by a time-table, and the officers of the railroad had no power to discharge them. My memory recalls the case of one fellow who would not go backward, and could not go forward, and so obstructed the road for a considerable time.

It resembled the case of two wild wagoners of the Alleghenies, meeting in a narrow mountain pass, and both refusing to give way. Our nominal remedy was to have the man arrested, and taken before a magistrate, perhaps many miles off, to have him fined, according to the law, a copy of which I used to carry in my pocket.

When the road had but a single track between the turnouts, a large post, called a centre post, wss set up half-way between two turnouts, and the rule was made that when two drivers met on the single track, with their cars, the one that had gone beyond the centre post had the right to go on, and the other that had not reached it must go back to the turnout which he had left. The road was, in many places, very crooked, and a man could not see far ahead. The way the rule worked was this: When a man left a turnout he would drive very slowly, fearing that he might have to turn back, and, as he approached the centre post, he would drive faster and faster, to try to get beyond it, and thus to drive back any cars that be might meet, and in this way cars have been driven together, and a man killed by being crushed between them. We had no electric telegraphs in those days."

He also states that when a bill was pending in the state legislature to authorize the purchase of locomotives, he was journeying in a horse car towards Harrisburg, on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, and says: "Two gentlemen were sitting opposite to me who were members of the legislature from Chester county, one being a senator. The car stopped, and a man spoke to my traveling companions, saying that he hoped they would oppose the bill to authorize the canal commissioners to put locomotives on the road and control the motive power. The senator said that it should never be done with his consent. Thereupon, as the car drove on, I proceeded to argue the matter, but with poor success; the reply being, that the people were taxed to make the railroad, and that the farmers along the line should have the right to drive their own horses and cars on the railroad, as they did their wagons on the Lancaster turnpike, to go to market in Philadelphia; and that, if they were not permitted to do it, the railroad would be a nuisance to the people of Lancaster and Chester counties. It required time to overcome this feeling."

SUPPOSED ANALOGY BETWEEN RAILWAYS AND TURNPIKES.

Similar difficulties sprang up in other quarters. A distinguished lawyer, George Ticknor Curtis, referring to this subject in 1880, said:—
"I remember—for I am old enough to have witnessed the origin and growth of the whole railroad system of this country, being already a student-at-law before any railroad had been put into operation in America—that the ideas of the first projectors of the railroads in New England, and of the public, as to the use that would be made of them, were exceedingly crude. The earliest charters granted in Massachusetts contain traces of an expectation that the company would lay down the rails, and that the public would somehow drive their own carriages over them. In this imperfect conception of what was to be done, the railroad, it was supposed, would be operated like a chartered turnpike, the proprietors having the right to take tolls of those who should drive their own carriages over the road. It was not until a later period, after the English example was better known, that it was seen here, that a railroad could not be worked like a chartered turnpike, or like a public highway; that it would be impracticable to admit the carriages of individuals to pass over the rails; that the company which built the road must operate it; and that individuals of the public must stand in the same relation to this new species of common carrier, that they occupy in regard to all common carriers, and must make contracts for the transportation of their persons or property, by a carrier who would own the vehicle and the propelling power, as well as the road over which the vehicle was to pass. The supposed analogy, therefore, between the railroad and the chartered turnpike, over which any one could drive his own vehicle on payment of the authorized toll, or between the railroad and the public highway, built and maintained at the public expense—an analogy which misled some of the earliest projectors of railroads—entirely disappeared."

NECESSITY OF EFFECTIVE REGULATIONS.

Theoretically, the railways of some states are still legally declared to be public highways, and on many lines numerous cars belonging to individuals, freight organizations, or other railway companies are constantly passing. But the right to impose appropriate restrictions relating to the condition of these foreign cars is never seriously questioned, and its exercise is absolutely necessary to ensure safety.

Railroading is the practical application of the best attainable mechanical and engineering devices to the science of land transportation. Unlike all previous systems for promoting that great end, it combines approximately equal attention to the road to be traveled, or the permanent way, on the one hand, and the vehicles to be used and the motive power by which they are to be propelled, on the other. The physical welfare of mankind hinges on the degree of success with which transportation problems are solved to a greater extent than on the result of mechanical labors of any other kind, because cheap and rapid movement of persons and property is the most vital element of all forms of progress. Railroads represent the first effort to construct and maintain thoroughly effective avenues for great inland movements, inasmuch as their successful operation requires that prompt and thorough repair and maintenance of the line traversed which never was, and probably never will be, secured on highways owned and managed by one set of persons or authorities and used mainly by vehicles belonging to a large body of miscellaneous owners.

At the same time, under appropriate restrictions, it has been found mutually advantageous for each of many lines to grant a right of way and to furnish motive power to cars of other lines, and there have been times and contingencies in which the idea of confining the use of a railway exclusively to cars of the company owning it has been enforced to an injurious extent.

A report on internal commerce of the United States for 1876 says:—
"Many of the abuses and evils which have sprung up with the railroad system are traceable to the fact that railroads have never been, and, perhaps, in the nature of things never can become, free highways in the sense in which the term 'free' applies to navigable waters and to wagon roads. When railroads were first introduced, it was supposed that they could be operated in the same manner as other public highways; but it was soon demonstrated that upon an avenue of commerce the pathway of which is no wider than the wheel of the vehicle which moves upon it, not only the road itself but the entire equipment and motive power must be placed under the control of one central organization. The peculiarities of the railroad as a public highway are based upon this mechanical feature, and to it may be directly traced almost every question which has arisen respecting the relations of the railroad to the public. The circumstance just alluded to gave to the railroad system certain marked characteristics of monopoly, and at all early day serious apprehensions were entertained as to the abuses which might arise in the course of the development of the system. But the popular demand for railroads at almost any cost set at rest all these fears. Some of the evils encountered have in the progress of events worked out their own cure, some have been adjusted by legislation and by the courts, some have been corrected by the railroad companies themselves, while others remain unsettled, constituting what is termed 'the railroad problem of the day."'


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