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,
NECESSITY OF EFFECTIVE REGULATIONS.
"I rememberfor 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 Americathat 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 expensean
analogy which misled some of the earliest projectors of railroadsentirely
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
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
"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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