Home  

COST OF EARLY RAILWAY FREIGHT MOVEMENTS.

TWO of the most important typical articles of through freight on a number of roads were cotton on southern lines, and flour on northern lines. It generally happened that the northern roads (except the anthracite railways) derived considerably more revenue from passengers than from freight, while on most of the southern roads more revenue was derived from freight than from passengers. The actual cost and standard of charges for all classes of freight movements were very much higher than at the present day, So much higher, indeed, that the quantity of products which would bear the inevitable cost of rail movements was comparatively limited.

Nearly all the freight moved consisted of articles produced on or near the route traversed, or merchandise forwarded from terminal towns or cities. The usual diversion of nearly all the trade previously conducted over considerable distances in heavy wagons occurred, but an exception was noted by the superintendent of the Philadelphia and Columbia, after it had been several years in operation, in the matter of whisky, as he stated that the tolls of the state and freight charges of car owners were too high to furnish sufficient inducements to distillers to transfer their business from the turnpike to the railroad. An early Camden and Amboy report refers to an incident of an opposite character as an illustration of the rapidity with which new forms of local traffic were developed. It consisted of an unexpected increase in the number of cars required for moving green corn from country districts to city markets.

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTS IN 1840.

The nation had not yet been trained into reliance upon extensive sales of surplus products at distant points, except in connection with cotton, flour, tobacco, and a few other articles. Live stock was driven from place to place and not transported in cars. The total annual value of all the exports of domestic produce was usually a little more than one hundred millions of dollars, of which more than one-half was cotton, and generally tobacco ranked second on the list, and flour third. The census returns of 1840 reported the product of iron at 286,943 tons; anthracite coal, 863,489; bituminous coal, 27,603,191 bushels; wheat, 84,823,272 bushels; Indian corn, 377,531,875 bushels; tobacco, 219,163,319 pounds; cotton, 790,479,275 pounds; and the estimated value of all the manufactured goods produced in the country in that year was $370,451,754.

There was certainly not a very extensive basis for commerce of any kind, either foreign or domestic. It continued to be a national lamentation that the value of many products was consumed in vain efforts to get them to market. The proportion of articles moved from the point of production or its vicinity was smaller than at the present day, and the proportion of products moved over considerable distances which were transported over water routes was much larger than it has been during recent years.

In 1840 the value of foreign imports into and domestic exports from the principal commercial states was as follows:—

Of all the domestic products exported in 1840, only a very small fraction were taken to the exporting points by rail. The great exporting centre of New Orleans had no interior rail freight connections, and New York, which ranked second as an exporting city, was substantially in the same position, the reliance for the extensive interior freight movements of these two cities being upon natural or artificial water channels, and mainly the Mississippi, the Hudson, and the New York canals.

The census report of 1840 stated the population of the United States to be 17,068,666, including 6,100 persons on board vessels of war in the naval service. The number of persons employed in various industries was as follows: Mining, 15,203; agriculture, 3,717,756; commerce, 117,576; manufactures and trades, 791,545; navigation of the ocean, 56,025; navigation of canals, lakes, and rivers, 33,067; learned professions and engineers, 65,236. The number engaged in railway pursuits was not stated. It was perhaps considered too small to be worth mentioning.

FREIGHT CHARGES FOR EARLY MOVEMENTS BY RAIL.

A serious obstacle to the rapid increase of extensive rail movements of bulky freight, arose from the high standard of charges then prevailing, which was necessitated by the actual cost to railway companies of movements over imperfect lines, in small cars drawn by locomotives of limited capacity.

A British writer states that the cost of transporting goods on the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad, during its early operations, was $2.79 per ton for 32 miles, or nearly nine cents per ton per mile. A similar standard prevailed on a number of American lines, and on some classes of articles these rates were exceeded.

The rates authorized by some of the early charters were ten cents per ton per mile on bulky articles, or ten cents per cubic foot on articles of measurement, for a distance of one hundred miles. The twelfth section of the charter of the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company was as follows: "That the said Georgia Railroad Company shall at all times have the exclusive right of transportation or conveyance of persons, merchandise, and produce over the railroad and railroads to be by them constructed while they see fit to exercise the exclusive right; provided that the charge of transportation or conveyance shall not exceed fifty cents per hundred pounds on heavy articles, and ten cents per cubic foot on articles of measurement, for every hundred miles, and five cents per mile for every passenger."

It was estimated during the first nine months of the operations of the Baltimore and Ohio that the cost of transportation on that road was six cents per ton per mile.

The Petersburg Railroad, one of the first lines constructed in Virginia, was prohibited by its charter from charging more than 12½ cents a mile on a ton of freight during the time the road was being constructed, and after its completion it was forbidden to charge more than $8 per ton on merchandise carried from Petersburg to Blakely, in North Carolina, a distance of 60 miles. This is at the rate of 13-and-one-third cents per ton per mile.

The cost of transportation to the operating company on the Mauch Chunk Railroad, 9 miles in length, of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, which railroad was used mainly for the transportation of coal, all of which was carried down grade, for the year 1828, was reported as follows: Mules and horses cost 1-and-one-third cents per ton per mile; hands, 1-and-one-third; repairing wagons, two-thirds; oil, one-fifth; total, 3-53/100 cents per ton a mile, full and one way, and the whole cost divided into the distance one way only.

The tolls charged by the state of Pennsylvania, on the Columbia and Philadelphia Railway, for the use of the road and locomotive power, which was, of course, exclusive of the charges imposed by owners of cars for freight movements, together with those charges, were described in an article written for the Journal of the Franklin Institute of May, 1840, by Mr. W. Hasell Wilson, civil engineer, to be as follows:—
"The rates of toll for the use of road vary from 6 mills to 4 cents per ton (of 2,000 lbs.) per mile. There are twelve different rates, the average of which would be 2 cents per ton per mile. The lowest rates are for coal, stone, iron ore, vegetables, lime, manure, and timber, and the highest are for dry goods, drugs, medicines, steel, and furs.

On the United States mail the toll is one mill per mile for every 10 pounds. On every passenger one cent per mile. In addition to these rates a toll is levied of one cent per mile on each burthen car, two cents per mile on each baggage car, and on every passenger car one cent per mile for each pair of wheels.

The motive power toll is, for each car having four wheels, one cent per mile; for each additional pair of wheels 6 mills; for each passenger one cent per mile, and for all other kinds of loading 12 mills per ton (of 2,000 lbs.). The owners of cars now charge $3.25 for every passenger and $7.50 for every ton of merchandise conveyed the whole length of the road, they paying all tolls, which is at the rate of four cents per mile for passengers and 9.14 cents per mile for a ton of goods. Taking the length of the road at 82 miles, the average number of passengers to an 8-wheel car at 30, and the load of a 4-wheel burthen car at 3 tons, we have the following results:—

Road toll on an 8-wheel car, 4 cents per mile.

Road toll on 30 passengers, 30 cents per mile.

Motive power toll on car, 2 cents per mile.

Motive power toll on 30 passengers, 30 cents per mile.

Total toll for 30 passengers, 66 cents per mile, or 2.2 cents per mile for each passenger, leaving 1.8 cents. per mile to the owners of the car for every passenger.

Road toll on a 4-wheel burthen car, 1 cent per mile.

Road toll on three tons of dry goods, 12 cents per mile.

Motive power toll on car, 1 cent per mile.

Motive power toll on three tons of dry goods, 3.6 cents per mile.

Total toll on three tons of dry goods, 17.6 cents per mile, or 5.86 cents per mile per ton to the owner of the car."

The superintendent of motive power of the Columbia and Philadelphia Railroad, in a report for the year ending October 31st, 1837, said that the charges then imposed for carrying goods on the other railways named below were as follows:—

He also gave in that report the following estimate of the cost to the road or the state of freight movements: "The annual cost to the state of transporting a ton of freight has been frequently inquired. From the closest calculation that has been made, it would seem that the expense of transporting one ton one mile in a train of twenty loaded cars, would be about eight mills, exclusive of the repairs, wear and tear of engines, and supervision. The state now charges twelve mills, allowing only four mills for the expenses and all other contingencies."

A NEW YORK ESTIMATE OF THE COST OF RAILWAY TRANSPORTATION.

In 1835 a report on the subject of the actual cost of transportation by rail was made to the New York legislature, which was criticised at a later period, on the ground that it unduly magnified the necessary expense of such movements, and that the information it furnished was based on operations on roads unfavorably located. Subsequent events have conclusively proved that the estimates were much higher than the facilities of improved roads would justify. The conclusions reached were of momentous importance, inasmuch as they formed a leading incentive to the enlargement of the New York canals, commenced in 1835 and completed in 1862, at an enormous expense, on the ground that genuinely cheap transportation could never be expected from railways.

DIFFERENCE OF RATES ON DIFFERENT LINES.

In early railroading, as at all later periods, there have been great variations in the freight charges imposed by different lines, many of which grew naturally out of differences in their cost, charter requirements, or other circumstances. The Baltimore and Ohio appears to have been one of the cheapest roads, as it is stated that at an early stage of its history its charter forbid freight charges exceeding four cents per ton per mile. Sundry controversial points were agitated, some of which arose from contests relating to the respective merits of railways and canals as freight carriers, and others from disputes in regard to the relative desirability of state and company management of railway operations. One of the results of state management of the main line of the Pennsylvania improvements, consisting chiefly of canals, but supplemented by two railroads, was alleged to be that the cost of transporting a barrel of flour from the Ohio river, or Pittsburgh, to Philadelphia in 1840 was $1.55. It had previously been reported, however, that in 1834 such movements were made for $1.12½ per barrel. The charge of $1.55 is at the rate of about four cents per ton per mile for the entire distance.

Other results, which were referred to partly on account of their bearing on the state vs. company management question, are stated in the following extract from an article published in the Railroad Journal, of January, 1840, which opposed the construction of the projected New York and Erie Railroad as a state work:—
"The state of Michigan opened 30 miles of the Central Railroad in January, 1838, and carries on the forwarding business, in all its branches, as well as the transportation of passengers, giving bills of lading for flour, butter, turkeys, live or dead hogs, &c., all under the direction of commissioners appointed annually. There are, of course, no 'tolls,' and the cost of transportation in 1838 was 37½ cents per barrel of flour carried 30 miles, or 12½ cents per ton per mile, while the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, only 16 miles long, with three kinds and five changes of power, charged, and we believe still charges, 6¼ cents per barrel of flour, or very nearly 4 cents per ton per mile, one-third of the price charged by the state of Michigan. This same Mohawk and Hudson Railroad charges for light goods 6 cents per ton per mile, which it carries throughout the year at the rate of ten miles per hour for the very price charged on the Erie Canal for transportation during seven or eight months at the rate of two miles per hour. The rate for light goods from New York to Buffalo for 1839 was $1.20 per 100 pounds, and deducting 10 cents for the river, there remains $1.10 for 363 miles (on the canals), or $22 per ton, or 6 cents per ton per mile."

PROPHETIC VIEWS OF J. EDGAR THOMSON.

In connection with the controversies relating to the relative merits of canals and railroads as freight carriers, in 1840, one of the statements most frequently quoted by the advocates of the latter class of improvements, was an extract from a report of J. Edgar Thomson, chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company, whose lines had been constructed under his supervision, and which was beginning a prosperous career under his management. In view of the immense influence he subsequently exercised in verifying his statements they possess a significance which can scarcely be overrated, and they will forever stand out like beacon-lights of truth amid many shoals and quick-sands of error. Mr. Thomson in this report, dated April 29th, 1840, when the road was well advanced towards completion, and its financial success seemed to be assured, said:—
I can now state with confidence, that whenever the transportation is of a mixed character, such as agricultural products, general merchandise, and passengers, sufficiently large to justify the construction of a good road, railways will be found to be not only the most expeditious, but the cheapest artificial medium of conveyance at present known."


Transport Systems | Antebellum RR | Contents Page

Home
Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery