Railroad Temperance Regulations



A TWENTY-FIVE pound bicycle will carry an average-sized man at a high rate of speed and in comparative safety, yet in the organization of a modern express train from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds train weight per man are required.

In 1829, when Erickson's little two and a half ton locomotive, the "Novelty," ran for a little ways at the rate of thirty miles per hour, a contemporary writer declared that the feat was "the most wonderful exhibition of human daring and human skill that the world has ever known." And there can be no doubt that he voiced the popular wonderment of the time.

Today, four hundred ton express trains thundering along at the rate of seventy-five miles an hour attract no attention whatever. It is in the daily program of traffic and transportation. A four hundred ton train traveling at the rate of seventy-five miles an hour or one hundred feet per second generates a force twice as great as that of a 2,000 pound projectile fired from a one hundred ton gun-an energy far beyond the power of the mind to conceive.

We now have these monster trains, through sunshine and storm, through darkness and light, driving at deadly speed over our more than 200,000 miles of track—eight times enough to belt the earth—guided and checked by block systems, semaphore signals, dispatchers with reins of lightning, and manned by an army of more than a million employees.

The ease with which a misplaced switch, a misread message, a loosened spike, an undelivered telegram, can send one of these mountains of iron and steel crashing into another demands a caution, a clearness of vision and mind unsurpassed by any other calling. From the Grand Central station in New York alone 464 trains dash in or out every day, a train for every three minutes of the twenty-four hours. The passenger enters the Pullman knowing absolutely that his life is in the keeping of others, yet he goes to sleep with precisely the same assurance of safety as if in his own home. In fact accident insurance companies consider "traveling men" as "preferred risks," and insure them against disaster where they refuse altogether or demand higher rates for risks on a farmer or mechanic. Only about one passenger is killed for every 2,000,000 passengers carried, a ratio of improvement over the records of ten years ago by about thirty-three per cent. Yet despite this low rate, the enormous amount of traffic is such that, during the statistical year 1902, 8,588 persons were killed and 64,662 injured. While the ratio of persons killed or injured in proportion to the traffic is constantly decreasing, the volume of traffic is increasing so rapidly that the actual total of killed and wounded steadily increases.

Aside from the hundreds of thousands of dollars in destroyed property, these accidents involve the railways in heavy expenses for damages, litigation and attorney's fees. Without discussing the causes, it will not be disputed that the average citizen is prone to look upon the railways as legitimate prey for schemes that would not be tolerated in dealings with a private citizen, and that the average jury is prone to decide doubtful questions in favor of the plaintiff, widow or cripple.

Each dollar paid out in damages or in loss for wreckage, represents earned money paid out for avoidable purposes. For if there had been no misplaced switch, if there had been no misread message, and if there had been no other "ifs," there would have been no accident and the cost thereof would have gone to swell the dividends, the sole purpose for which the railways are operated.

Dividends are the nerve centers of railway management and, whatever affects the dividends is sure to command immediate and searching attention. The operating management that can show the least proportion of avoidable expenditures, that can develop the promptest and most satisfactory service to its customers, wins the approval at the annual meetings. The first essential to such a service and such a success is clear heads and steady hands in the operating department, and in which the wine glass has no place. This is the basis and reason for the recently developed stringent regulations as to the use of intoxicants which now pertain in all of the railways of the country. Thus the transportation lines have come to be, as the Railway Age said a few years ago, "one of the grandest and most effective temperance organizations in existence."

Until about four years ago, this movement was spasmodic and a matter of single action on the part of individual railways. After every accident it was the custom of the superintendents and managers to make microscopic examinations of the causes, the first search being usually directed to learn "if anybody had been drinking." Too frequently it was found that such was the case, and a vociferous warning against drink "to excess" would follow. These I warnings" gradually succumbed to "rules," generally directed against "drink to excess," in turn these gave way to "drinking while on duty," some being more stringent, and a few requiring even total abstinence. This was the situation up to April 12, 1899, when the American Railway Association adopted standard rules one of which read:

"The use of intoxicants by employees while on duty is prohibited. Their habitual use, or the frequenting of places where they are sold, is sufficient cause for dismissal."

This is the standard rule of the association today and as such is in force on practically every railway in the United States. It is in force on approximately 160,000 of the 202,472 miles of main track in the country.

From the standard prohibition of the "habitual use" to absolute prohibition is merely a matter of striking out one word, and a large number of roads have amended the standard rules in this way. No roads have weakened the standard rules, and all changes made have been in the direction of making them more stringent. Such, for example, is Rule 22 Of the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway which tartly reads, "The use of intoxicating liquors is forbidden under any circumstances." Rule 19 of the Pittsburg and Lake Erie Railway is even more drastic. It reads:

"The use of intoxicants, visiting saloons, whether on or off duty, gambling or playing cards in or around stations, or upon trains or cars, or in or upon the property of this company, by employees, is strictly prohibited. The violation of this rule will be sufficient cause for discipline or discharge from the service."

Precisely the same language is used by the Bessemer and Lake Erie road.

The very first sentence of the application form used by the Vandalia line is a total abstinence pledge, reading,

"I hereby make application for a situation as……..........…………..and if employed agree to observe all the rules and regulations of the company, to abstain from the use of intoxicating liquors, to avoid saloons and places of low resort, to conduct myself properly whether on or off duty and to perform my duties to the best of my ability."

A similar total abstinence pledge is exacted from applicants by the International and Great Northern.

The Grand Trunk Railway rule reads "intoxication, or the use of intoxicating liquors, will be sufficient cause for dismissal." Absolute prohibition, whether on or off duty, also prevails on the Georgia Southern and Florida Railways, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa Railway, Iowa Central Railway, the New York, Ontario and Western and the New York and Ottawa Railways. Various other roads ask and encourage complete total abstinence without demanding it.

Under date of March 22, 1904, Mr. Arthur Montzheimer, president of the Association of Railway Superintendents of Bridges and Buildings, well explains to the writer the theory of these stringent regulations. He says:

"Practically all of our members are opposed to the use of intoxicating liquors. We realize that men who use no intoxicants make better, steadier workmen than those who drink intoxicants, even occasionally.

"Further, that a man who does not drink intoxicating liquors can be trusted to attend to the company's business more faithfully than a man who is in the habit of drinking."

The protection of the public from drunken railway employees has generally been left to the railways themselves by the law-making power. Michigan, however, early gave the matter legislative attention. Before the Civil War the legislature of that state enacted a law absolutely prohibiting railways from employing any save total abstainers in their operating departments. This law read:

"No person shall be employed as engineer, train dispatcher, fireman, baggage master, conductor, brakeman, or other servant upon any railroad in any of its operating departments, who uses intoxicating drinks as a beverage."

The penalty for a violation was fixed at $25, but a proviso was attached rendering it inoperative unless it could be proven that a responsible officer of the company was aware that the employee was not an abstainer. After the war, this proviso 'Was stricken out and the penalty was raised from $25 to $500, in which form it continues to the present time.

Michigan law also makes it a misdemeanor for an employee of the operating department of a railway to be intoxicated while on duty.

Last year (1903) the Canadian parliament enacted a most drastic provision of this sort in the Dominion Railway Act of that year. Section 295 of the act reads:

"Every person who is intoxicated while he is in charge of a locomotive engine, or acting as the conductor of a car or train of cars, is guilty of an, indictable offense and liable to ten years' imprisonment."

And it was further provided that,

"Every person who sells, gives or barters any spirituous or intoxicating liquor to or with any servant of or employee of any company while on duty, is liable to summary conviction. to a penalty not exceeding fifty dollars or to imprisonment with or without hard labor for a period not exceeding one month, or to both."

Besides these laws, the operating rules of the Canadian railways are very similar to the rules of railways in the States, though a greater portion of them require absolute total abstinence on or off duty.

The railway development of European countries has forced the consideration of this same question, but of more recent and in less coherent form. A few years ago Otto De Terra, the director of the German government railways, attempted to form all of the government railway employees into a total abstinence organization. With this view, he founded the Vereinigung Enthaltsamer Deutscher Eisenbahner (Union of Temperance Railwaymen) and issued a proclamation inviting all employees to join. De Terra pursued his plan so vigorously and so radically that he gave offense in influential quarters. This led to temporary friction but he continued to pursue the work of his organization more vigorously than ever until it is now a very flourishing concern and encouraged by those who first objected.

The desirability of abstinence in the higher classes of industrial occupations is no new idea. It took deep root in the public mind as far back as 1833, in the early days of the temperance reform in this country. In that year and for a few years preceding, especial attention of temperance leaders was given to the industrial phase of the liquor problem and large numbers of farmers, and factories and transportation concerns discontinued the use of "grog" rations in .their enterprises. In 1834, the American Temperance Society reported' that there were then about 1,000 American ships ploughing the seas without liquor in any form. The results of the reform were so gratifying that on October 2 of that year, the New York Board of Underwriters at a meeting held in the office of the American Insurance Company of New York City passed the following resolution:

"Resolved, That the different marine insurance companies in the City of New York, will allow a deduction of five per cent on the net premiums which may be taken after this date, on all vessels and on vessels together with outfits, if on whaling and on sealing voyages, terminating without loss, provided the master and mate make affidavit, after the termination of the risk, that no ardent spirits had been drunk on 'board the vessel by the officers and crew during the voyage or term for which the vessel and outfits were insured."

While the principle was early recognized, but little was done in the direction of demanding abstinence from intoxicants on the part of industrial employees until after the Civil War and especially within the past fifteen years. The American repugnance to even seeming to indicate what his brother should eat or drink was exceedingly strong. The personal liberty of the individual was regarded with almost superstitious sacredness. But the rapidly developing complexity of transportation, the increasing demand for clear heads and steady hands, and especially the fierce competition of the times evolved a new conception of "personal liberty." It came to be regarded as within the personal rights of travelers to demand that their lives be not placed in the hands of employees addicted to the cup. It came to be regarded as within the rights of an employer to select his helpers from among that class of applicants whose personal habits were not so likely to involve him in the expenses of a disaster arising from a drunken frolic in which he had no part. This, of course, is equivalent to demanding that the employee either "qualify" or resign and engage in some occupation where total abstinence is not demanded.

Deducting the number of officers and employees that do not come under the rules of the operating departments, there are now approximately one million railway employees under this abstinence rule of the American Railway Association or under a rule still more stringent. This list of employees for years has been increasing at the rate of from 75,000 to 100,000 per year. This number of new abstainers is therefore called for each year to fill well paying and permanent positions. The moralist can speculate but can not estimate the power of such an influence in a nation.

Stories Page | Contents Page

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