Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/309

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RAILROAD PROBLEM IX THE UNITED STATES.

very keen, and at times so violent as to set all considerations of profit at defiance. The routes connecting the great West with the Atlantic ports vary in directness, in gradients, and in the thickness of the population in the districts through which they run; it follows that their-inequality of desirableness as freight lines must be balanced by differences in rates. To establish and maintain these differences in rates, it has been the practice for the roads to enter into agreements with one another, and, in making these agreements on fair and satisfactory terms, and in enforcing the agreements when made, have been encountered the most perplexing tasks of railway management. In arguing for a basis of rates, two widely different stand-points are occupied by the trunk-lines running eastward from Chicago. The great interests centering in New York declare that the cost of service should be the prevailing consideration in proportioning rates among competing lines.

It is adduced that the easy gradients of the New York Central and the immense traffic which belongs to the cities and towns through which it runs enable it to be operated at less cost per ton per mile than any other road in the country: the geographical and census arguments should, therefore, be permitted to give New York a preference over competing cities in the framing of joint tariffs. Philadelphia and Baltimore take different ground: they point out that they are respectively one hundred and thirty-two and one hundred and fifty-two miles nearer Chicago than is New York via the New York Central, and therefore they desire freight rates to be fixed on the basis of mileage. Contests, which have consumed many millions of dollars, leave the question open as to which of these two principles shall govern the charges of the trunk-lines on through business. Another reason for the difficulty attending the making and keeping of agreements between railroads is the fact that the temptation to bad faith is extreme. If one road can defraud another of some freight by an illegitimate reduction of rate, the cash so earned is almost wholly profit, for the fixed expenses of the road are scarcely affected whether that freight be carried by it or not. The bad faith of a single road can lead to the breach of an agreement entered into by several great roads; and often it is the weak or bankrupt line whose dishonorable dealing leads to a war of rates being declared which may cost a million dollars before it ends. And a curious point comes up just here: so dear to the heart of the average shipper are these wars of rates, that clear-headed men who know his inner springs aver that the shipper does not desire permanent peace among the railroads, and does not wish to see them earn their incomes with the steady regularity enjoyed by the investor, say, in Government bonds. Peace to the shipper would be as distasteful as the absence of fluctuations to the speculator in stocks or grain, for railroad men and those who find fault with them seem to be made of the same clay.