Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/310

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Railroads have enemies within as well as without. Intense competition has given birth to a class of soliciting freight agents, to whom reference has already been made; these men are empowered to grant reduced rates at discretion; their bargains are binding on all the lines forming the routes for which they solicit business, and their acts are in their nature so difficult of detection, and so inimical to the integrity of agreements, that a sound business policy would dictate that their powers should only be wielded by officers of the roads sufficiently high in position and character to guarantee good faith in carrying out the joint contracts made by the presidents of the lines.

It is a strange fact in railroad history that the contracts between roads for the maintenance of rates have never, up to the present time, invoked legal sanction and enforcement; they have been made and broken purely at will. Good authorities, among whom may be named the Railroad Commissioners of Massachusetts, state that the existing laws of the country afford all the provisions needed for the purpose; while, again, the chief railroad expert in the country, Mr. Fink, holds that special legislation is necessary. So important does Mr. Fink hold this matter to be, that he states that when the necessary enactments have been passed, and when railroad managers have the good sense to co-operate and avail themselves of legal authority, he will regard the railroad problem solved as far as solution is possible.

In March, 1882, a commission at Washington, appointed to consider the railway question, brought together Mr. Fink and General Reagan, of Texas, the member of Congress who proposed a bill for the direct regulation of the railroads by the Federal Government. General Reagan's bill is chiefly aimed at what he and many others conceive to be a grave injustice, namely, the discrimination which makes through freight pay a much less rate than local freight, and which grants one shipper more favorable terms than another for the same service. The bill would make the rate per mile uniform over all roads, and would make through rates the sum of the local rates charged over the component parts of a line. The testimony of Mr. Fink before the commission, and particularly in reply to General Reagan, is one of the most instructive pieces of railway literature so far given to the public. Mr. Fink deemed the railroad problem too difficult to be handled by a directly appointed commission: all that he could recommend was a commission to investigate complaints. He pointed out the great services railroads had done the country, and declared the evils attending the management of the business to be largely unavoidable amid affairs so vast and involved. As an example of the benefits railroads had conferred upon the public, he stated that in the fall of 1880 the rate from Chicago to the East was but six tenths of one cent per ton per mile, or equal to carrying seventeen barrels of flour one mile for one cent! The intense competition between roads has been one of the main causes of the remarkable economy of their