Sunday, May 8, 2011

125 Year Old Example Of How Private Railroad Competition Worked To Lower The Nation's Transportation Costs

Without government interference, without government money, without government legislation, without government tax or monetary incentives, but due to the competition among the various private railroads and their need to lower the consumer costs of transporting goods between the North and South, over two days in 1886, 11,500 miles of railroad track privately owned by various private railroad companies was converted to the same gauge width.

Read the interesting story on how railroad competition and the need to reduce costs spurred the conversion and standardization of railroad track here and in the small excerpt below.

From "The Days They Changed the Gauge:"
May, 1886. President Grover Cleveland was making final preparations for his wedding.
And in the South, plans were nearing completion for one of the most complex and dramatic two-day periods in railroading history-changing the gauge of an estimated 11,500 miles of track.

It was a little over a half-century since the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company had inaugurated steam-powered freight and passenger travel on a regularly-scheduled basis. Horatio Allen, the railroad's chief engineer, had departed from the 4-foot 8 1/2-inch gauge used in England by prescribing a 5-foot gauge and in the years that followed, most of the South's railroads copied his example.

But in the North, the British example was dominant.
At first, the problem of interchange had been temporarily relieved by laboriously loading freight from one car to another at interchange points between railroads of different gauges.
Variety in gauge size wasn't uniquely a difference, between North and South. In 1871 no less than 23 different gauges existed in the United States, ranging in width from three to six feet.
It was clearly a condition that could not continue. In 1884 the Illinois Central-which operated in both regions-found it necessary to begin changing the gauge of its lines in the South to conform with the northern width.
In effect, the pressures of free competition had provided a catalyst, and the stage was set for changing the gauge of practically every road in the South-a change that, ultimately, would be accomplished in less than 36 hours.
Read the complete post here.

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