The lecture treated the subject of Private versus State Railroads. Since 1833 the history of attempts of state railroads to evade and repudiate debts has been decidedly against the railroads, many of which were the means of misdirecting capital. It is perfectly safe to say the harm outweighed the good. Attempts in France to fund railroads degenerated into very much of the same scramble as a River and Harbor bill in this country. In the thickly populated parts of Italy, railroads were organized and built under government-control. In the poorer districts of the north, private corporations were allowed the right to build and control them. The government roads were a success, - a fact not to be accounted for by the government. The simple explanation is that the private roads encountered no expense not warranted by prospects of increased patronage, - a thing not heeded by the government in its own affairs.
Newspapers have had much to do with making proverbial the general opinion that all railroads are extravagant and the public fails to discriminate between roads well managed and those poorly managed. Railroads in this country are capitalized to the extent of $62,000 per mile. This amount represented stock and all legitimate debts. All in excess of this is generally "watered." If these roads were to be duplicated, $30,000 would at present cover the cost per mile. This estimate (Mr. Hadley's) has been criticised as too high, by some as too low. The question arises how to account for the other $30,000, how much of it is legitimate and how much is true. If this sum comes out of earnings it may be regarded as a sort of back interest.
Generally, however, the cause is the same as that which makes a private house, when finished, always cost its owner more than the estimates. The private company cannot be blamed for expenses that arise which were not expected, nor foreseen, any more than the private individual. But were any road to be rebuilt, experience bought at an excess cost of $30,000 per mile would show how construction and even maintenance expenses might be reduced so as to come within the limit of $30,000 allowed as normal average cost of construction per mile.
This is expense under private control. How is it under state control? In Germany surface superstructure is better, and also more expensive. In Australia surface equipment is worse.
In capacity of rolling stock and passenger service neither country can compare with the United States.
In Australia the mileage cost is $50,000 a mile. In Germany it is $100,000. The $50,000 Australian roads are on a level with poorly equipped American roads.
It is not clear why the German roads have cost twice as much as our roads. There has been more paid for fences and the like, but not so much for roadbeds. In Australia the price of raw materials is cheaper, and there are no heavy grades to construct. In both countries speed and comfort cannot compare with that in America. The waste in construction in this country is balanced by inefficiency of public service in Germany.
In the matter of rights, private and State companies are about the same. No administration could allow State railroads to lose money, when private ones are making it. So State roads resort to all sorts of tricks to get traffic. As a result in Belgium and Germany roads, competing lines are brought up. In Prussia a great amount of business is gained by making exceptions to State laws. Prussian rates are lower than in upper Europe; in France and Austria, a little higher; in England, a little more; in America, rates higher still. American freight rates are 1 1-8 cents per ton per mile, and are the lowest in the world.
Much of American advance is due to improved methods, largely accomplished by steel rails and improved heavy rolling stock. This has increased traffic, German roads have laid steel rails, but have not increased size of cars. Also have empty cars waiting for loads, whilst in other places people may perhaps be clamoring for cars. State railroads are wrecked on this rock.
This is a kind of pennywise and pnoud foolishness, characteristic of government operations.