Getting over it

Much has been said - and rightfully so, I suppose - of my continuing inability to "get over" certain things.

A friend recently admonished me to "get over it" while a group of us were discussing what single decision might stand as Amtrak's "worst mistake" ever. He maintained that the rehashing of ancient history often serves no constructive purpose. [Just for the record, after much debate, we were actually able to agree on one all-time "worst mistake": Amtrak's retirement and sale of their remaining ex-Pullman car fleet with no replacements even in sight, much less on the property.]

Of course, many other events have stuck in my craw through the years, often stemming from actions of our government or one of its agencies. Most horrific have been those occasions when innocence and naivete combined to strengthen the enemy's power.

Alexander J. Cassatt, seventh President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was arguably one of our industry's all-time greatest leaders. As a sincere Christian gentleman, he felt his road and his reputation had nothing to fear from the efforts of Teddy Roosevelt as the feds were pushing through the Hepburn bill - legislation which would dramatically strengthen the relatively young Interstate Commerce Commission. A. J. Cassatt supported T.R.'s ideas, taking a stance in opposition to the vast majority of his fellow railway chiefs.

Once the Hepburn Rate Act was passed and the I.C.C. had been primed for attack, can you guess which company was their first target? None other but the mighty Pennsylvania!

Please pardon my cynicism; but, in retrospect, it seems inevitable. So, how does one "get over" that? Mr. Cassatt didn't; the strain helped place him in an early grave.

These representative samples are exhaustive - and always distressing.

A few days ago while doing some research, I stumbled across another example of why I'll never really "get over it."

The following comes from a fabulous book, fairly recently published (but pretty hard to find, since the number printed was so small - a common problem with esoteric tomes). I'd highly recommend it to anyone who cares about our industry's history, especially the passenger side. It's entitled Moving Mail and Express by Rail and was penned by Edward M. DeRouin.

The text recounts certain comments made at an I.C.C. hearing during the immediate post-War period by an admirable and honourable "Old Man": Harry C. Murphy of the CB&Q. Mr. Murphy was unapologetically pro-railroad, unashamedly pro-passenger and unrepentantly pro-capitalism. He outlined for the Commission various financial realities which, over the previous 20 years, had seen unrelenting inflation, increased wages and higher terminal costs combine to decimate the Burlington's head-end profits.

"When asked by the Hearing Officers if he had further comment, Murphy remarked about the obvious subsidy of air mail by the government. He stated: 'It is difficult for many of us who have managerial responsibilities in the railroad industry to understand the great disparity between mail pay to the railroads and to the airlines. The railroads handle the bulk of all mail transported in this country. In the fiscal year ended June 30, 1949, they carried approximately 94% of all intercity first class mail and nearly 99% of all intercity second-class and third-class mail and parcel post. The airlines carried most, but not all, of the remainder.'

"'For transportation of 94% of the intercity first-class mail and incidental services in connection therewith, during that year, the railroads received approximately $27 million. The domestic airlines, for transporting somewhat less than the remaining six percent of the intercity first-class mail, received approximately $55.5 million. We realize that the present policy of the Congress, in fostering the development of air transport, is to maintain mail pay for the airlines sufficiently high to keep them in business. It seems to me that this policy results in providing the airlines with a cushion of revenue to supplement their earnings from other business and enables them, at the expense of tax payers, to make competitive rates and fares far lower than their costs justify. This is extremely serious to the railroads whose rates and fares must reflect all costs.'"

It wasn't right and it wasn't fair; but, it stands as an historical fact, nonetheless.

I guess I'll just have to get over it.


  • Well, it never ends!

    Although these things often stem from our shared history, that's certainly not a requirement. The cover story of Progressive Railroading's most recent issue quotes Robert Szabo, Executive Director of CURE (Consumers United for Rail Equity), as saying, " the regulatory system, it's hard to give [railroads] anything, because they've got everything already."

    Surely, that statement will be tough to just "get over"!

    Maybe some Pepto-Bismol will help.


  • Actually, Garl, there is a very good reason for studying history.  That is to learn how we went wrong - and right - in the past so we can avoid repeating mistakes and/or can build from the correct ones.  The AAR, on behalf of the railroad industry, is finally trying to tell the industry's story in economic and environmental terms.  It would be nice if more of the rail enthusiasts out there could/would see beyond their love of passenger trains of old and the many features of railroading that "turns them on."  Their inability to live in the present and to support the legitimate rail position on any number of current issues is discouraging, to say the least.

  • Garl - and anyone else who is interested.  When dealing with the hypocritical blather of the Bob Szabos of our society, it might be helpful if he were reminded that about half of all rate complaints filed by his shipper constituency since Staggers became law in 1980 have been resolved either by a negotiated settlement or in favor of the shippers.  So much for the canard that "railroads have got everything already."

  • One of the other rail historians may correct me on this, but I recollect a story told about Cassatt wherein a wealthy resident of one of the Main Line communities to the west of Philadelphia complained to him one time about a PRR train passing this man's party one night while they waited on a cold station platform.  Cassatt advised the gentleman that would never happen again.  The following week Cassatt had the station torn down.

  • Curt:  I guess Cassatt believed in "get over it."  That's a great story, even if it turns out not to be true.


    The United States High Speed Railway Postal Service to take advantage of the present supply of idle box-cars and make a 'leap-forward' convert many into HSMRPO's High Speed Mobile Railway Postal Offices---these units can be assembled into electrical multiple unit trains for inter/intra city hauling, or the diesels for cross country shipments - coupled to passenger/freight/military express trains or be stationed anywwhere on the continent that the mail/package need justifies. No more need for so many costly to maintain stationary offices. Due to fluctuations in the marketplace, placement of these mobil postal offices are flexible/durable/secure and will be equipped with the latest in tracking technology and have a mini-living quarters/office installed. Hypergird traffic control has plenty of super-computer power to handle it with plenty of help form USRPOTMS - United States Railway Postal Office Traffic Management System...

    The present USPS will finally be able to reduce its godzilla size thirst for motor fuels--how many gallonz of juice does it take to move a 1oz letter?

  • Ye gads!  Railwayist is back and in full cry.  Nothing more need be said.  You've all been warned.

  • Garl,

    Nice copy! But I'm with you. Why should anyone be told to get over it, if that's your passion, I'd say stick to it. That's what I'm doin'.

    Question; Is this Szabo related to Joe Szabo the FRAboss?

    LK thanks for the heads up

  • Now days it's email via Sprint (SP's telecomm). Try that with your airplane! I believe his name was Biaggini. Snail mail? I also believe he was involved in a number of pipelines on SP property too.

  • "SP had the only operating coal slurry pipeline in the U.S.  It was the 10-inch Black Mesa line carrying coal from the Navajo reservation in northeastern New Mexico/Arizona to the Mojave power plant on the Colorado River.  It may have had an oil pipeline, too, but I'm not at all sure it did.  Ben Biaggini was the SP CEO at one time.  He was good, but not even he could save the Sufferin Pacific.

  • Bob Szabo and Joe Szabo are not related.  CURE's Bob is a lawyer-lobbyist who has been at railroad reregulation so long he's probably put his grandchildren through law school on the fees paid him and his firm. Joe is an up-through-the-ranks former brakeman from the IC.

  • "SP had the only operating coal slurry pipeline in the U.S.  It was the 10-inch Black Mesa line..."

    ...which I believe is currently inactive due (in part) to ground water depletion, resulting in a protracted legal dispute with the Navajo and Hopi tribes.

    "It may have had an oil pipeline, too..."

    One of the ideas being floated about (no pun intended!) is a Black Mesa coal/OIL slurry.

    "Ben Biaggini was the SP CEO..."

    ...and his mentor was one of my heroes: the inimitable D. J. Russell.


  • You're right that Black Mesa is inactive and has been for some years.  

    D. J. Russell probably was the best of all the CEOs SP had.  We won't go into which ones were the bad ones.

    As for slurry of other than coal and water,when ETSI was trying to get its proposed pipeline from Gillette, WY, to White Bluff, Ark., it became obvious that the good people of South Dakota were not going to allow their water to be exported, so the pipeliners came up with the idea of using municipal sewage.  They called it effluent.  I think an oil/coal slurry would be even sillier.  You'd first have to find the oil, then you'd have to mix the slurry and at the other end, you'd have to separate the oil back out so it could be sold, the revenue defraying some of the costs of the pipeline.

  • Railroad historian and author Edward M. DeRouin has died.

    Only yesterday, I learned of his passing - which occurred just two days after my blog entry was posted.

    His works regarding Chicago-area railroads, especially his definitive volume on that city's Union Station, are rightfully considered classics. It was his final book that inspired this piece.

    My heart breaks for his family.