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EXTENDING PERIOD OF GOVERNMENT CONTROL OF RAILROADS.

OFFICE OF DIRECTOR GENERAL OF RAILROADS,

Washington, December 11, 1918.

MY DEAR JUDGE SIMS: The question of railroad legislation is of such vital importance to the country that I take the liberty of submitting to you my views as to the course that should now be pursued. The war is ended and we are now confronted with the necessity of either legislating intelligently about the railroad problem at this session of the Congress or of promptly returning the railroads to their owners.

Less than three months of the present session of the Congress remain. It will be impossible, I presume, to secure legislation in this short period providing a permanent solution of the railroad problem. This being true, only three courses are open: (1) Government operation of the railroads for one year and nine months following a proclamation of peace, which would mean, in my judgment, Government operation for a period in no event longer than two years and three months; (2) the prompt return of the railroads to private control; or (3) extension of the period of Federal control to five years.

I am convinced that it is wholly impracticable, as well as opposed to the public interest, to attempt to operate the railroads under the provisions of the present law. In the first place, the time is too short, and, secondly, the present legislation is inadequate.

As to the shortness of time, it is clear to me that the railroads can not be successfully operated under Federal control during the next two years in the face of an automatic transfer to private control at the end of that time or of an earlier relinquishment by proclamation of the President. Every month that passes will bring more clearly to the minds of the officers and employees the fundamental change in management that is impending, and the question as to what that change means to the individual. It is against human nature that there can be complete and single-minded attention to duty under such difficult circumstances. This will be especially true on account of the inevitable discussion as to what ought to be done. Already this discussion is in full swing, and its reaction on officers and employees can not be consistent with the complete concentration upon their daily duties. State railroad commissions, railroad security holders, railroad executives, shippers' organizations, and other interests are naturally and properly discussing the subject and proposing various solutions. However desirable the discussion is for the crystallization of public sentiment, it can not result otherwise than to produce a state of uncertainty and ferment among the vast army of railroad officers and employees who will inevitably feel that they face a rapidly approaching change in management. No business in the United States so imperatively requires disciplined organization and composed conditions of operation, for officials as well as for employees, as the railroad business. Not only does the safety of the lives of millions of passengers depend upon such disciplined and efficient organization, but the commerce of the country as well. To keep this vast army of officers and employees in a state of uncertainty and ferment for a period of two years would be harmful in the highest degree to the public interest. It would be impossible to prevent a serious impairment of the morale of the railroad organizations.

From the standpoint of needed improvements, the period of two years is entirely too short a time within which to plan and carry out the comprehensive improvements which ought to be made to meet the country's requirements under peace conditions. Many of the improvements could hardly be completed and put into operation inside of the two-year period, and under such circumstances and facing a change to private management at the end of two years it would be

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unwise in the highest degree to make the improvements and impossible to secure the hearty cooperation of the railroad corporations.

Because of the inadequacy of the present legislation, the authority of the States and the Federal Government has been left in doubt by provisions which 1 opposed when the bill was under discussion. Conflict between State and Federal jurisdictions will grow more acute under this law. The revolving fund appropriated by the Congress will be insufficient to carry the Federal operation for a two-year period. More than that, it is of the utmost importance to the commerce, industry, and life of the American people that a comprehensive program of improvements to railroad properties shall be carried forward over a period of at least five years; such a program will involve expenditures of at least $500,000,000 per annum or $2,500,000,000 for the five-year period. The needed funds are not provided by the present law. Moreover, it is difficult under the present law, without the consent of the corporations, to carry forward a comprehensive plan of joint improvements, which, to be of value to the public, must of itself disregard the selfish and irreconcilable competitive interests of the various carriers. Many terminal improvements, to be genuinely serviceable to the public, must be made without regard to the interest of any particular carrier. Therefore agreements between the Government and the railroads affected will, in many instances, be impossible, and if the Government should proceed with such improvements, using the people's money for the purpose, without securing the carriers' consent, litigation would undoubtedly arise upon the termination of Federal control with the danger that a large part of the Government's investment in the properties might be lost.

Upon the efficiency of the transportation machine in America depends in great measure the future prosperity of the Nation. Involved in this prosperity is the extension of our foreign trade. We produce so much more than we consume that markets must be found for that surplus. Those markets are the competitive markets of the world. We must be able to enter them upon equal terms with any other nation. Our transportation system, both on land and water, must, therefore, function at the highest point of efficiency and at the lowest possible cost if we are to get our reasonable and fair share of the world's trade and in turn be able to keep a prosperous, contented, and happy population at home.

To attempt to continue Federal control under the inadequate provisions of the present Federal control act and for the very brief period it authorizes would be to multiply our difficulties and invite failure. On the other hand, I am convinced from the experience of the past year that the return of the railroads to the old competitive conditions will be hurtful alike to the public interest and to the railroads themselves. This course, however, will bring fewer evils in its train than the unsatisfactory, if not impotent, Federal control provided for by the present act. The railroads were taken over as a war measure. They have been operated during the past year for the paramount purpose of winning the war. I think it will be generally admitted that the war service has been successfully rendered, and I am sure that experience of great value and benefit has been gained not only for the public but for the railroads themselves during this brief test.

There is one, and, to my mind, only one, practicable and wise alternative, and that is to extend the period of Federal control from the one year and nine months provided by the present law to five years, or until the 1st day of January, 1924. This extension would take the railroad question out of politics for a reasonable period. It would give composure to railroad officers and employees. It would admit of the preparation and carrying out of a comprehensive program of improvements of the railroads and their terminal facilities which would immensely increase the efficiency of the transportation machine. It would put back of the railroads the credit of the United States during the five-year period so that the financing of these improvements could be successfully carried out. It would offer the necessary opportunity under proper conditions to test the value of unified control, and the experience thus gained would of itself indicate the permanent solution of the railroad problem.

The American people have a right to this test. They should not be denied it. It is to their interest that it should be done. In my opinion, it is the only practicable and reasonable method of determining the right solution of this grave economic problem.

I am not now and have not been for the past year interested in proving or disproving the theory of Government ownership or any other kind of theory. The railroads have been operated for the past year with the purpose of serving

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