Local Interests and Railroads.

August 16, 1870


Railroads play a huge role in Virginia's social, political, and economic development. Therefore, it is unacceptable that some railway companies charge higher rates than others since doing so prohibits some people from experiencing their benefits. Railroad companies reduce rates to allow all citizens to use the service.


Railroads have produced a great revolution, social, commercial, and political ; yet their agencies arc not fully developed, nor have the laws which must finally control them been fully understood. In this country the area is so immense, and the trade between distant points so active, that the minds of railroad officials have been confused. The magnitude and grandeur of railroad agencies have diverted their attention from intervening interests and matter. of minor extent, but very serious importance. Glancing from the rising to the setting sun, they forget the intervening space, and devote their plans and actions to the extremes. There must be a corrective of this prevailing disposition of railroad management. Railroads took the place of land-carriage by the wagons and teams of old times. These permeated the entire country, and distributed equally to the extent of their capacity the benefits of commerce. It is but just to the people that the agency which succeeds the old means of transportation should be fair and equal in the dispensation of its benefits. Communities should not be deprived of the advantages of their nearness to market by subjecting them to charges for transportation greater than those imposed upon populations a hundred miles further off. It will be found ultimately by all roads that the building up of the local trade is their true policy. Railroad companies may be compared to the owners of immense estates. All the territory near enough to their lines to use them for transportation may be considered as managed for their benefit. It is their interest that it should be rapidly improved and peopled. For thus their transportation and travel are multiplied, and their revenues continually increased. The managers of the estate should be stimulated to increase its production. Every inducement should be offered for this purpose. It there is any article of value, either agricultural or mineral, that cannot pay the tariff upon it, and must be lost, that tariff should be lowered until it, so to speak, lifts up the article and conveys it to market, making it a thing of value instead of an incumbrance upon the earth. Thus the railroad company may make itself as a thrifty landlord, its receipts multiplying in geometrical order- its line showing its own liberal policy in the well-tilled farms, the bright and happy villages, the lively, contented, and thrifty population that at every station appear to look after the brisk commerce which has grown up through an enlightened and wise policy. This policy has broader benefits. It increases the growth and wealth of the State and promotes the industry and public virtue of the communities who are its beneficiaries. It stimulates industry, encourages economy, and diminishes idleness. With this enlightened view guiding and governing the rulers of great roads, and with the ultimate adoption of the narrow gauge road to supply the wants of wide strips of country intervening between the trunk railways, we may imagine a perfect state of railroad transportation, and the equal and general extension of railway facilities to the whole of society. In this State we proceed slowly towards this liberalized system. A little light has been shed, and some relaxation in the harsh dealings with local interests has taken place. There is great room for improvement. We confess that, owing to the prostration of our State and the strange direction given to our railway routes, much difficulty has arisen in the way of a better policy than that which has prevailed. But this difficulty is gradually diminishing, and a few vears will produce a great change for the better. If is gratifying to know that a gentleman who sustains an important relation to the railroad interests of this State is fully impressed with the advantages to the people, to the State, and to the railroads, of this liberal system of local freights. Mr. Huntington, the president of the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad, entertains the most enlightened views on the subject. " The little basket," says he, "is the thing to be cherished by the railway." The little trade of the small farmer and the fabrics of the village manufacturer - the productive industry of all and their fares in pursuing their trade with the large city - these are the cream of railroad business. This will be his policy. He will endeavor to mark his linens with milestones with flourishing villages, and will use every effort to promote industry, improvement, and thrift everywhere. We do not fear that such policy will not become general when peace is entirely restored and we emerge from the wilderness in which we have been so long detained. We shall then have an independent and active commerce, and the agricultural and manufacturing industry will assume that potent influence that will bring about justice and establish regulations of transportation that will facilitate trade and enterprise and make a new State of old Virginia.
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Bryce Smith




“Local Interests and Railroads.,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 18, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1809.