Auto Truck Aid to Railroads

When railroad-truck competition began to heat up in the early 1920s, trucks were seen as a means of getting unprofitable short-haul “less-than-carload” freight off the rails, freeing rail capacity for more profitable long-haul business. Today, shippers and truckers are increasingly shifting over-the-road freight to intermodal rail, which allows truckers to get less-profitable long-haul shipments out of their trailers. The following article from 1922 looks at rail-truck competition in the post-war (World War I) economy.

1922Truck

The Traffic World, Saturday, Jan. 21, 1922

THE MOTOR TRUCK has already become a necessary supplement to the railroad and will undoubtedly become more and more important to them as times go on, said Mr. [Alfred Joseph] Brosseau, president of the International Motor Co. [later Mack Trucks, edit.] and secretary of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce, in answer to the question, “Is Highway Transportation an Aid to the Railroads?” before a meeting of the Shippers’ Conference of Greater New York, held in the rooms of the Merchants’ Association, last week. Mr. Brosseau outlined the value of the motor truck as a method of helping the railroads get rid of some of their expensive and unremunerative short haul traffic, and went so far as to predict that in the coming business revival the motor truck would be the means of saving the railroads from government ownership.

“If it saves us from government ownership of the railroads, the motor truck will again have justified itself.” — Alfred Joseph Brosseau.

Touching upon the question of taxes, the speaker said that the motor truck had paid its share and that, in the opinion of men who were supposed to be familiar with the problem, the truck ought not to be taxed any more than the freight car. He said in part:

“If you ask the question, ‘Did motor truck transportation over the highways help the railroads during the busy war years?’ I am sure the answer will be ‘Yes.’ Without the motor truck, transportation would have broken down utterly. Many industries would have been seriously embarrassed, and the country would have faced the possibility of hunger.

No one who is at all well informed regarding traffic conditions during 1917-1920 will deny this. On the contrary, they will agree that the motor truck was a great help to the railroads during this period. It goes without saying it served the public also.

As you all know, business has been poor for the last year and the railroads can now handle all the traffic that is offered. We are asked if the railroads are now helped by the motor truck. My answer is ‘yes,’ for business is going to be good in the near future, and when it is the railroads will again be unable to handle the traffic. We shall then have delayed shipments, embargoes, blockades and the truck will again save the situation for the railroads and for the public. It may also save the railroads from the fate they so narrowly escaped during the last traffic jam — permanent government ownership.

If the motor truck is eliminated now and is not available when the next boom is upon us, the railroads will fall down so hard that government ownership advocates will have an excellent argument to prove that the government should take over the railroads. If it saves us from government ownership of the railroads, the motor truck will again have justified itself.

I do not know the exact proportion of the existing terminal facilities needed to handle l.c.l [less-than-carload shipments by rail car, edit.] package freight moving less than 50 miles, but we are all sure that it is a very considerable part of the whole. It may be one-half, or one-quarter, but whatever it is, it should not be devoted to the handling of the non-profitable l.c.l package freight that can best be moved by motor trucks. And again, if the railroads were relieved of this n0n-profitable l.c.l. package freight, the terminals would then be ample to handle the long-distance freight. The railroads would not need $1,000,000,000 a year for additional terminal facilities and would have enough equipment to move all long distance freight, even during boom times. That is the answer to the question, “Is highway transport an aid to the railroads?’

— 30 —

Alfred Joseph Brosseau was the president of Mack Trucks for 17 years in the 1920s and ’30s and notably said, “The forgotten man in transportation is the man who pays the freight.”

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