Popular Science Monthly/Volume 74/February 1909/Railroads and the Smoke Nuisance

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IT is estimated, so says the Scientific American, that 150,000,000 tons of coal are used annually by the railways of the United States, out of which but 7,500,000 tons are used in drawing the trains, while 142,500,000 tons go up the smoke-stack. And a recent English writer, John W. Graham, declares that a locomotive uses 312 tons of coal per day on an average, and scatters the smoke of 36 pounds of coal over every mile on fast trains.

These two statements give us some conception of the appalling extent of the smoke nuisance so far as the railroads are concerned, and fill us with amazement and incredulity. How is it possible that railroads which are run for the profit of the stockholders, or at least are presumably so run if we may credit the statements made before legislative committees by their representatives, can permit so great a source of waste to have gone so long unchecked? Why is it that so many railroad officials have opposed in every way possible efforts to reduce the evil?

In Boston, according to one observer who has carefully studied the situation, the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, through its officials, curtly refuses to discuss the matter or to make any change in its smoke-producing methods, and he made substantially the same charge against the New York, New Haven and Hartford road. Z. A. Willard in an open letter to the Boston Herald (on March 7 last) declared that

Having been deeply interested for many months past in an endeavor to prevent or mitigate the smoke nuisance resulting from the use of soft coal on locomotives engaged in suburban traffic, I was called in consultation by the Boston management of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad and informed that under no circumstances would this company make any change involving expense. Economy was now the ruling consideration.

When informed that the nuisance could be entirely obviated by the use of coke—coke being no more expensive than soft coal—the answer was the same, "Economy."

When reminded that eighteen locomotives had been constructed for the suburban traffic designed especially for burning anthracite, the answer was the same, "Anthracite costs money, and would not be considered." So that if so small a matter as the prevention of annoying smoke will not be considered by the New York Central authorities, tunnels, electricity, etc., may as well be relegated to the limbo of the impossible.

A correspondent of the Providence Tribune registered strong protest, as late as April 26, against the nuisance which the New York and New Haven Railroad Company is maintaining in the Elmwood district of the city. All day long the section is shrouded in a pall of dense, evil-smelling smoke and cinders, vomited forth by locomotives. The chief offenders are the short suburban trains, the expresses and heavy freights not causing half the bother made by the little fellows.

In and around New York City the aid of the Public Utility Commission had to be invoked to abate the nuisances maintained by these two roads in the matter of smoke. The New York Central in January last was ordered, "directed and required to cease and desist from the use of soft coal on any of the engines used by it on its New York and Putnam Division while within the corporate limits of the city and to institute and continue the use of hard coal on its engines."

The New York, New Haven and Hartford road was "directed and required to cease and desist from suffering or permitting in any manner the emission of black smoke from the stacks of the engines in use on the company's lines" while in the Harlem River Terminal Yard, and moreover it was ordered to cover all soft coal fires in engines with coke and to continually feed and replenish them with coke while the engines are in the yard.

Here we have the striking spectacle of two railroads being compelled by law to do certain things (and doing them, too) at one terminus, which they declare at the other end they can not do on the score of economy. At the one end (New York) there is a strong and effective law designed to protect the interests of the public; at the other, there is no such law, for, alas! the Massachusetts Railroad Commission, admirable though it is in many respects, finds that it is powerless to suppress the smoke nuisance.

The most striking defense of the railroad smoke nuisance, however, comes from the president of the Erie Eailroad, one Frank D. Underwood, who is on record in a letter to Monsignor Sheppard, of Jersey City, rector of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Michael, that

There is a good deal of nonsense about coal smoke being injurious. There is no healthier class of people in the world than those employed about soft coal mines, and they are begrimed from head to foot the majority of their lives.

Permit me to state that men occupying leading positions, such as yours, are expected to allay senseless clamor against corporations instead of adding fuel to it, and it is hoped we may have the influence of your valuable efforts in our direction rather than adversely. Many of the people who gain a livelihood through the Erie Railroad I have no doubt are parishioners of yours and you should be able to ascertain from them whether there is more black smoke than is absolutely necessary in the operation of a railroad.

In conclusion, the Erie Railroad was chartered fifty years ago, and it is identical with other interests in that it pays taxes. Is not something due to it, therefore? And was it not on the ground in advance of most of its complainants? It is a penalty people pay for prosperity. The smoke-laden air of every city is but a testimonial of the general prosperity of the country. No smoke and rural stagnation is the rule—pleasant to live in, but not conducive to general prosperity.

All of which is respectfully submitted by the president in behalf of the board of directors.

Here then we have what we may appropriately call the official defense of black smoke! It is healthy; it is inevitable; it is a concomitant of prosperity and those who make it pay taxes! Surely a formidable argument, hardly requiring, however, a reply from the reverend Monsignor. Still parts of his reply are so apt as to justify quoting. After declaring that he had not asserted that the Erie engines could be run without smoke while consuming coal, he declared that the use of bituminous coal should not be tolerated in our cities, as it is not tolerated in New York, which had its

smoke problem and solved it as New Jersey should do; of course I need not tell you that the elevated roads running through the great arteries of the metropolis, and the Grand Central were to my mind a species of "railroad traffic" and therefore my comparison is not odious.

I have not said that any, or all, railroads are a nuisance, on the contrary, I consider them one of the greatest blessings, but I do most persistently assert that they are capable of committing nuisances, and in this particular instance under discussion are now injuring, as they always do, where such abuses are patiently borne, our property, and our homes. I believe railroads do pay taxes. I do not know a great deal about this question, never having given it much consideration, but I do read occasionally that the whole machinery of the city and state have to be put in motion to collect the taxes levied.

From what you say of the healthy condition of the bituminous coal fields, which is not relevant to the issue, the attention of our leading physicians should be called to it. As health resorts these fields might enter into competition with the seashore and the Adirondacks.

No evidence is needed in any city of considerable size as to the existence of the smoke nuisance and of the part which the railroads play in maintaining it. There is an abundance of it on every hand; all too obvious, all too persistent. The encouraging feature of the situation, however, is the existence of a wide-spread and intelligent effort on the part of alert and progressive railroad officials to meet the situation and abate the nuisance. Largely, no doubt, because of the financial considerations, but in some instances because of a growing conviction that it behooves them to give heed to legitimate public demands, and because they are awakening to the fact that it is the wisest policy.

The recent orders of the Pennsylvania Railroad to its engineers and firemen may be said to be almost epoch-making in their importance and significance. This great corporation, in order to secure greater economy in the use of coal and to reduce the smoke nuisance, has inaugurated a special campaign of education among its engineers and firemen. A general order has been issued to the effect that "smoke means waste and must be avoided."

Five assistant road foremen of engines are now at work instructing firemen how to reduce the quantity of smoke emitted by engines. It is estimated that ten pounds of coal were required last year to generate steam necessary to haul one freight car one mile. The safety valve of an engine, if left open one minute, will lose an equal amount of steam. The Pennsylvania Railroad last year hauled 1,248,300 freight cars one mile and its coal bill was $10,000,000. Therefore, the savings of one per cent, by more efficient handling of coal will result in a saving to the company of $100,000 annually.

Under eighteen separate heads, thorough and minute instructions in the general order issued, the company has gone into the elementals of locomotive firing. Coal no larger than three inches thick may be used; tenders must not be overloaded so that coal is dropped along the track; grates and ash pans must be watched closely, in order to decrease the number of repairs on engines.

The example thus set by the Pennsylvania Railroad is bound to be of far reaching influence. As the Chicago Record Herald puts the case

The argument should appeal to every smoke producer, for it would seem now that it had time to penetrate the smokiest kind of a brain. At any rate, its soundness has been demonstrated beyond question many times, and examples such as that of this great railroad corporation should add greatly to its force. But it is curious how long it has taken to convince smokers that the smoke actually meant waste, and how stubborn some of them are still in spite of all the teaching by precept and example. Conditions prove that they would never learn except under compulsion, under the determined attempts of the public authorities to abate a nuisance and to protect the thousands against the stupid selfishness and indifference of the law.

Another view of the attitude of the corporation was taken at the Providence meeting of the American Civic Association by the superintendent of motive power on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, Mr. George W. Welden, declaring that

As a general proposition, railroad companies are assumed, by the rank and file, to take only such interest in the question of smoke elimination on locomotives as they are actually compelled to through the clamor of the public and the penalties imposed or prescribed by ordinances and enforced by the courts. If the above assumption were really true, then railroad operation in general could be properly classed as the most miserably managed business in the world. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, while constituting but a small percentage of the railroad mileage of the United States, and necessarily consuming but a small proportion of the total fuel burned on all railroads, could save annually for its treasury approximately $600,000 if some good Samaritan would suggest a method or device by means of which the black smoke and unconsumed gases which now escape from the smoke stacks of our locomotives could be completely burned and used as effective fuel. Second to the above-mentioned saving would be that accruing to the treasury because of the absence of the necessity of defending damage cases before the courts, involving, as they do, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, naturally, the saving of the very large sums paid annually in fines. In addition to this, many incidental savings would be made in the form of less labor and time required to clean all classes of equipment both inside and out, including an increased life for the varnish on all classes of equipment. Coupled with this would be a decidely improved appearance.

Whether moved to do so by force of public opinion, by lawsuits, by economic considerations, or by the strong arm of the law as in the New York cases already cited, the railroads of the country are moving in the matter and moving in the right direction at a fairly rapid degree of progress.

The American Master Mechanics, in their latest session at Atlantic City, have declared that it is possible to stop the nuisance. Expert firing and proper stoking are the most efficient means. These master mechanics, who are mostly connected with the railroads, are of the opinion that smoke-consuming devices are of assistance in keeping down the flow of black soot that has resulted in the passage of city and state laws against use of cheap, soft coal as fuel, but the firing is of so much more importance in the work that recommendations will be made to sacrifice cost of expensive devices of the kind in favor of higher paid and more expert firemen.

This opinion is unquestionably shared by the Pennsylvania Railroad, for their most recent instructions are in harmony with this principle, and when their Cincinnati superintendent was asked if the company's firemen were arrested for violations of the local ordinances would the companies pay the fine, he said:

No. The men would have to pay that themselves. We favor your getting after the men. We have suspended some firemen for making too much smoke. If they throw one shovelful of coal into the furnace at a time and do it frequently, they will not cause so much smoke. But instead of doing that, they throw in ten shovelfuls, and then take a rest. We have pleaded in vain with many to stoke in the right manner. Perhaps better results could be obtained if the league's officers went after them rigidly and called them to time.

Another student of the subject (Z. A. Willard, of Boston) has also reached the decided conclusion that the fireman on the locomotive is largely responsible for the nuisance. The firing of any furnace, locomotive or stationary, although generally considered a perfectly simple matter, is, on the contrary, a science requiring the services of a conscientious and experienced fireman, an opinion which is supported by Mr. Angus Sinclair, president of the Society of Locomotive Engineers, who, in his book on locomotive firing, gives his experience with two firemen on the same locomotive, running the same distance, on two successive days. The first fireman, in one hour and fifty-five minutes. the time occupied in the ran, used eight thousand pounds of soft coal, making steam with difficulty, and filling the atmosphere with smoke. The next day, another fireman, with the same engine, running the same distance, used forty-five hundred pounds of the same coal, with plenty of steam and no smoke. The result was a saving of 4334 per cent, of coal, and no annoyance from smoke. As the first condition is pretty nearly universal on roads where soft coal is used, the loss to the roads from ignorance or carelessness must be enormous.

Electrification is another method by which the smoke nuisance is to be abated.

On and after July 1 there are to be no more steam trains run into the Grand Central Station in New York. Electrification of the New York Central terminal, according to the New York papers, has progressed far enough to malce this change practicable, and the order to run only electric trains into the big depot went into effect on July 1. This move does away with the nuisance of smoke, steam and gas in the Park Avenue tunnel. The new order applies also to the New Haven Railroad trains.

The Scientific American quotes some statistics from a paper read by W. S. Murray at a recent meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, which confirm and strengthen the testimony furnished by W. J. Wilgus to the American Society of Civil Engineers. They clearly show that electrification pays when tried.

In Mr. Murray's paper it is shown that to haul the express, local and freight trains of the New York division of the New Haven railroad now involves the consumption of 57,000, 58,000 and 188,000 tons of coal, respectively, whereas when the whole division is operated electrically the amount of coal burned for the respective classes of service will be 30,000, 28,000 and 139,000 tons.

In like manner the figures of cost and repairs of twenty steam freight and passenger locomotives on the New Haven road are given. They show an expense of 8.1 cents per locomotive mile for freight engines and 5.6 cents for passenger ones. The total mileage of the locomotives per year is easily ascertained and therefore the total expense for maintenance and repairs of locomotive service. The figures are placed at $316,962 per annum. Available figures for electric locomotive repairs show two cents per locomotive mile. Counting the same number of miles and the same number of engines, the total expense would show a saving of $196,038 per annum.

In brief, experimentation in the east has proved that electrification pays both in a great saving in the cost of the coal used and in the cost of maintenance and repairs. If it pays in the neighborhood of New York it will pay, as the Chicago Tribune maintains, in Chicago. It is electrification, not improved smoke consuming devices, that Chicago wants the railroads to experiment with. The head of the Illinois Central however, J. T. Harahan, seems to think otherwise and in a long letter urges first that the art of electrification is in its infancy, and, secondly, that the experiments in the east have developed many difficulties.

Possibly if Illinois had a public utilities commission, like that of New York, President Harahan might take a somewhat different view of the situation, one more like that of the New York Central, although the economic argument ought to appeal to President Harahan and he ought not to allow the Pennsylvania Railroad to outdo him in the race for dividends or compliance with reasonable public demands. As one commentator on his position put it, "The financial question has two sides to it. The cost of electrification will be heavy. The cost of the smoke and noise nuisance to the community is a hundred fold heavier," and it could have pointed out that whatever makes for the prosperity and uplift of a community eventually makes for the benefit of the railroad.

According to Smoke Inspector Krause, of Cleveland, the smoke from railroads in that city has, within the past few years, been greatly reduced through the care that has been taken by the railroad officials. The inspector has one man who gives his entire time to this side of the work. Their records are sent to the offices of the officials and the crews are called in and reprimanded if the records show that they have been at fault. Some of the men have been discharged for not exercising proper care in this respect. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad assumes a similar attitude. Recently it caused to be published this discipline bulletin:

An engineman and fireman have been disciplined for permitting their engine to emit black smoke while standing in a passenger terminal some thirty minutes before leaving time, in violation of the rules of ordinary intelligence as well as those of the railroad company, and in disobedience of chapter 983 of the public laws of the state of Rhode Island,—J. A. Dodge, Superintendent.

Z. A. Willard, already several times quoted, declares as a result of his investigation that the use of coke will entirely eliminate the smoke evil, as it is free of smoke, soot and dust, and can be used on locomotives as at present constituted. The Boston and Maine Railroad is daily using seven hundred tons of Otto coke (produced by the gas works at Everett, Massachusetts) on all their short lines, and pronounces it perfectly satisfactory both to patrons of the road and residents along the lines, in avoiding smoke.

Some of the western roads use petroleum. For instance, the Mexican Central burns 4,000 barrels a day, at a cost of $1.10 a barrel. The Southern Pacific is also introducing oil-burning engines, especially for the switch engines. Hard coal is also used on the roads, which have convenient access to the anthracite regions, like the Lackawanna and the Reading; but other companies maintain that the cost of the coal and of changing their boilers prohibits the introduction of anthracite.

There is always some reason for not doing the obviously proper thing!

It is to be hoped, however, that the despatch of June 17 from Chicago is well founded. It reads to the effect that

The general managers of railroads centering in Chicago claim that a determined campaign has been begun to secure greater economy in the use of coal, and at the same time reduce the smoke nuisance. Perhaps the most virtuous exponent of fuel economy is the Pennsylvania, the management of which has just started a campaign of education among its firemen.

To sum up: The elimination of the smoke nuisance, so far as the railroads are concerned, is feasible. Primarily it is a matter of proper firing and the use of the right sort of materials. The railroad officials are considering the question from various standpoints; some with a sincere desire to do all that possibly can be done as quickly as possible; others as rapidly as they are forced to do it by the law and by a militant public opinion; and a rear guard of hold-backs who are still closing their eyes to the obviously inevitable. These men will some day be disagreeably awakened, for the public is awakening on the subject and it expects everybody else to be.