Railroad Adminstration Survey Report




Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library





PRESS NOTICE:                     Confidential - For release in
                                           morning papers of Tuesday -
                                                 October 22, 1918.

Director General WG McAdoo has completed a survey of operations at the six North Atlantic seaports - (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Newport News and Norfolk) - the reports of the Regional Directors of the Eastern Territory, disclosing interesting and encouraging changes in conditions. Much of the data has been compiled by AH Smith, Regional Director at New York.

Accumulations of export freight in railroad terminals at the six North Atlantic seaports were reduced on October 1st to 18,796 carloads, of which only 5,383 carloads were on wheels. Last December the export accumulations totaled 44,320 carloads - approximately 2,000,000 tons - with 12,552 loads standing in cars.

Month by month as congestion was brought down, the quantity handled went up. September export tonnage was more than double that of last December, January or February.

The comparative figures record the removal of all obstructive congestion, which last Winter almost paralyzed operations, limiting and imperiling the flow of supplies overseas.

They mark also a revolutionary transformation in railroad conditions and methods affecting the seaports. Perhaps no single development has had a more vital bearing on this country's war efforts nor brought greater relief and satisfaction to the responsible war leaders of both America and the Allies.

Capacity Doubled: Danger Removed.

How the freight capacity of the ports - so dangerously clogged last Winter - has more than doubled in seven months, is shown by the railroad records.

In September, just past, the export, in addition to bulk grain and coal, was 1,517,795 tons. Last December it was 682,563 tons; in January only 588,988 tons, and in February 616,651 tons. The past month's increase was 122 percent over December, 157 percent over January and 146 percetn over February.

Last month's record was 69 percent greater than September of last year, and 281 percent more than September of 1914, when the world-war began. In all of the past six months the export tonnage handled by the railroads has exceeded 1917, the increaes ranging from 8.45 percent for April and 84.22 percent for July. 

The trans-shipment of record-breaking tonnage at the ports has proceeded so smoothly under the new system throughout the past few months that the menace of a break in the "bridge to Pershing" appears to be definitely removed.

Accumulation Removal Continuous.

The month-to-month shrinkage in the masses of stalled freight reflects the constant "a la Foch" hammering campaign by which the Federal railway operators attacked this barrier.

A "Delinquent Bureau" was established through which all "slacker" shippers and consignees were followed up and compelled to dispose of accumulated freight and cease misusing railroad machine should be used to transport freight, not to hold it indefinitely, was enforced at all points.

The railroad records divied the export freight accumulated at the ports into three classes:  (1) In cars; (2) On piers and in warehouses; (3) Unloaded on the ground.

The periodic accumulation figures for all ports are:

                    December     March   June   September   October   Decrease
In cars          12,552         7,018     9,334             6,380         5,383        67.11
On piers)  
etc.       )        8,349          7,000     6,321            5,116         5,064        39.34
On ground      23,419        16,701    12,250            9,080          8,349       65.64
Total               44,320       30,719     27,905           20,566      18,796       57.59

For New York alone, which handles more than 60 percent of all North Atlantic exports, the figures show striking improvement, as follows:

                    December     March   June   September   October   Decrease
In cars           8,069           3,188    5,454             3,239         2,745          65.98
On piers)
etc.       )        4,832            3,557    3,180            2,862        1,919          60.28
On ground       13,687          9,729     7,311          5,537         4,914          64.09
Total               23,588          16,474    15,945        11,638        9,578          63.97

The Serious Danger Removed.

Congestion of the seaports when the railroads passed under Federal control last Winter constituted a serious menace and hindrance to the whole war effort of the nation. The overcrowding of the terminals necessarily caused such inefficiency and restriction of the capacity of port facilities that at times operations were threatened with virtual paralysis. The 44,320 car loads - approximately 2,000,000 tons - of freight piled up at terminals wholly inadequate for the tremendously increased business made a steady flow of traffic at high speed and full utilization of the facilities for transfer from rail to ship in impossibility. Yard tracks were occupied to their extreme limit by the 12,552 freight cars being misused for storage and thereby being held out of needed moving service. Cars under load were backed up on sidetracks for miles inland, until in desperation railroad officers arbitrarily dumped cars of non-perishable freight out upon the ground to release track space and rolling stock. In the harbor lighters were delayed for weeks at a time with loads because the congested conditions prevented the prompt making up of composity cargos.

On January 6th there were 213 ocean-going steamers lying idle in New York harbor awaiting either cargo or bunker coal for the trip to Europe, although at this period shortage of bottoms was acute and the U-boat menace at its height.

So serious was the situation at this period that the late Lord Rhonda, Food Controller of England, sent his memorable message to Washington that "Unless America can increase in January the quantity of supplies sent in December I am unwilling to guarantee that the allied nations can hold out."

All Previous Records Far Exceeded.

The records show that railroad facilities for export have not been forced to their extreme limit at any time during the past six months, although the tonnage, except for August, has increased each month. In August there was a slight falling off from July due to reduced shipments of steel to supply increased demand for these materials in essential war industries at home and also because of diversions to South Atlantic and Gulf ports which shortened the rail haul on lumber, tobacco and other commodities.

Excluding United STates Governmnet war freight, which under the new system is accorded preference over all other traffic and exempt from the regulations imposed upon other freight, and excluding also bulk grain and coal, the railroads' deliveries of export in carloads at North Atlantic ports for the past six months averaged daily 1055 cars, in April; 1348 in May, 1351 in June; 1460 in July; 1232 in August and 1651 in September.

The tonnage of the exports for these months of 1917 and 1918, again excluding bulk grain and coal and United States Government freight last year, when the latter tonnage was very light, was as follows:


1917    1,001,603   915,786  1,007,226   822,439  1,079,942    897,547
1918    1,086,307 1,407,598 1,290,351 1,515,155  1,389,923  1,517,795

Comparison of these months with the same months of the preceding five years shows the following percentage of increases in 1918:

          April          May      June         July       August   September
Inc. over
1913  112.12%  180.93%  153.52%  240.74% 212.49%    248.90%
1914  139.59%  233.57%  177.88%  287.92%  321.55%    281.62%
1915    58.73%  126.87%    59.42%  143.73%  108.88%     128.94%
1916    23.68%    50.03%    11.92%    61.20%    34.12%        56.72%
1917      8.45%    53.70%    14.29%    84.22%     28.89%        69.08% 

The extent to which war requirements have monopolized the services of the railroads to the seaports is shown by the shipments of last month. The 1651 cars, exclusive of United States Government war supplies, included 215 carloads of commercial export; 779 carloads were for account of the French, British and Italian Governments; 4% carloads for the Belgian Relief Commission and 610 carloads were grain and grain products for the US Food Administration.

Transportation Needs Fully Met.

No shortage of railroad transportation for war activities or essential industries existed during the Summer months; in fact, the capacity of the carriers for months has been in excess of the traffic offered. Export tonnage hauled in September was 9.2 percent greater than in August and all lines serving the North Atlantic seaports declared themselves able to handle more freight.

The situation has disclosed some shortage in production. The chief factor has been the extraordinary demands for steel, both at home and abroad, which even the great efforts of that industry have been unable entirely to fill. 

Special efforts were put forth by the railroads throughout the Summer to secure a greater steel tonnage and form a "bank" at the seaboard upon which Winter levies could be made, but the accumulations of metal unloaded on the ground at the seaports have steadily been reduced because of insufficient current production.

Food supplies have moved form the West to the seaboard in quantity and at a speed never before known in railroad history through a preferential system of handling. The past fortnight all previous records were exceeded three times in the transportation of foodstuffs. Shipments of live stock, dressed beef, provisions and other perishables eastward from Chicago on October 8th aggregated 1318 cars. The highest previous record for one day was 1259 cars on 1918. Approximately 135,000,000 bushels of wheat were moved from the farms during July, of the total crop of 900,000,000 bushels.

The domestic freight traffic to the seaport cities, with the tremendous increase in all activities at these points, has grown at a rate approaching that of the exports. For the six weeks ended total deliveries at one port alone amounted to 115,363 carloads, an average of well over 3,000 cars delivered per day. At another port the same six weeks showed 46,080 carloads of domestic freight on wheels and at another the total was 19,488.

Revolution In Methods.

The Director General, upon the advent of his administration, found conditions in a chaotic state, particularly at all of the Northern Range of Atlantic Ports, due principally to lack of co-ordination between the Allies, our own Government and commercial interests. Results have been accomplished first, by the appointment of traffic men in the War Department, Navy Department, Fuel Administration, Fuel Oil Administration, Food Administration, Shipping Board, War Industries Board. These men were formerly high traffic officials of various railroads and have brought into use, their experience of former days in establishing traffic departments to take over all tonnage moving for their respective department. By cooperation with each other, they have avoided shipments account of one Department from conflicting with shipments for another.

The Director General, in conjunction with the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy, has appointed the Experts Control Committee, whose duties are;

To inform itself as to the probable amount of freight which must be exported for the prosecution of the war.
To determine how this war freight can best be routed through the various ports.
To decide how much of other essential export traffic has to be handled.
To determine the amount of local traffic necessary for each port.

The Committee has authority to select the port to which specified freight shall be transported for transshipment overseas and is responsible for the distribution of all exports to facilitate the handling at, and avoid the congestion in, any one port.

The prevailing close cooperation between our Government, and the interests of our Allies has also very materially assisted in avoiding congestion at the ports.

The change wrought in conditions at the railroads' seaport terminals involved a revolution in methods of the entire freight service system, enforced by the Railroad Administration through Eastern Regional Director AH Smith immediately upon the advent of Government control. The outstanding features were placing the operations of all railroads at the ports under direct management of a single joint committee and the fixing of responsibility for prompt unloading and removal of freight at the seaboard terminals upon the consignee, together with the absolute regulation of the quantity by subjecting all carload shipments to permits.

For natural reasons shippers in the interior formerly rushed orders to the seaports as rapidly as possible, regardless of the ability of the local consignee to take them from the cars, or the presence of a steamship prepared to load them for export. Great quantities of material were brought into the ports and held standing in cars while speculators waited for the most advantageous prices, tying up rolling stock sorely needed by other shippers. The railroads under private management had insufficient powers to prevent such abuses and there was no centralized machinery to ferret out and stop such operations, scattered over a dozen lines.

The new system provides that the receiver of the freight shall procure at the station of delivery a permit which has to be forwarded to the shipper before the receiving road will furnish a car, the consignee being compelled to show his ability to remove the freight promptly on arrival and the receiving station agent being given an opportunity to with-hold or delay his recommendation of a permit in case his facilities already are congested. The applications for permits for all stations on all lines entering the seaports are assembled and passed upon by a single committee, containing a member from each individual line, this concerted action serving to prevent any delinquent consignee from shipping by another road when unable or unwilling to remove accumulations on another.

This gives the central authority prompt and absolute control of the character of the traffic handled, allowing service to the essentials in the order of their importance and prevents accumulation of freight through bad practices and absence of united action. This controlling Freight Traffic Committee of the North Atlantic ports has both an export and a domestic division, and its operations have been thoroughly co-ordinated with those of the Army Transport Service, the Shipping Board, the Quartermaster's department and other agencies of the United States Government, as well as with the Traffic Executive representing the French High Commission, the Italian Ministry of Shipping and the British Ministry of Shipping, the Belgian Relief Commission, in addition to the various steamship lines handling commercial business.

Storage space has been provided at and near the seaports sufficient to hold reserve supplies for prevention of delay to steamships and to fill special calls for necessary commodities. Meats and perishable foodstuffs, as well as flour, have been run in solid trains on fast schedules timed to make perfect connections with vessels in New York harbor. Switching has been minimized and both man-power and time conserved by the assembling of all those classes of freight handled in great bulk at important gate-way points in the interior, to be run through in solid trains. Many railroad-owned piers have been turned over to the export service for direct loading from car to hold of those smaller steamers able to utilize these berths. All tugs, lighters and car floats owned by the railroads have been placed under a single management and this floating equipment, of which there was a great shortage, is allocated to the most pressing needs and thereby kept in constant service.

War Coal Tonnage Hauled.

Coal exports for war needs, excluded from the foregoing figures, formed a large part of the railroads' gross tonnage. For the seven months, January to July inclusive, 10,915,337 tons were shipped overseas, an average of more than 1,000 carloads a day. General Pershing has just cabled orders for a very large amount during the ensuing year. This is in addition to the vast supplies continuously needed to bunker steamships in American ports, and coal the railroads must bring to the seaboard for war industries and domestic consumption.

Original Format





Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924, “Railroad Adminstration Survey Report,” 1918 October 22, WWP20650, Woodrow Wilson Press Statements, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.