Our able and spirited cotemporary, the Philadelphia Public Ledger, in a recent issue discussed this subject in a manner which leads us to believe that it not only anticipates rapid and extensive consolidation of various railroad interests in this country, but that it favors such consolidation under the plea that it would prove beneficial to the country at large. It sees in the straggle, now taking place between rival lines, the indications that the big fish are to eat up the little ones, and, in an able review of the various railway routes of the country, comes to the conclusion that in this process the traveling and commercial public will be great gainers, even though the little fish suffer. It says : " By thus consolidating the companies, the expense and the evils of a variety of managing boards will be avoided, and the public will have greater regularity, less changing of cars, and uniform rates of fares. There will probably be sufficient competition between the great companies to insure the transportation of goods and passengers at reasonable rates." Now we not only feel some pangs of pity for the little fish, whose tones are so complacently crunched by the remorseless jaws of more powerful monsters, but also some fears that when the supply of minnows falls short, the public may itself become the food of fat railroad sharks, whose hunger seems to be of that chronic kind which no amount of stuffing can allay. It seems to ua that the Ledger entirely ignores the great power of combination, or the plainly-indicated will of large capitalists to combine whenever there is money to be made by it. Though the railway kings of the present are, some of them, fighting among themselves with a bitterness which, to the outside observer, might seem irreconcilable, let them see how some millions might flow into their coffers by united movement, and you shall see them to-morrow as loving as brothers. So well is this understood on Wall street that in the last great Erie fight no one would have been surprised at a denouement which would have exhibited the principal contestants as partners in some deep game for the mutual interests of both. It is difficult to see how the reduction of the number of rival interests could reduce competition, as the Ledger seems to think it would. This view seems to us as altogether opposed to both experience and the general law of supply and demand. How has it been with, the great express companies ? Has competition reduced their rates or has combination enabled them to maintain prices at a high standard ? We do not at present see how such combinations can be prevented; but, at the same time, we are far from deeming them desirable. With the facilities afforded for manipulation by our present railway system, almost anything surprising seems to be possible, if not prcbable. It is a very difficult thing to see how a repetition of the extraordinary transactions which have within the last two years so astounded the world can be prevented at any time the kings " again will Lt, unless some means can be devised to prevent consolidation. Let these men once secure fall control of the great trunk lines and their tributaries, and with it the power to mforce their demands upon the commerce of the country, md who doubts that those demands would be despotically exorbitant ?
This article was originally published with the title "Railway Consolidation" in Scientific American 21, 12, 185 (September 1869)