Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Report of 1919

In August 1919 an engineer for the Illinois Public Utilities Commission made an investigation of the RIS and submitted a six-page report.  Here are a few of the more interesting, or at least amusing, findings:

While in the Rock Island district recently numerous complaints against the Rock Island Southern Railway were heard and the writer made an investigation to determine the quality of service being rendered by that utility.  

Without a single exception each of the more than two score persons interviewed were outspoken in the denunciation of the railroad and its service.  Many characterized it as a "disgrace to the community".  Many traveling men have from long experience found the service so unreliable that they refuse to longer place any dependence in the service and now drive regularly to towns that cannot be reached by steam railroads. Although the fact that the service was subject to so many interruptions was the principle thing complained of, but the station facilities, maintenance of track, structures and crossings, attitude of employees, nonpayment of claims, unsanitary conditions of cars and poor freight service were also complained of in no uncertain terms by patrons.

The station at Rock Island is the one through which a large percentage of the passenger and express traffic handled by the company passes.  It consists of two ancient box cars set side by side and joined by plain boarding.  The building has been enlarged somewhat by a wooden shed-like structure.  This station is poorly situated, maintained in a filthy condition, inadequate in every way and is so unsightly that it would never be tolerated if located in any other location than on the river bank in what is virtually the railroad yards.

The 5th Street Station in Rock Island, referred to in the text

The track and way of the company has been very poorly maintained for some time past and was found to be in very run down condition.  The ties have rotted out to such extent that they have entirely disappeared in many instances, oftentimes two adjacent ties are gone.  This condition is more evident on the spur lines, particularly that branch extending from Alexis Junction to Alexis.  The company is at present replacing ties in the worst places, many of the new ties being small and of inferior quality however.

Examination of several trestles reveal the fact that they are poorly maintained and in some instances are so worn that they present a constant hazard to the public safety.  The trestle that is in the worst condition, perhaps, is that near the power house between Matherville and Gilchrist.  This structure is approximately 1000 feet in length and at places is about 40 feet in height.  The piling in a great number of cases is badly rotted out, many of the better piles have been cut two thirds of the way with an ax for some reason, as many as three of the five piles to a support being so weakened.  The structure is very weak and is poorly designed against lateral strains.  The passing of a passenger car causes a vibration that might result seriously.  It must be remembered that although this structure is used mostly by passenger cars that it is often called upon to support freight trains and even steam locomotives.  The company has seen fit to limit the speed over this structure to four miles per hour.

Of the passenger cars the four better ones are used on the main line between Monmouth and Rock Island.  These four cars, numbers 300, 301, 303, 304 are in run down condition, through constant use over an uneven roadbed they have become very loose, the frames are weakened and "give" so much that the woodwork between the windows and on the car sides is cracked and creaks loudly when the cars are in motion.  The car used on the Aledo branch, number 302, is in a worse condition than those on the main line.  This car is very much worn and the frame is so loosely joined that the body rocks and sways badly while the car is in motion over the uneven roadbed.  Several persons who often use this car in rainy weather state that it leaks.  The car on the Alexis line #305 is by far the most unserviceable the company employs.  This car is very unsightly, the woodwork is badly cracked and loosened, the rigid frame of the car is broken on one end and in such a manner that the floor has a decided hump in it that end of car sloping downward.  The operation of this car over the poorly maintained roadbed on this branch is considered dangerous and the fact that the speed is necessarily reduced is probably all that prevents a serious accident.

The overhead construction of the company is in fairly good shape having been well installed originally.  The trolley is of catenary type supported for most part by pole brackets, some span hangers are used however.  The cars operate on 900 Volt A.C. current supplied from the 11000 volt trolley pressure through transformers.  The ground return system is employed; the line is equipped with horn gap lightning arresters at regular intervals.  The line is well braced and guyed, the guys in all save a very few instances being provided with suitable strain insulators.  The poles were of first quality, 35 and 40 feet when installed.  To casual observer they are in good condition but close examination shows that practically all have been attacked by ring rot and that although they look solid that a blow from a hammer will break through the outer surface and expose a badly rotted condition to a depth of about two inches all around.   This fact will make it necessary to begin replacing the worst cases soon in order to make the line sufficiently strong to resist storms.

The attitude of the company and in many cases the employees is not what it should be, according to testimony of those interviewed.  Instances were evident where service had been suspended in order to make repairs that might have been made at night, the log shows.  At Alexis when the worn out car that runs from the main line is out of order a gasoline speeder is used to carry passengers to the main line, it is claimed that this car was not run regularly and that service was suspended when it was too warm or in case of rain.  It is generally recognized that it is useless to present a claim, however just, again this company as they are ignored.

The fact that the service is subjected to so many interruptions is the chief source of complaint in each community.  Many of these interruptions are due to old equipment, incompetent help, failure to appreciate the importance of continuous service on part of the management but is due for the most part to conditions existing at the power house.  Because of plant and operating conditions the operators frequently find it necessary to disconnect one end of the line at a time to reduce the load on the machinery, in case of plant trouble the entire system is inoperative and numerous instances where cars with passengers were left out in the country for long periods, sometimes overnight, were cited.  The usual practice is, however, to send one of the steam locomotives out to haul in the stranded cars.  This takes several hours.  The interruptions were particularly annoying to the merchants who depend on the road to deliver perishable good products, the Mayor of Alexis and city clerk of Matherville stated that patrons were caused considerable loss by delays in freight and express service.

The investigation shows that the complaints against the service and practices of the Rock Island Southern Railway are general and that practically every contention of the complainants are justified.  The company has for many months pursued a policy which has resulted in continued poor service.  Proper steps have not been taken to eliminate and guard against interruptions and irregularities.  Existing laws relating to railway service have been violated.  The policy of milking the holding by not returning any appreciable amount of the income to the property in way of additions, maintenance and improvements has resulted in existing conditions.  It is recommended that the company be cited for a hearing....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like some of the equipment at IRM which is in the worst shape awaiting restoration?
It's a wonder that the Rock Island Southern didn't kill somebody before their demise (or did they)?
C Kronenwetter