It has elsewhere been emphasized that the most important general requirement of the locating engineer is that he shall so locate the road that it shall obtain the maximum business. Every other requirement should be subordinate to this. This is unquestionably the best policy, since in the long run the road which best serves the community will obtain the greatest business.
The construction of a railroad through a large city, or even into the heart of a large city which may be a terminus of the road, is a very expensive matter. The engineer and the board of directors are confronted with the almost irresistible temptation to avoid at least a part of such expense by placing the station (or the terminus) farther and farther from the heart of the city. Generally the loss of business resulting from such supposed economy is not directly apparent to the non-expert, especially if there is no competition, and even the expert will have difficulty in accurately estimating the loss. But we may learn from past experience, and there are fortunately several conspicuous examples of the relative volume of business obtained by competing roads whose traffic facilities are very different. In the early '80's, the entire line of the New York Central and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern between New York and Chicago was practically paralleled by a competing line. The older roads were built during the early history of railroad building, went through the heart of every city and village, and into the very centers of their termini. At the time the competing roads were constructed, access to the business centers of these cities and villages was far more difficult and expensive. At Painesville, Ohio, for example, the Lake Shore road passes within a block or two of the chief business streets. The depot of the "New York, Chicago, and St. Louis R.R." was about three-fourths of a mile out of town and could be reached only by an unpaved country road. In other places the relative traffic facilities were about as unequal. In New York City the N. Y. Central penetrates the city to its terminus at 42d St. The West Shore terminal at Weehawken is not only much farther in an air-line distance from the business center of the city, but is separated by a river only to be crossed by a ferry, and even then the traveler is landed on the river-front and a long tedious street-car ride is an essential for nearly all. Under such circumstances, the cutthroat competition which ensued between the two roads could only have one possible ending. Excluding from consideration the strictly local non-competitive traffic, the "West Shore" and the "Nickel Plate" could not hope to obtain any of the through competitive passenger business except by a ruinous cut in rates. Of course the older roads were much better able financially to endure the rate war and, although it affected their dividends, the effect on the new roads was bankruptcy, receiverships, and sales under foreclosure. The unequal struggle for freight business was about as hopeless for the new roads. In New York City, where such a large proportion of the freight-terminal transfers are made by shifting freight-cars on floats, the West Shore had a fighting chance, but in the smaller cities and villages, the merchant or manufacturer frequently had the choice of hauling freight a block or two over paved streets to the old railroad, or hauling it half a mile or a mile over an unpaved country road to the new railroad. Of course the new road was compelled to make some concession, either by reduced freight-rates or by free teaming, to equalize the difference. The net result was the same - financial ruin. Possibly it may be said that the promoters of the West Shore and Nickel Plate never expected their roads to compete on equal terms - that the projects were really blackmailing schemes to compel the older roads to buy them out. Even if this is so, the history of the competition of these roads is an instructive example of the effect of unequal facilities on the traffic obtainable from a community.
Another very instructive example of the effect of a difference in facilities affecting the traffic is given in the competition of the P. R.R. and the B. & 0. R.R. for passenger business between Philadelphia and Baltimore. The P. R.R., by an expenditure aggregating millions, has made its Philadelphia terminal under the very shadow of the City Hall. The B. & O. R.R., although it paid out very large sums for its entrance into the city, made its terminal at Twenty-fourth and Chestnut streets. Whatever may be the reason that the terminal was not placed nearer the City Hall, the fact remains that it is over a mile away, and a street-car ride is almost an essential for the great bulk of its passenger traffic. The terminal as constructed, although not comparable with Broad St. Station (P. R.R.), is far larger than the business of the road requires. The waiting-room has been fittingly described as "lonesome." The student should note that a handicap on facilities not only affects business but literally kills certain classes of business. In spite of the enormous expenditure made by the B. & O. R.R., its facilities do not equal those of the P. R.R., and the result is ruinous for competitive passenger business.