Though our country can boast of no Watt, Brindley, Smeaton, Rennie, Telford, Brunel, Stephenson, or Fairbairn, and lacks such experimenters as Tredgold, Barlow, Hodgkinson, and Clark, yet we have our Evans and Fulton, our Whistler, Latrobe, Roebling, Haupt, Ellet, Adams, and Morris,—engineers who yield to none in professional skill, and whose work will bear comparison with the best of that of Great Britain or the Continent; and if America does not show a Thames Tunnel, a Conway or Menai Tubular Bridge, or a monster steamer, yet she has a railroad-bridge of eight hundred feet clear span, hung two hundred and fifty feet above one of the wildest rivers in the world,—locomotive engines climbing the Alleghanies at an ascent of five hundred feet per mile,—and twenty-five thousand miles of railroad, employing upwards of five thousand locomotives and eighty thousand cars, costing over a thousand millions of dollars, and transporting annually one hundred and thirty millions of passengers and thirty million tons of freight,—and all this in a manner peculiarly adapted to our country, both financially and mechanically.
In England the amount of money bears a high proportion to the amount of territory; in America the reverse is the case; and the engineers of the two countries quickly recognized the fact: for we find our railroads costing from thirty thousand to forty thousand dollars per mile,—while in England, to surmount much easier natural obstacles, the cost varies from seventy-five to one hundred thousand dollars per mile.
The cost of railroad transport will probably never be so low as carriage by water,—that is, natural water-communication; because the river or ocean is given to man complete and ready for use, needing no repairs, and with no interest to pay upon construction capital. Indeed, it is just beginning to be seen all over the country that the public have both expected and received too much accommodation from the companies. Men are perfectly willing to pay five dollars for riding a hundred miles in a stage-coach; but give them a nicely warmed, ventilated, cushioned, and furnished car, and carry them four or five times faster, with double the comfort, and they expect to pay only half-price,—as a friend of the writer once remarked, “Why, of course we ought not to pay so much when we a’n’t half so long going,”—as if, when they paid their fare, they not only bargained for transport from one place to another, but for the luxury of sitting in a crowded coach a certain number of hours. It would be hard to show a satisfactory basis for such an establishment of tolls. We need not wonder at the unprofitableness of many of our roads when we consider that the relative cost of transport is,—
By Stage, one cent,
By Railroad, two and seven-twelfths;
and the relative charge,—
By Stage, five cents,
By Railroad, three cents;