TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Train Passengers Asked to Get out and Push Stalled Train

Re: Train Passengers Asked to Get out and Push Stalled Train
18 May 2007 13:58:03 -0700

On May 17, 3:53 pm, wrote:

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: CTA's telephone system used the third
> rail for the telephone communications on the trains. Between the
> headquarter's switchboard and the individual stations, they used
> leased lines from Illinois Bell.

In the overall history, the 3rd rail telecom system is relatively
recent. Before that, subway-el systems had telephone call boxes along
the tracks in case a train broke down and had to report in. Also,
stations, dispatchers, and shops had to have phones, too. Early on
(1920s) transit systems had sophisticated large telephone networks.
In the 1960s, one would often see an old style Automatic Electric
phone on someone's desk for the internal system next to Bell phone for
external purposes.

The Bell System was called a monopoly, but I think if internal private
telephone and intercom systems were counted, as many large
organizations had, the market share would be more distributed than
people realized. Bell used to urge its employees (in company
newsletters) to sell Bell service as superior to the private system.
They'd show a picture of the dual phones on the desk to illustrate the

Note that in old movies the boss often had an intercom box on his
desk, later on that service was integrated as part of the telephone
key system (the LOCAL/ICM button). When was the last time we saw a
separate intercom box on someone's desk?

Streetcars had "headway recorders". This was a contact on the
overhead wire that registered each time a trolley went by and sent a
signal to HQ. If no signal was received after a certain interval the
dispatchers were alerted and sent out a repair truck.

> Since all the private companies knew about a year ahead of time they
> were going to get screwed royally by City of Chicago politicians, they
> decided to begin screwing back, and they entirely quit any/all maint-
> ainence of their busses and trains except for dire emergency work.

That is one of the pitfalls of transfering ownership between the
public and private side. It works in both ways. Privitization of
public works is no better.

> Mr. Insull was a Bad Man. Mr. Insull wound up in prison, in part
> because the US Attorney said he had cooked the books on Chicago Rapid
> Transit Company and was less than totally forthright in his activities
> at Edison and with North Shore Railroad, or for that matter, most of
> his other companies, etc.

I must respectfully disagree with you about Mr. Insull. I'm not an
expert, but I've read that while charged, he was found not guilty of
all charges.(Wikipedia, FWIW, also says this).

What Insull did wrong was build up a highly leveraged entity that was
vulnerable to the massive economic downturn of the great depression.
Everyone cut back on power consumption and transport riding, so all of
his interrelated companies got hurt and went bankrupt. (Most other
businesses in the Depression either went bankrupt or came close to
it. The Bell System chose to keep paying out its dividend even though
it was losing money, and had to lay off a great many people. I
believe Western Electric was decimated at the time.)

The Federal Government, through Ickes, at the time had a grudge against
privately owned public utilities, and went after Insull and other
companies. Many power companies also owned streetcar systems but they
were forced to divest, losing some economies of scale. The people in
FDR's administration weren't very fond of entrapreneurs as a matter of
principle. In the 1920s the business community knowingly did bad
stuff, but certainly not all business people were bad.

Unlike modern day crooks, Insull did NOT "pocket" his investors'
money. He used it to build modern transport and power networks which
worked very well. He left his empire in far, far superior physical
condition than when he found them. His three interurbans, North
Shore, South Shore, and CA&E were some of the best in the entire
country, with high speed trains and superb service. The South Shore
continues to run to this day. The North Shore and CA&E continued to
run much longer than other interurbans, thanks in part to the
infrastructure Insull built. The parent company may have been
bankrupt, but the trains kept running. Most other interurbans shut
down in the depression.

By building an integrated company, Insull was able to take advantage
of economies of scale and built large generating stations and
networks. These were more efficient.

The physical plant Insull built was of critical value during WW II.
An incredible number of servicemen and materiel were moved on it (the
North Shore served a key naval base).

There was recently an article in the NYT about Avis, saying it's been
bought and sold many times, generating huge fees for intermediaries,
but adding nothing to the business itself. As mentioned, yes Insull
was a 'player', but he built real things and provided real services to
the public.

> Shortly thereafter, Krambles resigned from his position as General
> Manager of the Chicago Transit Authority, his transit career mostly in
> shambles as a result.

Krambles was always highly respected in the transit industry. I
believe he had done well after leaving CTA, perhaps running
Pittsburgh's system.

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