Author Topic: Supposed success of the FS&K connection  (Read 1884 times)

Jason M Lamontagne

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Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« on: March 14, 2017, 11:06:23 PM »
A little conjecture, for the sake of discussion.  

Had the FS&K made the connection between the W&Q and the Sandy River, and we had our Two Foot Empire, just how successful would the venture have been?

Any railroad venture must connect produce to market.  Let's look at that potential connection offered by the FS&K.

Of course the entire idea was that Wiscasset provided a direct link to market via transshipment to commercial marine vessels.  In the early years of the Franklin County connection scheme, that would have been coastal schooners, connecting to Portland, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.

There's my first question:  how easy was it to make said arrangements?  If you had a mill in Franklin County, and wanted to ship finished lumber to Baltimore via the narrow gauge and Wiscasset, was it a lot of trouble to arrange it?  Did a maritime connection at Wiscasset automatically mean you had a broader market for your product?

Next question: produce.  Presumably the principal haul for the two foot empire would have been based on the timber available in Franklin County.  Sure enough, there was plenty of other business, but it would seem lumber was backbone of the Sandy River's success.  It seems to me that the FS&K would not have increased the quantity of Franklin County's output or lengthened the use of the Sandy River system to move it.  Hence, the empire might have lasted about the same length of time as the SR&RL and WW&F actually did.

It's tantalizing to think that maybe a positive answer to the first question- that the maritime connection at Wiscasset opened new and expansive markets- would have led to a better answer for the second question- that the empire may have outlasted real history.  But then- if it were that successful, perhaps the empire would have been scooped up and swallowed by the corporate machine what was standard gauge railroading.

Maybe Maine Central sensed that potential success and felt thus compelled to stop it.

Enough rambling.  How long would the empire have lasted?

See ya
Jason

John Kokas

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2017, 11:32:26 PM »
I would agree to your basic tenets.  Even though the MEC would have been a roadblock, one theoretically could have gone the local maritime route to avoid most of the MEC.  However, the regional schooner was basically obsolete by WWI and larger steamships would not have made port in Wiscasset due to the shallow draft.  One could have extended the pier and dredged but IMHO the cost would have been prohibitive versus the revenue gained.

Bill Reidy

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #2 on: March 15, 2017, 02:05:07 AM »
Very interesting questions Jason asks.  Not sure I have much to add to the discussion, but here's my try...

Having grown up in Wareham, MA, my first interest in railroad history is the railroad on Cape Cod.  The railroad first reached the Cape in May 1848 (Sandwich) and was soon extended to Hyannis (July 1854).  Nantucket money played a large part in completion of the Hyannis extension, and the railroad's wharf was soon completed in late September.  With this, Nantucket steamships were immediately rerouted via Hyannis, away from Nantucket's rival port, New Bedford.

Hyannis' railroad wharf would remain Nantucket's steamship connection until 1872, when the Woods Hole branch was completed.  With this, Woods Hole became the principal islands connection.

However, the Hyannis railroad wharf continued a thriving freight business into the early twentieth century.  The Cape enjoyed excellent railroad facilities, but low tariff freight -- commodities like lumber and coal -- were shunned by the railroad in favor of higher-paying freight.  Schooners made a business handling these commodity freights.  Even coal for the railroad was delivered via the Hyannis wharf.

However, by the 1930s, this business was dying out.  On September 10th, 1937, the rail line between Hyannis station and the railroad wharf was abandoned.

So in answer to Jason's questions, I suspect the Two Foot Empire would have prospered for a period of time but ultimately would have died out in the 1930s, a victim of improved highways and trucks.

- Bill

Mike Fox

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2017, 01:25:39 PM »
Transloading was the biggest expense. If they could have eliminated some of that, it would have been a huge savings.
Mike
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James Patten

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2017, 02:30:57 PM »
Break of gauge costs of transloading would have been eliminated.  If your shipment destined for Baltimore was going to be loaded onto a ship anyhow, then narrow gauge direct-to-port connection would eliminate the break of gauge. 

My suspicion is that the narrow gauge would not have been able to haul enough to be truly profitable, which would mean that it would need to be standard gauged.  Which is probably why the MEC did what it did with not allowing the F&SK to connect via Farmington yard and eventually buying the SR&RL.

Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2017, 03:18:30 PM »
The "transloading onto ship anyway" is a key point.  As built, if produce originating in Franklin County was put on a ship somewhere on its journey, that meant there were two transfers (the other being to the standard gauge at Farmington).  

Chances are, much produce leaving Franklin County reached its destination by (standard gauge) rail.  Thus eliminating the transfer to the standard gauge network would only be replaced by a transfer from narrow gauge to ship at Wiscasset.  On top of that- new market arrangements would need to be made- ones receptive to marine transport.  Or add another transfer, back to rail, at some other east coast port.

As to the profitability of narrow gauge, I believe the idea that the narrow gauge couldn't be profitable because it couldn't haul enough (i.e. Because it was Narrow Gauge) is the fallacy of the fallacy of the narrow gauge.  That is: there was a counter- narrow gauge movement (the fallacy of the narrow gauge) during narrow gauge fever that sought to discredit the narrow gauge theory.  It was highly prejudiced and persists to this day.  The fact is that there are examples of successful narrow gauge railroad enterprises; the fact that there were any successful applications of the narrow gauge theory proves that it is possible to be successful with a narrow gauge.  This inherently disproves the idea that "because you're narrow gauge, you can't haul enough to be profitable."

Many narrow gauge railroad ventures were not successful, by various measures.  Many, but not all.  Those that failed therefore can't be attributed to "the fallacy of the narrow gauge;" rather they must be attributed to an inappropriate application of the theory of the narrow gauge.

Down with standard gauge!  Two Feet is the NEW standard!

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Jason

Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2017, 03:42:19 PM »
Ah shoot, don't you hate it when those private thoughts just jump out and end up as words on a public forum?

Anyway, I'd think the FS&K would have thrived on shipments originating from Franklin County and transloaded to ship in either Portland or Boston.  At least until ships got too big for Wiscasset.

Do you suppose Fred Fogg, Phillip Stubbs, Leanord Atwood or any other Franklin County connection advocates did such a market study?

See ya
Jason

James Patten

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2017, 04:10:03 PM »
I was thinking for this application (Franklin County to Wiscasset) that 2 foot equipment was too narrow to carry enough lumber for profitability, mainly because of distance because the SR&RL was profitable for a while.  Certainly there's many examples world-wide of generally profitable two-foot gauge rail lines - the Welsh lines, South Africa, India.  To this day there's several thousand miles of two foot gauge Queensland (Australia) sugar cane to mill networks, although most networks are not interconnected and only serve a single mill. 

Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #8 on: March 15, 2017, 05:12:19 PM »
Hmm- we're not talking crazy distances here.  The longest line haul possibility would have been about 120 miles, Eustis/ Rangeley to Wiscasset.  Even if it were more, there's a simple balance to be struck between available traffic, a marketable rate, and the cost of doing the business.  Without a detailed analysis, I think the weak leg would be available traffic. 

The narrowness of the gauge in itself simply translates to a given tonnage being spread out over more axles.  Doing that only really drives costs up when more trains must be run (more crew, more coal, more clerical needs).  The two foot gauges (particularly Sandy River) had worked out ways to haul longer trains.  Even at that, the as built Wiscasset line hardly ever ran it's trains at capacity. 

In short- I still don't think the narrowness of the gauge would have been a hinderence to the empire.  I think the main hinderence (after the evil MEC that is) would have been lack of traffic.  I suppose it all comes down to the production level of the area served, versus the alternate methods of transport. 

See ya
Jason

Keith Taylor

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #9 on: March 15, 2017, 05:31:05 PM »
And here I thought with the arrival of the container that we were going to start intermodal service to Wiscasset leading to the eventual expansion to Farmington!

Keith

Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #10 on: March 15, 2017, 05:44:17 PM »
Just think how much the containerization of freight would have helped the narrow gauge movement...

John McNamara

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #11 on: March 16, 2017, 12:14:51 AM »
Let's ask Mike Fox to design a container-on-two-footer vehicle. Now that we have a container we can try it out. ;D
-John M

Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #12 on: March 16, 2017, 12:37:23 AM »
Oh, I've already dreamt one up... 

At least this time there won't be any pesky MEC standing in the way of true two foot progress...

John Scott

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #13 on: March 16, 2017, 06:54:45 AM »
Most narrow gauge operations were built that way to conserve capital. Therefore, their business cases must have been marginal, from the start.

The relative utility of a narrow gauge railway is very great, when compared with the unsealed country roads they replaced. Railways began as all-weather roads that could provide reliable and speedy transportation services. On those early roads, in bad weather, horses would become bogged up to their haunches and carts up to their axles.

Railway track spreads wheel loads from the rails through the ties, through the ballast, or compacted subgrade, at least, and then through to the natural soft subgrade. By that stage, the wheel loads have been sufficiently well dispersed for the soft subgrade to support them.

Two foot gage provides all of the advantges mentioned, above.

It does need to be recognised, however, that broader railway gauges generally do represent increased utility. More important than gauge, however, for the maximisation of railway utility, is axle load. That is relatively independent of track gauge. It depends, to a great extent, on the bulk density of the commodities carried. Passengers have a very low bulk density and because of that, passenger services never pay when there are alternative modes.

Wayne Laepple

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #14 on: March 16, 2017, 09:26:49 PM »
I've got to agree with Mr. Scott's analysis of the economy of the narrow gauge. As we try to explain to visitors, the original purpose of the WW&F was to offer residents of the Sheepscot Valley a more efficient and all-weather means of transportation. And that was true and worked fine, until motor vehicles and paved roads came along.

Even in such places as South Africa, where two-foot gauge railways were heavy-haul operations, once highways were completed, they were doomed. Modern highway trucks can carry as much or more than even the most modern two-foot gauge freight car. Even when the NGG Garratt locomotives were replaced with multiple-unit diesels, the narrow gauge could not compete with road transport.

Most surviving two-foot railways, such as the cane railways in Queensland, Australia, are seasonal in nature and designed to handle a specific product. If sugar cane were as heavy as iron ore, a two-foot gauge railway would not work. The surviving two-footers in India, by the way, have been government-operated and subsidized since Day One.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2017, 01:37:50 AM by Wayne Laepple »