Author Topic: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935  (Read 733 times)

Webnauseum

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Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« on: December 02, 2019, 02:02:12 PM »
Preface: I wish that I could just whip out $5-20 and ride a streetcar to Huntertown, or Lafayette, or  even Angola....so the following post should not be misconstrued as "anti-rail".

However:

Through the years I have often read about the forced dismantling of the electric utility based streetcar empires in a light casting the interurbans as unfortunate victims of ignorant legislation.  Specifically the  Public Utility Holding Company Act pf 1935 (the Wheeler-Rayburn act for short), and the way it (allegedly) targeted industry moguls such as Samuel Insull.

Reference:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Utility_Holding_Company_Act_of_1935#Summary

Typically these stories portray the Wheeler-Rayburn act as a harbinger of doom from which the Interurbans could never recover.

Curious where any of you might stand on that topic (assuming that you care, at all)

Personally, I bought in to that POV for a long while.  Coupled with the rise of the popularity of the personal automobile, and the whole "who framed Roger Rabbit?" conspiracy mentality....it was very easy to see the Interurbans as a damsel in distress.

But lately I'm starting to wonder if popular history has given an honest view to all sides of the issue?

Very little happens for no reason at all,  And there likely were valid reasons giving rise to Wheeler-Rayburn.
The electric utilities, as a regulated industry, were allowed to recover their costs, PLUS a reasonable profit.  Their venture into the ownership of non-regulated subsidiaries ......opened some interesting possibilities for them to pass along operating losses from a subsidiary to the parent, and recover "cost-plus" through the regulated business model.

Once these utilities were required to divest the Interurbans, the Interurbans withered and died.

What I am  starting to wonder is if the Interurbans themselves ever could have prospered without this artificial subsidy in the first place?
The way it initially played out, appears to me to have provided a ready made scheme where mass transit losses were passed to electric  utility rate payers.

Meaning, perhaps the interurban businesses were not the victims they are popularly portrayed as.

Thoughts?

rrnut282

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2019, 02:37:41 PM »
Another cautionary tale of unintended consequences.  Someone hammered the "perceived subsidy" drum until a law was made.  Without that extra support, streetcars were an easy victim of the other forces of better roads, better cars, better wanderlust. 

What is maddening, is the municipalities that are spending truckloads of cash to re-build a part of what they already had. 
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Bob Durnell

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2019, 09:15:22 PM »
I'm no interurban expect, but I have studied them enough to know that even in their heyday, they weren't exactly a cash cow.  Another issue that nobody seems to mention is that the interurbans spent quite a lot of money on power generating plants and substations that quickly became obsolete as the national power grid expanded at an ever more rapid rate.  A lot of money went down the drain because of that. Another issue is much of the infrastructure and equipment was rapidly approaching the end of its useful life, and a LOT of money was going to be required replace it.  Intururbans made a lot of sense in the era they were created, just like the video store and the photomat, but viewed from 20-40 years later, they were dinosaurs that suffered from the same problem that all modern passenger trains suffer from.  They serve a very narrow segment of the population.

Webnauseum

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2019, 12:02:40 PM »


What is maddening, is the municipalities that are spending truckloads of cash to re-build a part of what they already had.

I guess that the government was jealous of the electric  utility company's ability to "tax" it's electric customers in order to subsidize mass transit, while it has little qualm about doing so itself?

Webnauseum

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2019, 08:36:32 PM »
I'm no interurban expect, but I have studied them enough to know that even in their heyday, they weren't exactly a cash cow.  Intururbans made a lot of sense in the era they were created, just like the video store and the photomat, but viewed from 20-40 years later, they were dinosaurs that suffered from the same problem that all modern passenger trains suffer from.  They serve a very narrow segment of the population.

Just for the sake of discussion, what kind of pricing do you (personally) feel the interurbans would have to charge today to be self sustaining? Say for a trip from Ft Wayne to Huntertown, or to Lafayette, or to Angola.

I'd think they would certainly need to charge more than would Greyhound.....likely more than would Amtrak between similarly spaced endpoints on their network......perhaps even more than would an airline.

But at the same time, if the interurbans were running regular  service multiple times per day between endpoints, they would surely have empty seats they could market...perhaps giving rise to opportunities to be creative?

To get my interest, they would have to be competitive with the cost to operate a personal passenger vehicle, and provide a sufficient route structure that I could feel comfortable "cutting the hose".   

I ask this in the context of so many of the major auto manufacturers cutting back models and lines in what they claim to be preparation for the shift to electric autos......At my age I don't really feel inclined to spend $80K buying into "the next big thing"

Bob Durnell

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2019, 09:26:35 PM »
I don't have any idea what the price would be, but when you have to maintain your own dedicated right of way, a right of way that has no other commercial purpose, it's going to be pretty high.  High enough that the only way you could keep the ticket price low enough would be massive subsidies, paid for by all of of of course, and don't forget that while we're paying for it, we'll STILL be paying for all of those other transportation modes, they aren't going anywhere.  I guess you could look at the South Shore as a reference.  The South Shore is affordable, but how much is it REALLY costing us?   Also consider that if you take Chicago out of the route equation,  you would have a streak of weeds through the countryside.  ONLY Chicago makes it viable.  While we're at it, I for one don't buy all the electric car hype.  Unless there is a massive change in the price of oil, I don't think the demand is there.  I don't like hybrids either, but I think GM has made a HUGE mistake by turning its back on hybrids to concentrate on full electric cars.  Hybrids have a degree of versatility and flexibility that  full electric cars may NEVER have.

Webnauseum

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2019, 09:23:34 AM »
By the time I reached an age to be cognizant, all the streetcar lines had been paved over. Every now and then the pavement would crumble or wear away to the point where the old rails would be exposed, and I recall asking my mom what those were all about. When she told me about the interurbans, I recall  thinking what a great idea that sounded like. To which she would readily admonish me for even daring to think so....citing the  poor condition of the roads wherever there were tracks, and the omni presence of trolley wires......she felt there had been a good riddance for both. (I also used to ponder the building that everyone called "The Transfer Building" and wonder why)

Has anyone ever posted a  fare schedule as far as what they were charging for trips between service points? It might be interesting to "adjust for inflation" those numbers just to get an idea of what they might charge.

As far as the electric vehicle consideration goes, I agree with you.  But Ford, GM, and now even Diamler seem to be singing in harmony on that one. Almost makes one wonder if the other shoe has yet to fall?
« Last Edit: December 04, 2019, 09:49:25 AM by Webnauseum »

Webnauseum

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2019, 09:58:33 AM »
LOL,  in this frame of reference I also have to wonder if, back in the twilight era, did the regular users of trolleys and interurbans  feel that the expectation that they buy their own personal vehicle was an "encroachment"? (having to buy into the next big thing)

HoosierVirg

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2019, 02:15:16 PM »
Streetcars and interurbans were a big part of my childhood, when I was born in Cincinnati Dad was a streetcar operator and I as I got older remember riding with him many times. I especially remember two things about that, one was when the power poles would sometimes come off when they switch  from one track to another, I would see him get out walk around the back take the cables and raise the poles back on the power lines and the streetcar would come back to life. The other was when he ran the Losantiville which was a streamlined streetcar with the roof removed. On Sundays, Mom, my sister, and I would ride with with him from hill to hill, trip was afternoon or evening. Guess what, they still had the inclines back then and  riding up those hills in that open air car , the views were breathtaking! We started out from Fountain Square downtown. Winston Churchill said when he visited Cincinnati that it reminded him of Rome because of the hills.

Later we moved to Peru and we lived across the street from the C&O freight house.  and Dad started working for the rr's. One set of grandparents lived in St. Joseph, Illinois and to go see them we rode the Wabash from Peru to Danville Illinois, there comes in the interurban in my life. We got on the Illinois Terminal at Danville after walking down to the station from the Wabash. If the seat was available  I would sit up front opposite the operator and look out that large arched window.We rode from Danville to St Joseph on the IT and got off and walked  five or so blocks to my grandparents house. I loved being there in the summer and going to see the free movie behind the station on a Saturday night and the interurban rolled through and you would have to stop  the movie because of the noise. Great memories of both forms of transportation!
Have a good and safe day!

Go Reds!

Webnauseum

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2019, 05:08:46 PM »
The other was when he ran the Losantiville which was a streamlined streetcar with the roof removed.

There was an interurban from Cincinnati to Losantville?  What was the route on that? Parallel the C&O, or otherwise?

The Wabash to IT trips sound like a dream ride....love to do that one today.

HoosierVirg

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2019, 06:03:15 PM »
There was an interurban from Cincinnati to Losantville?  What was the route on that? Parallel the C&O, or otherwise?

The Wabash to IT trips sound like a dream ride....love to do that one today.
Losantivlille was the name of the open aired streetcar, it was not any certain route. They ran it on the weekends strictly for sightseeing purposes especially on the inclines. Actually Losantiville was the original name of the area ,it was changed later to Cincinnati by the governor of the Territories.
Have a good and safe day!

Go Reds!

Webnauseum

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Re: Wheeler-Rayburn act of 1935
« Reply #11 on: December 04, 2019, 07:12:37 PM »
My bad, I thought you were talking about Losantville Indiana.  I've ridden my bike through Losantville on the Cardinal Greenway.