locked "Tyranical" USRA in 1918

George Eichelberger

While scanning multiple WWI era files in the SRHA archives, I’ve learned about an aspect of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) I was not aware of. In addition to the typical railroad officers, the Southern had a “Federal Manager” that acted as an intermediary between the railroad management and the USRA. The correspondence shows decisions about which USRA “allocations” had been requested, to accept them and then how to pay for them were made by some combination of the three.

One answered a long-standing question of mine about why the Southern had so few USRA design box cars. In a full page letter to the USRA, Southern explained that its standard 30-ton, 36ft box cars were more suitable to its freight traffic than the 40ft, 40-T USRA standard cars (designed by the NYC?) that had been allocated. Costs, parts made far from Southern territory and other items were mentioned in the reasons to reject the allocation (apparently not requested by the railroad).

Of the multiple examples where cars were allocated but not accepted/wanted by the Southern, the letter sent to Southern President Fairfax Harrison (attached) Nov 14, 1918 resulted in the memo sent by “FH” the next day. Southern managements always resented any attempt at “Government Control” but forcing the railroad to spend money they did not think justifiable was too much.