Forest Service Circular No. 35
Forest Preservation and National Prosperity


President Northern Pacific Railway.

* * * To have good tracks the railroads must have some form of support under the rails, and the present practice is a wooden tie. In this item alone, based upon the actual requirements for a period of years by one large system, it is estimated that the total annual consumption of ties, for renewals only, by all the railroads of the United States, is at least 100 million, to which add 20 million for additional tracks and yards and for the construction of new railroads, and the total is the equivalent in board measure of more than 4 billion feet. The significance of these figures is more apparent when it is remembered that about 200 ties is the average yield per acre of forest, varying very greatly in different localities; so that to supply this single item necessitates the denudation annually of over one-half million acres of forest. But the cross-tie supply is only one of the forest products required by the railroads. There are bridge timbers, fence posts, telegraph poles, car materials, and building timbers of all kinds, all of which it is estimated will nearly equal in board measure the cross-tie item, so that it is probable that the railroads of the United States for all purposes require annually, under present practices, the entire product of almost one million acres of the forest.

If the American railroads are to continue to be the efficient commercial tool that they now are, to continue the very low average rates and the high scale of wages now in effect, the question of the increased cost of ties and timber is of greater and greater importance to those who pay transportation charges, to wage-earners, and to railroad owners.

General Solicitor Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railway Company.

* * * The average cost of all ties now going into trackage of the United States is 50 cents apiece, making an annual expenditure of 45 million dollars, or 450 million dollars every ten years. And this calculation does not include the labor of placing the ties in the track or the expense of local transportation. Nor does it take into account the gradual but inevitable increase in price as the supply lessens, the demand incident to the building of the new lines demanded by the ever-increasing commerce of the country, and the necessary supply of street-car lines, both horse and electric, elevated railways, subways, and mine tracks. The demands of these corporations are enormous and constantly increasing. Add to these requirements the many others caused by the uses heretofore referred to, and some conception can be had of how capacious is the maw of the great transportation lines of the Republic, upon whose successful and steady maintenance all industries depend.

* * * A future timber supply demands not only the preservation by judicious forestry and intelligent lumbering of the store we have, but the planting and husbanding of new trees wherever trees can be induced to grow. To this end there must be the arousing of public sentiment, so that in every State and in the Nation there shall be taught the lesson that will lead to legislation.

* * * As yet no substitute has been devised for wood ties that is either economical or desirable. They maintain the alignment of the railroad, so essential to safety, better than any metal substitute, and give an elasticity to the roadbed most important for the preservation and maintenance of the rolling stock. With metal ties, or a stone base, the rails would be speedily injured, and the heavy Mogul engines used to-day, drawing the heavy trains of large cars needed for the traffic, would pound themselves quickly into decrepitude and uselessness.

Chief Engineer, Maintenance of Way, Pennsylvania Railroad System.

During the past year the Pennsylvania Railroad Company has had the subject of tie supplies considered by a committee of our transportation association. The number of cross-ties in use on the railroads of the United States is estimated to be 620 millions; the number used annually for repairs and for extension of track is estimated to be from 90 to 110 millions. Each year the timber from which these are manufactured is farther from the base of transportation. Many of the former sources of supply have already been entirely exhausted. Our Pennsylvania railroads now look chiefly to inland Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky for our white oak ties, and the longleaf yellow pine of the Southern States will soon disappear. Probably another decade may nearly close these sources of supply. The time is now ripe for the railroads to consider the question of what course they are to pursue in the future.

* * * As long as twenty-four or twenty-five years ago, on the Pennsylvania lines west of Pittsburg, attention was given to the subject, and a number of catalpa trees were planted near the right of way of one of its lines, but the results obtained were unsatisfactory. More recently the yellow locust, as a tie timber, has been brought to our attention, and the cultivation of this tree to a limited extent for tie purposes has been undertaken. Within the last two years we have begun the planting of yellow locust trees on an extensive scale on property owned by the company. The total quantity planted to date is 280,530 trees. During the coming year we expect to plant about 800,000 more.

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Last Updated: 01-Apr-2008