• U.S.

Business & Finance: Store, Door, Uproar

3 minute read
TIME

Under the spur of hard times and the public chant of “It’s your own fault.” U. S. railroads have lately emerged in the unfamiliar role of expert merchandisers. They have invoked the ancient principle of price-cutting to get business. They are building trains which seem to have been conceived in the fanciful pages of Popular Mechanics. And some of them have unbent sufficiently to go to their customers instead of waiting for their customers to come to them. Led by Pennsylvania R. R., a group of eastern carriers went to their customers last week with a collection and delivery service for less-than-carload-lot (l.c.l.) freight shipments.

Southwestern roads have been calling for l.c.l. freight at the shipper’s door, delivering it at the consignee’s door for two years. Store-door service has been widely used in New England and the South, is standard service in Britain and eastern Canada.

In October Pennsylvania posted with the I. C. C. store-door tariffs for its entire system. So did Erie and Grand Trunk. Thus an entirely new factor was suddenly introduced into the highly-competitive trunk line territory. New York Central, Pennsylvania’s traditional rival, led 16 other big eastern roads in a mighty howl of protest to the I. C. C. They failed to agree with Pennsylvania’s William Wallace Atterbury that store-door service was the only way to wean back l.c.l. freight now in the hands of truckers. They doubted that the service would be worth its cost. But they were sure that if Pennsylvania and its allies were permitted to start the service, all other eastern carriers would have to meet the competition. Pennsylvania, argued the opposing roads, was in effect extending its tracks in every town & city on its lines and many of those towns & cities were served by competing roads.

Cheek by jowl with the opposing roads was American Trucking Association, at whose business store-door service was squarely aimed. The Merchant Truckmen’s Bureau of New York last week hotly wired President Roosevelt: “We are not opposed to store-door . . . service as a principle but … we feel that no railroad should be permitted to claim unproved economies in justification of performing a service for nothing, or at an uneconomical charge, to the complete destruction of the local trucking industry. . . . Obviously this contravenes practically every alleged purpose of the National Industrial Recovery Act.”

The Pennsylvania has long been experimenting with store-door service on various sections of its line. It has the tacit approval of Federal Transportation Coordinator Eastman. Neither the President nor the I. C. C. was inclined to interfere with Mr. Atterbury’s plans.

Last week when Pennsylvania began its store-door service, it had contracts with trucking concerns in some 2,000 communities. The truckmen, acting as its agents, will pick up goods, take them to the station and at their rail destination deliver them to consignees. But the shipper will deal only with the railroad, pay only one charge. For shipments of 260 mi. or less (the zone in which trucks compete most effectively) the store-door rate will be precisely the same as the present station-to-station freight rate. Beyond the 260-mi. zone there is an additional charge ranging up to 12¢ per cwt. for 360 mi. or more —6¢ for collection, 6¢ for delivery.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com