If the people of Boston only half appreciated the possibilities of rapid travel between their homes in the suburbs and their places of business, as demonstrated by Captain MEIGS at Cambridge, they would not long be content to put up with their present poor facilities in that respect.
The consolidation of the street railroads has not mended matters much, and in some respects the old regime was better than the new. And this is not saying that the managers of the consolidated lines have not made a square attempt to improve our horse car service. The hard-pan fact will have to be recognized all round before long, for it is already clear to the average citizen, that, whether under consolidated or competing management, the problem of how to run enough horse cars between the centre and the suburban circumference of Boston to take all her people in and out as often and as quickly as they want to go is impossible of solution. It cannot be done. There are too many people to be carried over too few tracks, in too few horse cars, and through far too narrow streets, for it ever to be done. You can stop the blockades by lessening the number of cars that you run; but that is no remedy, for the people want about all the cars that were ever run, and every year they are going to want more. You can change routes and say that cars which used to come all the way to Scullery square and Cornhill shall circle instead around Summer street, but that is not carrying thousands of people as far as they want to go; it relieves the streets a little, crowds the other cars that do go further down a great deal, and promotes the general health by making walking compulsory, But that is not accommodating the people.
Before long it will have to be admitted that Boston's only way out is by elevated roads connecting her many populous suburbs with her business centre. Development and progress demand that we take this step forward, and the experimental section of elevated railway, built by Captain MEIGS under the very restricted charter given to him by the Legislature of 1884, shows conclusively to every one who has intelligently examined it that we can provide Boston with elevated railroads that will give the people the largest measure of accommodation, quicker travel than is enjoyed by the people of any other city, under far safer conditions, with the smallest obstruction of the streets, and consequently with the least damage to property along the line.
Look for a moment at what has actually been proved to the satisfaction of the highest experts in engineering, including General GEONGE STARK, the expert appointed, under the act of 1884, to examine the MEIGS experimental road for the state of Massachusetts. Out at East Cambridge, on made land, with soft mud 12 feet deep underneath it, a single-post structure, supporting a single line of girders, has been built so strong as to stand the severest tests. One of the longer girders, 46 feet long, and its lower boom, about 18 feet above the surface of the ground, was loaded with a weight equivalent to 60 tons of distributed weight on the girder, greatly in excess of any weight that ever could be put upon it by a moving train, and bore it without the slightest indication of weakness. A side pressure was brought to hear on the girder equal to the force of a hurricane blowing 110 miles an hour, and that it also resisted without being pulled sideways. There is no question that a single post line built on this model would be indestructible by anything short of a great catastrophe in nature.
The track at East Cambridge has been purposely built with very sharp curves, turning at one point almost at right angles, and with steep grades, rising as high as 346 feet to the mile. On an ordinary double track railway no train could climb such grades, nor turn such curves without being derailed and wrecked. Yet hundreds of passengers have been carried over these high grades and round these sharp curves at a speed of over 20 miles an hour. The crowning feature of Captain MEIGS' railway, however, is yet to be stated. The trucks on which the car rests are made to straddle the girder, so that if every one of the bearing-wheels were to come off, the truck would still remain astride the girder. The train could not by any conceivable accident short of an earthquake or a cyclone, be derailed. The bearing wheels revolve at an angle of 45 degrees from the vertical plane, are grooved so as to bear both downward and inward on the rail, and each wheel turns on its own independent axle, fixed in the iron jaw of the truck, at right angles to the plane of the wheel. The straining of axles and the slipping or wheels on curves are thus entirely prevented. The experimental train has been actually run over the track with one wheel removed, and its absence made no perceptible difference to the motion; the truck did not tip in the least. A section of the supporting rail was removed, and the train run over the gap; no accident resulted, for none could result there from, as the car simply dropped about two inches, and slid along on the upper boom as securely as if on its wheels. Here then, is an absolutely safe elevated road, on which no accident can occur by breaking down of the girders, derailment of trains, loss of wheels, or any other of the common causes of disaster on such roads.
Add to these signal merits these further advantages: That the whole structure is so slight as to offer very little obstruction to light; that it takes up less room in the street by one-half than the New York Lines; and that it makes far less noise in passing than the same number of horse cars (which is the proven fact). If the MEIGS elevated system was introduced in Boston the people could ride from their homes to the city, a distance of 4 1/2 miles, say from Harvard square to Bowdoin square, or from Dorchester to Scollary square, in 12 minutes.
The people of Boston need this advance in their travelling facilities. It means the saving of millions of wasted hours for them, and "time is money" in this age of the world, as it never was before. But they cannot get it until the Legislature gives the MEIGS constructors a fair and reasonable charter, under which the necessary capital can be secured. At present the absurdly restricted charter of 1884 blocks the way. Why not start a popular movement by public meetings and petitions, to make the Legislature understand that Boston is in earnest for rapid transit? Twelve minutes from the city to any of its suburbs for a five-cent fare! We can have it if we insist upon it.
Source: Boston Globe, August 26, 1888