Tag Archives: railway history

Corthell’s 1889 Estimate of the Cost to Complete the Florida East Coast Canal

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In 1888, Florida canal company general manager George F. Miles engaged acclaimed Chicago waterway and railway engineer Elmer Corthell to survey the soil, rock, sand, and other material the Company dredges would likely encounter in completing the waterway and to estimate the cost of completion.

In turn, Corthell employed a former Army engineer, Artur [sic] Wrotnowski, to perform the actual on-the-ground measurements between bodies of water, their depths, and distances, with calculations of how much material the Florida canal company would have to move to comply with state requirements. Corthell reviewed Wrotnowski’s survey in detail and reported to the directors of the Florida canal company the amount of material to be moved and the cost to complete the waterway.

Corthell also considered mounting marine vessels on railway cars to transit difficult-to-dredge dry land between waterways but rejected the railway alternative as too expensive to maintain. In conclusion, Corthell endorsed the project on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, starting with minimum depths now, using the waterway to generate revenue to dredge a deeper and wider waterway later.  Withal, Corthell thought the Florida East Coast economy robust, more than enough to justify his estimated cost to complete of a little over $1 million in  1889 ($26 million in historic standard-of-living dollars today, 2014). Courtesy, Brown University, Hay Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

Double-tracking Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway, ca. 1928

The completion and operation of the Flagler railway and other railways throughout Florida spelled the death knell for the Florida East Coast Canal and other inland waterways. At first, it was thought that inland waterways would serve as ‘rate-regulators’, competitors against a monopolistic railway system. As the railway system became more reliable and economical, many inland waterways simply could not compete against faster, more competitive railways in the delivery of most goods, especially perishables. The development of the Interstate Highway system beginning in the 1950s and the use of refrigerated trucking in tandem with containerized shipping soon overtook the competitive advantage of railways in the delivery of many categories of freight. At the same time, the development of the airplane and commercial jet aircraft took away much of the passenger traffic formerly transported by the railway. Courtesy, the author.