No. 456.
Mr. Stevens to Mr. Evarts.

No. 51.]

Sir: It will not be denied that questions of railroad legislation, ownership, and management are assuming more and more importance in the United States as well as in foreign countries. Therefore, I deem it not inappropriate to my official duties to furnish the following data concerning the railroad interests of Sweden and Norway:

The construction of railroads in Sweden, to any considerable extent, [Page 961] is comparatively recent. This is owing partly to the fact that this country has a very extensive water-frontage, affording favorable means of water transit, and neighboring to these navigable waters is a large proportion of its resources and population. In addition to her extented water-frontage on the east, south, and southwest, Sweden has various canals which unite her numerous interior lakes with each other, and these with the great Gottenburg canal, which allows a direct passage across the country by sail and steam vessels, thus uniting the Baltic and its adjuncts with the Oattegat, Skager Rack, and the North sea.

This system of canals was partially commenced nearly three centuries since, and substantially completed before the railroad building of the country was inaugurated. These canals were built at the expense of the government, and are under its exclusive control.

The extensive use that is made of these waterways for passengers and freight is shown in the fact, that in a single year there were 23,000 passages of steamers through them, and more than that number of sail-vessel transits, which, at very moderate rates of toll, paid 900,000 kronors, or $235,000 American standard.

Railroad building in Sweden may be said to date its beginning in 1856. In 1855 the national Diet authorized the construction at the expense of the government of certain important lines. The work on these lines was commenced in the following year, and in 1856 an inconsiderable portion of one of these roads was opened to traffic.

Maintaining in vigor the policy established by the Diet, the government continued the building of railroads, until at the commencement of 1878 it had completed five trunk lines of the united length of 1,005 English miles, therein including five short branch and junction lines.

The expense of these lines was entirely paid by the government, and amounted to $41,400,000.

The gauge of these roads is 4 feet 8½ inches, the original Stephenson gauge generally in use in England and the United States. The activity of the government in railroad building had the effect very soon to stimulate the construction of private lines. At the beginning of 1879, of the last-named roads there had been constructed 1,500 English miles, at the cost of $61,000,000; 1,240 miles, or five sixths, of these private railroads were opened in the four years 1874–1877. Toward the construction of these private railroads the national government gave a very effective assistance, either in the form of subscription or loans.

The liabilities assumed by the government for railroads exclusively owned by the nation, and by subventions and loans to private railroads, are expressed by the following tabular statement:

Railroad loans of— Railroad loans of—
1855 $40,018 1870 $4,121,932
1858 4,042,760 1872 4,869,947
1860 4,871,700 1875 4,675,648
1861 605,350 1876 9,435,613
1864 2,390,225 1878 4,741,514
1866 6,680,243
1868 5,302,435 Total 52,299,535
1869 522,150

Of the above amount $7,457,810 were in aid of private railroads, mortgages or bonds being taken therefor by the government.

Of the above loans $4,909,965 bear an interest of 4 per cent., $30,762,810 at 4½ per cent., and $16,626,760 at 5 per cent.

The loans of 1864, 1868, and 1876, amounting to $17,128,273, were negotiated at the respective rates of 92½, 90 and 96½, per cent. All of [Page 962] these loans are to be paid off gradually by sinking funds carefully provided for.

The money not covered by the above loans for the building and the equipment of the State and private railroads, amounting to more than $55,000,000, was contributed by individual and municipal subscription for stock, or paid out of the earnings of the roads.

The highest speed for the express passenger trains permitted on the Swedish railroads is 40 miles per hour, medium speed being 30 miles; of the mixed trains 18½, and of the freight trains from 12 to 15 miles per hour.

The State railroads alone run night trains for passengers. In the fast trains there are only first and second class cars; and the cost of the passage in these trains is 4 cents per mile for the first-class ticket, and 3 cents per mile for the second-class.

The other passenger trains have three classes of cars. In the mixed trains the price of passage in the first-class cars is 3 cents per English mile, in the second-class 2¼ cents per mile, and in the third-class 1 cent per mile.

The cars are well constructed, of good model, and the station-houses are substantial and convenient.

As the government owns and controls nearly all the trunk lines, it is able easily to regulate the tariff-rates of passengers and freight, and to check exorbitant charges and varying and injurious competitions.

There is no complaint that the ownership and control of the trunk lines by the government operates unduly against the rights and legitimate interests of the private railroads.

This state ownership of the trunk lines tends to prevent all unfair discrimination of one line against another, or against the public interests and convenience, and to maintain a proper equilibrium between the interests of all.

norway railroads.

The extended facilities of water communication possessed by Sweden is enjoyed to quite as large a degree by Norway, which is bounded north and west by the ocean, and south by the Skager Rack, affording a great number of fjords, harbors, and navigable creeks.

On an area of 122,000 English square miles, Norway has less than 2,000,000 of inhabitants.

Along the coasts the population is chiefly engaged in navigation and fisheries, and in the interior in the pursuit of agriculture and the breeding of cattle, the former of which is, however, very limited on account of the nature of the country and the climate.

To these branches of industry must be added the important labor and commerce arising from the produce of lumber floated down the rivers at small expense, and contributing to the prosperity of the exporting towns. During the last thirty years, considering the limited taxable resources of the country, Norway has contributed liberally to the improvement of the highways of communication uniting the interior of the country with the towns on the coast, and these with each other.

The national government, with small contributions from the municipalities, has provided for the execution of these works. In 1854 was built the first railroad, 42 miles in length, which unites Mjösen Lake with Christiania.

This road was built chiefly by private capital, English and Norwegian, and under the supervision of Robert Stephenson, the distinguished son [Page 963] of the celebrated originator and pioneer of the British railroads, George Stephenson.

It was not until 1862 that another piece of road was completed eastward from Christiania, which was continued until it reached the Swedish border in 1865 and united with the Swedish trunk line. This railroad, and all those since constructed, have been chiefly at the expense and under the direction of the Norwegian Government.

Of railroads completed and open to traffic, Norway has now 656 English miles, and 362 miles well under construction. The total cost of these roads amounts to about 130,000,000, of which $22,500,000 has been paid by the government, $6,500,000 by private or municipal shareholders, and $1,000,000 by loan. Of these roads 367 miles are of the standard gauge, 4 feet 8½ inches, and 501 miles of the 3½ feet gauge.

A part of the capital for the building of a portion of these roads was obtained from the districts desiring the roads, which contributed a fraction of one-third or one-fifth of the amount required, the government contributing the remainder and reserving to itself the exclusive right of administrating the roads. In this way all the Norwegian railroads, with the exception of the first 42 miles opened in 1854, are government roads.

The rates of fare on the broad-gauge roads are, for the first class 3 cents per mile, second class 2 cents per mile, and the third class 1 cent per mile. There are but two classes of passenger cars on the narrow-gauge roads, of which the first class is at the rate of 2.3 cents per mile, and the second 1.3 cents per mile. Fast trains only run on one road, the speed of this being, including all the stoppages, 18 miles per hour. On all the other roads the usual speed is 14 to 15 miles per hour, including all stoppages, there being a station on an average every 5 or 6 miles.

The cars and other rolling stock of the Norwegian roads have been nearly all made in England, Norway, and Sweden. Some passenger cars have been built by a Danish company.

During the present year four powerful locomotives have been imported from the United States, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, of Philadelphia, and one American drawing-room car has been brought from the manufactory of Jackson & Sharp, Wilmington, Del.

The railroads of Norway and Sweden are run under an arrangement with the Danish roads.

The national debt of Norway, amounting to about $20,000,000, was contracted chiefly for the building of railroads.

It is seen by the above statement of facts that by nearly exclusive ownership in Norway, and the ownership of trunk lines in Sweden, the Norwegian and Swedish Government are enabled to exercise nearly full control of the railroads of the two countries, and to regulate the commerce and the transit of passengers in the interest of the public. Thus the rates continue about the same from year to year, and there are no deranging competitions by which the stocks and bonds of the roads are kept in feverish and injurious vacillation and uncertainty, and legitimate commerce and the price of commodities disturbed or rendered uncertain.


It is not improbable that how to govern railroads in the best interest of the public and with just regard to the rights and interests of their owners, at no distant day may become one of the leading questions for the American people, one of the toughest problems for their statesmen. It would seem to be a self-evident proposition, growing out of the very [Page 964] necessities and philosophy of human government, that national and international laws and regulations should exercise sway over the great routes of travel and commerce on land and sea.

That railroads are taking foremost place among the avenues and agencies of commerce, is made apparent by the measure and weight of facts obvious to all. That the constituted authority of the nation on whose territory railroads operate, and from whose resources they draw their life and power, should control and regulate their action seems to be the growing conviction of those who have devoted the most consideration to their history, operation, and the questions and interests which they involve. It is well known that such is the conclusion to which the ablest legislative and administrative minds of Germany and France have reached, and the general experience of Europe is tending in the same direction.

I have, &c.,


For the convenience of the American roads, I have in the above reduced the unit of distance and money to the United States standard.— J. L. S.