Back in the day, I took great pleasure in recommending the book Rescue by Rail, by Roger Pickenpaugh to those starting their management careers as trainmasters.
It is considered "common knowledge" that US railroads "copied" the model of the Union Army for its table of organization, and adopted the methods of the military in conducting its business, including the relationship of its officers to its employees.
Nothing is ever so ignorant as "common knowledge."
The business organization and methods of US railroads were developed by the General Superintendent of the New York and Erie Railroad, one Daniel C. McCallum. McCallum's principles, methods, practices, and table of organization were direct, succinct, and transparent:
"All that is required to render the efforts of railroad companies in every respect equal to that of individuals, is a rigid system of personal accountability through every grade of service."
McCallum became Superintendent of the US Military Railroads. In that capacity, McCallum was called upon by Secretary of War Stanton to develop a plan to move Xl and Xll corps of the Army of the Potomac, twenty thousand troops, plus horses, plus artillery, plus supplies, by rail to Tennessee to effect the relief of Rosencrans' Army of the Cumberland cut-off in Chattanooga.
Lincoln, when asked by Stanton to approve the plan, laughed and said it, the transportation of the army by rail to Tennessee, couldn't be done in a month. Stanton, who had had McCallum develop a timetable for the entire project, said it would be done in seven days.
We need to keep in mind that back in the day, back in that day, there was no standard gage on US railroads. There was no direct interchange. The movement of goods and people, that most important feature of railroads, the making of connections, required loading and unloading of cars between the railroads.
Lincoln was wrong. Stanton was right, and the first troops did reach Chattanooga in seven days, although many arrived without horses, supplies, and artillery. But this was wartime, and "close" counts in wartime, as long as the speed of your maneuver eclipses the speed of your enemy's.
The accurate but commonly unknown truth of the relations between the Union Army and US railroads during the war against the slaveholders' insurrection is that the Union Army adopted much of its organization and methodologies from those of the railroads.
The railroads serving the Union were far better organized, and operated than those serving the army of the slaveholders'insurrection. The railroads serving the Union made their railroad officers accountable for the performance, the fulfillment of the system objectives, of the "business plan" of the railroad. That's one of the lessons I tried to convey to trainmasters.
The other lesson, in fact my favorite lesson to be derived from this movement of an army under the direction of railroad officers involves an Union Army general. He attempted to interfere with, and countermand the orders of a trainmaster responsible for a portion of the movement.
That general, Carl Schurz, became separated from his division, which had been sent on ahead, as scheduled, despite the absence of the commanding general. When Schurz did arrive at the embarkation point, he issued orders to the station agent to telegraph ahead and have the train transporting his division held, and to wait upon his arrival. The agent contacted the trainmaster who instructed the station agent to communicate no such message. General Schurz upon hearing of this declared that since this was a military mission, it was under his command, and he would have the trainmaster arrested if he countermanded military orders.
The trainmaster was not to be intimidated. He was able to communicate Schurz's interference to the War Department in Washington. Stanton's response was not long in coming. That response stated clearly that any military officer, of any rank, attempting to interfere with the instructions of a railroad officer in the execution of the movement of these troops by rail would be relieved of command, arrested and face courts martial.
"That," I would tell my staff, "is how much authority you, as a trainmaster, have. Anybody taking a step on this property, engaging with any aspect of this operation must answer to you."
I would also tell these men and women that with that authority came an equal measure of responsibility. "Everybody answering to you has the right to expect that you can and will give clear, direct instructions that will not jeopardize anyone's safety, and for which you will take full, unequivocal responsibility. If you are not prepared to accept such responsibility, the authority of all other officers will be undermined. You're in the wrong job. "
Word. By which I mean that's what this all boils down to: "word." Your word as an officer. Your ability to stand-by your word, which word must be the product of your knowledge of the operation, your thorough understanding of the operating rules, your responsibility to the employees who have to accept your authority.
It all boils down to word. It's all about the strength, the integrity, the viability of your word in the railroad industry. Without word, we have nothing.
July 20, 2014
Everything you need to know about railroading here:
Move things and people from A to B at the advertised times without hurting anyone. Repeat as often as necessary.