Railroad War Board

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On April 11, 1917, five days after Congress declared war on Germany, and the United States entered into World War I (19141918), the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Daniel Willard called a meeting of railroad executives in Washington, DC. The executives signed a resolution agreeing to support the war effort by running their lines in a coordinated manner to create a "continental railway system." The conference set up a five-person Railroad War Board to oversee the plan. The plan's objectives were to maximize use of all railroad potentials and speed up transport. Pools were organized; load weights were increased to utilize the full capacity of cars; the loading and unloading of freight were expedited. Shipping times of war-related goods (such as coal and iron) were speeded by prohibiting transport of non-related items during certain hours. Use of all in-service equipment was maximized and some passenger lines were eliminated in order to conserve coal.

The Railroad War Board and the companies it coordinated faced numerous obstacles in reaching their goals. One of them was a labor shortage that resulted from the draft: the passage of the Selective Service Act (May 1917) required men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty (later eighteen to forty-five) to register for military service. Some 70,000 of the draftees were rail workers. Shortages of equipment, parts, and capital also hampered the wartime effort. Nevertheless, the actions directed by the Railroad War Board and carried out by the railroads allowed carriers to operate as a unit. During World War I anti-trust laws were suspended because of the national emergency; corporations set aside their private interests to run a nationwide rail service in support of the fight for democracy.

See also: Railroad Industry, World War I (Economic Impact of)

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Railroad War Board

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