UNDERGROUND ELECTRIC WIRES.
That the great masses-of wires strung overhead in the large cities are not only a fruitful cause of fires but are a great obstacle to their extinguishment, by impeding the firemen in their work, is a fact well known to fire underwriters, who have paid dearly for their knowledge. Whenever an attempt has been made to compel the owners of these wires to put them under ground, they have raised the cry that it was impossible, and, we believe, it is susceptible of proof that they have spent money liberally to prevent the enforcement of laws that have been enacted seeking to compel the burying of the wires. The following article from The American Architect shows that the plan is not only possible, but is actually in operation
The majesty of the law seems at length likely to receive a tardy recognition in the several cities, which a few years ago passed ordinances that all electric wires must be placed underground before certain dates, fixed at fairly remote periods. It has been a matter of curious interest to the lay mind to observe how easy it seemed to be for large monied corporations to fly in the face of both public opinion and municipal law, and the success of their negative efforts must, amongst other thixigs, have greatly augmented the general respect entertained for an injunction. To us this seems the most powerful legal fiction yet invented, and there really seems to be few things that a really able-bodied injunction cannot accomplish—or prfevent. If our memory serves us, Chicago was the first city that took really active steps to abate the overhead-wire nuisance, and, in 1881, passed an ordinance that all wires should be below the surface on or before May 1, 1883. Until this day arrived the telegraph companies did little but protest against the law and declare that the impossible was required of them ; when the fated day did come, they simply took out an injunction which forbade the city to interferejwith their poles and wires. Fortunately the city electrician, Mr. Barrett, was a capable and wide-awake official, who fought the telegraph and telephone companies—since he had no appropriation to pay for a legal contest in the courts—by preventing them from renewing their poles and wires, arresting their men, and subjecting them to persistent persecution and pressure. At the same time the city succeeded in forcing new companies who desired to secure franchises to run their wires under ground. The practical success which attended the working of the new companies’ underground systems, taken in connection with that of a short portion of the fire alarm circuit, which for a length of a third of a mile has worked in iron pipes under ground since 1876, encouraged Mr. Barrett in his efforts, and helped to convince the older companies that it was unwise to struggle longer. So, little by little, one company and another has been putting its new wires underground, and bringing the main lines into cables preparatory to take the same step. The actual condition shows that a real progress has been made, for it appears that the city has one and three-quarters miles of conduit enclosing sixty miles of wire ; the Sectional Conduit Company, eight miles of conduit, inclosing 150 miles of wire ; the Western Union, ten miles of conduit, inclosing 400 miles of wire ; the Chicago Telephone Company, three miles of conduit, inclosing 700 miles of wire ; the Postal and the Bankers and Merchants, nineteen and one-half miles of conduit, inclosing 500 miles of wire, and the Baltimore and Ohio Company, half a mile of conduit, inclosing fifty miles of wire. There are, then, oOer 1800 miles of wire underground in Chicago, and other cities can turn to her to learn how much retardation and loss of electricity is occasioned by the wires being placed below the surface, and also which of the several kinds of conduits in use is most practically successful.
New York’s experience has been in some ways similar, though there politics have, to a certain extent, joined hands with the electric companies to resist the law. Still, if it had not been for the ingenious way in which the general fear of cholera was invoked two years ago, to prevent the wholesale opening of the streets, which the enforcement of the law would have occasioned, we believe that the wires would have been pul under ground at the appointed time. An electric subway commission, composed of persons of questionable fitness for the task, has been more or less employed for many months in considering the merits of the many systems of underfAound conduits submitted to them by inventors, and’ listening to the suggestions and advice of the experts of the electric companies and of those employed as their own advisers, A more efficient head (who will probably receive more than his proper share of praise) having at length been appointed, this commission has at last brought its labors to such a point that it ventures to make a report and formulate ce.tain recommendations and resolutions. Premising that the great expense of building what may be called practicable and permanent subways—that is, tunnels in which men may work at ease—prevents the accomplishment of the ideal solution of the problem, the commission states that it has turned its attention to considering which of the more temporary methods was likely to be electrically successful and pecuniarily possible. It has at length determined in favor of the adoption of a conduit of bituminous concrete, which shall possess certain fixed qualities of composition, density, elasticity, impermeability, resistance to heat and cold, and so on. As for the manner in which these conduits shall be used, the commission declares in favor of what it styles the “ drawing-in ” systems; that is, frequent man-holes are to be established on the line of the conduit, which will allow wires and cables to be introduced into the compartments of the conduit and drawn through to the next man-hole. It seems to us that these conclusions might have been reached long ago, and that a large portion of the wires should already be under ground. One step taken by the commission seems strange, even if not reprehensible, considering what opportunities for jobbery it seems to offer. Finding that it had no money at command to begin the practical execution of its own recommendations, and acting under the advice of the Attorney-General of the State, the commission has resolved to call into being a construction company, with which it may contract to make, lay and operate subways in conformity with the requirements now made public. New York, therefore, bids fair to follow in the path already successfully traveled by Chicago, Washington, Phi’adelphia, Boston and Detroit, which have more or less considerable lengths of underground wire in operation. It will be long before the companies, particularly the telephone companies, find the new method as convenient as the old ; but as they are already discovering that municipal and State authorities, backed by the courts of law, are disposed to curtail their privileges wherever possible, they scorn at length to perceive that there is worldly-wisdom in keeping themselves and their operations as much out of sight as possible, if only for the sake of avoiding more severe harrying.