For anyone who’s interested in the quest how to get started in hard+hilly mode with just the 1.2M given, no extra loan…
I started a twelfth game with a totally different approach: the intra-village stage coach lines. Just plop 1 bus stop in the centre of two neighbouring villages, connect them with a line, buy a road depot in each village, buy 10 stage coaches in both depots and sent them off. It costs about 220K to set up, and it will return you after the second year about 150K per year. Best investment untill now! And, much easier to maintain than the finicky cargo routes.
I agree, no trains, but with this methods one can easily build a large network of stage coach lines (the precessors of train lines), that will be a very sound base to build upon, and introduce trains when the villages have grown enough.
This just to say that making money in hard mode seem to be possible. Probably I’m the last to discover this, but hey! I’m learning every day… 😉