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Subsequently, the board of commissioners was abolished, and for many years the only supervision which the State has exercised over the railroads has been the requirement of certain prescribed returns, mainly statistical, in relation to the traffic, the roadway, and the financial affairs of the various roads. There appears to be good reason to believe that these reports, like those of other States, are prepared in a perfunctory manner, and that they are not in all cases reliable. The forms in use were adopted many years ago and they are somewhat defective.
The only limitations as to charges in the State of New York relate to passenger fares. The maximum limit for the roads of the State generally is fixed at 3 cents per mile.
The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company is limited to 2 cents a mile over that section of its road extending from Buffalo to Albany, and to 2 cents in summer and 21 cents in winter over the Hudson River division from Albany to New York.
With respect to freight-charges, the railroads of New York are subject to no statutory limitations whatever, and it is believed that the limitations placed upon passenger-fares do not in practice operate as a restraint upon the various corporations.
Connecticut.-The State of Connecticut has a board of three rail. road commissioners, whose duties relate to matters of a police nature and to such as affect the public safety and convenience. Railroad companies are required to make annual returns in regard to their doings and financial affairs. No attempt has been made toward the general regulation of freights and fares.
Massachusetts.—Prior to the year 1869 various laws had been passed in the State of Massachusetts having for their object the regulation of railroads with respect to matters relating to the safety, comfort, and convenience of passengers, the prevention of accidents at railway crossings, and other matters of a police nature. In the year 1869 a law was passed creating a board of commissioners charged with the general duty of attending to the enforcement of the existing laws relating to railroads. The commissioners were required to report annually to the legislature “the doings of the roads for the preceding year, with such facts, statements, and explanations as will disclose the actual workings of the system of railroad transportation, in its bearings upon the business and prosperity of the Commonwealth, and such suggestions as to the general railroad policy of the Commonwealth, or as to any part thereof, or as to the condition, affairs, or conduct of any of the railroad corporations of the Commonwealth as may seem to them appropriate."
The commissioners of Massachusetts have perhaps given more attention to the general discussion of the railroad problem than any other board of railroad commissioners in the United States, and the information and views which they have presented in their several annual reports and in other documents form an interesting contribution to the general fund of knowledge upon the subjects treated of. The specific
recoinmendations inade by the commissioners have not in all cases been adopted in Massachusetts. After a careful investigation of the ques. tion as to the regulation of charges for transportation, the commissioners reported adversely to the plan in their annual report for 1872, and in their subsequent reports they have adhered to the position then taken.
The Massachusetts railroad commissioners have made special efforts toward securing correct and adequate returus from the railroads as to their doings and financial condition. The provision of law already quoted, requiring returns showing the actual workings of the system of railroad transportation, was found by the commissioners to be, to a great extent, disregarded. In their report for 1875, referring to the results of the different systems of book-keeping adopted by the various roads of the State, the discrepancies in regard to the cost of rolling stock are declared by the commissioners to be so glaring as to be ludicrous. They also refer to gross errors in the returns annually presented to the public, in the form of tabulated statements compiled from railroad accounts. The commissioners further state that, until the year 1873, the Massachusetts returns seem to have been accepted as they were sent in, and published for what they were worth, without scrutiny or comment, and that such returns will not bear the slightest examination. In their last report they call attention to facts clearly showing that in certain instances railroad officers have falsified their published statements, both to the railroad commissioners and to their own stockholders, the unreliable character of which statements was not discovered until financial disaster compelled a disclosure.
In view of these facts, the commissioners submitted to the legislature at its last session a draught of a law "to secure greater publicity in the accounts of railroad corporations."
Among other things, the bill provides that the railroad commissioners shall prescribe a system upon which the books and accounts of railroad corporations shall be kept in a uniform manner; that it shall be the duty of the board of rallroad commissioners from time to time to exam. ine the books and accounts of all corporations operating railroads, to see that they are kept on the plan prescribed under the authority of the State, and authorizing the board to employ a person skilled in the methods of railroad accounting, whose duty it shall be, under the direction of said board, to supervise the method by which the accounts of corporations operating railroads are kept. The efforts of the commissioners in this direction are worthy of imitation in other States.
Minnesota.—Complaints regarding unreasonable charges and dis. criminations were made in the State of Minnesota soon after the railroads had extended farenough into the interior to prove their value as a means of conveying the products of the State to the various markets on the Mississippi River and on the great lakes. For several years the railroad question was very sharply debated. In 1871 a law was passed estab. · lishing a tariff of rates; also an act creating the office of railroad commissioner.
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The governor of the State, in his message for 1873, called attention to the fact that the tariff-law of 1871 had thus far been disregarded by the railroads, and recommended the prosecution of a searching investigation and the adoption of more effective measures. In the year 1874 an act was passed creating a board of three railroad commissioners, to be appointed by the governor for the term of two years. The law also gare to the commissioners full power to acquaint themselves with the circumstances of the various roads and to cause suits to be instituted against corporations or persons violating the laws. The commissioners were also authorized to establish freight and passenger rates, and the rule of evidence was so changed as to throw the burden of proof upon the railroads in cases of complaints of violation of the rules and tariffs.
The general rules adopted with respect to rates were as follows:
(a) In all cases a less charge for a shorter than for a longer distance by the same train and in the same direction.
(6) No greater charge for handling freight at one station than at another.
(c) No greater charge for a given distance on one part of the road than for an equal distance in the same direction on another part of the road.
.(d) No greater charge for handling freight belonging to one person than to another person at the same station.
(e) No greater charge for transporting freight for one person than for another, from the same point, in the same direction, and the same distance.
(f) No greater charge for hauling railroad-cars for one person a less distance than at the same time charged for such transportation for another person over a greater distance in the same direction.
(9) No greater charge for hauliug railroad-cars from the same point in the same direction and equal distance for one person than for another,
The only exceptions to these rules were in the case of commutation and excursion tickets.
At the end of the year the commissioners reported that the schedules prescribed had been adopted by all the roads. Complaints were, however, soon heard from various parts of the State that the very uniformity of the plan discriminated unfairly against certain parts of the roads and against the weaker roads." The complaint which appeared to have had the greatest force arose from the fact that the rates between Saint Paul and Minneapolis, where the density of the population and the consequently large traffic had, until the adoption of the new tariff, induced the roads to charge lower rates than for an equal distance on other parts of the same roads, were very considerably increased.
The general dissatisfaction with the provisions of the law and the fact that the business and credit of the roads had suffered very much, it being a season of general depression of business in the North west, led. to a change of public sentiment. The governor, in his message to the legislature in January, 1875, stated that “the evils resulting from letting the railroads alone have scarcely any present existence here.” The law of 1874, which created a board with quasi-judicial powers and with the powers to regulate fares and freights, was accordingly repealed in March, 1875, after having been in operation for ten months. A new law was passed, creating the office of commissioner, to be filled by election by the people.
The daties of the commissioner now relate mainly to the collection of statistical and other information.
Practically the railroad question has been remitted to common-law proceedings, and the functions of the commissioner are confined to the collection and compilation of statistics. The discussions as to the rights of the railroads and of the people seem to have resulted in a better understanding and in sentiments of conciliation on both sides.
Illinois.-Complaints in regard to the subject of railway-transportation began in the State of Illinois as early as the year 1850. These complaints, as in other Western States, related mainly to discriminations in favor of certain persons and places, to exorbitant charges, and to the action of certain roads with respect to the management of their land-grants. Railroad managers, in many cases, appear to have been gluilty of oppressive and unreasonable exactions in the management of the interests intrusted to their charge. It appears probable that in many cases the wrongs imposed upon the people resulted from the inexperience of railroad officials more than from willful intent. At the time re. ferred to, men were intrusted with important railroad interests who lacked the experience and natural fitness for the proper discharge of the duties devolving upon them. A great advance has, however, been made in this respect not only in Illinois but throughout the country.
The complaints made by the people of Illinois finally resulted in a popular demand for the adoption of statutory provisions for the purpose of correcting abuses.
The early charters granted to railroad companies in the State of Illinois contained no provision reserving to the legislature the power to amend, alter, or repeal them. These charters, therefore, came under the rule of constitutional law announced in the Dartmouth College case; a rule which operated as an inhibition against all legislative interference in the matter of rates and fares. A new constitution was, however, adopted in the year 1870, declaring railroads to be public highways, and imposing upon the legislature the duty of establishing reasonable maxima rates for railroad transportation. It also conferred upon the legislature the power to make laws for the purpose of prohibiting apjust discriminations.
In 1871 the legislature passed an act to prevent discriminations in the rates charged by the different railroads of the State for the transporta
tion of freights. Under this law the roads were classed according to their earnings, the rates actually charged in 1870 being made the standard. A board of commissioners was created, charged with the duty of carrying the provisions of the law into effect. This law was entirely disregarded by the railroads of the State, and coming before the supreme court of the State upon appeal, it was pronounced invalid, upon the ground that it made no proper distinction between just and unjust discriminations. The presiding judge, in rendering his opinion, declared that the law violated the spirit of the constitution, inasmuch as it required the forfeiture of the franchises of railroads upon arbitrary and conclu. sive presumption of guilt, to be drawn from the proof of an act that might be shown to be perfectly innocent.
In May, 1873, another law was passed, prescribing what should be deemed prima facie evidence of extortion and unjust discrimination, the burden of proof being thrown upon the railroad company. Under this law the railroad commissioners are required to prepare certain schedules of rates which shall be deemed reasonable until overruled in specific cases by a jury.
The workings of the new law have not been in all respects satisfactory to the people of the State, although it is believed that, on the whole, its operations have been beneficial. In their report for the year 1875 the commissioners say:
We think the friends of what is called “railroad legislation” may congratulate themselves upon the progress that has already been made, and may confidently anticipate that, in the near future, railroad corporations, instead of having the right, as they claim, to regulate their own charges, must, like all other common carriers, submit to that which is fair and reasonable.
Wisconsin.—During the first twenty years of railroad construction in the State of Wisconsin, the people were deeply interested in the extension of railway lines for the development of the resources of that productive State. Like the people of Illinois and other western States, they paid little attention, however, to the importance of establishing safeguards against exorbitant charges, discriminations, and other abuses.
At an early day in the history of railroads in Wisconsin, extensive grants of land were made to corporations, and almost every privilege desired was accorded by the people. But the evils incident to the development of the railroad system throughout the West at last mani. fested themselves, and a change of public sentiment followed. The popular discontent finally culminated in the passage of the “Potter law” of 1874, perhaps the most stringent legislative enactment which has ever yet been adopted in this country.
The passage of this law appears to have been the immediate result of an increase in the freight-charges of several of the roads in the autumn of 1873, when, for the first time in three years, the products of agriculture had come up to the annual average. Behind this, however, was the popu