Page images
PDF
EPUB

incorporated shall enjoy all the rights and privileges previously granted to a certain other railway company. This practice led to greater uniformity in the contents of charters and was one of the factors which encouraged the enactment of general laws relating to all railways within the commonwealth in which such laws were enacted. The early general laws usually related to some specific point; such as sign boards, fences, right of way, and the ringing of bells. Gradually the scope of the general laws was extended, until finally they embraced all the provisions of the best private charters and became general laws for incorporation of railway companies. These general laws were frequently made a part of the general laws on corporations, although in many instances they have been kept separate to the present time. In fact, the latter appears to be the prevailing tendency. This is a commendable feature of contemporary railway history, for railways have so many peculiarities of their own that separate treatment of them in our laws is likely to result in better adjustments and less friction.

Having placed general railway laws upon the statute books, it would seem that the era of special charters had come to a close in the state for which the general law had been enacted. But such is not the case. Almost numberless instances could be cited in which special charters were granted without the least reference to the general law previously enacted. In some cases the special charters were granted within incredibly short periods of time after the passage of the general law. Whatever else this may show, it reveals loose methods and carelessness in administration. Yet in spite of these slips and gaps, general legislation made steady gains, so that by about 1870 the era of special legislation may be said to have been passed. In the East it had been passed in most respects by about 1850. General legislation has obvious advantages over special legislation, in that it treats all railways alike and formulates a general policy in the observance of which the railways and the state are much more likely to get together. There exists greater similarity among successive general laws in a state than among successive charters granted by the same state; but among the general laws of different states the differences are frequently as great as among the special charters. These differences among the laws of different states are significant, especially from the point of view of a railway company whose system lies in different states. A railway system should be operated as a unified network. This is demanded alike by public and private interests. But how can the best results be obtained if the same system of railways is subjected to varying antagonistic or mutually exclusive provisions of law ? This state of affairs must necessarily create dissatisfaction among both parties. Greater uniformity in the railway laws of the states is imperative. If this cannot be accomplished, a wider scope of federal legislation suggests itself as a feasible solution. There can be no excuse for widely different methods of classification and rate schedules when the same commodities are concerned ; nor should a multiplicity of reports be called for. A uniform rule of assessment and taxation is unquestionably desirable.

Railway legislation in the United States lacks adjustment, the machinery for making adjustments, and the machinery for administering with efficiency the laws supposed to be in force. The railway business is complex. It ministers to manifold wants. It has many interests. The law should somewhere delegate power which can be exercised with discretion by authorized administrative agents, rather than prescribe rigid rules for traffic matters which may require one type of decision to-day and the opposite type to-morrow. The easiest and perhaps the best way of providing the elements of elasticity and adjustment, which are now so generally lacking, is to invest a competent authority with ample discretionary powers.

The lack of elasticity in railway legislation is also illustrated by the many constitutional provisions which have been incorporated in the constitutions of various states. The chapter on Constitutional Provisions illustrates this. There are certain general and fundamental principles which can perhaps be incorporated in constitutions to advantage; such as, eminent domain, publicity, and equality of treatment. But rigid provisions relat

ing to the long and short haul, discriminations, and classification are likely to hinder that free development of traffic arrangements which the railway business requires. There are circumstances under which a greater charge for a shorter haul, over the same line, in the same direction is justifiable and necessary.

There are discriminations which are not unjust. State classifications, unless they are essentially alike, if not identical, except in matters of commodity tariffs, are likely to obstruct progress toward a uniform national classification. Constitutional amendments are not easy to secure, and the less our constitutions are concerned with such changeable matters, the better will schemes of public regulation achieve their ends.

CHAPTER III

FOREIGN SIDE-LIGHTS 1

In these times of commercial expansion and the establishment of more far-reaching and complex international relations a survey of foreign experience is especially appropriate. The railway as an institution is everywhere the same. As an industry it presents characteristics which are in many respects different from those common to other industries. These peculiarities of the railway business have been so often pointed out that it is not necessary to repeat them here. Railway legislation, like legislation in other domains of the industrial world, must bear definite relations to the business treated in such laws, and the fact being indisputable that the intrinsic nature of railway enterprise is everywhere the same, the corollary must go unchallenged that railway legislation must, in its essential features, bear a corresponding degree of similarity and identity. It is only in secondary and local characteristics that we find differences of importance in a study of the railways of different countries; hence it follows that only in

1 Consult Part V of the author's “Report on Railway Regulation,” United States Industrial Commission Reports, Vol. IX, p. 943.

« PreviousContinue »