Railroad Commission.Several years before a railroad commission was established in Kansas, attempts had been made at state control of railroads and considerable progress had been made along that line. Gov. Anthony was the first executive to recognize the importance of state legislation and control of the roads, and in his message to the legislature in 1877 recommended the passage of a law to protect the rights of the people in the matter of railroad rates, etc. Several bills were introduced, but nothing came of them and the matter rested until 1878 when railroad legislation was made an issue of the campaign. Gov. St. John reopened the question in his message and the railroad war was on. The champion of legislation looking toward state control was Samuel A. Riggs, who introduced a bill entitled "An act to establish a board of railroad commissioners, to prescribe their powers and duties, and to prevent and punish extortion and unjust discrimination by railroads in the transportation of passengers, freights and freight cars." It was nearly identical with the Illinois law, and its operation might have resulted in advantages to both the railroads and the people, but the bill failed to pass. In 1881 the Riggs bill was introduced in the senate, read the first time and reported back with the recommendation that it be rejected. Another bill on railroad legislation was introduced in the house and passed by that body, but was killed in the senate. Gov. Glick, who had introduced the bill in the house, when elected governor of the state devoted a large amount of his message to the matter of state control of railroads, with the result that eleven bills were introduced into the house, but the committee reported adversely upon all of them and recommended a substitute of its owns which, after modification in the senate, was passed and signed on March 8, 1883.
This law provided for a commission of three men, not more than two of whom should be of the same political party, to be appointed by the executive council before April 1, 1883, and to have general supervisory powers over the railway, express and sleeping-car companies doing business in the state. The commission was authorized to examine the physical condition of the roads at least once each year, in order to suggest changes with regard to stations, yards, improvement in service and other matters necessary to have the roads fulfill all their obligations to the public, as common carriers of the state. It was also given power to revise and establish rates, adjust disputes and perform the functions of arbitrators between the roads and their patrons. The railroads hailed the passing of the law as a victory for them and many conceded it as such, but time and the working of the commission have since changed that idea. The first commission was appointed in April, 1883, and consisted of the following members: James Humphrey, L. L. Turner and Henry Hopkins, who died on Dec. 18 of that year. According to the provision of the law "no person owning any bonds, stock or property in any railway company, or who is in the employment or who is in any way or manner interested in any railroad," can be eligible to the office of commissioner or any other officer of the board.
When the board came into existence there were 29 lines operating in the state. Within six months after assuming the duties of office the commissioners had inaugurated such a vigorous policy that public sentiment regarding the efficiency of the law had radically changed, the railroads discovered that they were confronted by unexpected conditions and made an attempt to break down the law, but signally failed. This was the first and last attempt of the kind made by the railroads, and the rulings and decisions of the board in thousands of cases that have been brought before it have been accepted by the railways of the state the same as though they were decisions of the court. These decisions deal with every form and kind of complaint, and an idea of the vast amount of business carried on by the commission may be estimated from the fact that in 1908 alone over 730 cases were tried and decisions rendered. Some cases are trivial, others of vast importance to the interests of the entire state, but the most important have been those with regard to the reduction of freight and passenger rates. It is doubtless true that, with an increase in the volume of business, rates would naturally have fallen, but it is doubtful whether they would have been reduced 50 per cent. during the first eight years had there been no commission. Gov. Martin said in 1886: "The saving to the people of the state by the reductions in freight rates, secured chiefly by the board of railroad commissioners, aggregates for the fiscal year ending June 3, 1885, over $200,000."
In 1889 and 1901 acts were passed relating to railroads and in 1905 the general railroad law was amended so that the members of the board of railroad commissioners were elected at each general biennial election "in the same manner as the other state officers," but in case of a vacancy the governor was given the power to appoint a man to fill the unexpired term. The commissioners were not allowed to hold any other office in the state or under the general government and could not engage in business which would interfere with their duties as commissioners.
Through the efforts of the commission the freight rates on the natural resources of the state have been reduced, and thus the mining and manufacturing interests have been stimulated. This applies especially to the salt and coal producing cities of Kansas, and in a marked degree to the cities of large milling industries. Another advantage of the commission which has greatly benefited the public, is the quick settlement of complaints made against the companies. Months and even years of delay occurred before the creation of the commission. In cases where claims of damages could not be properly brought before the commission they were adjusted through its members, as individuals, and were generally satisfactory to both parties concerned. As a result of the action taken from the start the commission has enjoyed the confidence of both the people and the railway companies. The greatest usefulness of the commission lies in its power to supervise the rates, which are flexible, and adjusted to the constantly changing conditions. Statutory regulation of rates would never prove satisfactory, for in many cases by the time the law became effective the conditions under which it was enacted would have changed or ceased to exist, and thus injury would result to road or patrons. Not only did the board regulate rates within the boundaries of the state, but it could also control an undue multiplication of roads and the extension of those already in existence. From the first Kansas avoided ultra measures and the conservative policy introduced by the commissioners has been adhered to and has led to increased confidence of the people, and a more friendly feeling between the railroads and their patrons. In 1911 the railroad commission was converted into the "Board of Public Utilities" by an act of the legislature. (See Stubbs' Administration.)Pages 533-535 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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