Primary Documents - US Railway Control Act, 21 March 1918
Reproduced below are the relevant portions of the Railway Control Act of 21 March 1918, under which the U.S. government (as represented by President Woodrow Wilson) took over control of the U.S. railway system for the duration of the war to aid troop and material transportation.
Railway Control Act
March 21, 1918
An Act To provide for the operation of transportation systems while under Federal control, for the just compensation of their owners, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted ..., That the President, having in time of war taken over the possession, use, control, and operation (called herein Federal control) of certain railroads and systems of transportation (called herein carriers), is hereby authorized to agree with and to guarantee to any such carrier making operating returns to the Interstate Commerce Commission, that during the period of such Federal control it shall receive as just compensation an annual sum, payable from time to time in reasonable instalments, for each year and pro rata for any fractional year of such Federal control, not exceeding a sum equivalent as nearly as may be to its average annual railway operating income for the three years ended... [June 30, 1917].
That any railway operating income accruing during the period of Federal control in excess of such just compensation shall remain the property of the United States... The average annual railway operating income shall be ascertained by the Interstate Commerce Commission and certified by it to the President.
Its certificate shall, for the purpose of such agreement, be taken as conclusive of the amount of such average annual railway operating income...
Every such agreement shall also contain adequate and appropriate provisions for the maintenance, repair, renewals, and depreciation of the property, for the creation of any reserves or reserve funds found necessary in connection therewith, and for such accounting and adjustments of charges and payments, both during and at the end of Federal control as may be requisite in order that the property of each carrier may be returned to it in substantially as good repair and in substantially as complete equipment as it was in at the beginning of Federal control, and also that the United States may, by deductions from the just compensations or by other proper means and charges, be reimbursed for the cost of any additions, repairs, renewals, and betterments to such property not justly chargeable to the United States...
The President is further authorized in such agreement to make all other reasonable provisions, not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act or of the ... [Army Appropriation Act of August 29, 1916] ... that he may deem necessary or proper for such Federal control or for the determination of the mutual rights and obligations of the parties to the agreement arising from or out of such Federal control.
If the President shall find that the condition of any carrier was during all or a substantial portion of the period of three years ended ... [June 30, 1917] ..., because of non-operation, receivership, or where recent expenditures for additions or improvements or equipment were not fully reflected in the operating railway income of said three years or a substantial portion thereof, or because of any undeveloped or abnormal conditions, so exceptional as to make the basis of earnings hereinabove provided for plainly inequitable as a fair measure of just compensation, then the President may make with the carrier such agreement for such amount as just compensation as under the circumstances of the particular case he shall find just.
That every railroad not owned, controlled, or operated by another carrier company, and which has heretofore competed for traffic with a railroad or railroads of which the President has taken possession, use, and control, or which connects with such railroads and is engaged as a common carrier in general transportation, shall be held and considered as within "Federal control," as herein defined, and necessary for the prosecution of the war, and shall be entitled to the benefit of all the provisions of this Act: Provided, however, That nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as including any street or interurban electric railway which has as its principal source of operating revenue urban, suburban, or interurban passenger traffic, or sale of power, heat and light, or both...
That if no agreement is made, or pending the execution of an agreement, the President may nevertheless pay to any carrier while under Federal control an annual amount, payable in reasonable instalments, not exceeding ninety per centum of the estimated annual amount of just compensation, remitting such carrier, in case where no agreement is made, to its legal rights for any balance claimed to the remedies provided in section three hereof.
Any amount thereafter found due such carrier above the amount paid shall bear interest at the rate of six per centum per annum...
That all claims for just compensation not adjusted (as provided in section one) shall, on the application of the President or of any carrier, be submitted to boards, each consisting of three referees to be appointed by the Interstate Commerce Commission, members of which and the official force thereof being eligible for service on such boards without additional compensation...
The President is authorized to enter into an agreement with such carrier for just compensation upon a basis not in excess of that reported by such boards and may include therein provisions similar to those authorized under section one.
Failing such agreement, either the United States or such carrier may file a petition in the Court of Claims for the purpose of determining the amount of such just compensation, and in the proceedings in said court the report of said referees shall be prima facie evidence of the amount of just compensation and of the facts therein stated.
Proceedings in the Court of Claims under this section shall be given precedence and expedited in every practicable way.
That the just compensation that may be determined as hereinbefore provided by agreement or that may be adjudicated by the Court of Claims, shall be increased by an amount reckoned at a reasonable rate per centum to be fixed by the President upon the cost of any additions and betterments, less retirements, and upon the cost of road extensions to the property of such carrier made by such carrier with the approval of or by order of the President while such property is under Federal control.
That no carrier while under Federal control shall, without the prior approval of the President, declare or pay any dividend in excess of its regular rate of dividends during the three years ended ... [June 30, 1917] ...: Provided, however, That such carriers as have paid no regular dividends or no dividends during said period may, with the prior approval of the President, pay dividends at such rate as the President may determine.
That the sum of $500,000,000 is hereby appropriated, out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, which, together with any funds available from any operating income of said carriers, may be used by the President as a revolving fund for the purpose of paying the expenses of the Federal control, and so far as necessary the amount of just compensation, and to provide terminals, motive power, cars, and other necessary equipment, such terminals, motive power, cars, and equipment to be used and accounted for as the President may direct and to be disposed of as Congress may hereafter by law provide.
The President may also make or order any carrier to make any additions, betterments, or road extensions, and to provide terminals, motive power, cars, and other equipment necessary or desirable for war purposes or in the public interest on or in connection with the property of any carrier.
He may from said revolving fund advance to such carrier all or any part of the expense of such additions, betterments, or road extensions, and to provide terminals, motive power, cars, and other necessary equipment so ordered and constructed by such carrier or by the President, such advances to be charged against such carrier and to bear interest at such rate and be payable on such terms as may be determined by the President, to the end that the United States may be fully reimbursed for any sums so advanced.
Any loss claimed by any carrier by reason of any such additions, betterments, or road extensions so ordered and constructed may be determined by agreement between the President and such carrier; failing such agreement the amount of such loss shall be ascertained as provided in section three hereof.
From said revolving fund the President may expend such an amount as he may deem necessary or desirable for the utilization and operation of canals, or for the purchase, construction, or utilization and operation of boats, barges, tugs, and other transportation facilities on the inland, canal, and coastwise waterways, and may in the operation and use of such facilities create or employ such agencies and enter into such contracts and agreements as he shall deem in the public interest.
That for the purpose of providing funds requisite for maturing obligations or for other legal and proper expenditures, or for reorganizing railroads in receivership, carriers may, during the period of Federal control, issue such bonds, notes, equipment trust certificates, stock, and other forms of securities, secured or unsecured by mortgage, as the President may first approve as consistent with the public interest.
The President may, out of the revolving fund created by this Act, purchase for the United States all or any part of such securities at prices not exceeding par, and may sell such securities whenever in his judgment it is desirable at prices not less than the cost thereof.
That the President may execute any of the powers herein and heretofore granted him with relation to Federal control through such agencies as he may determine, and may fix the reasonable compensation for the performance of services in connection therewith, and may avail himself of the advice, assistance, and cooperation of the Interstate Commerce Commission and of the members and employees thereof, and may also call upon any department, commission, or board of the Government for such services as he may deem expedient.
But no such official or employee of the United States shall receive any additional compensation for such services except as now permitted by law.
That during the period of Federal control, whenever in his opinion the public interest requires, the President may initiate rates, fares, charges, classifications, regulations, and practices by filing the same with the Interstate Commerce Commission, which said rates, fares, charges, classifications, regulations, and practices shall not be suspended by the commission pending final determination.
Said rates, fares, charges, classifications, regulations, and practices shall be reasonable and just and shall take effect at such time and upon such notice as he may direct, but the Interstate Commerce Commission shall, upon complaint, enter upon a hearing concerning the justness and reasonableness of so much of any order of the President as establishes or changes any rate, fare, charge, classification, regulation, or practice of any carrier under Federal control...
In determining any question concerning any such rates, fares, charges, classifications, regulations, or practices or changes therein, the Interstate Commerce Commission shall give due consideration to the fact that the transportation systems are being operated under a unified and coordinated national control and not in competition.
After full hearing the commission may make such findings and orders as are authorized by the Act to regulate commerce as amended, and said findings and orders shall be enforced as provided in said Act...
That moneys and other property derived from the operation of the carriers during Federal control are hereby declared to be the property of the United States.
Unless otherwise directed by the President, such moneys shall not be covered into the Treasury, but such moneys and property shall remain in the custody of the same officers, and the accounting thereof shall be in the same manner and form as before Federal control.
Disbursements therefrom shall, without further appropriation, be made in the same manner as before Federal control and for such purposes as under the Interstate Commerce Commission classification of accounts in force on ... [December 27, 1917] ... are chargeable to operating expenses or to railway tax accruals and for such other purposes in connection with Federal control as the President may direct...
That the Federal control of railroads and transportation systems herein and heretofore provided for shall continue for and during the period of the war and for a reasonable time hereafter, which shall not exceed one year and nine months next following the date of the proclamation by the President of the exchange of ratifications of the treaty of peace- Provided, however, That the President may, prior to ... [July 1, 1918] ... relinquish control of all or any part of any railroad or system of transportation, further Federal control of which the President shall deem not needful or desirable; and the President may at any time during the period of Federal control agree with the owners thereof to relinquish all or any part of any railroad or system of transportation.
The President may relinquish all railroads and systems of transportation under Federal control at any time he shall deem such action needful or desirable. No right to compensation shall accrue to such owners from and after the date of relinquishment for the property so relinquished.
That nothing in this Act shall be construed to amend, repeal, impair, or affect the existing laws or powers of the States in relation to taxation or the lawful police regulations of the several States, except wherein such laws, powers, or regulations may affect the transportation of troops, war materials, Government supplies, or the issue of stocks and bonds.
That this Act is expressly declared to be emergency legislation enacted to meet conditions growing out of war; and nothing herein is to be construed as expressing or prejudicing the future policy of the Federal Government concerning the ownership, control, or regulation of carriers or the method or basis of the capitalization thereof.
Approved, March 21, 1918
'Push' was slang signifying a large-scale attack upon enemy positions.
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