During the nineteenth century, regulation of railroads consisted of chartering and franchising of individual railroads and routes by state legislatures. Federal regulation began in 1887 with the Interstate Commerce Act. It required just, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory rates, enforced by federal lawsuits. In 1906, the ICC required railroads to provide reasonable service to shippers; also, the ICC imposed a preapproval procedure for rates. Through the Clayton Act of 1914, the ICC began enforcing antitrust provisions against railroads. The Transportation Act of 1920 gave the ICC authority to regulate railroad mergers and new lines, and to prescribe minimum rates to protect weak railroads from destructive competition. By 1940, the ICC's rate-making policies required prior approval of rate changes, rate uniformity for competing routes, relative mileage rate uniformity to prevent favoritism for particular destinations, minimum rates to protect the economic viability of weak railroads by preventing destructive competition, maximum rate caps to prevent abuse against shippers, and a ban on secret rebates. Rates for individual commodities were based on value of service. Volume discounts were banned (then allowed after 1957) and contract rates with particular shippers were prohibited. In 1958, the ICC began regulating service discontinuances and line abandonments, previously regulated by the states.
Railroads initially established their own engineering and safety standards and operating practices. In response to accidents, states began instituting some standards. By the late nineteenth century, railroads were promoting a national railroad system by establishing uniform standards for track gauge, couplers and air brakes, and uniform time zones. They also sought federal regulation. Additionally, federal statutes regulated boilers, safety appliances, crew sizes, hours of crew service, and labor conditions. The Janney coupler, shown in the 1873 patent drawing, was a significant safety improvement that replaced dangerous hand-coupling operations. Railroads adopted it independently and sporadically. The Safety Appliance Act of 1893 mandated full-scale implementation in 1900. Peter N. Davis, Professor of Law, University of Missouri
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