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To the Honorable General Assembly of the State of
Connecticut, January Session, A.D. 1884.
We submit this our report for the year 1883, being the thirty-first annual report of the Railroad Commissioners of Connecticut, together with the returns of the railroad companies to us for the year ending September 30, 1883, and the statistical tables compiled therefrom.
We have in former reports, referred to the fact that as Connecticut is situated midway between, and immediately adjoining to, the great seaports and markets of New York and Boston, without any rival one of her own, her people have not been much vexed by questions of freight rates, nor the stockholders in her railroads made to suffer for railroad
Her territory has however for years been a temptation to those who thought they saw money to be made in the construction through it of rival lines between New England's capital and the commercial metropolis of the country.
NEW YORK & CONNECTICUT AIR LINE RAILWAY COMPANY.
The past year has witnessed a most bitter contest between two such enterprises. In our last report we said that nothing further had been heard from the New York & Connecticut Air Line Railway Company, since its articles of association were filed October 22, 1881, but that under the amended general railroad law it had ten months more in which to commence construction and expend thereon ten per cent. of its subscribed capital. Our report had hardly been presented to the Legislature before this company began to manifest signs of activity.
THE HARTFORD & HARLEM RAILROAD COMPANY.
On the 30th of December, 1882, the articles of association of the Hartford & Harlem Railroad Company were filed. This company proposed to build a railroad from the state line at some convenient point on the west boundary of the Town of Greenwich to some convenient point in the Town of Hartford. So far as the line from Greenwich to New Haven was concerned, this was the same territory through which the New York & Connecticut Air Line Company proposed to build, and they were not inclined to have what they regarded as their rights invaded in this way. They therefore, on the 11th day of January, 1883, filed their application for the approval of the location of their road from the New York state line to the city of New Haven. Thereupon began a contest between the two companies, both in the courts and before us, which has been pressed with the utmost persistency, and with the best legal ability which the state could supply. More than sixty days have been spent by us in hearing the various matters respecting these two organizations and a large number of questions decided. Most of these decisions were oral, but the few which were written will be found in the appendix, and are upon questions, some of which arise only under the general railroad law, and others which are common to locations made under that law, and those under special charters.
THE NEW YORK & BOSTON INLAND.
The New York & Boston Inland Railroad Company, which filed its articles of association in the office of the Secretary of State on the 4th day of February, 1882, with a capital stock of $10,000,000, and whose road it was proposed to construct in a direct line from Boston to New York, entering the State at its northeast corner in Thompson and leaving it at the southwest corner in Greenwich, held its annual meeting in New Haven in December. We have not been called on to give our approval of any location of its line, and unless ten per cent. of its subscribed capital is expended in construction before the 4th of next February, its corporate existence will expire by provisions of the statute.
The last and most complete parallel railroad project is that cutlined in the notice published in the newspapers of December 17th, that application would be made to your Honorable Body for a special charter for a railroad to come down to Hartford from Massachusetts, through the same towns through which the Connecticut Central runs on the cast side of the Connecticut river; thence along the same general line as the New York, New Haven & Hartford, the Hartford & Harlem, and (after reaching New Haven) the New York & Connecticut Air Line to the New York State line in Greenwich. Beyond this notice we have at this date no information in regard to the project.
OPERATION OF THE GENERAL RAILROAD LAW.
The experience of the New York & Connecticut Air Line, and the Hartford & Harlem has established beyond controversy the entire practicability of organizing under our general railroad law as it now exists, and of locating a railroad under it, while the Meriden & Cromwell Railroad Company has demonstrated the practicability of building under it, where capital is interested to build. It is indeed claimed, and with considerable degree of justice, that the provisions of the law are too liberal, unnecessarily subjecting the quiet enjoyment of the homes and lands of our citizens to the caprice of two or three individuals. That the Legislature may exercise the right of eminent domain is of course unquestioned, so also is its power to expressly delegate this right, and it is too late to dispute its power by a general law to delegate this right to any persons who shall comply with certain provisions of law. But it is not too late to question, and we think it would be wise to consider, whether some restriction should not be placed upon the exercise of that right. Massachusetts has thought it necessary to apply such restriction.
The theory of our general railroad law is that whenever a considerable number of persons (twenty-five) can be found who are willing to subscribe from ten to twenty per cent. of what it would cost to build a railroad, and pay in ten per cent. of the amount subscribed, that under those circumstances there exists a public convenience and necessity which demands the construction of the road and permits the exercise of the right of eminent domain by the corporators. The interpretation of the law however is such, that if one person can find twenty-four others who are willing to associate with him, he may himself furnish all the capital, and, subject to the assent of a board of directors chosen by him, exercise the right of eminent domain with only the very limited restriction which the Railroad Commissioners have authority to impose.
There remains then only one of the two requirements, the existence of which conjointly the Legislature apparently regarded as essential to show the existence of a public convenience and necessity for the construction of the railroad. There has been found the amount of the capital required willing to assume the risk of starting the enterprise, but it is the capital of only one man, and the risk is assumed, not on the judgment of twenty-five, but only perhaps of a single person ; so that the question of public convenience and necessity, which alone justifies the taking of private property for public use, comes to be decided not by any impartial tribunal, nor by any considerable number of persons, but by this single person, who decides in his own favor and assumes the right of eminent domain for his own advantage.
A bill was prepared at the last session of the General Assembly requiring this question of public convenience and necessity to be decided by a public tribunal before a proposed railroad could be built. It was defeated on the ground that such a law was in effect a repeal of the general railroad law. That such would have been its effect in some cases is undoubtedly true. For it was truly said by the opponents of the bill that while such a tribunal might decide that public convenience and necessity called for one “parallel” railroad between New Haven and New York, it would not be expected to decide that there was any such call for two or more “parallels."
LOCATION OF THE NEW YORK & CONNECTICUT AIR LINE.
The New York & Connecticut Air Line Railway Company, as is well known, was organized to build a railroad from the New York state line in Greenwich, to New Haven, and the Hartford & Harlem was organized to build from the New York line in Greenwich also to New Haven, and thence northerly through Meriden to Hartford, reaching it by a connection with the New York & New England, as first proposed, at Clayton, and subsequently in New Britain.
From New Haven to Greenwich, the locations adopted by the Hartford & Harlem were for a large part of the distance upon the location which the New York & Connecticut Air Line claimed to have adopted. The surveys of the latter had been made so hastily, and its preliminary proceedings with so little attention to correctness of detail that both contained many errors, so many indeed that it was claimed by the Hartford & Harlem that the attempted organization and location were void, and that they had forfeited any rights they might have had to the route covered by their so-called location. Most of the errors claimed by the Hartford & Harlem were found by us to exist. Some of them we allowed to be corrected by amendments, and in other cases required new proceedings to be had until finally the whole line was approved by us on the 20th of November. In the mean time, the two years from the time when the articles of association were filed, expired the 22d of October, and its corporate existence and powers would have ceased, except for the provision in the law of 1882, by which the Commissioners were empowered to extend the time, when a “company has been prevented by litigation or by the opposition of any party from complying with the provisions” of the statute. Under the authority of that statute we have extended the time for five months