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U.S. Supreme Court

Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Wharton, 207 U.S. 328 (1907)

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad company v. Wharton

No. 36

Argued November 5, 1907

Decided December 9, 1907

207 U.S. 328


An exercise of state authority, whether made directly or through the instrumentality of a commission, which directly regulates interstate commerce is repugnant to the commerce clause of the federal Constitution, and so held as to the stopping of interstate trains at stations within the state already adequately supplied with transportation facilities.

Whether an order stopping interstate trains at specified stations is a direct regulation of interstate commerce depends on the local facilities at those stations, and while the sufficiency of such facilities is not, in itself, a federal question, it may be considered by this Court for the purpose of determining whether the order does or does not regulate interstate commerce, and if, as in this case, the local facilities are adequate, the order is void.

Inability of fast interstate trains to make schedule, loss of patronage and compensation for carrying the mails, and the inability of such trains to pay expenses if additional stops are required are all matters to be considered in determining whether adequate facilities have been furnished to the stations at which the company is ordered by state authorities to stop such trains.

74 S.C. 80 reversed.

The railroad company, plaintiff in error, brings the case here to review a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 207 U. S. 329

South Carolina, which granted a mandamus to compel the company to stop certain of its through trains running between Jersey City, New Jersey, and Tampa, Florida, at a station on its road called Latta, in the State of South Carolina, near the boundary line between that state and the State of North Carolina.

Upon a request filed with him by the Railroad Commission of South Carolina, the Attorney General of that state commenced these proceedings by filing a petition to obtain a mandamus directed to the company, compelling it to stop trains 32 and 35 at the station mentioned, pursuant to an order made by the Railroad Commission, after a hearing had been had before it.

The company demurred to the petition, the demurrer was overruled, and the company given leave to answer, which it did, setting up several defenses, among others, averring that sufficient accommodations were already furnished to the citizens of Latta and those residing along the Latta Branch Railroad; that the trains mentioned, 32 and 35, were interstate commerce trains, running between New York and Tampa, Florida, and intermediate cities, and the south-bound trains were compelled to run at a high rate of speed in order to make connections with the steamers to Havana from Tampa, and so as to make the through trip as fast as possible; that the northbound trains were companion or return trains, making an equally fast schedule time; that to stop them at stations like Latta would result in rendering it impossible for them to make schedule time, and they would have to be abandoned as through fast trains; that they carried the United States mail, and their trains were made up very largely of through passengers; that there were two competitors for this through travel, and that it would be impossible to keep up the trains in competition with these other railroads if stops were to be made other than those absolutely necessary. The answer also averred that, in addition to a number of passenger trains of local character daily, there was also furnished the citizens of Latta the convenience chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 207 U. S. 330

of a daily passenger train each way for through travel north and south other than trains 32 and 35, and it was averred that the order of the Railroad Commission of South Carolina was unreasonable and unnecessary, a direct burden upon interstate commerce, and therefore a violation of and in conflict with § 8 of Art. I of the Constitution of the United States, giving Congress the power to regulate commerce.

On the coming in of this answer, an order was made referring all issues involved to a referee to take testimony thereon and report back as soon as convenient. Pursuant to such order evidence was taken before a referee and report made thereon to the supreme court, which decided that sufficient accommodations were not furnished to the citizens of Latta and along the Latta Branch Railroad by the plaintiff in error at its station in Latta, and the court thereupon made an order that the passenger trains 32 and 35 should stop when flagged at the Latta station, for the purpose of receiving and delivering passengers at that station,

"with the alternative right on your part to provide facilities substantially the same as those which would be afforded the citizens of Latta by stopping trains Nos. 32 and 35 on flag."

The testimony upon which this order was made is in the record and is substantially uncontradicted. It appears from that testimony that Latta is a small station in the State of South Carolina, near the northern boundary of the state and on the road of the plaintiff in error, having a population, according to the last United States census, of 453. Clio is another small settlement in the same state, about twenty miles northwest of Latta, on what is termed the Latta Branch Railroad, having a population of 508, by the same census. Dunbar is a station between Latta and Clio, with a population, according to the same census, of 115. The country back of these stations is said to be a somewhat thickly settled agricultural country. It is also said by witnesses for Latta that these places have increased somewhat in population since the last census.

In addition to several local trains passing through Latta chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 207 U. S. 331

for stations along this road, or to and from Clio, there was one daily through train each way (Nos. 39 and 40), stopping at this station, and which carried passengers through to New York or Florida and intermediate stations, and they were equipped with first and second-class cars, through Pullman sleepers, mail, express, and baggage cars. The only objection to them was their want of speed -- that they stopped so frequently they did not arrive at their destination as swiftly as trains 32 and 35. In addition, trains 32 and 35 could be boarded at Florence, a station on the same road, distant about 15 or 20 miles south from Latta, or at Dillon, a station about 7 miles from Latta. The objection made by the people of Latta to this mode of getting these trains was that if they were going north they rode south from Latta to Florence and then boarded the train and went directly back over the same road from Florence to Latta, which they would not have to do if the train stopped at Latta. It also involved an additional cost of $1.42 above the price of a ticket from Latta to New York. If they preferred to take the train northbound at Dillon, instead of Florence, then they had to drive from Latta to Dillon over what was described by a witness to be in winter "one of the worst roads that ever was made a road." they had to drive from Latta to Dillon over what was described by a witness to be in winter "one of the worst roads that ever was made a road." they had to drive from Latta to Dillon over what was described by a witness to be in winter "one of the worst roads that ever was made a road." It was also averred that, by stopping the south-bound train (No. 35) at Latta, it could be there taken at 3 o'clock in the morning instead of going to Florence the night before and taking the train there at 4 o'clock A.M. the next day, and a close connection could also be made at Florence with Columbia (on a branch road) by taking train 35 at Latta at 3 A.M., so that a citizen could go to Columbia and return to Latta the same day, thus saving a hotel bill, which now had to be paid, as connections were so made that the journey could not be accomplished in one day. The people at Clio and the other stations on the Latta Branch Railroad were accommodated so that they could ride to Latta in time to have substantially the same conveniences in getting away from that station that the people living there had. The distance from Jersey City to Tampa is about 1,200 miles, and the trains chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 207 U. S. 332

32 and 35 are among the fastest and longest continuous trains in the whole country, exceeding the distance from New York to Chicago. These trains rank with the very best trains run anywhere. They are placed on the road for the convenience of through travel, and could not be profitably run if they were slower trains. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 207 U. S. 334

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