Public Service Commission Of Utah - Railroad Cases

This page was last updated on July 29, 2015.

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The files of the Public Service Commission of Utah (PSC) contain the cases decided by the Commission pertaining to any utility that operated in the state, including railroads, trucking companies, power companies, gas companies, and telephone and telegraph companies. The railroad and trucking cases are solely those within Utah's jurisdiction, and not the jurisdiction of the federal Interstate Commerce Commission. These Utah-only cases include those companies operating between points within the state of Utah, and active in business that remained within Utah, such as ore that was mined in Utah, and shipped to a mill or smelter, also in Utah. Or coal that was mined in Utah, and shipped to a Utah location for sale to businesses or to the public.

The Utah Public Service Commission began hearing cases in 1917, and coincidently, the first case, case No. 1, was a railroad case -- the abandonment of the Emigration Canyon Railroad.

The following comes from the commission's own web site:

The Utah State Legislature, in its Public Utilities Act of 1917, created the Public Utilities Commission of Utah. Governor Simon Bamberger signed the Act on March 8, 1917, and the Commission was officially organized on April 3, 1917. Recently formed utility companies were regulated by the Commission to ensure that the growth of the utility industry developed according to sound economic principles. At its inception, the Commission consisted of three Commissioners, a stenographer, a reporter, and a special investigator.

In 1935, the Legislature changed the name of the Public Utilities Commission to the Public Service Commission. Conducting a major reorganization of Utah State Government, the 1941 Legislature created the Department of Business Regulation of Utah, which included a three-member Commission known as the Commission of Business Regulation. The Commission of Business Regulation acquired the duties and responsibilities of the Public Service Commission and acted in its place.

The contents of the PSC case files have proven to be one of the best and most useful sources of information for research into the railroads of Utah. Not only do the files contain railroad information not available any place else, but they also contain enough information to develop credible histories of both transportation in general in Utah, and the utility industry in Utah.

I first became aware of the PSC case files in November 1981 while doing some initial research at the University of Utah library on Salt Lake City's street car system. I soon learned from the offices of the PSC in downtown Salt Lake City that the PSC case files themselves were all located at the state archives records center in West Valley City.

When I began my research at the Archives Record Center in 1981, and after I was able to establish my research credentials with the archives staff, I was allowed to remove the boxes from storage myself and inspect the files one by one. At first I was doing a summary of every file, railroad or not. I soon found that I couldn't devote the time required to that depth of coverage. So with Case No. 62, I began looking at every file to determine its contents, ignoring the title tab of the folder. I then did an actual summary for just the actual railroad files.

I found that the title of the case on the tab of the file folder did not always reflect the true contents of the file. Some of the best operational information for the railroads was contained in complaints by private citizens, with the PSC case having only the name of the complainant, without including the subject of the complaint. This fact makes potential research based only on case title (the most prevalent method of indexing) much more difficult for some future researcher.

In 1983 an archives reading room was established adjacent to the state capitol. If the staff at the branch archives had not known me, and allowed me to continue the removal of the boxes myself, the research time required would have increased considerably. As it was, I was able to continue rapid inspection of every PSC case, being able to inspect large numbers of cases with each visit to the branch archives, now known as the Archives Records Center. (The Archives reading room moved in 2004 from the grounds of the state capitol, to a new site adjacent to the former Rio Grande depot. The Archives Records Center itself moved in 2012 from its West Valley location, to a newly renovated site in the Freeport Center in Clearfield.)

This continued special access turned out to be important, in relation to the amount of information that I was able to glean from the case files. Due to the volume of actions that the PSC was making decisions on during the 1920s and 1930s, the amount of information being required from the applicants was being reduced. The applicants began to furnish only the bare minimum of what the Commission requested, in support of each application.

In 1984, the combination of finishing my last year and graduating from the University of Utah in August, along with the subsequent job search, all worked to quash just about all of my research, not just at the archives, but at other locations where I was pursuing research. All of these research locations were only available during regular business hours, exactly when I was working. In January 1985 I snuck off from job hunting and got in a day's worth of research. In August 1985, while between jobs and just before beginning my later career, I was also able to spend the best part of a single day at the archives. In January 1986 I took advantage of January 20th (Martin Luther King Day) being a federal holiday and not yet a state holiday to again spend time in the case files.

In July 1987 I took a vacation day to get some more research done. After this visit I realized that changes were coming in the access to the files and decided to spend more time doing research. In September 1987 I was temporarily placed on an afternoon shift for a month. During the middle two weeks of that month, I made arrangements to go through some of the files.

The mechanism for access now requires that a request be given to a staff member in the archive reading room, located in an annex of the state capital building. That request is then forwarded to the branch archives for delivery to the reading room at about 10 am the following day. During those two weeks in September 1987, I requested the PSC case files by the full box (based on an box index obtained previously) and in three days was able to go through 12 boxes, each containing over 400 files.

With the unprecedented help of a particular staff member at the archives reading room, I was also able to go through several other boxes labeled only as "ICC files". On September 14th, 16th, and 18th I spent a total of 10 hours going through these ICC files. These files have turned out to be of tremendous value because they contain information shared by the ICC with the state public utilities commission as a courtesy, and not published by the ICC itself.

This information from the ICC soon proved to be extremely valuable. Through other research I have found that the ICC Reports contain very good information about Utah's railroads. Unfortunately, in December 1941, because of the volume of work that the ICC was processing, the Commission began not publishing (reporting) all of the cases that they decided. In the back of each volume of reports these unpublished reports are listed only by their docket number and the date of the decision.

The Utah State PSC has in its ICC files actual copies of those unpublished reports, including the valuable "Return to Questionnaire" which the ICC required after the initial application. This Return to Questionnaire contains specific and detailed information from the applicant detailing why the ICC should consider any one particular application, and much of this specific information is not included in the later report of the commission's decision. One can only assume that the only other place that these unpublished reports would be available would be from the ICC records themselves in Washington D. C.

Between 1981 and 1987, I kept a log of my research activity at the request of the staff of both the PSC and the archives, in support of my unprecedented access. During that period of time, I was able to spend 83 hours doing research in the files of the PSC, up to Case No. 3150.

November 13, 1981 5 hours, every case, to Case No. 10
December 17, 1981 5 hours, every case, to Case No. 44
December 31, 1981 4 hours, every case, to Case No. 62, then to Case No. 132
March 18, 1982 5 hours, to Case No. 462
May 6, 1982 5 hours, to Case No. 596
June 24, 1982 6 hours, to Case No. 896
November 5, 1982 4 hours, to Case No. 1033
May 5, 1983 5 hours, to Case No. 1255
August 23, 1983 6 hours, to Case No. 1572
January 6, 1984 5 hours, to Case No. 1890
August 5, 1985 6 hours, to Case No. 2399
January 20, 1986 6 hours, to Case No. 2595
July 2, 1987 3 hours, to Case No. 2717
September 3, 1987 3 hours, to Case No. 2839
September 8, 1987 3 hours, to Case No. 2986
September 18, 1987 2 hours, to Case No. 3150

In addition to the Utah PSC files, on August 6, 1982 I spent two hours exploring the District Court cases. On November 5, 1982 I spent an additional 1-1/2 hours researching these cases. I found that the court cases contain much important information about Utah's railroads, but the project will take as much, if not more, time as the PSC files.

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