Railroad Passes: A 1912 Instruction Booklet

From the very beginning of the industry, railroads occasionally needed to provide free transportation to individuals. For example, officials of other roads were sometimes given a tour of the lines, prospective shippers were invited to examine facilities before agreeing to contracts; employees needed to be transported to a work site, and so forth.

Top: A Pittsburgh & Western Railway pass from 1899; Bottom: A gold pass from 1930 issued to Pierre S. DuPont, a board member, by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Last photo courtesy of Don Tula and Ryan Elvin.

The mechanism for regulating such free transportation was the pass. Typically a pass took the form of a small piece of cardstock, about the size of a modern credit card with dimensions that allowed them to fit in a wallet. In rare instances, passes were made of some other material. For example, Otto Mears, legendary builder of Colorado narrow gauge railroads, issued a small number of pure silver passes encased in leather pouches. There are also instances of gold passes being issued for board members or wealthy individuals. However, for the most part, passes were simple pieces of heavy paper issued for a specific period of time and circumstances with the intention that they would be discarded after use.

Happily for collectors, many passes were not discarded, and today pass-collecting has become a subspecialty within the railroadiana-collecting hobby. Passes are appealing for a number of reasons, including:

Cost. In a time when some types of railroad artifacts are becoming practically unaffordable to most collectors, passes can still be obtained for relatively little money, in some cases, for a few dollars. Like other categories of artifacts, some rare examples do command high prices. However, sufficient quantities of passes were issued and saved that they are still easily obtainable without taking out a second mortgage.

Variety. Since almost all railroads, large and small, had occasion to issue passes, the variety of different railroad markings that can be found comes close to reflecting the immense number of railroad companies that ever existed. Many small, obscure lines could not afford marked lanterns or did not have a dining care service that warranted a proprietary china pattern, but they could afford to print passes. Indeed, they had to do so as a cost of doing business. Thus passes are often one of the few surviving artifacts of long-gone but historical companies, and collectors naturally take special interest in finding these rarities.

Design. In addition to having functional value, passes also served as a kind of business card, so many if not most railroads took some care in their design. In particular, passes from the late 1800's tend to have ornate designs with elaborate lettering and occasionally beautiful engravings of company logo's or other images.

History. Passes often reflected a railroad's corporate structure or affiliations at that particular point in time, so it is possible to see ownership or subsidiary relationships among companies just by examining the titles and wording. Also, since railroads frequently issued passes to major officials of other railroads (expecting the same in return), passes sometimes are found with historically famous names or signatures on them -- names like Gould, Vanderbilt, Harriman, etc.

Ease of Storage. The small size of passes allows a significant collection to be stored and displayed in a small amount of space. Try doing that with a locomotive bell collection.

A definitive book on railroad passes has yet to be written. As with many other categories of artifacts, there is much wisdom and lore shared among collectors, but very little written down. For the time being, we can learn a fair amount about passes by examining the literature that railroads published for employees concerning their use. Since passes essentially involved giving away for free the very product that railroads were in business to provide, companies understandably had strict regulations concerning the issuance and use of passes. Moreover, it appears the passes were strictly regulated from the early days of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The remainder of this article presents the contents of a booklet issued by the Western Maryland Railway called "Rates and Instructions Governing Free Travel and Passes", effective January 1, 1912. At that time, the Western Maryland Railway had a flourishing passenger business, apparently with both suburban and long-distance service. The wording in the booklet is presented here verbatim, complete with the spelling of the time, e.g., "employes" and "Postoffice." It covers a variety of related topics including the transporting of corpses and gangs (with a somewhat different meaning in 1912!). This booklet was intended as a quick reference for conductors, so the original contains two columns per page with keywords in the outermost columns. Here these keywords are presented in the left column.

The Western Maryland Railway Co.

Office of the General Manager

Baltimore, MD., January 1, 1912

Federal Law governing issue of passes.

1. All free or reduced rate INTERSTATE transportation will be issued under instructions and in accordance with that portion of Section 1 of the Interstate Commerce Law, as amended June 18, 1910, relative thereto, which is as follows: "No common carrier subject to the provisions of this Act shall, after January first, nineteen hundred and seven, directly or indirectly, issue or give any interstate free ticket, free pass or free transportation for passengers, except to its employes and their families, its officers, agents, surgeons, physicians and attorneys-at-law, to ministers of religion, traveling secretaries of Railroad Young Men's Christian Associations, inmates of hospitals and charitable and eleemosynary institutions, and persons exclusively engaged in charitable and eleemosynary work; to indigent, destitute and homeless persons, and to such persons when transported by charitable societies or hospitals, and the necessary agents employed in such transportation; to inmates of the National Homes or State Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, and of Soldiers' and Sailors' Homes, including those about to enter and those returning after discharge; to necessary caretakers of live stock, poultry, milk and fruit; to employes on sleeping cars, express cars, and to linemen of telegraph and telephone companies; to railway mail service employes, post office inspectors, customs inspectors and immigration inspectors; to newsboys on trains, baggage agents, witnesses attending any legal investigation in which the common carrier is interested, persons injured in wrecks and physicians and nurses attending such persons; PROVIDED, that this provision shall not be construed to prohibit the interchange of passes for the officers, agents and employes of common carriers and their families; nor to prohibit any common carrier from carrying passengers free with the object of providing relief in cases of general epidemic, pestilence or other calamitous visitation; AND PROVIDED FURTHER, that this provision shall not be construed to prohibit the privilege of passes or franks, or the exchange thereof with each other, for the officers, agents, employes and their families of such telegraph, telephone and cable lines, and the officers, agents, employes and their families of other common carriers, subject to the provisions of this Act; PROVIDED FURTHER, that the term 'employes,' as used in this paragraph, shall include furloughed, pensioned and superannuated employes, persons who have become disabled or infirm in the service of any such common carrier, and the remains of a person killed in the employment of a carrier, and ex-employes traveling
for the purpose of entering the service of any such common carrier; and the term 'families,' as used in this paragraph, shall include the families of those persons named in this proviso, also the families of persons killed, and the widows during widowhood and minor children during minority, of persons who died while in the service of any such common carrier. Any common carrier violating this provision shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and for each of them, on conviction, shall pay to the United States a penalty of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, and any person, other than the persons excepted in this provision, who uses any such interstate free ticket, free pass, or free transportation, shall be subject to a like penalty.

Intrastate Passes.

Take up and collect fare if used on interstate trips.

Passes issued for use entirely within the limits of a State, to persons not eligible to Interstate transportation under Section I of the Interstate Commerce law, cannot lawfully be used as part of the transportation on a journey involving interstate travel or to a point beyond the borders of that State, even if the holder pays fare to destination from the point at which the pass terminates. If any person using such intrastate pass continues on train across the boundary of that State, Conductors must collect full fare for the entire distance traveled, including that covered by the pass, and forward the pass with statement of all obtainable facts to the General Auditor.

Passes no required when in actual performance of duty.

2. No person or persons shall be carried by Conductors without proper transportation either in the form of ticket or pass, excepting the following:

Sleeping car employes,
Chair car employes,
Dining car employes,
Crews of private cars,
Express messengers,
Newsboys, in uniform,

and only when in the actual performance of their duties.

Children carried free.

3. Children under five years of age when accompanied by a responsible person holding proper transportation will be carried free.


Form of passes.

4. There will be three kinds of card passes and two kinds of trip passes issued during the year 1912, viz.:

Designated color for passes.

Card Passes:
Annuals-Color, Royal Worcester.
Term-Color, willow green.
Employes' Semi-annual First half,
color, turquoise; second half, opaline.

Term passes will also show prefix "T" in front of number, and employes semi-annual the prefix "E" in front of number in order to distinguish the class of transportation. Annuals will not show any prefix letter.

Trip Passes:
General Trip Passes-Color, yellow.
Employes' Trip Passes-Color, stone.

Restriction of territory on passes.

A card pass reading over "Maryland Division" will be accepted as follows: Between all points and on all branches east of Cumberland.

A card pass reading over "West Virginia Division" will be accepted as follows: Between all points and on all branches West of Cumberland, including the Connellsville and State Line Railway, Georges Creek and Cumberland R.R.

Telegraphic passes.

No telegraphic passes will be issued except in cases of emergency, and only when it is impossible to provide regular form of pass. Telegraphic trip passes do not include stop-over privilege and no round trip telegraphic pass will be issued under any circumstances. They will be issued over the signature of the following:

General Manager,
Division Superintendents,
Superintendent of Terminals.

They will be in the following form:

This telegram when written in ink and countersigned by you, will pass ________________________________________
from ___________________________________________
account _________________________________________
if used within _________days.



Passes for deceased persons.

Pass for a corpse should be made to read:
"Remains of ___________________________________"


Honoring Postoffice Commissions.

5. The following employes of the United States Postoffice Department will be carried free upon presentation of credentials, when traveling only on Post Office Department business, viz:

Commissions signed by the Postmaster General and issued to Postoffice Inspectors, and Postoffice Department Substitute Railway Postal Clerks' Commissions will be honored when bearing the signature of the General Manager of this company. Postoffice Department Inspectors, Superintendents and Assistant Superintendents will be passed free on presentation of their commissions issued by the Postmaster General of the United States.

Chief Clerks of the Railway Mail Service and Railway Postal Clerks will be passed free on presentation of their commissions with photographs thereon.

Travel performed on these commissions must be shown on conductor report of passes honored when such officers and employes are not actually engaged in handling mail on the train. When they are engaged in handling mail on the train no report of their travel is required.

Persons accompanying livestock.

6. Persons will not be permitted to accompany shipments of live stock, fruits, vegetables or other property carried on freight trains, unless authorized by the rules of the classifications, tariffs, or circulars issued by the Freight Department.


Foreign line private cars.

7. No foreign line private car should pass free over the lines of this Company without proper authority and Conductors must see that proper transportation is tendered for passage of all occupants of said cars.

Occupants of W.M. Ry. business cars.

When business cars of this Company, occupied by officers and employes, are moved over the line, Conductors should ascertain, by proper inquiry, whether all occupants of the car are lawfully entitled to ride free, and must require proper transportation for such occupants as are not entitled to free passage.



8. Annual passes will be issued over the personal signature of the Chairman, President and General Manager. They will also be issued over the fac-simile signature of the President and General Manager and will be valid when countersigned in ink by the person authorized whose name will be printed on face of pass.

Good over system unless otherwise restricted on face of pass.

When issued without any restrictions on face these passes will be good over all divisions and branches of The Western Maryland Railway Company throughout the calendar year. They may, however, be restricted on the face for use on a designated portion of the system, and when so restricted must not be honored excepting in accordance with such restrictions.



9. Term passes will be good between points specified on face of pass and only until date of expiration shown thereon. They will bear the fac-simile signature of the General Manager and will be valid when countersigned in ink by the person authorized whose name will be printed on face of pass.


General and employes trip passes.

10. General and employes' trip passes will bear the fac-simile signature of the General Manager, and will be valid when counter signed in Ink by the person authorized whose name will be printed or stamped on face of pass.


Instructions for issuing passes.

11. In filling up a trip pass, the words "employe" or "family of employe" must not be used, but the exact position or relationship must be stated plainly. For instance,

John Smith, brakeman.

Mrs. John Smith and daughter, wife and dependent daughter of John Smith, brakeman.

James Brown and wife, machinist.

Henry Jones and dependent mother, Mrs. Mary Jones, clerk.

Countersignature written in ink.

12. The countersignature on a pass must be written in ink by the person designated. A countersignature written by another will not be honored.


Trip passes for gangs.

13. Each pass must bear upon its face the name of a person eligible to receive free transportation. In addition to such person so named a pass may also carry not to exceed a specified number of unnamed persons of any class eligible to receive free transportation, the number and the class to which each person belongs being specified upon the face of the pass, viz.:

Pass J. R. Berner and six laborers, supervisor and laborers.

Pass John Jones and ten laborers, section foreman and laborers.

Pass James Long and five carpenters, master carpenter and carpenters.

Showing names of persons on passes.

14. A pass issued for a person and designated members of his family will be honored only when presented by the person named on the face of the pass, that is to say, a pass reading:

Pass "Frank Jones, wife, dependent son and daughter,"

will be honored only when presented by Frank Jones in person.

Passes to be used in the absence of the head of the family whose occupation makes the issuance lawful, must, in addition to the name of said head, show the name of the person using the same.

For instance, a pass to be used by Frank Jones, his wife, or his daughter, separately, should read:

Pass "Frank Jones, Mrs. Frank Tones and Miss Mary Jones," account of agent, wife and dependent daughter.

Time limit on passes.

15. All passes must be issued with a specified time Imitation, and no pass will be accepted for transportation after the expiration of such date, unless so endorsed over the personally written signature of a person authorized to sign or countersign the pass.


Filling out passes -- no alterations or erasures.

16. All passes must be filled out in durable ink, either with pen or typewriter, and all information required must be shown thereon.

Any indication of erasure or alteration on a pass of any description renders it void, in which case Conductor will lift and collect full fare.

Drawing line after name.

17. To prevent forged additions being made to passes, making them good for the passage of more persons than they were originally issued to pass, a line should in all cases be drawn after the name of person to whom the pass is issued, thus:

"Pass, John Brown, __________________________"

Numerals not to be used.

18. Numerals must not be used to indicate the number of persons entitled to travel on passes. The number should be written out, viz.: "Two," "Four," "Ten."


Sex of children to be denoted.

19. Passes should not be issued for "and three children, etc.," but must show names of children or denote their sex by using "and son," "and two daughters" or 'son and daughter, etc."


Showing names of users on back of passes.

20. If the names of all persons to whom it may be necessary to issue a trip pass cannot be written upon the face of it, the pass may be made to read for "John Jones and five men (Names on back)" and the names of the other five persons should be written on back of pass.


Honor via direct route.

21. Unless otherwise endorsed, passes will be honored via the most direct route between the points named thereon.


Proper request on file.

22. For every pass issued there must be a proper request on file.


Conductors not allowed to respect letters and must require presentation and examine transportation.

23. Conductors are not allowed to respect letters from officers of other railways requesting free transportation, nor have they any discretionary authority to allow anyone to ride free without proper transportation. They must not take it for granted that any person has a pass, but must inquire for and examine it and see that its conditions and limitations are conformed to, and that it is in every way "regular."


Verbal authority.

24. Verbal orders to pass free are not authorized, and must not be recognized.


Honoring detached passes.

25. A coupon when detached from a trip pass may be honored when the pass to which it belongs is presented with it, not otherwise.


Cancellation of passes.

26. Conductors will cancel trip passes in the same manner as tickets are canceled.


Conductor to fill back of passes out.

27. Conductors will fill in the information on the reverse side of each trip pass before forwarding to the General Auditor in order to comply with Interstate Commerce Commission requirements.


Report of passes honored.

28. In the case of annual, term and semi-annual transportation the Conductor must make a report of passes honored on each run, as per form Nos. C.T.155 L and C.T.155 S. This report must cover all passes honored and not lifted, except passes honored in suburban territory, and should be forwarded to the General Auditor together with other collections at the end of each trip.


Suburban territory.

29. The use of passes in suburban territory applies to employes and others who travel between residence and place of business. This will cover all points between Baltimore and Glyndon and all stations within a radius of ten to fifteen miles, in either direction, from Hagerstown, Cumberland and Elkins, when such passes are used for daily travel.


Reporting passes honored.

30. conductor report of passes honored must show all annual and time passes together with trip passes of any description which do not terminate within their runs; also those on which stopovers are allowed within their runs. Trip passes that are lifted and turned in by Conductors should not be included in pass report, but these must be endorsed to show the train number, date and signature of Conductor lifting same in space provided on back of passes when same are forwarded to the General Auditor with other collections.


Passes must be signed.

31. Conductors must see that every pass is signed in ink before accepting same.


Signature of users on passes.

32. A pass issued for a number of persons without naming each person, such as "John Smith, section foreman, and six laborers," W. M. Ry.; "George Jones, wife and two dependent daughters," may be signed only by the person whose name appears on the pass.

A pass issued for a number of persons, the name of all appearing on the pass, such as "William Brown and Edgar Moore, brakemen," or "Charles Blake, Mrs. Charles Blake, and Miss Mary Blake," must be signed by the users, whether the pass is used by one or by more than one of the persons named on the pass.

A pass issued to a person without giving the name, such as "Pass one extra messenger of the Southern Express Company," when bearing the endorsement "good only when presented with letter from, etc.," need not be signed by the user. The letter or identification form which accompanies the pass must be endorsed by the user and collected and turned in to General Auditor the same as trip passes, after noting the train number, date and points between which the pass was honored.

Written requests may be dispensed with in emergency cases.

33. Every request for a pass must be made in writing. In exceptional cases, however, written requests for passes may be dispensed with, but in such cases the records of passes issued must show the information that is required on written requests, on whose authority passes were issued and the reasons for dispensing with written requests.

Prescribed form for trip passes.

All requests for trip passes must be made on prescribed form and filed with the employe's superior and when approved by him will be forwarded to the head of that department for handling in the regular manner.


Method of requesting W.M. and Foreign transportation.

34. A request for a pass for or on account of a carrier's own officer or employe must state the name and address of the officer or employe, his title or occupation, the relationship (if the pass is to be issued to a member of his family), the territory for which or the points between which the pass is requested, and the time limit. (See form No. C. T. 153.).


Name of employe to be shown in requests.

35. When transportation is requested for any member of the family of an employe the name of the employe on whose account the transportation is requested must be shown on the application. The names and ages of children or other dependent members of families of employes must always be given.


When applying for foreign passes.

36. All requests on foreign lines for trip passes for officers and employes of this Company and for dependent members of their families will be made by the General Manager, who will also issue all trip passes on account of foreign lines, except as otherwise specifically authorized from time to time.


Emergency requests for foreign transportation.

37. All applications for foreign line trip transportation must be made on Form C. T.153. These requests should be made through regular channels in ample time to secure transportation before trip is to be made. SPECIAL handling of requests will only be given in case of sickness, death or special emergency.


Definition of term "Family".

38. The word "family" as used in Section 1 of the law quoted in Rule 1, is construed to include only such members of the employe's household who are entirely dependent on him for support. To enable carriers to determine whether our requests may be honored without violating the law, such requests must always show the position in the company's service of the person for whom transportation is requested, and in the case of "family" passes, the name, age and relationship of the member named to the employe requesting same. Requests for transportation over this line should give the same information.


Disposition of stubs of trip passes and retention of requests.

39. The stubs of trip pass books must be returned to the General Manager's office at the end of each quarter. The requests or other papers relating to the issue of passes, must be retained by the issuing office for the length of time required by the order of the Interstate Commerce Commission relative to the Destruction of Records of Steam Roads.


Reporting loss of passes.

40. The loss of any pass should at once be reported by the person to whom issued to the head of his department, and by him to the General Manager, who will arrange to have same properly bulletined.


Cancel bulletined passes.

41. Any transportation which has been covered by a bulletin account of lost or stolen, or for other reasons, which may be later recovered, should not be again presented or honored, but should be canceled and other transportation issued in its place.


Transporting persons free in case of accidents, epidemics, etc.

42. In cases of wrecks, epidemics, or other calamitous visitations, persons entitled by law to receive free transportation may be carried free without passes. In such cases Conductors must make a general statement of facts on their train report.


Stop-over on trip passes.

43. Should a passenger holding trip pass desire to stop off at any intermediate station, Conductor will cancel the pass for his run, and endorse on back of same with indelible pencil, "Off at ________________" (naming the station where passenger leaves his train and signing his name, train number and date) and when next presented the pass will be honored from the station named within time limit.


Conductors and other employes to study these rules.

44. Conductors and all other employes interested will carefully study these rules and shall at all times be governed thereby. When Conductor is on duty he will carry a copy of the rules and should any controversy arise by reason of the enforcement of same, he should inform the passenger that he is acting in conformity with his instructions.


Will not bind company.

45. Nothing contained in this book of rules shall be considered as binding the Company to furnish transportation to any employe under any circumstances.

General Manager