HC Deb 05 August 1845 vol 82 cc1442-6
Mr. Waddington

wished to ask the hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, whether he had received any information relative to the serious accident which yesterday occurred on the Eastern Counties Railway. He understood that the directors had withheld all information upon the subject; but he had visited the spot immediately after the accident took place, and a frightful accident it proved to be. Not only was it attended with the death of a stoker, but another man had his leg broken, and a third he saw led away to the hospital in a most alarming state.

Mr. Ward

said, that the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Clerk) could scarcely yet have received the account of the accident at the Board of Trade; and perhaps the House would allow him to state the particulars of the unhappy occurrence. If it were to be ascribed to the causes which he had heard alleged, he did not see how any human foresight or precaution could have averted the consequences. It appeared that the train left London at eleven o'clock yesterday forenoon, and as since the opening of the new line to Cambridge the board of directors had taken the precaution of desiring the superintendent of the locomotive department to go as far as Cambridge with the quick train, to see that the men properly worked the engines, the superintendent was accordingly on the engine yesterday, and was the only one of the survivors who could give an account of the occurrence. He preserved the whole of his recollection, and was under examination to-day. He stated that the engine employed was one of the first class. It was of the very finest quality that could be produced, and had just been brought into work. It was running perfectly steady, at a pace of about twenty-eight miles an hour, and no vibration or oscillation was perceptible, or anything to indicate that there was danger before them. But, upon a sudden, one of the wheels of the engine was struck, apparently by the end of a rail which had risen in consequence of the wedge which fastened it having got loose. At all events the engine was thrown off the line, and ran for upwards of a hundred yards along the ballast, dragging with it the whole train. The superintendent stated that, retaining all his presence of mind, up to a certain period after the engine left the rails, he hoped to stop the train without any fatal result: instead of which, however, on a sudden, the engine turned off across the second line, and ran against a bank. The engine was of enormous power, and the train was a very long one. The nearest carriages to the engine, two second-class carriages, and a horse-box, were at once thrown into a heap, and the engine-driver cast to a considerable distance. When the examination was proceeding to-day, he was not in a fit state to answer any questions, and it appeared that he had no recollection whatever of what had occurred. Some how or other the clothes of the stoker were caught by the engine, and he was thrown under the heap of carriages, and, as it was to be hoped, instantly killed, for the unfortunate man's lower extremities were completely burnt. The superintendent of the locomotive department found himself under this enormous pile of wreck, and within nine inches of the dead man. Having crept from under it, he discovered the carriages burning. The guard, who was sitting on a second-class carriage, had one of his legs broken, and the other materially injured. He was conveyed to the hospital at Cambridge: and it was perfectly providential that not one of the passengers in the long line of carriages which composed the train was injured. Some of the escapes were of the most extraordinary description. There was a woman with an infant in her arms in one of the second class carriages, and both escaped; and, excepting some slight bruises, as he had already observed, no injury whatever had been sustained by the passengers. After the minutest examination with regard to speed and other circumstances, he could not find that anything was done by the servants of the Company which could have occasioned the accident, which he entirely attributed to the circumstance of the rail having risen. The line to Cambridge was opened only a week ago, after inspection by General Pasley, who was so satisfied with it that he said he never saw a line constructed that did greater credit to the promoters. There was every reason to believe that it was as firm, safe, and durable a work as could have been constructed; and he thought that no human foresight or precaution could have prevented the accident. Of course the whole of the circumstances would be investigated by the Board of Trade, to whom the directors had sent an official report this day.

Colonel Sibthorp

and Mr. Gregory rose together; but, being reminded by Mr. Speaker that there was no question before the House, they both resumed their seats.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

moved the Order of the Day for the third reading of the Exchequer Bills Bill; upon which,

Colonel Sibthorp

said, the question now was whether it was not necessary that the Government should without any delay take some steps for affording compensation to the unfortunate individuals who suffer by accidents on railroads.

Mr. Gregory

said, it must be a subject of great congratulation to all persons who travelled by railways, that it was intended to confer further powers on the Board of Trade; but to none could it be a subject of greater congratulation than to those who had had the misfortune to travel on the Eastern Counties Railway, that it was intended to confer powers on that Board to enable it to institute a rigid investigation into the proceedings of that line. He had the honour, at the beginning of this year, to submit to the Board of Trade a memorial, signed by twenty-two Members of that House, and also by Lord Exeter, Lord Stradbroke, and others, complaining of the malpractices on that line. They complained of great and unnecessary delays, of extreme incivility, and of insufficient attendance. They complained to the Company of that delay, and all they received in reply was the time tables of the railway. But he could prove to the House, and the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon could bear out that statement, that the statistics contained in those tables were totally incorrect. How could it possibly be imagined that there could be safety on a line where the delays were so great—actually a delay of an hour having taken place on a line of thirty miles' length, particularly where, with the insufficient arrangements on that line, the succeeding train might run into that which was delayed?

Mr. Ward

hoped the House would feel that he was justified in making a few remarks upon the statement which had been made by the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman was one of a section of gentlemen whom the Company had been most anxious to please, but whom they had been so unfortunate as to displease. The period to which the hon. Gentleman referred, was the Newmarket week; and there was a most unfortunate succession of mishaps—he could call them nothing else. There was every wish to accommodate those gentlemen, but one thing after another went wrong; but, at all events, all that the hon. Gentleman suffered was loss of time, and the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon was once or twice too late for his dinner. The servants of the Company were bound to make accurate returns of the time at which the trains arrived at the several stations. He hoped that, in future, when the hon. Member who had spoken had occasion to travel by this railway, he would have no reason to complain of their arrangements.

Sir C. Burrell

wished to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet the Vice President of the Board of Trade to a report he had heard, that the chief engineer on one of two great competing lines of railway had declared that, if the trains on the other line were propelled at the rate of fifty or sixty miles an hour, the trains on his line should exceed that speed by five miles an hour. If that report were true, he thought it was time the Government possessed some power to restrain such dangerous competition.

Mr. Ewart

said, it appeared that in the train to which this accident occurred, the engine was followed by a luggage carriage and by two empty first-class carriages. Those carriages were rent in pieces, while the carriages containing passengers were undamaged. He thought, therefore, that it would be a most prudent regulation to require railway companies to place luggage or empty carriages between the engines and the carriages conveying passengers. This was a subject which, in his opinion, was well worthy the consideration of Her Majesty's Government.

Colonel T. Wood

thought the number of railway directors should be limited, that the responsibility should rest with them, that they should receive fixed salaries, and that one of them at least should reside upon the railway. He entertained great respect for the talents and character of the hon. Member for Sheffield; but he could not conceive how that hon. Gentleman could find time to attend to the minute details of a railway company, and to the superintendence of arrangements necessary for securing the safety of passengers. The fact was, that though these arrangements were conducted by boards, the whole business was transacted by a secretary, and there was no proper responsibility attaching to any individual. Gentlemen in the position of the hon. Member for Sheffield did not receive such remuneration for their services as directors as would induce them to give proper attention to the arrangements of railways. He thought, therefore, that the number of directors ought to be limited, that their salaries ought to be fixed, and that one of them should be required to reside on the railway premises.

Mr. P. Howard

said, that on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, if any accident happened to a servant of the Company, they invariably gave some compensation or made some allowance to the sufferer. In the very few cases of fatal accidents which had occurred on that line, the Company had also awarded some compensation to the family of the unfortunate deceased. He trusted the same equitable feeling would induce the Eastern Counties Railway Company to make some allowance to the families of the unfortunate sufferers by the recent accident.

Mr. Ward

wished to state, that at the meeting of the Board of Directors that morning, the very first resolution to which they agreed was, that a provision should be made for the widow of the unfortunate man who had been killed, and that every possible attention should be paid to the other sufferers.

Subject at an end.