HC Deb 30 July 1845 vol 82 cc1218-20

On the Question being again put,

Mr. Bernal

wished to call the attention of the Government to a subject of considerable importance. They were aware through the newspapers that accidents had occurred lately on two or three of the leading railroads. Of course, there were casualties of the kind which were altogether beyond human control; but it did appear, that in the case of the accident on the South Eastern Railway there had been a want of care. A respectable surgeon, who was a passenger, and who attended on some of the unfortunate sufferers, expressly impugned the care and discretion of those managing the railway, in putting an engine behind the train. There had also been an accident to the mail train of the Birmingham Railway, where there had not been a sacrifice of human life, but certainly a great deal of injury to the limbs of the passengers. He was not able to suggest a mode by which these things could be checked, but at the same he thought that some good might be done by calling the attention of the right hon. Baronet to the subject. The punishment of an engine-driver, or of a light-bearer, did not appear to him to be enough. The attention of those gentlemen who obtained profit from the railways should also be drawn to the subject. He had read a letter from a surgeon in one of the papers, which contained a statement perfectly horrifying. It was there stated, that when the South Eastern train arrived at the terminus, it was detained for some minutes by the check takers to take the tickets, although there were persons in the train who were suffering from the most grievous contusions. These accidents were now beginning to happen to all; and unless there was some interference, he feared that they would have to record some much more fearful contingencies.

Sir G. Clerk

said, whenever such accidents occurred, it was the practice of the Board of Trade to despatch an engineer officer to the spot to ascertain the cause of them. The companies were also bound to report them within a certain time after they occurred. He expected that in the course of the day the Board of Trade would receive the report of the engineer sent to inquire into the accident on the South Eastern line. He must at the same time observe, that although the Board of Trade generally found that any suggestions they made were attended to by the Companies, yet they had no power whatever to enforce compliance. It might, certainly, be hereafter necessary to impose some more efficient check on the railway companies for the prevention of accidents.

Mr. Clive

hoped some arrangement of the kind would be made. He was himself suffering severely from the effects of the great carelessness of those who conducted the railway on the occasion of one of the accidents that had been mentioned.

Mr. P. Howard

said, that the rarity of accidents on the Brussels and Antwerp Railway proved how useful was an efficient system of superintendence.

Sir R. Peel

Sir, I am not sorry that the hon. Member has called the attention of the House to this subject, because as the law at present stands, there are no means of reaching those by whom these accidents are caused; and if the moral responsibility which now rests on those who have the management of railways is not sufficient, it will be necessary for Parliament to insist on some different system. It is continually urged that the accidents by rail- ways bear no proportion whatever to those which used to occur by stage coach. That is no answer—it is a mere sophistication. We have a right to be insured that those who derive the profits from these railways, shall take every possible precaution on behalf of the public. Every precaution that money can command ought to be taken; and there can be nothing worse than that the public mind should be disturbed by the constant fear of these accidents. It is unfortunate for the railways themselves that the growing public confidence in them should be destroyed. It does seem, that in these recent cases the accidents which have occurred, might have been prevented by due precaution. If by the employment of ill-qualified subordinate officers, these accidents are rendered more likely to happen, or more frequent, then it will be the duty of Parliament to step in and demand a reduction of the profits of those who are concerned in the railway, in order that due precautions may be taken to insure the public safety.

Viscount Palmerston

said: I wish to say a few words in reference to the subject of accidents on railways. As a matter of public duty, I think it right to say that this case of carelessness, if it be one, on the Dover Railway, is not the first instance of bad management on that particular line. I happened to come from Dover to London in November last; and, as I was in my own carriage at the end of the train, with my back turned to the engine, I had a complete view of what passed. During the greater part of the journey, and especially in passing through the tunnels, the train was not only drawn by an engine in front, but propelled by one at the back; and if any stoppage had occurred, the back engine must inevitably have gone through the train. The passengers, when they got out at the station, were totally unaware of this hindermost engine having been used. On inquiry I was informed that, from a desire of economy, a set of engines were employed by the Company which were not strong enough singly to do the work, and that two engines therefore were used, where one would otherwise have been sufficient.

Subject at an end.