HC Deb 27 June 1856 vol 142 cc2091-3

said, he wished to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade respecting the control over railway traffic vested in his department, and also to call attention to the inconvenience and danger incurred by passengers in consequence of the defective arrangements of the South-Eastern and the London and Brighton Railways. He had been somewhat startled on referring to the papers connected with the accidents on railways, to find the number of such accidents that were reported, and he did not hesitate to say that nearly all the accidents which had occurred on the South-Eastern Railway between September and December of last year might, in his opinion, have been avoided by the adoption of ordinary precautions. Indeed, it appeared from the Report of the officer employed by the Board of Trade to institute inquiries on the subject, that great laxity of discipline prevailed among the servants of the company, and that nearly every accident was attributable to negligence or mismanagement. The Reports to which he had referred, although they professed to give an account of all accidents occurring on railways, did not in fact do so. Last year he was in one of the tidal trains on the South-Eastern Railway, which ran into a coal-truck which was being shunted; one of the passengers, a gentleman, was very severely injured, having, he believed, had both legs broken; several other passengers were severely bruised; but no notice was taken of the occurrence in the Report. He wished to call the attention of the House to a somewhat singular arrangement, according to which accidents might be caused by the observance of strict punctuality on the part of a railway company. It appeared that a slow passenger train started from London on the London and Brighton Railway at eight o'clock, stopping at two stations—Forest-hill and Croydon, and being due at Redhill junction at a quarter before nine. At ten minutes after eight an express train was started upon the same line for Dover, which did not stop at any station, and was due at Redhill at sixteen minutes to nine, only one minute after the slow train to which he had just referred. He maintained that some interference was absolutely necessary in order to prevent the accidents which were rendered imminent by such extraordinary arrangements. He therefore begged to ask the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, whether that department had any power of control over railway companies with reference to those matters; and, if so, whether it was their intention to exercise such power?


replied, that the Board of Trade had the power of inspecting railways before they were opened, and that railways could not be opened until the Board certified that they were in a satisfactory condition; but after railways were opened the Board possessed no power with regard to them. He thought it was a very grave question whether the supervision of railways should be entrusted to the Board of Trade, because at present the responsibility of railway companies afforded some guarantee for the safety of the public; but if a Government department were empowered to interfere, although some immediate danger and inconvenience might be obviated, the responsibility of the companies would be materially diminished. He was, however, bound to state that it was his Opinion, as Well as that Of the Department with which he was connected, that the case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman with reference to the London and Brighton Railway deserved serious attention. A train started from London at eight o'clock, and was due at Redhill junction at a quarter to nine; another train Started from London at ten minutes past eight o'clock, and was due at Redhill at sixteen minutes to nine. Now, it was all but impossible such an arrangement could be carried out without a collision, and he thought the subject deserved the grave attention of the Brighton and South-Eastern Railway Company; for, if any accident should occur after the matter had been mentioned in that House, their responsibility would be heavy indeed.


said, that, having been long connected with the management of the South-Eastern Railway, he thought it right to state, that a rule was laid down by the company that no train should he allowed to proceed from any station on the line until a telegraphic signal had been received from the station in advance, intimating that the preceding train had not only arrived at such station, but had cleared it. If that rule were adhered to, the mere error in print to which the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Otway) had called attention, could not affect the public safety.