HC Deb 12 March 1861 vol 161 cc1818-41

said, he had to beg the House to remember that the Resolution he was about to move was designed to ensure greater security to the lives and limbs of the great mass of Her Majesty's subjects. If he should show that additional precautions could be taken to ensure greater safety in railway travelling, he should, he believed, establish a case with which that House might be fairly called upon to deal. He admitted, however, that the subject was surrounded with considerable difficulty. But he was sure that the House would be prepared to deal to the best of its power with that difficulty if he should be able to prove that the loss of life which frequently occurred on railways might be diminished by the adoption of precautions on the part of the companies which they had not hitherto practised, although they had been recommended by the highest authorities upon questions of that description. Three years ago he had had the honour of moving for a Select Committee on railway accidents; and the House having assented to that Motion he had secured for the Committee the valuable services of many Members of the House peculiarly conversant with railway matters. Out of the eleven Members of the Committee not less than six were directly connected with railway companies. He had also obtained the valuable aid of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe); and he could assure the House that the Committee had been animated by an earnest desire fairly to investigate the subject referred to their consideration, while the conclusions at which they arrived were of a nature for which he had not himself at the commencement been in the least prepared. Two reasons had been adduced against any interference on the part of the House with the action of railway companies or investing the Government with any power in that matter. The first of those reasons was that they would thereby diminish the responsibility of the directors of the different companies, and thus remove one of the best possible precautions against danger in railway travelling. He was not prepared to deny that there was considerable force in that argument; but he believed he could show that many of the most frightful accidents which had occurred on railways were owing to the absence of precautions which had been recommended by the most competent authorities, hut which had never been adopted on the principal lines in the country, and Parliament might surely require that those precautions should he taken without in any way diminishing the responsibility of the respective companies. The second reason put forward against interference was that the number of railway accidents was very small as compared with the number of railway travellers. But that was a very singular, and, as it appeared to him, a very ineffective argument. It amounted to this: if ten men out of a million travellers were maimed or killed they had no right to grumble, because the percentage was small, and they had no right to ask for legislation on the subject, even if by legislation that percentage could be reduced. With the permission of the House he would refer to a few of the paragraphs of the Report of the Committee over which he had had the honour of presiding, for the purpose of showing what were the principal measures that might be taken with a view to ensure greater security in railway travelling. The first question to which the Committee had directed their attention was that of speed; and upon that subject, after having examined a great number of witnesses, among whom were all the principal railway officials of the country, they had arrived at the following conclusion:— Your Committee is of opinion that a rate of speed considerably in excess of what is considered safe, in the opinion of the great majority of the witnesses examined, is sometimes attained on many of the lines. Now, if it could be shown that an excess of speed had been the cause of many of those frightful railway accidents they had of late had to deplore, it was manifestly desirable that there should be some means of preventing that excess. The next question which bad engaged the notice of the Committee was the irregularity in the departure of trains; and upon that point they had arrived at the following decision:— That the evidence taken further tends to show that such excessive speed has arisen, not so much from the average speed required as advertised by the railway time-tables, as from the want of strict punctuality in the time of the departure and arrival of trains from each station, which leads to an excess of speed for the purpose of endeavouring to make up lost time. Again, if it could be shown that the irregularity in the period of the arrival and of the departure of trains had been a main cause of railway accidents, that was evi- dently a reason why an authority should be vested in some public body for the purpose of preventing that evil. On the subject of excursion trains, the Committee reported— That your Committee is of opinion that it should be made imperative on railway companies to advertise a sufficient time before-hand the exact hour of departure and arrival of each excursion train at each station. It must be obvious to every one that if, with their already enormous traffic, they had the power of starting excursion trains at all times and on all occasions, sending them out like comets in eccentric orbits, they must disturb the regular arrangements of the line, and the largest staff would not be able to deal with the confusion which would ensue. The next point on which the Committee reported had reference to the important matter of establishing a communication between the guard and driver. With respect to this improvement it was clear that the Government should apply for more stringent powers than they yet possessed. No one could say that such a precaution was not necessary. It was one which could be attained without any possible inconvenience or hardship, and if it had been adopted it would have prevented some of the most fearful accidents which the public had had to deplore. It was a simple precaution and a cheap one, and would conduce most materially to the comfort and safety of the passengers. What he contended for was that in the event of fire or of a train going off the line the guard should have power to arrest the progress of such train. The Committee reported on this head that They are also of opinion that it should be imperative on every railway company to establish a means of communication between guards and engine drivers. Yet the majority of lines were entirely without such a precaution, and the very fact of it not having been more generally adopted was one of the strongest arguments in favour of conferring additional powers on the Board of Trade. On another point the Committee laid great stress. They reported that They had received much evidence with respect to the advisability of enforcing a system of telegraphic communication, and the utility of enacting that trains should not be dispatched without having ascertained by such communication that the line was clear. It had been clearly shown that some of the worst accidents on crowded lines had oc- curred from the multiplicity of trains starting within five minutes of each other. The Committee spoke strongly on this point also. They said— Your Committee is not prepared to define the distance at which such telegraphic stations should be placed, but it is of opinion that a recourse to this system would be a most effective means for the prevention of railway accidents, the largest proportion of which arise from collisions. Now, he was informed that the Directors of the North-Western Railway, which, with its many branches, was one of the principal lines of the Kingdom, had become so convinced of the indispensable necessity of this precaution, that they had recently carried it out on a great scale, and it was their intention as soon as they could to extend it to all the lines under their control. Such a system would not have been introduced by that great company if they had not been convinced that it was absolutely required for the safety of the travelling public; and if so, his right hon. Friend ought to have the power of enforcing it on every other line, though he did not mean to diminish or impair the present responsibility of the railway companies themselves. On these grounds the Committee had wound up their Report by saying— That your Committee is, therefore, of opinion that it is incumbent on the Board of Trade to apply to Parliament for such further powers as may enable that department to carry out the above recommendations, which, in the opinion of your Committee, would tend greatly to diminish the number of railway accidents. He would remind the House that the great majority of the Gentlemen who sat on that Committee were largely connected with the management of railway business; that they had examined the officials of all the principal lines of railway in the Kingdom, and that they had arrived at the conclusion to which he had now called attention. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would, he thought, admit that the Government would incur a grave responsibility if they declined to look into this question. No member of the Government could assert that these precautions were not indispensably necessary, or that the neglect of them imperilled the lives and limbs of millions. He trusted, in conclusion, that the right hon. Gentleman would not lose sight of the points now pressed on his attention. He repeated his only object in submitting these Resolutions was to attain additional security for the lives and limbs of the population who travelled on railways, and upon the Government would rest the responsibility of declining to deal with a subject so important.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That in consequence of the great number of Railway accidents which have recently occurred, some of which have arisen from the non-adoption by Railway Companies of precautions recommended in the evidence given before the Railway Accidents Committee by many of the principal Railway officials in the country, it has, in the opinion of this House, become desirable that Her Majesty's Government should introduce further legislation on the subject of Railway traffic, with a view to enforcing the adoption, by all Railway Companies, of those precautions, which, by the general testimony of Railway officials, have been shown to be desirable.


said, he could bear testimony to the able and impartial manner in which the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had discharged the duties of Chairman of the Committee on Railway Accidents. In all his experience of Select Committees, he seldom remembered a case in which the Chairman had gone into the inquiry with such a disinterested desire to get at the truth, and nothing but the truth. Scant justice had been done to the Committee by the manner in which its recommendations had been pooh-poohed by the Government. As an old railway man of twenty-five years' experience, though not now connected with their direction, he had felt any interference of the Government with their management to be a nuisance. But if they were to interfere at all they should do it effectually. At present, however, they did nothing at all. If the Board of Trade undertook to discharge certain duties, let those duties be discharged. The whole railway world was at sea. There was a Government authority over all railway companies existing, and instead of guiding the companies the Government allowed them to take their own course. Indeed they did more. Although it was said that high rates of speed conduced to accidents, they had the Post Office offering a premium to railway companies to increase the speed of mail trains. There was not a man at the Board of Trade who had ever made a mile of railway. How, then, could it be expected that eminent civil engineers would respect the opinion of such persons, when they were sent to certify that a new line was perfect, that tunnels could be safely passed through, and that bridges would carry the weight required? When the inspectors had acquired a certain knowledge about railways, they were removed to other appointments. Captain Galton, one of the best of them, was sent to superintend the building of barracks. His successor was sent to China to be shot at, and another gentleman was now in his place. But the Royal Engineering was not civil engineering, and the present inspector had still to learn his business. A more honest inquiry was never made than that which was instituted by the Committee of which the lion. Member was the chairman, and there was but one feeling in the minds of the witnesses who were connected with railways, namely, that proper supervision, so as to compel all the companies to act upon one common plan, would tend to the safety of the public. Hundreds of railway tires had broken during the late frost. Why could not the Government have appointed a Committee of Royal Engineers, civil engineers, and scientific men to inquire into the various classes of iron used in the manufacture of tires? It was said, "Let the railways do it." But if the railways were to do it, they might as well do away with the Board of Trade altogether. They only produced a compilation of accounts, and he would undertake to find a man to do the whole business for £200 a year. Railway servants risked their lives as well as railway passengers, and he was sure the railway companies were as anxious for inquiry as the hon. Gentleman who had moved this Resolution or any member of the Government could be. He hoped the Government would declare what was their position—whether it was one of responsibility or one of non-responsibility. If it were one of responsibility, let them take action. If it were one of non-responsibility, let them throw the responsibility on the railway companies, and should the law at present not be strong enough make it so. But the Government ought not to allow the lives of the public to be endangered by a want of union between the Board of Trade and the railway companies.


had listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for West Norfolk, and although he agreed with him that all practicable means ought to be adopted in order to reduce railway accidents within the narrowest possible limits, he dissented altogether from the conclusion at which he arrived that Parliament should undertake to decide on the best means of prevention and enforce them by legislative action. He believed that it would be a grave mistake for the House to take any such course, as it would inevitably diminish the responsibility which now rested on railway companies to adopt all practicable means of averting such catastrophies. If any special preventive machinery were selected and enforced by Act of Parliament, on the occurrence of an accident the attention of juries and Government inspectors would be too much confined to the single point of ascertaining whether the standard preventive was in an effective state instead of rigidly criticising every part of the machinery and system of management of the company on whose line the accident had occurred. Much stress had been laid on the importance of a communication between the guards and drivers of trains, and as he had lately received a Return showing the results of the adoption of a communication of this kind on the railway of which he was chairman, he would state to the House the leading facts of that report. The system of communication consisted of a cord which ran the whole length of the train, and which when put in motion by a wheel and axle in the guard's van, rang a bell on the tender close to the driver of the engine. This machinery though simple was, he believed, the most efficient yet discovered. It had been approved by a Committee of the Railway Clearing House specially appointed to examine and report upon it, and the Board of the North Eastern Railway adopted it in the year 1855. It had consequently been used on that company's lines for the last six years, and trains having this communicating cord had travelled seven millions of miles. During that time four casualties to trains had occurred of a kind in which such a communication might be expected to be useful. On two occasions the tire of a wheel broke and the train was stopped speedily by means of the machinery in question. On a third occasion the tire of a wheel of the van broke and the van was thrown off the rails and tossed about so violently that the guard was unable to get hold of the wheel to signal the driver. After running about a mile the driver discovered that something was wrong and stopped the train in time to prevent further mischief. The fourth casualty also arose from the van getting off the line, by which the guard was thrown down. On recovering himself he found that the driver had already discovered the accident and stopped the train. It thus appeared that in two out of the four mishaps, the guard was unable to use the re- medy though close at hand. In the other two he succeeded in quickly stopping the train and possibly preventing an accident, had the drivers not, as on the other two occasions, discovered what was wrong for themselves. The contrivance might occasionally be of service, and therefore it was right to continue its use; but the House must not be led away by the idea that communication between the guard and driver would have any great effect in diminishing the number of railway accidents. The most efficient means of prevention were—First, To use the best materials in the construction of the permanent way and rolling stock. Secondly, To engage the most careful and skilful servants. And thirdly, To adopt a rigid and unflinching discipline, under which any one guilty of carelessness or neglect would be at once dismissed. It might be asked by what means these measures could be enforced enforced upon railway companies. He believed that the existing system under which the whole responsibility in cases of accident was thrown upon the directors and managers, was the best that could be adopted. Directors of railway companies whatever might be said to the contrary were fully impressed with the grave character of that responsibility which was enforced not only by heavy pecuniary pecuniary penalties, but still more strongly by that natural regard for life and limb which was common to all human beings and if these considerations would not induce proper precautions no amount of legislation would produce the desired effect.


remarked that the responsibility of accidents was thrown upon railway companies at the present moment, but that it did not prevent them. The Government had no right to wash their hands of the matter and leave the public to take care of themselves. The proportion of railway accidents in England to those in Germany was nine to one, and to those in France seven to one. The rarity of accidents on the Continental lines could not be attributed to their superiority either in construction or materials. It was due to the efficient surveillance of the various Governments, who took care that there was a proper interval between the starting of each train, and that due precautions against accident were observed. At home these matters were left entirely to the railway companies who looked only to their own immediate interests.


maintained that railway directors were animated by higher motives than were imputed to them by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The safety of the public was the great object they had constantly in view. It was the subject of their most anxious thoughts. Considering the vast extent and complicated relations of the railway systems of the United Kingdom, he did not believe that it was possible for the Government to exercise proper supervision over it. There was no difficulty in establishing an efficient communication between the guard and driver of a train, for it had been done for years on the line with which he was connected—the South Western; but he was not aware that it had ever proved of any service. Certainly it could not have prevented the recent lamentable accident in which Dr. Baly lost his most valuable life. It was to be regretted that the cause of that sad catastrophe had not been discovered. The engine-driver, however, stated that the engine and train were in the most perfect order when he started. He believed it would be fraught with danger to allow drivers to rely upon any other guidance than was afforded by semaphore signals. Accidents always occurred in direct proportion to the speed attained. Railway directors had no interest in maintaining a high rate of speed, because nothing was so prejudicial to their lines; but they were compelled to adopt it by the public, who always gave the preference to the railway that ran the fastest trains. As to accidents on the Continent he had to remind the hon. Gentleman that they did not receive the same publicity there as in our own country. He admitted, however, that they were not so frequent abroad as at home, the reasons being that fewer trains were run—in many cases only three or four a day on a main trunk line—and that the rate of speed was much less—only thirty miles an hour being allowed for la plus grande vitesse. But the English public would never tolerate such things. He thought that the management of the lines had much better be left to the railway companies themselves. An accident was a most costly affair—involving a loss of from £10,000 to £60,000—and caused great pain and anxiety to the whole staff. The officials were most careful in ascertaining that every train was in proper working condition before it started, for their own lives were at stake. The railway companies had a deep interest in preventing accidents; and he did not believe that the public would derive any further protection from the supervision of the Government.


said, he should not have taken any part in the discussion but for the fact that Mr. Labouchere, when President of the Board of Trade, bad appointed him first Inspector General of Railways. A Committee composed of Sir James Graham, the late Sir Robert Peel, the Duke of Somerset, Mr. Labouchere, the late Lord Granville Somerset, and other distinguished men, after carefully considering the matter, resolved that no Government supervision of railways beyond that which then existed should be exercised. The most eminent engineers, including Mr. Brunei and Mr. Stephenson, and several railway secretaries, were examined before that Committee, and they all strongly expressed their disapproval of the Government being allowed to exercise any further control over the railways than they did at that time. He had bestowed much study and reflection on the question, and it was his belief that the management of the railways would be much better in the hands of the directors of the several companies than of the Government. The chief witnesses examined before the Committee were all of opinion that the only effect of Government supervision would be to relieve directors from responsibility which they bore at present. All that could be done to increase the safety of travellers would he to limit the number and speed of trains, and he did not think that the public would tolerate any diminution in either respect. Mr. Brunel, when before the Committee, spoke of trains going not only at sixty, but even at 100 miles an hour, and expressed his belief that the public would never be satisfied till they obtained that degree of speed. The directors were certainly not desirous of running rapid trains, because they injured the lines very much. He at one time proposed that there should be an interval of fifteen minutes between each train, but the railway companies laughed at the idea, for they said the public would never tolerate it. Putting aside his own case, he believed that the Board of Trade had always selected the most able officers of the corps of Royal Engineers to act as railway inspectors. The duty of those officers was not, however, directly to establish regulations that would have a tendency to prevent accidents, but to see that the lines were so constructed as that accidents were not likely to occur from any fault of construction. The management of the lines was left to the directors; and he believed that the general desire on the part of Boards of Direction was to do all in their power to make their lines safe. It was only natural that they should be so, because in endeavouring to prevent such casualties, they were not only doing what humanity suggested but also that which was best for the pecuniary interests of their shareholders.


said, he thought that the hon. Member for Norfolk deserved the thanks of the House and the public for having brought this subject under discussion. Reference had been made to the recent accident on the South-Western Railway; and an hon. Gentleman connected with that line had said that it was impossible to account for it. It was also said that the engine driver had examined his engine before he started. No one doubted that the engine was in good order, but the hon. Gentleman had said nothing about the tender. He (Colonel Gilpin) believed that the accident might be attributed to the imperfect condition of the tender and the excessive speed at which the train was traversing a complete net-work of rails. There was conflicting evidence on this point, because the company brought officers from other companies to support their view of the question; but the jury, though puzzled on that account, could not avoid commenting on the state of the wheel of the tender. He was in the train at the time of the sad occurrence, and he was free to admit that a communication between the engine driver and guard would not have been of any use; but still such a communication might prove of the greatest service on other occasions.


said, that the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) had totally failed to show that the House and the Government ought to interfere more than they did at present with the management of railways. He (Sir Joseph Paxton) had for a long time been a director of one of the largest railways in the kingdom, and he knew from experience that when an accident occurred the directors, officers, and every one connected with the line was in the greatest consternation. An accident had several effects. In the first place, if many lives were lost, there was a great deal of money to be paid by way of compensation. He had known as much as £20,000 to be expended in that way. It was, therefore, for the interest of the directors and shareholders that every precaution should be taken in order to ensure the safety of the passengers. Accidents did occur occasionally; but he believed that no other system had ever been brought to the same state of perfection in the same period of time as that of railways. They all knew that in Germany and France great pains were taken to ensure safety on railways; but in those countries there were only two trains a-day on many of the lines. It was only on great lines that there were four. The train was generally a long one, and the speed was slow. It was a mistake to suppose that railway directors were fond of fast trains. A coal-train from one of the collieries in Derbyshire, coming with a good load of coal, paid a company better than the best express. Neither were the officers anxious for fast trains, for they knew that such trains caused much more wear and tear to the permanent way and in locomotives than was caused by slow trains. Expresses were demanded by the public. He had expected some reference to the late accidents on lines between London and the North. He had no doubt that these had been caused by the rigidity of the iron and the speed at which the Post Office required the trains to travel from Holyhead and from Scotland. In the yard of the Midland Company, at Derby, two tires broke without the carriage being moved, and apparently the wheels had been as good as any in the establishment. The company instantly called on other companies to join with them in having an inquiry, with a view of ascertaining the best metal for wheels; and they had called on Mr. Fairbairn to aid them in determining the hest kind of iron to be used in the construction of wheels. He could assure the House that railway directors had as good consciences as other men. As to excursion trains, though some accidents had been sustained in them, he thought they were a great advantage to the working classes. The company with which he was connected continued to use a means of communication between the guard and the engine-driver, but accidents occurred so suddenly that any communication between those officers was impossible. The English public would not consent to give up the present high speed; but, if they came to look at the accidents on railways as compared with those on sea, the number was really very small. The Board of Trade officers were of little use, because they were so constantly changed. Almost as soon as an officer was appointed and beginning to be acquainted with his duties he was removed by the Government to some other situation. He protested against the appointment of civil engineers as officers of the Board of Trade. Every Gentleman who had sat on a Railway Committee must have seen the varieties of opinion that prevailed among civil engineers, and he hoped they would not he introduced as officers of the Board of Trade. If the House attempted to enforce an uniform mode of railway management they would fail in effecting any good, and would only cripple the railway system. Signalling by telegraph was no doubt an excellent plan. On the Midland Railway a train never entered a tunnel without telegraphing the fact, but there were many railways where the system was not called for, and to enforce it on all the railways in the kingdom would be to entail upon them vast and unnecessary expense.


said, he wished, before speaking to the Resolution of his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, to say a word or two on what fell from the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Jackson) as to the composition of the railway department of the Board of Trade. Certainly the hon. Member's description of the railway department of the Board was not of a kind likely to encourage the House to invest that department with greater powers, or to hand over to it almost the entire executive management of the railway system. But his hon. Friend was mistaken in supposing that no one who understood the construction of railways was employed by the Board of Trade. The inspectors of railways, whose duties led them to report on new lines, were thoroughly competent persons, and in all respects conversant with the construction of railways. The only reason why there was no permanent engineering officer at the Board of Trade was that there would be no adequate duties for him to perform. At the commencement of the railway system, when new works of great magnitude were undertaken, the Board required the constant advice of an able engineer, but now that railways were constructed on a recognized system all that the Board required to know was that new lines were not inferior to a known standard. Questions of science did not now often arise; and besides that, when railways com- menced Parliament had not decided on the amount of interference which Government should exercise over them, hut the repeated inquiries of both Houses through Committees had led to the understanding that there should be no increase in the control exercised by the Government; and under those circumstances there was really now no duty of sufficient importance to engage the whole time and services of a valuable officer like Captain Galton.

With regard to the Resolution of his hon. Friend it was not very definite, because it called upon them to pledge themselves to some kind of legislation or other, but it did not say precisely what, in order to make railway travelling more secure, and to prevent the recurrence of accidents. There was no indication in the Resolution as to what they should do. He said they should "adopt those precautions"—that is to say, they should legislate to enforce the adoption of those precautions—"which by general testimony of railway officials have been shown to be desirable." Upon looking over the evidence given before that Committee, we scarcely found a single point on which it could be said there was that general agreement of testimony amongst railway officials to enable the House to adopt it with confidence. Take the question of the rate of speed. On that point various witnesses were examined, who differed materially as to what amount of speed could be undertaken with safety. With one exception he did not believe a single witness went the length of saying that Parliament should indicate a maximum speed, which should not be passed, in order to secure the safety of railway travelling. The witnesses differed so much upon every point that it would be found very difficult upon such an instruction for the Government to draw any Bill at all. If they were called upon by the House to legislate on the Report of the Committee itself it would be a somewhat easier task, but still one of great difficulty. That Report stated that the main causes of accidents on railways might be divided into three classes:— 1. The inattention of railway servants. 2. The defective nature of the material used in the construction of the permanent way and the rolling stock. 3. The excessive speed of railway trains. He contended that the House could not practically deal with advantage with any one of these three causes. What legislation, for example, could they adopt to insure greater vigilance on the part of railway servants? And how could they lay down rules in an Act of Parliament to regulate railways, as to the quality of the iron and other materials they were to use in the construction of rolling stock? It would puzzle the ingenuity even of his learned Friend the Attorney General to draw a clause that would define the kind of material to be used. Then, as to fixing a maximum speed beyond which no railway train should go, that would be found very objectionable. But was there to be no redress? Were persons to be injured in limb, and have their lives risked or destroyed without redress? Certainly not. They had redress under Lord Campbell's Act, and if the jury were satisfied that loss of life had ensued from negligence or causes that might have been avoided large damages were given under this Act. He held in his hand an account of the damages given during the ten years previous to the sitting of the Committee for injuries resulting from accidents on various railways:—The London and North-Western, £60,000; London, Brighton, and South-Coast, £44,000; South-Eastern, £61,000; Great Western, £19,000; Great Northern, £20,000; Eastern Counties, £46,000; Caledonian, £13,000; Great Southern and Western of Ireland, £25,000; North-Eastern, £43,000; making a total of £331,000. [Mr. ROEBUCK: Were these amounts paid under verdicts or compromises?"] He could not answer that question. The sums were given in the evidence taken before the Committee. He regretted to say that during the last few months there had been a great many accidents. But with the permission of the House he would first read the number of accidents during each of the last five years, the loss of life, the number injured, and also the number of passengers carried during each year. It appeared from the returns and reports made to the Board of Trade, that the number of accidents which occurred to passenger trains during the last five years were as follows:—-In 1856, 60 accidents occurred, by which 7 passengers were killed and 281 injured out of 129,315,196 who were conveyed during the year. In 1857 there were 62 accidents to passenger trains, by which 24 passengers were killed and 626 injured out of 138,971,239 conveyed. In 1858, 49 accidents happened, by which 24 passengers were killed and 416 injured out of 139,141,135 conveyed. In 1859, 56 accidents happened, by which 4 passengers were killed and 371 injured out of 149,757,924 conveyed. In I860, 68 accidents happened, by which 29 passengers were killed and 479 injured out in a number conveyed which may be estimated at about 160,000,000. No doubt, it was much to be regretted that so many accidents should occur; but still, comparing the casualties with the number of passengers conveyed, they were not in such a very alarming proportion. Well, after all the evidence taken by the Committee, what did they recommend? The whole of the representations they made resolved themselves into two definite recommendations. Although they mentioned an occasional excess of speed, and noticed the value of telegraphic communication between station and station, they did not recommend legislation on either of these subjects. There was also mention of the desireableness of providing sufficient break-power, so that trains might be stopped in time to avoid collision. Yet, although the Committee admitted the importance of this power, the question of enforcing its employment was a matter so complicated that they felt it could not be dealt with by legislation, and they accordingly recommended it to be dealt with by the railway companies. Well, what were the definite recommendations of the Committee? The first was that the Board of Trade should come to Parliament for power to inquire into railway accidents, to report them to the House, and to have, he presumed, the power of examining witnesses on oath, and the other necessary consequences of an authorized judicial inquiry. His answer to this recommendation was, that although it was true the inquiries by the inspectors of railways were not authorized by law, and although the information afforded by the companies was given by their own free-will, yet the Board of Trade had not suffered from the absence of legislative powers to conduct these inquiries. The inspectors of the Board of Trade after every accident went to the scene of the disaster, and he could most positively say after due inquiry on the subject that they had never found on the part of any company any disposition to conceal the facts connected with the accidents; on the contrary, the companies invariably manifested a desire to throw daylight upon the matter and assist the inspector in arriving at the cause of the accident. If it had happened that the companies concealed the facts, and if the inspectors were unable to make a satisfactory and searching inquiry in consequence of the unwillingness of the railway officials to assist them, he should not hesitate to come to Parliament and ask fur the powers recommended by the Committee. But as these investigations were conducted to the satisfaction both of the inspectors and the company, as their reports were laid on the table and thus became privileged communications, it would be superfluous in the Board of Trade to ask for powers the absence of which they bad not felt. The other recommendation made by the Committee was that it should be rendered compulsory on railway companies to have a means of communication between the guard and the driver. Well, many things are very desirable, yet it did not therefore follow that it became their duty to make them compulsory by an Act of Parliament. He presumed the Committee did not contemplate calling upon the Board of Trade to decide as to the most efficient means of communication, but that they only recommended Parliament to enact that there should be some means of communication. He did not attach quite so much importance as the Committee to this preventative, yet he would admit it was desirable, and further he believed that its adoption would be easy and inexpensive. He could not, however, come to the conclusion that it would be desirable to pass any Bill on the subject. The Board of Trade had urged the adoption of some means of communication upon the railway companies through their inspectors. The following companies had already introduced upon their lines a means of communication between the drivers and guards:—the Great Northern, North-Eastern, North British, Midland, London, Brighton, and South Coast, South-Eastern, the London and South-Western, and a few others. The London and North-Western were making preparations for effecting the same object, together with a system of continuous breaks; still the greater number of the companies were deficient in both these means for preventing or lessening the effects of accidents to railway trains. He believed that before long the plan would be generally adopted, but it would not be desirable for the Board of Trade to interfere by legislation. The subject of railway tires had lately attracted much attention, and Captain Tyler, one of the inspectors of the Board of Trade, had made an elaborate report on the subject, which had been sent round to the various railway companies, and would, no doubt, be productive of great advantage. The advantage of a means of communication between the guard and engine-driver had also been urged on the companies, and with a like beneficial result. He thought the House had better not attempt to become railway directors, or to settle by enactment what exact precautions the railway companies ought to adopt for the security of the public. One interference would necessarily lead to another, till eventually they might find themselves in a position of the greatest difficulty. Every redress which legislation could fairly afford was obtainable, he thought, under the law and under Lord Campbell's Act, giving damages against the companies wherever neglect on their part was proved. He did not say that exceptional cases might not arise, and in that event he should not be deterred from coming to Parliament, but from all the information which he had obtained, and having consulted persons of great experience in railway matters, he had arrived at the conclusion that it would not be judicious for the Government now to ask, nor for Parliament to give, any increased power of controlling the management of railways.


said, he felt inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that there was very great difficulty in legislating upon so difficult a subject; but he (Mr. Edwin James) ventured to think that the catalogue which the right hon. Gentleman had read to the House of the amount of damages which had been paid by railway companies for that which juries had found to have been the result of the most scandalous neglect on the part of the railway companies, justified the House in having entered upon the discussion. The right hon. Gentleman was very much mistaken if he thought that the Return which he had read of the sums that had been paid by railway companies for the results of accident was anything like the real amount. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), with the quickness that belonged to him, had asked whether these amounts were paid in consequence of verdicts, or as compromises. He (Mr. Edwin James) could say of his own knowledge with regard to the case of some companies which had been mentioned, and which had been before courts of law, that that Return did not narrate one-half the amounts that had been paid by these companies. What a catalogue of neglect it was on the part of the railway companies! He was aware that the railway interest was very strongly represented in that House; and he knew that the Motion of the hon. Member for West Norfolk had excited great interest, but he was forced to say that cases had come before the public indicating scandalous neglect. [Sir JOSEPH PAXTON: No, No!] It was all very well for the hon. Member for Coventry to say "No," but he was speaking of the result of cases which had undergone public investigation in courts of justice. Acts of Parliament, he believed, would be ineffective in inculcating caution until they required that in every case a director should sit upon the tender. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had said that, when any railway accident occurred, everything was done to elicit the causes of the accident. He (Mr. Edwin James) would be divulging nothing which came to his knowledge in his capacity of an advocate when he mentioned what happened in the case of the accident which took place on the Eastern Counties Railway by which seven persons were killed and fifteen seriously injured. The cause occupied five days in hearing, and what was the result? The inspectors of the Board of Trade reported that the company had been guilty of scandalous negligence in not having sufficient break power at the end of the train. Engineers were called on the part of the company, and two whole days were occupied in taking their evidence, to the effect that such break-power was unnecessary; and a verdict in favour of the company was returned. What was done? A few days afterwards a rule was issued by the Eastern Counties Railway Company that in future break-power should invariably be placed at the end of their trains. He asked was not that strong evidence of negligence on the part of the company in not having break-power at the end of the train? In another case an action had been brought against a railway company for having permitted a train to leave the station with the carriages fastened only by a hook without coupling chains by which an accident occurred. The Lord Chief Baron tried the case, and stated publicly that it was scandalous that companies should waste their funds by calling engineers and contesting cases of the kind. A verdict was returned for the plaintiff, and within twenty-four hours afterwards a rule was issued that no train should leave without having the coupling-chains attached. These were instances in which some cautionary measures were necessary, and although it might be difficult for the Board of Trade by legislative enactment to interfere in this matter, yet it required the greater caution on the part of the companies, and he thought the House and the country were indebted to the hon. Member for Norfolk for directing the attention of the House to the subject.


said, he had no intention of defending railway companies where blame really attached to them, but, believing that no good would be obtained by passing an abstract Resolution containing no suggestion of a practical character, he hoped his hon. Friend the Member for West Norfolk, having called attention to the subject, would withdraw his Motion. If it were possible for legislative enactment to prevent those lamentable casualties which nevertheless must occur at intervals from the state of the weather and other disturbing causes, Lord Campbell's Act would have had that effect. He saw in the instances given by the hon. Member for Marylebone a different spirit from what his remarks would suggest, for as soon as experience had proved that a particular precaution was desirable, no time was lost in adopting it. He believed it would not be advisable to relieve railway directors from their present feeling of responsibility by establishing a supervision by any one department; and the precaution of having a communication between the guard and engine-driver might give rise to an argument in mitigation of damages—namely, that the guard had pulled the bell.


said, he should be very sorry to see additional power given to the Board of Trade. There was, however, a want of responsibility in the direction of railways, and what was required was that the Government should adopt some measure by which the responsibility should be fixed somewhere. Boards of direction generally consisted of a number of persons— and they all knew that there was great impunity in number. Many of these individuals, moreover, were quite incompetent to discharge the duties with which they were intrusted, having been appointed by friends to secure the emoluments of office. He knew several cases in which there were directors who might or might not be ornamental, but they certainly were not useful. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had declared that sufficient protection was given to the public by the damages under Lord Campbell's Act; but, unfortunately, these fell on the wrong persons—the innocent stockholders, who were not at all to blame, while the directors, who were most frequently in fault, escaped altogether. To establish the real responsibility of boards of direction it would he necessary to make their negligence a penal offence, and if a director were hanged occasionally it would he astonishing how the number of accidents would diminish. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade objected to the conferring of additional powers on that department, as they would be very troublesome to exercise; but in the analogous case of travelling by water it had been found expedient that the Board of Trade should ascertain whether vessels going to sea were provided with proper anchors and cables of sufficiently good iron, with an adequate number of men for purposes of navigation, and so forth; and be was unable to see any difference whatever between the two cases. Many accidents during the winter had been attributed to the severe frost; but he, being acquainted with frosts more severe than were experienced in this country, said it was a mistake to attribute the accidents to the frost. They were rather attributable to the bad quality of iron and bad materials. The risk was run for the sake of the saving. In many cases the directors were incompetent for the position they filled, but they ran the risk, and then if an accident happened the blame fell upon their subordinates, while the directors were allowed to escape altogether. The unfortunate men were punished for their want of skill instead of the directors being blamed for the badness of the materials which they allowed to be used. He thought it high time for some protection to be afforded to the lives of Her Majesty's subjects travelling on railways, and the Government should fix responsibility on the directors by making them amenable to the law.


observed, that it had been admitted by the majority of the hon. Members who had addressed the House that some such authority as that proposed was necessary for the control of railways. He had entertained the same opinion for many years. He was on the Committee which had investigated the matter, and a minority of that Committee came to a conclusion that there ought to be a Commission which should exercise a certain authority over railway companies. If the opinion of that minority had been carried out there would have been but one gauge on English railroads, and many lives would have been saved. It was said that one great source of accidents was travelling at too great a speed, and, if that were so, there ought to be some authority on the part of Government to put a stop to travelling at a dangerous rate. What was required was punctuality in railway travelling, the want of which was a great cause of inconvenience and danger, and there ought to be some power to whom individuals could apply who thought the arrangements of railways not convenient for local and general traffic. Very often the object of railway companies was not so much to accommodate the public as to fight and damage one another, with a view of obtaining for themselves the whole railway traffic of particular districts. He thought the House ought to feel obliged to the hon. Member for Norfolk for having brought forward the Motion, and he hoped he would not allow it to drop without obtaining from the Government a promise that they would seriously consider the whole question.


in reply, said the first hon. Gentleman who had addressed them admitted that there might be some use in having communication between the guard and the engine-driver, and thus disproved his own arguments. The hon. Member for South Hants (Mr. Dutton) told them that the railway directors were anxious for the safety of the public. That was a fact he had never denied; but what he said was that the mode in which they exhibited that anxiety was not sufficient to satisfy the public. One hon. Gentleman had admitted that great speed was one great element of danger, and he went on to say they could not interfere with it because the public would have it; but if it could be shown that a certain amount of speed was the cause of risk to railway travellers, and that some persons were sufficiently insane to wish to run that risk, then the Government ought to provide for the protection of persons so clearly bereft of reason; but from all he had been able to ascertain he thought his noble Friend was mistaken in his views on the subject of speed. Men of business did not desire great speed; all they wanted was punctuality; and the persons who desired to travel at the rate of sixty miles an hour were generally those who had nothing on earth to do when they got to the end of their journey. One of the causes of trains running at great speed was to enable one company to compete with another in respect of time, when the one went by a shorter route than the other, but both ran to the same district. One hon. Member (Sir Joseph Paxton) connected intimately with railways had let the cat out of the bag when he told them candidly that it was a matter of expense. He admitted that telegraphic communication along the line would be a great element of safety, and added that it was all very well for the London and North-Western to have it. They could afford it, but the small lines could not. But what did that statement amount to but that the profits of railway companies were to be pitted against the blood and bones of the people? He now came to the remarks of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade. He had exhibited all the eloquence for which he had always been celebrated, and all the official dexterity which he appeared to have acquired since he had occupied a seat on the Government benches, for he had entirely blinked the question; he had entirely misconceived the letter and the spirit of the Report. His right hon. Friend began by telling the House that repeated inquiries by Committees had been made into this question, and that they had all condemned legislative interference in the matter. That was perfectly true; but he had forgotten that those inquiries were made many years ago, when railways were comparatively in their infancy, and that therefore now the whole position of the matter was altered, and that though at that time Government interference was unnecessary, now nothing but that would secure the safety of the public. One Committee, however, had been appointed on this subject, over which he had the honour to preside, and which was composed of several gentlemen who had had much experience in connection with railway matters. That Committee, however, his right hon. Friend entirely ignored, and fell back on those which sat some years ago. His right hon. Friend said that the witnesses who had been examined before the last Committee differed greatly from one another upon many questions, and more especially upon the question of speed. But his right hon. Friend laboured evidently under a misapprehension upon that point. The fact was that, with the exception of a single official connected with a line which had to run its trains at an unusually rapid rate, as it had to compete with another company which had a shorter distance to traverse, the witnesses had all given it as their opinion that the high rate of speed frequently maintained was one of the principal causes of accidents; and he (Mr. Bentinck) had to add that he had never known a case in which evidence had been of so uniform a character as that which had been delivered before the Committee in question. His right hon. Friend, however, sought to prevent them from adopting the Motion by stating that if travellers were maimed, compensation could be recovered from the companies. But what the public wanted was, not that juries should award damages when necks were broken, but that precautions should be taken against the recurrence of such a calamity. He might add that, if any further proof were wanting of the necessity of Government interfence in the case of railways, it was to be found in the large sums awarded by juries for accidents which had taken place—sums which amounted, however, to not more than one-third of the money actually paid under that head, inasmuch as the question of damages was in the greater number of instances settled by compact between the parties, and his right hon. Friend under these circumstances was, he thought, bound officially to take an active part in dealing with the subject; but, while that was his opinion, he would not, in deference to what appeared to be the wish of the House, press his Motion to a division.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.