HC Deb 09 February 1865 vol 177 cc116-8

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether, in consequence of the repeated recurrence of Railway Accidents, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce, during the present Session, any measure for the better prevention of Railway Accidents, founded on the Report of the Committee on Railway Accidents which was laid upon the table of the House in the year 1858?


The first recommendation of the Committee over which my hon. Friend presided in the year 1858 was that the Board of Trade should be invested with the fullest powers to investigate and to report to Parliament on any accidents which might occur on rail- ways. It is not the intention of the Government to ask Parliament to invest the Board of Trade with those powers, because it has not been found by experience that such powers are required, inasmuch as all accidents that take place undergo inquiry, and the railway companies have been found willing to supply the Inspectors who conduct those inquiries with all the information that is needed. Another recommendation of the committee was, that it should be imperative on every railway company to establish means of communication between the guards and the engine-drivers. The question of establishing that communication, as also the question of establishing a communication between passengers and guards, has been under the consideration of a Committee at the Railway Clearing House, composed of representatives of the principal railway companies; but they have not yet made their report, and I cannot, therefore, tell what course may be decided upon in reference to this subject. But the Report is, I believe, upon the point of being issued, and I am not aware of any objection to laying it upon the table of the House if it be desired. The House will then see what course the Railway Committee propose themselves to adopt to give effect to the recommendation of the Committee of this House; but, as at present advised, it is not the intention of the Government to bring in any Bill upon the subject. The next recommendation of the Committee was with regard to the establishment of telegraphic communication along the line of railways, and telegraphing the despatch of trains—a very excellent recommendation, and one very well calculated for the prevention of accidents. That system has already been very extensively adopted by the railway companies without its having been rendered imperative by legislation; and I have no doubt it will ultimately be universally employed. Its adoption is certainly on the increase, and the system is already in force on the principal railways. So far, therefore, as these recommendations of the Committee are concerned, it does not appear to the Government that there is any necessity for legislation to give effect to them; nor is it desirable to shield the railway companies from the responsibility which now devolves upon them to provide for the safety of the public travelling by their lines. I may be permitted to state what an analysis of the Returns shows with regard to railway accidents for the year 1864. It is true there has been an increase of railway accidents to passenger trains in 1863, over 1864. In 1863 there were fifty-two accidents to passenger trains; in 1864 there were seventy-seven separate accidents. That is certainly a very considerable increase; but it must be borne in mind that there had also been a considerable increase in the number of trains run upon the railways and in the amount of mileage. With regard to the number of passengers killed and injured, I find that during the year 1864—taking the probable amount, because the exact figures have not yet been made up, but the account must be very near the mark—the railways have conveyed 220,000,000 passengers, exclusive of season ticket-holders, and that fourteen persons altogether have been killed, or one out of every 15,714,285 persons carried. As to persons injured, I find the proportion to be one out of every 315,638 passengers. There has been during the year a considerable increase in the number of passengers injured, but the list of passengers killed shows a decrease as compared with the preceding year. I do not think these Returns show that railway accidents have occasioned any very considerable loss of life or any very great amount of injury to passengers; but, at the same time, the railway companies have paid a very heavy penalty for the injuries they caused to persons travelling on their lines. During the year 1863 the amount of the damages and indemnities they thus paid did not, I believe, fall much short of £170,000, it might be more. Under these circumstances, it does not appear to the Government that it is necessary to undertake to make any regulations for the management of railways, or to diminish the responsibility of the companies for the safe conveyance of the public.