§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to call attention to the fatal accident on the Great Western Railway, and to ask the President of the Board of Trade, if the Government will make inquiries with the view of ascertaining whether the safety of the public may not be better assured by legislative measures? He did not propose to go into the great question of general railway policy, but would confine himself to the consideration of the accidents which had occurred recently on the Great Western Railway, by which many lives were lost, and a great many persons seriously injured, and to the recommendations of the Committee which sat in 1858 to inquire into the subject of railway accidents. That Committee, in their Report, made two suggestions. Now, 1343 he thought, that he should be able to show that if these suggestions had been carried into effect in all human probability neither of those accidents on the Great Western Railway would have happened. The recommendations of the Committee were; first, that it should be imperative upon every railway company to establish a means of communication between the guards and the engine-drivers; secondly, that telegraphic communication should be established along the lines of railway, and the despatch of trains should be telegraphed from station to station. These were their main recommendations. As to the first, he had never heard any good reason assigned why a means of communication might not be established between guards and engine-drivers. On the continental railways the guards were able to pass along the sides of the carriages, and were able to see what was going on in each compartment at all times by day and night, and to communicate readily with the engine-drivers. He knew no reason why the same system should not he adopted in England; he had, indeed, heard that our stations were so constructed that it would be impossible to widen the platforms sufficiently to enable guards to pass with safety from one carriage to another. Even if that were the case, he thought it was the bounden duty of the Board of Trade, without interfering with the management of railways, to take such precautions as would ensure the safety of the passengers, and put a stop to those lamentable accidents which seemed to be very much on the increase, and to become more disastrous in the circumstances with which they were attended. If there were a difficulty in the widening of the platforms the companies should be compelled to surmount it. The railway interest was a vast monopoly. The companies having taking upon themselves* the whole carrying trade of the country were bound to furnish the public with all the means of safety that could be obtained by prudent management. As to the second recommendation of the Committee of 1858, he thought he should be able to prove that if a proper telegraphic communication along the line had been established the disaster which had lately occurred at Rednall, on the Shrewsbury and Chester branch of the Great Western, would not have happened. [The hon. Baronet read from The Times newspaper portions of their account of this accident, and of the letter of "An Eye Witness."] It was apparent from these statements that 1344 want of punctuality, which seemed an indigenous vice in all railways, was the proximate cause of this disaster. In this accident the lives of between 800 and 900 individuals were placed in the greatest possible peril by this want of punctuality. The public had a right, therefore, to demand of the Board of Trade to enforce upon the railway companies the necessity of observing accuracy of time in the dispatch of trains. Recollecting, however, what took place at the commencement of the Session in reference to this subject, he was afraid that there was no inclination on the part of Her Majesty's Government to take steps to enforce the observance of those rules. When the Board of Trade was pressed upon this point, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Milner Gibson) entered into a series of statistics to prove that very few deaths occurred in proportion to the number of passengers by railways throughout the year. Now it did not appear to him (Sir Lawrence Palk) that that was the point in question. The question really was, could railway travelling be made perfectly safe by proper regulations enforced by the Board of Trade. That was a question which the country bad a right to demand. He came now to another accident of recent occurrence on the Great Western Railway, and it was a remarkable fact that within the last year or two the accidents on the Great Western Railway and its tributaries bad become much more frequent than heretofore. How to account for this he could not say. He could only suggest that the servants of that company must be overworked, their engines worn out, or that proper precautions were not taken in the interests of the public. In this accident, which occurred between Sal-ford and Keynsham, some five or six miles from Bristol, a stoppage took place, and the train was run into from behind by a fast train. The doors were locked on both sides, a proceeding which was contrary to law, and the passengers begged the guard to open them; but this was not done, the driver hoping to attain speed sufficient to get away from the approaching train. A commercial traveller in the last compartment, having a carriage key in his possession, opened the door, and with his immediate companions leapt on to the embankment, the narrowness of his escape being shown by the fact that a bandbox remaining on the very seat where he had been sitting was flattened like a piece of board 1345 by the concussion. He contended that it was the duty of the railway companies to surround the public travelling by their lines with every possible security, and, in providing those safeguards, that price ought not to be considered. If the railways of their own motion would not, take the necessary steps, it was the duty of the Government, and the duty of that House, to see whether further legislation might not prove instrumental in lessening, if not in preventing, those frightful instances of loss of life and mutilation which now were of such frequent occurrence. It would not do for the right hon. Gentleman to get up in his place and say that, considering the number of passengers conveyed by railways, there were very few persons killed or injured. The hon. Baronet, in conclusion, asked the President of the Board of Trade, in the terms of his notice, If the Government will make inquiries with the view of ascertaining whether the safety of the public may not be better assured by legislative measures?
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he quite concurred with the hon. Baronet in thinking that all possible precautions ought to be taken to prevent accidents such as he had described; but it did not follow that the remedies for the evils of which he complained were to be found in the clauses of an Act of Parliament. There were other ways of bringing about the practical results at which he aimed, and which were more likely to be successful than any attempt at legislation upon the management of railway travelling. The Act which was passed some years ago making railway companies responsible in damages for injuries caused by accidents increased the other inducements which existed to make the railway authorities adopt the best means for preventing these lamentable occurrences. The late accident was a most appalling event, but he really did not know how it could have been prevented by legislation. The facts were imperfectly known as yet, but the accident would appear to have arisen from the negligence of the platelayers in lifting the plates without taking proper precautions. [Sir LAWRENCE PALK: The train was an hour late.] The Report forwarded to the Government attributed the accident to the plate-layers; but an Inspector had been sent down to the spot to inquire into the case, and no doubt the whole truth would be ascertained. Meanwhile, he repeated that he did not know how legislation could have prevented the 1346 accident. Looking at the enormous number of persons employed on the different railway systems, and the importance of every individual in his own particular branch attending to his duty punctually and faithfully on all occasions, it is not surprising that accidents did sometimes occur, depending, as they were obliged to do, to such an extent on human machinery, which was never infallible. The object was to employ as efficient persons as could be found under proper regulations. By making the employers responsible for the acts of their servants through the heavy damages whenever casualties occurred, the strongest possible obligation was placed upon railway directors to be careful in the selection of their servants, employing only respectable men, whose mental and physical powers were likely to make them good and faithful servants. He agreed with the hon. Baronet (Sir Lawrence Palk) in thinking that there ought to be communication between the guard and engine-driver; and this was actually in operation, he believed, on some of the principal lines. [Sir LAWRENCE PALK: Not on the Great Western] The Great Western Company had undertaken to introduce the communication after a plan of their own; but he believed the hon. Baronet was right in stating that on a great number of their trains it was not in operation. He believed it was not to be done by any mechanical means, but by placing some person in the train in such a position that he could catch the driver's attention. He had no hesitation in saying, as far as his own opinion and the opinion of the Inspectors of the Board of Trade were concerned, there was no mechanical difficulty in the way, and that communication between the guard and the driver might be adopted in all trains. He believed, also, that telegraphing was adopted to some extent. ["No!"]—he did not say universally, and that all the means which had been suggested for securing the safety of passengers were in process of adoption. It seemed, therefore, that the two recommendations of the Select Committee were in process of adoption, and it was not necessary to legislate on the subject, nor did he know what more the Government could do than they had already done. The present practice was, that when an accident took place a competent and disinterested person was sent to the spot to inquire into the cause. A Report was made which was laid before the House and published, 1347 and the public opinion of the country was thus brought to bear on the railway companies. If, when the cause of the accident was clearly pointed out, the companies failed to take steps to prevent similar occurrences in future, in case of injury to person or loss of life the damages might be proportionately increased. The hon. Baronet would probably be of opinion that the Commission might also inquire into the means of securing greater punctuality in the arrival and departure of trains. Under all the circumstances, then, it would be premature to engage to legislate on the subject. He believed that all the precautions which had been recommended ought to be adopted, and would be adopted; and from all he could hear the companies would go even further than to secure the communication between driver and guard, and would establish communication between passengers and guard. Papers would very shortly be laid before the House, and then hon. Members could judge whether railway companies were serious in endeavouring this time to adopt those means of communication which were so much desired.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he did not know. He could not say at that moment. There might be a clause in some of the Acts of Parliament which forbade both doors being locked, and he was of opinion that both doors ought not to be locked.