HC Deb 09 May 1865 vol 179 cc60-72

, in rising to move a Resolution upon the subject of the communication between guards and passengers on railways, said, he had to complain of the inconvenience which the business of private Members suffered from the introduction at such an hour of debates like the one with which the House has just been engaged. The question was whether this communication was possible or not. He wished to ascertain from the Government whether it was practicable or not to establish direct or indirect communication between passengers and the drivers of trains. Although the Motion which he had placed upon the paper might not—considering the science and mechanical skill in the country—settle the matter with which it dealt once for all, it would at all events tend to its settlement for some time to come. His Motion was sufficiently innocent to disarm all opposition, and the subject was one which any Member might bring before the House with a fair chance of success. Nor was the subject entirely unknown to the House, for he recollected that some years ago it came under their notice under rather curious circumstances, of a somewhat sensational character, Two hon. Members travelling by railway to town, to discharge their Parliamentary duties, saw the roof of their carriage blown away and felt the floor crumbling beneath their feet. The question then was discussed in the House, and he remembered the galaxy of railway luminaries who competed among themselves as to who should first rise and should most protest in favour of a remedy being supplied. Those Gentlemen then declared that they were searching throughout Europe for the proper invention, and that when they had found it the public should have the benefit of it without any limitation as to expense. He put it to the House whether the railway authorities had ever fulfilled that pledge. If they had not done so during the long interval that had elapsed since the former discussion, he thought it would be agreed that it was time for Parliament to take the subject into its own hands if it desired that anything should be done to prevent a recurrence of accidents, which too often occurred. As far as his own observation went he could state that no direct communication existed at present between passengers and the persons in charge of the engine, and there was no means of communication between the passengers and the guard. He was told that in some cases a communication was attempted to be established between the guard and the driver of a train by a cord connected with a bell on the engine, but that was not a certain mode of communication, and even if it were there was little that was new in it, as a guard had always been able to attract the attention of the driver by applying the break. As to communication between the passengers and engine driver, he had seen no attempt to establish it, but upon the great Western line he had seen some solid sentry boxes—of such a strength as might have been directed by the Iron-plate Committee—which were of no use, because they were always untenanted, the company not liking to pay the wages of the look-out men who should occupy them. He had no doubt he should be met with similar arguments to those which were used upon the former occasion, when the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Milner Gibson) told the House that a Royal Commission was about to be appointed which would consider this subject, and therefore it would be better to wait for their Report before arriving at any decision on the matter. He had known many cases in which three years had elapsed between the appointment of a Royal Commission and the date of its reporting. Surely the right hon. Gentleman would not have the presumption to ask the public to wait for that period before he attempted to apply a simple remedy. He had found that the Order of Reference had been forwarded to the Chambers of Commerce, but not to an agricultural society, though agriculture was as much interested in the question as trade. The right hon. Gentleman well knew that Ministers often did not pay the slightest attention to the Reports of Royal Commissions. He knew a striking instance of that, in which a Commission had reported in favour of a particular harbour of refuge in Yorkshire, yet the Government had completely neglected their recommendation. Certainly the word "safety" was incidentally mentioned in the Order of Reference of the Commission, but that was all. No doubt the representatives of the railway interest would have some objection to make to his Motion. It would be said that this was an interference with railway management, and a division of the responsibility which ought to rest entirely on the shoulders of railway managers. But the law had interfered to regulate the number of passengers that should be carried in stage coaches; it had also interfered with carriers' carts and the like; but that interference had never been held to derogate from the responsibility of their managers. He was convinced that if his Motion were carried it would be the commencement of a new era in railway legislation for the safety of the public. Events which had happened recently on our railways, and which might happen again at any moment, had made this question one of the most pressing urgency, and it was on that ground alone that he had taken it up. The hon. Member concluded by moving— That it is the opinion of this House that the safety of the public requires that, pending the Report of the Royal Commission, some immediate provision should be made for compelling railway companies to make arrangements for establishing a proper communication between guards and passengers.


seconded the Motion,

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is the opinion of this House, that the safety of the Public requires that, pending the Report of the Royal Commission, some immediate provision should be made for compelling Railway Companies to make arrangements for establishing a proper communication between Guards and Passengers."—(Sir William Gallwey.)


said, that the hon. Baronet had not made any suggestion as to the manner in which his object was to be carried out. He had been discreet enough not to suggest any remedy to the House, although he asserted that a remedy was easy. It certainly would be a very remarkable piece of legislation to inflict pains and penalties upon persons for not doing nobody knew what. However, he would assume that all that the hon. Baronet intended to do was to give expression to a feeling which prevailed extensively out of doors—that the railway companies were doing nothing to remedy an evil universally recognized. He thought, however, that he would be able to show that they had not been neglectful of their duty. A few months ago the Railway Clearing House appointed a Committee, composed of some of the ablest railway managers in the country. The Committee publicly invited tenders of inventions for effecting a communication between railway passengers and engine drivers, and the result was, that 196 inventions were laid before the Committee, and more than half the inventors attended in person to explain their plans. In the Report drawn up by the Committee, attention was directed to what had been done by a former Committee which had inquired into the subject in 1852 and 1853. He might observe that so good were the conclusions arrived at by that former Committee considered to be, that a Railway Commission appointed in France, in consequence of the murder of a Judge in a railway train, had reported that they were sound, and adopted them as the basis of its own recommendations to the Government. That Commission was composed of Members of the Government and the Legislature and eminent engineers, but had on it no gentleman connected with railways. It found that, in all probability, the Judge had owed his death to the footboards, which enabled a person to walk from one end of a train to the other, and thus facilitate the escape of the murderer, and consequently the Commission arrived at the conclusion that a connection by footboards was not one which afforded to passengers any great degree of safety from attack. There was another very great objection to those footboards—namely, the number of deaths which they caused among railway servants. In Belgium, where perhaps they were more used than in any other country, no year passed without some deaths arising from their use. It was but natural, therefore, to conclude tha tif with our more extensive railway system, and more rapid rate of travelling those footboards were attached to our railway carriages, the proportion of deaths would be much larger than it was in Belgium. Railway companies could not expect nor ask their servants to discharge such a dangerous duty as passing along those footboards, and that consideration alone must prevent railway directors from employing what appeared at first sight to he one of the most effective means of communication between the different portions of a train. After the Report of the Committee of 1853 had been adopted, the company of which he was Chairman put the cord system of connection into use on 200 or 300 miles of railway, and had continued to use it; but he could not go further in commending it than to say that, in some very few cases, it might possibly have prevented accidents. The hon. Baronet had spoken of the use of sentry boxes on the trains, and had said that they were frequently untenanted through some miserable economy. But the fact was, in fogs and in tunnels it was impossible to see along a whole train from one of these sentry boxes; but the main reason why having a man stationed in one of those boxes would not be an effectual protection was that, though a man might keep his eyes in a particular direction on every journey, during days, or even weeks, yet, after thousands of trains had run, and millions of miles had been traversed without an accident, the eye would not submit to such a constant strain, apparently without result, and the lookout became careless. Experience showed that this had been the case; and he had no doubt that it would continue to be the case in future. The Committee which had recently considered the subject had reported that none of the means of communication submitted to it were such as could be recommended for general adoption. Under these circumstances it had been arranged that several of the railway companies should continue the experiments which were now in progress to test the best of the various inventions that had been sub- mitted to the Committee, and which had been selected for this especial purpose. He could assure the House that to give passengers the power of communicating with the guard was by no means a simple matter. There would be no use in giving it if the guard was not required to attend to the summons; and in that case a nervous passenger might stop a train in a place where there were no signals, and where a stoppage would be attended with the greatest danger to the whole of the passengers, He trusted that after what he bad said with respect to the proceeedings of the railway companies the hon. Baronet would withdraw the Motion.


said, he did not think they could agree to such a Resolution as that proposed, when the hon. Gentleman had not suggested what would be a proper communication between guard and passengers. The hon. Gentleman had been rather severe on the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of I Trade for the unfeeling way in which he had spoken of the number of lives lost on railways. But he believed that there was a very exaggerated idea in the public mind as to the loss of life on railways. Only the other day he had seen an account of the loss of life in the streets of London during the last year, and it actually exceeded the whole number of lives lost by accidents on the whole of the railways in the kingdom. Last year when Mr. Briggs was unfortunately murdered, he had brought the question before the House. He had received many letters containing suggestions on this subject, but he found that there was only one mode of communication that was satisfactory, and that such a mode was not possible in this country because there was not sufficient space for the guards to pass. The loss of life to guards from the footboard system was very great on the Continent. He would urge upon the hon. Gentleman, therefore, that that was not the proper time for proposing such a Motion as the present, and that he ought to be prepared to point out the proper mode of communication between passengers and guards.


said, that the public owed his hon. Friend (Sir William Gallwey) a debt of gratitude for the part be had taken in this matter. There had, according to his own knowledge, been great complaints as to the neglect which had been shown. He was not prepared to state the number of dreadful acci- dents, and cases of alarm that had occurred; but he differed from the statement that the number was small. His hon. Friend's argument with respect to the protection which was given to travellers by coaches was not intended as a recommendation that similar precautions should be adopted, in the same mode, on railways, which would be absurd; but he only quoted those precautions to show that the safety of the public was guarded in those days, and his hon. Friend used the illustration as an argument in favour of adopting some efficient precautions for preventing accidents in railway travelling. He (Mr. Lefroy) had had some connection with railways, and he had ever felt that a great deal more ought to be done in this direction than had been as yet attempted. The railway companies ought to show more deference to the feelings of the public by contriving some means of communication in cases of danger or illness. He quite agreed with the hon. Member opposite, that the plan of placing a man in a box would not succeed, because his vigilance would probably become relaxed as he got used to it. With respect to the point which had been raised, that trains might be stopped without sufficient cause, he admitted that might be the case, and that therefore the plan of simply making a communication between the passengers and guard would not be sufficient, but he must say that he was in favour of some such plan as existed abroad, and had urged his hon. Friend to bring that before the House. At present there was a footboard running along the train, which might possibly be made useful by widening it so that the guards might reach the passengers in case of alarm. The Government appeared to be rather indifferent about the matter, but he hoped the railway companies would take the question up in all seriousness, and with a determination to find a remedy for the existing evil, in which case there would be no necessity for any compulsory steps being adopted, the reverting to which he should very much deplore.


said, he was sure the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir William Gallwey) did not wish to insinuate that he was indifferent to the dangers to which passengers were exposed in the cases to which he had referred, where they expected every moment to be killed without having the power to arrest the attention of the company's servants. He sympa- thized very much with the unfortunate position of those passengers; and so far from the Board of Trade being indifferent to the whole question, as suggested by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lefroy), it having been repeatedly brought before them—not perhaps so much by large deputations but by railway travellers—and had received their best attention. The subject also had been discussed two or three times in the House, having been brought under its attention by the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck). It was, of course, the duty of the Board to have regard to public feeling, which existed in the country, on the question, and to bring the subject under the attention of the railway companies. Accordingly, on the 7th of July in the last year a letter was addressed by the Board to every railway company in the kingdom, calling attention to the complaints which had been made, and asking them to take into consideration the adoption of some means to meet the evils complained of, and to make some attempt to allay the sense of insecurity evidently felt by the travelling public. In consequence of that circular the subject was referred to the Railway Clearing House, which was, in fact, a conference of railway managers, representing pretty nearly all the railway companies of the kingdom, and the general railway interests. They selected a sub-committee, composed of the most competent managers, to consider this question. That sub-committee had made a Report, which had been subsequently confirmed, and had met with the concurrence of the railway managers generally, so that there was some reason to believe that they were about to adopt—indeed, he might almost say they had undertaken bonâ fide to carry into execution, if practicable—some plan which would enable passengers to communicate with guards. They had not pledged themselves to any particular plan, because they said in their Report, with great justice, that before any plan could be generally adopted it was absolutely necessary that the apparatus, whatever it might be, should be tested on some of the principal railways, before its value could be ascertained and decided upon. That was the position of the case at present. The extent of the remedy proposed by the railway companies was that passengers should be able to arrest the attention of the guards in express or ordinary trains travelling long distances without stopping at intermediate stations. The guard was not to be able to go to the passenger, but to stop the train at the next station or point at which the train would be protected by fixed signal. He had read the Report and the reasoning which had led to this conclusion, and he thought it sound. The French Government went into this question very fully, and judged it unadvisable there should be a system of communication between passengers and guards, being of opinion that the evils it would give rise to would be greater than those which were sought to be averted. Although the managers here were prepared to give passengers a limited means of communicating with the guard, they could not enable a passenger to stop the train wherever he liked, because that would be to imperil the life of every other passenger in the train—for one that was following might dash into it and smash it to atoms; neither could they allow the guard to go to the passenger, on account of the great risk of the loss of his life in doing so when a train was travelling rapidly. He thought, however, the plan they proposed would tend very much to meet the evil complained of, and he trusted the Motion would not be pressed to a division. If his hon. Friend had sought to deal with the question by means of a Bill he would have found it more difficult than he imagined, because it was one thing to frame a Resolution affirming the desirability of doing a particular thing and another to frame the clauses of a Bill in such a manner as would carry out the object; and if the hon. Baronet tried to frame clauses to carry out a measure in accordance with his Resolution he would soon find how difficult it would be to frame them in such a manner as to carry his point without inflicting other and perhaps worse evils. He did not mean to say that there was any insuperable mechanical difficulty in securing communication between passengers, guards, and drivers, and when once the principles to be carried out were determined upon there would be very little delay in acceding to the wishes of the public. The question, however, was not in a state to require immediate penal and compulsory legislation. The railway companies, stimulated by the letter from the Board of Trade, had taken the matter in hand, and as soon as they had ascertained by experiment which plan was the best they would adopt it.


said, that while giving the right hon. Gentleman credit for his sympathy with unfortunate passengers imprisoned in a railway carriage who were being killed, burnt, or maimed, he could not help thinking (hat the Government had been very apathetic on this subject. He would repeat what he had formerly said, that so long as the Government exhibited the same want of energy which had hitherto characterized them, so long must they be held responsible for the continuance of these accidents whenever they occurred. The Government admitted the existence of the evil, but contented itself with forwarding circulars to the railway companies, requesting their attention to the subject. The result of these energetic measures was, that the railway companies were just beginning to make a few experiments as to the best mode of affording means of communication between the passengers and the guards. The hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Thompson) complained that no suggestion had been made as to how this communication was to be effected. He should like to know whether if some definite and effectual measure had been proposed by Government, they would not have had the railway directors of all the companies crying out that the Government were interfering in railway management, and endeavouring to deal with things which they did not understand. It appeared that the Committee appointed by the railway authorities had been sitting for many months, that they had examined 196 schemes, and that they had not been able to come to a conclusion upon any one of them. He considered that the course they had pursued was trifling with the House. The fact that the Committee appointed by the Clearing House had considered 196 schemes, and had prepared a Report, was no compensation to the public for the risk which they ran of being burnt, maimed, or murdered on railways. There were two difficulties, and two only, in the way of the establishment of such a communication as was recommended by the Motion before the House. One was that railway directors invariably refused to act upon any suggestions which came from out of doors, and the other was that they would not spend a shilling they could possibly avoid, even to prevent the occurrence of accidents. The hon. Gentleman opposite said, that if the railway companies were to adopt a certain mode of proceeding they would kill a certain number of railway servants, and the effect of the argument was that, in order to avoid killing railway servants, they must lull a certain number of passengers. It was idle to tell the House of the large penalties they incurred as a consequence of accidents acting as a deterrent to them in this course of proceeding; for the accidents and the compensation were both on the increase. In this particular case, it was obviously a question of money. It had been admitted that if we had the means of locomotion for the guard to allow him to circulate from one end of the train to the other, the cause of complaint would be removed. The guard could inquire into any emergency or cause of alarm without stopping the train until he had ascertained what it was. If carriages were properly constructed, arrangements might, with the sacrifice of a small amount of space, he made to enable the guard to pass with safety from one carriage to another; and it was, therefore, clear that this was a mere question of expense. Whether his hon. Friend should divide or not, he trusted that the time was nut far distant when by the voice of public indignation the House would be told in terms which it could not misunderstand that it should not any longer be permitted to sanction a system of traffic under which the blood and bones of passengers were sacrificed to save the pockets of railway companies.


said, that he considered the attacks made upon the Government and the railway companies unjust. They had taken the matter into their consideration, and had formed a plan which they believed would accomplish good, and they ought at least to have the credit of doing what they could until the plan they proposed had been tried. At present it was impossible for the guard to communicate with passengers when the train was proceeding at anything like average speed, on account of the extreme rapidity of the motion, which would render loss of life to the guard imminent were he to make any such attempt. He was sure that the company of which he was a director would most readily adopt any invention which experience should prove to be a successful one. If the plan under consideration was found to answer he had no doubt it would be carried out by the railway companies with a liberal spirit.


said, it had been his lot to fill the position of a railway director for a great number of years, and he must utterly disclaim the remarks of the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) as to this question being a matter of money. He could hardly suppose that the House would endorse the sentiment, that the railway hoards, constituted as they were of men of business, men prominent in works of benevolence, thought nothing about the comfort of passengers; nothing but about the remunerativeness of their undertakings. That they said, "Slaughter whomsoever you will, and spend no money to redress an evil which renders the lives of the public insecure." The railway companies studied nothing more seriously than the comfort of their passengers, and the instructions given to the gentlemen appointed to attend the conference on the subject were to adopt the best plan, without reference to money, because they felt that they were gentlemen to whose keeping was intrusted the most precious lives. It was alike ungenerous and unjust to taunt them with something worse than remissness—namely, indifference to human life, when they did all they could not only to secure safety but comfort to passengers. He thought that such extravagant charges as those brought by the hon. Member for Norfolk would only recoil on the heads of those who brought them.


said, the hon. Member who had just spoken had, perhaps, never heard the proverb, "Companies have no souls." They all knew that the individuals with whom they dined, and whom they met in society, were quite different persons when they became associated in corporation. They were to understand that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Milner Gibson) was pledged that the railway companies, within a reasonable time after the result of the experiment, would find a means of communication between the drivers of engines and passengers, through the guard. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had said that the means of communication, which it was hoped would be discovered by the Railways Committee, was to be applied only to express and fast trains, which were to be brought up at the next signal station after receiving the intimation to stop. But suppose the recurrence of such an accident as that which had recently occurred between Reading and London, would the right hon. Gentleman say that the train was to continue in progress to the next station? However, after what had taken place, as the House appeared to consist mainly of railway directors, and he had therefore little chance of carrying it, he would, with the permission of the House, withdraw his Motion.


said, he had given no pledge of anything. What he had stated was, that the railway companies, in reply to the Government circular, had recognized the desirableness of having a communication between passengers and guards, to be exercised under certain limits, and promised that if a practical scheme were discovered it should be generally adopted.


Will the right hon. Gentleman name a time when the scheme will be adopted?


If the hon. Gentleman will move for the papers he can have them.

Motion, by leave, withdraicn.

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