HC Deb 01 May 1867 vol 186 cc1828-35

Order for Second Reading read.


moved the second reading of this Bill. He said, that it was the same measure he had introduced last year, and which had been referred to a Select Committee. Its object was to establish some means of communication between passengers in railway trains and the guards in charge of them. There was hardly a train conveying passengers, or any other kind of train, which was not at present provided with the means of communication between the guard and the driver. He believed that the mode of communication established was by rope or wire, which rang a bell close to the ear of the engineer. All he asked by this Bill was, that a similar means of communication with the guard should be extended to travellers. It was not intended to enable the passenger to interfere in any way with the driver of a train, but to communicate with the guard, who would see whether there was anything materially wrong, such as a carriage off the line or a tire off a wheel, which required that the train should be stopped, or whether it might proceed to the next station. He believed that no difficulty would be found in establishing the means of communication between the guards and the passengers. Having recently travelled in the North of Germany, in Belgium, and in France, he could bear testimony to the precautions taken in those countries in this respect. It was maintained at all hours of the day and night. The Bill contained penalties on companies not adopting the proposed communication, and upon those who maliciously interfered with the machinery of it. It did not provide for any special means of communication, but left it to the several railway companies to say what should be its character,—the Board of Trade or the ordinary inspectors of railways determining whether it was efficient or not. The South-Eastern Railway, much to its credit, had established efficient and complete means of communication of the kind required. There was no poverty of invention in the suggestion of plans, 300 or 400 of which, on different principles, had come under his notice. The South-Eastern Railway Company had recently made an experi- mental trip, and the experiments in the way of passenger and guard communication had been quite successful. It was unnecessary to say that if some such means had been in operation on their lines of railway, some frightful accidents might have been averted, and minor casualties could be prevented by the same precautions. What were the objections to the Bill? One was that there existed no necessity for legislation on this subject, and another was that if a means of communication between passengers and guards were established they would have old women travelling by rail needlessly interfering with it. The points to be considered, in order to prove the question of necessity, were those in connection with that species of accident which perilled the safety of an entire train—such, for instance, as an accident caused by one of the advanced carriages of a train slipping off the rails, or a fire, which, after smouldering for some time, burst into a flame. In connection with this point, he should like to read a short extract from a letter written by Mr. William Holbrook, of Nottingham— The Government Inspector's Report of Railways for five years, 1859–60–2–3–4, shows that 1,132 persons were killed, and 2,911 persons were injured during the same period. In one accident alone the company paid about £34,000. On November 28, 1866, near Hitchin, a train was on fire, the passengers were whistling, shouting, and banging the carriage doors for nearly a quarter of an hour before they could make the guard hear, If my plans had been in operation at the time the train would have been stopped in half a minute from the time the passengers knew it was on fire. For the year 1865 thirteen railway companies paid compensation for injuries to persons, &c., to the amount of £304,376. Surely, sir it is time some action was taken to prevent this great loss of life and property, either by compulsion on the part of the Government or by the directors of the different lines of railway themselves. The public have a right to demand safety for life and property while travelling for business or pleasure. In a note at the end the writer said— Two years and a half since I offered my plans to a railway company. I was told by one of the directors they had agreed not to countenance anything only what came from their own engineer. I told him then the thing was settled—their engineer must have all the brains in the world; so I bid him good morning. Since I offered my plans, I should think, on the different lines of railway, the property destroyed and compensation paid for persons injured and killed would amount to above £100,000. That would have been prevented if my plans had been applied on the different lines of railway at the time. From one of the morning papers he had taken the following:— Yesterday a train took fire on the Midland Railway between Birmingham and Derby. It appears that the body of one of the carriages in the mid-day down train, either through being too heavily freighted or in consequence of defective springs, sank down on the wheels, and the friction set the wood on fire. One of the passengers shouted out of the window, and his cries being heard by the passengers in the adjoining carriages, at length the attention of the guard was attracted. The train was brought to a stand near Tamworth, and the carriage, in which a considerable hole had been burnt, was detached from it. Some luggage belonging to a lady was burning, but the damage done was immaterial. Another paper said— An accident happened to a passenger train on Thursday evening, on the Cambridge and Hitchin line. The train was travelling at the rate of about twenty-five miles an hour, and, when near Shepreth, one of the carriages got off the line. After bumping along for some minutes it was precipitated down an embankment, and the two following carriages were turned over. The passengers were more or less seriously injured, but we understand no lives were lost. The inhabitants of the village, and especially a kind-hearted lady named Mrs. Ellis, paid every attention to the passengers; and the engine not having gone off the rails, the remaining carriages were enabled to proceed on the journey. It is stated by some of the travellers that if there had been any means of communicating with the driver the train might have been stopped before the embankment was reached. With respect to accidents by fire he found that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had a narrow escape while travelling by train from the Russian capital to Berlin. The special correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, writing to that journal from Berlin on December 1st, 1866, said— Just after it got dark there was an alarm of fire, and it turned out that the Royal carriage was burning. Happily the danger was discovered close to the station of Braunsberg, where the train stopped. Whether a wheel had caught fire, or the pipes with which the carriages were warmed had got overheated, nobody seemed exactly to know. Fortunately, there was no harm done to anybody, but the carriage was so much charred that it was thought unsafe to proceed in it. Some compartments in the ordinary cars were cleared for the Prince and his companions, and after a long hour's delay we got on again, leaving the saloon carriage still smoking as we passed out of the station. Since the Select Committee was appointed on this Bill last year, he had had a conversation with a Member of the House, who had told him that on one occasion when travelling by express train on the Brighton Railway he perceived a strong smell of fire, which proceeded from the door of the carriage. He had no means of communicating with the guard, and by the time the train had arrived at the next station the door was a mass of charred wood. The gentleman who had acted as Secretary to the Select Committee of last year had informed him that he had on one occasion been in a railway carriage the wheels of which came off one after another, letting the body of the carriage down upon the ground, and that it was not until the lives of the passengers had been in serious jeopardy for some considerable time that they succeeded in attracting the attention of the guard. There had been a notice in The Times some time ago of a gentleman having his head cut off by a post when leaning out of the carriage window in endeavouring to attract the attention of the guard. The Times of that morning also contained a letter from a gentleman who had unsuccessfully tried to communicate with the guard, the carriage in which he was being on fire. Thus, it could not be disputed that a case of necessity for communication between the passengers and the guard had been established. With respect to the other objection—namely, that the communication was liable to be interfered with by persons travelling by rail, the best answer which could possibly be given to that objection was derived from the experience gained on the South-Eastern Railway. Mr. Eborall, the manager of that line, had assured him that in no single instance had the means of communication between passengers and guards, established on their line, been interfered with. Under these circumstances, he trusted that the House would agree to read the Bill a second time. He should be happy, when the Bill was in Committee, to consider favourably any Amendments which might be suggested by the Government or the railway interest to any of its provisions. If it were the wish of the House, he should have no objection to exclude the Metropolitan Railway from the operation of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. H. B. Sheridan).


said, he had no objection to this Bill being read a second time; but he reserved to himself the power of opposing it in a future stage, unless the hon. Member made such alterations as seemed to him to be necessary. It would be unadvisable to pass it in its present shape. To require railways to make the necessary arrangements in three months would be requiring them to do what was physically impossible. He should also object to the Board of Trade or its inspector being asked to certify that effectual means had been provided when it was doubtful whether effectual means had yet been discovered. Experiments were being made daily. Men of science and of practical mechanical talent had had their minds directed to this object. It was well known that a really good and perfect plan would be taken up and well rewarded. If the House compelled the railways to adopt at heavy expense one of the present confessedly imperfect means of communication, they would do great mischief by retarding and throwing discouragement in the way of something better. Many people thought that they should not interfere in these matters at all; that they should trust to the heavy penalties and loss inflicted on companies in case of accident; and that Lord Campbell's Act was better than any interference with the details of management. The truth, as usual, probably lay between the two extremes. It was, no doubt, true that the accidents happening to railway travellers were much fewer in proportion than those which occurred under the old coach system. More people were killed in the London streets than on all the railways in the kingdom. It was also true that a very small portion of the accidents which did occur would be prevented by communication between passengers and guards. But it might be said, on the other hand, that the outrages which had sometimes been perpetrated in carriages, and which might have been prevented if such communication had existed, necessitated interference with the preliminary arrangements of a journey, because, while they entailed great injury on individuals, they caused little or no loss to the company. Then, the question arose whether any effectual means had been discovered for carrying into effect the provisions of this Bill. An excellent Report of Captain Tyler to the Board of Trade, made the year before last, went very fully into the question. It showed the endeavours made in England and on the Continent to prevent the helpless isolation of passengers by communication through signals, or by the construction of the carriages. With regard to the latter the ordinary contrivance on the Continent was the outside step. This was very dangerous, sacrificing, as appeared from Belgian accounts, the lives of guards every year. It was also supposed to give facilities both for outrage and escape, as in the case of the murder of M. Poinsot in France a year or two back. It was, besides, impossible to apply it in England without altering the width of carriages and of tunnels and bridges throughout the country, the expense of which would be very great. He had travelled by railway in most of the countries in Europe and in America; but he did not share in the condemnation sometimes pronounced on the English carriages. The American carriages were suited, no doubt, to the plan of one class without distinction. The Austrian were an improvement on the American, but almost equally wanting in the privacy demanded by English feeling in this country; and they were excessively cold in winter. The Russian carriages with a passage in the middle, cabins on each side, saloons at each end, and other conveniences for a long journey, and with four means of exit, were very good, probably the best of all, but they were too wide for our gauge, and too long for our curves. The Swiss, with three classes in one carriage, and communication from higher to lower, but not the reverse, were also good, and the guard could walk through them. But the great objection to all, or almost all he had described, was the dangerous exit at the end. In a crowded carriage, if there was a panic, it would be as difficult to get out as in a church or theatre. Then came the means of communication by signal. The earliest probably was the bell and rope. Travellers by the Great Northern if a little before their time might have seen a cord threaded from carriage to carriage low down under the footboard. This rang a bell in the guard box and the engine. But he remembered a Member of that House telling him that he found himself once in a carriage with one other passenger, whose conduct, after a time, began to excite his apprehension. He seemed very uneasy, looked out, listened, and stretched out of the window till his informant thought he was going to throw himself out, and came to the conclusion that he was shut up with a madman. His uneasiness increased when his fellow traveller, after leaning out further than ever, turned to him and said, "Have you any objection, Sir, to take hold of my leg? "But he proceeded to explain that he was an engineer, and that from a sound he heard he thought something was wrong with the axle, and wished to get at the rope in order to stop the train, which, with the assistance of his companion, he did. He mentioned this to show that it was evident that such a contrivance could hardly be called effectual, especially with regard to the use of it by a lady. Then came the reversed sentry-box of the Great Western, the mirrors of the Cette Railway, and the bells and whistles of the Dutch and German lines. It was clear that these must often fail in tunnels, in fogs, in the night, and where there was much rattle in the train. They were condemned by the French Commission in one brief sentence, "The sight signals cannot be seen, and the sound signals cannot be heard." The best signal seemed to be the electric, used on the South Western and on some of the French railways, which rang bells in the guards' vans and engines, and dropped a semaphore to the side of the carriage in which the signal was given. The hon. Member had also mentioned with approbation that used on the South Eastern. But, as the guard could not on many lines, at least, reach the carriages, the only plan was to stop the train, which must necessarily be done with great caution on lines like ours, on which trains follow each other so rapidly. This safeguard was on the lines to which he had referred combined with windows between the compartments. To this objection was sometimes taken by those who wished to have the security of publicity without its inconvenience. He was afraid this must be classed with the inconsistent advantages at which all aimed, but which none were destined to reach. It was absolutely necessary that any wanton tampering with these signals should be severely punished, but he was not quite sure that this would be sufficient. Some fine should be inflicted on causeless alarm, otherwise great inconvenience might ensue. He remembered seeing a farce in Paris a short time ago, in which a nervous lady was represented as finding herself several times during a journey alone with one of the other sex. Each of the unhappy men in his turn made some polite advances, on which she immediately broke the glass, and pressed the spring. The train came to a standstill. The guard appeared; she explained her alarm. "Madame, le motif n' était pas suffisant; c'est cinquante francs s'il vous plait!" This method of signalling was computed to cost £10 a mile, and 10 per cent on outlay for maintenance. It would, of course, be absurd to require that it should be used for trains stopping at short intervals. He believed directors would not be unwilling to do all they could for the safety of passengers. It was certainly to their interest to do so, and they themselves travelled as much, if not more, than other people. When he heard the terms in which they were sometimes spoken of in that House, he was inclined to ask, parodying Shylock, "Hath not a director organs, senses, passions, hurt by the same means, subject to the same accidents as a Christian?" At the same time they required, like most other people, a little wholesome pressure, and when it was remembered that it was exactly twenty years ago, in 1847, that the first circular on this subject was issued to the companies, legislation could hardly be called precipitate. The Railway Commission would report at the end of the week; and therefore he thought that the hon. Member should put off his Committee till the House had had the opportunity of considering how far his Bill could be made to square with the recommendations of that Report. He had made these re-marks in consequence of the Bill not having been discussed at all last Session, and on the understanding he had mentioned he would not oppose its second reading.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 14th May.