HC Deb 07 May 1874 vol 218 cc1877-83

, in rising to call the attention of the Blouse to the proposed appointment of a Royal Commission on Railway Accidents, and to move— That any inquiry into the causes of Accidents on Railways should include an investigation into the existence or otherwise of sufficient Railway accommodation in various districts for conveying the growing traffic of the Country with safety and economy, and into the means most advantageous to the public of supplying any deficiencies which may appear to exist, said, he had no wish to make the slightest charge against those who were engaged in the management of railways, and who performed their duties with an amount of intelligence and liberality equal to that which was exhibited in any other sphere of commercial enterprise. The replies which the various railway companies had sent to the Circular of the Board of Trade showed what efforts had been made by railway directors to secure greater safety, by the introduction of new signals and improved tire fastenings, and the substitution of steel for iron rails. Statistics had been brought forward to show that the number of passengers killed in proportion to the number carried on the various lines was less than formerly; but he would prove that the accidents were actually more frequent, and that they were generally attended with more serious consequences. During the half-year ending 31st December, 1873, accidents occurred on railways, attended with injuries to 934 persons, and with the deaths of 120. In 1854 there were 9,542 miles of railway opened in the country, and in 1872 there were 15,814 miles opened, or an increase of 65 per cent. During the same period, the amount paid in compensation for injuries to passengers and damage to goods had increased 300 per cent. as against an increased mileage of only 65 per cent. The number of collisions had increased from 35 in 1853, to 256 in 1872, which was upwards of 700 per cent; and this notwithstanding all the efforts of the companies to improve the means of conveying the traffic with safety. To what was this owing? It had been said to the want of punctuality; but what was the cause of the unpunctuality? It arose chiefly from this—that especially where the goods and mineral traffic was very extensive, the lines were over-crowded. How to remedy this was the question the Commission would have to investigate. If they found that the accidents which were so frequent and so much lamented arose from over-crowding the lines with traffic, the remedy must be adequate to remove this over-crowding. If not, it would be better to leave the matter in the hands of the Board of Trade. He referred to the evidence given before the Board of Trade inquiry relative to the accident near Bolton on the 15th of December, 1873, to show the overcrowded state of the line at the time the collision occurred. The accident occurred to the train due at 5.53 P.N. It was immediately preceded by a passenger train at 5.48; a goods train followed at 5.49, an express goods train at 5.53, another goods train at 5.58, and others at 6.1, 6.5, and 6.8. Instead of an interval of 10 minutes between each of these trains, according to the Company's regulations—that was, five minutes signals at "stop," and five minutes at "caution"—there was only an interval of three or four minutes. The signal man who gave evidence on that occasion stated that if he had been on duty when the accident occured, he could not have observed the rules, and must have done the best under the circumstances, just as the man did who was discharged. When he left his cabin for the purpose of giving his evidence, there were six trains shunting or waiting to shunt. On the Great Western line an accident happened on the 6th of February in the present year—when a goods train ran into a passenger train—and 35 passengers were more or less injured. In that instance it appeared the goods train was 8 hours and 50 minutes late. It appeared by a letter in The Times, written by Mr. Markham well acquainted with the state of traffic on that part of the Midland system, that at the Normanton station, during the autumn months, when the traffic was most considerable, the trains towards London on three days of the week were habitually from 40 to 60 minutes late in starting. It would be the duty of the Royal Commission to inquire whether the collisions arose from the overcrowded state of the different lines of railway; but he did not think that any inquiry conducted in Chambers in London would be effectual. If any real good was to be done, the Commissioners should make a survey of the country after the example of the Boundary Commissioners, and thus ensure a thorough investigation of the case. Up to the present time, there was between Lancaster and Carlisle only one single connecting link of railway upon which the whole of the through traffic converging at those two points from the network of English and Scotch railways, must be carried, and he had no doubt it would be found upon investigation that there were many similar instances where the traffic was, so to speak, strangled in a certain portion of the line. The question was, if this should be found to be the case, at whose expense was the additional accommodation to be provided? The Marquess of Salisbury had recently stated in "another place" that the real difficulty was that there was not time for the number of trains to keep apart, and the noble Marquess had further said that with due regard to the engagements entered into with the railway companies. Parliament could not ask them to undertake the gigantic enterprise of duplicating their tunnels or heavy bridges. He did not agree with that at all. If the companies wanted to retain the traffic Parliament had a right to ask the companies to do all that was required to convey it safely. In the five years from 1867 to 1872, the net receipts of the railways had considerably increased. In 1867 they were £19,631,000. In 1872 they had grown to £26,958,000, being an increase of 37 per cent; while the expenditure on capital account in the same period had only increased 13 per cent, so that the companies might have laid out £ 80, 000,000 more than they did, and yet have got 5 per cent return on the whole of their outlay, and, assuming a future annual net increase of £1,500,000, they might get 5 per cent on an average annual outlay of £30,000,000. They could, therefore, afford to make these works themselves; under certain circumstances, they might be allowed loans from the public Exchequer at a rate of interest somewhat below what they would earn on their works, but in such cases certain concessions as to rates might be stipulated for. Those rates, more especially for minerals, were in some instances much in excess of those in France, Belgium, and Germany. If they refused to execute the works, the Imperial Government or local authorities should do so. He believed the Board of Trade had dormant powers which would induce the companies to do what was necessary, and the recently appointed Commission had, by the fact of its existence, induced the companies to remove many grievances in addition to those actually adjudicated upon, showing that if pressure were applied in the right way, much good could be obtained. But the Commission to be appointed should not consist of amateurs, but be composed of men practically acquainted with the working of the railway system, and who would not have to depend on the evidence given by railway officials. Otherwise, he repeated, the matter had better be left with the Board of Trade who, he believed, were very far from having exhausted their legal powers. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "any inquiry into the causes of Accidents on Railways should include an investigation into the existence or otherwise of sufficient Railway accommodation in various districts for conveying the growing traffic of the Country with safety and economy, and into the means most advantageous to the public of supplying any deficiences which may appear to exist,"—(Mr. Samuelson,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


, as a director of one of the largest railway companies in the Kingdom, could assure the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) that no impediment would be thrown by the railway interest in the way of this inquiry. The traffic in some cases had outgrown the powers of the companies to compete with; but he doubted if the Amendment would attain the object desired. As to loans, companies with little traffic did not require additional sidings and accommodation, while companies which did require them could not expect loans of public money for that purpose.


said, he was glad the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) had brought the subject forward, and he believed the Commission could be constituted in a way satisfactory both to the companies and the public. It should not attempt to do what the companies had not done for themselves; but it would investigate the causes of accidents, and with the most perfect good-will towards the companies would attempt to find out facilities for their doing what the public had a right to demand of them. The hon. Member thought that— Any inquiry into the causes of accidents on railways should include an investigation into the existence or otherwise of sufficient Railway accommodation in various districts for conveying the growing traffic of the Country with safety and economy, and into the means most advantageous to the public of supplying any deficiencies which might appear to exist, and asked that the Warrant to the Royal Commission should include those matters. It would be for the Commissioners themselves to interpret the terms of their Warrant; but, in his opinion, those matters would not only come within the terms, but would be of primary importance in the inquiry the Commissioners were to conduct. He agreed that the greater number of accidents were due to the enormous increase of traffic, and consequent over-crowding of the lines, and that doubling the lines would be their best preventive; but whether the suggestions of the hon. Member for Banbury for a remedy were feasible or not, it was not for him to say. No doubt further accommodation in the way of sidings, extra lines, and stations was required. He trusted, however, that the Commissioners would have the suggestions of the hon. Member laid before them, and would give them due consideration. The hon. Member said that railways should be compelled to give increased accommodation where necessary. The fact was that many companies were doing a great deal to give such increased accommodation, but in some instances they had not the means of doing so. To meet the latter cases the hon. Member proposed a system of Exchequer loans to enable companies to construct the necessary works. While he refrained from expressing any opinion upon that point he must say he regarded it as incumbent upon the public to give all possible facilities to railway companies in that direction when the public put a demand upon them for works necessary for their convenience, and safety. The principal and novel suggestion of the hon. Member was that companies should be assisted out of local rates. This was rather an alarming proposition, and he did not see his way to its being carried out; but he admitted that there seemed to be a precedent in Ireland, where several railways had been made on the security of local rates. There was something similar in the United States. It was a question which might be brought before the Commission. The legislative powers over railway companies only related to facilities for traffic and impartiality of charges, and not to the safety of the public. He believed that the composition of the Commission would be satisfactory; but he hoped that they would not travel over matters that had been already fully inquired into, but confine their investigation to the subject of the causes and prevention of accidents, so far as the Lords' Committee on Lord De La Warr's Bill of last Session, and two previous enquiries of both Houses, and of Commissions had failed to complete it.


expressed a hope that the Commission would comprise men of sufficient practical knowledge to enable them to arrive at a proper conclusion on a question of so much importance, and that the question would be treated with a view to really practical results. It was no light matter to touch works which had cost £600,000,000. He did not deny that unpunctuality contributed to accidents; but every experienced manager of a railway would tell them that from a variety of causes unpunctuality was the normal state of our railways. What had to be done, therefore, was to provide in the best way they could against any injurious results from that inevitable unpunctuality; and that might be done by improved brakes, the general introduction of the block system, improved modes of signalling, and other improvements. Many railway companies that were in a good financial position had, of their own accord, constructed additional lines to meet the requirements of their traffic. But what was to be done in the case of railway companies which paid no dividends?


rose to address the House, but—


rose to Order. He said he should be very glad to hear what the hon. Member had to say; but he understood that the hon. Member had already spoken on the Question that "the Speaker do leave the Chair." He wished to know whether it was competent for him to again address the House?


said, the Question now before the House was different from that on which the hon. Member for West Norfolk had previously spoken, and therefore he was at liberty to speak on the present question.


said, he thought that the speech of the President of the Board of Trade would lead to great misconception in the country, or at least to a feeling of great regret as to the view of Her Majesty's Government upon the question of railway management. There was a strong conviction in the mind of the country that a large number of the accidents which had occurred within the last few years could have been prevented by the adoption of proper precautions, and that proper precautions would not be adopted except by the intervention of the Government of the day. He contended, therefore, that so long as the Government allowed the question to be dealt with by Committees and Commissions it neglected those duties which it was imperatively called upon to perform, and was responsible for these accidents.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.