HL Deb 28 June 1836 vol 34 cc984-8
The Duke of Richmond

laid upon the Table the first Report of the Committee on Railroads. On moving that it be printed,

Earl Fitzwilliam

was glad to find that this subject had engaged the attention of their Lordships. It had not been his lot to attend their debates during the present Session; hut he had not been inattentive to those measures which had come before their Lordships as Railroad Bills, and which, though they were technically private Bills, were still of great public importance. He could not help anticipating, that by means of this great instrument of railroads, the wealth, the enjoyment, and the comforts of England would be increased to an amount which no man living at present could pretend to calculate. But their Lordships must not conceal from themselves that these great national objects would in some cases be arrived at through great individual suffering and injury. He confessed that it appeared to him, that, if he had not taken a wrong view of the objects of those who had originated these measures, Parliament had considered them far too much as insulated measures. In order that the nation might reap the full benefit of the genius, enterprise, and ingenuity of the projectors of these measures, the highest authority of the country should be brought into action, so as to have them all arranged in one continuous and well-connected system. From what he had seen in some instances which had come under his own observation, he was convinced, that though the construction of a Railway in one direction might increase and facilitate the communication between places in that direction, it might obstruct and impede the communication between places in a different direction. For instance, by making communications by Railway from north to south, you might render it difficult to make them from east to west. He could illustrate his meaning by referring to a case within his own knowledge. There was a line of Railroad proposed to be carried through, or rather to come in contact like a tangent, with the town of Sheffield, at a level of not less than seventy feet above the main entrance into that town. The mere effect of constructing a Railway upon a level better suited for a balloon, was to render it impossible to make any other Railway communicate with it. Again, their Lordships would observe, that the same effect would be produced if the Railway were sunk as much below as this was raised above the ordinary level. The Railroads differed from all the ordinary roads of the country, and also from its inland navigation in this respect, that it was impossible to make one Railway communicate with another unless all Railways were made at a proper height. It was exceedingly possible that he took an improper view of what ought to be done on this difficult, but very important, question. Nevertheless, it appeared to him worthy of the interference of the highest authority in the country—whether that interference should come from the Executive Government, or from the two Houses of Parliament, he was not at that moment prepared to say — yet, however much he might admire the genius and enterprise and speculating spirit of the projectors, he was certain that unless they were directed by the supreme authority of the country, and unless care were taken that the speculations of one party should not interfere with and injure the speculations of another party, these projects, instead of being beneficial, would become injurious to the country. There was another reason why he thought that Railroads ought to be all conducted on one system. Their Lordships were aware of the advantage which they, in common with the public had derived from having all the turnpike-trusts in the neighbourhood of the metropolis consolidated into one general trust; indeed, there was not one of their Lordships who travelled down into the country, who did not feel grateful to those who had consolidated those trusts. Now, he begged them to consider what would be the effect of letting all the Railways in England be considered as separate trusts. They would pass five miles along one Railroad, and they would then pass five miles into another, and the result would be, that they would pay twice as many tolls for travelling that distance on two Railroads that they would pay for travelling half the distance upon one. The main point, however, to which he wished to call the attention of their Lordships was the obstacles which would be thrown in the way of future Railroads, in case they were not made upon such a system as would enable one Railroad to dove-tail in with another. He expected that it happened very frequently that their Lordships, from want of sufficient information, sanctioned a Railroad on one line, when, if they had had the benefit of better surveys, that line would not have been adopted. Unfortunately, however, the evil of such a practice did not immediately come to a conclusion. The result of having adopted an inconvenient line would often prevent their Lordships from adopting another line which would be far more convenient. His noble Friend at the head of the Government knew that he had long ago suggested this matter to his consideration. He hoped that he should not be considered as intruding unnecessarily on the attention of the House in calling its attention to a subject on which, if we legislated wisely, we should increase the wealth and prosperity of our posterity much more than the wealth and prosperity of the past and the existing generation had been increased by the system of inland navigation, and on which, if we legislated unwisely, we should not derive the advantages which we ought from this new system.

Lord Kenyon

would move that the Grand Junction Railway Bill be now read a third time. If that motion were carried, he should move certain clauses, by way of rider.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

had no objection to make to the motion of the noble Lord who had spoken last. He could not, however, agree entirely either with the noble Lord who had just sat down or with the Report which the noble Duke had just laid on the Table. That Report said, that no Railway should pass through a populous district without precautions being taken against the fire which came out of the chimnies. Now, there was no Railway that did not pass through a populous district. Yet this doctrine was to consider each Railway on its own particular circumstances. It was impossible for their Lordships to establish one uniform system of Railways, and to hold out such a hope was only throwing unfair obstacles in the way of future projects for Railways. He held with the Report of the House of Commons on Railways that they must pay their best attention to each individual Bill, and that they must enact such peculiar clauses as the demands of the locality might require. His noble Friend had said, that if they did not establish an uniform system for Railroads they would, in establishing communications between the north and south, prevent communications between the east and west. Now that could not be the fact. The tunnel, the bridges, the trams, could not interfere and had not in any existing Railroad interfered, with any of the existing modes of public communication. Indeed, it was the duty of all Committees upon Railroads to see that they did not interfere improperly with existing interests. He thought, that in consideration of the immense capital which was ready for investment in schemes of domestic improvement, and which, if not so invested, would go for investment in foreign countries, the public ought to know, before the close of the Session, what their Lordships intended to do on this subject.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that all he had done was to leave the door open upon this subject. The noble Marquess had adverted to the provisions made in Railway Bills for carrying existing canals and roads across the Railway where the two lines intersect each other. But he begged to observe that he knew large tracts of country through which it was proposed to carry Railways and through which there were few communications, where the formation of communications must be prevented unless Parliament should make some provisions to enable those who projected them to deal with Parliament regarding the making of those communications. He made this remark for the consideration of the noble Marquess, and to point out to him that the case was not quite so clear as he appeared to think.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that his noble Friend appeared to object to this Report. The Committee was not yet prepared to lay before their Lordships any detailed view of the subject. Perhaps those of their Lordships who were in the habit of attending Railway Committees might be aware of the fact, that several serious accidents by fire had occurred from locomotive engines, although the public were ignorant of it. Cotton goods to the value of 3,000l. had been lost near Manchester in consequence of such an accident, and a farm house in the county of Leicester was consumed from the same cause. Such accidents had occurred, and perhaps from negligence, and he was not at all certain that the best plan in the rural districts, would not be to make a law, that whatever damages ensued from that cause should be paid by the Company. This law might apply very well to the country, hut in a large city, in London for instance, no Company yet formed could afford to pay for the injury that might he caused. If the Directors of Insurance Companies should find that Railways increased the danger from fire, they would raise the rate of their Insurance, and thus a whole neighbourhood might suffer great hardship. This question had certainly a paramount claim to the consideration of the Committee. He believed, that if the attention of scientific men were turned to the subject, a remedy for these evils, might be discovered, which would obviate the inconveniences likely to arise.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

observed, that there was scarcely one instance of a Railway passing through a district so populous as to occasion danger of fire. He thought it would not be possible to lay down any general rule that would guard against the anticipated danger in the case of every, Bill.

The Report to be printed.

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