HL Deb 28 July 1846 vol 88 cc105-9

moved the Second Reading of this Bill, the object of which merely was to carry into effect the recommendations made by the Commissioners on this subject. There were certain Amendments which, as he should propose them in Committee, he should not think it necessary to mention now.


said, that he should oppose the Bill, but he would reserve his objections to the Committee.


said, that he could not find one word in the Report of the Commissioners which would justify this Bill. He had paid considerable attention to this subject, and he found that accidents were much more numerous on the narrow gauge than on the broad gauge. The noble Earl then read some extracts from returns showing the number of passengers killed and wounded on the lines adopting the broad narrow gauge.


complained of the unsatisfactory nature of the Report made by the Gauge Commissioners, who had indicated in their report that an intermediate gauge would be the best course which could be adopted; that the broad gauge was next preferable; but that the narrow gauge was least preferable of all; and yet, in their report they had passed over both the best and second-best courses, and recommended the adoption of the worst of all. He thought it would have been better if the Commissioners had not meddled with the subject at all. With regard to the Bill before the House he should not move its rejection; but if any other noble Lord would make that Motion, he would vote for it.


did not think the narrow gauge was the worst of all, nor did the Commissioners express such an opinion; they stated that the broad was superior to the narrow in point of power and speed. Their Lordships were only interested in the question of speed; but those interested in the conveyance of merchandise, and the economical management of railways, saw many advantages in the narrow gauge over the broad. The fault of the Commissioners was, that they did not say what medium gauge should be adopted; at the present moment Parliament stood without a guide between the two systems. He should recommend the President of the Board of Trade, during the vacation, to obtain a report from all the great engineers of the country of what gauge would be the best; he believed their report would be nearly unanimous as to what gauge they ought to lay down for all lines in future. He trusted that powerful Company, the London and Birmingham, would have the courage to adopt of themselves a better system; he advised them to do it for their own advantage; he was perfectly confident the public would not be content to travel at the limited rate of speed of the narrow lines, when they saw the superior rate that could be attained on the broad. Parliament, too, was composed of persons who liked to travel fast, and it would be difficult for it to stand long against the quicker rate. If it was decided that a medium gauge of six feet would be preferable to the narrow, and it was proved that it could be laid down, and acted on, Parliament might say that all other lines should be made upon that gauge only. If that was followed out, the country would have a uniformity of gauge, instead of proceeding upon the present miserably confused system, which was getting worse and worse every year, instead of better. He should not oppose the Bill; on the contrary, he thought it desirable at the present moment that it should pass, as it was desirable to place a check on speculation entered into merely for the purpose of what was called "invasion."


admitted that nothing could be more desirable than a uniformity of gauge; nothing could be a greater mistake than not adopting it. But they were not now adopting a system for the first time; the question was, how should they deal with existing circumstances? How were they to meet the difficulties in which they had rashly entangled themselves? Their Lordships must remember that above 2,000 miles of railroad had been laid down upon what the noble Lord called the worst gauge in existence; but it was by no means proved that it was the very worst. The Commissioners entered minutely into the qualities of the two gauges, and they stated, that except in the point of speed, the narrow gauge was at least equal to the broad, if not preferable, on account of its cheapness and convenience for the conveyance of luggage. Moreover, it had been shown that all the foreign engineers who came to this country to examine the different systems before laying down lines on the Continent, after comparing the two gauges, had everywhere adopted the one the noble Lord called the worst. Though it might be very desirable for Parliament to get a body of engineers to make a report, yet he did not believe the result would do anything but increase the confusion. There was not a single engineer who had not been examined before some Commission or Committee, and there were scarcely two of them who agreed in opinion respecting the gauges. The Bill was strictly founded upon and confined to the Resolutions introduced by the late Government, and unanimously adopted by both Houses of Parliament; he had no option but to frame the Bill in exact accordance with those Resolutions, and to submit it for approval; it was most desirable it should pass, and he certainly intended to persevere with it.


thought further inquiry ought to be instituted. The noble Earl asked how were they to deal with existing circumstances; no inquiry had been made as to the mode of dealing with them. Would the Government support him if he moved for a Committee to inquire into the possibility of establishing an intermediate gauge? Evidence could be produced that it was perfectly possible to alter the narrow gauge to six feet; at the speed of fifty or sixty miles an hour the narrow gauge was not safe; he did not think the public would long endure the comparative inferiority. In Committee, he should be inclined to move the rejection of the Bill; there were companies in process of amalgamation, from Inverness to London, anxious to lay down a broader gauge, and he feared, when they came before Parliament, this Bill might be made an obstacle in their way.


was not surprised that engineers should report in favour of an intermediate gauge, as the whole lines would have to be reconstructed. As an inhabitant of the west of England, he was anxious that the recommendations which had been offered should be carried out, and the means of communication perfected with that part of the country. He should be glad to see the Government empowered to carry out the recommendations to which he referred.


feared the alteration to the intermediate gauge would be most expensive, as it would be most expensive. It was a question for consideration whether the Bill should not be postponed to next Session.


differed from his noble Friend who had spoken last, for he thought it absolutely necessary that something should be done without one day's delay. It was admitted, on all hands, that the break of gauge was not only an inconvenience, but a great national misfortune. Wherever it occurred, it was found detrimental to the public interest. It was notorious that attempts were making, which, if successful, might lead to break of gauge where there was none at present. There was an attempt to purchase a line in the west of England, for the purpose of hermetically shutting the Great Western. One clause in the Bill prevented the accomplishment of such a design by prohibiting any change of gauge in the mean time. He could not help thinking the present arrangement as to the gauge of railways very imperfect. The Commission of last year worked in a very unsatisfactory manner. They recommended measures which would go to perpetuate the break of gauge; but he should not be satisfied with any permanent arrangement which did not do away with that evil. How it should be corrected he was not prepared to say; but so far as an inexperienced person could judge, he thought there were many reasons in favour of an intermediate gauge. A Commission appointed in 1838 recommended an intermediate gauge for adoption in Ireland; and many engineers, not taking a strong interest in any existing railway on either the broad or narrow gauge, had stated, upon reasons which appeared to him exceedingly good, that an intermediate gauge would be attended with very great advantage. Mr. Cubitt had stated, that at no very great expense it would be practicable to alter the present gauges to an intermediate gauge. The Commission of last year dismissed that suggestion in far too summary a manner. They had had enough of Commissions; and he thought that the engineers of the different lines might be able to suggest an arrangement which would be satisfactory.


had feared that the first clause would prevent the question from being opened again; but after what had been stated, he did not intend to persevere in his proposition.

Bill read 2a.