HL Deb 15 March 1853 vol 125 cc177-94

rose, according to notice, "to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to a Correspondence which has taken place between Mr. Spence and the Board of Trade on the subject of a Bridge on the North Shields Railway." The noble Earl said it was just a fortnight since he had directed their Lordships' attention to the dangerous system of mismanagement of railways in this country, and expressed the belief he entertained, in common with great numbers of his countrymen, that some arrangement should be made, over which the Government should preside, and which might at least tend to diminish, if not altogether to prevent, the lamentable loss of life and limb which had occurred, and to the continual recurrence of which he had then declared that he looked forward with apprehension. Although in his own mind persuaded that he was not at all exaggerating the danger which existed, and that his expectations were not erroneous, nor his belief that the danger might be averted by proper and prudent intervention, he did not expect that his opinions should so speedily and so fatally be confirmed in every respect as they had been during the short interval which had elapsed since he had last addressed their Lordships on the subject. It was on that day fortnight he had asked the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley of Alderley) for returns of the number of accidents on railways which had occurred during the year 1852, and in that fortnight not less than five accidents of a most serious nature had taken place, occasioning considerable loss of life and injury to the passengers. One had taken place on the South Eastern, another on the York and Newcastle line, another on a branch of that line, and the most recent on the Bristol and Birmingham line. And when he mentioned that within the past fortnight, in consequence of these accidents, not less than eleven persons had been suddenly and at once destroyed, and forty persons seriously, many of them irremediably, injured, he did not think that he should be considered importunate in again presenting himself to their Lordships, for the purpose of calling their attention to the subject— especially as he believed he could now give further proofs that many of these accidents had arisen, not from mere casualty and bad fortune on the part of the companies, but actually from mismanagement and the want of care; and that they were attributable ultimately to the want of some presiding system which should keep in order the directors of these companies, or the management of these different railways. He trusted that if their Lordships were satisfied he was right in his deductions from the facts he brought forward, the Government—seeing that this was no political or party question—nor one on which they need have any difficulty in moving—would give their attention to the subject, with a view of providing, if possible, a remedy for what was now a crying evil throughout the country. He did not want to agitate the feelings of timid persons; nor, on the other hand, ought he to be deterred from bringing this subject forward by the confidence of the bold. There were persons manifesting both extremes of feeling on such matters as involved physical danger; he had known some persons who dreaded to mount a pony, and others who would follow the hounds in front of a railway train. It was not either for the timid or the daring that he desired to interfere. The mass of his countrymen could not be accused of being weak-nerved; but at the same time a certain prudence attached to the English character, and he believed that the class of persons generally alarmed at these railway accidents had been so with just reason. What he wished to know was, why a board of management or a central power of executive control should not exist with regard to railways as existed already in other branches of our locomotive system. He was persuaded that, if this were established, many of these accidents would be spared. He had received a letter from Mr. Spence, a gentleman who had been in communication with the Board of Trade, and whose letter to the Board he desired to have produced. The letter he (the Earl of Malmesbury) had received from this gentleman was not long, and as it bore very strongly on his argument, he would read a few passages from it. Writing from North Shields, the gentleman says— I have occasion in the course of my business to travel upon the North Shields branch of the York, Newcastle, and Berwick Railway daily. It is a line of about eight miles in length, in a densely populated district, and the passenger traffic upon it is very great. About the middle of the line there is a wooden bridge, called the Willington Bridge, and for some time past it has been very commonly reported that the bridge in question was in a very unsafe state. On Saturday, the 19th of February, two luggage carriages in a luggage train got off the line, broke through a slight wooden railing, and were precipitated to the ground, a distance of fifty or seventy feet. I had myself passed over this bridge in a heavily-laden passenger train half an hour before; and had this accident happened to my train, not a passenger could have escaped destruction, in case the carriages had been thrown over. I am not acquainted with engineering matters, but I could see quite enough to convince me that some powerful body should interfere with the railway company for the protection of travellers, and I at once wrote to the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, stating the facts as I have detailed them to your Lordship, and concluding as follows:—'I observe that the bridge in question is now in course of repair, and I consider that it is necessary, for the safety of the public, that the Railway Department of the Board of Trade should appoint some competent person to examine into the state of the bridge, and, if it should in any respect be found needful, they should order the railway company to make such repairs or alterations as would place the safety of the numerous travellers by this line beyond question. The reply was as follows:— I have been directed by the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 21st inst., and to inform you that my Lords are in communication with the York, Newcastle, and Berwick Railway Company on the subject of your complaint. I have also to inform you that my Lords have no power to order the railway company to make repairs or alterations in their works. This was the important part of the communication from the Board of Trade. The correspondence did not go beyond that. The Board had no power to do anything; although satisfied that the bridge was unsafe, they had no power, it appeared, to compel the railway company to place the bridge or railway in such a state as should secure the safety of the public. The letter of Mr. Spence proceeded to say— On Wednesday, the 2nd of March, eleven days after the accident, and nine days after the date of my letter, a fatal accident happened to a passenger-train at this very bridge. In consequence of the disgraceful and dangerous state of the line, an engine, tender, and guard's van were thrown down an embankment on the approach to the bridge, and the engine-driver was killed on the spot. The stoker and guard were also seriously injured, and many of the passengers suffered from severe contusions. Fortunately the coupling-chains between the guard's van and the passenger carriages were broken, otherwise the loss of life would have been much greater, for the train was going at such a speed that the carriages ran without the engine about 200 or 300 yards. Now, I can say with some degree of certainty, that if any Government officer had seen the state of this line, and the bridge in particular, at any time during the last few weeks, and if such officer had had the power to compel the railway company to put their line into good working order, this lamentable accident might have been avoided. But there was still stronger and more recent evidence as to the necessity for some authority to compel the companies to put the lines in due order, when found to be dangerous for the public safety. He (the Earl of Malmesbury) alluded to the evidence given by Captain Wynne, the Government Inspector of Railways, who was last Saturday examined on the inquest held upon the bodies of the persons killed by the accident on the Man- chester and Bolton line, when five persons were killed, and twelve mutilated or severely injured. Why did the accident happen? Comparing the evidence of one witness with another, it would appear that the train must have been going at the rate of forty or fifty miles an hour, and that was as much as could be collected from the witnesses; but he wished to call attention to the evidence of Captain Wynne:— I attend here at the request of the Board of Trade. I have gone over the line from about a mile east of the Clifton Junction (Agecroft Hall), and walked to Bolton, closely examining the line throughout. On this length of line there are several descriptions of permanent way laid. With the exception of one, they are all of modern construction, and quite suitable to the traffic. It will, therefore, be necessary for me only to describe one description of permanent way I think exceptionable. I find this part is laid on longitudinal sleepers. The timber has been down 14 or 15 years. The rails they carry are the second set of rails, which have been down, I find, about six years. They are of old pattern, but of adequate strength, and 701b. to the yard. The great object to be attained in a line of this description is, that the sleeper shall have a solid bed. The construction of this part is such that that object is not attained, or only partially so. The timbers rest upon cross-sleepers, every nine feet apart, which are dovetailed into the bottom of the longitudinal timbers. When this line was originally laid down it was never contemplated that the traffic would be so great, or locomotives be so heavy. In consequence of this being the second line of rails the timbers carry, in taking off one and putting down another set of rails the timber has been so wounded and shaken, added to the long time it has been exposed to the atmosphere, that I have no doubt its bearing strength is impaired fully one-half. Therefore, although it has to carry a greater traffic and greater weight, its strength is greatly impaired. The jury will understand that, with a long piece of timber, a heavy train will bend them between the points of support unless the ballast was well beaten up under them, which was not the case here. In consequence of the nature of the road, it is one very difficult to maintain properly. On the upper surface of the rail I find that the rail has buried itself in the sleeper to the depth of the flange. The rail is secured to the sleepers at the joints by a chair, fastened down by bolts screwed into the timber, and intermediate between those points the rail is fastened down by spikes. From the weakness of the timbers there is great working in the joints, and the chairs have buried themselves very much and eaten a way into the timber. I found the rails work very much in the chairs, and the chairs work very much on the timbers. I would observe that the timbers present a more unsound appearance than they really have. I tried in several of the worst-looking places, by placing a pinch-bar under the rails, if I could lever it up and start the spikes, but I found that their hold was firm. The point to which I attach the greater security is the chair; for you perceive the compound motion of the timber bending and the chair rocking, produced a very compound or complicated and uneasy motion to a passing train. It would give considerable motion to a train. I found the keys required very generally renewing; the worms were worn off the screws which secured the chairs to the sleepers, and in other instances the nut into which the screw should work at the bottom of the sleepers would not hold. Underneath the chair required repacking with other pieces of timber, to give it a firm bed. I should say 75 per cent of chairs were deficient of strength, either from bad screws, keys, or nuts; and several parts of the line where I found the timbers with a good deal of motion, I had the line, or the ballast opened, beaten up underneath the sleeper, the chair screwed down, and, where the nut was deficient, replaced with another, a fresh key put in, and I found this caused a great amelioration of the evil, but not an entire improvement. I found the ballast throughout the line good and abundant. There was, therefore, no excuse from the state of the weather, in allowing the line to become so deteriorated. In some lines, where the ballast is bad, or consists of mud, to open it in bad weather would not improve the line, or it might make matters worse; but such was not the case here. I would conclude by saying, the line is quite inadequate, and not of sufficient strength for the traffic; dangerous for trains at high speed, or for trains at 30 miles per hour. Captain Wynne proceeded to make statements which would not reassure the public:— I think the part of the line I was describing is unfit for twenty-five miles an hour. I think twenty miles an hour might be safe. I should like to make one observation—I do not think this is an extremely bad line, as an exceptional case. Captain Wynne added— I regret to say that there are a great number of lines in the kingdom, where very high speeds are maintained, of which this line is only a type. Then came the servants of the company, one of whom said— I have asked Hughes and Garnett for materials, and have been threatened to be discharged. Those threats were, if I applied for bolts, keys, and chair-packings. The very things which Captain Wynne thought were wanted:— I certainly consider the rails required those things. The foundation is clay in many places, and very bad, having very little ballast under the sleepers. I never mentioned this to Mr. Izzard, always wishing to wrap things up and make the best of them. I attended on the previous day of the inquest. The witness concluded by saying that he should probably get discharged for saying what he had. He (the Earl of Malmesbury) could have gone much further, but would not trespass on their Lordships' time, except as regarded this case; but he thought he had shown on the best possible evidence—that of the company's servants and the Government Inspector— that one, at least, of those accidents was to be attributed to the state of the road, the state of the road being such as not to admit the rate of speed at which the train was travelling. If their Lordships agreed with him (the Earl of Malmesbury) in thinking that it was necessary that there should be some superintending power to look over the state of the railways, and secure a due regard for the public safety, there was nothing in the proposition—that there should be some superintending power to overlook the state of the roads, and make the public secure of having them kept in an efficient state for travelling on—at all unreasonable, or partaking of the character of undue interference. Ho was asking for nothing but that which all English subjects were already liable to in cases analogous. In demanding that railways should be visited and reported upon by Government officers, and that if the lines were found unsafe, the companies should be compelled to repair them, he was only demanding what now was the law in respect to all common public highways. Every county or liberty was bound to repair its roads; and if a road were in an unsafe state, the county or liberty could be compelled to repair it by an order of magistrates, upon the report of the surveyor of highways. It was impossible, therefore, to maintain that in his proposition he in the least infringed upon the proper freedom of the railway companies, which he admitted they ought to exercise so far as was consistent with the safety and security of the public. In addition to the appointment of some central authority and some inspecting power, he should also suggest that the maximum rate of speed which was consistent with safety should be ascertained, and that beyond that maximum of speed the trains should not be allowed to run; and, thirdly, he should recommend that a minimum time should be declared within which interval no trains should be allowed to start. Instances had arisen last year of trains (especially "excursion trains") running within five minutes of each other, to which cause several accidents could be ascribed. He conceived it was the duty of the Government to consider whether, upon these points, they ought not to seek to give themselves greater power than they now possessed. Indeed they now appeared to possess really none at all useful to the public; and he was certain that they would be supported by public opinion in demanding such power as would enable them, upon proper investigation, to compel the companies to do what was proper with a view to a just regard for the public safety. When he had referred to the subject on a former occasion, he was sorry to say that he saw no prospect of the Government moving in the matter. He had been told of a Committee of the House of Commons, to which the subject of railways had been referred. Now he had a great respect for the House of Commons and its Committees, and for the persons who were delegated by that House to sit on their Committees; but he knew from experience that subjects were given to Committees for investigation, which subjects had frequently never emerged again; indeed, he knew no surer way of shelving a subject than referring it to a Select Committee of either House of Parliament. He should himself prefer a Commission from the Crown to examine persons unconnected with railway companies— persons of scientific attainments and practical experience—from whose evidence it could be ascertained what was the maximum rate of speed and the minimum for the interval of starting different trains, and how far Government officers, following out the analogy of common roads and bridges, might interfere to compel railway companies to have their roads and rolling stock in proper condition. That commission might receive suggestions and also communications relating to new inventions for the improvement of carriages and the mechanical part of railway work. Of those, nine out of ten, or ninety-nine out of one hundred, might be worthless; but if a commission were appointed to do what no commission had ever yet done, to examine those inventions, they would select from them, or discover among them, some good ones, which would tend to increase the safety of travelling, and which might afterwards be recommended to the railway companies for adoption. He could see no objection to the inspection he now suggested, because there already existed inspection in regard to seamen, emigration, and the like. It would appear, indeed, as if an exception were to be made in the case of railways. He did not want an exception made in that case. He did not advocate the complaints of timid persons; but he thought that on the three points to which he had referred it would be for the public advantage if the Government would interfere, and, without waiting for any reports from the House of Commons, would appoint a commission with the fullest power to see what could be done in the matter.


agreed that nothing could be more painful than the occurrence of those accidents to which the noble Earl had referred. There was no subject which had more engaged the attention of the Government, in the department with which he was connected, than the important question of security in railway travelling. It must be obvious that, if only from the most selfish motives, every one must desire to secure safety in railway travelling: for the prince as well as the peasant, for the peer as well as the commoner, for the subject, and for the Sovereign, the question was the same; and it must be not less the desire of those who were in the public service to do all in their power to attain the object in which so many had an interest. Seeing that they all desired to obtain increased security in railway travelling, the question was, what was the best mode of obtaining that security? Because, if there were too much interference on the part of the Government, it might defeat the object they had in view, and the very danger they were struggling to avoid might be aggravated. The suggestion of the noble Earl was, that the Government should appoint a Commission; but the noble Earl might be reminded that the difficulties which attended the question were not new, that they had manifested themselves under different Governments, and that the Government with which the noble Earl had been connected, having had a whole year to consider what were the best means which could be devised for protecting the public from such dangers as he had described, did not propose to appoint a Commission, did not bring forward measures to give the security which was sought; but thought the best course was to propose the appointment of a Committee in the House of Commons, which should make inquiry into the subject, and consider the best means of securing the public against the dangers and disasters to which they were exposed. On that Committee, he should further remind the noble Earl, who had expressed distrust of the House of Commons' Committees, and had suggested what were the views by which he thought persons placed on that Committee might be actuated, that there was not one person a Member of that Committee who was directly or indirectly connected with railways. That Committee would have the best opportunity of obtaining information of a scientific nature from persons who were interested in railways, as well as from others—information which might enable them to offer suggestions as to what were the best measures that could be devised to meet the necessity of the case. He (Lord Stanley of Alderley) was not prepared to say whether it might be desirable or not to give the Government greater powers in regard to railways; but whatever powers might be given to the Government, it must be remembered that the greatar part of the safety of working lines of railway must depend upon the observance of the regulations that were established, whether those regulations were established by the railway companies, or, as the noble Earl seemed to suggest, regulations recommended and declared by the Government themselves. In either case, it must be obvious to every one that security in railway communication must depend on the servants and officers of the railway companies who had to carry such regulations into effect. He should not, at the present moment, say whether it would be proper to ask additional powers for the Government, enabling it to frame regulations or approve of regulations framed by the different railway companies; for their Lordships would, he thought, agree with him that it was not the time for the Government to express an opinion when the whole subject was and would be most attentively and anxiously considered by a Committee of the House of Commons, composed, he would undertake to say, of as good and useful a body of men to inquire into such a subject as any that could be appointed on any Commission such as the noble Earl had suggested. He therefore begged the noble Earl would excuse him from expressing an opinion on the subject. But at the same time he could assure the noble Earl that the Government were giving their attention most anxiously to the subject, and would not hesitate to ask for additional powers from Parliament, if, on full investigation, and after examination of the evidence taken before the Committee of the House of Commons, it should be deemed necessary or advantageous for the public service that such powers should be given. With respect to the remarks with which the noble Earl had prefaced his observations, he should merely state that, on an intimation being received with respect to the condition of the line in question, no time was lost in sending a Government Inspector to make immediate inquiry. The first information received by the Board of Trade was with respect to the dangerous state of the road, and an accident to a luggage train. On receiving this information the Board of Trade communicated with the company, and the very same day Captain Wynne was despatched to the place. Upon the very same day, however, an accident occurred on the Bolton Railway, and Captain Wynne was obliged to go down to ascertain the cause of that accident before he had time to complete his report on the first one; but as soon as he returned he would make his report, and it would be laid upon the table. As to the numerous accidents that had recently occurred, he (Lord Stanley) was very far from finding fault with the noble Lord for taking notice of them and calling attention to the desirableness of some measures being adopted to prevent them in future; and he would only caution their Lordships that the exercise of a too direct and too immediate control by the Government might not effect the object they had all in view, but might even increase the evils which they sought to remedy.


thought the state of railway management was approaching such a crisis that the interference of the Legislature would become a matter of absolute necessity. But at the same time he must, with deference to the noble Lords who had spoken, be permitted to state that he had not heard from the noble Earl who introduced the subject, much less from the noble Lord who followed, any suggestion which tended to hold out the hope that one would travel with greater safety for the future. The subject, it must be acknowledged, was one of great difficulty. The difficulty lay in ascertaining the point where they could with safety draw the line between the independence of the companies and the interference of the Government; because, whenever the independence of a company ceased, there ceased with it, in a certain degree, the responsibility. And nothing could be more dangerous for the public than to lessen the responsibility of the companies. The difficulty on the other side was this, that if the interference of Government were admitted to any extent, the Government, having taken on itself that amount of responsibility, would be obliged to employ so large a body of men that the employment of so large a staff might suggest of itself a reason or motive for not adopting that plan. Notwithstanding these difficulties, he believed it was possible that the Legislature might do something to advance the object in view. He anticipted little good from a Commission; he anticipated still less good from the Committee of the other House now sitting; but he believed that, with the knowledge the Legislature possessed on the subject, a Bill might be framed and introduced into Parliament making it imperative on Railway Companies to adopt certain plans which had over and over again been suggested as a means of preventing, or at least of diminishing accidents. Many plans for this purpose were in operation on foreign railways—precautions neglected in this country. A Bill which exposed to penalties and to punishment a railway company which should neglect so to construct their carriages and so to manage the putting together of their trains as to avoid, as far as possible, any violent concussions, might be introduced with advantage in this country, as he believed such a measure had been adopted in some parts of Germany. It appeared from the examination that took place after accidents, that many railway carriages were imperfectly constructed—that was to say, were so constructed for the sake of economy, that that amount of strength was wanting which ought to be required and was necessary to break the concussion if a train came into collision violently at that point with another. Again, in regard to signals, crossings, the numher of guards, breaks, and carriages, general laws might be enacted which would enable the public to enforce attention to their safety and comfort, or to punish any neglect on these essential points. In the same way with respect to the hours of starting or arriving, some regulations were necessary—he did not say with respect to the rate of rapidity, for the difficulty of dealing with that was obvious; but with respect to those minor subjects there might be a Bill which would inflict a penalty, to deter the parties from the amount of negligence so often shown, and to give some promise of security. At any rate, whatever might be the plan suggested, nothing could be worse than the present. The Government Inspector invariably arrived after the event; it seemed, that in no case precaution was taken before the accident happened, and the Government Inspector merely reported to his Department what might often be much better learnt from the public sources of intelligence. What he wanted was a security that negligence would be punished, whether the negligence was followed by an accident or not. He was not sorry to hear the subject discussed; and he hoped that some suggestion might emanate from some quarter, though he did not expect that quarter would be the Committee of the other House of Parliament to prevent, if possible—at all events to mitigate—accidents such as those which had recently occurred, and against which there at present appeared to be no efficient means of providing.


said, the public were obliged to his noble Friend for having brought this subject forward. It could not be said that his noble Friend had excited unnecessary alarm in the public mind by introducing this subject, because the very first thing the traveller saw when he went to a railway station, was the danger signal hoisted in the shape of the Railway Insurance Company's placard. Having paid a great deal of attention to railway management, and having waded through the melancholy accounts of the accidents which had recently occurred, be had arrived at the conclusion that, although some of those accidents had arisen from causes which were beyond human control, yet many of them might have been avoided, or at least mitigated in their severity, if those means which were within the reach of the management of railways had been adopted. The accidents which had arisen from fractures in the iron work, scarcely fell within the responsibility of the railway authorities, for the best manufacturer of iron could not prevent the fracture of parts of the machinery; but those accidents which were the result of overweighting the engines were clearly assignable to want of caution and foresight. In the first place, a heavy train worked by one engine rarely arrived at its proper time. Accidents often arose from that circumstance. Now, the very obvious mode of preventing such accidents was to employ two engines instead of one. Again, it was a very difficult thing for an engine that was overweighted to back into the siding; and it frequently occurred that the train was so long that the siding was not capable of taking the whole of the carriages, so that a portion of them were left outside the siding, to the manifest danger of any other train that might approach the station. It was clear an evil of that description could easily be obviated, simply by not suffering the trains to be so long, or else by lengthening the sidings to admit of the trains being shunted. A plan had occurred to his mind by which he believed much of the injury resulting from railway accidents might be avoided, and the number of killed and wounded considerably diminished. His suggestion was, that the seats in the railway carriages should be placed longitudinally. He believed that the greater portion of the evil resulting from the accidents arose from the fact of persons sitting opposite each other. When persons were sitting vis-à-vis, the moment an accident occurred to the train their heads were knocked together; but, if the seats were in a longitudinal position, they would sustain no injury at all. The only result would be, that the people would be thrown shoulder to shoulder; and there would not be any danger of broken legs; for it was the sharp edge of the opposite seat which caused so many broken legs; but if persons were thrown sideways, they would not be thrown against any seats. An article had appeared in a leading journal in which the writer sneered at his noble Friend (the Earl of Malmesbury), on the supposition that his noble Friend had suggested that the passengers should be slung in the carriages as if in hammocks, like as horses were slung in their boxes. Even supposing his noble Friend had made that suggestion, he would not have been so very far wrong. They never heard of accidents occurring to horses; and why? Because there were no other horses sitting opposite to them. He was quite satisfied that if it were determined to try the change, he (the Earl of Glengall) had suggested with respect to the position of the seats in the carriages, the railway companies would readily afford an opportunity of testing the comparative advantages of the plan.


was of opinion that the greater number of railway accidents arose from two causes chiefly— namely, excessive economy on the part of the company, and excessive speed. And whence these two causes? Most unquestionably they sprung from the mistaken policy of competition which the Legislature had introduced in regard to railways. One great cause of accident was the use of engines of a degree of weight which the rails were not calculated to bear. This resulted in some degree from the competition between the two descriptions of gauge —the broad and the narrow gauge. The broad gauge boasted of its great speed, and the narrow gauge competed with the broad gauge, and in doing so employed engines of a greater weight than the rails would bear. The effect was, to unsettle the rails and produce considerable insecurity. Competition also led the trunk lines to construct lines that were really profitless, and this induced a system of economy not consistent with safety. If the railway companies were each in the possession of a certain defined district of country, as was the case with foreign railways, then Parliament could insist upon a certain system of management being adopted; but when each company was seeking to outbid the rest in the formation of branch lines running into each other's district, and, as it were, compelled to struggle for a bare existence upon the principle of trade, it was inevitable that the companies should confine their expenditure in other respects as closely as possible, and thus run the risk of accidents accruing. He was quite certain that if Parliament wished to obtain security, it must, in the first place, diminish the speed of the trains, and that could only be done by getting rid of the spirit of competition; and, in order to put an end to competition, they must assign certain districts of the country to certain railway companies. Until that principle should be adopted, it would be impossible to give security in railway travelling to the public. Railway companies were now driven to buy up competing lines which were of no value, and even to construct railways of no value, thus subjecting themselves to very heavy burdens; and in order to struggle against these unprofitable outlays, they were obliged to resort to a system of excessive speed and of an injudicious economy. He would repeat that until the principle of foreign railways was in some degree adopted, and the railways had secured to them a certain district of country, it was impossible for Parliament to exercise any efficient control over them. Government must either take upon themselves the whole responsibility of the management of railways, or they must leave it in the hands of the companies. No fine could produce any possible effect. Why, every accident that occurred was in itself a very heavy fine upon the company on whose lines the accident happened. The actual destruction of property caused them a great loss; and if, in addition to this, there was the loss of life or of limb, then the damages that were awarded became a still heavier fine. Those damages were of no slight amount, when they considered the principle laid down by the Judges by which the juries were to assess them—namely, in proportion to the wealth and station in life of the party killed or injured. If, for instance, a man worth 15,000l. a year were killed by a railway accident, his widow would have her loss estimated in reference to that amount of income. It was a fact that on one occasion, at least, an accident on a railway cost the company as much as 30,000l. In conclusion, he must say that he anticipated no good from transferring the management of railways from the companies to the Government. It would be only shifting the responsibility from the shoulders of those who could carry out a good system of management—namely, the companies—to those of the Government, who could not.


said, their Lordships ought to bear in mind, when speaking of the great number of railway accidents that had recently occurred, that the weather had been worse for several months past than was ever previously known in this country. Was it not to be expected, that under such circumstances, excessive injury would be done to the railroads, in like manner as they knew had been done to other descriptions of roads? That might in some degree account for the accidents which had recently occurred. It struck him, also, that another cause, of a more serious nature, might be assigned, which he was afraid no interference of the Board of Trade could prevent—he meant the deterioration which, from use, the railways themselves had undergone. The wear and tear of those roads was immense, and the companies had not funds enough to put them into that state of repair which they required. No doubt the principle of competition, which was so universally acted upon, compelled the companies to reduce their fares to the lowest possible amount, and deprived them of the funds necessary to carry those repairs into effect. With regard to the question more immediately under their Lordships' notice, he confessed he could not see his way clearly through the difficulty. The safety of the public was, of course, the first consideration of Parliament; but it did seem to be almost impossible to devise any mode for curing the evils which were admitted to exist. He trusted that something might emanate from the Committee of the other House that might induce Parliament to legislate efficiently upon the subject.


said, the question was whether an admitted grievance should be allowed to continue year after year, because they were incapable of devising a system which should be liable to no objections? If he were called upon to say whether he would have the responsibility of railway companies or the responsibility of the Government under an Act of the Legislature, of the two he certainly should prefer the responsibility of the railway companies. But that was not the question. His noble Friend did not propose to free the railway companies from all responsibility. On the contrary, what he sought was something like cumulating the responsibility which the railway companies already bore. But he (Lord Monteagle) rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to the number of accidents attributable to the utter neglect of punctuality on the part of the companies. Even in starting from the metropolis, where there was less excuse for it, how often did we go to a station at the hour appointed and find the train not started for half an hour or three-quarters after its time. There was nothing to be done in the way of remedy for this unless there happened to be an accident. An intelligent man, who had turned his attention to the subject as a matter of science, had stated that, as a general system, there was no reason why railway movements should not be regulated with as much accuracy as the movements of a clock. If a time-table were returnable to a Government department, and you were enabled to check any departure from punctuality, you would do more to prevent accidents than by more operose and ingenious systems recommended by some.


was glad that the Government meant to turn their attention to the subject, which he had felt it right to bring before the House. He did not undervalue the difficulty of an interference with regard to the state of the road; but it was proved that accidents had occurred from the state of the road, and from going over it too fast in its imperfect condition. As for the plea of a bad winter, in regard to those cases to which it would apply, it was obvious that if the roads suffered, and were in a bad condition, the speed ought for a while to be dimin- ished, and the time-table altered. He wished to ask whether the Committee looked upon it as one of its duties to receive and examine inventions and mechanical proposals which might be presented for their inspection by persons so inclined? He thought that of great importance.


apprehended that it was within the province of the Committee to receive any suggestions of improvement, and he had no doubt they would do so. Captain Simmons, of the Board of Trade, was about to be examined, and make such suggestions as he had to make.


was not sure whether the noble Lord's answer applied to inventions such as improved breaks, &c. for affording greater security against accidents.


thought it would be quite competent to the Committee to receive such evidence.


hoped the Committee would not finish its labours without making diligent inquiry into the proceedings that had taken place in the criminal courts in Scotland in connexion with this subject. He had reason to believe that the course there taken—in his opinion with most strict regard to the law, and most wholesome attention to the prevention of these dreadful accidents—had been attended already with the happiest results. He would rather decline going into particulars, because it was unadvisable to enter into comments upon the conduct of the learned Judges, even for the purpose of lauding it.