HL Deb 27 June 1878 vol 241 cc310-20

THE DUKE OF ST. ALBANS rose to call attention to the Report of Colonel Yolland upon the fatal accident to Sir Francis Goldsmid, and to ask, If it is the case that the Board of Trade has no control over the rolling stock of existing railways; and, if so, whether, with respect to any new railways or extensions of existing railways, Her Majesty's Government will take means to acquire such powers of control? It appeared to him, from the Report of Colonel Yolland, that the death of that universally respected Gentleman, the late Sir Francis Goldsmid, must be attributed to the absence of continuous foot boards to the railway carriages from which he wished to descend. His fall would not have been prevented, but his life might have been saved. It seemed from the Report of Colonel Yolland that the openings of the doors of the carriage were 2 feet wide, and the step 13 inches below and 8 inches wide. This matter, he considered, was a very important one, and the time had now come when continuous footboards should be insisted upon. By that simple remedy he had no doubt but that a most fatal cause of accidents would be stopped. Now, the Report of the Royal Commission was very clear upon the advantages of continuous footboards, while the cost of adopting them generally could not be very great. He would, therefore, ask the noble Lord who represented the Board of Trade (Lord Henniker), why they had not been insisted upon, and how long this source of danger was to continue? He trusted that juries would mark their opinion on this matter by heavy damages against the Railway Companies whenever accidents of this class were brought before them. The approval of the Board of Trade was necessary in the matter of signals, curves, bridges, and the permanent way generally; but he was informed that the Government had no statutory power over the rolling stock of the Railway Companies; and he should like to know whether that was the case or not, for he did not see why the Government should not have that power. He did not advocate the employment of a Government official to examine every engine and railway carriage which left Waterloo Station; but he did not see why the Board of Trade should not exercise a roving supervision in that important respect, which involved the safety of railway passengers. He did not see why a Railway Company should be relieved from responsibility and liabilities by the Board of Trade control in that respect more than in the case of the permanent way. In the case of a steam-packet boat, the owner was not exempt from liabilities, because he was required to have a Board of Trade certificate to carry passengers, and he was not relieved of the responsibility of the safety of the persons he carried. The authority of the Board of Trade, it appeared to him, was rather a peculiar one. When a line was opened they had no power over it until an accident occurred. When the horse had bolted they might inquire who left the door open. He believed that the rolling stock on railways, however, was exempt from any Government control, and that the Railway Companies might carry their passengers in any kind or description of carriage; and he asked why that branch of the Company's undertaking should not be subject to the general sanction of the Board of Trade as well as the line itself. As a rule, the railways were anxious to secure the convenience and safety of the public, especially when they were in competition with other Companies; but he thought it would be more satisfactory if breaks, footboards, and the like were not left to the caprice of railway directors. It would be well, in any future legislation, to extend the powers of the Board of Trade so as to enable them to remove the fruitful sources of many accidents, in respect to which they had at present no power. He wished, therefore, to ask, Whether it was the case that the Board of Trade had no control over the rolling stock of existing railways; and, if so, whether, with respect to any new railways or extensions of existing railways, Her Majesty's Government would take means to acquire such powers of control? He would point out that the approval of the Board was requisite for the condition of the permanent way, and he saw no reason why it should not exercise the same power of control over the rolling stock.


said, that before the noble Lord who represented the Board of Trade replied to the noble Duke he wished to make a few remarks. He did not propose to go into the whole question of railway accidents. That was a very wide subject, and it was a subject of great gravity and importance; but he wished to confine himself to the question brought before their Lordships by the noble Duke. The question might appear to be a very small matter, but the number of accidents arising therefrom was very considerable. It was the more serious because these accidents were entirely preventable, as it was possible to remove their cause. There was one other consideration which ought not to be lost sight of, and that was the question of who were most liable to be the victims of these accidents. The class of persons who lost their lives owing to the way in which the footboards and platforms were at present constructed were not the young, or those who were in the full possession of all their faculties; but the aged and the infirm persons whose eyesight was defective, women with children in their arms, and servants who had packages to carry. It was sometimes said that there was no necessity to pity the people who met with accidents, because it was owing to their own carelessness; but he thought that was not so. The danger arose from the platforms being placed 7 or 8 inches from the carriages. He took the liberty, four years ago, to put a question to the noble Duke opposite on this subject. At that time several accidents had recently occurred, and the Press had taken the matter up. The noble Duke, upon that occasion, told him that the particular case to which he referred would be inquired into, but with regard to the prevention of such accidents the Board of Trade had no power to interfere; the noble Duke, however, added that the question was fully deserving the consideration of the Royal Commission then sitting. It was considered by the Royal Commission, and they reported in very strong terms in the matter, and that only after they had gone largely into the question. They said— But a third alternative, already resorted to by several railways, would, if generally adopted, do a great deal to lessen the evil, and that is the provision of continuous footboards of sufficient width. Objections of different kinds are urged against the use of such footboards; but we confidently believe that the Companies will come to acknowledge, universally, that they are desirable. We, therefore, recommend that the Board of Trade be empowered to enforce their adoption, wherever the circumstances of the traffic are such as to render them necessary for the safety of the passengers. (2.) The subject of platforms has also claimed our attention. We are of opinion that the attainment of uniformity in this respect would be desirable and ought to be kept in view in the construction of new railways and in altering existing stations. The Railway Commissioners also reported that— In dealing with accidents to passengers from collateral causes, our attention has been specially called to cases of persons falling between carriages and platforms, and we recommend that the Board of Trade be authorized to enforce the adoption of continuous footboards as the only practicable measure of prevention we can suggest. The inequality in the height of the platforms upon different lines is objection able, and the attainment of uniformity in this respect is very desirable. One of the Commissioners—Mr. Galt—made a special Report, in which he said— On no subject connected with railways has Captain Tyler expressed so strong an opinion as on the present construction of footboards. From his first Report, in 1870, till his last, for 1875, and in his evidence before us he has denounced, in the strongest possible terms, the present construction of footboards as 'a constant source of danger for which no good excuse could be offered;' and the iron steps, at present generally in use, as 'admirably adapted to cut people in pieces between the train and the platform.' Mr. Galt also said— This Commission has recommended that the Board of Trade should be empowered to enforce the construction of continuous footboards in all cases where they may consider them necessary, and by this means alone, if the recommendation be adopted, there can be no doubt that a great saving of life will in future be effected. That was two years ago, but nothing had been done to give effect to the Report of that Commission. He was next obliged to trouble their Lordships with Colonel Yolland's Report. He said that— The public have a right to expect that every Railway Company will cause all its rolling stock, so far as passenger carriages are concerned, to be so constructed or altered, and the height of the platforms to be properly adapted to the passenger carriages, as will afford reasonable grounds for safe travelling in their own lines of railway. Continuous footboards to passenger carriages are also required as a means of properly providing for the safety of passengers getting into and out of carriages on the platforms of all railway stations throughout the Kingdom. That seemed a reasonable request that the platforms should be raised and continuous footboards provided; and he believed that the interference of the Board of Trade, if they had the power, would soon induce the Railway Companies to deal with this matter. They certainly were met with the argument that it would be an expensive operation to alter the carriages and platforms; but he believed the expense would be comparatively trifling. Their Lordships had Bills every day before them promoted by Railway Companies to enable them to raise new capital, to enlarge or make new stations, and for other purposes. There seemed to be plenty of money, and railways seemed to be doing remark ably well, so that they could not complain of the expense in a case of such real necessity as this. The Railway Commissioners on this point said— We have carefully considered in what way pressure can be brought to bear on Railway Companies which make default in these respects, without impairing their responsibility, and we believe that this may be effected by legislation enforcing upon them the adoption of certain recognized improvements and the construction of necessary works, while leaving to the Railway Companies themselves the settlement of all matters of detail and of administration. Replying to the objection against the interference of Government, he would only point out that Parliament interfered in almost every other question in which the safety and health of the public were concerned. To support that statement, he had only to call attention to the laws connected with the Mercantile Marine, with mining, and the use of machinery, and to the laws dealing with questions of sanitation; so that they were not to be met with the argument that Parliament had no right to interfere with public Companies. There was another, and still more startling argument which he could not refrain from alluding to, and that was that the Railway Companies were so strong in both Houses of Parliament, that it was useless to attempt to touch railways. He hoped that was not the case. He knew there were railway directors and shareholders in both Houses of Parliament; but he did not believe that they would be able, or would endeavour, to throw out any real and well-considered Bill for railway reform. But if Parliament would not deal with the matter, let the Government give power to the Board of Trade to interfere. He himself would be glad to see that done, for he had very great faith in the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade, between whom and the Railway Companies there existed an understanding; had done very good service in many cases, but, in the instance under discussion, it had not been able to advance matters without the assistance of Parliament. He, for one, should be glad to support a Bill to give the necessary powers to the Board of Trade. With regard to the accident to Sir Francis Goldsmid, it was perfectly unnecessary to inquire whether that gentleman got out of the door before the train stopped. That was beside the question; the point being whether the door could in any case have been opened without danger. Colonel Yolland gave the following facts as to the position of the steps:— Outside of each door there is a wooden step 1 foot 7½ inches long, by 8 inches wide—13 inches below the floor of the carriage—7½ to 7¾ inches above the level of the platform. So that the floor of the carriage is above 4 feet 2½ inches above the level of the rail, and 2¾ inches above the level of the platform where this accident was reported to have occurred. From the top of the door step, vertical distance of 11 inches to the upper suface of the continuous footboard below, and thus the continuous footboard was 3½ inches below the level of the platform. There were 2–3½ inches between the continuous footboards. The outer edge of the wooden doorstep is, horizontally, 7½ from the edge of the wall of the platform and the outward edges of the continuous footboard below the wooden door step 7½ 8¼, and 8½ inches from the upright wall of the platform, and thus there was sufficient space for a man's foot or leg to pass down between the outer edge of the continuous footboard and the upright wall of the platform. Colonel Yolland went on to say that the Railway Companies had had these matters pointed out to them over and over again. A suggestion had been made that the edge of the continuous footboard, which ought to take the place of the wooden step, should overlap the platform. Something might be done in that direction, and he would conclude by saying that he hoped the Board of Trade, in whom he had the greatest confidence, would be able to insist upon some measures being taken to protect the lives of railway travellers.


said, the Government had no control over the private property of any Company, and if the Board of Trade had, with regard to Railway Companies, the suggested task of saying what machinery they should use, it would be a most mischievous thing. The Government would practically enter into partnership with private enterprize, the Government incurring all the responsibility, and the Companies retaining the management without responsibility, and that of the entire traffic of the country involving the daily safety of life and property. The Board of Trade could not be the best judges of constructions which, under private undertaking, were matters of constant improvement and invention. They would make mistakes and lose all authority; and, when right, could not see to the execution, or constant maintenance of their prescriptions. What the Government could do and ought to do in questions of this sort, was to enforce recognized requirements. The Government should also give publicity to any neglect to carry these out on the part of Railway Companies. There should be always friendly conference between the Government and the Companies, such as he had himself satisfactorily established. The case of the lamented death of Sir Francis Goldsmid, however, illustrated the impossibility of any Department having the power to prescribe particular construction to the Companies. This Railway had carried out some recommendations of the Board of Trade as to height of platform, but not others as to space between platforms and steps, which required a difficult and general arrangement. Continuous footboards were by no means a settled question, and it would be no use ordering what could not be done, or what may soon be better arrived at.


said, these accidents sometimes arose from individual carelessness, and at others from defective arrangements on the part of the Railway Companies, and the question was, whether to any further extent than now existed, the Board of Trade should interfere with what he might term the conduct of these commercial undertakings; or whether they ought not to abstain from any direct interference with the detailed arrangements of the Companies? No doubt, it was necessary to issue certain general requirements; but these had always been drawn up with a view to leave, as far as possible, the matter in the hands of the Companies, so that their opinion and experience might be used in the way they considered would be best for the public interests. If the Government interfered too much, they would check those improvements which the Companies might otherwise introduce, and above all, they would take away from them that responsibility which ought properly to attach to them, and without which the public would have no redress.


said, their Lordships would be aware that, more than a week ago, he had laid on the Table the Report of Colonel Yolland on the fatal accident, which they must all deplore, that had happened to Sir Francis Goldsmid; and, on Tuesday last, he laid before the House the Correspondence which had passed on the subject between the Board of Trade and the London and South Western Railway Company. Their Lordships would have had an opportunity of reading the Report of Colonel Yolland, which was very able and complete, and, therefore, it was unnecessary for him to refer to it at length; but the Correspondence with the South Western Railway Company was not at present in their Lordships' hands, and, therefore, in order to put the case clearly before them, he might, perhaps, be allowed to read the following letter:— London and South Western Railway, Secretary's Office, Waterloo Bridge Station, June 14. Sir,—Your letter of the 4th instant (R 4592), with Colonel Yolland's Report on the recent fatal accident to Sir Francis Goldsmid, have been laid before the directors, and in reply to the request that the Board of Trade may be informed as to what steps have been, or are proposed to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such accidents in future, I am instructed to state that it appears, by the Report of Colonel Yolland, that this Company had, previous to the accident, in respect of the platform at which it occurred, 'practically complied with the recommendation of the officers of the Board of Trade, both as to the height of the platform and the distance at which the line should be laid from the edge of the platform.' But it is remarked that this Company have not adopted the further recommendation of such officers as to the substitution of continuous footboards for the carriage door steps; and, with reference to this matter, I am directed to point out that the adoption upon all carriages of a continuous footboard is not desirable, or, indeed, practicable, while the heights of platforms at stations differ to the extent these now do in many instances, as it is not possible to step from a continuous footboard to a lower carriage step, consequently, one step must be made from the footboard to the platform level, which, with low platforms, such as exist at many railway stations, cannot be effected by passengers either with safety or convenience. It is well known that upon the older lines of railways the platforms were originally constructed of a less height than is now the general practice, and the directors for a considerable time past have acted upon the principle of adopting a uniform height of 2 feet 6 inches for the platforms at all new stations, and when opportunity occurs in the alteration of existing station platforms. And, with respect to the carriage steps, their principle now is to adopt a wooden step at each carriage doorway upwards of 2 feet in length, and about 10 inches in width. While the directors deplore this fatal accident, they are unable from the evidence given at the coroner's inquest, and before Colonel Yolland, to understand the grounds upon which he expresses an opinion that 'there is not the least reason for doubting the complete accuracy of Sir Francis Goldsmid's statement, that the accident was occasioned by the door of his compartment having been opened by some of the officials at the station,' and they, after having used the utmost diligence to produce every witness of the accident, some of these not being railway servants, venture to think that Colonel Yolland'a assumption is not supported by the evidence. The directors have, however, ordered that the regulation of the Company, 'that no carriage door must be opened to allow a passenger to alight from or enter a train before it has come to a stand, or after it has started,' be prominently brought under the notice of all their servants. I am, &c., FREDERICK CLARKE, Secretary. The Assistant Secretary, Railway Department' Board of Trade. As to Colonel Yolland's Report, he might say, on the part of the Board of Trade, that they entirely agreed in the conclusions at which he had arrived, and were quite aware of the dangers to which passengers travelling by railway were exposed from the want of properly constructed continuous footboards. The attention of the Companies had been called to this matter for many years past. It would also, no doubt, be a very good thing if the platforms at all the stations were made of the same height; and the upper footboard, if more than one were used, a few inches higher than the platform, so that the footboard could be brought nearly close to the edge of the platform, without any danger of its coming into contact with it. But there were a great many cases where the heightening of the platform would entail such a large expense, and inconvenience, that it was not likely the Companies would be able to carry out all this work at once. No doubt, this was a change which must be gradually carried into effect. There did not, however, appear to be the slightest reason why the present narrow iron steps should not be removed, and continuous footboards substituted for them, with the addition of a second continuous footboard at a distance of from 2 inches to 4 inches from the edge of the platform to carriages running on the lines where the platforms were lower than the height recommended by the Board of Trade. With regard to the Question of the noble Duke, about rolling stock, the facts of the case were these. The Regulation of Railways Act gave a power to the Board of Trade, at any time, should they think it necessary, to inspect the rolling stock and premises of any Railway Company. Were the rolling stock of the Railway Companies placed under the control and inspection of the Board of Trade, it would entirely relieve the Companies of the responsi bility they ought to bear, as had been already stated by his noble Friend beside him (Lord Norton), and it would throw the whole of it upon the Government. That would be a most undesirable thing to do. The point raised by the noble Duke involved very large principles, and if it were decided to interfere in the direction suggested by him, the whole question of State control over railways would have to be re-considered. This question had been considered not only by Committees of both Houses of Parliament, but more recently by the Commission on Railway Accidents. All these different authorities had looked carefully into the matter, and they were unanimously of opinion that, on the whole, the safety and convenience of the public were better cared for by the system at present in force—allowing the Railway Companies to conduct their own affairs, rather than placing them, more immediately under the control of the Government. Under these circumstances, it was not the intention of the Government to take steps to acquire any further power of control over the arrangements made by the Railway Companies, or to interfere with the manner in which they worked their traffic.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.