HL Deb 14 March 1878 vol 238 cc1276-86

in calling attention to the recent Correspondence between the Board of Trade and the Railway Companies on the subject of Continuous Brakes, said, that when the Report of the Commission on Railway Accidents was laid before Parliament at the commencement of the last Session, it was felt that a little time should be allowed to consider the recommendations of the Commissioners, both on the part of Her Majesty's Government and also of the Railway Companies. It would seem that sufficient time had now elapsed, and, although no great amount of action had been taken, the time had not been wholly unemployed—at least, with reference to one matter to which the Commission directed special attention. He meant that of continuous brakes. It would be only trespassing upon their Lordships' time to no purpose if he were to go back to questions of the past in connection with this subject—he proposed to take it up where it was now; and he believed he might say, in the presence of some noble Lords who were Directors of Railways, that it was almost universally admitted that continuous brakes of some kind, at least on passenger trains, were necessary for the public safety. The speed of trains, the weight of trains, and other circumstances, had tended to render hand brakes insufficient, and a continuous brake which could be applied simultaneously to all parts of a train was found to be indispensable. Accordingly, on the 30th of August last, a Circular was addressed by the Board of Trade to the Railway Companies, calling their attention to the subject of continuous brakes, and referring to former Correspondence, which was described as being far from satisfactory. It was there stated— The Board of Trade, therefore, regret to observe from the Returns forwarded in the Correspondence above alluded to, not only that there is no immediate prospect of the adoption of any such general system even by companies owning continuous lines, but that many of the companies are not taking, and apparently refuse to take, any steps towards that end. Referring to the merits of the different brakes now in use or under experiment as stated in the answers to the questions put by the Board of Trade, it is to be remarked that the statements of the different companies vary considerably, and are scarcely consistent with each other. Thus, the London and North-Western Company express themselves satisfied with a mechanical continuous brake, which is reserved for cases of emergency, and which can only be applied throughout the train by the engine-drivers or guards through the intervention of a communication cord. No other company appears to have even tried this brake. On the other hand, many companies speak in the highest terms of air or vacuum brakes, which are rejected in toto by the London and North-Western Company. The Great Northern Company have adopted a vacuum brake which is highly thought of…The Midland, North-Eastorn, North British, and some other companies, are stated to have tried or adopted brakes which are self-acting…It would be easy, but is scarcely necessary, to dwell at greater length on the different and even discordant views disclosed in the answers of the different companies. The Board of Trade further observed that they cannot regard the state of things shown by these papers as satisfactory, inasmuch as it indicates a diversity of opinion and action, and, in some cases, an absence of progress which, if allowed to continue, will be most injurious to the characters of the companies and to the interests of the public. There has, apparently, been no attempt on the part of the various companies to take the first step of agreeing upon what are the requirements which, in their opinion, are essential to a good continuous brake. Such were the views of the Board of Trade in August of last year. Let their Lordships now see what had been done since. In answer to this Circular, there were replies from many of the principal Companies, stating that they had made and were making experiments with different brakes, and on some lines these were being used to a considerable extent; but it appeared that not more than 5 per cent of the trains now running were fitted with continuous brakes of any kind. He might mention the Great Northern. That Company had 87 engines fitted with the vacuum brake and 476 carriages, two engines and 15 carriages fitted with the Westinghouse brake, and 15 carriages fitted with Clark's chain brake. Now, it was evident that that Company was alive to the importance of brakes, but was still making experiments, and had not arrived at the best kind of brake. Then, if they turned to the Brighton and South-Coast Railway, they would find it had determined to adopt one form of brake—the Westinghouse automatic brake, and it appeared from the letter of the General Manager that 50 engines and 500 vehicles were to be fitted with that brake; thus setting an example of decision and consistency of action which it was to be hoped might be followed by other Companies. Then, if they turned to the Report of the London and North-Western Railway, they found a totally different kind of brake, which seemed to meet with the most approval. The London and South-Western Railway reported that the Directors were of opinion that further experience and inquiry were necessary before they adopted any kind of brake. Now, what was the conclusion at which they must arrive from reports such as these—which, in fact, ran through the whole of the Correspondence. It must be that the Railway Companies were unable among themselves to decide upon and adopt any uniform system of brake power, and, consequently, any uniformity of practice which was essential. It was obvious that it was of the greatest consequence to obtain uniformity, as, in the case of trains running over different lines, if the brakes were of various construction, it would be a serious inconvenience and hindrance in the way of the through traffic. But, further, it appeared that only a few, comparatively, of the Railways of the United Kingdom had sent any reply at all to the Circular of the Board of Trade. The number of Railway Companies was, he believed, more than 100, but only 21 appeared to have sent replies. This was certainly far from satisfactory—and was there a prospect of any improvement in the position of affairs? Her Majesty's Government might be able to inform their Lordships upon this as well as other points. And now, having endeavoured to call their Lordships' attention to the opinion of the Board of Trade, he would further refer to a remark in the Circular of the Board which showed the great importance of the matter which was under discussion. The Board of Trade observed that they were led to conclude, from a careful examination of reports of accidents for the past few years— That three-fourths of those accidents might probably have been avoided, or the results ma- terially mitigated, if the passenger trains concerned had been provided with continuous brakes. He need hardly call their Lordships' attention to the importance of this conclusion; and although Her Majesty's Government had not pressed upon Railway Companies other recommendations of the Commission, yet they had brought under notice and urged the adoption of one which was among the most important. He should himself gladly see Railway Companies united in their views, and carrying out improvements such as brake-power in the manner which, after due consideration, they might deem to be best. And he desired to bear testimony to the ability and unceasing endeavours of Railway Managers, not only to promote the interests of their employers, but also the safety and convenience of the public; but if there were difficulties in the way of unity of action between the Companies in carrying out what, in the opinion of those who were most competent to judge, was essential to the public safety, he could see no alternative but the use of that authority which the Board of Trade had ever exercised with great discretion, or to have recourse to some further Parliamentary measure to direct and regulate what was necessary for the safety of the public in railway travelling.


said, the noble Earl had, he thought, done a public service in bringing forward this subject. There was something every day in the newspapers to show the great advantages of a brake by which a train could be pulled up within a short distance. He was glad to see that some of the great Railways were adopting—though, perhaps, not as quickly as they might—some form or other of continuous brake-power. Of course, the great question was whether a uniform brake-system should be made obligatory on the Railways or that the Companies should be left to adopt such systems as they themselves might think best. Now, the Committee which sat a year or so ago on Railway Accidents, after going into the brake question, came to the determination not to. recommend any particular form of brake, but to leave that to the Companies themselves. It was rather late in the day, he thought, to enforce a uniform system. We had already acted on the opposite system of allowing each Railway to choose for itself, and various Companies had gone to considerable expense in order to ascertain what was the best plan. He thought it was a wise course to leave that matter in the hands of the Railway Companies, and to leave the responsibility to them, and he thought that no sufficient cause had been shown for departing from that principle. No doubt in the case of through traffic a difficulty arose from the use of different systems of brakes on different lines over which that traffic passed; but he did not think the difficulty was so great as to induce Parliament to legislate on the subject.


said, there could be no doubt as to the importance of the subject to which his noble Friend (Earl De La Warr) had called attention, and if a discussion of the question did nothing else, it would do much good in placing the state of the case clearly before their Lordships, and the public outside. In speaking for the Board of Trade, he would not detain their Lordships longer than was absolutely necessary; but it was important that the exact position of the question should be fully understood. For many years past the Inspecting Officers of the Board of Trade had constantly called attention in their Reports to the necessity for more brake-power in passenger trains; but the Companies did not, up to a certain time, show much desire to adopt any of the improved methods; and accordingly, in January, 1877, the Board of Trade addressed a Letter to the Railway Companies' Association, urging upon them the necessity of taking the matter into their serious consideration, and to come to some arrangement. The Board also pointed out that the time had arrived for decisive and harmonious action on the part of all the Companies. As, however, it did not appear to the Board of Trade that the Companies' Association were making much progress towards a settlement of the question, the Board addressed a Circular to all the Companies last August, pressing them strongly to adopt some brake, and recommending upon all lines, where there was an interchange of traffic, that the same brake should be adopted. He was very glad to hear his noble Friend and his noble Friend opposite (Earl Cowper) lay some stress on the adop- tion of a uniform brake. The Board of Trade laid down conditions which they considered essential with respect to any brake which might be adopted; the principal conditions being that the brakes should be continuous and self-acting, and that they should be used in daily working. The Board of Trade received at first but few replies to this Circular, but none of them showed that the Companies were doing much in the matter. Quite recently, however, some further replies, which had been laid before the House, were received. From these it appeared that the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company, and the North-Eastern Railway Company had adopted a brake which complied with the conditions laid down by the Board of Trade; that the Great Northern and some other Railways had found a brake very satisfactory, which was continuous, but not self-acting—but that it was proposed by those Companies to make the brakes in use self-acting; that on the South-Eastern, North London, Metropolitan, and District Railways, the continuous brakes in use were so efficient that they were being extended to all their trains. The Great Western Railway Company was experimenting and had fitted their trains with a brake which was stated to be satisfactory, and which would meet the requirements of the Board of Trade. The London and North-Western, on the other hand, stated that they had fitted a large part of their stock with a brake which was neither continuous nor self-acting, nor used in daily working. In fact, the servants of the London and North-Western were expressly forbidden by the regulations of the Company from using the brake with which their carriages and engines were fitted in daily working, and were directed to use it only in cases of emergency. It did not require any particular or special knowledge of Railway working to know that any system of brake, however good, if it were not used in ordinary every day working, would not be so useful as a brake which was used on every occasion when a train was stopped. Although by the regulations of the North-Western Company the servants in charge of a train were directed to test the brake at the first station where the train stopped; yet in practical working, as was shown by the reports of the Inspecting Offi- cers concerning accidents which had occurred during the last autumn and winter, this was not always done, and the result was that those in charge of the train had no confidence that, when an emergency arose, the brake would prove efficient. Nothing would better illustrate what he had said, and the importance of continuous brakes than the report of General Hutchinson on the accident which occurred in August last between Moore and Warrington. There were, no doubt, difficulties—great difficulties—in obtaining unanimity of feeling in regard to so important a matter as the adoption of a particular brake among those who were practically connected with Railway working. Not only had the various Railway Companies a natural dislike to give up any system of brake to which they were accustomed, but there were many considerations to be weighed and difficulties to be overcome before any general agreement could be arrived at for the adoption of any one system of brake by those large Companies, especially, who interchanged vehicles in conducting the traffic to the North. It must, however, not be forgotten that very considerable progress had been made since the Board of Trade addressed the Companies on this matter in January, 1877—he would not trouble their Lordships with details, which were to be found in the Correspondence—and although that progress had not been so quick as could be desired, yet it was sufficient to warrant a just hope that in the course of two or three years the Companies would have settled this important matter for themselves. Although by the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Railway Accidents, it was suggested that Parliament should require all Railway Companies to provide every passenger train with a brake that would under all circumstances stop a train in 500 yards; yet when the matter came to be looked into with a view to putting that recommendation into force, so many practical difficulties arose that it would not be expedient to endeavour to obtain the sanction of Parliament to an enactment for that purpose. It would not, for instance, be convenient for the Board of Trade, or any other authority, to be responsible for such a law being complied with as to all passenger trains, running under different conditions throughout the country. On the other hand, it was merely a question of time when continuous brakes would be fitted to all passenger trains—as it was generally admitted ought to be the case. Experience had shown, in regard to all matters connected with Railway working that, although the Companies were slow in arriving at any decision as to a change which would involve any considerable expenditure of money, and, in the particular case of brakes, a great change in the working arrangements; yet that when public opinion was clearly expressed and the shortcomings of the Railway Companies were laid bare by Inspectors' Reports, and the moral influence of Parliament was brought to bear on the matter by frequent discussions, eventually the best arrangements were adopted. There was always one great danger in laying down a hard-and-fast rule as to any particular invention. If it were once to become law that a particular brake should be used within a given time on all the Railways, it would, of course, check any desire on the part of the Companies to adopt such improvements as experience and ingenuity might suggest. Under these circumstances, bearing in mind the great difficulties which surrounded this question, the Board of Trade were not prepared to introduce any measure for the compulsory adoption by the Companies of any particular brake, or of any brake having a fixed amount of power. It might be desirable to require Railway Companies to make a Return every six months to the Board of Trade, which should be presented to Parliament, showing what was being done as to brakes, stating what kind of brake was in use, and whether it complied with the requirements of the Board of Trade; also, what was the number of engines and carriages fitted with it, and what were the eases, if any, in which it had failed in its action, when required. Further, the regulations to be specified under which it was worked. It might be desirable, too, if found to be necessary, following the precedent of the Regulation of Railways Act, 1873, to pass a short Act requiring Returns to be made.


said, there could be no dispute about the general proposition; but the difficulty arose when the Companies were called upon to adopt some specific mode of carrying out what was generally admitted as necessary in the application of brakes to Railways. He was very far from saying that things as they now stood were satisfactory; still they were more hopeful than they were when the Board of Trade issued its Circular in August last, and that result might fairly be attributed to the action of the Board of Trade and the force of Parliamentary and public opinion having been thus brought to bear upon the Companies. Was the condition of things, however, such as to call for the compulsory interference of Parliament? That was the question now, and it was one which it was very difficult to answer. It seemed as though something like indifference in the matter had been exhibited by some of the Companies—it certainly was not satisfactory to find that the London and North-Western, which was, perhaps, the most important Railway Company in the country, seemed content with a system of brake which the Board of Trade and the greatest authorities in the country had condemned as a thoroughly inefficient system. What might have been a very serious accident occurred on that Company's line in August last, and on that occasion, though the alarm had been given fully a mile before the train reached a place at which some of the rails were up, the train was not pulled up short of that place. The Board of Trade drew the attention of the Company to that fact; but, in reply, the Secretary, on the part of the Company, expressed a sanguine hope that the same system of brake would be made efficient. He was glad to see that the London and North-Western Railway Company were considering the sufficiency of their brakes; and he could not help thinking that all the Railway Companies should have their eyes opened to the necessity of adopting the continuous brake running all through the train, and that it should be under the charge of the engine-driver. So much for theReturns which had been presented to the House—and undoubtedly there were some good signs in them. The North-Eastern Company had decided on the immediate adoption of the Westing-house brake, and other Companies were adopting that or some other system of self-acting brakes. He was not prepared to say that the existing circumstances showed a necessity for compulsory legislation. He knew too well the very great difficulties which arose through imposing upon a Department the working of legislation of this kind, and he had had to consider the consequences which would follow from it. He would not say that those difficulties were insuperable; but he thought that under certain circumstances Parliament might be compelled to legislate upon this subject. He understood the noble Lord who represented the Board of Trade in that House (Lord Henniker) to say that the Government did not intend to recommend any legislation this Session, and he (Lord Carlingford) was not prepared to say that that decision was not right; but, at the same time, Bail-way Companies should understand that both Parliament and the public would not permit the old system to go on without this new and important aid to safety being effectually supplied. More time could not be needed for experiments, and it might be expected that Railway Companies would make up their minds to carry into effect those means of safety which were universally recognized. When the noble Lord talked of compulsion, he (Lord Carlingford) understood that he meant that direct compulsion which existed in enabling and requiring the Board of Trade to lay down rules which should impose upon Railway Companies the necessity of furnishing trains with these means of stopping them. But there were other means which might be brought to bear upon Railway Companies which were not of so direct a kind. It might, for instance, be highly proper and expedient where an accident could be traced to a want of sufficient brake-power being used, and proof of that could be connected with the accident, to provide by Statute that in such cases there was criminal negligence within the meaning of the law. He was not without hope that these debates in Parliament and the action of the Board of Trade would go very far in bringing about a better state of things. There were other questions of safety in connection with Railways which had been dealt with without compulsory legislation. When the Bill which the noble Earl (Earl De La Warr) brought in on the subject of the block system and interlocking was referred to a Select Committee, that Committee recommended that the Railway Companies should be bound to make regular Returns of progress made in those improvements. A Bill was passed to give effect to that recommendation, and very good results had followed. Something of the kind might perhaps be done in the case of brakes; but, at all events, while not prepared at the present moment to support direct compulsory legislation, he did think the time had arrived when Railway Companies should understand that the Board of Trade was supported by Parliament and the country in requiring that all trains should be provided with an efficient system of brake power.


must say that the answer of the noble Lord who represented the Board of Trade in their Lordships' House (Lord Henniker) was somewhat unsatisfactory. The Railway Companies had for years been urged to adopted a better system of brakes; they had taken a long time to make experiments; and they had promised that the best system should be adopted. Yet they went on year after year using brakes of a very inefficient character, or refusing to use them at all, and even neglected to make Returns on the subject when asked by the Board of Trade. It was known that eight out of every 10 accidents could be prevented by using a good system of brakes; and if the Companies would not use them, he hoped that juries would give verdicts with heavy damages, and so teach them that where a good system was not in use the Companies were guilty of negligence. Some such action would probably tend to accelerate the very slow progress which the Railways were making in the matter of brakes. In some respects the Railways went fast enough; but, so far as continuous brakes were concerned, they had been most unfortunately dilatory.

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