HL Deb 06 March 1879 vol 244 cc266-73

rose to call attention to the present position of the subject of the use of continuous brakes upon Railways, and to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether they propose to introduce any Bill to deal with the matter during the present Session? He would remind their Lordships that the Royal Commission on Railway Accidents, which reported about this time two years ago, paid particular attention to the matter of "continuous brakes;" and that a series of trials, at their request, was made in the year 1875, near Newark, to which the principal English Railway Companies sent trains, and at which experiments were made with different kinds of continuous brakes. The result of these inquiries was that the Commissioners in their Report recommended that Railway Companies should be required by law, under adequate penalties, to supply all trains with sufficient brake power to stop them within 500 yards under all circumstances. In making that recommendation, the Commissioners refrained advisedly from mentioning any particular kind of brake; but they suggested what at the time seemed to be a reasonable distance (500 yards) within which all trains should be stopped. To have done otherwise would have been to discourage improvements in brakes. The result had proved the wisdom of the recommendation. On page 105 of the Report would be found the result of experiments with seven different continuous brakes, using all available brake and other power, including sand. The shortest stop obtained was with a train of the Midland Company, weighing over 200 tons, and travelling 51½ miles an hour; the distance in which the train was stopped was 275 yards; the time was 18 seconds. The brake was the Westinghouse air brake. Last year a series of experiments were made on the Brighton line by Mr. Westinghouse and Captain Douglas Galton, when a stop was obtained by a train travelling 50 miles an hour in 119 yards and 10¼ seconds. An interesting account of these experiments was contained in The Times of August 30. As the weight of the train was not given, nor the particular kind of brake used mentioned—although he presumed it was the Westinghouse air brake—he could not make an exact comparison; but, at any rate, very considerable progress had been made in the three years, the distance within which a stop could be made being reduced more than a half. Although the Government had not acted upon the Commissioners' recommendation, yet in August, 1877, the Board of Trade called the attention of Railway Companies to the matter of continuous brakes, and to a correspondence which had lately taken place between the Board and the Railway Association relative to the use of such brakes; and in the course of this letter the Board laid down the conditions which, in their opinion, were essential to a good continuous brake. After saying that there had been apparently no attempt on the part of the Companies to agree upon the requirements of a good continuous brake, they went on to say— In the opinion of the Board of Trade these conditions should be as follows:—

  1. "(a.) The brakes to be efficient in stopping trains, instantaneous in their action, and capable of being applied without difficulty by engine-drivers or guards.
  2. "(b.) In case of accident to be instantaneously self-acting.
  3. "(c.) The brakes to be put on and taken off (with facility) on the engine and every vehicle of a train.
  4. "(d.) The brakes to be regularly used in daily working.
  5. 268
  6. "(e.) The materials employed to be of a durable character, so as to be easily maintained and kept in order.
The inquiries and experiments instituted by the Royal Commission on Railway Accidents, and the recent researches into the causes of railway accidents during the last few years, appear to the Board of Trade to leave no doubt as to the importance of the above conditions, and the experience which has been obtained by the companies appears sufficient to enable them to come to some general and unanimous conclusion. There can, therefore, be no reason for further delay, and the Board of Trade feel it their duty again to urge upon the railway companies the necessity for arriving at an immediate decision and united action in the matter. Further Returns were laid before Parliament last year, by which it appeared that no unanimous opinion had been arrived at among the Railway Companies. The Government introduced and passed an Act last Session—Continuous Brakes Act, 1878—compelling Railway Companies to make a periodical Return respecting the use of continuous brakes on their passenger trains, and it was to the first Return that he now wished to call their Lordships' attention. On page 4 of that Paper would be found an abstract showing the description of continuous brakes in use, the amount of stock fitted, and the mileage run with each description of brake. The result was that there was yet no uniformity, and there was still a great deal to be done. Only 16 per cent of the engines and 21 per cent of the carriages were fitted with these brakes at all; while only three out of a much larger number of brakes complied with the requirements of the Board of Trade Circular. If these requirements were to be carried out by legislation, surely it would be better to do so before more stock was fitted with a wrong kind of brake. He was not for undue interference with Railway Companies; but he thought that the 500 yards recommended by the Royal Commission might now be materially shortened, and that the Board of Trade conditions should be insisted on. He understood that men employed on railways regarded this question of brakes as possessing an interest only second to that of compensation for injuries they might sustain during the course of their employment—and certainly it was a question of great importance to the public. The Railway Commissioners recommended that there should be an appeal from the Board of Trade to some other tribunal. The noble Earl at the head of the Government objected to that, and he admitted that there was force in the objection, because it was an awkward thing to have an appeal from a Department of the Government. But, on the other hand, the Railway Commissioners felt it hard on Railway Companies that, without being heard by counsel or otherwise, they should be condemned to a considerable expenditure. The difficulty might, perhaps, be met by the establishment of a tribunal before whom an officer of the Board of Trade might appear as prosecutor. One of the Commissioners thought there might be a special tribunal to act as between Railway Companies and the public. As he had already said, he entertained an objection against undue interference with Railway Companies in the management of their own concerns; but he thought the powers of the Board of Trade might be extended, so as to enable it to deal more effectually with this brake question. The year before last he moved a Standing Order on the subject; and his noble Friend the President of the Council held out the hope that the matter would be dealt with in a general measure. He did not now expect a Bill specially applicable to it, but there were rumours of a general Bill, and he hoped to hear that in its provisions would be included enactments having reference to continuous brakes.


said, that as he, thinking that the subject was not yet ripe for legislation, had commenced the conference between the Board of Trade and the Railway Association, he wished to say a few words. The conference to which he referred led to the Board of Trade issuing to every Company Circulars, in August, 1877, and to the short Act of last Session for obtaining Returns, and, consequently, to the Returns now before Parliament. The subject was important, not only for the safety of the public, but also in relation to the expeditious conveyance of goods and the effectiveness of signal arrangements. The art of increasing speed had outstripped the art of stopping. The problem how best to stop 100 tons weight running 60 miles an hour was slowly working out, and nothing should be done to check experiment, but every freedom should be allowed to promote it. Parliament, there- fore, had been asked by no one to interfere in the way of prescribing the best kind of brake to be adopted for railways; because to do so would be to check improvement, and to relieve the undertakers from the sense of responsibility. But Parliament could, at all events, insist upon the five essential qualities of brakes recommended in the Circular Letter of 1877—that they should be continuous, automatic, instantaneous, in constant use, and of strong material. The first requirement for expediting improvement was constant publication of what was being done, and for that the short Act of last Session, and consequent Returns, were sufficient. Uniformity of brake was most desirable—that not only the best, but the same should be used for all, both for interchange of rolling stock between one line and another, and more especially when two or more lines were continuous; but it was doubtful if uniformity was yet possible. The Returns showed as yet but slow improvement and many failures. Prom the last Return it appeared that there were still only 16 per cent of the engines and 21 per cent of the passenger carriages fitted with continuous brakes. The fact was there was a money interest in each invention. If it were enacted that no brake should be considered sufficient which had not the five qualities stipulated for in the Circular, the responsibility for any accident from want of brake power would fall on a Company using brakes without those qualities.


said, their Lordships would agree with him in saying that his noble Friend had done good service in bringing this question before the House. It was one of importance; great interest was taken in it both inside and outside Parliament, and, no doubt, in this—as in all questions connected with railway working—the expression of public opinion and discussions in Parliament had a great effect upon the Railway Companies; for experience had shown that, in the end, the best system was generally adopted. Railway Companies were naturally rather slow to adopt any system which involved a large expenditure; and particularly where a change in the working arrangements would also be necessary, although the Companies were themselves equally, if not more interested than anyone in adopting the best systems of working their traffic. He did not think he need trouble their Lordships with any lengthened remarks on the present occasion, because last year, in a discussion raised by his noble Friend the noble Earl behind him (Earl De La Warr), he had gone fully into the question; but he should be glad to remind the House of the action which had been taken in the matter. For many years the Inspecting Officers of the Board of Trade had reported that more efficient brake power was necessary on passenger trains. In January, 1877, a Letter was addressed by the Board of Trade to the Railway Companies' Association. As progress in the desired direction was slow, a Circular Letter was addressed to all the Railway Companies in August of the same year. This Letter was printed in the Paper issued that morning. It spoke for itself, and showed clearly the opinion of the Department, and how strongly they had urged the Companies to adopt some good system of brakes. The replies to this Circular were printed last Session. They did not show that rapid progress was being made by the Companies; but still great progress had been made since January, 1877. The Board of Trade, however, did not then think it desirable to interfere by legislating on the subject. The difficulties were great, and must be overcome before any general system was agreed upon; for instance, the recommendation of the Royal Commission, referred to by the noble Earl—that every train should, in all circumstances, be pulled up easily in 500 yards. Would it be possible for the Board of Trade to see such a provision carried out? Again, it was undesirable to lay down that only one particular brake should be used, as this would prevent the Companies from availing themselves of any improvements which might be made. However, he stated at the time that it might be wise to pass a short Act of Parliament to require Returns to be sent in every six months to the Board of Trade by all the Railway Companies as to the progress they were making in fitting their engines and carriages with brakes. It was thought that it would be desirable to introduce such a measure by many noble Lords who took an interest in railway matters, and it was brought in and passed. The Board of Trade were encouraged in the hope that this Act would have a good effect by the result which a similar Act, relating to the block and interlocking system, passed in 1873—the Regulation of Railways Act—had had in inducing the Railway Companies to adopt that system. The Return issued to-day was the result of that Act. He was sorry to see that the amount of stock fitted with continuous brakes during the last six months to December 31, 1878, was not very large; but still some progress was being made, and he hoped the Act might prove to be as useful a one as the Act of 1873—at all events, the Return was a useful one. That Return brought the question up to the present time, as far as regarded the action of the Board of Trade. It would not be right for him to go further into the question at the present time. He had merely stated these few facts, that what had been done might be clearly before the House; and to show that the Board of Trade had been alive to the necessity of a better system of brake power, and had not been inactive in pressing the subject on the attention of the Railway Companies. His reason for not wishing to go further into details was this:—Their Lordships would recollect that on the re-assembling of Parliament it was stated that Her Majesty's Government were about to introduce a measure to deal with the Railway Commission, whose powers expired at the end of this Session of Parliament. The noble Viscount who presided over the Board of Trade (Viscount Sandon) thought, very properly, that disjointed statements made at different times and in different places as to the various subjects connected with the working of railways were inconvenient, and probably misleading. Viscount Sandon proposed before long to introduce the Bill to which he had referred in the House of Commons, and he would then take the opportunity of stating fully the opinions of the Government as to the question now before their Lordships, and several other subjects of interest and importance in railway management.


said, that the subject was a very important one, and he was glad to find that the Board of Trade had taken it up. The progress they had made in it was not very satisfactory, for the Returns showed that the use of continuous brake power had not been adopted as it ought to be; but it seemed that the action of the Board of Trade had stirred up the Railway Companies, and there was reason to hope that their efforts would lead to some result. It was satisfactory to know that Her Majesty's Government would use its influence in the matter; and he hoped that the Railway Companies would themselves make further experiments, and come to some agreement among themselves as to the best form of brake to be employed.