HL Deb 11 March 1879 vol 244 cc616-23

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: My Lords, I regret extremely that this Motion was not as usual made by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees. I regret it, because I shall be obliged to do what I have hitherto avoided to the utmost of my power— inflict on your Lordships a speech too long for what will at first sight appear as the consequence of the subject, but not when the real question at issue appears; and above all, I dislike extremely seeming to be at issue on a matter of this kind with the noble Earl, whose experience, ability, diligence, and impartiality are, I know, appreciated by your Lordships in the highest degree, and fully as much by myself as by any Member of the House. But while I acknowledge the claim to your confidence of the noble Earl, and my own vast inferiority, and while I acknowledge to the full the correctness of the principle laid down by the noble Earl, that differences of gauge and consequent break should be avoided, there is one point in which the noble Earl is not conversant, which, in my opinion, compels exceptional legislation in this and other matters—namely, the circumstances of Ireland. The question in Ireland as to railways is not, as it is in England, which gauge is best; but it is whether you will make your line in the cheapest possible way, or whether you will have no line at all? The County of Donegal is one of the largest in Ireland; it is about 85 miles long and 40 wide. It contains 1,197,154 acres. Up to the present date it has contained only two railways of about 13 miles each, not counting a main line which runs along the shore of the River Foyle, the boundary of the county, which is really a Derry line. There was a third line begun in 1860 which is lying unfinished, and to which I shall presently refer. It is proposed by this Bill, the second reading of which I am about to move, to carry on one of these lines which communicates directly with Londonderry, to a small seaport on the west coast, right through the County of Donegal from north-east to south-west. The line already made is on the 5 feet 3 inches gauge, the 3 feet gauge, unfortunately for the shareholders, not having been known when that line was made. Now I come to your Lordships to allow a line with a break of gauge to be made—a line promoted by the City of Derry at one end and by the principal landowners, who have largely contributed to it, at the other—for one main reason, and that is that if your Lordships will not permit it, this and another line cannot be made at all—the County of Donegal will remain unopened. The existing line of 13 miles was opened in 1863. It is a somewhat peculiar concern, with which I am too much mixed up to trouble your Lordships much about it. It is enough to say that it was for a long time the line of cheapest cost in the United Kingdom. It was, moreover, made as well and of as good material as any line in England. It was made with the utmost economy, as an instance of which I may mention that the Chairman and Directors have never asked or received one farthing of remuneration for their services. Should you pass this Bill, I believe the new Board will make their line with equal economy, being, in fact, much the same persons. But, besides the economy, this existing line was made under peculiar circumstances. It was promoted by a considerable amount of English capital; notwithstanding all this, it was made with much difficulty. But whether it is Home Rule agitation, or the general feeling that Irish property is insecure, after five years' patient waiting in the hope that means might be found to make the proposed railway on the Irish gauge, the promoters have found it impossible. The resources are strictly Irish, and the utmost they can hope is to be able to make it with the narrow gauge. I have told your Lordships that this is not the narrow-question of a single railway. At the risk of tiring your Lordships, I will mention a still stronger case. In 1860, a line was laid out, of course in the broad gauge, leading from the town of Letterkenny, and the very large district behind it, to the City of Londonderry. Unfortunately, the promoters were not as well aware as we are now that the proportion of third-class passengers in Ireland to first-class is about 100 to 1; and in order to accommodate the latter, they did not perhaps look enough to going straight to the Port of Derry. Be that as it may, in all these 19 years the line has never been made, £82,000 has been expended, and after trying all these years to complete it on the broad gauge, the promoters have come to Parliament for leave to make it on the narrow gauge; and I can assure you that, if not made no w, it will probably never be made. There is a third Donegal Railway into which this last is proposed to run, and it is on the broad gauge, and has no fault excetp that it does not pay a farthing of dividend. To remedy this, it is proposed to run the Letterkenny Railway into it, and, when that is done, I have no doubt that the shareholders will receive a dividend. Your Lordships may well by this time ask what are the great advantages of these narrow gauge lines, so that districts can be opened by them which must remain closed under the broad gauge system. In the first place, the construction is much cheaper. On the first railway I have mentioned, of 18 miles, the saving is calculated at £20,000. This is a saving of a fourth. I have seen a calculation which puts it as high as one-half. The reason of this is that sharper curves can be worked in the narrow gauge with safety, a matter most important in a mountainous county such as Donegal, and when most of the mountains are full of granite rock. Second, that on a narrow gauge line the engines and rolling stock are much lighter. I hold in my hand a photograph of a waggon weighing 2 tons 12 cwt., and another of 2 tons 7 cwt., while each carry a load of 6 tons, a load which requires a waggon of 5 tons in the broad gauge. I also hold in my hand a photograph of a first-class carriage, to carry six people in a compartment, just as comfortably as any compartment in the London and Northwestern. In short, as to cheapness of working, this is the statement at the half-yearly meeting of the Ballymena and Larne Railway Company, by Mr. Chaine, the Member for Antrim, and the great promoter of these lines— During six months they had carried over 10,000 tons of coal and lime. They had carried also 8,000 tons of general goods, and that almost entirely for Glasgow, notwithstanding the vast commercial disaster which had happened in Glasgow, and to Scotland generally. The passenger traffic in four months was very surprising. They had carried 34,580 passengers in those four months. Considering that this was the first narrow gauge line constructed in Ireland, they might regard these numbers as proof of their success. One of the most striking things in their accounts was the cost of their train mile, or the actual cost of running a loaded train per mile. They would see that that cost was 1s. 7d. a-mile. If they took the cost of the leading lines of England, Ireland, and Scotland, they would see that the cost of the train mile was about 3s., or somewhat over. This proved that it is possible, when traffic is limited, and the population small, to run a narrow gauge line with profit, and give an amount of accommodation to the public, at rates which would be quite unremunerative on the broader gauges. And now having stated, as shortly as I could, the advantages of these lines to poor and difficult districts, I will bring your Lordships to balance against them the objections. I know but of two—the inconvenience of the change of carriages at the break of gauge, and the cost of transhipment of goods. Now, as to the first, I have told you that the proportion of third-class passengers to first-class is as 100 to 1. Third-class passengers do not carry much luggage, and it is no great hardship to walk across a platform twice the width of this Table. As to goods, the cost of transhipment is calculated to vary from one farthing to two-pence. Now, for these small considerations, will you condemn the great County of Donegal to be almost without railway communication, will you condemn the second of these lines to remain unmade, and the shareholders to have no chance of repayment on their large and hitherto useless expenditure; and will you condemn the shareholders of the third of these lines not to receive any dividend for the term of their natural lives? I appeal to your Lordships, I appeal to the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees himself whether he would do so. No one can doubt the propriety of the noble Earl calling your attention to breaches of an Act of Parliament by Private Bills. But this narrow gauge system was unknown when that Act was passed—even lately its great success had not been established. I would fain hope that the noble Earl will be contented with the principle of these railways having been repeatedly adopted by the Legislature, and the Government having lately refused to condemn it, that he will view with a friendly eye the Letterkenny Bill, which has already passed its second reading; and that he will not oppose the second reading of the best Donegal Bill, which I now move.

Moved, "That the Bill be now road 2a."—(The Viscount Lifford.)


said, the question raised by the Bill was one of considerable importance. His position as Chairman of Committees in respect of Private Bills was that he should take care that innovations, such as strange gauges, should not be introduced without the attention of Parliament having been drawn to the matter. The question of broad and narrow gauges was settled by the Act of 1846; and he thought it was his duty to take care that the gauge fixed upon by Parliament should not be altered at the pleasure of anyone who might choose to get up a Company. The proposition before their Lordships was for a narrower gauge than that which Parliament had sanctioned for Ireland; and it must be remembered that to convert a narrow gauge into a wider one was a very serious matter, involving the taking of new land and the construction of new bridges. This was an extension line, and there was, therefore, the greater reason why it should be constructed on the gauge which had been adopted as the standard one in Ireland. It was said that the rolling stock of the narrow gauge would be much cheaper than ordinary rolling stock; but it must be borne in mind that the owners of the line would be entirely dependent on their own rolling stock, so that it was not at all likely that they would be able to work their line so cheaply as if it were suitable for the ordinary rolling stock. One or two exceptions of this kind had been sanctioned, but in those cases the promoters were obliged to include in their Bills power to take land for widening their lines. He objected to exceptional Bills of this kind. If a double gauge in Ireland were to be permitted at all, it ought to be by a general Act, and not by private legislation.


bore testimony to the efficient manner in which the Chairman of Committees performed his duties in respect of Private Bills. There were, he thought, many districts of Ireland where the allowance of the narrow gauge would be of advantage; and as the Government were exceedingly anxious to develop trade in Ireland in every practical manner, they were not disinclined to support any proposal such as this that would tend to that end. He could not see the force of the objection made by his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees as to the ordinary rolling stock not being suitable to these narrow lines. Nobody would think of putting heavy locomotives on those light lines, and the curves and gradients were such as would preclude the use of the ordinary rolling stock. In some places less sharp curves and easier gradients could not be made, and as in certain of those places railway accommodation was much required, to insist on his noble Friend's objection would be to exclude those localities from the benefit of railways. The Government did not think there ought to be a general measure such as was suggested by his noble Friend. They thought that the Board of Trade ought to exercise due diligence in all exceptional cases, but that each case should depend on the decision of the Select Committee.


regretted the decision of the Government, for he thought that to leave each case to the decision of the Select Committee might result in the establishment of a dozen different gauges in Ireland. This would cause serious inconvenience.


thought that his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees, as was too much the habit in such cases, viewed this question from a purely English point of view. The only way in which railways could be made in wild and mountainous districts in Ireland with any prospect of remuneration was on a system which would permit of the use of bogie engines and light and comparatively inexpensive rolling stock. He believed lines of this sort would be of national importance in Ireland.


said, that the proposal was not only for a break of gauge, but for a break of gauge of the most startling character. This was a question of the construction of one short branch line of 27 miles on two different gauges, the Bill being one for the continuation of a branch line, 10 miles of which had already been constructed on the standard Irish gauge. He believed that the inhabitants of Donegal did not desire the break of gauge, which they thought would have for its effect the cutting them off from the rest of the country.


supported the second reading, believing the question to be one between half-a-loaf and no bread—the railway as proposed in the Bill or no railway at all.


said, his knowledge of the country through which the proposed railway was to pass enabled him to say that it would not afford a return if it were to be constructed on the standard Irish gauge. The resources of the country were utterly inadequate to construct and maintain a broad gauge railway.


said, he should give his vote for the second reading. Lines such as that proposed in the Bill might have been constructed with much advantage in some parts of Scotland, where there would be no remuneration for the construction of broad gauge lines.

On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly.