HL Deb 28 May 1880 vol 252 cc630-2

rose to call the attention of the House to the recent Return relative to railway brakes and to ask a Question. The noble Earl said, he was not going into the subject of railway accidents; but he wished to remind their Lordships that the Railway Accident Commission had made a Report after a prolonged inquiry, having entered into all the points connected with railway accidents and the appliances to prevent them. He alluded to that Commission chiefly with the view of reminding their Lordships that no legislative action had been taken upon the recommendations of the Commissioners. He was not prepared to say that he was in favour of any very direct legislation with regard to railway management. There were, however, circumstances in which interference might be necessary, as, for instance, when there was no such agreement between Companies as would enable them to carry out valuable improvements. He did not say that such occasions had arisen; but it was evident that they might occur. His object was to point out what appeared to him to be a very unsatisfactory want of agreement with regard to railway brakes. In 1878 an Act had been passed making it compulsory on the Companies to send in periodical returns of the number and character of the brakes in use on their respective lines. That Act had been passed mainly in consequence of the statement of the Board of Trade that the want of brakes caused a very large proportion of railway accidents, and in order that the Board might constantly receive information as to the adoption of continuous brakes. Four Returns had now been made under the Act; and it appeared that, out of the 45,000 vehicles used at the present time for passenger traffic, only 2,700 had been fitted with brakes approved by the Board of Trade. Indeed, so far from adopting the recommendations of the authorities, several of the Companies—and among them the Great Northern Railway, the London and North-Western, and the South-Eastern Railway—were fitting their carriages with expensive brakes which, as they were not automatic, did not satisfy the requirements of the Board. There were about 70 Railway Companies in the country; and he thought it very desirable that some steps should be taken to check the extended use of inefficient brakes, and that some agreement should be come to between the Companies and the Board of Trade as to what the brake of the future should be. There were eight kinds of brakes that were recommended by the Board, and it could not be a difficult matter for the Companies to adopt one or other of them. He wished to know what steps the Government proposed to take to remedy the existing unsatisfactory state of things and to enforce the regulations of the Board of Trade?


in reply, said, the Board of Trade were fully conscious of the importance of the subject; and, as far back as 1876, a Circular was issued to the Association of Railway Companies strongly urging them to take up the question. The Board of Trade felt it was most important that as little should be done as possible to interfere with the internal management of railways, so as to let the responsibility, as far as possible, rest with the railways, who were primarily liable. Six months after the first Circular was issued, another was sent, and again in January, 1877, a third communication was made to the Association. In April of that year the Chairman of the Association, in replying to one of those communications, had pointed out the difficult position of the Companies, and had stated that it did not appear essential that any one form of brake should be adopted. The Board of Trade, not being satisfied with that reply, had then issued a Circular stating what, in their opinion, were the requirements necessary to render a brake adequate and efficient. An Act was passed in the next year requiring a Return to be made every half-year showing how far continuous brakes were extended, and the Return from which the noble Lord had spoken showed that in December, 1879, there were 452 engines with continuous brakes in accordance with the requirements of the Board of Trade, 2,300 carriages; other brakes, 622 engines and 8,999 carriages. The Board of Trade was as anxious as the noble Lord to see an extension of the brake system; but, unfortunately for that object, improvements were constantly being made which renders it important not to stereotype a particular form. In view of the very slow and unsatisfactory progress which appeared, from the Returns presented to Parliament, to have been made in the matter of continuous brakes, and the wide divergence of opinion as to the best kind of brake for adoption, but in which great experience had, no doubt, been gained, the Board of Trade would issue another Circular, and again urge upon the Companies the necessity to take such steps as might be necessary to secure the adoption of proper continuous brakes upon all lines of railway. If some such a course should be resolved on by the Companies, and a solution of the matter arrived at by the Companies undertaking that an efficient brake should be brought into use in a short time, the Board of Trade would greatly rejoice, deprecating, as they did, all interference in the management of railways which could be avoided. But should the Companies be unable to arrive at any conclusion, it might become necessary for the Board of Trade to recommend Parliament to enact such legislative measures as might be deemed necessary, in order that the safety of the public might be assured, as far as possible, by the adoption of a proper system of continuous brakes. They would watch the subject narrowly during the present year, and wait to see the result of the proposed Circular.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.