HL Deb 18 July 1881 vol 263 cc1101-8

, in rising to call attention to the Parliamentary Return ending 31st December 1880, relative to railway continuous brakes; and to ask, Whether Her Majesty's Government propose to take any steps to enforce the regulations of the Board of Trade? said, the subject was one that had lately attracted much attention, and he should not have brought it forward again but for the unsatisfactory nature of the Returns just issued. It would be remembered that in 1878 an Act was passed that made it compulsory for Railway Companies to send in Returns every six months specifying the kind of brakes used by them, and the number of carriages and engines fitted with brakes, with other particulars on the subject. Previously to this the Board of Trade had made a very careful investigation into the question of railway brakes, acting in accordance with the recommendation of the Railway Accidents Commission; and in 1877 a Circular was issued by the Board, which referred to the little progress which had been made by the Companies even in— The first step of agreeing upon what are the requirements which in their opinion are essential to a good continuous brake. The Circular then proceeded to specify certain conditions or requirements for an efficient brake, which were these— The brakes to be efficient in stopping trains, instantaneous in their action, and capable of being applied without difficulty by engine-drivers or guards. In case of accidents to be instantaneously self-acting. The brakes to be put on and taken off with facility on the engine, and every vehicle in the train. The brakes to be regularly used in daily working. The materials employed to be of a durable character, so as to be easily maintained and kept in order. Such were the conditions laid down by the Board of Trade as indispensable for an efficient brake. This took place in 1877. It was then added in this Circular— There can 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. But what had been done? These Returns of the Railway Companies had been carefully and periodically made; but he regretted to say that they showed comparatively but little progress. It was true there were some of the large Companies which were conspicuous for the good example they had set. The Brighton and South Coast Railway, among these, were successfully employing efficient continuous brakes—the Westinghouse—throughout their system. He might also mention the North-Eastern, the Great Western, and the Midland Companies, as taking active steps to comply with the requirements of the Board of Trade; also the Glasgow and South Western and North British, in Scotland. But if they looked to the general result, as shown by the last Return to the 31st of December, 1880, they would arrive at a very unsatisfactory conclusion, which was this—that of the 61 English Companies, there were only 10 which had in use any brakes that fully complied with the requirements of the Board of Trade; of the eight Scotch Companies five so complied, but of the 21 Irish Companies, not one complied. Thus, of the 90 Companies of the United Kingdom, there were only 15 who had complied to some extent with the requirements of the Board of Trade. But from these 15 must be deducted those whose compliance was little more than a matter of form, running only a few trains with continuous brakes, as if only to show by the Returns that they were giving them a trial. Among these were the Great Northern, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire, the London and South-Western, the London, Chatham, and Dover—all of them important lines. Thus, as appeared by the Return, the Great Northern had only four engines and 35 carriages fitted with brakes as required by the Board of Trade; the London, Chatham, and Dover had only six engines and 31 carriages so fitted; the South-Western had only two engines and 10 carriages so fitted. It furthur appeared that the London and North-Western, one of the most important lines, had from the first made no attempt to adopt a brake as recommended by the Board of Trade, and were now compelled to admit that the brake which they had been using was a failure. Upon the whole it would appear that there were only about seven Companies out of 90 who were actively carrying out the recommendations of the Board of Trade, and the number of passenger carriages so fitted with continuous brakes amounted to 11 per cent of the passenger carriages in the United Kingdom. He thought, therefore, there was but one conclusion at which they could arrive, which was that the repeated warnings and recommendations of the Board of Trade had hitherto failed to produce any real effect upon the great bulk of Railway Companies in the United Kingdom with reference to the use of continuous brakes. These facts would bear him out in the appeal which he wished to make to Her Majesty's Government as to the course which they intended to pursue. There were differences of opinion as to what was the best kind of brake, and this was not a matter which could be discussed with advantage in their Lordships' House. It was a matter which Railway Companies ought themselves to decide as they had the means and opportunities of doing so; but he would urge that the time was come when some decision ought to be arrived at, either individually or collectively, by Railway Companies, that an efficient brake in accordance with admitted principles of construction should be adopted. The question had been much considered, and many eminent engineers and others had expressed their opinions with regard to it. He believed there was not one of them who would not say that efficient railway brakes were essential, not only on the ground of utility, but also for the actual safety of the public. Railway Companies deserved praise for the manner in which their lines were conducted generally; but with regard to the mechanical appliances to which he had drawn attention, they ought, he held, to bestir themselves. Voluntary action on their part would be preferable to Parliamentary interference. The noble Earl concluded by asking, Whether the Government proposed to take any steps to enforce the regulations of the Board of Trade, and whether they would lay on the Table of the House a Copy of any Correspondence between that Department and the Railway Companies?


said, he would not attempt to follow the noble Earl through his detailed analysis of the Return; but he thought it would, perhaps, have been fairer not merely to have stated that only seven out of 90 Companies were carrying out the recommendations of the Board of Trade, but to have shown the number of carriages and engines fitted with continuous brakes. An examination of the Returns relating to continuous brakes on railway trains showed that 1,645 engines and 17,654 carriages used in passenger trains were so fitted on the 31st of December, 1880; or, in other words, that of the entire stock used in passenger traffic 33 per cent of the engines and 41 per cent of the carriages were fitted with continuous brakes, and that 10 per cent of such fittings were effected during the year 1880. Although some of the Companies had wholly and others partially adopted a brake which fully complied with the conditions specified in the Schedule to the Railway Returns (Continuous Brakes) Act, 1878, yet others, and notably one of the largest Companies, used brakes which did not fulfil the suggestions contained in the Board of Trade Circular of 1877 with regard to continuous brakes. The Board of Trade had been in communication with the London and North-Western Railway Company, who up to the present time had not adopted a continuous brake, but used a sectional brake. They were informed by that Company that the chairman (Mr. Moon) had a meeting with several of the chairmen of the largest Railway Companies, and the result of that interview was that directions were given to the locomotive superintendent of the London and North-Western Railway to consult with the locomotive superintendents of some of the other Lines in the matter. The first question to which that committee devoted itself, as shown in a letter from Mr. Webb, the locomotive superintendent of the London and North-Western Railway, of the 10th of March last, was to obtain a standard coupling which would make it possible for the carriages of one Company to interchange with the carriages of another Company, whatever continuous air-brake they might have adopted. In the opinion of the London and North-Western Railway Company, an universal coupling was the principal thing to be brought about to insure the interchangeability of stock. The Board of Trade were informed that when the question of this coupling should have been arranged, there was every reason to believe that the London and North-Western Railway Company would see their way to adopting a continuous air-brake of some description. Although the Company were not in a position to give any pledge on the subject, yet the negotiations were being actively pressed forward, and there was reason to hope that before many months should have passed a great stride would have taken place with regard to the use of continuous brakes all over the United Kingdom. In these circumstances, and while fully recognizing the necessity for continuous brakes for providing for the safety of the travelling public, the Board of Trade did not think it desirable at the present moment to take any further steps in the matter. The inquiries into the accidents of the last few months had again shown that many of them might have been mitigated, if not altogether prevented, had continuous brakes been adopted; and that fact, combined with the pressure of public opinion, and with the fact that the Board of Trade were urging on the Companies to allow no delay in the matter, would, it was hoped, bring about the end which the noble Lord bad in view, and would prevent the necessity of any further legislation in the matter.


said, he thought that the noble Earl (Earl De La Warr) had gone out of his way in complaining of the Great Northern Railway Company, as instead of that Company having done less than any other in England, it had, in his opinion, done more to fulfil the wishes of the noble Earl than any other Company. Ninety per cent of their carriages were fitted with continuous brakes. A few weeks ago 12 railway engineers, representing the London and North-Western Railway, the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, the Great Northern Railway, the South-Eastern Railway, the Great Southern and Western Railway (Ireland), the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway, the London and South-Western Railway, the Midland Railway, the Great Western Railway, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and the Metropolitan Railway, had met to consider the question of continuous brakes, and their expressed impression was that the simple vacuum brake became spoilt when converted into an automatic brake. Vacuum brakes, however, could be made automatic at an expense of £10 in the case of an engine and of £5 in the case of a carriage. The London and North-Western Railway Company had given up the chain brake, and, like the other Companies, were going to adopt the simple vacuum brake.


, speaking on behalf of Railway Companies with which he was connected, said, they greatly appreciated the manner in which the Board of Trade had exercised its powers. Had those powers been enforced with pragmatic severity, the cause of railway science would have suffered seriously. He submitted that they had every reason to be satisfied with the progress which had been already made in the use of continuous brakes, and in the case of the Company with which he was chiefly connected, everything desired by the noble Earl opposite would soon be carried into effect.


observed that, though 90 per cent of railway carriages might be now fitted with continuous brakes, the question was rather what number of Railway Companies might have adopted those improvements; and it would be but small satisfaction to people living on lines where the insecure 10 per cent of carriages were used, to know that in other parts of the Kingdom the lives of travellers were in less danger. He thought the noble Earl opposite (Earl De La Warr) was incorrect in stating that the Act of 1878 prescribed any particular form of brake. On the contrary, the Board of Trade had wisely abstained from doing so. Its Circular, issued in 1877, called upon the Railway Companies to state what brakes they used, in order to bring the subject before the public; but it had not directed the use of any one brake lest it should take upon Government a dangerous responsibility, and practically preclude the adoption of mechanical improvements. The Westinghouse brake, which was generally considered the best at that time, had been already improved upon three or four times. Nor was it the case that the Board had laid it down imperatively that brakes should be continuous and automatic, though five specific qualities were declared in their opinion to be required, a deficiency in any of which would entail a heavy responsibility on the Company in the event of an accident by collision. The progress made in brakes might be slow; but he thought, on the whole, that any imperative Parliamentary action would make it slower. All that could be done was to call the attention of the public to the subject, require annual statements of what was being done to be published, and leave the Companies to find out the best brake to be used.