HL Deb 15 March 1881 vol 259 cc1039-42

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, explained that he had taken up the measure in consequence of the statement of the Chairman of Committees the other day with reference to the undesirability of sanctioning narrow-gauge railways in Ireland. The present Bill proposed a narrow-gauge line, and their Lordships must remember that the ordinary gauge of Ireland was much wider than the ordinary gauge of England, and there was considerable difficulty in raising funds in Ireland for the prosecution of the broad-gauge lines. About four years ago a narrow-gauge line was introduced in Ireland, and that line had proved a very great success. The consequence had been that the narrow gauge had become more generally adopted throughout Ireland; but there had never been any idea of establishing a competition between the broad and narrow gauges. The present Bill proposed to continue the line sanctioned by Parliament last year, from the River Ban to Londonderry; and as the district through which the proposed railway would run was a very mountainous one, and very difficult of access, he hoped their Lordships would assent to this Bill, as, in all probability, a broad-gauge railway would prove too expensive to be carried out.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Waveney.)


said, he thought it was his duty to call the attention of the House to the object of this Bill, as he felt that he could not take upon himself the responsibility of sanctioning the introduction of two different gauges. He was of opinion that they ought to be extremely careful about allowing the introduction of two different gauges into Ireland. The line was to join one of narrow gauge 10 miles, granted on condition that, if extended, it should be made on the national guage, and the present Bill proposed to continue the narrow gauge for a distance of 48 miles further; and, therefore, if that was done, he considered it would be admitting the principle that narrow-gauge lines might enter into competition with the national gauge of the country. He thought, therefore, that it was his duty to call the attention of the House to the subject, as he certainly would not himself take the responsibility of doing anything which would sanction the introduction of the narrow gauge. He did not think it necessary to say much more; but he might observe that the district through which the line would pass was an uninhabited district, there only being one country village, or small town, on the map; therefore, it was impossible that the new line could have any local traffic to support it, and could only pay by through traffic in competition with the broad gauge on each side. He should not take it upon himself to move the rejection of the Bill, but would leave the matter in the hands of their Lordships.


said, the Board of Trade had, at the request of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, carefully considered the question, and were of opinion that there was nothing in the Bill which ought to prevent their Lordships giving it a second reading, and sending it to be considered in the usual course by a Select Committee on its merits. The noble Earl objected to the Bill on two main grounds—first, the proposed narrow gauge; second, because it proposed to repeal certain clauses of a former Act. On the first point, which was one of principle, the noble Earl thought that the Bill, if passed, would introduce the narrow-gauge system on to what he regarded as a trunk line, where a break of gauge ought not to be permitted. He contended that the narrow lines which had hitherto been sanctioned and constructed had been only short feeders in mountainous and hilly districts, where broad-gauge lines could not be made; whereas he said that this railway, joining on to the Ballymena, Portglenone, and Larne Railway, was a totally different matter, and would form nothing more nor less than a main artery from Londonderry to Larne, and was a far more considerable advance on the narrow-gauge system than Parliament had hitherto sanctioned. The Board of Trade, with all respect to the great authority and experience of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, after going fully into the whole matter, had arrived at an opposite conclusion from that which he entertained. They did not look upon the line as a trunk line, and regarded it merely as an extension of the present system. It was perfectly true that the line of 48½ miles, when joined to the 35 miles already sanctioned, would form a very important railway of 83 miles, and would join Londonderry and Larne; but it was not a trunk line in the true acceptation of the word. There was, at present, the Belfast and Northern Counties broad-gauge railway running round the coast of Londonderry and Antrim, which was the strategic great trunk line on which troops and military stores could always be carried. It was impossible that the proposed railway could enter into serious competition as a main artery, as, owing to its peculiarly slight construction, its steep ascent of 1,400 feet, with its gradient of 1 in 40, and its sharp curves, the speed must be very much restricted. The Board of Trade looked upon the proposed line as one, in all respects, carrying out the principle under which their Lordships' Resolution of 1879 considered it desirable narrow-gauge railways should be permitted. The railway was, in every sense of the word, intended to meet the local requirements of the district, to open up a route of considerable importance hitherto unsupplied with railway communication. It passed over a mountainous range, and it was evident that if it was to be constructed it must be made on the most economical system known, and could not be made on the broad gauge. It was, in fact, not a question in this district of having a narrow versus a broad gauge, but of having a railway or doing without one. The second objection raised by the noble Earl, and on which he had laid great stress, was that the Bill proposed to repeal certain clauses of the Ballymena and Portglenone Act of 1879. This was really a question affecting the merits of the Bill, upon which he did not propose to enter. It was full of intricate and contentious matter, which both sides viewed in a different light; it was impossible to fairly discuss it in the House, and it could only be settled by hearing both sides before a Select Committee. The Board of Trade expressed no opinion on the merits of the Bill, or as to how it affected neighbouring railways; but merely expressed their approval of the principle of a narrow-gauge extension. He hoped their Lordships would pass the second reading.


pointed out that, according to the law regulating railroads in Ireland, the standard gauge was 5 feet 3 inches. This rule had only been relaxed in the case of certain short lines calculated to lead to the extension of the mineral resources of the country. There were already two lines between Belfast and Londonderry, and in their case the law requiring a gauge of 5 feet 3 inches had been complied with. If the Bill passed, their Lordships would virtually repeal this general law in the interest of parties who were desirous of competing with lines laid down in accordance with the requirements of the law.


was of opinion that it was very desirable in Ireland to encourage a healthy competition with existing lines, and, with that end in view, to allow a narrow gauge in cases where the standard gauge was impossible, in consequence of the great expense which it would involve. In the district to which the Bill referred, a broad gauge of the usual standard could not be made, the character of the country being such that the expense of making a gauge of that kind would be enormous. He trusted their Lordships would agree to allow the Bill to go to a Select Committee.

On question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.