HL Deb 14 February 1887 vol 310 cc1354-9

in rising to call attention to the Circular of the Board of Trade with regard to railway continuous brakes; also to ask if it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take any steps this Session to enforce the requirements which are specified in that Circular; and also to move for— Return of the number of servants in the employ of each Railway Company who are regularly on duty for more than twelve hours consecutively, said, that some time ago he introduced into the House a Bill, with a view to carrying out the requirements of the Board of Trade on this subject, and, on the assurance of Her Majesty's late Government that they would take up the question, he withdrew the Bill, and nothing had since been done. He was quite aware that there were causes which had impeded, and he regretted to say still did impede, domestic legislation, but he would urge that this was not a new question—it was not a question for which more time could reasonably be asked—but it was one which had been for several years before Parliament and the country, and also under the consideration of Railway Companies. It was a question with regard to which experiments had been made, and upon which the opinions of the most competent engineers had been given, and which now required only some action on the part of Her Majesty's Government in order to deal with it in a satisfactory manner. The Board of Trade exercised a supervision of railways—both in their construction and also afterwards—in matters where the public safety was concerned, and although they had very wisely and with great discretion abstained from unnecessary interference, there were occasions when the public interests required their intervention. This was one of those cases. Almost immediately after the commencement of railways the subject of brakes naturally became one of consideration. The hand-brake, which was first used, and as applied to ordinary vehicles, was found, as traffic increased, to be insufficient, and a more complicated form of mechanical brake became necessary, which had now been developed in a still more scientific shape as a continuous automatic brake; and which had for some time past been much used, especially in the United States, and also, to a certain extent, in this country. The attention of the Board of Trade was some years ago called to this matter, and the inspecting officers, men of considerable practical and scientific knowledge, gave their opinion that a large proportion of the accidents on railways might be attributed to the want of efficient brakes. Following upon this—and as a result of that attention—in the year 1877 a Circular was issued to Railway Companies by the Board of Trade. It was a carefully drawn up document, moderate in its tone, but at the same time expressing in a decided manner the views entertained by the Board of Trade; and afforded the Railway Companies an opportunity of complying very easily with its requirements. After referring to the Reports upon accidents by the officers of the Board, it stated— From a careful examination of which and similar information for the past few years, the Board of Trade are led to conclude that three-fourths of these accidents might probably have been avoided, or the results materially mitigated if the passenger trains concerned had been provided with continuous brakes. This must be regarded as a most important statement, coming as it does from a Government Department in possession of the best information, and "after a careful examination." It was further added with reference to the progress which was being made— There has apparently been no attempt on the part of the various Companies to take the first steps of agreeing upon what are the requirements which, in their opinion, are essential to a good and an efficient continuous brake. As an illustration of the want of this united action, it might be mentioned that one of the largest Railway Companies—the London and North Western—were now removing a brake originally constructed at a great cost which had been for some time in use, and were fitting their rolling stock with another which did not comply with the conditions laid down by the Board of Trade, and which was in use only on one other line. The Circular further stated— The Board of Trade feel it their duty again to urge upon the Railway Companies the necessity of arriving at an immediate decision and united action in this matter. This Circular was issued in the year 1877, now nearly 10 years ago; and he would ask what progress had since been made? It was said sometimes—"The Railway Companies are the best judges of what is required." He would admit that the Railway Companies were, or ought to be, the best judges in these matters, but the question arose, did the results show that they acted upon the opinions they might have formed? What was the result of the last 10 years? In the 10 years since the Circular of the Board of Trade was issued, we found less than half of the Railway Companies had adopted the brake which the Board of Trade had pronounced to be essential for the public safety in travelling, and several of those who had adopted it had only partially and imperfectly done so. Was this a state of things which inspired confidence or promised well for the future? Were we to wait for another 10 years before anything was done in this matter to protect the lives of railway servants and railway passengers? The same, he believed, would have happened some years ago with regard to those valuable appliances, the interlocking of points and signals and the block system, if some pressure had not been employed. He had the honour of obtaining a Committee of this House to inquire into these questions, and although there was no direct legislation, the result had been the almost universal adoption of those improvements in the working of railways. An objection was sometimes made to the Board of Trade pressing upon Railway Companies the use of any particular brake. The Board of Trade, however, had no desire to force Railway Companies to adopt a particular brake; but what the Board of Trade wished—as he understood—was that the brake made use of should be one which complied with certain conditions, and was an efficient brake. In the Returns which were made by the Companies, there was a note by the Board of Trade in the last Return as follows— These totals are the numbers of engines and carriages returned by the Railway Companies as fitted with continuous brakes. It will be ob- served however, that some of the brakes so returned but very imperfectly fulfil that designation. This was the opinion of the Board of Trade. There was often also an appeal ad misericordiam on behalf of the Railway Companies as regards the expense of continuous automatic brakes; but he believed it could be shown that it was not based upon facts. Upon this point he might quote the words of Mr. Laing, the chairman of the London and Brighton Railway Company, who, at the last meeting of the shareholders, said— In my judgment, the increased safety in travelling is due very much to the general application of those precautions—namely, the block system and the interlocking point signals, and the Westinghouse brake." (This was a brake which complied with the Board of Trade conditions.) "These are the three great causes which have reduced the number of accidents on this and other lines so largely, and as I know some of our railway brethren are a little jealous of Board of Trade interference, I think I am bound to say the Board of Trade has done good service in urging those improvements upon Railway Companies. However, there is the result, and I may say it has been exceedingly satisfactory. If we take one case alone—the Westinghouse automatic brake—we had a Return made some time ago, and the result was to show that a very large number of accidents, both to the public, and still more to our own servants, had been averted entirely by having a brake that was able to stop trains in a very short time indeed. I think it has paid its expenses five times over in the money question, to say nothing of the humanity in saving life. He (Earl De La Warr) knew it was more easy, in most cases, to find fault than to provide a remedy; but he would venture to suggest to the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade (Lord Stanley of Preston) that it might greatly facilitate the settlement of this question if a committee of railway men and engineers were appointed to report upon the brakes now in use, as to whether they do or do not comply with the requirements of the Board of Trade. It remained only now for him to move for a Return of the number of servants in the employ of each Railway Company who were regularly on duty for more than 12 hours consecutively. He believed such a Return would be highly useful, and put a check to an evil which was at all times likely to be the cause of accidents. There might naturally be reasons for working overtime occasionally; but there were cases of booked time over 12 hours, and that also applied to very responsible servants, such as engine drivers, signalmen, and guards. He (Earl De La Warr) admitted that it might be done sometimes by men voluntarily; but the public should certainly be protected as far as possible I against such unnecessary risks and dangers.

Moved, That there be laid before the House— Return of the number of servants in the employ of each railway company who are regularly on duty for more than twelve hours consecutively."—(The Earl De La Warr.)


said, he could not go beyond the answer which it was his duty to give the noble I Earl(Earl De La Warr) some monthsago. The Board of Trade were fully aware of the importance of the subject to which the noble Earl had directed their attention; and they did not intend to relax any efforts in furtherance of what was originally intended—that moral pressure should be brought to bear upon the Railway Companies to induce them as I far as possible to increase their brake power, as being necessary for the safe conduct of trains and for the safety of the travelling public. His noble Friend rightly anticipated that he (Lord Stanley of Preston) would not feel it to be his duty to recommend any particular form of brake; and, as a matter of fact, there had been great diversity of opinion among railway men upon the subject. His noble Friend had quoted the remarks of Mr. Laing at a recent railway meeting, speaking in high praise of the Westinghouse brake. He (Lord Stanley of Preston) believed that to be a thoroughly efficient brake; but, at the same time, it must be borne in mind that Mr. Laing was speaking of a railway extending over a short distance, and which was not, therefore, subject to all the difficulties which other lines were liable to in respect of the making up of trains and through connection with carriages of different patterns on other lines. It was very desirable that Railway Companies should be brought to see that there was a community of interest in this matter; and to that end the Board of Trade would cerainly do its utmost. He was not prepared to say whether they should proceed by legislation or any other way to compel the Railway Companies to take such action. He would rather trust, though the action might be somewhat prolonged, to the moral pressure which Motions like that of the noble Earl would create in the public mind. He had no reason to believe that the Railway Companies were insensible of the obligations under which they lie. It would hardly be fair not to recognize the great progress which had been made since the Board of Trade Circular was published. There was no doubt that the Railway Companies were making considerable efforts. Much, however, remained to be done. He was sorry he was not able to speak more definitely on this subject. He feared he could add little to the noble Earl's knowledge. All he could say was that the subject would continue to occupy the attention of those who had to deal with it, and that all reasonable steps would be taken, particularly as to the preservation of the public safety. As to the second part of the Motion of the noble Earl, for a Return of railway servants employed for more than 12 consecutive hours, he (Lord Stanley of Preston) had communicated with several Railway Companies, and found that there would be some difficulty in making out such a Return. He would be glad if the noble Earl would confer with him as to the terms in which a Return could be made, so that its preparation would entail on the Railway Companies the least labour possible, while giving all necessary information.

Motion agreed to.