HL Deb 02 March 1893 vol 9 cc786-90

in asking Her Majesty's Government whether they would take action to obtain further powers for the abolition of level crossings on railways, said: This question concerned both the convenience and the safety of the public. Great inconvenience was experienced at the level crossings over railways, particularly in these days when the great increase of traffic on the lines compelled the frequent closing of the gates, and delayed the traffic along the roads while waiting the passage of the trains. Further, level crossings were often close to the stations, which were generally situate on or near high roads; and though shunting operations were in breach of the Act of 1863, they were often carried on over level crossings. As regarded the danger attendant upon them, in the last Report (1891) presented to the House dealing with railway accidents Sir Courtenay Boyle said— In most of the cases of level crossings which were brought to the notice of this Department by the occurrence of accidents or the complaints of Local Authorities and individuals the Board of Trade had no statutory power to compel provision to be made for the public safety, but in many instances the Railway Companies concerned have been communicated with and satisfactory arrangements, usually necessitating the construction of a foot-bridge or subway, have in several instances been made. The Railway Clauses Act of 1863 gave power to the Board of Trade to insist on the construction of foot-bridges and subways, but all the railways constructed before 1863 were exempted from the operation of the Act. In the Railway Clauses Act of 1845 (Section 48) it was laid down that no train must go over a level crossing at a speed of more than four miles an hour; and although it was no exaggeration to say that that provision had become nowadays a dead letter, it showed that the Legislature recognised the danger of level crossings. In 1891 66 people were killed at level crossings; in 1890, 83 people; and in 1889, 72 people. In the same years there were respectively 49, 41, and 44 cases of trains running through the gates at level crossings. That showed that the danger was not imaginary. The Board of Trade had from time to time insisted on adequate precautions being taken for the safety of railway passengers, and as a result only five passengers were killed in 1891—a number which compared very favourably with the number killed at level crossings in the same year. Again, what public excitement and sorrow were caused by the lamentable Thirsk railway accident last year, at which, however, only 10 people were killed. The highways of the country should be kept as unobstructed as possible, and the public should be given immunity from unnecessary danger in the use of them. This country undoubtedly was far ahead of the precautions taken in the United States and on the Continent; but the Board of Trade ought to have the same powers over the lines built previously to 1863 as it had over the lines built since. The great railways running to the North—particularly the Caledonian—had already shown what could be done in the required direction; and in asking Government to promote legislation he would point out that, whereas the most elaborate precautions for the safety of railway passengers were sure to fail sometimes, an unfailing and positive remedy for the evil of level crossings was attainable.


said, that it was to be borne in mind that, in flat districts where level crossings occurred, the formation of bridges either above or below the road level would cause great inconvenience to the people in the district, especially to the farmers, in consequence of the alteration of gradient. A well-known Inspector of the Board of Trade (Colonel Yolland) once said that he should be voted a nuisance in some places if a general provision of the nature suggested were to be carried out. Obviously, in any road traffic, steep gradients were inconvenient, and the ruling gradient in a district had to be kept in view. No doubt a load which at present required but one horse would need two if these bridges were introduced. Again, a large compulsory expenditure by a sweeping Ordinance would press very heavily on the railways. He urged this argument with diffidence, because he knew the Railway Companies were not now enjoying great popularity. But such an Ordinance would press baldly on some of the smaller companies, though in certain cases it might be very valuable. He would suggest that the Railway Companies were most anxious of their own accord to carry out the necessary improvements alluded to; and, indeed, as the quotation of the noble Lord from the Board of Trade Report showed, in many cases they had done so already. That quotation showed that the Railway Companies recognised the seriousness and importance of the matter, and the necessity of carrying out these improvements wherever practicable, in such a way as to cause the least inconvenience for the purpose of preventing accidents. Moreover, it was to be remembered that the accidents of which statistics were given by the noble Lord, and which were much to be deplored, must be attributed in a large degree to the carelessness or want of caution of those who used the level crossings in their urgent desire to get across without regard to the safety which was most carefully enjoined upon the public by railway placards and other means. He hoped, therefore, there would not be too great a readiness on the part of the Board of Trade to issue a sweeping Order in the matter, while no doubt whatever recommendations might be made would receive the same attention as on former occasions.


said, as to the new level crossings made since the Acts of 1845 and 1863, there were ample powers though some difficulties in the administration of the powers and duties imposed upon the Board of Trade under those Acts. The Board of Trade was bound, whenever a Bill was brought before Parliament, to send down an officer to examine whether a level crossing could be made with safety to the public. That duty was always performed, but there sometimes arose a difference of opinion between the Parliamentary Committees and the Board of Trade. Since 1875 up to the end of last year there were Bills brought before both Houses of Parliament in which 1,259 level crossings were demanded. The Board of Trade sent down their officer, and, as the result of his inquiries, the Board of Trade reported that 585 only ought to be allowed. Parliament sometimes went against the recommendations of the Board of Trade. Seven hundred and eighty-one level crossings were allowed by the Railway Committees before whom the Bills went, and they became law. Thus nearly 200 level crossings were allowed by the Railway Committees of both Houses of Parliament which the Board of Trade had said were dangerous and ought not to be allowed. He hoped a better understanding between the Parliamentary Committees and the Board of Trade would arise from a recent amendment of the Standing Order which had been passed in both Houses, and which was that the Committees should hear the Reports of the officers of the Board of Trade and take their evidence if they objected to the level crossings. With that amended Standing Order he hoped none of those dangerous level crossings would be allowed. Many of the old crossings had become dangerous; for although they were originally in uninhabited places, the towns had extended there. The companies had not in many cases power to acquire land in order to make bridges; and, moreover, on account of the extension of the towns, it would be extremely expensive to do so. The Board of Trade did not think that legislation was required at the present moment. They had great confidence that under the new Standing Order of both Houses there would be a better understanding between the Committees and the Board of Trade, and that the level crossings would be given with great caution in the future.

Forward to