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station, which would appear to be a. material element of safety in railway travelling, may be attained by legislative interference, to the extent of enacting that, except under exceptional circumstances, the public should have some means of obtaining prompt and cheap redress in the recovery of penalties, in every case of want of punctuality in the departure and arrival of trains at every
station; thereby rendering it imperative upon railway companies
not to advertise a rate of travelling which they cannot always maintain with undeviating punctuality.” 1 But is there any example of a rule of law laid down with various exceptional circumstances, that is, open to any means of prompt and cheap redress that could be adopted in this country ? In this case, to have any pretensions to be a just rule, it would have distinctly to specify a great number of minute exceptional circumstances. Each exceptional circumstance that you state, must necessarily open the opportunity for fresh evidence and additional contestation; and it would almost certainly be found impossible to do justice to the companies, or satisfy the complainants, otherwise, than by a full and complete sifting of all the exceptional circumstances that might be alleged in any ease, and so a prompt and cheap means of redress could hardly in practice be attained. This is assuming that the all proper exceptional circumstances could be ascertained and specified beforehand, or that one set of exceptional circumstances could be framed, of such a character, as to be equally applicable to the peculiarities as to traflic and otherwise, of every line in the united kingdom.
There are only two other points which have been much agitated, as improvements, on the present system of management, each of them affecting the rolling stock.
Some persons contend strongly for additional break-power being attached to trains, in order to give the persons in charge the means of pulling up within a shorter space, and coming to a. stand-still in less time than is usually practicable at present. But there are great objections to enforcing this scheme upon directoi-ates at present. The best description of break does not
‘ Report, pp. iii. iv.
as yet appear to have been attained, and the expense of applying;
breaks extensively is great. Then it is much disputed whether
breaks, in the majority of actual cases of collision, would have
served to avert, or even to mitigate, the severity of the catastrophe. Above all, in case of a recourse being had to the telegraphic mode of providing against collision, breaks would hardly ever be called into operation.‘
As regards the other point, of securing means in each passenger train of communicating from the passengers to the guard, and between the guard and driver; the former, it appears clear from various considerations, is at present wholly impracticable, assuming it to be desirable, of which there are doubts, apparently well founded. The case of the American railways, where means of communication between passengers and guards are in general use, is not in point here for many reasons ; among which is, that the carriages in America are uniformly constructed so as to allow of free passage down the middle of each carriage throughout the whole length of the train, and the guard comes, when he is rung for, to the carriage in which he is wanted. With us it would be impossible, if the communication was established, for the guard to come along the outside of the carriages by means of the footboards or platforms attached to the outside of carriages, because of the intervals presented by the buffers ; and moreover, on many lines the bridges are so frequent, and the span of their arches so narrow, that the liability to fatal casualties to guards so attempts, ing to pass outside would be very high.
With regard to communication between guard and driver, various inventions have been tried. The most perfect seems to be that in use on the Great Western Railway; but it is very costly, involving the sending with each train an additional servant, whose sole duty is to keep a look-out fore and aft, and give warning to the driver as due occasion arises. It is obvious that, as regards providing against the necessity, this supernumerary would be wholly superseded by the adoption of the system of electric telegraph signalling above referred to. In case of the loss of a wheel, or any other mishap to a carriage in the train, his utility is small, if it be true, as stated, that the action of the engine gives instant warning to an experienced driver of any such alteration in the normal state of the traction. Moreover, under a proper system of superintendence of the rolling stock, cases of the breaking of a tire or an axle are very uncommon. Still more rare is the occurrence of a fire in or on a carriage, the only other case, as it seems, in which the services of such an extra guard would be available. These points—-of break power and
l In Evid., pp. 14, 16, 19, 24, 25, 28, 103, 117, 190. For more particulars as to the present state of the question of breaks, see Parliamentary Paper, Session I., l859, No. 2498, p. 41. What is contained in the text relating to telegr-aphs,_has been derived from the evidence before the committee: °°lltained in thirty-nine pages.
means of communication—seem, therefore, to be altogether of‘
minor importance, with respect to the prevention of casualties, than the other means above discussed.
We may add here one remark on the frequency of “ accidents to servants of railway companies, or persons employed on railways.” It is a subject which has not hitherto obtained as much of public notice as perhaps it deserves. In 1858, railway companies reported to the railway department of the Board of Trade, the cases of 131 servants killed and 101 injured during the year. Of these, 17 were killed and 52 injured from causes beyond their own control ; 114 were killed and 49 injured owing to their own misconduct or want of caution.‘ A large proportion of this species of accidents occurs to porters, &c., in shunting trains; and Captain Galton, in his report to the Board, states—“ Accidents of this class have always been very numerous; they arise partly from the recklessness of the men, and partly from the imperfection of the arrangements for connecting the vehicles in trains.” Almost necessarily, the men employed on railways are reckless men; for an occupation, environed with such perils to life and limb, will scarcely be much sought after by others than men of the hardiest character. In the latter part of this statement there is a confirmation of what has been already mentioned
l Parliamentary Paper, Session I, 1859, No. 2498, p. 4.
—-—that experience shews the mass of accidents to be attributable ultimately to defective management.‘
In the foregoing lines, the object has been to recall or present to the minds of professional readers such facts and considerations as are calculated to be convertible to good purpose in cases where it may become their duty to take part in investigations of rail
V way accidents. We shall next invite attention to the subject
of the working of Lord Campbell's act in respect of railway disasters, and to one or two other matters.
Now, in attempting to ascertain what is the real weight of railway disaster, it does not seem to us to be sufiicient to take the dry statistical view, and be content with the statement, that “in the actual performance of the duties of life, it is impossible to find a case in which the proportion of fatal accidents is so small ;”* and, in the fact shewn by the statistical tables of the Board of Trade, that the per centage of risk in travelling in this way is very small indeed as compared with most other modes of conveyance.“ But, in fact, averages and per centages cannot be made to represent fairly a matter of this kind ; and, what is more, it is as yet impossible to find any equation by which a sound statement could be secured and embodied. Thus, the number of fatalities in 1857 was much higher than that of several previous years, and so much higher as to lift the average of the three years very materially above the preceding three; but the reason was, not that there were more separate occasions of miscarriage on the lines throughout the kingdom, but that there was a very severe accident on one line—tl1e Lewisham accident—in which no fewer than twelve persons were killed, and a large number injured. Hence, the conclusion to be gathered from the heightened average shown by the statistics—namely, that the whole of the railways without distinction were carrying with less general safety than in the former period of three years, because the number of casualties was higher——would be totally fallacious. And this brings us to the real ground for interfering legislatively with railway negligence
l See Evidence, pp. 31, 77, 36, 37, 44, 45, 54- _ . ' The late Mr. R. Stephenson, Lectures on Railways, p. 521
rather than with that of other carriers of passengers ; because the results of an accident, when it does occur, are very often so much more extensive and frightful in this than in most other modes of conveyance, whilst, at the same time, they are more easily preventible than in sea carriage. The contrast has been attempted to be drawn, between the case of shipowners and railway companies as to responsibility in cases of loss or destruction of property, &c., but the parallel seems to us not to hold. There is this grand distinction —the shipowner is more or less at the mercy of the winds and the waves-—forces that brook no obedience to man’s power : that is not by any means the case of the railway proprietor, who has indeed a servant of gigantic power to work for him, but a power which is not beyond control if the proper and well-known means be taken. The case of the owners of sea steamers is more nearly assimilated by the law to that of the companies accordingly. To complain, as is loudly done by the railway interest, that ship~ owners are liable, in case of loss in collision, only so far as the value of ship and freight extends; and that therefore they are placed in an unfair condition as compared with the companies, is hardly quite and to the letter tenable. The shipowners’ liability is so limited in respect of damage done, &c., “without his fault or privity;” the accidents that are chargeable upon the companies, without limitation of the extent of damage, are always proved to be owing to“ wrongful act, neglect, or default,” on the part of the company. Upon the same proof we apprehend the shipowner is liable for damage to property to any extent. The difference with respect to passengers has been introduced and maintained in consideration of railways having become the highroads of the kingdom, along which vast multitudes have no choice but to pass in pursuit of their daily business and callings. By others than the railway interest, Lord Campbell's act has been called the safeguard of all our lives,‘ and the only security that the public have against casualties. At any rate, it seems to be at once difiicult to suggest any substitute for the present system,-' or to improve it by additions of any kind. The suggestion of
1 See Evid. of Right Hon. Robert Lowe, pp. 59 57, 44._