Imágenes de páginas

girder. I then visited the foundry, which proved to be a very

small affair, in very confined premises.' On farther inquiry he found, that several attempts had been made before even so successful an effort was accomplished; but that there had been all along differences of opinion about the sufficiency of the girder, and that there is one up now still more imperfect.'* The result of the investigation is, that the Commissioners hope that the • Directors will see the propriety of adopting precautions for the • safety of the public,' &c.

The railway companies, in their litigations with parties claiming damages for injury caused by accident, strongly endeavoured to carry as a point of law, the principle that they were not responsible for the consequences of these “latent • defects' as they were called ; but their liability fortunately was sustained. It is not sufficient, however, that the courts, both civil and criminal, are open in case of injury : the public should be protected from risk. But the adoption of preconstituted securities for the sufficiency of materials would be

expensive. Certainly; and here we are driven back on the axiom with which we started, that the safety of life is the first thing to be provided for. For a decrease of the 20,000 annual deaths by violence, we must look to the statistical classification of the causes of these deaths; and seek to induce the Legislature to take peremptory protective measures against each operative cause, - however much it may embarrass the probable investment of capital or the amount of dividends. It is admitted, that in most of the affairs of life the people of this country require less central interference than those of any other European nation. This may be true, even of railway travelling. The general safety, considering how slight is the governmental control over the powerful corporations entitled to make their profits by conveying passengers and goods in the cheapest manner, is even at present most remarkable. , The number of passengers killed was 30 in 1847, 21 in 1848, 23 in 1849, and 32 in 1850. So small a proportion of deaths levied on the travelling community shows that what the companies require is not so much control as regulation. A more effective check on carelessness or parsimony, and a closer responsibility, might reduce the number of accidents nearly to zero. In the meantime we have no hold on companies to prevent them from gambling with the public safety. In other words, though they are pecuniarily responsible for injuries caused by carelessness or defectiveness, and though they know that when any

* Report of Commissioners of Railways, 1850, p. 65.


The Railway Board, and its Circulars.


flagrant calamity occurs, their line will be for a time deserted, they have it in their power to run risks involving both the lives of the passengers and their own fortunes, in sanguine reliance on the chapter of accidents turning up in their favour, - and we know that they have persevered in doing so.

The Reports of the Railway Commissioners are filled with expostulations to the companies to abandon practices fraught with danger, such as have come under the notice of the inspector from their being of a kind which have occasioned fatal accidents. For instance, when the train went off the rails at Rockliffe, on the Caledonian line, and killed five people, besides doing much secondary mischief, it was found that the whole had been caused by the defective construction of a fixture on a wheel. It would surely be no extravagant interference with freedom of action and the rights of property, to make it penal to employ a wheel of so dangerous a construction. The Railway Board, however, could only gently report that' it appeared to the inspecting

officer that the wheel had been improperly fitted in the first in

stance in the manufactory; and as a great number of wheels fixed in a similar manner were in daily use upon railways, and the

accident had occurred on this wheel after it had travelled from * 12,000 to 13,000 miles, the Commissioners caused a circular ' to be sent to the Railway Companies calling attention to the * remarks of the inspecting officer upon the advisability of an . examination of all wheels so fixed, and the adoption of mea6 sures to prevent a similar catastrophe. Yet, if any company chose to disregard this representation, and for the sake of present economy, to take the chance of a similar catastrophe, there appears to be no law subjecting the managing partners to responsibility by punishment as criminals, for this wholesale gambling with human life. People may differ on the propriety of making directors criminally responsible, at least until they are fully warned, and defy the warning. But surely when death has occurred, and scientific authorities point out the distinct cause of it, there should be summary means of interference. It is not enough, that railway servants are punishable by the criminal law for any neglect of duty, according to the nature of the case. A stricter protection of the public requires that some person should be authorised to see that there are no latent sources of danger in the materials or machinery and the general arrangements. Most recent accidents on railways bring home the cause to an insufficient staff of skilled employés, and to a dangerous economy overtasking the capacity of subordinate officers. Thus in the alarming accident at Cowlairs, near Glasgow, several people were


killed from palpable deficiency of service and caution ; yet no one was penally responsible; since the subordinate officers who were tried could not be punished for mere failure to do impossibilities; and their superiors, who were well scolded by the bench, bad, in lowering their establishment to so fatal a pitch, committed no crime punishable by law. The public will never feel at ease while their safety depends on the discretion of inferior and uneducated officers, with too a heavy an amount of duty economised on their shoulders. A collision occurred on the Leeds and Thirsk line in September, 1849; and it appeared from the report of Captain Simmons that, while eleven passenger trains passed the spot daily, there were two goods trains, concerning which the principal regulations were, — that, the goods guards must endeavour to work their trains so as not to impede passenger trains,' and 'a goods, mineral, or ballast train, when likely to be overtaken by 'a passenger train, shall shunt at least fifteen minutes before the passenger train is due, and wait there five minutes after the passenger train is past. Thus, the safety of every traveller on that line depended on the discretion of the guards of those goods trains, who no doubt for their own safety would ' en*deavour to work their trains so as not to impede passenger • trains,' though perhaps they might sometimes find it a perilous kind of pilotage ; and would also shunt when likely to be

overtaken by a passenger train, provided they knew distinctly when there was such a likelihood. In fact, the accident was occasioned by the guard of a goods train being utterly ignorant whether the passenger train was due or not. This seems a teinpting of Providence as it is called,-rather a defying. Cap, tain Simmons naturally suggested, -nothing beyond a suggestion could come from the Railway Board,—that there should be fixed arrangements on the line, .so that the drivers and guards should be relieved from the undue responsibility now attached to them, in starting on a journey with no instructions as to the

getting out of the way of passenger trains beyond the above• quoted regulations, and a printed passenger time-table.

The accounts of fifty separate accidents in the last Commissioners' Report (some of them already referred to) show a remarkable generic similarity in the causes at work: the same deficiencies uniformly repeating themselves, with little perceptible difference except that the amount of slaughter varies with the number of victims present at the time. A succinct tabular statement of these accidents and their causes might, one should think, be prepared to good purpose, and be widely distributed especially among railway servants. Some companies would not like this, as it must show the men how great a proportion of cases arises from ex

aloers are the such as this indeedermission having house the boile

1851. Collision at Cowlairs and the Sutton Tunnel. 115 cessive parsimony and an insufficient establishment. It would also show, how often the most respectable and painstaking officers are the victims of these defects. However unpleasant or bumiliating such a record might be, it could not but be of service. This system has indeed been partially commenced by the Railway Board in the transmission of circular notices on the prevalent causes of accident. Thus, having had to examine four successive accidents caused by the explosion of the boiler, a circular was sent to the several companies, which ran thus : • The Commissioners are informed that these occurrences all

receive a very probable solution; and the facts connected with them tend to establish that the water in the boilers had been • allowed, either by accident or neglect, to diminish, so as to • leave the top of the fire-box uncovered, and therefore liable to

acquire a great heat from the continued action of the fire. • Under these circumstances, the supply of water has been in"creased, or, from other causes, it has accumulated at the fire"box end of the boiler, so as to flow over the heated plate. This

action would produce a very rapid evaporation ; and it is pro• bable that it has been so rapid and to such an extent, that neither the escape of steam through the cylinders nor the

safety-valves has been sufficient to relieve the pressure suddenly . produced in the boiler; and explosion has taken place.'

The two most fatal accidents which have latterly appalled the public — that of Cowlairs, near Glasgow, and that of the Sutton or Frodsham Tunnel, — are both, in their operative causes, typified by similar minor accidents, which might have been, but fortunately were not, equally fatal,—and, like them, are traceable to defective and parsimonious arrangements. At Cowlairs an engine was to pass from the front, cross, and get to the back of a train. The nearest crossing point was shut by the carriages of this train — the next by another train. The driver of the latter was requested to move back and open the crossing. He politely did so. One cannot help speculating how his passengers would have felt in the consciousness that this little accommodation exposed them for a couple of minutes to about as much danger as the soldiers who defended Hougemont at Waterloo. The end of the train stretched beyond the signalpost. It was but two minutes exposed, but that was enough; another train coming up with unconscious rapidity, dashed into it. The precaution, which would have averted the collision, was the sending a man back with a hand signal; but there was no one to do this duty. In fact, the few officers present,—the breakbeadsman, guard, and engineman,—had a fearful press of business and responsibility thrown on them; and they found themselves

convicted the train draw the actor back is then

signatsman, and

without definite instructions, under circumstances, for which, indeed, they had not sufficient official strength, however fully they might have been instructed. It would seem, from the inspector's Report, that the driver wished a pointsman to take a signal, but the man said he had other things to do. He then

directed his fireman to go and tell the guard to go back with a

signal. ... Whilst the fireman was in the act of going to tell *the guard to go back, the train drawn by Brown's engine

came in sight from around the curve,' and the crash took place. Could any jury convict the driver, who had asked, first, the pointsman, and then the fireman to tell the guard to go with a signal; or the pointsman, who had other things to do; or the fireman, who could not find the guard in an instant; or the guard, who was not told; or even the driver of the advancing train, who, in unconscious security, was coming up very fast? This tragedy occurred in August, 1850. Within two months we find the same story repeated, in everything but its bloody conclusion; and this was averted only by the peculiar skill and carefulness of the driver of the assaulting train. At Woodlesford, on the Midland line, an excursion train was detained. The weather was foggy, and the train stretched 160 yards beyond the signal ; being thus unprotected by it, when another train came up. The driver was proceeding with extreme caution, and the collision was slight; but it might have been more deadly even than that of Cowlairs.

On the 15th July, 1850, a train entered the Blackheath tunnel of the North Kent line, of which the cavernous progress is thus described by the Government inspector: - The load • proved too great for the engine on so steep an incline, and • with such slippery rails. The train, too, owing to the previous

delays, commenced the ascent at a very slow pace, when it • wanted all the momentum of accumulated speed to carry it up

the incline. The engine had only got a few yards inside the 'tunnel when the driving wheels began to slip, and soon the • speed was so much reduced, that the fireman jumped off, and

walked beside the engine shovelling up sand upon the wet • rails, to enable the driving-wheels to bite, the engine having a • sand-box only on one side.' Thus was it slowly labouring through the tunnel, when a passenger train ran into it. The Blackheath tunnel, therefore, would have anticipated the terrible catastrophe at Sutton, but for a material element of difference. Instead of human beings, the train broken in upon was freighted with fruit for Covent Garden Market. Sutton has left scars on the public mind too deep to be soon forgotten; and some of our readers will remember the identity

« AnteriorContinuar »