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1851. Insufficiency of Instructions and of Staff. 117 of the principal cause of the crash with that which we have just been describing. There were others, it is true, in the Sutton case, to make the tragedy more complete. Not only was the engine insufficient to bite the slippery rails, but defects in the carriages acted as a drag. The policemen usually stationed by the tunnel mouths were withdrawn at a time (the races) when they were specially needed; and the trains, instead of having a systematic precedence, were despatched as fast as they could be filled — filled extravagantly beyond the locomotive strength of the engines, as had been represented to be the case by the responsible officers of the company — the slowest happening to be sent off first. Yet, in his analysis of the causes of the previous accident at Blackheath, the Government inspector had embodied what, if it had been put into the shape of an order, and had been enforceable, instead of being a mere expression of opinion, would have guarded against the recurrence of this particular form of destructiveness, of which so fearful a repetition was to recur. The inspector said, "The causes of this accident * are at once apparent, namely — 1st, the insufficiency of engine
power, there having been only one pilot engine stationed at • Woolwich. 2ndly, the imperfect rules laid down for working the traffic through the tunnel. 3rdly, the neglect of the guard of the fruit train in leaving Strood without his fog-signals, and in not at once procuring others from the driver when he • found that his train was delayed.'
A general review of many reported railway accidents convinces us that a code for merely punishing stipendiary officers is not sufficient protection to the public. There must be something nearer an adoption of the obsta principiis. Unpunctuality is a main cause of accident;- an unpunctuality created by imperfect, because parsimonious, organisation. Subordinates, who would act most faithfully under distinct regulations and have a right to expect them for their guidance, are driven to rely on their own discretion; and instead of mere obedience to orders, a fund of individual resources seems to be taken for granted, such as one might be thankful for in effective commanders of armies. Those who are best trained to formal duties, are sometimes the worst fitted for emerging efforts of presence of mind and forethought. What should be as regular as the motions of the clock becomes an entanglement and confusion of persons and machinery, on the sudden aspect of danger and death. The station-master or pointsman has his instructions for acting according to a certain routine of trains; but the routine is not followed; and instead of acting on his instructions, he has to make, on the instant, a new arrangement,
se faithfully their sund of merbe take
of which he cannot calculate the results, and with which he cannot get his fellow-officers to co-operate. There is something pathetic in that part of the official Report on the Sutton accident, which describes the efforts of the guard of the fourth train to take a signal to the mouth of the tunnel. After passing the impediments in the tunnel, and beginning to run, he had only got back a very short distance, when he heard "the noise of another engine approaching.' The man's nerves had been very much shaken by the unusual circumstances under which he was called upon to act. Upon hearing the engine apparently quite close to him, while the darkness prevented his seeing any thing beyond the reach of his own small lamp, he completely lost his presence of mind and fell over the ballast in the centre of the tunnel : and there he lay all the time the last train was passing by him, as he himself relates, in such a state of excitement and fear, that he was scarcely conscious of any thing which occurred. In one case described by the Commissioners in their Report for 1850, the station-keeper had no clock or watch, but he took his time from the passing of a particular train; and that train being, on one occasion unpunctual, put him wrong, and a collision was the consequence. To the causes of accident already mentioned we must add badly framed and insufficient instructions, together with an imperfect supply of the minor machinery for a line — such as breaks and signals, and perhaps guards, as seems from what passed lately before the Lewes inquest. Among the multiform origins of railway evils neither last nor least, is the practice of permitting rules to be habitually neglected until some crash reminds the directors and superior officers of their existence.
All these with other latent causes of death are in perpetual operation, and the question still remains — how are we to be protected from them? The power and wealth of the railway corporations have, we all know, made Government loth to interfere with them; but the public now loudly demands increased protection and it must be given. As we have already said, we do not anticipate that absolute control will be necessary, or the penal punishment of directors for either carelessness or culpable parsimony. It is too clear, however, that penal consequences to culpable officers, though coupled with pecuniary loss to shareholders, are but poor protection. Perhaps the example set by the factories and mining acts may be followed ; and, in case of a stringent and minute system of inspection being adopted, to make it criminal in directors to continue any arrangement condemned as dangerous by the proper officer, might be as much security as the subject admits of.
Frequent Recklessness of Contractors.
Hitherto we have looked to the position of the passengers only; but they are not the only persons slain or maimed by railway trains. The companies collectively, and individually every company not in desperate circumstances, have a strong pecuniary interest in the safety of passengers; for, every fatal accident brings after it a collapse of passenger fares. But even this interest, which has been found insufficient to secure the highest degree of care, is wanting, (except as far as Lord Campbell's act creates it,) in the case of the public at large. It is the pecuniary interest of companies to carry their lines through all convenient levels, inhabited or not, leaving it to the public to take care of themselves. Thus we have annually a formidable item of railway accidents in trespassers and other per* sons, neither passengers nor servants of the company;' among whom the slaughter in 1847 was returned as 57; in 1848 as 43; in 1849 as 52; and, in 1850, 48. These numbers represent, in a great measure, victims deliberately offered up to the cheap construction of railways. Level crossings are less costly than bridges or tunnels, and they are sanctioned at so many lives a year. It would, we think, have been a good rule from the commencement, and one of which the cost would have been well repaid to the public in its sense of security and ease of mind, had all railways been, as it were, hermetically sealed, so as to render trespassing in them next to impossible..
There is yet another and a very heavy item of vital responsibility to be laid at the door of railway companies. How do they provide for the safety of their own servants? It is among these that we find the great preponderance of fatalities. Thus there were slain in 1847, 124; in 1848, 138; in 1849, 127; and, in 1850, 128. We cannot doubt that much of this sacrifice of hfe could be avoided by the adoption of precautionary arrangements at a slight increase of outlay. Here, however, is opened up a vista of other transactions, where life in the labouring elass has certainly been far more wantonly wasted than is at present the case in the working of our rail ways. The attention of the public was strongly directed, a few years ago, by Mr. Chadwick, to the inconsiderate selfishness of contractors for railway cuttings and other like works, in tempting their ignorant servants to put their lives in peril. In a parliamentary inquiry which followed, some witnesses startled the committee by their candour. Reference was made to the use of copper stemmers, instead of iron, for ramming home the powder for blasts; and the expediency of the substitution was supported by such instances as this: -- William Jackson, miner ;-He * was looking over John Webb's shoulder while he was stem
ming a hole charged with powder, when the blast went off, blowing the stemmer through Jackson's head, and killed him
on the spot.' An assistant engineer on the Sheffield and Manchester Railway — there is no occasion to give his name
being questioned about his own practice in this matter, said, When I inquired into the thing, I found so very few indeed were the accidents that occurred in consequence of the iron
stemmers which we used, that I did not think it worth while sto cause the whole system to be altered, and go to the expense of such tools;' which elicited from the querist the remark, You thought on the part of the company, that it was worth while running the risk of two or three men's lives rather than
going to the expense of more expensive tools.' The same gentleman's examination on the use of the patent fuse' was still more candidly characteristic. In blasting in this tunnel
was the patent fuse used ?'— No. Is that not more safe . for blasting than the common fuse?' – Perhaps it is; but it is attended with much loss of time, and the difference is so very small. I would not recommend the loss of time for all the extra ' lives it would save,' His unsophisticated ideas as to the worth of human life seem to have almost amused the Committee. Being asked, . How many deaths were incurred by accident during • the construction of the tunnel ? 'he answered, “Mr. Nicholson
states twenty-six. I think it may be possible—one or two more or less —somewhere thereabouts.'*
This gentleman appears to have been a rigid performer of his duty; and his duty was to blast rocks, not to save men's lives; which, at the rate of twenty-six per tunnel, more or less, he seems to have looked on as a trifling affair. Conscientious fulfilment of defined duties is one of the national virtues ; and the engineer's zeal for his own department only points to the propriety of what we have already hinted at, — separate provisions for insuring the safety of life at whatever cost, and their enforcement by persons whose special duty it shall be to carry them out. Many are the important things left undone, which will be done well if we can show them to be any one's special duty or function; but which will be neglected for ever while we can only speak of ultimate results. The nurse to whom sanitary reformers might plead for ever about the dangerous effects of her treatment of her own offspring, will do careful justice to the child she is employed to tend, not because
* Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Railway Labourers (1846). Questions 1592, 1609, 1629.
Mines; Defective Register of Accidents.
she loves it better than her own, but because she has stipulated to bestow on it a certain attention, and so made this her bounden charge. A great change was produced in the health of emigrants by bargaining with the medical superintendents of the vessels for so much per head, not according to the number embarked, but the number landed. It has been said that the increase in the health and vitality of the exiles which followed this arrangement, represented merely the mercenary motive. We hope, however, that it is not a refinement to think it partly owing to a more precise declaration, and a better adjustment of the obligation contracted for. In the one case the surgeon might conceive his duty to beusatisfied by attending to the passengers when they were ill and prescribing medicines for them; in the other, the proviso which made it his interest must have also shown him it was his duty to keep them alive, if possible, and, for this end, to keep them in health.
The Legislature of late years has in some measure carried out the object of this paper in the case of manufactories, emigrant vessels, and mines. In the last department, however, there is vast room still for further amendment; and if it do not soon come from the quarters more nearly interested, we should neither be surprised nor grieved to see that the country, impatient and indignant at the perpetually recurring slaughters in these dusky caverns, should angrily demand of the masters, for whom did
seethe a thousand men in troubles rude and dark,' an account of the blood spilt to make their fortunes. Mining workmen, like mariners, are reckless fatalists. But it is clear, that those who ought, in some measure, to rule their destinies, have not yet, in many instances, taken the first step towards the fulfilment of this duty by recording and classifying the character and causes of the several fatalities. Mr. Blackwell, in his Report on the Ventilation of Mines, presented to Parliament in 1850, says, “The returns * which can be obtained with respect to the number, nature, and
causes of accidents in mines, I have found to be in general so exceedingly vague and defective, that any conclusions based on them would be liable to error. With very few exceptions no accounts at all are kept at mining establishments on the subject. If accurate registers were to be found at such works of the 'accidents of every class which occur, along with the information
which might be rendered of their causes, nature, and results, 'a source of very important knowledge and correct conclusions
would be afforded.' Mankind have too long appeared much of Serjeant Kite's opinion, when he pleaded that his recruit had no visible means of subsistence, because he is a miner, and works "underground.' The class are so far severed, socially and phy