Page images

pected to fall back into that position after a train has passed through them, and are left in many cases to do so of themselves. The system of self-acting points is convenient in goods' yards, in positions where goods' trains pass through them, or goods' waggons are shunted through them, at very slow speeds; but it ought never to be employed in the case of facing-points through which passenger trains are in the habit of running. Such points ought always to be held, or secured, or locked in position; and to be provided with convenient handles, judiciously placed.

There is another precaution also which ought to be observed with regard to them, but which has not received the same attention in this as in other countries. An engine-driver cannot see, as he approaches a pair of facing-points, whether they are set right for him to proceed until he is very near them; and he is obliged, if it be his duty to pass them at speed, to take it for granted that they are so. In some cases he finds that they are unattended, and are set in the wrong direction, when it is not only too late for him to pull up, but even to effect any perceptible diminution in his speed; and in other cases he is equally helpless when the pointsman makes a mistake and turns them in the wrong direction.

In order to provide against these sources of accident, the points and signals have been so connected at most of the junctions constructed within the last two or three years, that the signals cannot be lowered for a train to proceed until the points have been first set in the right direction, and that the points cannot then be altered until after the signal which applies to them has been again raised to danger.' Disc or other signals are now attached also to those facing-points which occur on single lines in the neighbourhood of stations or sidings, to indicate danger' or 'all right' to an engine-driver while he is still at some distance from them. These are precautions which ought by degrees to be brought into universal use. The smaller signals which are used to indicate the condition of isolated facing-points ought, however, to show clearly the side towards which the points are turned as well as the exact position in which they stand, because it is desirable that a driver shall be able to see for himself at a glance, as he approaches them, not only whether they are set in the right direction, but also whether they are fully turned over in that direction. Such points are almost certain to throw a train off the line when they are partly open and partly shut.

In one year there were ten, and in another eleven accidents at facing-points; but the average number per annum of those which are brought under the notice of the Board of Trade does not exceed five. They ought not to occur unless there be a Vol. 111.-No. 221.



gross mistake or great neglect on the part of a responsible man, in performing a duty for which proper appliances are afforded. They often occur in consequence of the points not being attended to at all, or of the employment of unfit or inexperienced servants, or of servants with other distant duties to perform, or for want of the best appliances. There have been cases in which a pointsman has turned the points in the wrong direction as a train was approaching; but accidents of this sort are either prevented altogether or are rendered less liable to occur when the indicating-signals referred to are attached to them. The pointsmen are thus, besides being made more careful in working the points, reminded in all cases of the side to which they ought to be turned.

In an accident in the south of Ireland by which five lives were lost, a mail-train ran into a siding through a pair of points which had stuck in the wrong direction, were in bad order, and were unattended. The points in this case were so constructed as to be self-acting in the ordinary way. They were intended to have been kept spiked, so as to be right for the main line; but that precaution was not observed.

In the south-east of Scotland a train was turned into a siding by an invalid shoemaker who had taken charge of the points on low wages for the sake of the change of air and scene which the duty would afford him!

A breaksman unacquainted with the working of certain points near Liverpool, turned some goods' waggons on to a main line instead of into a siding during the absence of the regular pointsman (who was not kept on duty on Sunday), and left them standing there in a fog without the least suspicion of his mistake, until they were run into by a passenger-train.

One accident of this sort was wilfully produced, and in a manner characteristic of the country in which it occurred. A young woman who was about to be married to an engine-driver on a railway in the north of Ireland, arranged, somewhat suddenly, to start off with him one evening in a train which he was driving. The affair got wind, and there was a considerable crowd and much confusion on the station-platform. The brideelect had sent her box to the station, and had informed the station-master that she intended to walk on to another station to meet the train. Her father and brother, who were not propitious, were unable to find her either on the platform or in the carriages, though she entered one of them from the wrong side, and they endeavoured in vain to prevent her box from being placed in the van; but they suspected that she was in the train, and they determined to detain her and it together. The night was dark, and


there were a pair of facing-points leading to a siding, and into a bog, near the end of the platform. In collusion, as was suspected, with the station-porter, they fastened the points over in the wrong direction; and after the train had started the driver found, to his surprise, that he was proceeding along the siding instead of the main line. Before he could pull up, his engine ran into the bog. The young woman, in her alarm, jumped out of her carriage into a pool of water, but happily without any serious consequences; and the pair were afterwards, we understand, conveyed as fellow-passengers in another train, and united after a less romantic journey.

We have now, in sufficient detail for our present purpose, gone through the different causes by which railway accidents are produced, and the precautions by which the greater number of them may be altogether avoided, and the remainder may have their evil effects materially alleviated. We do not wish to indulge in, or to lay before our readers, any exaggerated expectations of immunity from these disasters. We are too well acquainted with the imperfection of human instrumentality to suppose, that even if all the systems of working were rendered perfect, if all the requisite means and appliances were supplied, and if all failure of materials were provided against, there would not still be mistakes on the part of some, and neglect on the part of others, of the officers and servants employed. If the railway officers and servants were as careless as the general public-who post 10,000 letters in one year without any address on them, who send 4607. worth of property in letters that can neither be delivered nor returned, and only 286 of whose letters out of every 287 can be made to reach their owners-we should find railway travelling a very different and very dangerous business.

Most fortunately it is found by the test of experience that it is not so, and that increased responsibilities lead to greater care and foresight.

The same experience shows also, that three-fourths of the serious accidents that occur might very well be avoided altogether; that instead of having to record an average of seventy-six accidents every year, we need only, after allowing amply for all neglects, failures, defects, and contingencies, have to put up with nineteen, or say twenty, if proper precautions were observed; and that as those accidents which are most destructive to the passengers are also those which might best be prevented, and as the precautions that ought to be adopted would further tend to diminish the evil effects of those that would still occur, the proportion of passengers killed and injured would be reduced in a much greater ratio than the number of accidents; and, in

D 2


fact, that the loss of life and injuries necessarily incident to railway travelling would, under such circumstances, become very small indeed.

The strength of materials is now so far ascertained, the processes of manufacture have arrived at such a degree of perfection, and the proper principles of construction are so well understood, that there is practically hardly any risk of failure in the permanent way, the bridges, the engine boilers, or any of the machinery of a railway upon which safety depends, when proper trouble is taken to make them safe, when they are not retained in use for too long a period, when due attention is paid to deterioration, decay, corrosion, and all the effects of wear and tear, and when a sufficient margin for safety is allowed. A piece of boiler-plate of fair quality, which will sustain a breaking strain of 20 tons to the square inch and upwards, may be employed with perfect confidence up to a strain of 4 or 5 tons to the square inch; and there is no necessity for subjecting it in any case to a greater strain; and so on with other materials. Structures of timber, and masonry, and brickwork, bend, or crack, or open, or show alterations of shape, before they finally give way; and they should be attended to in time, instead of being employed up to the last moment as is sometimes done. The only contingencies against which we cannot altogether provide are:-1. Human mistakes and misconduct; 2. Occasional flaws in cast-iron; and 3. Defective welds in wrought-iron; and even these may be counteracted to some extent. Proper treatment and good appliances, and the employment of experienced and responsible officers and servants, will reduce human mistakes and misconduct to a minimum. Cast-iron need not be used at all in positions in which an undiscoverable flaw would affect the public safety. Wheel-tyres can be so fastened to wheels as to prevent them from flying off, or flying open, even if they do give way at a defective weld.

There are already in existence very efficient means for procuring safety on railways, if only undue economy, false interest, or unseemly prejudice did not interfere to prevent these means from being made the most of. The real difficulty is not to devise new methods of security, but to induce those who have the charge of railways to employ to the best advantage the means which are already at their disposal.

It will be our last duty to consider how this end can be best attained, and how a greater degree of attention than is at present given to the safety of our travelling public can be enforced. In doing so, we cannot agree with our Northern contemporary who has during the past year so eloquently demanded


extended Government interference, amidst glowing descriptions of crashes between opposing trains, rushing like infuriated bulls into the embrace of death,-of the never-to-be-forgotten carnage of peace, more appalling than that of war,—of gravitation, trees, platelayers, boulders, mechanists, and felons,—of atoms of iron unshackled by frost,-and of imaginations riveted (like boilerplates) with horrors. We write with somewhat the same views, and in the self-same interest; but we conceive that an opposite and more commonplace remedy would be more effectual, more easily applied, and more in accordance with the customs and constitution of the country.

Government interference judiciously exercised at an early stage would, no doubt, have been of great benefit, and might have been the means of saving the railway companies themselves from many of the evils under which they are now labouring. They would have avoided excessive and expensive competition as well as much extravagance in construction; and they would have attained greater uniformity in many respects, the want of which entails the most serious disadvantages. But Government interference at the present time, besides requiring a large staff, would be attended with great difficulties if it were carried to the extent of attempting a remedy for all the preventible causes from which railway accidents arise, and of assuming the control of each particular railway. Setting aside the anomaly of arbitrarily compelling a number of different companies which are working for profit to spend money upon objects which their own officers may consider useless and unprofitable, it must be remembered that grave differences would be liable to arise continually between the Government officers and the railway officers, as they do now between the officers of the different companies themselves, on the question of safety. It is desirable that improvements on any railway should as far as possible be introduced under the auspices of those who have the management of it, to give them a fair chance of success, rather than that they should be carried out by those who disapprove of them and would not be sorry to prove them to be defective. It will readily be seen" that the officers of a railway company would be inclined on the one hand to lay the blame of any accident that might happen upon a Government improvement, whilst the Government officers might discover on the other hand that it was owing to the want of its having been properly carried out; and that neither of them would be practically responsible in such a case for the public safety.

We conceive that, in place of dividing the responsibility in this manner, we ought, on the contrary, to do everything in


« PreviousContinue »