RAILWAY PASSENGERS AND RAILWAY COMPANIES.
-EVERYWHERE and in everything that mankind do womankind seems to be determined on giving mankind a lead. The President of the Alpine Club on Wednesday night complained that even the Alps had now been inundated by regiments of women, all over 6 ft. high, and that the moun- tains had to bow their diminished heads. Lord Justice Bowen was relieved to hear that the female `plaintiff-in-person' had left the mazes of the law for the dizzy summits of the Alps. But he was oblivious of the ubiquity of women. There are no signs that the Law Courts will be abandoned by women. It has been the fashion to accuse women of being illogical, and of a deficiency in logic. Such an accusation cannot justly be made against the female law-goer. She pushes logical consequences to their utmost limit with pitiless rigour. Mrs. Weldon has hunted down the defects of the law of lunacy with remorseless persistence and logical completeness. It is to a female plaintiff that we owe a similar demonstration of the logical fallacies and practical absurdity of the Law of Railways and Railway passengers. On June 5th, 1883, one of the days of the Ascot race meetings, Mrs. Lawrie took three tickets for Ascot for herself and two friends. She tendered in payment the ordinary fares, but was compelled to pay special fares at a higher rate. The reason of this was that on that day, as usual during the Ascot races, the London and South-Western Railway Company " suspend " their ordinary trains until 2 p.m., and only run special trains at special and higher fares. A mere man had previously contested the right of the Company to charge more than the ordinary fare, but he had been hopelessly beaten, it being conclusively shown that, under their special Act, the Company were entitled to charge special fares for special trains. Mrs. Lawrie, however, with superior insight and logical acumen, took her tickets on the day in question, as she has informed an admiring world through the columns of the leading journal, for the express purpose of determining the root question. This was, not whether the Company could charge special fares for special trains, but whether they were entitled to suspend the ordinary trains at their pleasure, and compel people to travel by special trains at special rates, or prevent them from travelling at all. Whether, if Mrs. Lawrie had argued the case in person, instead of trusting it to a male Q.C., she would have prevailed, we shall never know, unless she will take the case to the Appeal Court. The Attorney-General was too much for her advocate. The Queen's Bench Division has decided in the most uncompromising way that, not only is a Railway Company entitled to force its passengers into special trains at special fares whenever it pleases, but is even entitled to prevent them from travelling at all, and to shut its stations and its line to them altogether. It was vainly urged that the Cheap Trains Act, 1844, said that " Whereas it is expedient to secure the poorer class of travellers the means of travelling by railway," " all passenger Railway Companies shall, by means of ono train at the least afford such facilities to travel along their rail- way," at third-class fares, and that, therefore, there was an implied obligation to carry other passengers more often, and as often as was reasonable. But this contention was effectually disposed of by Mr. Justice Smith. " In truth there is no obligation on this Company to run any trains at all ; the Cheap Trains Act only provided " (" so long as they shall con- tinue to carry other passengers ") " that if any trains are run, the Company must run one Parliamentary train each way." It may be doubted whether this decision is not founded on too technical grounds. Over and over again powers have been exercised by Railways, even under bye-laws sanctioned by the Board of Trade, which have been held to be an unreasonable exercise of power, and the bye-laws unreasonable and, therefore, ultra tires and void. Surely if ever there was an unreason- able exercise of unreasonable power, there was in this case. Railway Companies as public bodies are invested by Parlia- ment with the most arbitrary power of compulsion over individuals in regard to the taking of property for their lines and stations, of charging rates and fares, and of exercising jurisdiction over property and persons. It is odd that in return for these concessions, there is no obligation on the Company to serve the public, or to serve them with a reason- able service of trains.
No one wishes to deprive Railway Companies of their oppor- tunities for making hay while the sun shines. It would be both reasonable and beneficial if, during Ascot week, the South- Western ran specials to Ascot in addition to their ordinary trains, and charged special fares for the extra trains. But it is surely unreasonable to cut off all communication between Ascot and London at ordinary fares, and to sever connection with inter- mediate stations altogether. Supposing during the great Northern carnival of the Waterloo Cup the North-Western, Midland, and Great Western were to combine to run none but special trains at exorbitant rates between London and Liverpool, anal to stop all traffic between intermediate stations, the whole economy of the country would be dis- organised. Or supposing that the directors disapproved of coursing as a form of vivisection, and to prevent its encourage- ment stopped the whole traffic to Liverpool for a week. Suppose that Railway directors had determined to stop the Reform Demonstration of 1884 by refusing to run trains to any places from which tributaries to the demonstration were intended to go. According to this decision any of these proceedings would be legal and possible. It may be true that according to the letter of the law it is so. Railway legislation halts terribly behind the age. Even as regards goods traffic, which was the origin and for a long time the chief raison d'etre of railways, Mr. Chamberlain has conclusively demonstrated that railway law is in need of a thorough reform. The theory of railways still is that people will run their own trains over railway lines, and keep private locomotives as they keep broughams. Even as regards the safety of travellers and servants, the representa- tion of a Coroner's Jury the other day that Coroners' Juries had repeatedly pointed out to the South-Western the necessity of protecting a certain level-crossing, yet another man had been killed there through the absence of protection, shows how needful further legislation is to protect mere life. As railway legislation has in nearly every case been promoted by and in the interests of Railway Companies, it is not surprising that the interests and convenience of their passengers have been overlooked. If there is no implied reciprocity of rights and duties as between Companies and passengers, there must be express reciprocity. One of the great dangers of our modern social system is the enormous power wielded by great trading corporations. It is high time that fresh legislation were undertaken as regards railways, not only for traders and goods traffic, but also on behalf of the general public and potential and actual passengers. Mean- while, we may be thankful to Mrs. Lawrie for 'having exposed in its full absurdity the present state of the law.