19 OCTOBER 1850, Page 13


the right name for the misfortunes that befall travellers by railway: accident means an event which we do not foresee because the cause is unknown to us; but the cause of most of the railway " accidents" is perfectly known. A name ought to describe the thing named, =dm order to baptize anew this creation of modern clays, we must arrive at a clear conception of the thing. Let us examine a recent specimen. An "accident" not fatal, nor perhaps very seriously hurtful to anybody's limbs, happened upon the Great Northern Railway last Saturday evening; and as the producing cause was very simple and. very characteristic, it will help us readily to the desiderated idea. A train coming towards town left, near Stevenage, a truck full of granite paving-stones to be used in finisliing the work on some structure at that spot,—the line in general having far from a finished aspect. This truck had to be transferred across the line. About six o'clock, the five o'clock train from London, which does not stop at Stevenage, was due; so that it was of course matter for consi- deration whether to await the passing of that train or to stop it speci- ally. It would appear that the station-master resolved to stop the train; and he arranged the board at the signal-post accordingly. But Stevenage stands upon an "incline," and the day was getting dark; so that neither engine-driver nor guard saw the signal, and the slant made stoppage cult. Thus it befell that the two occupations, that of transferring the heavy truck of granite across the station, and that of driving the train past the station, were suffered to be gaing,on at the same moment No two occupations could be more incompatible with each other or with the safety of the persons immediately concerned. By the merest luck, the engino-driver was a man with much presence of mind, and the train was stopped witkgueli promptitude that it had only shot past the spot where the ident occurred by a good quarter of a niile before it was 'brought to a stand. For the truck was not exactly in the middle of theline, or the whole train would have been shut up into itself like 4-te,leseope, and the passengers would have been squeezed into the rOsf possible compass, as if by hydraulic tressure : the truck ,must have "been more than half of, •eherefore itonly damaged the engine, .raked the side of the train at its foremost half, and then, probably dropping back a little after the first jar, tore off the side of the remaining half—involving a few feet and legs in the raking process, and scattering splinters of wood and glass. In two se- conds the passengers were out on the side; and in the wreck of the train the agitated station-master learned how ineffective a sig- nal the wooden board is, at dusk, to prevent the incompatible oc- cupations of train-driving and line-crossing at the same moment The loss to the company, in repairs, must amount to several hundred pounds; in the subsequent diminution of fares, probably much more. The injury to the passengers, in delay, discomfort, broken appointments, fright, and bodily pain, is not to be ascer- tained. Now what was the cause of all this mischief P Railway transit consists in the rapid passage of various bodies along a fixed and very limited space; and as the machinery is among the most per- fect of our day, such transit can be managed with tolerable secu- rity, so long as the officers observe exactness in the distribution of times. Probably very rapid speed can never be attained by human means without some risk; but the risk can be minimized to the degree that nothing shall remain but pure genuine "acci- dent" Any relaxation of the exactness, however, is tantamount to putting the not unknown causes of disaster into operation. In this case we see, that the display of a red board, invisible at dusk, in lieu of a red light, which then becomes visible, was a negative form of permitting train and truck to dash together. The simplest manual operation 'would have prevented that collision: the absti- nence from that manual act was equivalent to saying, Let there be collision; and there was collision. Immediately after the accident, the station-master mounted the signal-post and lighted the red lamp. By that time he had acquired an adecivate motive to so much attention. Before the wreck was seen, it would appear from the event, no sufficient motive had existed to use the appointed means of prevention. It follows that the loss of property, the risk to life and limb, are not vividly present to the mind of railway officials; they do not really care enough about either to take the pains suffi- cient for prevention. We should except engine-drivers, whom we know, at certain periods, to have laboured under considerable ner- vous anxiety; but then they are personally exposed; and in this case, the driver's companion, the stoker, was severely cut. We do not except managers, because it is quite clear from the results, that they do not take the needful pains to establish and enforce such discipline as would maintain the safety of exactitude. The final result is, that the so-called " accidents ' distinctly occur through the persevering sufferance of railway managers and servants. We now know how to name these "accidents," not decreed by "chance," but by the negative though deliberate sufferance of railway managers and servants, and duly suffered by railway pas-, sengers : the injuries inflicted by the railway people on passengers should be called railway outrages. Common ruffians do not com- mand any such extensively deadly weapons as the railway ma- chinery. The most effective achievement of the railway system, its most perfect product, is this new specimen of outrage.