21 AUGUST 1852, Page 15


1 Adam Street, .eldelphi, 14th August 1852. Sea—The public are largely indebted to you for the care with which you watch over the interests of all those travelling by land or by water. As "in a multitude of councillors there is wisdom," will you permit me to make a few remarks on your article of today entitled "Elate towards a new Pros- perity for British Railways." You say, "Railway 'accidents' are crimes." By this you infer, that the irregular circumstances on railways inducing loss of life and other analogous , evils are not accidents in the true sense of the word—i. e. things net to be foreseen—but that they are things that could have been foreseen had compe- tent minds applied themselves to the object ; that is to say, rules and laws could be made a priori to guard against every contingency. I cannot go this length with you; for by this reasoning, all acts of Parliament ought to be perfect on their passing—ought to be made a priori by foreseeing all possible circumstances. Yet what IS the fact ? almost all laws are afterthoughts, , not forethoughts. Members of society steal from each other, and laws are , made against theft ; they kill or wound each other, and laws are made 'against killing and wounding; and so on, in all new circumstances that ' arise. Thus a railway, in its origin, was not aperfected invention ; nor is it Iyet perfect. The system is an irregular series of contrivances—not fore. thoughts, but afterthoughts—growing up as circumstances call for them ; al- most every month producing some new contrivance to replace an insufficient one which is cast away. Out of these contrivances grow up a code of rules, supposed to be perfect till some new circumstance discovers their imper- fection, and an alteration ensues. With all this, there is one clear distinction in favour of safety with steam. locomotion as compared with horse-traction--the absence of animal volition— runaway horses : but even in this case, the runaway horse may be sagacious enough to avoid a precipice or a brick wall, while the runaway engine would leap the precipice or dash through the wall. But it is clear that the run- away engine would only be a circumstance of carelessness or wilful mischief. In all circumstances but animal volition, and the fact that railway-wheels are self-guided, the sources of accident are nearly the same on the railway as on the highway ; and there are accidents which no care can guard against, theugh there are many so-called accidents that are attributable to careless- ness. The axles both of railway-carriages and stage-coaches are subject to breakage by a certain amount of vibration in work, where they are not so bedded in timber as to take off the vibration. If the structure be such as to involve injury to the passengers in the breaking of the axles, they ought to be removed and replaced before the periodical breaking-time. To fail in this would be carelessness or wilfulness, because it is a known circumstance. It would not be an accident. But an axle might break from a flaw not dis- coverable by examination, and that would be an accident. What is called testing is not always certain. A steam-boiler in the process of testing might be strained and rendered unsoundind yet pass muster after the very process that had rendered it dangerous. There is no absolute certainty in materials.

Nor is it possible to make trains absolutely certain in their movement so as to avoid collision. It is supposed that considerable intervals between trains is a great element of safety. But in a line of much traffic, the trains are usually increased in size and weight to compensate for the smaller num- ber. They thus become less manageable in stopping and starting, and more damaging to the rails, increasing the sources of danger from collision ; which may be tans summed up-- 1. A train in motion running into a train at rest ; 2. One train overtaking another ; 3. The locomotive getting off the rails, and the carriages in: motion sud- denly impinging on each other by the force of momentum ; 4. Bad management of the points, putting the locomotive on one line and the train on the other.

The first case must be carelessness, or a bad management of the line, pre- venting the driver seeing, or a steep incline preventing the breaks from acting. The cause of the breaks not acting is, that they are not constructed to act on the rails as the shoe on the highway, but merely act against the wheels, which easily slip over the surface.

The second case may be carelessness on the part of the hinder driver ; or the engine of the first train may be slipping its wheels from an overload, or from greasy rails, in wet weather, while the momentum of the hinder train is carrying it over. Or a leak may have sprung in the foremost boiler, put- ting out the fire : an accident not to be foreseen. The slipping of the wheels arises sometimes from the unctuous substances on the rails. Thus the very salid which is thrown on the rails to prevent slipping and produce adhe- sion, is converted into a kind of silica soap by the grinding process; and the remedy is woMe than the disease. But the commonest kind of slipping is by the rail bending or yielding beneath the centre or driving-wheels, while the machine is supported by the leading and trailing wheels. It is a case of disproportion between the road and the engine. This is clearly not ac- cidental.

The third case—getting off the rails while running—may arise from seve- ral special circumstances, but the primary one is the insufficiency of the road. It may occur from obstacles• placed on the rails by carelessness or wilfulness, but the common cause is inefficiency at the joints. One of the wooden keys gets loose and falls out, so that the rail-end is displaced. But if the wooden key be only a piece of timber about six inches by three inches wide and two inches thick, it is manifest that the side-lurch of an engine weighing thirty tons is a crushing force quite sufficient to account for so small a surface yielding to the pressure and getting loose. If evidence be wanted that both rails, fastenings, and structure, are insufficient for the roll- ing loads, it may be found in the enormous sums per mile annually paid by the companies for maintenance of way. Years ago, when the question of speed was discussed by a Committee of the House of Commons, 34r. Robert Stephenson gave emphatic warning, that if the companies would insist on using enormous engines, they would have to remake their lines. In con- structing a line of rail, the first consideration is to obtain a rail of such depth and width that it will neither deflect vertically nor laterally beneath the heaviest weight that may be rolled over it. If it deflects, it will crush into the timber or other material which supports it, and will all become loose ; and the timber or other sleepers will deflect into the ballast, and constant re- paration will be needed. If the rail does not deflect beneath the load, and if the iron is sufficiently good not to laminate or disintegrate, the way will be permanent, and if the other materials are good, may last twenty to thirty years without repairs. The proportion that should obtain between the loco- motive ard the way it runs on is a question still to be settled; but it is quite clear that a good margin should be allowed in favour of the road. The fourth case—bad management of the points—may be best provided for by making the mechanism of the points self-acting, and in addition setting a tnan to watch them and see that they are always in order. To open and shut points neatly and cleverly, is occasionally a feat of some dexterity, and especially when the locomotive is required to go in one direction and the carriages in another. A man may put the machine in order calmly and at leisure, as a man may construct a gun, but it does not follow that he can al- ways use it calmly. A careful man in charge of a self-acting machine is about the best security .we can obtain for certainty. The conclusion I arrive at is, that although no precautions can make se- entity absolute, there is much yet to be done on railways to increase security. With regard to the speed of express-trains the absolute speed is rarely greater than that of ordinary trains, which travel faster between stations to make up for loss in stopping and starting at and from stations. Speed is a desirable element in itself; for—without going into the question of "fast men "—it may be held as a convertible term for extension of life. Travel- ling, in many cases, is not an enjoyment, but merely a waste of time. If all stopping-places for stopping trains be off the main line' out of the way, and if the express-trains be light in hand, they would not damage the line or be subject to accident, and there seems no reason why their speed should be limited. One element of safety is the easy traction of the train, and one source of difficult traction is the length of the train' and especially in round- ing curves. The number of the passengers should be proportioned to the engine-power—that is to say, the most powerful engine the rails can sustain without damage. They will require a certain amount of floor area in pro- portion to the fares they pay—first, second, and third class ; and the form of that floor area should resemble that of a ship in its length and breadth ; the greater the breadth the less will be the length and resistance. Were it possible to construct the whole train as a single carriage, it would be a great advantage in steadiness and safety ; as it is an ascertained fact, that in cases of collision the largest carriages afford the greatest safety to passengers. The world—the civilized world—is growing larger every day. Without quoting the vulgar adage, "Time is money," we may take it for granted that time is life. We cannot save it from sleep, but we may save it from transit, by shortening transit's duration. We cannot travel far without re- freshment, nor can we with safety to health leap out of a carriage and throw bird down our throats like ballast. We therefore must have refreshment on distant journies in the carriage. An approximation to the sea-steamer will be required in the land-steamer. The carriages will yet be constructed so that people may stand up or sit down at pleasure, and take refreshment with- out losing time during a whole day's journey. At no distant period Liver- pool will be within four hours' and Glasgow within eight hours' distance from LOiidon.