24 OCTOBER 1952, Page 15

Working to Rule

Suit,—Will you permit me to call attention to one aspect of the situation on the railways extremely disturbing to the mind of the ordinary layman, namely the admitted fact that it would be impossible for the staff to render literal obedience to the rules laid down for them—many in the interest of safety—without reducing the whole system to chaos ? The inevitable effect of this on the mind of the guard, engine-driver, or other railway worker must surely be to create the impression that it is up to him to determine to what extent, and in what sense, the rules laid down for his guidance are to be obeyed, if obeyed at all. One wonders what would be the effect of a similar discretion accorded

to the motorist in dealing with the law of the road, or to the soldier with particular or standing orders.

I remember, very many years ago now, reading of an accident on a single-track line in Wales, where safety was guaranteed by a code of regulations so elaborately fool-proof that it was impossible to conceive of such a thing as a collision, Milli one day what were prob- ably the only two trains on the line crashed into each other head on. And then it came out that everyone concerned had for years been in the habit of treating these rules as so much eyewash, and habitually ignoring each and every one of them.

And one has heard, from those professing to be in the know, of old experienced drivers admitting that in their time they have chanced signals that for some reason or other -they have failed specifically to observe—and got away with it. And whether we are to believe these stories or not, it is what would appear to follow from a habit of playing fast and loose with the letter of the rule.

Admittedly no rule can be an absolute guarantee against failure in the huinan element. Some of us can still just remember the time when the most scientific seaman in- the navy- not only gave, but obstinately and angrily persisted in, an -order that, as everyone else could see, could only result in his own flagship, and that of his vice- admiral ramming one another. Though even here, if there had been a hard and fast Admiralty instruction against such a turn inward as that ordered by Admiral Tryon, it is conceivable that disaster might, have been averted.

Surely the first thing needful is to have a railway code capable of commanding a hundred-per-cent. obedience, both in -the letter and