THE BRIGHTON RAILWAY ACCIDENT.
TO THE EDITOR OP THE SPECTATOR.
RoscommonStreet, Liverpool, 27th October 1841. Stu—Considering the subject of railways and any important occurrence re- lative thereto universally interesting, and having carefully paused the evidence, --with the editorial remarks and those of several correspondents, which have ar peered in the public prints respecting the late melancholy accident on the Lon- don and Brighton Railway, by which four human beings were prematurely hurried into eternity, and the prosperity (which, judging from the first week's large traffic, promised to be very great) of a mighty and useful undertaking has been materially though temporanly arrested, I beg leave, through the medium of your ably-conducted journal, to record, for the sake of furthering the ends of science, humanity, and truth, and protecting important and legiti- mate interests, my humble opinion touching the reasons of that lamentable catastrophe. It plainly seems to my mind, that the accident arose, not from overdriving of itself, since thirty miles an hour (the extreme speed stated in evidence to have been attained) cannot properly be so termed, but from other two causes,—viz. a slight tenderness of a portion of the railway, occasioned by continuous wet weather ; and considerable 'top-heaviness of the four-wheel engine, produced by the undue size of the diameter of the boiler in order to effect increased power, which can safely be accomplished only by a prolongation of the boiler and the placing it on six wheels. It is, moreover, my decided conviction, that if the road had been quite sound the four-wheel engine would have kept the rail, and that if the engine had pos- sessed six wheels it would have done so in spite of the trifling imperfection of
the road; and that it certainly required the two adverse and coexisting circum- stances alluded to above to produce the disaster. It must be evident to all un- prejudiced persons, that six-wheel engines, notwithstanding somewhat aug- mented friction, obstruction in meeting curves, and risk of the fracture of an axle attending them, are, when the power of both is great and equal, and con- sidering the difflculty of always maintaining a railway in perfect order, safer than four-wheel engines, in consequence of the boiler of the former being longer, less deep, and therefore less high than that of the latter; and of the former engine having outside framings, with, consequently, more bearings and steadiness, also four wheels instead of merely two, not directly acted upon, like the driving-wheels, by the propelling force; and of its being: from greater weight and the possession of two additional wheels, more likely in general, and even in case of a broken axle, to keep the rail. This view of the comparative safety of six-wheel and four-wheel engines cannot be affected by the unde- niable and pleasing fact of the latter travelling with extreme security on the London and Birmingham' Midland Counties, and other Railways, if the asser- tion be correct that they have less power, therefore shallower boilers, and, if any, less top-heaviness than those engines laid aside on the London and Brighton Railway. There need, however, be no doubt that the four-wheel engines rejected on the last-mentioned railway, as regards the passenger traffic, may, without impropriety or danger, be used for the conveyance of merchan- dise, at a speed not greater than'fifteen miles an hour. In reply to the unme- rited abuse—the unjust cause of unnecessarypanic—passed upon the state of the road, in direct opposition to the disinterested report of the scientific Sir FREDERICK SMITH, it may be observed, that the trifling subsidence and de- cadence which have occurred, but which are unlikely to -happen again as the works become gradually consolidated, have not exceeded what might reasonably be expected in excessively wet weather upon a newly-constructed road, which the lapse of every day will render more sound and satisfactory.
It must be admitted that the arrangement of the Directors for placing a lug- gage-van between the tender and the first carriage of every train, is of a judi- cious but imperfect nature, and one susceptible of essential improvement. Let me now extol the admirable proposition of Mr. ADAMS, contained in a late number of the Railway Times, for inserting a spring or buffer-vehicle, specially contrived for this laudable object, between the tender and the first carriage of every train ; and let me exhort Railway Directors in general, and those of the London and Brighton Railway in particular, who seem, from using additional precautions since the late accident, particularly disposed to study the safety and convenience of the locomotive public, immediately to adopt, what in the present instance economy and humanity (rare combination ! ) alike dictate, Mr. ADAMS'S simple plan for the probable prevention but certain diminution of injury to passengers and property in the unusual case of accident, and for imparting confidence to the former, and thereby inducing an enlarged traffic. Sincerely impressed with feelings of regret, both humane and aelfish, at the serious accidents which occasionally happen by railway, and perfectly convinced that travelling thereby admits, with suitable precautions, of extreme safety to life and property, let me entreat railway proprietaries to incite their several Directors to follow the foregoing suggestion, and speedily and invariably attach to every tender, as part of the locomotive apparatus, a buffer possessed of due elasticity, and specially adapted to obviate or diminish danger and de- struction in cases of collision.
In reference to another branch of the subject, permit me to offer a few re- marks on the question of railway fares and accommodation, which will eventu- ally be solved by the conviction that the duty and interest of railway-pro- prietors accord, and that their interest and that of the public are nearly synonymous. It may be well to remind you, that the limitation of tolls by the different Railway Acts positively prevents extravagant charges ; and that the public, who, if paid for travelling, would from the force of habit and the disposition of human nature still cavil and complain, are now carried by rail- way at less than two-thirds of the cost, and with more than doable the safety, celerity, and comfort with which they were conveyed by coach. In evidence of the truth of the above statement, it may be remarked, that the opening of a railway is speedily succeeded by the desertion of the parallel common road, in spite of the desperate proceeding of reducing by one-half or one-third the coach-fares; a proceeding prompted by the very cheapness of travelling by railway—a cheapness which may be deemed remarkable when compared with the previous charges by the common road, and especially striking when added to the superior speed, security, and comfort enjoyed by railway. In support of this assertion may be adduced the fact, that after its recent com- plete opening, and ere a serious accident attended with natural, and for the sake of humanity, fortunate results, viz, the loss of 1,500/. weekly traffic, and a ruinous depression in the price of shares, the London and Brighton Railway was gradually attracting the entire traffic between the Metropolis and its ma- rine suburb, that modern Sidle and queen of watering-places, Brighton. It may safely be affirmed that 8 or 10 per cent, is not an exorbitant dividend to be obtained in return for much-risk, enterprise, anxiety, and the accom- plishment of national benefit, upon the original cost of a railway constructed with what cheapness existing engineering science and the unconscionable and insatiable rapacity of legislating landowners permitted ; but it must at the same time be allowed, that this dividend should, if possible, be raised by such a graduated scale of fares and varied supply of accommodation as would best meet the reasonable wants of all classes of the locomotive public. In conclu- sion, it may confidently be averred that the importance of railways, as of steam- navigation, is immense,—from their tendency to advance national welfare by facilitating intercourse, undermining provincialism, removing local prejudice, distributing the necessaries, softening the asperity, and increasing the charity of life—in short, by creating, augmenting, and diffusing civilization. Availing myself of this opportunity to acknowledge the receipt, during some years of valuable information from the perusal of your edifying pages, I have the honour to be, Sir, yours respectfully, WALTER FLETCHER.
[A second letter from Mr. FLETCHER has just reached us, begging leave to add the remark, that a fall of chalk which has occurred at the Merstham me- ting on the Brighton line, since he wrote before, does not affect his argument. That harmless accident is fairly ascribed to the weather ; more rain having fallen within the last five weeks than within the tame period for the last quarter of a century.]