Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Chap. XIII. EXTRAORDINARY SPEED. 225

in many respects at fault. They had based their calculations almost entirely on the heavy merchandise traffic— such as coal, cotton, and timber—relying little upon passengers; whereas the receipts derived from the conveyance of passengers far exceeded those derived from merchandise of all kinds, which, for a time, continued a subordinate branch of the traffic. In the evidence given before the committee of the House of Commons, the promoters stated their expectation of obtaining about one-half of the whole number of passengers that the coaches then running could take, which was from 400 to 500 a day. But the railway was scarcely opened before it carried on an average about 1200 passengers a day; and five years after the opening, it carried nearly half a million of persons yearly.

It was anticipated that the speed at which the locomotive could run upon the line would be about nine or ten miles an hour; but the wisest of the lawyers and the most experienced of the civil engineers did not believe this to be practicable, and they laughed outright at the idea of an engine running twenty miles in the hour. But very soon after the railway was opened for traffic, passengers were regularly carried the entire thirty miles between Liverpool and Manchester in little more than an hour. Two Edinburgh engineers, who went to report on the railway, expressed their wonder at the travelling being smoother and easier than any they had hitherto experienced even on the smoothest turnpikes of Mr. M'Adam. At the highest speed, of twenty-five miles an hour, they said, "we could observe the passengers, among whom were a good many ladies, talking to gentlemen with the utmost sang froid." Such things were considered wonderful then. It was regarded as quite extraordinary that men should be enabled, by this remarkable invention, to proceed to Manchester in the morning, do a day's business there, and return to Liverpool the same night. So successful, indeed, was the passenger traffic, that it engrossed the whole of the Company's small stock of engines.

Although the bulk of the heavy goods continued to go

Q

226 MAINTENANCE OF THE LINE. Chap. HIT.

by the canal, yet the opening of the railway immediately caused a large reduction in the price of coals and in the rates for the carriage of merchandise. The annual saving to the public in money, not to speak of the great saving of its equivalent—time,—was about 250,000?. a year. The net profit had been estimated by the projectors at 62,500/. a year, whereas the net profit actually realised during the first five years exceeded this amount by about 20,000/. The expense of executing the works had, however, been exceeded,—the estimate having been 800,000?., and the actual expenditure about 1,200,000?.

For some time after the opening of the railway for traffic, Mr. Stephenson's ingenuity continued to be employed in devising methods for securing the safety and comfort of the travelling public. Few are aware of the thousand minute details which have to be arranged—the forethought and contrivance that have to be exercised—to enable the traveller by railway to accomplish his journey. After the difficulties of constructing a level road over bogs, across valleys, and through deep cuttings, have been overcome, the maintenance of the way has to be provided for with continuous care. Every rail with its fastenings must be complete to prevent risk of accident, and the road must be kept regularly ballasted up to the level to prevent the jolting of the vehicles passing over it at high speeds. Then the stations must be protected by signals observable from such a distance as to enable the train to be stopped in event of an obstacle, such as a stopping or shunting train being in the way. For some years, however, the signals employed on the Liverpool railway were entirely given by men with flags of different colours stationed along the line; there were no fixed signals, nor electric telegraphs; but the traffic was nevertheless worked quite as safely as under the more elaborate and complicated system of telegraphing which has since been established.

From an early period it became obvious that the iron road as originally laid down was quite insufficient for the heavy traffic which it had to carry. The line was in the first place Chap. XIII. SELF-ACTING BRAKE. 227

laid with fish-bellied rails of only thirty-five pounds to the yard, calculated only for horse traffic, or, at most, for engines like the "Eocket," of very light weight. But as the power and the weight of the locomotives were increased, it was found that such rails were quite insufficient for the safe conduct of the traffic. The engineer then recommended that the road should be relaid with heavier and stronger rails, which was done, though the alteration involved a considerable additional expense to the Company.

The details of the carrying stock had in like manner to be devised and settled. There was no past experience to serve for a guide in this new sort of traffic; everything had in a measure to be begun from the beginning. The coalwaggon, it is true, served in some degree as a model for the railway truck; but the railway passenger-carriage was an entirely novel structure. It had to be mounted upon strong framing, of a peculiar kind, supported on springs to prevent jolting. Then there was the necessity for contriving some method of preventing hard bumping of the carriageends when the train was pulled up; and hence the contrivance of buffer springs and spring frames. As a method of stopping the train, brakes on an improved plan were also contrived, with new modes of lubricating the carriage-axles, on which the wheels revolved at an unusually high velocity. In all these contrivances, Mr. Stephenson's inventiveness was kept constantly on the stretch; and though many improvements in detail have been effected since his time, the foundations were then laid by him of the present system of conducting railway traffic. As a curious illustration of the inventive ingenuity which he displayed in contriving the working of the Liverpool line, we may mention his invention of the Self-acting Brake. He early entertained the idea, that the momentum of the running train might itself be made available for the purpose of checking its speed. He proposed to fit each carriage with a brake which should be called into action immediately on the locomotive at the head of the train being pulled up. The impetus of the carriages carrying them forward, the buffer springs would 228 IMPROVED LOCOMOTIVES. Chap. XIII.

be driven home, and, at the same time, by a simple arrangement of the mechanism, the brakes would be called into simultaneous action; thus the wheels would be brought into a state of sledge, and the train speedily stopped. This plan was adopted by Mr. Stephenson before he left the Liverpool and Manchester Eailway, though it was afterwards discontinued; and it is a remarkable fact, that this identical plan, with the addition of a centrifugal apparatus, has quite recently been revived by M. Guerin, a French engineer, and extensively employed on foreign railways as the best method of stopping railway trains in the most efficient manner and in the shortest time.

Finally, Mr. Stephenson had to attend to the improvement of .the power and speed of the locomotive—always the grand object of his study,—with a view to economy as well as regularity in the working of the railway. In the " Planet" engine, delivered upon the line immediately subsequent to the public opening, all the improvements which had up to this time been contrived by him and his son, were introduced in combination—the blast pipe, the tubular boiler, horizontal cylinders inside the smoke-box, the cranked axle, and the fire-box firmly fixed to the boiler. The first load of goods conveyed from Liverpool to Manchester by the "Planet" was eighty tons weight, and the engine performed the journey against a strong head wind, in two hours and a half. On another occasion, the same engine brought up a cargo of voters from Manchester to Liverpool, during a contested election, within a space of sixty minutes. The "Samson," delivered in the following year, exhibited still further improvements, the most important of which was that of coupling the fore and hind wheels of the engine. By this means, the adhesion of the wheels on the rails was more effectually secured, and thus the full hauling power of the locomotive was made available. The "Samson," shortly after it was placed upon the line, dragged after it a train of waggons weighing one hundred and fifty tons at a speed of about twenty miles an hour; the consumption of coke being reduced to only about a third of a pound per ton per mile.

Chap. XIII. UNWARRANTED COMPLAINTS. 229

The engineer had also to seek out the proper men to maintain and watch the road, and more especially to work the locomotive engines. Steadiness, sobriety, common sense, and practical experience, were the qualities which he especially valued in those selected by him for this purpose. But where were the men of experience to be found? Very few railways were yet at work, and those were almost exclusively confined to the northern coal counties; hence a considerable proportion of the drivers and firemen employed on the Liverpool line were brought from the neighbourhood of Newcastle. Mr. Stephenson was, however, severely censured in the 'Edinburgh Review,' for the alleged preference shown by him in selecting workmen from his own county. It was there insisted that the local population had the first claim to be employed, and he was blamed for " introducing into the country a numerous body of workmen, in various capacities, strangers to the soil and to the surrounding population; thus wresting from the hands of those to whom they had naturally belonged, all the benefits which the enterprise and capital of the district had conferred." In the case of the drivers of stage-coaches, it was never regarded as a qualification for the performance of their duties, that they should be natives of the parishes through which the coaches ran, but mainly that they should know something of the business of coach-driving. Mr. Stephenson merely adopted the same course in selecting his drivers and firemen; and though Durham and Northumberland supplied a considerable proportion of them in the first instance, he could not always find skilled workmen enough for the important and responsible duties to be performed. It was a saying of his, that "he could engineer matter very well, and make it bend to his purpose, but his greatest difficulty was in engineering men."

Mr. Stephenson did not think it necessary to vindicate himself from the above charge, but Mr. Hardman Earle, one of the directors of the Company, did so in an effectual manner, showing that of the six hundred persons employed in the working of the Liverpool line, not more than sixty had

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »