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cHAP. xxxi.] LORD DALHOUSIE’s REPORTS. 439
sterling!" During this session, Mr. Stephenson appeared as engineer for only one new line — the Buxton, Macclesfield, Congleton, and Crewe Railway; and for three branch lines in connection with existing companies, for which he had long acted as engineer. During the same session, all the leading professional men were fully occupied, some of them appearing as consulting engineers for upwards of thirty lines each! The course adopted by Parliament in dealing with the multitude of railway bills applied for during the prevalence of the mania, was as irrational as it proved to be unfortunate. The want of foresight displayed by both Houses in obstructing the railway system so long as it was based upon sound commercial principles, was only equalled by the fatal facility with which they subsequently granted railway projects based on the wildest speculation. Parliament interposed no check, laid down no principle, furnished no guidance, for the conduct of railway projectors, but left every company to select its own locality, determine its own line, and fix its own gauge. No regard was paid to the claims of existing companies, which had already expended so large an amount in the formation of useful railways. Speculators were left at full liberty to project and carry out lines almost parallel with theirs. In 1844, Lord Dalhousie, who then presided at the Board of Trade, endeavoured, in a series of able reports, to give a proper direction to legislation on the subject of railways; but in vain. Both Houses viewed with jealousy any interference with the powers of the committees; Lord Dalhousie's recommendations were entirely disregarded, and an unlimited scope was afforded to competition for railway bills. A powerful stimulus was thus given to the existing spirit of speculation, which rose to a fearful height in 1845, turning nearly the whole nation into gamblers. The House of Commons became thoroughly influenced by the prevailing excitement; and even the Board of Trade itself began to favour the views of the fast school of engineers. In the “Report on the Lines projected in the Manchester and Leeds District,” they promulgated some remarkable views respecting gradients, declaring themselves in favour of the “undulating system.” Thus they cited the case of the Lickey incline on the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, as “a conclusive proof that a gradient of 1 in 37} for a length of two miles may be worked by the aid of an engine constructed for the purpose, without serious inconvenience to an extensive traffic; ” — that “gradients of from 1 in 50 to 1 in 100 are perfectly practicable to the ordinary locomotive engine, with moderate loads; ” — that lines of an undulating character, “which have gradients of 1 in 70 or 1 in 80 distributed over them in short lengths, may be positively better lines, i. e., more susceptible of cheap and expeditious working, than others which have nothing steeper than 1 in 100 or 1 in 120 !” They concluded by reporting in favour of the line which exhibited the most gradients, and the sharpest curves, chiefly on the ground that it could be constructed for less money. Sir Robert Peel took occasion, when speaking in favour of the continuance of the Railways Department of the Board of Trade, to advert to this Report in the House of Commons on the 4th of March following, as containing “a novel and highly important view on the subject of gradients, which, he was certain, never could have been taken by any Committee of the House of Commons, however intelligent; ” and he might have added, that the more intelligent, the less likely they were to arrive at any such conclusions. When Mr. Ste
* On the 17th November, 1845, Mr. Spackman published a list of the lines projected (many of which were not afterwards prosecuted), from which it appeared that there were then 620 new railway projects before the public, requiring a capital of 563,203,000l.
cHAP. xxxi.] SIR ROBERT PEEL ON GRADIENTS. 441
phenson saw this report of the premier's speech in the newspapers of the following morning, he went forthwith to his son, and asked him to write a letter to Sir Robert Peel on the subject. He saw clearly that if these views were adopted, the utility and economy of railways would be seriously curtailed. “These members of parliament,” said he, “are now as much disposed to exaggerate the powers of the locomotive, as they were to under-estimate them but a few years ago.” Mr. Robert Stephenson wrote a letter for his father's signature, embodying the views which he so strongly entertained as to the importance of flat gradients, and referring to the experiments conducted by him many years before, in proof of the great loss of working power which was incurred on a line of steep as compared with easy gradients. It was clear, from the tone of Sir Robert Peel's speech in a subsequent debate *, that he had carefully read and considered Mr. Stephenson's practical observations on the subject; for he then took the opportunity of observing that “he thought there was too great a tendency to adopt the shortest lines, without reference to gradients. Though, in recent instances, unfavourable gradients had been overcome by the construction of new engines, he doubted whether there was not an unprofitable expenditure of power in such cases, whether the mechanical action of locomotive engines was not materially interfered with by unsavourable gradients, —and whether the exertions made to diminish the gradients, and to run as nearly as possible on a level, would not be amply repaid. He was alluding, not to the shortest lines merely with regard to distance, but to the shortest lines in point of time.” On the whole, however, he declared himself favourable to direct lines, and cited the case of the Trent Valley Railway (which placed Tamworth on a main line) as one that “was about to be established by universal consent.” Sir Robert's conclusions were not very decisive on the question; and it was not quite clear whether he was in favour of direct lines of unfavourable gradients, or somewhat longer lines of flat gradients. There was doubtless “much to be said on both sides; ” and the committees were left to decide as they thought proper. Direct lines were very much in vogue at the time. There were “Direct Manchester,” “Direct Exeter,” “Direct York,” and, indeed, new direct lines between most of the large towns. The Marquis of Bristol, speaking in favour of the “Direct Norwich and London" project, at a public meeting at Haverhill, said, “if necessary, they might make a tunnel beneath his very drawingroom, rather than be defeated in their undertaking !” And the Rev. F. Litchfield, at a meeting in Banbury, on the subject of a line to that town, said “he had laid down for himself a limit to his approbation of railways, that is, of such as approached the neighbourhood with which he was connected,—and that limit was, that he did not wish them to approach any nearer to him than to run through his bedroom, with the bedposts for a station!” How different was the spirit which influenced these noble lords and gentlemen but a few years before l The Board of Trade, seeing clearly the disadvantages of the difference of gauge between the Great Western and the adjacent lines, recommended uniformity, and that the narrow gauge should be adopted as the national one. Again the House of Commons disregarded their advice. The Committee passed both broad and narrow-gauge bills indiscriminately. The Board also reported against the atmospheric system of working. But Sir Robert Peel and other amateur railway men declared themselves strongly in its favour"; and numerous
* Debate on Mr. Morison's resolutions, March 20th, 1845.
* In the debate on Mr. Shaw's motion for a committee to inquire into the practicability of the atmospheric system, Sir Robert Peel, in supporting the resolution, said, “You will observe that my impression is strongly in favour of the atmospheric system. I deeply lament the loss of one of the gentlemen (Mr. Jacob Samuda) who were the patentecs of this system, for his great acuteness tended much to the success of this very ingenious invention.” March 14th, 1845.
cHAP. xxxi.] LEGISLATIVE BUNGLING. 443
acts empowering the construction of atmospheric lines were passed during the session. The result of the whole was, a tissue of legislative bungling, involving enormous loss to the public. Railway bills were granted in heaps. Two hundred and seventy-two additional acts were passed in 1846.” Some authorised the construction of lines running almost parallel to existing railways, in order to afford the public “the benefits of unrestricted competition.” Locomotive and atmospheric lines, broad-gauge and narrow-gauge lines, were granted without hesitation. One of the grand points with the redtapists was compliance with standing orders. The real merits of the lines applied for were of comparatively little moment. Committees decided without judgment, and without discrimination; it was a scramble for bills, in which the most unscrupulous were the most successful. As an illustration of the legislative folly of the period, Mr. Robert Stephenson, speaking at Toronto, in Upper Canada, some years later, adduced the following instances: —“There was one district through which it was proposed to run two lines, and there was no other difficulty between them than the
* The following is a summary of the railway acts passed in the three sessions of 1844, 1845, and 1846:—
| Length of New
Number of Acts Railways autho- |
Years. - New Railway Capital
passed. rised. authorised.
Total 440 8,470 180,138,901