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Now, the great value of this system is, that whenever the needle rests vertically, or inclines to the left, the officers at the stations are immediately informed that something is wrong upon the line, and that no train must be allowed to pass, until the line is cleared. A collision, with such precautions, is all but physically impossible. And so far from this arrangement operating to delay the progress of a train, as might be supposed, experience proves that the traffic of a railway is immensely facilitated by it.
The automatic working of the telegraph shows the officers at every station, that for a considerable number of miles in advance of the station, whether up or down, the line of way is clear. This knowledge, imparted instantaneously and comprehended by a glance, enables the officers to augment very materially the traffic over the portion of the line to which their duty may apply. The telegraph, in fact, does the work of an additional line of rails to every company that uses it, and does it at a cost perfectly infinitesimal in comparison with the cost of constructing another line.
At one period of its history, the North Western Railway appeared to be so overcrowded with traffic, that additional lines for its relief were believed to be indispensable; but at the very moment when the demands upon the system were begin. ning to outgrow the machinery for safety, this remarkable invention came to its relief, and the capacity of the line for traffic has consequently been immensely increased. The very first use made of the telegraph was to enable the Company to meet the difficulty of a strike among the artisans. During the Great Exhibition of 1851, when 750,000 passengers were conveyed to London by the North Western excursion trains alone, the whole of the extraordinary traffic of the line was conducted by means of the electric telegraph. At the present moment the ordinary traffic is double what it was when the telegraph was invented, and there is a greater capacity for increase than at any period since the line was opened.
Moreover, it must be observed that, great as is this saving to a Railway Company, it is not the only economy effected by the use of the electric telegraph. On every line where it is thoroughly employed, it effects a very material saving in the expensive element of rolling stock. The officers of a Company are
enabled, the first thing every morning, to consider the wants and requirements of the day. They find that on one portion of their line there is likely to be extra traffic, whilst at some other station, during the previous day, or night, there has been an accumulation of passenger carriages or vans. By the use of the electric telegraph, nothing is so easy as to supply the wants of one station from the surplus stock at the other, whilst the probabilities are, that without the facility afforded by the telegraph, the stock at one place would have been lying idle, although it was urgently needed at another. Probably most lines would require fully 20 per cent. more carriage stock than they now possess, if it were not for the telegraph.
Whilst the value of the electric telegraph is very little understood, the means of working it are, probably, still less properly comprehended. It is generally supposed, that by some action of a handle at one station, the electric current is sent through a wire to another. .But the fact is, that the success which the telegraph has obtained has been owing to the adoption of an opposite principle. Signals are now made, not by sending a current through a wire, but by the interception of the current which is continuously maintained; and this application is especially valuable, not only on account of the increased facility, but also on account of the increased security afforded. To signal, without a current through the wire, requires a machine in the hands of a skilled person ; but to signal with a constant current through the wire, only requires that the wire should be broken, which can be accomplished on any spot by the most uninformed. The most unskilful, therefore, in case of accident, are fully able to use the electric telegraph, so as to give notice of difficulty, or danger, and so as to receive immediate aid and assistance from the nearest stations, in both directions. Nor can there be any doubt, in such case, as to the indications of the telegraph. Alarm, misinterpretation, or other causes, might prevent a message from travelling, or being read correctly, if it were dependent upon the use of a machine and the skill of both the sender and the interpreter; but where nothing more is needed than to intercept the flow of the current, by the rudest method, there can be no doubt either as to the operation, or as to its which is called the “train wire," so that the messages of the public are in no way interrupted.
Recent projects gave promise of another, and not an unimportant improvement in the telegraph. Great, it might be supposed, would be the confusion, if two opposite currents of electricity met in one wire ; but by a new adaptation, it is contemplated, that messages shall pass in opposite directions without the smallest interference with each other. The means employed are simply mechanical. The system would have been some time since in operation in England, but for the difficulty to be overcome from the variableness of the insulation of the wires, occasioned by the humidity of our climate. But already several beautiful modifications have been devised, in order to overcome this difficulty, and there is daily hope that the improvement will be perfected.
So much as regards railways. As regards the public, the electric telegraphs of England have been rapidly growing in importance, although, comparatively, we are still very backward in taking advantage of the facilities they afford. It is only a little more than eight years since the telegraph was first worked in this country. During the first quarter of 1848, the receipts of the Electric Telegraph Company were only £160; in the second quarter they increased to £240 ; in the third to £320; in the fourth to £400; and the receipts, despite the fact that other Companies have grown up, and that the charges are now only onethird of the amount originally demanded, have now reached £3,000 per week! The growth has thus been fifty-fold in seven years; a progress unexampled in commercial annals, except in association with railway intercourse.
One of the original grounds of opposition to railways was the dangerous character of the traffic. A writer in one of our most popular reviews thus expressed, some years ago, the common opinion upon the danger of railway travelling :
“It is certainly some consolation to those who are to be whirled at the rate of 18 or 20 miles an hour, by means of a high-pressure engine, to be told that there is no danger of being sea-sick while on shore; that they are not to be scalded to death, nor drowned, nor dashed to pieces by the bursting of a boiler ; and that they need not mind being struck by the scattered fragments, or dashed in pieces by the flying off or breaking of a wheel. But, with all
these assurances, we should as soon expect the people of Woolwich to suffer themselves to be fired off upon one of Congreve's ricochet rockets, as trust themselves to the mercy of such a machine, going at such a rate."
It is curious, occasionally, to contrast prediction and event. The last return of the Government Railway Department shows that the number of passengers killed, in proportion to the number conveyed upon railways in the United Kingdom, was, for the first half-year of 1854, 1 in 7,195,343! Can it be assumed — would any Life Assurance Company in the world assume that to English gentlemen and ladies sitting at home at their ease by their firesides, fatal accidents would only occur, during half a year, in the proportion of one in seven millions? In the active performance of the duties of life, it is impossible to find a case in which the proportion of fatal accidents is so small. But nevertheless, whenever an accident does occur upon a railway, the public are sure to find it regarded as “ Another Fatal Railway Accident,” just as if such accidents were constant, instead of being, as the Government statistics prove, most rare and extraordinary
In comparison with deaths by railway accidents, how many are the accidents to persons walking in the streets! How fearful are the misadventures met with by those who go down to the sea in ships !" Yet Parliament saw fit to provide, specially, for the smallest class of accidents arising from locomotion, and to afford only scanty redress for the greatest. Such has been the character of legislation for railways. The Merchant Shipping Law Consolidation Act, 1854 (17 and 18 Vict. c. 104), recognises in some sort the liability of shipowners, in cases of loss of life, or of personal damage to passengers. But this act only exemplifies, still more strongly, the partial character of legislation as against the Railway Companies. For whilst the damages, in the case of accident upon a railway, are unlimited, this Act expressly limits the amount, which can be recovered under its operation, to £30 per head. Still further, if a crowded emigrant ship should be wrecked, and all the lives on board be lost, the liability of the shipowner would be limited to the value of the ship and the amount due or accruing to him on account of freight in the voyage during which the accident occurred, so that, practically, the deodand amounts to nothing more than a first charge upon the insurance effected by thus send his vessel to sea, her condition unseaworthy, her com. passes ill-adjusted, inefficiently commanded, and with a disorderly or incapable crew. The ship might be wrecked the same night, or be run down, for want of proper vigilance, by some steamer in the Channel. In such cases there would be only very partial redress against the shipowner, whatever might be his culpability. But let a railway carriage be thrown off a line in a dark night, by a stone or a log of wood carelessly or wilfully placed upon it, — let a fatal accident occur in consequence of some wanton act, not of the Railway Company, but of that public who ought to guard and protect one another, — and the Railway Company, although suffering severe loss of property, without having any pecuniary redress, even on the legal conviction of the perpetrator of the deed, which may have been prompted either by a diabolical desire to wreak a petty vengeance, or for the gratification of a malicious disposition, is liable to be mulcted in the heaviest penalties, for the accidental loss of life the misfortune may occasion. Can it be said that this is equitable legislation, or that it is calculated to protect the public from the class of accidents against which protection is most required ?
Lord Campbell's Act not only creates a new and ill-adjusted liability, but it is also an exceedingly unfair Act, in its application to different classes of society. The value of life is measured under this Act by a class standard. A high public functionary may take a ticket for a journey of six miles at the cost of one shilling. In the same train there may be a working-man, who intends to travel one hundred miles, and who has paid ten shillings. The train meets with an accident, and both are killed. It is shown that being a rich man, in the enjoyment of high posts, honours, and emoluments, his life was worth £20,000 to his family. The jury give the full amount claimed. But what do the family of the poor man get ? The widow, not being able to establish any pecuniary loss, by reason of the accident which befel her husband, has charitably awarded to her, by the jury, £10, as a matter of feeling; and the attorney probably applies that amount to the payment of his costs. As regards the railway, therefore, this law is unequal; and it is still more so as regards the public.
The practical effect of this law is to retard the full adoption of low fares on railways. The Railway Companies, driven to become insurers of the lives of the public travelling on their lines, ob