1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Railways/British Railway Legislation

British Railway Legislation

The first thing a railway company in Great Britain has to do is to obtain a special or private act of parliament authorizing the Constructionconstruction of the line. Not that the mere laying or working of a railway requires parliamentary sanction, so long as the work does not interfere with other people’s rights and interests. An example of a railway built without any legislative authority is the little mountain railway from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon, which was made by the owner of the land through which it passes. Such a railway has no statutory rights and no special obligations, and the owner of it is liable to be sued for creating a nuisance if the working of the line interferes with the comfort of those residing in the neighbourhood. When, however, a company desires to construct a line on a commercial scale, to acquire land compulsorily, to divert rivers and streams, to cross roads either on the level or by means of bridges, to pass near houses, to build tunnels or viaducts, and to execute all the other works incidental to a railway, and to work the line when completed without interference, it is essential that the authority of parliament should be obtained. The company therefore promotes a bill, which is considered first by select committees of the two houses of parliament, and afterwards by the two houses themselves, during which period it faces the opposition, if any, of rival concerns, of local authorities and of hostile landowners. If this is successfully overcome, and the proposals meet with the approval of parliament, the bill is passed and, after securing the Royal Assent, becomes an act of parliament. The company is then free to proceed with the work of construction, and at once becomes subject to various general acts, such as the Companies Clauses Act, which affects all joint-stock companies incorporated by any special act; the Land Clauses Act, which has reference to all companies having powers to acquire land compulsorily; the Railway Clauses Act, which imposes certain conditions on all railways alike (except light railways); the various Regulation of Railways Acts; the Carriers Protection Act; acts for the conveyance of mails, parcels, troops; acts relating to telegraphs, to the conveyance of workmen and to the housing of the labouring classes; and several others which it is unnecessary to specify. From the early days of railways parliament has also been careful to provide for the safety of the public by inserting in the general or special acts definite conditions, and by laying upon the Board of Trade the duty of protecting the public using a railway.

The first act which has reference to the safety of passengers is the Regulation of Railways Act of 1842, which obliges every Inspectionrailway company to give notice to the Board of Trade of its intention to open the railway for passenger traffic, and places upon that public department the duty of inspecting the line before the opening of it takes place. If the officer appointed by the Board of Trade should, after inspection of the railway, report to the department that in his opinion “the opening of the same would be attended with danger to the public using the same, by reason of the incompleteness of the works or permanent way, or the insufficiency of the establishment for working such railway,” it is lawful for the department to direct the company to postpone the opening of the line for any period not exceeding one month at a time, the process being repeated from month to month as often as may be necessary. The company is liable to a fine of twenty pounds a day if it should open the line in contravention of such order or direction. The inspections made by the officers of the Board of Trade under this act are very complete: the permanent way, bridges, viaducts, tunnels and other works are carefully examined; all iron or steel girders are tested; stations, including platforms, stairways, waiting-rooms, &c., are inspected; and the signalling and “interlocking” are thoroughly overhauled. A code of requirements in regard to the opening of new railways has been drawn up by the department for the guidance of railway companies, and as the special circumstances of each line are considered on their merits, it rarely happens that the department finds it necessary to prohibit the opening of a new railway. The Regulation of Railways Act of 1871 extends the provisions of the above act to the opening of “any additional line of railway, deviation line, station, junction or crossing on the level” which forms a portion of or is connected with a passenger railway, and which has been constructed subsequently to the inspection of it. This act further defines the duties and powers of the inspectors of the Board of Trade, and also authorizes the Board to dispense with the notice which the previous act requires to be given prior to the opening of a railway.

It may be remarked that neither of these acts confers on the Board of Trade any power to inspect a railway after it has once been opened, unless and until some addition or alteration, such as is defined in the last-named act, has been made. When a line has once been inspected and passed, it lies with the company to maintain it in accordance with the standard of efficiency it originally possessed, but no express statutory obligation to do so is imposed upon the company, and whether it does so or not, the Board of Trade cannot interfere.

The act of 1871 further renders it obligatory upon every railway company to send notice to the Board of Trade in the Inquiries into Accidents.case of (1) any accident attended with loss of life or personal injury to any person whatsoever; (2) any collision where one of the trains is a passenger train; (3) any passenger train or part of such train leaving the rails; (4) any other accident likely to have caused loss of life or personal injury, and specified on that ground by any order made from time to time by the Board of Trade. The department is authorized, on receipt of such report, to direct an inquiry to be made into the cause of any accident so reported, and the inspector appointed to make the inquiry is given power to enter any railway premises for the purposes of his inquiry, and to summon any person engaged upon the railway to attend the inquiry as a witness, and to require the production of all books, papers and documents which he considers important for the purpose. The inspector, after making his investigation, is required to make a report to the Board of Trade as to the causes of the accident and the circumstances attending the same, with any observations on the subject which he deems right, and the Board “shall cause every such report to be made public in such manner as they think expedient.” The usual mode of publishing such reports is to forward them to railway companies concerned, as well as to the press, and on application to any one else who is interested. The reports are subsequently included in a Blue-book and presented to parliament. It should be noted that although the inspecting officer may in his report make any recommendations that he may think fit with a view to guarding against any similar accident occurring in the future, no power is given to the Board of Trade, or to any other authority, to compel any railway company to adopt such recommendations. This omission is sometimes held to be an error, but as a fact it is an advantage. The moral effect of the report, with the criticisms of the company’s methods and recommendations appended thereto, is great, and it rarely happens that a company refuses to adopt, or at any rate to test, the recommendations so made. If, on the other hand, the company is of opinion that the suggestions of the inspecting officer are not likely to prove beneficial, or are for any reason inadvisable, it is at liberty to reject them, the responsibility of doing so resting entirely upon itself. The effect of this latitude is to give the company ample discretion in the matter, and to enable the act to be administered and the object of it to be attained without undue interference.

In 1889 a very important act was passed placing upon the Board of Trade the obligation to call upon railway companies Workingthroughout the United Kingdom (1) to adopt upon all passenger lines the “block” system of working; (2) to “interlock” their points and signals; (3) to fit all trains carrying passengers with some form of automatic continuous brake. Prior to this some companies had, to a certain extent, done these things, but few, if any, were completely equipped in these respects. A reasonable period was afforded them, according to circumstances, to comply with these requirements, and at the present time the work is practically complete. In this respect the lines of the United Kingdom are far ahead of those of any other country, and a diminution of accidents, particularly of collisions, has resulted therefrom. America is now following the lead thus set, and all the most important lines in the United States have adopted block working and interlocking, but a great deal still remains to be done. In certain respects, on the other hand, America has gone further than the United Kingdom, especially in the matter of automatic signalling, and in the operating of points and signals by electrical power or air-pressure instead of manual labour. In America, also, freight trains are fitted with an automatic continuous brake, whereas in United Kingdom this appliance is required by law only in the case of passenger trains, and in fact is not fitted to goods and mineral trains except in a few isolated instances.

The above-named acts enable the Board of Trade to take all the necessary steps to ensure that the safety of passenger trains Hours of Labouris sufficiently guarded. More recently legislation has been passed to safeguard the lives and interests of railway servants. In 1893 an act was passed by parliament giving the Board power to interfere if or when representations are made to them by or on behalf of any servant or class of servants of a railway company that the hours of work are unduly long, or do not provide sufficient intervals of uninterrupted rest between the periods of duty, or sufficient relief in respect of Sunday duty. In such cases the company concerned may, after inquiry, be called upon to submit such a schedule of the hours during which the man or men are employed as will bring those hours within limits which appear to the department reasonable. In the event of the company failing to comply with the demands of the department, the latter is empowered to refer the case to the Railway and Canal Commissioners, who form a special Court constituted by the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1888, for deciding, among other things, questions relating to rates and charges, for protecting traders from undue charges and undue preference, for regulating questions of traffic, and for deciding certain disputes between railway companies and the public. The Commissioners are then empowered to deal with the matter, and if “a railway company fail to comply with any order made by the Railway and Canal Commissioners, or to enforce the provisions of any schedule” approved by them, it is liable to a fine of a hundred pounds for every day during which the default continues. This act has been the means of effecting a considerable reduction in the hours worked by railway men on certain railways, and no case has yet arisen in which a reference to the Commissioners has been necessary. Such modifications of the hours of work have not only been beneficial to the men, but have improved the discipline of the staff and the punctuality and regularity of the train service, particularly in respect of the goods trains.

The Notice of Accidents Act of 1884, which obliges employers of labour to report to the Board of Trade, when “there occurs in any employment” as defined by the schedule of the act, “any accident which causes to any person employed therein, either loss of life or such bodily injury as to prevent him on any one of the three working days next after the occurrence of the accident from being employed for five hours on his ordinary work,” affects railways in course of construction, but not, as a rule, otherwise.

Although the administration of the above-mentioned acts of parliament has had a beneficial effect upon the safety of the Safety of Servants.public, and has enabled an enormous volume of traffic to be handled with celerity, punctuality and absence of risk, it has during recent years come to notice that the number of casualties among railway servants is still unduly great, and in 1899 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the causes of the numerous accidents, fatal and non-fatal, to railway men. As a consequence of the report of this Commission the Railway Employment (Prevention of Accidents) Act of 1900 was passed, putting upon the Board of Trade the duty of making “such rules as they think fit with respect to any of the subjects mentioned in the schedule to this act, with the object of reducing or removing the dangers and risks incidental to railway service.” Rules may also be made in respect to other matters besides those mentioned in the schedule, and companies may be called upon to adopt or reject, as the case may be, any appliance, the use or disuse of which may be considered desirable in the interest of the men. Before, however, the rules so made become binding upon the companies, the latter have the right of appealing against them to the Railway Commissioners. Failure to comply with any of the rules renders a company “liable for each offence, on conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts, to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, or in the case of a continuing offence to a fine not exceeding ten pounds for every day during which the offence continues after conviction.” Rules drafted by the Board of Trade under this act came into force on the 8th of August 1902, the subjects referred to being (1) labelling of wagons; (2) movements of wagons by propping and tow-roping; (3) power-brakes on engines; (4) lighting of stations and sidings; (5) protection of points, rods, &c.; (6) construction and protection of gauge-glasses; (7) arrangement of tool-boxes, &c., on engines; (8) provision of brake-vans for trains upon running lines beyond the limits of stations; (9) protection to permanent-way men when relaying or repairing permanent way. The final settlement of a rule requiring brake-levers to be fitted on both sides of goods-wagons was, however, deferred, owing to objections raised by certain of the railway companies.

Other acts which are of importance in connexion with accidents are the Accidents Compensation Act of 1846, the Employers’ Liability Act of 1880, and the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897.

The public acts of parliament referring to British railways are collected in Bigg’s General Railway Acts.

 (H. A. Y.)