Passages from the Life of a Philosopher/Chapter XXV

Passages from the Life of a Philosopher  (1864) 
by Charles Babbage



Opening of Manchester and Liverpool Railway—Death of Mr. Huskisson—Plate-glass Manufactory—Mode of separating Engine from Train—Broad-gauge Question—Experimental Carriage—Measure the Force of Traction, the Vertical, Lateral, and End Shake of Carriage, also its Velocity by Chronometer—Fortunate Escape from meeting on the same Line Brunel on another Engine—Sailed across the Hanwell Viaduct in a Waggon without Steam—Meeting of British Association at Newcastle—George Stephenson—Dr. Lardner—Suggestions for greater Safety on Railroads—George Stephenson's Opinion of the Gauges—Railways at National Exhibitions.

At the commencement of the railway system I naturally took a great interest in the subject, from its bearings upon mechanism as well as upon political economy.

I accompanied Mr. Woolryche Whitmore, the member for Bridgenorth, to Liverpool, at the opening of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway. The morning previous to the opening, we met Mr. Huskisson at the Exchange, and my friend introduced me to him. The next day the numerous trains started with their heavy load of travellers. All went on pleasantly until we reached Parkside, near Newton. During the time the engines which drew us were taking in their water and their fuel, many of the passengers got out and recognized their friends in other trains.

At a certain signal all resumed their seats; but we had not proceeded a mile before the whole of our trains came to a stand-still without any ostensible cause. After some time spent in various conjectures, a single engine almost flew past us on the other line of rail, drawing with it the ornamental car which the Duke of Wellington and other officials had so recently occupied. Instead of its former numerous company it appeared to convey only two, or at most three, persons; but the rapidity of its flight prevented any close observation of the passengers.

A certain amount of alarm now began to pervade the trains, and various conjectures were afloat of some serious accident. After a while Mr. Whitmore and myself got out of our carriage and hastened back towards the halting place. At a little distance before us, in the middle of the railway, stood the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, and the Boroughreeve of Manchester, discussing the course to be pursued in consequence of the dreadful accident which had befallen Mr. Huskisson, whom I had seen but a few minutes before standing at the door of the carriage conversing with the Duke of Wellington. The Duke was anxious that the whole party should return to Liverpool; but the chief officer of Manchester pressed upon them the necessity of continuing the journey, stating that if it were given up he could not be answerable for the safety of the town.

It was at last mournfully resolved to continue our course to Manchester, where a luncheon had been prepared for us; but to give up all the ceremonial, and to return as soon as we could to Liverpool.

For several miles before we reached our destination the sides of the railroad were crowded by a highly-excited populace shouting and yelling. I feared each moment, that some still greater sacrifice of life might occur from the people madly attempting to stop by their feeble aims the momentum of our enormous trains.

Haying rapidly taken what refreshment was necessary, we waited with anxiety for our trains; but hour after hour passed away before they were able to start. The cause of this delay arose thus. The Duke of Wellington was the guest of the Earl of Wilton, the nearest station to whose residence was almost half way between Manchester and Liverpool. A train therefore was ordered to convey the party to Heaton House. Unfortunately, our engines had necessarily gone a considerable distance upon that line to get their supply of water, and were thus cut off by the train conveying the Duke, from returning direct to Manchester.

There were not yet at this early period of railway history any sidings to allow of a passage, or any crossing to enable the engines to get upon the other line of rails. Under these circumstances the drivers took the shortest course open to them. Having taken in their water, they pushed on as fast as they could to a crossing at a short distance from Liverpool. They backed into the other line of rail, and thus returned to Manchester to pick up their trains.

In the meantime the vague rumour of some great disaster had reached Liverpool. Thousands of persons, many of whom had friends and relatives in the excursion trains, were congregated on the bridges and at the railway station, anxious to learn news of their friends and relatives.

About five o'clock in the evening they perceived at a distance half-a-dozen engines without any carriages, rushing furiously towards them—suddenly checking their speed—then backing into the other line of rail—again flying away towards Manchester, without giving any signs or explanation of the mystery in which many of them were so deeply interested.

It is difficult to estimate the amount of anxiety and misery which was thus unwillingly but inevitably caused amongst all those who had friends, connections, or relatives in the missing trains.

When these engines returned to Manchester, our trains were unfortunately connected together, and three engines were attached to the front of each group of three trains.

This arrangement considerably diminished their joint power of traction. But another source of delay arose: the couplings which were strong enough when connecting an engine and its train were not sufficiently strong when three engines were coupled together. The consequence was that there were frequent fractures of our couplings and thus great delays arose.

About half-past eight in the evening I reached the great building in which we were to have dined. Its tables were half filled with separate groups of three or four people each, who being strangers in Liverpool, had no other resource than to use it as a kind of coffee-room in which to get a hasty meal, and retire.

The next morning I went over to see the plate-glass manufactory at about ten miles from Liverpool.

On my arrival I found, to my great disappointment, that there were orders that nobody should be admitted on that day, as the Duke of Wellington and a large party were coming over from Lord Wilton's. This was the only day at my disposal, and it wanted nearly an hour to the time appointed: so I asked to be permitted to see the works, promising to retire as soon as the Earl of Wilton's party arrived. I added incidentally that I was not entirely unknown to the Duke of Wellington.

On the arrival of the party I quietly made my retreat unobserved, and had just entered the carriage which had conveyed me from Liverpool, when a messenger arrived with the Duke's compliments, hoping that I would join his party. I willingly accepted the invitation; the Duke presented me to each of his friends, and I had the advantage of having another survey of the works. This was my first acquaintance with the late Lady Wilton, who afterwards called on me with the Duke of Wellington, and put that sagacious question relative to the Difference Engine which I have mentioned in another part of this volume. Amongst the party were Mr. and Mrs. Arbuthnot, with the former of whom I afterwards had several interesting discussions relative to subjects connected with the ninth "Bridgewater Treatise."

A few days after, I met at dinner a large party at the house of one of the great Liverpool merchants. Amongst them were several officers of the new railway, and almost all the party were more or less interested in its success.

In these circumstances the conversation very naturally turned upon the new mode of locomotion. Its various difficulties and dangers were suggested and discussed. Amongst others, it was observed that obstacles might be placed upon the rail, either accidentally or by design, which might produce expensive and fatal effects.

To prevent the occurrence of these evils, I suggested two remedies.

1st. That every engine should have just in advance of each of its front wheels a powerful framing, supporting a strong piece of plate-iron, descending within an inch or two of the upper face of the rail. These iron plates should be fixed at an angle of 45° with the line of rail, and also at the same angle with respect to the horizon. Their shape would be something like that of ploughshares, and their effect would be to pitch any obstacle obliquely off the rail unless its heavier portion were between the rails.

Some time after, a strong vertical bar of iron was placed in front of the wheels of every engine. The objection to this is, that it has a tendency to throw the obstacle straight forward upon another part of the rail.

2nd. The second suggestion I made, was to place in front of each engine a strong leather apron attached to a powerful iron bar, projecting five or six feet in front of the engine and about a foot above the ballast. The effect of this would be, that any animal straying over the railway would be pitched into this apron, probably having its legs broken, but forming no impediment to the progress of the train.

I have been informed that this contrivance has been adopted in America, where the railroads, being unenclosed, are subject to frequent obstruction from cattle. If used on enclosed roads, it still might occasionally save the lives of incautious persons, although possibly at the expense of broken limbs.

Another question discussed at this party was, whether, if an engine went off the rail, it would be possible to separate it from the train before it had dragged the latter after it. I took out my pencil and sketched upon a card a simple method of accomplishing that object. It passed round the table, and one of the party suggested that I should communicate the plan to the Directors of the railway.

My answer was, that having a great wish to diminish the dangers of this new mode of travelling, I declined making any such communication to them; for, I added, unless these Directors are quite unlike all of whom I have had any experience, I can foresee the inevitable result of such a communication.

It might take me some time and trouble to consider the best way of carrying out the principle and to make the necessary drawings. Some time after I have placed these in the hands of the Company, I shall receive a very pretty letter from the secretary, thanking me in the most flattering terms for the highly ingenious plan I have placed in their hands, but regretting that their engineer finds certain practical difficulties in the way.

Now, if the same Company had taken the advice of some eminent engineer, to whom they would have to pay a large fee, no practical difficulties would ever be found to prevent its trial.

It was evident from the remarks of several of the party that I had pointed out the most probable result of any such communication.

It is possible that some report of this plan subsequently reached the Directors; for about six months after, I received from an officer of the railway Company a letter, asking my assistance upon this identical point. I sent them my sketch and all the information I had subsequently acquired on the subject. I received the stereotype reply I had anticipated, couched in the most courteous language; in short, quite a model letter for a young secretary to study.

Several better contrivances than mine were subsequently proposed; but experience seems to show that the whole train ought to be connected together as firmly as possible.

Not long after my return from Liverpool I found myself seated at dinner next to an elderly gentleman, an eminent London banker. The new system of railroads, of course, was the ordinary topic of conversation. Much had been said in its favour, but my neighbour did not appear to concur with the majority. At last I had an opportunity of asking his opinion. "Ah," said the banker, "I don't approve of this new mode of travelling. It will enable our clerks to plunder us, and then be off to Liverpool on their way to America at the rate of twenty miles an hour." I suggested that science might perhaps remedy this evil, and that possibly we might send lightning to outstrip the culprit's arrival at Liverpool, and thus render the railroad a sure means of arresting the thief. I had at the time I uttered those words no idea how soon they would be realized.

In 1838 and 1839 a discussion of considerable public importance had arisen respecting the Great Western Railway. Having an interest in that undertaking, it was the wish of Mr. Brunel and the Directors that I should state my own opinion upon the question. I felt that I could not speak with confidence without making certain experiments. The Directors therefore lent me steam-power, and a second-class carriage to fit up with machinery of my own contrivance, and appointed one of their officers to accompany me, through whom I might give such directions as I deemed necessary during my experiments.

I removed the whole of the internal parts of the carriage. Through its bottom firm supports, fixed upon the framework below, passed up into the body of the carriage, and supported a long table entirely independent of its motions.

On this table slowly rolled sheets of paper, each a thousand feet long. Several inking pens traced curves on this paper, which expressed the following measures:—

1. Force of traction.

2. Vertical shake of carriage at its middle.

3. Lateral ditto.

4. End ditto.

5, 6, and 7. The same shakes at the end of the carriage. 8. The curve described upon the earth by the centre of the frame of the carriage.

9. A chronometer marked half seconds on the paper.

Above two miles of paper were thus covered. These experiments cost me about 300l., and took up my own time, and that of all the people I was then employing, during five months.

I had previously travelled over most of the railways then existing in this country, in order to make notes of such facts as I could observe during my journeys.

The result of my experiments convinced me that the broad gauge was most convenient and safest for the public. It also enabled me fearlessly to assert that an immense array of experiments which were exhibited round the walls of the meeting-room by those who opposed the Directors were made with an instrument which could not possibly measure the quantities proposed, and that the whole of them were worthless for the present argument. The production of the work of such an instrument could not fail to damage even a good cause.

On the discussion at the general meeting at the London Tavern, I made a statement of my own views, which was admitted at the time to have had considerable influence on the decision of the proprietors. Many years after I met a gentleman who told me he and a few other proprietors holding several thousand proxies came up from Liverpool intending to vote according to the weight of the arguments adduced. He informed me that he and all his friends decided their votes on hearing my statement. He then added, "But for that speech, the broad gauge would not now exist in England."

These experiments were not unaccompanied with danger. I sometimes attached my carriage to a public train to convey me to the point where my experiments commenced, and I had frequently to interrupt their course, in order to run on to a siding to avoid a coming train.

I then asked to be allowed to make such experiments during the night when there were no trains; but Brunel told me it was too dangerous to be permitted, and that ballast-waggons, and others, carrying machinery and materials for the construction and completion of the railroad itself, were continually traversing various parts of the line at uncertain hours.

The soundness of this advice became evident a very short time after it was given. On arriving one morning at the terminus, the engine which had been promised for my experimental train was not ready, but another was provided instead. On further inquiry, I found that the "North Star," the finest engine the Company then possessed, had been placed at the end of the great polygonal building devoted to engines, in order that it might be ready for my service in the morning; but that, during the night, a train of twenty-five empty ballast-waggons, each containing two men, driven by an engine, both the driver and stoker of which were asleep, had passed right through the engine-house and damaged the "North Star."

Most fortunately, no accident happened to the men beyond a severe shaking. It ought, however, in extenuation of such neglect, to be observed that engine-drivers were at that period so few, and so thoroughly overworked, that such an occurrence was not surprising.

It then occurred to me, that being engaged on a work which was anything but profitable to myself, but which contributed to the safety of all travellers, I might, without propriety, avail myself of the repose of Sunday for advancing my measures. I therefore desired Brunel to ask for the Directors' permission. The next time I saw Brunel, he told me the Directors did not like to give an official permission, but it was remarked that having put one of their own officers under my orders, I had already the power of travelling on whatever day I preferred.

I accordingly availed myself of the day on which, at that time, scarcely a single train or engine would be in motion upon it.

Upon one of these Sundays, which were, in fact, the only really safe days, I had proposed to investigate the effect of considerable additional weight. With this object, I had ordered three waggons laden with thirty tons of iron to be attached to my experimental carriage.

On my arrival at the terminus a few minutes before the time appointed, my aide-de-camp informed me that we were to travel on the north line. As this was an invasion of the usual regulations, I inquired very minutely into the authority on which it rested. Being satisfied on this point, I desired him to order my train out immediately. He returned shortly with the news that the fireman had neglected his duty, but that the engine would be ready in less than a quarter of an hour.

A messenger arrived soon after to inform me that the obstcructions had been removed, and that I could now pass upon the south, which was the proper line.

I was looking at the departure of the only Sunday train, and conversing with the officer, who took much pains to assure me that there was no danger on whichever line we might travel; because, he observed, when that train had departed, there can be no engine except our own on either line until five o'clock in the evening.

Whilst we were conversing together, my ear, which had become peculiarly sensitive to the distant sound of an engine, told me that one was approaching. I mentioned it to my railway official: he did not hear it, and said, "Sir, it is imposgible."—"Whether it is possible or impossible," I said, "an engine is coming, and in a few minutes we shall see its steam." The sound soon became evident to both, and our eyes were anxiously directed to the expected quarter. The white cloud of steam now faintly appeared in the distance; I soon perceived the line it occupied, and then turned to watch my companion's countenance. In a few moments more I saw it slightly change, and he said, "It is, indeed, on the north line."

Knowing that it would stop at the engine-house, I ran as fast I could to that spot. I found a single engine, from which Brunel, covered with smoke and blacks, had just descended. We shook hands, and I inquired what brought my friend here in such a plight. Brunel told me that he had posted from Bristol, to meet the only train at the furthest point of the rail then open, but had missed it." Fortunately, he said, "I found this engine with its fire up, so I ordered it out, and have driven it the whole way up at the rate of fifty miles an hour."

I then told him that but for the merest accident I should have met him on the same line at the rate of forty miles, and that I had attached to my engine my experimental carriage, and three waggons with thirty tons of iron. I then inquired what course he would have pursued if he had perceived another engine meeting him upon his own line.

Brunel said, in such a case he should have put on all the steam he could command, with a view of driving off the opposite engine by the superior velocity of his own.

If the concussion had occurred, the probability is, that Brunel's engine would have been knocked off the rail by the superior momentum of my train, and that my experimental carriage would have been buried under the iron contained in the waggons behind.

These rates of travelling were then unusual, but have now become common. The greatest speed which I have personally witnessed, occurred on the return of a train from Bristol, on the occasion of the floating of the "Great Britain." I was in a compartment, in conversation with three eminent engineers, when one of them remarked the unusual speed of the train: my neighbour on my left took out his watch, and noted the time of passage of the distance posts, whence it appeared that we were then travelling at the rate of seventy-eight miles an hour. The train was evidently on an incline, and we did not long sustain that dangerous velocity.

One very cold day I found Dr. Lardner making experiments on the Great Western Railway. He was drawing a series of trucks with an engine travelling at known velocities. At certain intervals, a truck was detached from his train. The time occupied by this truck before it came to rest was the object to be noted. As Dr. Lardner was short of assistants, I and my son offered to get into one of his trucks and note for him the time of coming to rest.

Our truck having been detached, it came to rest, and I had noted the time. After waiting a few minutes, I thought I perceived a slight motion, which continued, though slowly. It then occurred to me that this must arise from the effect of the wind, which was blowing strongly. On my way to the station, feeling very cold, I had purchased three yards of coarse blue woollen cloth, which I wound round my person. This I now unwound; we held it up as a sail, and gradually acquiring greater velocity, finally reached and sailed across the whole of the Hanwell viadact at a very fair pace.

The question of the best gauge for a system of railways is yet undecided. The present gauge of 4.8½ was the result of the accident that certain tram-roads adjacent to mines were of that width. When the wide gauge of the Great Western was suggested and carried out, there arose violent party movements for and against it. At the meeting of the British Association at Newcastle, in 1838, there were two sources of anxiety to the Council—the discussion of the question of Steam Navigation to America, and what was called "The battles of the Gauges." Both these questions bore very strongly upon pecuniary interests, and were expected to be fiercely contested.

On the Council of the British Association, of course, the duty of nominating the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of its various sections devolves. During the period in which I took an active part in that body, it was always a principle, of which I was ever the warm advocate, that we should select those officers from amongst the persons most distinguished for their eminence in their respective subjects, who were born in or connected with the district we visited.

In pursuance of this principle, I was deputed by the Council to invite Mr. George Stephenson to become the President of the Mechanical Section. In case he should decline it, I was then empowered to offer it to Mr. Buddle, the eminent coal-viewer; and in case of these both declining, I was to propose it to the late Mr. Bryan Donkin, of London, a native of that district, and connected with it by family ties.

On my arrival at Newcastle, I immediately called on George Stephenson, and represented to him the unanimous wish of the Council of the British Association. To my great surprise, and to my still greater regret, I found that he at once declined the offer. All my powers of persuasion were exercised in vain. Knowing that the two great controverted questions to be discussed most probably formed the real obstacle, I mentioned them, and added that, as I should be one of his Vice-Presidents, I would, if he wished it, take the Chair upon either or upon both the discussions of the Gauges and of the Atlantic Steam Voyage, or upon any other occasion that might be agreeable or convenient to himself: I found him immoveable in his decision. I made another attempt the next day, and renewed the expression of my own strong feeling, that we should pay respect and honour to the most distinguished men of the district we visited. I then told him the course I was instructed by the Council to pursue.

My next step was to apply to Mr. Buddle. I need not repeat the arguments I employed: I was equally unsuccessful with each of the eminent men the Council had wished to honour. I therefore now went back to George Stephenson, told him of the failure of my efforts, and asked him, if he still persisted in declining the Chair, would he do me the favour to be one of the Vice-Presidents, as the Council had now no resource but to place me in the Chair, which I had hoped would have been occupied by a more competent person.

To this latter application he kindly acceded; and I felt that, with the assistance of George Stephenson's and Mr. Donkin's professional knowledge, and their presence by my side, I should be able to keep order in these dreaded discussions.

The day before the great discussion upon Atlantic Steam Navigation, I had a short conversation with Dr. Lardner: I told him that in my opinion some of his views were hasty; but that much stronger opinions had been assigned to him than those he had really expressed, and I recommended him to admit as much as he fairly could.

At the appointed hour the room was filled with an expectant and rather angry audience. Dr. Lardner's beautiful apparatus for illustrating his views was before them, and the Doctor commenced his statement. He was listened to with the greatest attention, and was really most judicious as well as very instructive. At the very moment which seemed to me the most favourable for it, he turned to the explanation of the instruments be proposed to employ, and having concluded his statement, it became my duty to invite discussion upon the question.

I did so in very few words, merely observing that several opinions had been attributed to Dr. Lardner which he had never maintained, and that additional information had induced him candidly to admit that some of those doctrines which he had supported were erroneous. I added, that nothing was more injurious to the progress of truth than to reproach any man who honestly admitted that he had been in error.

The discussion then commenced: it was continued with considerable energy, but with great temper; and after a long and instructive debate the assembled multitude separated. Some few who attended in expectation of a scene were sorely disappointed. As I was passing out, one of my acquaintance remarked, "You have saved that —— —— Lardner:" to which I replied, "I have saved the British Association from a scandal."

Before I terminate this Chapter on Bailways, it will perhaps be expected by some of my readers that I should point out such measures as occur to me for rendering this universal system more safe. Since the long series of experiments I made in 1839, I haye had no experience either official or professional upon the subject. My opinions, therefore, must be taken only at what they are worth, and will probably be regarded as the dreams of an amateur. I have indeed formed very decided opinions upon certain measures relative to railroads; but my hesitation to make them public arises from the circumstance, that by publishing them I may possibly delay their adoption. It may happen, as is now happening to my system of distinguishing lighthouses from each other, and of night telegraphic communication between ships at sea—that although officially communicated to all the great maritime goyemments, and even publicly exhibited for months during the Exhibition of 1851, it will be allowed to go to sleep for years, until some official person, casually hearing of it, or perhaps re-inventing it, shall have 'interest with the higher powers to get it quietly adopted as his own invention. I have given, in a former page, a list of the self-registering apparatus I employed in my own experiments.

In studying the evidence given upon the inquiries into the various lamentable accidents which have occurred upon railways, I have been much struck by the discordance of that evidence as to the speed with which the engines were travelling when they took place.

Even the best and most unbiassed judgment ought not to be trusted when mechanical evidence can be produced. The first rule I propose is, that—

Every engine should have mechanical self-registering means of recording its own velocity at every instant during the whole course of its Journey.

In my own experiments this was the first point I attended to. I took a powerful spring clock, with a chronometer movement, which every half second lifted a peculiar pen, and left a small dot of ink upon the paper, which was moving over a table with the velocity given to it by the wheels of the carriage.

Thus the comparative frequency of these dots indicated the rate of travelling at the time. But the instrument was susceptible of giving different scales of measurement. Thus it might be that only three inches of paper passed under the pen in every mile, or any greater length of paper, up to sixty feet per mile, might be ordered to pass under the paper during an equal space. Again, the number of dots per second could, if required, be altered.

The clock was broken four or five times during the earliest experiments. This arose from its being fixed upon the platform carrying the axles of the wheels. I then contrived a kind of parallel motion, by which I was enabled to support the clock upon the carriage-springs, and yet allow it to impress its dots upon the paper, which did not require that advantage. After this, the clock was never injured.

The power of regulating the length of paper for each mile was of great importance; it enabled me to examine, almost microscopically, the junctions of the rails. When a large scale of paper was allowed, every joining was marked upon the paper.

I find, on referring to my paper records, that on the 3rd March, 1839, the "Atlas" engine drew my experimental carriage, with two other carriages attached behind it, from Maidenhead to Drayton, with its paper travelling only eleven feet for each mile of journey; whilst from Drayton to Slough, forty-four feet of paper passed under the pen during each mile of progress.

The inking pens at first gave me some trouble, but after successively discovering their various defects, and remedying them at an expense of nearly £20, they performed their work satisfactorily. The information they gave might be fully relied upon.

We had an excellent illustration of this on one occasion when we were returning, late in the evening, from Maidenhead, after a hard day's work. The pitchy darkness of the night, which prevented us from seeing any objects external to our carriage, was strongly contrasted with the bright light of four argand lamps within it. I was accompanied by my eldest son, Mr. Herschel Babbage, and three assistants. A roll of paper a thousand feet in length was slowly unwinding itself upon the long table extended before us, and winding itself up on a corresponding roller at its other extremity. About a dozen pens connected with a bridge crossing the middle of the table were each marking its own independent curve gradually or by jumps, as the circumstances attending our railway course was dictating. The self-feeding pens, which the self-acting roller of blotting-paper continually followed, but never overtook, were quietly marking their inevitable courses. All had gone on well for a considerable time amidst perfect silence, if the steady pace of thirty miles an hour, the dogged automatic action of the material, and the muteness of the living machinery, admitted of such a term. Being myself entirely ignorant of our position upon the rail, I disturbed this busy repose by inquiring whether any one knew where we were? To this question there was no reply. Each continued to watch in silence for the duties which his own department might at any moment require, but no such demands were made.

After some minutes, as I was watching the lengthening curves, I perceived a slight indication of our position on the railroad. I instantly looked at my son, and saw, by a faint smile on his countenance, that he also perceived our sitaation on the line. I had scarcely glanced back at the growing curves upon the paper, to confirm my interpretation, when each of my three assistants at the same instant called out "Thames Junction."

At the period I speak of the double line of a small railway, called the Thames Junction, crossed the Great Western line on a level at between two and three miles from its terminus. The interruption caused certain jerks in several of our curves, which, having once noticed, it was impossible to mistake.

I would suggest that every engine should carry a spring clock, marking small equal intervals of time by means of a needle-point impinging upon paper, the speed of whose transit should be regulated by the speed of the engine. It might, perhaps, be desirable to have a differently-formed mark to indicate each five minutes. Also, two or more studs on the driving-wheel should mark upon the same paper the number of its revolutions. Besides this, it might be imperative on the engine-driver to mark upon the paper a dot upon passing each of certain prescribed points upon the railway. This latter is not absolutely necessary, but may occasionally supply very valuable information.

The second point which I consider of importance is, that—

Between every engine and its train there should be interposed a dynamometer, that is, a powerful spring to measure the force exerted by the engine.

It may, perhaps, be objected that this would require a certain amount of movement between the engine and its train. A very small quantity would be sufficient, say half an inch, or less. The forces in action are so very large, that even a still smaller amount of motion than this might be sufficiently magnified. Its indications should be marked by self-acting machinery governing points impinging upon the paper on which the velocity is marked.

Whenever any unusual resistance has opposed the progress of the train, it will thus be marked upon the paper. It will indicate in some measure the state of the road, and it will assuredly furnish valuable information in case an accident happens, and the train or the engine gets off the rails.

The third recommendation I have to make is—

That the curve described by the centre of the engine itself upon the plane of the railway should be laid down upon the paper.

Finding this a very important element, I caused a plate of hardened steel to be pressed by a strong spring against the inner edge of the rail. It was supported by a hinge upon a strong piece of timber descending from the platform supporting the carriage itself. The motion of this piece of steel, arising from the varying position of the wheels themselves upon the rail, was conveyed to a pen which transferred to the paper the curve traversed by the centre of the carriage referred to the plane of the rail itself.

The contrivance and management of this portion of my apparatus was certainly the most difficult part of my task, and probably the most dangerous. I had several friendly cautions, but I knew the danger, and having examined its various causes, adopted means of counteracting its effect.

After a few trials we found out how to manage it, and although it often broke four or five times in the course of the day's work, the fracture inevitably occurred at the place intended for it, and my first notice of the fact often arose from the blow the fragment made when suddenly drawn by a strong rope up to the under side of the floor of our experimental carriage.

I have a very strong opinion that the adoption of such mechanical registrations would add greatly to the security of railway travelling, because they would become the unerring record of facts, the incorruptible witnesses of the immediate antecedents of any catastrophe.

I have, however, little expectation of their adoption, unless Directors can be convinced that the knowledge derived from them would, by pointing out incipient defects, and by acting as a check upon the vigilance of all their officers, considerably diminish the repairs and working expenses both of the engine and of the rail. Nor should I be much surprised even if they were pronounced mpracticable, although they existed very nearly a quarter of a century ago.

The question of the gauges has long been settled. A small portion of broad gauge exists, but it is probable that it will ultimately be changed. The vast expense of converting the engines and the rolling stock for use on the narrower gauge presents the greatest obstacle.

It may, however, be interesting to learn the opinion of the father of railways at an early period of their progress. I have already mentioned the circumstances under which my acquaintance with George Stephenson began. They were favourable to that mutual confidence which immediately arose. I was naturally anxious to ascertain the effect of the existing experience upon his own mind, but I waited patiently until a favourable opportunity presented itself.

At a large public dinner, during the meeting of the British Association at Newcastle, I sat next to George Stephenson. It occurred to me that the desired opportunity had now arrived. I said little about railways until after the first glass of champagne. I mentioned several that I had travelled upon, and the conclusions I had drawn relative to the mechanical department. I then referred to the economy of management, and pointed out one railway in which the accounts were so well arranged, that I had been able to arrive at a testing point of an opinion I had formed from my own observations.

One great evil of the narrow gauge was, that when some trifling derangement in the engine occurred, which might be repaired at the expense of two or three shillings, it frequently became necessary to remove uninjured portions of the machine, in order to get at the fault; that the re-making the joints and replacing these parts thus temporarily removed, frequently led to an expense of several pounds.

The second glass of champagne now interrupted a conversation which was, I hope, equally agreeable to both, and was certainly very instructive for me. I felt that the fairest opportunity I could desire of ascertaining my friend's real opinion of the gauge had now arrived. Availing myself of the momentary pause after George Stephenson's glass was empty, I said—

"Now, Mr. Stephenson, will you allow me to ask you to suppose for an instant that no railways whatever existed, and yet that you were in full possession of all that large amount of knowledge which you have derived from your own experience. Under such circumstances, if you were consulted respecting the gauge of a system of railways about to be inaugurated, would you advise the gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches?"

"Not exactly that gauge," replied the creator of railroads; "I would take a few inches more, but a very few."

I was quite satisfied with this admission, though I confess it reminded me of the frail fair one who, when reproached by her immaculate friend with having had a child—an ecclesiastical licence not being first obtained—urged, as an extenuating circumstance, that it was a very small one.

In this age of invention, it is difficult to predict the railroads of the future. Already it has been suggested to give up wheels and put carriages upon sledges. This would lower the centre of gravity considerably, and save the expense of wheels. On the other hand, every carriage must have an apparatus to clean and grease the rails, and the wear and tear of these latter might overbalance the economy arising from abolishing wheels.

Again, short and much-frequented railways might be formed of a broad, continuous strap, always rolling on. At each station means must exist for taking up and putting down the passengers without stopping the rolling strap.

The exhaustion of air in a continuous tunnel was proposed many years ago for the purpose of sucking the trains along. This has recently been applied with success to the transmission of parcels and letters.

Possibly in the next International Exhibition a light railway might be employed within the building.[1]

1st. A quick train to enable visitors to get rapidly from end to end, avoiding the crowd and saving time, say at the expense of a penny.

2nd. A very slow train passing along the most attractive line, and occasionally stopping, to enable persons not capable of bearing the fatigue of pushing on foot through crowds.

If such railways were considered in the original design of the building, they might be made to interfere but little with the general public, and would bring in a considerable revenue to the concern.

  1. A gallery, elevated about seven feet, in the centre of each division of the new National Gallery, might be used either for a light railway, or for additional means of seeing the pictures on the walls.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.