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May 1846 the first stone of the Britannia Bridge was laid—in March 1850 it was opened for traffic. As is well known, the passage of the strait and of the Conway is effected by means of the famous iron tubes—capacious tunnels placed high in air, and secure under the heaviest trains :
Structures of more ambitious enterprise
A line from Edinburgh to Dalkeith, worked by horses, was commenced in 1826, and opened in 1831; that to Glasgow in 1842; the other Scottish railways, one of which extends north as far as Aberdeen, are all of more recent construction. The Dublin and Kingstown was the first Irish line, opened in 1834; acts for the others were obtained in 1836 and 1837.
The bill for the Great Western Railway first came before parliament in 1833, in the face of an active opposition which ultimately led to its rejection by the Lords, after an outlay of £30,000 on the part of the promoters of the measure. The seats of learning, Eton and Oxford—behind-hand in knowledge — particularly distinguished themselves in their antagonism. To have a station near the famous grammar-school or the ancient university, with a railway reaching to the metropolis, was to be fatal to the studious and steady habits of boys on the one hand, and of young men on the other; and on this poor assumption the course of a grand ameliorating enterprise was for a time effectually hindered.
Application having been renewed, the bill passed in 1835. The parliamentary proceedings from first to last cost £89,197—a literally wasteful expenditure, and one that involves a permanent tax on the travelling public, in the higher rate of fares which they are made to pay. A portion of the line was opened in 1838; to Bristol in 1841; and to Exeter, 194 miles, in 1845.
It had first been proposed to make the station of the London and Birmingham Company serve also for the Great Western, the first halfdozen miles leading from the metropolis to be common to both; but as the country to be traversed presented favourable levels, Brunel, who had been appointed engineer, recommended the adoption of a broad gauge, or width between the rails of seven feet. With the exception of the Eastern Counties line, where Braithwaite had laid the rails five feet apart, the gauge on the Birmingham, and all the principal lines then undertaken, was four feet eight and a half inches, consequently the idea of using any portion of the line in common had to be given up. The Great Western Company chose an independent station, and sanctioned their engineer's project, which involved a wider roadway, and greater dimensions in all the details and works, than on other lines. The gauge of four feet eight and a half inches was that which-perhaps without any specific reason—had long been used in the mining districts : Stephenson adopted it on the Liverpool and Manchester line, and hence it became the standard for other lines; not that opinion was unanimous in its favour, for the Rennies among
others had declared in favour of five feet prior to 1830. The narrow gauge is adopted in France, in the United States, and in Belgium-where, on the line from Ghent to Antwerp, the width is but three feet nine inches. With few exceptions, all the Italian and German lines are also on the narrow
gauge: the Basle and Strasburg is six feet three inches; and the Dutch lines are six feet six inches. Five and six feet is the gauge of some of the Irish lines.
Brunel considered that with a seven feet gauge he should be able to insure smooth and steady motion; the bodies of the carriages would be between and not above the wheels, as on the narrow gauge—an arrangement, by the way, not now carried out in practice. Ordinary carriages and other vehicles might be conveyed on low trucks without difficulty, owing to the increased width; and, more than all, the locomotives would be adapted for extraordinary developments of power. The increased expense excited murmurs and an inquiry, but without leading to any alteration. On the Eastern Counties line the directors had found it necessary to abandon the five feet gauge for the narrower one universally adopted on lines with which they came into connection. In effecting the alteration they took up and relaid eighty-six miles of rails.
When in 1844 the line from Bristol to Gloucester was opened, which, by the influence of the Great Western Company, had been laid on the broad gauge, all the practical inconveniences of break of gauge' were immediately felt. Travellers from Bristol or Birmingham, compelled to pass with all their baggage from one set of carriages to another, were not slow to murmur and threaten; and at the latter-mentioned town a public meeting was held to remonstrate against the continuance of the interruption.
This may be considered as the first move in the battle of the gauges,' which has been fought with the spirit and pertinacity ever excited by a desire for gain, or the hope of circumventing an opponent. The territory lying between the two rival lines--the Great Western and the NorthWestern—was the prize contended for. Whichever obtained possession would be able to keep the other from any share in the traffic. Active measures were taken on both sides ; and troops of engineers, surveyors, and levellers, taking possession of the ground, tasked themselves to the utmost to prepare their plans and specifications for the memorable 30th of November 1845 — that Sunday, before midnight of which the 'standing orders' required the documents to be lodged at the Board of Trade. Such a running, riding, driving and steaming, contrivance and circumvention, then took place throughout the length and breadth of the land as were never before heard of. As the evening closed in, messenger after messenger rushed into Parliament Street at headlong speed, panting with excitement, and delivered his burden of papers and parchments into the custody of the government officials. The stir was universal, for similar documents had to be placed in the hands of every clerk of the peace of every parish across which a railway had been projected—and how few were there that escaped in the mad excitement of the day! More than 1200 companies-onehalf having registered their prospectuses—had been started: the capital represented by those registered was £563,203,000.
From 1801 to 1840, 299 railway acts and extensions of acts were passed; the numbers in the following years serve as an index of the speculative spirit of the time. In 1841, 19 were passed ; in 1842,
in 1843, 24 ; in 1844, 48; in 1845, 120; in 1846, 272; in 1847, 184; in 1848, 83 ; in 1849, 35; and in 1850, 36. The London and North-Western shares, in August 1845, were selling at £252; the Great Western, £256; Midland,
£180; and the others in proportion-an extraordinary rise, followed soon afterwards by a fall of from 50 to 300 per cent.
Nearly 600 railway bills came before parliament in 1846. In the same session the gauge-question was discussed, and the Great Western projects, after rigorous investigation, were authorised under certain conditions: at the same time a commission of scientific individuals was appointed to test the merits of the respective gauges. Many persons will remember the experiments ma
Barlow and the astronomer-royal in January 1846—remarkable for the extraordinary velocity at which the trial-trips on broad and narrow lines were made. Their report embraced the whole bearings of the question, the difficulties of break of gauge were fully considered, advantages and disadvantages balanced; and although in some respects the broad gauge was to be preferred, they recommended that as the greater part of England was already laid with the 4 feet 8} gauge, it alone should be maintained and permitted “in all public railways now under construction, or hereafter to be constructed in Great Britain.'
The appearance of this report kindled a lively controversy: the Board of Trade did not hold themselves bound by all the recommendations; and permission was eventually given to the Great Western Company to extend their broad gauge to Rugby, to Birmingham, and Wolverhampton ; also to the whole south and west of their existing line from London to Bristol and Exeter, and to be confined to those limits. Thus the question was compromised, and scope allowed for an active competition, which still exists between the two companies most interested.
It is not difficult to perceive that railway legislation is yet susceptible of amendment : there is no good reason why enormous expenses should be incurred in carrying a bill through parliament--expenses injurious alike to the companies and the public. The placing of railways under the control of the Board of Trade in 1840 was a step, but not far enough, in the right direction. The Board are empowered to forbid the opening of any line which they may consider unsafe, and to compel such alterations as public safety requires, particularly with respect to bridges, viaducts, or crossings. All disputes between differing coinpanies are to be referred to them, and they can order returns of all accidents that take place, and institute inquiry according to circumstances. Then, in 1844, an act was passed designed to protect the public against the consequences of monopoly on the part of railway companies. By its provisions government was enabled to revise the tolls and charges of any railway of which, twentyone years after the passing of the act, the profits should exceed 10 per cent., and reduce them to this value. They might also, on giving three months' notice, purchase any railway at a price estimated from the average of the three preceding years; and further, for the protection and benefit of travellers, all companies sanctioned in 1844, or in any subsequent session, were to provide third-class carriages as prescribed by certain regulations :
"The hour of starting to be subject to the approval of the Board of Trade.
“The speed to be, upon an average, not less than twelve miles an hour for the whole distance travelled, including stoppages.
The train shall, if required, take up and set down passengers at every passenger-station.
The carriages shall be provided with seats, and protected from the weather in a manner satisfactory to the Board of Trade.
The fare of each passenger shall not exceed one penny a mile.
Each passenger shall be allowed to take half a hundredweight of luggage, not being merchandise or other articles carried for hire or profit, without extra charge ; and any excess of luggage is to be charged by weight, at the lowest rate charged for passengers' luggage by other trains.
Children under three years of age, accompanying passengers, are to be taken without charge; and under twelve years of age, at half-price.'
In certain cases the companies have been allowed to change some of these regulations for others, but not less suitable or efficient : as regards the fare the statute is imperative; it is not to exceed 1d. a mile, though it may be lower. No toll is levied on third-class fares, but on all other sums received for passenger - traffic 5 per cent. must be paid to government. The act also regulates the charges for the conveyance of troops, police, and persons employed in the public service : commissioned officers may travel in first-class carriages at a fare not exceeding 2d. a mile; soldiers and policemen at 1d. a mile in third-class carriages; and stores are to be conveyed at 2d. a ton per mile.
ies are further bound to permit the erection of an electric telegraph along their lines if required for Her Majesty's service; and compensation for loss of life or injury while travelling is substituted for the law of deodand which formerly prevailed. And last, paid inspectors and commissioners are appointed to see that the provisions of the act are duly enforced and obeyed.
Had it not been for the regulations affecting third-class passengers, that large section of the travelling community would, we may believe, have found themselves still riding in open boxes, exposed to all weather, obliged to start at hours expressly chosen for their inconvenience, and delayed on he journey as might suit the humour of their carriers. Even at the present time there is too much disposition to shew small consideration to those who pay but a penny a mile. At many stations the second and third class passengers are always drawn beyond the shelter of the roof before the train stops whatever be the weather; and the 'through' transit is often rendered difficult to those who pay the lowest fares. On some lines of railway-several even which have termini in Londonopen uncovered boxes are still used as third-class carriages. These are unobjectionable in very fine warm weather, but in winter, or during cold rains or winds, an unsheltered journey becomes most painfully distressing. On one or two other main lines leading northwards from the metropolis the third-class carriages are bad, but the second class are worse; too low to allow passengers to sit upright with their hats on, and with a single opening of fifteen or eighteen inches square on each side for all outlook and ventilation, as though not to see the country made travelling more agreeable. This is short-sighted and suicidal policy. Money, in itself
, is not the only thing worth striving for; or if it be, it profits best those who exercise a generous policy. Competition will do much towards amending these grievances, and already it is felt that the best accommodation attracts most traffic. The Great Northern has set a praiseworthy example of what can be done with clean, convenient, and cheerful carriages, though there is still
room for improvement. Punctuality, and the minimum of annoyance compatible with a train in motion, are safer resources than a reputation for the fastest travelling. In leaving this part of the subject we cannot refrain from an emphatic protest against the now prevalent practice of disfiguring the roofs and sides of carriages with advertising show-bills: it ought not to be tolerated for a single day.
The idea of propelling carriages by atmospheric pressure was first suggested by Vallance at Brighton in 1824. A tunnel was to be made, air - tight, and large enough to receive carriages, which, on the exhaustion of the tube by means of steam-power and the admission of air at one end, were to move rapidly under the influence of the pressure. On this plan, whatever the length of the journey, passengers would have had to travel in the dark—a fatal objection. It was afterwards shewn that small continuous tubes worked on the same principle might be made available for the rapid transmission of letters. Next Medhurst, in 1827, and Pinkus, in 1834, proposed improvements. In 1839–40 Clegg and Samuda laid down a mile of atmospheric railway, as a working - model, at Wormwood Scrubs, near Paddington. A nine-inch iron tube was fixed between the rails, having on its upper side a continuous longitudinal valve. A piston working within the tube was connected with the carriage by a bar passing through the valve, and on the admission of air, after exhaustion, travelled forwards with a load of nine tons at thirty miles an hour. The valve being made with an elastic hinge opened readily as the bar advanced, and closed again immediately behind it, and was kept air-tight by a composition of oil and tallow. About the same time Roberts proposed to establish an atmospheric railway across Dartmoor—the tube to be exhausted by water-power. A committee of the House sat to inquire into the merits of Samuda's project -reported favourably, and acts were granted. A line of nearly two miles from Dalkey to Kingstown, in extension of the Dublin and Kingstown line, was constructed in 1843, passing through an 'awkward' district, with sharp curves, and slopes in places of 1 in 50, circumstances to which the atmospheric system is especially applicable. This is still worked at a speed of from thirty to forty miles an hour; but the other attempts made to establish a similar system on the London and Croydon, and on the South Devon lines, failed entirely—chiefly from imperfection in the valve, and difficulty in stopping where required. A contrivance of racks and wheels in place of the continuous valve was proposed by Pilbrow in 1844; and later, a new form of valve by Hallette-two small inflated Alexible tubes which, acting as closed lips, would allow of the passage of the piston and at the same time exclude the air. And thus the question as to whether atmospheric is preferable to locomotive power remains unsettled.
The outburst of railway enterprise in England after 1830 excited & similar spirit in the United States. A short line of four miles from the stone-quarries at Quincy to Boston had been constructed in 1827, and in 1829 several miles of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway were completed. These, as well as some other lines projected and laid down about the same time in the coal-fields of Pennsylvania, were worked by horses. It appears, however, that locomotive power was first introduced at Lackawannack, in 1828, on the line which connected the Delaware and Hudson canals.