Report of Colonel W Yolland (Board of Trade Railway Inspector)
into the problems of the level crossings at Radstock

31st October 1874

Original Document - Public Record Office, Kew. MT6 644/5


Railway Department
Board of Trade
Whitehall
31st October 1874


Sir,

I have the honour to report for the information of the Board of Trade, in obedience to your minute of the 7th Instant that I have inspected the level crossings at Radstock of the Bristol and North Somerset and the Somerset and Dorset Railway Companies, of the turnpike road from Bath to Wells, Shepton Mallet and Weymouth, respecting which a complaint has been received from Lord [?Carlingford?] of the obstruction which the road traffic had received at this place owing to the two level crossings combined with the mode of working of the railway traffic on the Absolute Block system.

To explain the exact nature of the question involved in this case, it is necessary to state that the Bristol and North Somerset Railway Company in the sessions of 1863 and 1868 obtained powers to make a railway from a junction with the Great Western Railway at Bristol to join the Radstock Branch of the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth section of the same company at Radstock, and by the deposited plans this turnpike road was then to be lowered 2 feet 6 inches, while the proposed Railway was to be carried over the turnpike road by an under bridge. Subsequently in the Spring of 1870 the Bristol and North Somerset Railway Company obtained further powers to alter certain portions of the line sanctioned by the first named act, and among other things to carry the railway across the before mentioned turnpike road on the level at Radstock, in lieu of crossing by a bridge as originally sanctioned.

In the same way, the Somerset and Dorset Railway Company, in the session of 1871, obtained parliamentary powers for making a railway from their line at Evercreech to join the Midland Railway at Bath, and the deposited plans shewed that this proposed line was to be made close alongside of the Bristol and North Somerset Line at Radstock and that it was intended to raise this turnpike road 8 feet 6 inches, and to carry the railway under it by an over bridge. In the session of 1873, this company obtained an act by which they were authorised to alter a portion of their line in the vicinity of Radstock, and to lower the turnpike road 7 feet 6 inches and to cross it on the level instead of crossing under it by a bridge as originally sanctioned.

Memorials were presented against both these proposed level crossings in the years 1870 and 1873 respectively signed by the chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions for the County of Somerset and they were reported against by the officer appointed by the Board of Trade to report under the standing orders of the Houses of Parliament on the level crossings and inclinations of roads contained in the various railway bills. Both level crossings were however sanctioned and the clause authorising the Bristol and North Somerset level crossing provides “that the road be closed against traffic only during the necessary passing of trains, each train being allowed to cross the road not more than once on its through journey” (33 & 34 Vic. Cap 130. Section 5). The acts of Parliament sanctioning these level crossings both incorporate “The Railway Clauses Consolidation Act 1845 and Part 1 (relating to construction of a railway) of the Railway Clauses Act 1863 (except where expressly varied)”

Whether the portion of the clause which I have cited does or does not repeal a part of the 47th Section of the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act 1845, relating to the keeping of gates “constantly closed across the road, except during the time when horses, cattle, carts or carriages passing along the same shall have to cross each railway” may properly be questioned, but I suspect that it does do so in this respect as the act contains an expressed variation.

The Bristol and North Somerset Railway approaches the level crossing at Radstock from the direction of Bristol on a sharp curve, and on a long falling gradient of 1 in 120.

The Somerset and Dorset Railway is on a steep incline of 1 in 55 running past the level crossing and falling from the south.

The turnpike road is in each instance now crossed by a single line of rails, but power is given by the respective acts to lay a second line of rails across the road as far as the Bristol and North Somerset Railway is concerned and to do so also as regards the Somerset and Dorset Railway when that line is doubled. The points of that portion of double line at the respective two stations are very close to the level crossing gates – and the adjacent gates for closing alternately the lines and the road are about 30 yards apart.

The Frome road has been deviated so that it leaves the turnpike road between the adjacent gates and runs alongside of a brook between the two railways for some distance eastwards. The 34th Section of the Somerset and Dorset Act of 1873 requires the construction of a bridge under the railway adjoining the turnpike road of 15 feet span and 9 feet in height – and a bridge for a subway has accordingly been constructed, but the height does not comply with the stipulation in the act as it is not more than 8 feet in height and the curve in the roadway is so sharp and the approaches (1 in 6) so steep in this subway as to render it useless in its present condition for road traffic.

The level crossing gates on the Bristol and North Somerset Railway are kept closed across the railway except when required for the passage of trains: this being in opposition with general law on this subject. Lord Carlingford’s agent handed me the enclosed return showing the time the gates were kept closed across the two railways on the 19th September – at this time, when there are only 6 down and 6 up trains daily on the Bristol and North Somerset Railway and 13 down and 11 up on the Somerset and Dorset Railway, the situation amounting altogether to 1 1/4 hours for the Bristol and North Somerset Railway, and 4 hours and 36 minutes for the Somerset and Dorset Railway between 5:15 am and 10:11 pm.

When the Radstock branch of the Great Western Railway which is now being prepared for passenger traffic has been authorised to carry passengers it is probable that the number of trains on the Bristol and North Somerset Railway will be increased and the detentions will most likely be augmented at the level crossings, and of course the number of trains on both lines is certain to be increased as the traffic increases. A portion of the delay at the level crossing on the Somerset and Dorset Railway is due to the distance (nearly 4 miles) at which the next station (Wellow) to the north of Radstock is situated, as it has been usual to close the gates across the road and to keep them closed as soon as the train has left Wellow for Radstock. This delay might be lessened by making use of an intermediate telegraph station between Radstock and Wellow. It certainly would not be right to allow the gates to be closed across the railway after a train has left Chilcompton for Radstock on account of the very steep falling inclines.

Lord Carlingford’s agent also informed me that there has already been some narrow escapes from accidents on these level crossings, although the Somerset and Dorset was only opened on the 20th July, and the question for the serious consideration of the Board of Trade arises, whether the powers under the 7th section of the Railway Clauses Act of 1863 by which they are empowered to order bridges to be constructed in lieu of level crossings, should now be exercised, or the question be deferred until some serious accident has taken place at either of these level crossings.

It is my duty to state, that the two together constitute an exceedingly objectionable and dangerous level crossing which as far as I know cannot be paralleled as far as its physical construction is concerned by any level crossings in the United Kingdom; where young horses standing on the 30 yards between the Bristol and North Somerset, and the Somerset and Dorset level crossings are very liable to be frightened by the engines in front of, or behind them, partially shut in between two separate lines of railway.

I consider that Radstock exhibits a decided blot in our system of railway regulation which has permitted two separate lines and two separate stations to be constructed within a few yards of each other, in so small a place as Radstock, where one joint station could have answered every purpose to the great convenience of the public making use of these lines.

The principal objection that was raised, when the bills were before me, prior to my reporting on the proposed level crossings in 1870 and 1873, against carrying the turnpike road across the two railways by an over bridge, was that the approaches to an over bridge would destroy the market place at Radstock and having met Lord Carlingford at Radstock on the 14th instant I learnt from him, that he as representing the owners of the property at Radstock did not attach any importance to this objection, as the site for another market could be provided elsewhere in the event of an over bridge being constructed. I enclose a plan of these two level crossings at Radstock which I have very recently received and which has been prepared for me at my request by Mr [?Stephen?] the engineer of the Somerset and Dorset Railway Company.

I have shewn from the proceedings before Parliament by both the Bristol and North Somerset and the Somerset and Dorset Railway Companies that level crossing were not originally contemplated at this place, so there is no inherent difficulty in getting rid of them; and the simples and least expensive mode of doing this now would be by carrying the turnpike road over both railways by means of an over bridge. Lord Carlingford’s agent also stated that the level of the rails might be lowered by about 5 feet, without subjecting them to flooding from the brook and if this were done, it would materially diminish the length of the approaches to the over bridge and sensibly decrease the interference with the access to [?house?] property.

As the result of my inspection and inquiry, I have to recommend the Board of Trade to exercise the powers conferred by the 7th section of the Railway Clauses Act of 1863 and to order the erection of bridges over these two level crossings for the purpose of carrying the turnpike road over the Bristol and North Somerset and the Somerset and Dorset Railways, instead of passing across them on the level. Both in order to give the two railway companies ample time to enter into negotiations with each other that may lead to improved arrangements at Radstock that will benefit both the public and these railway companies, I submit that they should be allowed 2 years from the date of the order, to complete these works.

I have the honour to be
Sir
Your most obedient servant
W. Yolland, Colonel


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