Press Report into the Radstock Level Crossings inquiry in January 1884
Taken from the Board of Trade files - Original Newspaper unknown

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


Board of Trade Inquiry at Radstock

Mr A. E. Miller, Q.C., one of the Railway Commissioners, yesterday held an inquiry, instituted by the Board of Trade, at the Bell Inn, Radstock, respecting the level crossings at Radstock of the Somerset and Dorset and Bristol and North Somerset Railways. There was a large attendance during the proceedings, which appeared to excite a good deal of interest.

Mr R. S. Wright (instructed by Mr Walter Murton) appeared for the Board of Trade; Mr Erskine Pollock (instructed by Mr R. N. Nelson), represented the Great Western Railway Company; Mr George Spencer Bower (instructed by Messrs Walter, Webb and Co.), the Bristol and North Somerset Company; Mr W. J. Noble (instructed by Messrs Beale and Co.), the Midland and London and South Western Railway Companies; Mr Davy (Rees-Mogg and Davy) appeared for Lord Carlingford; and Mr G. Pearson for the Radstock Local Board.

Mr Wright said he appeared on behalf of the Board of Trade, and the substantial question for consideration was whether the level crossings which could be seen from that room, and which were two in number, and within about 38 yards of each other, constituted such a danger to the public safety that the Board of Trade, exercising the powers it possessed, should require a modification of the arrangements; and, secondly, whether, if they constituted such a danger, there were practical means, having regard to all the circumstances, by which it could, be met. Representations were made to the Board of Trade about ten years ago as to the danger to the public arising from these crossings, and they felt a responsibility fell upon them, and that these complaints having been made it was their duty to sift them to their utmost ability, and having that view they had requested Mr Miller to hold the inquiry that day. Having pointed out the nature of the crossings, the learned counsel said the original Act of the Somerset and Dorset Company, in 1871, contemplated that there should not be a level crossing, but that the line should be carried under the road, and that the highway should be raised 81/2 feet. The fact that level crossings were not originally intended went to show that there was no insuperable difficulty in doing away with them.

The Commissioner: That argument cuts both ways, it might be said that Parliament did not think it was necessary, to go to the expense of raising the highway.
Mr Wright observed that two years afterwards the company went to Parliament again and obtained power to carry the railway over the turnpike road by a level crossing, but the section which authorised them to do so expressly made them subject to the provisions of the Act of 1863 with reference to level crossings. With regard to the Bristol and North Somerset Railway, that undertaking was authorised by the Act of l863 and the line was to be carried over the road but in 1870 a level crossing was authorised, but subject to the Act of 1863 before mentioned. So long ago as 1874 complaints were made to the Board of Trade of danger to the public arising from the level crossings, which resulted in the Board of Trade making an order on the railway companies to provide some other means of crossing the road. In 1877 the matter came before the Court of Queen's Bench, but a mandamus was refused, and the matter slept until 1882. In that year, and in 1883, complaints were again made to the Board of Trade, the most specific being made by Lord Hylton, who was an owner of land in the neighbourhood. It was stated that the danger to the public was increased by a colliery tramway under, the Somerset and Dorset line; and crossing a subway constructed under that railway, being worked by means of a locomotive. The Board of Trade had also received reports front Colonel Yolland and Major Marindin, and those officers had expressed views on the subject which rendered if necessary for the Board of Trade to interfere in the matter to the extent to which they were now interfering. He understood that some owners of land in the proximity of the crossings and the Radstock Local Board were averse to any proposal for carrying anything like a high bridge across the valley and over the crossings, as had been proposed. Any views of theirs on the matter might be subject to some slight comment or criticism so far as they might be based upon views connected with private property rather than upon views of public safety. At the same time they were entitled to careful consideration, and as representing the Board of Trade, he did not think it right that he should deal with the matter other than in a way so as to enable a full expression of opinion to be given. The learned counsel then stated the course he proposed to take in the calling of evidence.

The first witness was
Col Yolland of the Board of Trade Inspectors, who said in 1874 he reported to the Board of Trade adversely to these level crossings being sanctioned, but Parliament passed the bills, subject to the penalty that might be enforced in event of the Board of Trade being of opinion that such crossings would endanger the safety of the public. The opinion of the Board of Trade had been expressed on the subject in the order which they made against the railway companies to do away with them. The original proposition rendered no necessity to cross on the level. The Somerset and Dorset line approached the crossing on a rather steep incline, 1 in 50; the other line, the Bristol and North Somerset, approached their crossing in a rather long gradient, 1 in 128. He was of the same opinion now as in 1874 with respect to the crossings.

Mr Wright: In your opinion is there danger to the public safety by the use of these level crossings?
Colonel Yolland: I have no hesitation in saying that every level crossing is a danger to the public who have to make use of them; and these, are specially dangerous. It is of the greatest possible credit to the servants of the railway companies that some bad accident has not hitherto taken place. A space of only 38 yards being between the two crossings, there is great risk of horses being frightened when passing.
Mr Wright: Have you considered the best plans for remedying the present danger? Colonel Yolland: I have not. It is no part of my duty to do so. It is left entirely and exclusively for the railway companies, when ordered to get rid of a level crossing by the Board of Trade, to do so under the provisions of the Act of 1863 in the manner that will be most conducive to their own interest and for the public safety.
Mr Wright: But I should like your opinion. Could the thing be done?
Col. Yolland: There is no difficulty in doing it. It is simply a question of money. The line may be raised and the road lowered, and the road traffic passed under the railway. The other mode is to lower the line and to carry the roads over the railway. These are two modes, and powers may be obtained for making a crossing at some distance from its present position.
The Commissioner: Could that be done without going to Parliament?
Colonel Yolland: It is frequently done with the consent of the local authorities alone, without going to Parliament.
Mr Wright: And with your experience of railway matters, you say that either of these modes could be adopted without serious objection? You think it is possible?
Col. Yolland: I am perfectly sure of it. It is perfectly feasible if the money can be found. (Laughter.) He had known of similar works costing between £40,000 and £50,000.
In the present case would anything like such an outlay be involved? - I have not been into the question of cost; it is outside my duties. The railways can be lowered. I don t say that could be done to the same extent as the subway, but they could be lowered so as diminish the height of the bridge.
That would involve the railways in the liability to be flooded? - It might do so.
By Mr Pollock: In l870, Bristol and North Somerset Company went before Parliament for a deviation, by which they proposed to approach the town differently. After 1870 he reported again. The Bristol and North Somerset line was opened for traffic in Sept., 1873.
Mr Pollock: Has any accident, from 1874, been brought to your attention?
Colonel Yolland: Not that I am aware of.
Mr Pollock: What is a safe gradient for a train to come into a station upon? - The station itself should not be on a steeper gradient than 1 in 250 to 1 in 300, but I am sorry to say the rule is not observed.
But for the public safety you would wish that rule observed? - Certainly.
In your judgment would it be a safe thing to allow any alteration which necessitated the raising of the level on the turnpike road more than a few inches, having regard to the close proximity of the station? - I do not think a few inches would make a material difference.
In answer to further questions, Colonel Yolland said if the level of the crossing was raised they must also raise the level of the platform. If they did not alter the level of the rails no change need be made; if they lowered the rails and raised the road they must carry out the gradient so as to make it effective, and the stations would probably have to be entirely remodelled. There was no doubt about a question of flooding being involved if the road was left as It was and the line made to ran underneath.
By Mr Bower: He had not considered the question, locally, since ten years, ago. He knew nothing of the circumstances except what had been stated in correspondence to the Board of Trade.
Mr Bower: You have an objection to level crossings generally?
Col. Yolland: I hold they endanger the public safety. No railway man, viewing the crossings here, could do otherwise than come to the opinion that they are objectionable and dangerous. If the railway were put down to the level of the present subway the probability is that it would be flooded at times.
Have you considered whether a bridge would be a greater evil than the present crossings? - There would be no evil except to those who have to find the money to make it. (Laughter.)
How much, money? - I have not gone into the question.
How about the landowners? - The landowners would be compensated if any land were wanted to make the bridge.
By Mr Noble: Parliament sanctioned the level crossing against his report and provided for a subway.
By Mr Davy: He had no opinion as to the injury to property if a bridge were constructed. If any injury were involved the railway companies would have to compensate the landowner.
Mr Davy: Assuming the bridge to be constructed on the site of the present level crossing and road, a very great injury to property would be caused?
Col Yolland: It cannot be constructed on the site without stopping the road traffic.
Then it is impossible to construct the bridge on the site of these, crossings? - It is impossible, and to maintain the road traffic, unless you construct the bridge in halves.
Commissioner: When the work was completed would there be any material interference with the road traffic.
Col Yolland: None whatever.
It could be done so as not to prove any permanent injury to the road? - Certainly. It might be necessary to go to Parliament to obtain powers to divert the road, but there is no question whatever that in an engineering point of view it would be quite possible to do the work.
By Mr Pearson: The interests of local authorities were always consulted. Before a level crossing was asked for the local authorities were asked whether there was any objection to it, or whether they were assenting parties to it. That was done with reference to both of these crossings. He was not aware that in 1875 the Local Board of Radstock presented a petition suggesting a subway. He knew the locality there generally.
Mr Pearson: As you know, there is a large open space in front of this hotel; do you think it would be possible to construct a subway which, passing under both lines, should emerge on the Wells side of Radstock?
Col. Yolland: Raise the line 16 feet and it will be perfectly possible. The Commissioner: You think that will be necessary?
Col. Yolland: I think it may be.

Major Marindin, Board of Trade inspector, was then examined. He said he had recently inspected the level crossings for the purposes of that inquiry. He considered they were more than ordinarily dangerous. Two crossings were, of course, more dangerous than one, because there was the liability of having horses penned between the two lines. In the present case he thought the crossings more dangerous because a horse would be penned between the two lines, and at the same time they might have the tank engine under the road on which the horse was standing. A single level crossing was attended with some danger. The cost of an overbridge would be considerable, as there would be an amount of compensation. The plan he should adopt of altering the present arrangement would depend upon the expense; but he was inclined to think that the amount of compensation in the case of an overbridge might outweigh the cost of an alteration of the line in the event of a subway. If they put a Subway they would have to alter the gradients, and probably to reconstruct the stations. On, the other hand in the case of an overbridge, there would no doubt be considerable compensation to property.
In answer to questions by Mr Pollock, the witness said he did not think that the absence of accident from these crossings proved that there was no danger.
Mr Pollock: But it shows that the danger is not an imminent one.
Major Marindin: It shows that there has been great care and attention on the part of the servants of the companies.
And does it not show that with care and attention an accident may not take place? - No.
The Commissioner: You agree with Colonel Yolland that there are excellent railway servants here? - Yes. The arrangement made has decreased the danger, although it has increased the inconvenience.
In answer to Mr Bower, Major Marindin said that an overhead bridge would involve the demolition of certain buildings, perhaps a good deal of property.
Mr Bower: You may as well have an earthquake in Radstock; (Laughter.)
Major Marindin said he should prefer the bridge.
By Mr Noble: He had not gone into, any details as to the cost of making a bridge and carrying out the other alterations which would be necessary.
By Mr Pearson: He thought he saw a petition from the Local Board of Radstock in 1875. He did not think it possible to put a subway under the lines, to enter near the Waldegrave Arms and to emerge on the Wells road side without making a very material alteration in the level of the rails. If a subway were made the element of danger would be decreased. He did not think a proper subway would damage Radstock, although the line would have to be raised considerably in consequence.

Lord Hylton said he had made certain representations to the Board of Trade as to these level crossings. The inconvenience was of a most serious kind. He had a memorial with him from 70 or 80 inhabitants of the neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, the inhabitants of Radstock had a somewhat different view from those who lived in the neighbourhood. They had some objection to an embankment being carried along the centre of the town.
By the Commissioner: Any change of level would make more difference to them. He had suffered personal inconvenience.
By Mr Wright: He had received that morning two letters from gentlemen, who urged that something should be done to alter the present arrangement. They complained chiefly on the score of inconvenience. He thought safety at present could be secured by closing the gates to such an extent that the inconvenience became intolerable.
By Mr Pollock: Those who had signed-the memorial represented a rateable value of £7,761. They were chiefly tenants of his in other parts.
By Mr Bower: There were about 3,000 people in Radstock, and not one of them had signed the memorial. Any bridge which was constructed would affect Radstock.
Mr Bower: Yon would not wish to submerge Radstock by a bridge for the benefit of those living outside?
Lord Hylton: I would, certainly. (Laughter.)
By Mr Pearson: He thought the railway officials had been extremely careful. A subway would relieve a good deal of the traffic. A fatal accident to a boy occurred in the present subway some time back.
By Mr Noble: The accident occurred in September, 1882. It might have been some distance from the level crossing; He did dot know how far; he thought not half a mile.

Mr John Batey, mining engineer for several collieries in the neighbourhood, said he had found there was not only the greatest amount of inconvenience, but also danger from the crossings. There was danger when the gates rapidly shut, and without warning, against those who were about to cross. He had had an accident himself from that cause. Before his trap had cleared the line the gates were thrown back and caught his trap. He applied to the railway company, but the company was not generous enough to pay his damages. The witness pointed out that there was considerable inconvenience by the stopping of the traffic.
By Mr Bower: He would like a subway.

Mr Martin, surveyor to the Radstock Local Board, spoke as to the delays which were occasioned by the closing of the gates on certain days in December, when an observation was made; He thought the company's servants had done all they could for the safety and convenience of the public.
In answer to Mr Pearson, the witness said he thought a subway could be made, one entrance to be near the Market Place, and the other near the rectory; and if there was a height of eleven feet it would necessitate the raising of the Somerset and Dorset line about 2 feet or 21/2 feet) and the Bristol and North Somerset line about 41/2 feet.

Mr McMurtrie, chairman of the Radstock Local Board and mining engineer, though he was not prepared to say there was no danger, thought there was not any considerable amount of danger from the crossings, as he had known of no case of accident daring the last ten years. The witness produced a plan, and by the aid of it explained to the commissioner and the counsel the character of the subway which he advocated should be constructed - the subway which the Local Board suggested some time back, and which Mr Pearson had questioned other witnesses upon. He also spoke as to the amount of damage to House property which would be involved in the construction of an overhead bridge, as proposed by the Board of Trade eight years ago. He did not wish to see an overbridge. He thought it would be a substantial injury to the town.

Mr Geo Coombs, brewer, of Clandown and vice-chairman of the Radstock Local Board, and Mr Fredk. Miles, farmer, Radstock, said Mr McMurtrie and Mr Martin fairly represented their own views and the views of the inhabitants of Radstock generally in the evidence they had given.
Mr Wm. Daubeny spoke in favour of the views of the inhabitants in the neighbourhood generally being considered rather than of Radstock simply.
The Commissioner, during Mr McMurtrie's evidence, remarked that it might shorten the proceedings if he stated that he had made up his mind to suggest a subway in preference to an overhead bridge. From what he had already seen he thought that an overbridge, which would raise the level 16 feet higher than the present level, was practically out of the question.

Mr Pollock, in answer to the Commissioner, said that he and his learned friend would wish to call engineering evidence; and after a conversation as to the best course to take, it was arranged, to hear such evidence in London, and the inquiry was adjourned accordingly, there being no response to the Commissioner's invitation to any person who wished to make a statement in the matter.


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