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
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
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
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
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
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.