Report by Alexander Miller QC into the Radstock Level Crossings inquiry in January 1884

Report Dated: 21st April 1884

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


Report of the Result of a Preliminary Inquiry into the matter of the Level Crossings at Radstock, in the County of Somerset, holden by direction of the Board of Trade, under the provisions of the Board of Trade Arbitrations, &c., Act, 1874 (Part I.).

I, Alexander Edward Miller of Lincolns’ Inn, in the County of Middlesex, one of Her Majesty's Counsel, the person appointed by the Board of Trade, to hold a Preliminary Inquiry under the provisions of the Board of Trade Arbitrations, &c. Act, 1874, into the circumstances affecting the Level Crossings at Radstock, in the County of Somerset, and to report to them thereon, do hereby make this my report: -

Radstock is a small market town containing 3,000 inhabitants or thereabouts, and is not, so far as appeared upon this inquiry, the seat of any special industry giving rise to any exceptional traffic in the town or its immediate neighbourhood; but it is in the centre of a populous agricultural district, and is situate upon the main roads leading from Bath to Wells and Frome respectively, and there is a good deal of traffic of the ordinary agricultural kind along these roads. The point of bifurcation of these roads is within the town, and between the two level crossings which are the subject of this inquiry, the road to Wells passing over both of such crossings, while the road to Frome after passing over the Somerset and Dorset Railway diverges to the east and runs between the two railways and nearly parallel to them both for a distance of about 190 yards when it turns more to the north and leaves the line of the railway. There is a market holden every Saturday in the town, and upon market days the traffic appears to be considerable. The market place is a small open square situate in the centre of the town, bounded on the west by the main road already mentioned, on the south by the line of the Somerset and Dorset Railway, and on the north by the “Bell” Inn. The “Waldegrave Arms,” a public-house of some pretension, is situate on the west side of the said main road, nearly opposite the north-west corner of the market place. This road comes into Radstock from the direction of Bath down a very steep hill (on a gradient of one in twelve or thereabouts) until it reaches the market place, when it becomes nearly level until after it has passed both the crossings in question, after which it rises in the direction of Wells upon a moderate gradient. The Bristol and North Somerset Railway (herein-after called the North Somerset) crosses the town from west to east with a double line of rails, and crosses the said main road on the level in front of the market place, the centre of the line of railway being at that point about 150 feet distant from the southern edge of the market place. Immediately to the south of this crossing the said main road passes the gate of Radstock rectory, the grounds of which adjoin such road on the west. The passenger station, on the North Somerset (which is an ordinary roadside station) adjoins this level crossing on the east, and there is, a little further to the eastward, a small goods yard with proper siding accommodation. The land adjoining the said road to the east upon the south side of this crossing belongs to the North Somerset Company, at a point 190 yards to the eastward of the level crossing this line forms a junction with the Frome branch of the Great Western Railway. The line falls from the westward towards the station, upon a gradient of one in 128, as far as the crossing from which point eastwards it is practically level for nearly half a mile. This line is worked by the Great Western Company, under a perpetual and exclusive agreement, and it practically forms part of the undertaking of that company, although the agreement is not in terms a lease of the line to them. Prior to the construction of this line the bifurcation of the main roads to Frome and Wells respectively took place at a point to the south of the present level crossing, and the road to Frome afterwards turned in a more northerly direction, and recrossed the site of the railway from south to north at or near the present point of junction of the North Somerset and Great Western lines. When the North Somerset was made, it crossed the road at the latter place at a level a few feet higher than the road, and the latter was thereupon diverted so as to run along the north side of the railway, and to re-enter the original main road at a point close to the level crossing and immediately to the north of it. This diversion, however, in no way affected the road from Bath to Wells.

The Somerset and Dorset Railway (herein-after called the Dorset Railway) crosses the said main road on the level immediately in front of the market place, which, as before stated, it adjoins on its south side. The distance between the railways at this point is 38 yards or thereabouts; and the difference in the levels about 18 inches; the lines are approximately parallel, and the road to Frome, as diverted, lies between them. The Radstock Station of the Dorset Railway is about 130 yards distant from the centre of the roadway at the crossing, and to the east thereof; the line falls toward the station from the west on a gradient of one in 55, and eastwards from the station on a gradient of one in 286, passing through the station on such last-mentioned gradient. This railway is worked by the London and South-Western and Midland Railways jointly under statutory powers obtained in 1876. There is a subway under this railway immediately to the east of the crossing connecting the market place with the new Frome Road, but such subway is very difficult of access, and it is not available for loaded wagons or heavy traffic of any description, partly by reason of the steepness of its approaches (on gradients of one in ten), and partly on account of the very low headway (9 feet) when it passes under the railway. This subway is crossed at its lowest point by a steam tramway leading from certain neighbouring coalpits, and worked in connection with the Dorset Railway. This tramway is, however, a public highway, and was constructed under the powers of an Act of Parliament passed in the reign of King George III., and cannot be stopped up or diverted without the authority of Parliament. The high road between the level crossings crosses a small brook which runs between the railway to the eastward; at this point the ordinary surface level of the stream is about 14 feet below the level of the road upon the bridge, but it is said to be subject to floods, and the flood level is stated to be at times quite 5 feet higher than the ordinary surface level. A proposition for lowering this brook was among the suggestions made on this inquiry, but it appeared that there is a weir across the stream some little way below the bridge, and that upon occasions of floods the water rises considerably above the water, and it is therefore evident that the flood level of the stream can not be lowered without the removal of the weir in question, which can not be effected without the authority of Parliament.

The ultimate effect of the various works above mentioned is that the high road from Bath to Frome crosses the Dorset Railway on the level, and then for a distance of 38 yards is enclosed between the two level crossings, after which it runs for 100 yards or more between the two railways on a gradient falling rather faster than either of them, so that by the time it reaches the end of 100 yards in question it is sufficiently below the railways to be free from any danger from them, while the high road from Bath to Wells passes over both the level crossings, as well as over the space of 38 yards between them. Thus all traffic passing to or from the direction of Wells is obliged to cross both railways on the level, while all traffic to or from the direction of Frome which is unable to make use of the subway must not only cross the Dorset Railway on the level, but it is also exposed to the risk of being penned in between the two railways if it should happen to reach the crossing at a time when the gates on the Dorset crossing are shut across the road. In order apparently to reduce, as far as possible, this inconvenience, the gates at these crossings are directed by the special Acts to be kept ordinarily shut across the railways - contrary to the usual rule - and are only shut across the road for a short time prior to the arrival of each train, and during the time that the trains are standing in the stations.

Tables showing the amount of obstruction to traffic caused by the shutting of the gates were put in on behalf of the Board of Trade, from which it appeared that the gates on the North Somerset Railway are closed from 22 to 23 times per diem for an average of 5.3 minutes per time; that those on the Dorset Railway are closed about 34 times per diem for an average of 4.3 minutes per time; and that both sets of gates are closed simultaneously for times amounting in the aggregate to 17 minutes per diem. The number of horses and vehicles detained on seven days over which the returns extended (omitting Saturday) averaged about 50 per diem for the North Somerset and 33 for the Dorset Railway. These returns did not show the average duration of such detention, but it appeared from evidence adduced by the Great Western Railway that the average delay to each vehicle delayed was under two minutes, and that 37 per cent. of the vehicles passing were not delayed at all. The witness said “0.37 per cent.,” and adhered to this expression on further examination, but it appeared from the figures which he quoted in support of his assertion that his real meaning was 37 in every 100. The returns also set forth an approximate estimate of the number of foot passengers detained, but as it appeared that there were side gates on both railways through which foot passengers could pass at all times except when a train was actually approaching, it did not seem to me that there was any inconvenience to such passengers calling for notice on any other than market days (the use of which is quite distinct, and will be mentioned separately). The case is otherwise, however, with respect to horses and vehicles; not only to the crossings cause any grave inconvenience and obstruction to such traffic, but they are particularly when the gates are closed simultaneously, production of considerable danger, the result of a horse taking fright - and by no means improbable contingency when thus cooped up in a space of 38 yards in length on the top of a bridge with a drop of about 14 feet into the stream, and with engines under steam both before and behind, might easily be of a very serious nature indeed. The delays in question, other than on market days, were principally, as I understood, to vehicles unconnected with the town of Radstock (the ordinary traffic of which is inconsiderable, simply using the road as an ordinary highway). It is important to bear this in mind because there is a divergence of opinion as to the proper remedy for the inconvenience between the inhabitants of the town and those of the surrounding country. It further appeared that the Saturday markets occasioned a considerable concourse in the market place, and that the crowd frequently filled not only the market place itself, but its approaches, including the level crossings and the space between them. On the Saturday included in the returns above mentioned the number of horses and vehicles detained by the closing of the North Somerset gates were from 50 to 66, and those detained at the Dorset gates from 33 to 37, while as many as 333 foot passengers were detained by the former, and 292 by the latter. It is, moreover, evident that the operation of clearing the line of the crowd when a train was due might be, and frequently would be, attended with both difficulty and danger. Besides the evidence of fact adduced in the case, I was furnished with a memorial signed by 64 persons, principally tenant farmers, resident in the neighbourhood, and representing property of the rateable value of nearly 8,000l a year stating that in the opinion of the memorialists the level crossings in question were “dangerous and inconvenient.” The companies did not attempt to contest the allegation that the level crossings were highly inconvenient in their present condition; they proved however as a fact, that in the ten years or thereabouts, during which these lines have been open, no casualty had occurred affecting life or limb, and they pointed out that the cases of alleged damage to property were few and paltry, and that none of them were properly substantiated by evidence. They relied upon these considerations as negativing the idea that the public safety was involved in the question, and showing that any advantage which the public might gain by the removal of the crossings would altogether be disproportionate to the expense of such removal. It appears to me, however, that the state of things I have described necessarily involves considerable jeopardy to the public safety, and that the immunity from serious accident on which the companies rely, however it may redound to the credit of the railway officials at the place, is insufficient to repel the inference naturally arising from the circumstances themselves. Besides the objection on the merits, the companies, or some of them, raised some objections of a preliminary nature upon certain points of law.

1st. It was contended that the Railway Clauses Act, 1863, read, as it must be along with the Railways Clauses Act, 1845, did not empower or require a company to effect any deviation in the direction of the road or alteration of the level of the railway but that the works must be confined to alteration of the level of the road. It seemed to me, however, that the words in Section 7 of the Act of 1863, empowering the Board of Trade to require the company to “execute such other works as may appear to the “Board of Trade best adapted for removing or diminishing the danger arising from “the level crossing” were sufficient to authorise any deviation, whether vertical or lateral, of the road or railway, or both, which might be necessary or expedient.
2nd. It was urged that, so far as the present question of public danger was concerned the point was concluded by the passing of the special Acts, and that Parliament must be taken to have authorised all such risk as was inseparable from the existence of the crossings at the time, so that to justify any order for the removal of these crossings now, it would be needful to show a material alteration of the circumstances, either of the traffic or of the locality, arising since the passing of the second of these Acts in 1873, and that no evidence of that nature was forthcoming. I was of opinion that upon the true construction of the Acts, authority was given to the Board of Trade to make the order asked for, even though the circumstances remained substantially unaltered, if upon the test of actual experience it appeared that the existence of the crossings was contrary to the expectation of Parliament prejudicial to the public safety.
3rd. The North Somerset Company submitted that, inasmuch as the danger mainly arose from the proximity of the two crossings, and no such danger or none calling for interference had arisen so long as there was only one crossing, the Dorset Company, whose crossing was the later in point of date both of authorisation and of construction ought to bear all the expense of any works which might be required. But the Act of of Parliament only empowers the Board of Trade to require the works to be executed by “the company” i.e. the owners or lessees of the line in connexion with which the works are required, and does not seem to give any power to require one company to bear any part of the expense of works affecting the line of another with which it is unconnected.
4th. The North Somerset Company further alleged that they were absolutely without means, and said they ought not to be ordered to undertake works which they had no means of executing. But it appeared that under the terms of their agreement with the Great Western Company they were in receipt of an income varying from 8,000l. a year upwards as their share of the gross receipts of the line. This money is at present applied in paying charges against income account, but it would be properly applicable to defray an outlay necessary for enabling the line to be properly worked, and such outlay, would, I think, be entitled to priority over the claims of the mortgagees and debenture holders of the line.
5th. The North Somerset Company contended that the effect of the agreement existing between them and the Great Western Company, was to render the latter Company liable to defray any expense that might be incurred in the removal or alteration of this crossing, the Great Western Company contested this, and it does not seem to me necessary for the Board of Trade to consider the question. Any order which may be made for the alteration of this crossing will certainly involve an alteration not only of the North Somerset line, but also the Frome branch of the Great Western line, and the order would properly be made upon both companies, whether the liability of the Great Western be or not as contended for by the North Somerset.

Assuming it to be necessary that “something should be done” five plans were proposed.
1st. To carry the road over the railways by an over bridge leaving the levels of the railways unaltered.
2nd. To lower the level of the rails 5 feet and 6 feet 6 inches respectively and carry the road by an over bridge over the railways as altered.
3rd. To carry the road under the railway by a subway.
4th. To make a small subway to relieve the level crossings of all the lighter traffic leaving the heavy traffic to find its way across the level crossings as heretofore.
5th. To leave the crossings unaltered and to alter the method of working the gates as hereinafter described.

I am of opinion that plans first and second are impracticable and inadmissible, the slightest consideration of the nature of the gradients on which the lines already run down into the stations from the westward will be sufficient to show that the lines could not be lowered at the bottom of the inclines, and the gradients thereby rendered steeper, without locating a danger in the stations much greater than any now existing; while the road could not be raised 18 feet above its present level at this point without entirely destroying the market place and all the adjacent buildings to the north of the level crossings and inflicting very serious damage on a great quantity of valuable property on the south side thereof. It would in fact place the entire town of Radstock in a hole. Besides all this there is the further difficulty that there is not space enough between the lines to admit of the construction of two separate bridges of this height, and there does not appear to be any power, statutory or otherwise, to require the companies to unite in the construction of a common bridge. Finally, the construction of such a bridge would make it necessary to carry the Frome Road up a steep embankment between the railways in order to connect it with the roadway over the bridge, and the danger to traffic caused by such an embankment in such a situation would in my opinion be greater than the existing danger. Plan No. 3 might be carried out in either of two ways:
(a.) The subway might be carried across the stream clear of its flood level, and the railways raised sufficiently to enable them to cross it. This would involve the raising of the levels of the railways from 10 ft. 6 in. to 11 ft., and would require a complete reconstruction of both the stations, and of the goods yard of the North Somerset Railway. On the other hand it could be effected without requiring the companies to acquire any additional land, except that the northern approach of the present subway would have to be somewhat widened and straightened, so as to project somewhat further into the market place. I do not think, however, that so extensive an operation could be carried out without a temporary interruption of the traffic. This is the plan which would most completely remedy the evils complained of, and it would be, though far from inexpensive, far less costly than either of the former plans, as it would involve little or no outlay for compensations or acquisition of land
(b.) If the subway were sunk so as to cross the stream as nearly as practicable at its ordinary surface level it would not be needful to raise the railways more than 5 ft or 6 ft. to 7 in sufficient headway (16 ft.) in the subway. But in this case it would be necessary to build a retaining wall, not less than 6 feet high, on the west side of the subway strong enough to resist the pressure of that depth of water in times of flood. It is stated, however, that the floods do not take place more than four or five times a year, so that probably no difficulty would arise in the construction of such a wall and the passage of persons on foot could easily be provided for by a raised footpath which could be constructed without difficulty, above the highest known flood level. The approaches to so deep a subway would, however, present some difficulty as they could not be tailed off (except at impracticable gradients) without taking considerable curves, and this would involve the acquisition of land (including a part of the “Waldegrave Arms”) for the purposes of the northern approach, and of a part of the rectory gardens for the purposes of the southern approach. The rector of Radstock has given notice of his intention to oppose the acquisition of any part of the rectory grounds for such purpose. Such a subway, if made upon either of the plans (a) or (b) could be connected with the Frome road by an easy gradient, the road being at all times below the level of the railways, and, therefore not giving rise to the dangers incident to an embankment with a railway at each side. This was the plan approved by Major Marindin, as the most feasible, and accepted by the gentlemen who appeared as the exponents of the wishes of the neighbouring district, as the most satisfactory solution of the difficulty. If it should be ordered by the Board of Trade I think it may be left to the option of the companies whether to select plan (a) or plan (b) provided they can agree upon the point. Plan (a) would be much the more convenient for the purposes of the road, plan (b) would interfere less with the town and the railways. It is right to add that both plans are strongly objected to by the Radstock Local Board, who informed me, on behalf of the townspeople, that they would prefer things being left as they are, rather than have the railways carried across the centre of the town on embankments 10 ft. or even 5 ft. high.

4. The local board proposed a plan for a subway similar to that required by plan No. 3 (b) but with a headway of only 11 feet, and with approaches north and south upon gradients of one in ten. This would not require the levels of the railways to be raised more than about 18 inches, and would not require the payment of any compensation, except in respect of an injury of no great magnitude to the access to the “Waldegrave Arms,” and for the acquisition, if it could be obtained, of a few feet of the rectory grounds. They also prepared an alternative plan, avoiding these grounds altogether. I was assured by several of the townsmen that either of these plans if adopted, would be perfectly satisfactory to them, and that the town generally would greatly prefer such a plan to any other. There are, however, some very serious objections to it. It would only accommodate very light traffic, such as is at present able to use the subway under the Dorset Railway, and would necessitate the maintenance of the level crossings for all the heavy traffic, of which there is a good deal from the surrounding district. It would not be connected with the Frome Road at all, the traffic on which would be left in its present condition. Such traffic however can now use the subway under the Dorset Railway, which would not be interfered with by the proposed new subway. The steepness of the approaches, combined with the lowness of the headway, would expose vehicles of doubtful height to the risk of finding themselves jammed at the bottom, and unable either to get through or get back. The local board, however, suggested a plan sufficient, I think, to obviate this objection. The companies object to the expense which such an attention would until having regard to the fact they would not be thereby relieved from the maintenance of the level crossings and the expenses attendant thereon. I endeavoured, but without effect to get some approximate estimate of the expense which would be incurred in carrying out plans No. 3 and No. 4 respectively. It appears, however, from the evidence of Mr. Jacomb who was produced on behalf of the Midland Railway Company that the expense of plan No. 3 would probably not exceed from 30,000l. to 40,000l., while that of plan No. 4 would be obviously very much less.

I am of opinion, however, that although plan No. 4 would certainly afford relief to a large portion of the ordinary traffic, it would fail to provide sufficient accommodation for the heavy traffic of the district, and would be altogether inoperative in removing the danger arising on market days from the proximity of the level crossings to the market place, a danger which must always arise so long as the last crossings remain for any purpose whatever. I am, therefore, unable to recommend the adoption of this plan, though, if the Board of Trade should think the objection of the local board a valid reason for declining to order plan No. 3, it might possibly be advisable to adopt No. 4 as a palliation. Whether in such a case as this the wish of the townspeople or that of the surrounding district ought to carry more weight, is a question of policy for the discretion of the Board of Trade as to which I ought not, I think, to express any opinion.

The delays and inconveniences complained of are to a great extent caused by the fact that the gates across the North Somerset Railway are kept shut during the whole time that the trains are standing in the station, although such trains are in every case clear of the level crossing, and although in the case of trains coming from Bristol the crossing might be used with perfect safety the moment the train has reached the station. This is caused by the interlocking of the gates with the station signals. The gates cannot be opened while the signals are down, and therefore they must remain closed, not only all the time the train is standing in the station, but until it has passed the signal box on its way toward Frome. The Great Western Company have offered, if permitted by the Board of Trade, to disconnect the gates from the main signals, by putting a disc on the gate, and to open the gates as soon as the trains are clear of the crossing, so as to give the public the use of the road while the train is standing in the station. The adoption of this plan would diminish the total inconvenience to vehicles by about one third, and the danger arising from horses being cooped in between the lines by about half, but it would leave the other elements of danger and inconvenience, and particularly that arising on market days, practically unaffected. It is not within my province to advise whether the suggested alteration could be adopted consistently with the regulations as to signalling insisted on by the Board of Trade; but if it were worked as proposed, it could not introduce any new element of danger to the public, and would, as I have said, materially alleviate the existing evils. Assuming that the Inspectors see no valid objection to the proposed alteration of the signals, I think that, whether the Board of Trade think it necessary to order the construction of a subway or not, this alteration ought to be adopted, and the proposed method of working the gates persisted in, so long as the level crossings are maintained for any purpose whatever.

All which is hereby submitted for the consideration of the Board of Trade.

(Signed) ALEXANDER ED. MILLER Lincoln's Inn, April 21, 1884.

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