Public Safety versus Railway Profits. IV The Engine

[Continued from last issue.]

After even thus briefly reviewing the working conditions of the footplate men, I doubt whether anybody will question that the Loco. running conditions are bad, and that the “elaborate precautions” for the public safety that we hear so much about are entirely wanting. We now come to another part of our survey, namely, the machines that the men have to work.

Like the men, the engines are overworked. They are also supplied with poor coal and oil, and are nothing like sufficiently examined or repaired. The officials’ motto is : “As long as the wheels go round let her run.” Let me quote the “Railway Magazine” for October 1908 : —

“The proper cleaning of an engine is a great help to economy. The valves, packing, tubes, and firebox do not always get examined until trouble o! a serious nature exists.”

This is giving the game away with a venge­ance. But the men get fined or otherwise pun­ished if a mishap of any kind happens whilst working, as I have stated before.

To show how injustice is done to the men in the way of fines for losing time, etc., I may say a lot of it is entirely due to the bad state of the engines and to the villainous coal supplied (see “Drivers in Difficulties,” “Railway Magazine,” November 1911).

Now we will look at the working of an engine. The first thing after being left the previous day is to have the repairs that the driver entered in the repairs book carried out. This, by the way, is done in a very loose fashion, and, as often, as not, the repairs, like the cleaning, remain un­done, unless they happen to be of such a nature as to almost stop the engine.

Many a time I have known defects in the brake apparatus to be ignored for days together, as also defects in the injectors, which might easily cause trouble on the road. Frequently, too, the regulators are allowed to get in such a condition as to “blow through” very badly. Before now I have seen engines at work with loose tyres, and spring hangers almost cut away, and very often the “blowing” of glands and cylinder covers is passed over as nothing.

The parts of the machine looked after most carefully are the boiler and the firebox, but even these are in a bad state, the continual breakage of firebox stays, and the number of leaking and burst tubes being ample evidence of this.

Next comes the cleaning (!) and perhaps a “wash out” of the boiler—a process which, if properly carried out, saves a great deal of fuel and prevents the boiler burning away. (The general rule is about 300 iniles between each “wash out,” but on local engines, where there is a fire for a week on end. a proper examination of the boiler even is out of the question, to say nothing of washing out.)

Next an “examiner” (!) looks rapidly over the engine, and then comes the driver’s exami­nation. This last, after knocking off ten min­utes for finding the engine, getting out and replacing his cans and tools, etc., would work out at about twenty minutes—which, of course, is quite inadequate.

After the run another examination is made as before described. Once a month is about the usual interval for a thorough examination of the engine, for which it is “stopped” for two or three days. Generally eighteen months or two years elapse between the engine being the sub­ject of “heavy” repairs, during which period the machine has to run some 100,000 miles.

In the face of all this it is really amusing to observe the righteous indignation of the companies and their henchmen in the matter of the driver’s glass of beer—clearly enough exposed, by the facts herein described, as a shallow and pitifully cheap artifice to cover their own callous disregard of their passengers’ safety, and cast suspicion for all the disasters that have hap­pened in the past and will, under the conditions imposed by the greed for dividends, most cer­tainly happen in the future, upon the men who work the rotten and uncared-for engines.

The trunk lines build their own engines—often by piece-work—and it can be guessed how it is done. If the imagination is not lively enough to serve, perhaps Col. Van Dolop’s re­marks upon the cause of the Stoat’s Nest dis­aster (L.B.S.C.) on Jan. 29, 1910 will assist.

According to the Colonel’s report the accident was “caused by shifted wheel. The wheel was examined, and the grip between the wheel and axle can only have been a very loose one, and on most railways it is not customary to test whether wheels have a firm grip on their axles.”

There is many an engine on the road to-day, on which the automatic brake apparatus is next to worthless, and it is a bye-word amongst drivers on suburban passenger trains that they lose a lot of time through not being properly able to release the brake owing to the bad state of the apparatus. In fact, even to-day on a few lines, there are engines that work goods and coal trains of fairly heavy weight (whose stock is not “braked”) which are fitted with the hand brake only—which is a fine state of affairs, and likely to prove pretty costly to somebody in a case of emergency.

Now just a word on overloading, which is a common occurance, especially during the busy seasons. Often excessire loads are placed be­hind comparatively small engines, with the result that, to get along to time, the machines are “flogged” to the utmost, which obviously over­strains the working parts and overworks the men.

Is it to be doubted that a full and adequate explanation of many of the “accidents” which take place from time to time (and there are many that the public never hear of) is to be found in all this callous, pinching, false economy ? When an enquiry (!) is held, the companies are time after time shielded by the person who issues the report of the enquiry, as the shipowners were shielded in the Board of Trade “enquiry” into the loss of the “Titanic.” That is what such institutions and such “enquiries” are for. In the case of the “enquiry” into the cause of the Shrewsbury disaster, rather than indict the master class, those appointed to make the investigation attributed the “accident” to the alleged fact that the men “sleep on the footplate whilst, on duty.” (See decision of Col. Yorke, “Rail­way Magazine,” June 1908.)


Now a final word in reference to the situation. It must not be thought that the whole of the defects of the railway systems have been brought forward. Space has permitted me to deal only with a few of the principle abuses connected with the calling of the loco. men, who are at least as much concerned and as responsibly engaged in the running of the trains as any other sec­tion of the railway slaves. I doubt if, after having read the irrefutable statements which have appeared in this series of articles, anyone can continue to hold the opinion that the rail­way magnates really do run the safe services they would have us believe.

Now the railways are a necessary institution in our modern life, and the safety of the services should be the first consideration of, not only all who have anything to do with their provision and maintenance, but also of all who have occasion to use them. Therefore we will see if any remedy can be applied, and if so, what it is.

There is no solution under private ownership except “cutting down expenses” and the exten­sion of the “control” we have heard so much about lately. The masters have no ideas in railway working outside of this. And as for the Trade Unions, the National Programmes of 1907 and 1911 of the A.S.L.E. & F. and the A.S.R.S. (the section dealing with loco. men) was a poor contrivance, and only calculated to give the present bad conditions a new lease of life. The “four eights” are no remedy for the railwayman, because they would soon be nullified by the increased cost of living, etc. Moreover, such items as lodging and long-distance engine working figured prominently, whilst such neces­sary items as the fitting of all engines with power brakes—items which have a direct and vital bearing on safety—were omitted.

The Trade Unions may effect something, but they will never be able to grapple properly with the safety question, and often it looks as if the “leaders” do not intend to do so—the N.E.R. betrayal re Knox and A.S.R.S. to wit. Some of them, no doubt, are in earnest, and so are the rank and file, but they are not conscious of their position in society.

Now let us look at the claims of that nostrum, State Ownership of Railways, and see if that would solve the “problem.”

We have no State lines in England bat there are plenty in Europe, of which Mr. Bell, speak­ing of a tour through various countries on the Continent which own State lines, said they are not beneficial, either to the workers or to the public. “I am satisfied” he declared, “that, bad as are the conditions of British Railwaymen, they are far in advance of State owned railways on the Continent, and if conditions there are a fair sample of them, then save the British Railwayman from them.” (“Railway Magazine,” December 1908.)

Besides, we have an example in the frequent strikes which occur on the French State railways. For, after all, the State of to-day is merely the master class, so that anything owned by the State is just the property of the proper tied class.

The oniy remedy, therefore, is that which is proposed by the Socialist, viz., that the railways shall be owned and controlled by the whole com­munity for their own use. This, of course, can only be accomplished through the complete overthrow of the master class and the taking of all the means and instruments of production and distribution by the community for the commu­nity. When this condition of affairs is brought about the people will see to it that the safety, both of those who operate the railways and those who use them, shall be the first consideration, far transcending all question of speed or economy.

Only when this property condition has been instituted, when there is no longer any question of “cutting down expenses” in order to provide big dividends for idle shareholders and princely salaries for parasitic directors and jacks in office, will the services be safely run and the commu­nity be able to use them to the fullest extent.

Such a condition is Socialism, therefore only Socialism is the remedy for the unsafe and unsatisfactory conditions under which the railway services are run.


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