Perfection is attained by slow degrees

Little more need be said as to the advantages of the new order of
things, for however technical opinions may differ about the relative
advantages of steam or electricity, there cannot be any doubt that the
public fully recognise the immense superiority of the latter in details
of cleanliness and general comfort.

Tube railways are intensely disliked by some people, and as heartily
appreciated by millions of others. That they are an advantage in many
ways is unquestionable, though they are not yet without defects.
Motor-cars (electric or petrol), to those who use them, appear to be the
safest and most delightful of vehicles, but here again perfection has
not been reached.

With these four well-known forms of traction I must now deal, and not
eulogisticallv. In the old days when some recluse renowned for his
holiness–which he had instanced by living unwashed for years in a hair
shirt until it fell to pieces–died, his admirers frequently put in a
claim for his canonisation. This necessitated the appointment of an
individual called the _Advocatus Diaboli_, a leader of the opposition,
whose duty it was to raise all kinds of objections to the granting of
the sacred honour, and to recall everything possible to the detriment
of the candidate. Not a pleasant task, certainly, but not altogether

After this fashion it is fair to bring up some sort of a case against
electric traction.


As regards electric railway accidents and blockings of tubes, the
_Advocatus Diaboli_ is able to quote rather too many examples.
Commencing with the United States, where in July, 1902, a car,
descending the mountain on the Mountain and Lake Electric Railway, near
Gloversville, where the grade is a thousand feet in four miles, became
uncontrollable, and, acquiring frightful velocity, collided with another
car which was ascending the slope. Both cars rushed down several feet,
and then ran off the rails. Each car contained seventy passengers, and
of these fifteen were killed and injured. Ten bodies, mangled beyond
recognition, were taken from the wreckage. Most of the victims were

At home there is the disastrous Liverpool Electric Overhead Railway fire
of December 23rd, 1901. The trains are run on the multiple control
principle, a motor at each end, and the accident was due to a defect in
the rear one. But as it is a typical case, I will quote in full the
cause of the accident, as assigned by Lieutenant-Colonel H. A. Yorke,
the Board of Trade Inspector. He says: “A gale of wind was blowing from
the west, that is, from the mouth of the tunnel towards the station,
which caused the fire to spread from carriage to carriage until the
whole train was enveloped in flames. It is estimated that the train was
well alight about twelve minutes after the stoppage. There were
twenty-nine passengers, who, when the train first came to a stand, were
urged by the driver and guard to keep their seats, as there was no
danger. The driver and guard seem to have made some futile attempts to
put out the fire; but it soon became apparent that the fire had obtained
the mastery, and the passengers found it necessary to alight. They had
only eighty yards to walk in order to reach the station, and the
majority of them appear to have gone to their homes without any delay,
and to have suffered no ill-effects from the fire. It appears, however,
from the evidence that a few remained behind, presumably to watch the
progress of the conflagration and the result of the effort to control

The inspector went on to say that in his opinion it would have been
productive of no serious danger had only the driver acted with a
moderate degree of prudence. When this man discovered that his rear
motor had failed his duty was to disconnect his rear motor by means of
the plug provided for the purpose in his apartment. He should then have
run into the station with one motor, as is often done. For some reason
or other, which cannot be conjectured, the driver, instead of
disconnecting the defective motor, and in disregard of the warning of
the guard, made repeated efforts to bring it into use, the result being
that before long the woodwork of the rear carriage was ignited by the
flashes produced by the electric arc when the current was switched on to
the defective motor. While the driver was so employed both he and the
guard appear to have told the passengers to keep their seats, as there
was no danger. Both these men and the station foreman seem to have
exhibited a lamentable lack of judgment in this respect. It is
impossible not to feel that the sacrifice of life might have been
easily avoided. If the passengers had been hurried out of the train as
soon as it became evident that it had broken down, and if none of them
had been permitted to loiter about the station, their safety would have
been secured. And if the train men and station foreman, who deserve
credit for their efforts to prevent the fire from spreading, had only
realised sooner that the train was doomed, they too had ample time to
escape. The cutting off of the current did no good, but, by putting the
place in darkness, rather increased the difficulties and danger of the

The lesson of the disaster is, that all woodwork should be removed as
far as possible from the electric machinery of the railway carriages,
and that for the purpose of insulation material should be employed which
is uninflammable.

Of blocks or stoppages on tube railways the following are examples.

Serious inconvenience was caused on December 30th, 1901, by a mishap on
the Central London Railway. It appeared that just before five o’clock in
the morning a motor was being shunted into the Bank Station to take the
first train to Shepherd’s Bush, when, though going dead slow, some of
the gear apparently fouled the current rail, and it jumped the points
just where the two tunnels join, and effectually prevented any train
entering or leaving either. The nearest “cross-over,” by which trains
could be shunted from one to the other, was at the British Museum
Station, but even timely notice did not make the walk through the wet
any the more attractive to business men, the rain having caused all the
omnibuses to be filled long before they got to the station gates. When
the line was constructed it was proposed to make a second siding at the
Bank as at Shepherd’s Bush, and had this been done there would have
been no dislocation of traffic, but fears for the effects of vibration
on buildings above vetoed the proposal. On an ordinary railway a
powerful crane would probably have been run alongside, but the space in
the tube is so circumscribed that it was with the utmost difficulty that
the engine, which weighed forty-four tons, and was resting against the
side of the tunnel, could be moved. As the afternoon wore on, crowds of
City men gathered in the subway in the hope that the obstruction would
soon be removed, but it was not till five o’clock that the line was
cleared and the traffic resumed.

Once more the Twopenny Tube distinguished itself by a stoppage. It was
on December 30th, 1902, the anniversary of the precisely similar mishap
in 1901, but fortunately with less serious results. Then the engine fell
against the side of the tube, and the workmen could only get at one
side of it; but this one settled itself in such a position that jacks
could be got to work under both sides. The points at the terminus very
much resemble those at the ends of the tram lines, and with the
tremendous traffic passing over them (engines 1,200 times a day) the
only wonder is that accidents of this kind do not occur more often than
once a year. With a curious perversity, the engine chose the time–four
o’clock in the afternoon–when it would cause the maximum of
inconvenience, and the thousands of City men and women going home
realised more fully than ever the advantage of the tube. The nearest
cross-over is between the British Museum and Chancery Lane, and notice
was at once given that trains were running between the former station
and the western terminus. As soon as possible gangs of men got to work,
and within an hour and a half the wheels were got on, but unfortunately
it was very difficult to see what had caused the mishap, as in getting
the motor back the evidences of the cause were removed. Some little
delay was occasioned by straightening the bent rails, but at half-past
eight an engine was run to and fro over the points to see that they were
all right again, and a few minutes later the message was sent to all
stations: “Resumed bookings and ordinary working.”

These mishaps showed how necessary it was that, instead of cross-overs,
loops should be provided, round which trains could be run.

January 16th, 1902, witnessed an accident on the City and South London
Electric Railway, happily unattended with serious consequences. A train
left the Elephant and Castle Station shortly after seven a.m., and had
proceeded some two hundred yards towards the Borough when what is
technically known as a “short” occurred in the switch. This means,
roughly, that the current had chosen to go a way of its own instead of
through the insulated wires to the motor. Hence, an “arc” was
produced–that is, an arc lamp on a large scale. The insulating material
began to burn and smell and smoke. Small defects of this kind are common
enough, and the flame is frequently put out with the driver’s hand or
cap. On this occasion the flame resisted all efforts to put it out, and
the driver had to stop the cars and send back for assistance. The
following trains came on slowly, and the engine pushed the broken-down
predecessor on to the Borough Station. It was found necessary to ask the
passengers (fortunately numbering only about thirty or forty) to leave
the train, and the fire was then easily extinguished, though it was
found necessary to cut off the current from the generating station for
a short time. The line was only blocked for about an hour, and the
accident was of little importance except as illustrating one advantage
which, it is said, the “engine” system of electric traction possesses
over the “multiple unit.”


But apart from accidents and breakdowns, a terrible indictment is
brought against tube railways in general, and the Central London in
particular, which, if true, constitutes a veritable drawback. The
accuser is Dr. L. C. Parkes, Medical Officer of Health for Chelsea, who
says: “Tube railways are still such a comparative novelty, that the
question of the healthiness of this mode of travel has not yet been
fully determined. Dr. Wynter Blyth, in an address a year ago, gave the
results of some experiments on the ventilation and condition of the
atmosphere in the tubes and stations of the Central London Railway. The
chief cause of the movements of air in the tubes and stations, lifts and
stairways, is the passage of the trains along the tubes, which the
carriages nearly fill, thus acting as a piston in a cylinder, driving
air before them and sucking it in from behind in their progress from one
station to another. The condition of the atmosphere, was not excessively
foul, the largest amount of CO ascertained to be present, being 11·9
parts per 10,000 vols. This sample was taken in a carriage containing
twenty-seven people between the Lancaster Gate and Marble Arch Stations.
The amount of CO present in the air of the station’s lifts and stairways
varied between 8 and 11 parts per 10,000. In no case, then, did Dr.
Wynter Blyth find the amount of CO in the air of the tube to be more
than three times the amount usually present in the outer atmosphere of
the London streets (average 4 parts per 10,000). Contrasted with the
tunnel of the Metropolitan Railway between Gower Street and King’s Cross
Stations, where a sample of the air taken showed that CO was present to
the extent of 25·9 parts per 10,000, the air of the tube railway is
comparatively pure.”

Dr. Parkes continues: “It may be safely asserted that constant
travelling day after day, even if only for a limited period each day, in
an atmosphere containing 15 to 20 parts per 10,000 of CO, such CO being
derived solely from a human source, must eventually tend to injure
health. There are two other dangers in tube-travelling which require
notice. First, the danger in the warm summer and the cold winter months
alike of bodily chill. In the hot weather the traveller passes suddenly
from the warm street into a much colder atmosphere below the ground
level. In the winter the reverse happens–the passenger who has been
warmed and enervated by the devitalised air below meets the chilly
wintry blast on emerging into the street. Secondly, the air of the tube
being very dry, and constantly in movement, there must be much organic
dust of human origin floating in it. The dangers of tubercular
expectoration are no doubt intensified in such a dry and shifting
atmosphere as that of the tube, and the cautionary notices to prevent
spitting are wisely exhibited in every carriage.”

On the whole, Dr. Parkes favours open air to other methods of
travelling. He recommends that as far as possible travelling should be
by routes open to the air of heaven.

When the Chiswick High Road tram-line was being made the tradesmen
petitioned the London County Council against it. They complained of the
annoyance as well as of the danger of the trams. They said that the
trams, being large (carrying seventy people in all) and running on eight
wheels, made considerably more noise than the light horse-car; that the
motor was not silent, and the progress of the trolley along the
shivering overhead wire made a continuous, most unmusical, and
penetrating din; while the brake–of necessity powerful–also had a
harsh note quite its own. To this was added the noise and flash of
electric sparks and a singularly sonorous and imperative bell in place
of the usual whistle; and as the cars came along every two and a half
minutes in each direction, they who dwelt along the route did not find
them altogether lovely.

Some people maintain that electric trams are not merely unlovely, but
are decidedly dangerous to travel in. There have been electric tram
accidents, of course, and very serious ones. For instance, at
Huddersfield, one June night in 1902, a car, as it approached the town
and was half-way down an incline of a mile in length, got out of
control. The trolley arm left the wire, plunging the conveyance into
darkness. By this time the pace of the car was too great to permit of
anyone getting off. It went whizzing past the car standing in the next
loop; but failing to negotiate a sharp curve at the bottom of Somerset
Road, ran straight across the street, smashing the pavement and dashing
with great force into a grocer’s shop, the wooden front of which
collapsed. The front of the car was also driven in. Three persons were
killed and six seriously injured.

At Chatham a catastrophe, resulting in four deaths and many injuries, is
still fresh in people’s minds. It occurred on October 30th, 1902, and
was extraordinary in many respects, the tram being completely wrecked.
The Chatham and District Light Railway is worked as an electric tramway
on the overhead trolley system, and has been in operation about twelve
months. The scene of the mishap was at the foot of Westcourt Street, Old
Brompton, in the parish of Gillingham, close to the main entrance to
Chatham Dockyard, where there is a very steep gradient. A workmen’s car,
filled with mechanics and labourers on their way to work, suddenly
bolted in descending the hill, notwithstanding that the brakes had been
duly applied. The weight of the heavily laden vehicle increased the
velocity every yard of the way, and a terrific pace was obtained.

There is a sharp curve in the railway at the end of the road. The
passengers screamed as they realised their danger. The driver shouted to
them to jump off the car, which many did; and the driver and conductor
themselves took a leap for their lives, and thus avoided serious injury.
As anticipated, the curve proved fatal to the safety of the car. The
heavy vehicle toppled over on its side with a terrific crash, and the
passengers, projected in all directions, made a confused heap in the

Those who were not seriously injured struggled to their feet, but others
remained prostrate, unable to move, shrieking or groaning with pain, and
several more were rendered insensible. Assistance was speedily
forthcoming, and the sufferers were removed to the Royal Naval Hospital,
which is within a stone’s-throw of the scene of the accident.

In September of the same year a remarkable accident took place at
Glasgow, also with fatal results. About half-past nine one Saturday
night, when the streets were at their busiest, a Possilpark car got out
of the driver’s control, and began to move down a slope of Renfield
Street, which is the main car artery of Glasgow. Where Renfield Street
cuts Sauchiehall Street, the principal thoroughfare of the city, the
vehicle dashed into a Pollokshields car, standing at the junction. Both
cars left the rails, and the runaway, without perceptible interruption,
continued on its career, driving the other before it, the conductors’
platforms being interlocked. A few yards further on a Dennistown car was
encountered. The two locked cars swept down, and, driving the third in
front of them, continued their course down to Argyle Street, a distance
of about six hundred yards. A long succession of cars was moving
upwards, and with the momentum the three heavy cars had then attained a
disaster seemed imminent. However, where the Dennistown line, coming out
of St. Vincent Place, joins Renfield Street, the foremost of the three
runaways took the branch points, swerved with such speed that it failed
to keep the rails, and plunged headlong across the street, being
eventually brought up by the wall of a shop. The second and third cars,
still locked together, followed the former, striking the shop almost at
the same point.

At Devonport another accident, resulting in death, occurred the same
month. About nine o’clock in the morning, a car containing eight
passengers, six of whom were on the top, got beyond the control of the
driver on the incline leading to the South-Western Railway Station. The
powerful brakes were promptly applied, but failed to check the progress
of the car, which rapidly gathered momentum, although the reversing gear
was also applied at full pressure.

At the foot of the slope, where the line takes a sharp curve into one of
the main roads to Devonport, the vehicle, which had by this time
attained a terrific pace, jumped the rails, crossed the road, and dashed
into a wall enclosing the carriage entrance to the station. The force of
the impact broke the wall, and caused the car itself partly to topple
over. Some of the terrified passengers on the top jumped into the
roadway, and others were thrown off. One young man, in jumping off,
succeeded in clearing the car and the wall, but as he alighted in the
roadway, which slopes down to the entrance of the station, a piece of
granite coping, weighing several hundredweight, dislodged by the force
of the collision, fell on his head, death being instantaneous. Other
injured persons were lying in the roadway some distance from the wrecked
car, the upper part of which was a shapeless mass of broken seats and
twisted rails. The position of the car enabled it to be seen that the
brakes were gripping the wheels lightly, while the wooden brakes, which
act on the lines, appeared to be down to the utmost extent.

In this case the verdict of the coroner’s court coincided with the Board
of Trade’s subsequent report, to the effect that the accident was
brought about by the negligence and incapacity of the driver of the car,
the Board of Trade adding that the cause was excessive speed on a steep
gradient and sharp curve, that the driver was responsible for the
accident in failing to use the brake-power, and in disobeying the
company’s orders by leaving the stopping-place without a signal.

These runnings away of electric trams called for increased attention to
the question of brakes, which, though they will always hold a car on a
stiff incline on dry rails, yet when the track is greasy they introduce
an element of danger by reason of their very power. They skid the
wheels, which is always a source of great danger. In such cases safety
lies in relaxing the pressure, but it needs a wary brain and firm nerves
to ease off the brake at all when the car has already bolted.

Then there are collisions, which luckily seldom occur. In October last
one took place between two electric tramcars between Middleton and
Rhodes, near Manchester. The cars were carrying workmen, and the
accident occurred near what is known as the Parkfield loop. The vehicles
were travelling in opposite directions, and owing to some cause, at
present unexplained, they both got on the same line, instead of one
waiting on the loop. About twelve of the passengers were more or less
hurt by broken glass, and one of the drivers was injured about the leg.

Cars can be completely overturned, as was proved by an incident that
happened in December last year to one of the London County Council
trams. It left the metals at St. George’s Circus, and after jolting
along for a few yards slowly toppled over into a ditch three feet deep,
which had been dug on the near side for the purpose of laying the
electrical connections. There were about ten passengers on the top and
twelve inside, and the tram was already overturning before they had
fully realised their danger. Fortunately they retained their presence of
mind, and those on the top, by clinging to the rails, prevented
themselves from being hurled into the roadway. Two small boys, who were
unable to retain their grip of the rail when the side of the car struck
the ground, were thrown off into the gutter, but escaped with little
more than a few cuts and a severe shaking. The cause was difficult to
discover, but probably as the lines were being rearranged some piece of
iron or other hard substance eluded the observation of those put to
watch, got into the groove of the metals, and caused the car to jump the
rail at a spot where excavations were being made.

In our climate tramway traffic is not exposed to any very inclement
weather, so that electric traction is not likely to prove a failure by
reason of heavy snowfalls, as in New York last winter during a blizzard.


There is a serious feature in the overhead trolley system which ought
not to be overlooked, as the following will show. In the centre of
Sunderland four principal streets cross, and here, about eight o’clock
one Saturday night in August, 1902, when the thoroughfares were
congested with people, the trolley-arm of a tram-car became entangled,
and no fewer than three live electric wires snapped. A woman received a
severe shock through one of them striking an iron handrail on the tram
which she was boarding; but the promptitude of a motor inspector in
turning off the current averted further personal injury.

The Fulham Public Baths tragedy at the beginning of this year
exemplified the fact that it does not require a high alternative current
to kill. Under certain conditions 200 volts are sufficient. Criminals
are electrocuted at a voltage of 2,000, the current passes in at the
skull. The murderous elephant, Topsy, in New York paid the penalty of
her misdeeds by having a current of 6,600 volts passed through her, and
died in ten seconds; but a minute before, she had swallowed 460 grains
of cyanide of potassium!

My own personal experience somewhat resembles that of the woman at
Sunderland. It was at Ramsgate on a rainy day, and, the car being full
inside, I had to travel outside, seats, metal-work, and everything being
naturally very wet, and in taking hold of the iron framing of a seat I
experienced so strong a shock that I called up the conductor. He
ridiculed the idea, but while he was arguing the matter out, contending
that it was an impossibility, he inadvertently grasped the wet
trolley-pole, which gave him such an electric sensation that he yelled
and fell flat on the roof. The car had to be stopped, and until the rain
ceased no passengers were allowed outside.


By those who dislike them, every imaginable evil is laid at the doors,
or, rather, the wheels of motor-cars, whether propelled by petrol or
electricity, and recorded accidents are quoted, chapter and verse being
given to show that they are the enemies of pedestrian, driving, and
cycling mankind. Here are some examples.

On a steep hill in the neighbourhood of Grimsthorpe, near Bourne, on May
25th, 1902, a motor-car got out of control and overturned. The driver,
employed by Lord Willoughby de Eresby, M.P., for whom the vehicle had
been built at Birmingham, was instantaneously killed, his skull being
fractured. He had brought the car to Grimsthorpe Castle only the
previous evening, and was out with a party of friends, mostly Lord
Ancaster’s employés, when the accident happened. One man was badly
injured, and two others of the party received slight injuries, but a
child, who was flung over a hedge, escaped unhurt.

The following day a motor-car was being driven down a steep hill just
outside Stroud, when the brake failed to act, and the car ran violently
into a stone wall, carrying part of it away. One of the occupants, a
local cloth manufacturer, was seriously injured, and a gentleman who
accompanied him escaped with some ugly bruises.

An accident occurred near Rearsby, Leicestershire, on August 9th, 1902,
whereby the master of the Quorn Hunt, Captain Burns Hartopp, and Mr. A.
Burnaby were injured. The party were motoring from Little Dalby Hall to
Quorn, when, near Rearsby, the car ran into a cow, with the result that
the occupants were pitched out and the car was wrecked. Captain Burns
Hartopp was picked up in a semi-conscious condition, Mr. Burnaby was
more seriously injured, while Mr. Dashwood escaped with a shaking.

A curious escape was witnessed the same day at Monmouth. General Sir
Evelyn Wood, who was accompanied by Colonel Grierson, acting Q.M.G., and
Captain Wood, A.D.C., had been inspecting the Monmouth Royal Engineers
(Militia) under the command of Lord Raglan. Afterwards the General and
staff proceeded in a motor-car to Abergavenny. While the machine was
being reversed towards the entrance of the Angel Hotel a brake refused
to work, and the car mounted the pavement and ran into the wall of a
shop, just missing a plate-glass window. Captain Wood, who had alighted,
narrowly escaped being caught between the motor and the wall.

The following month a motor-car accident occurred at Barnet, when the
Hon. C. S. Rolls was returning home in a motor-car from Barnet Fair. Mr.
Rolls saw a trap containing three or four persons approaching him, and
he steered his car into the hedge, but a collision could not be avoided.
One of the occupants of the trap–a youth–was thrown to the ground, and
the horse was cut on the leg. Mr. Rolls escaped with a slight shaking.

On the 17th of October last, while motoring from Chester, the Rev.
Arthur Guest, vicar of Lower Peover, with his wife and a friend, had a
startling experience. In steering past a milkcart near Lostock Chemical
Works, the car ran into a brick wall and was overturned and badly
smashed. The vicar, strange to say, escaped without injury, but his wife
and friend were not so fortunate.

A lamentable catastrophe occurred in February this year in London, when
Mr. George Edward Colebrook, an Australian merchant, of St. Mary Axe,
E.C., lost his life. It appeared that on the previous Sunday the
deceased went for his first motor-car ride with his brother-in-law,
accompanied also by the owner of the car and a professional driver.
There had been a sharp fall of snow and hail, and the roads were in a
bad state. When attempting to pass at a moderate pace another car in the
Finchley Road, near the Royal Oak at Hendon, the hind wheels skidded.
The car turned round and ran against a raised footpath and then
overturned. Mr. Colebrook was fatally injured, and died on Tuesday
night from concussion of the brain, having been unconscious from the
time of the accident. His brother-in-law received a fractured arm and
other injuries.


Thus much for the opposition, and the _Advocatus Diaboli_ now resumes
his seat. His accusations appear formidable; but it might be justly
pointed out that if a catalogue were compiled of the serious results
caused by the shortcomings of the horse, motor-car accidents would be
found few in comparison. It might be demonstrated that in twelve days 17
persons had been killed and 143 injured in accidents attributable to
that noble animal.

When the foregoing tram and motor casualties are analysed, it will be
found that the majority were due to lack of control over the brake
power, to ignorance, or to careless driving.

As I have observed before, many evils have been laid to the charge of
electric traction. Last year it was reported in the papers that a young
woman had been instantaneously killed at Shepherd’s Bush by the
overhead wires. The fatality was attributed to one of the guide-wires
breaking at the extreme end (an accident which had really occurred on
the line), but it had been replaced _before_ the young lady fell down in
the road, and it was proved at the inquest that she died in the normal
way of heart disease.

In the old coaching days the dire forebodings of evil arising from
travelling by steam were much more comprehensive than those of the
present day from electric travelling. Horse-breeding, it was said, would
cease and farmers become ruined, their crops perhaps destroyed by
sparks from passing engines; human beings would be asphyxiated while
rushing through the air at tremendous speeds; high roads would fall to
rack and ruin; and every innkeeper on coach routes would be bankrupted!
In fact, a lamentable social revolution was bound to be brought about by
Stephenson’s pestilential proposals!

Of electrical traction, its greatest detractors can only urge–and with
truth–that it is not yet without drawbacks, not yet so perfected as
to render accidents impossible. And the _Advocatus Diaboli_, after due
consideration of his own arguments, generously acknowledges that he has
failed to make out his case.