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The South Eastern & Chatham page 2


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Thus it came about that under the Act of 1837 the Brighton Company made the line from Redstone Hill (Redhill) to Jolly Sailor (Norwood Junction) on the London & Croydon, the South Eastern paying 340,000, half the cost with interest of the twelve-mile stretch, and becoming the owners of the southern half up to Coulsdon; and when the line opened their trains ran on their own metals from Redhill to Coulsdon, on Brighton metals from Couls-don to Norwood Junction, on Croydon metals from there to Corbett's Lane, and on Greenwich metals from there to London Bridge. Thus were the Brighton and South Eastern in their infancy nurtured by Parliament in un-punctuality, for on such a road it was absolutely impossible to work even a moderate traffic and keep time. To complete the story it should be said that a station was placed at Paddock Wood, then called Maidstone Road, which was twelve miles from Maidstone, and soon after it was opened the people of Maidstone, who had wrecked the Central Kent and stopped the best road to Dover, came to the directors of the South Eastern with a petition humbly beseeching them to provide a branch, which branch was opened in 1844.

The engineer of the South Eastern was Sir William Cubitt, who invented the treadmill and did many other things besides making canals, harbours, and railways. In his evidence before the Gauge Commission he said, "With a perfect railway I do not know any speed that could be dangerous to the public safety in a straight line "; and he laid out the South Eastern for speed with a perfectly straight run of forty-eight miles from just round Redhill to Ashford, and he made it practically level throughout that distance. Beyond Ashford he had more scope for his engineering powers. He crossed Folkestone gap by the viaduct over the river Foord of 19 arches over 100 ft. high, and beyond Folkestone he made the splendid stretch through the chalk and along the shore with its four tunnels, Martello 530 yards long, Abbot's Cliff 1933 yards long, and the two through Shakspeare's Cliff 1392 yards long; while between the tunnels, although the sea occasionally breaks over it in the winter, he laid the line 20 ft. above high-water mark, and beyond the Shakspeare ran it over the open timber bridge under which the sea washes at very high tides.

These tunnels through the chalk were made by driving in horizontal galleries from the sea-face instead of making vertical shafts from the top in the usual way, but the most famous piece of work was the blowing away of the face of Round Down Cliff, on the 26th of January 1843, with 18,000 lb. of gunpowder fired by electricity. The story of this successful introduction of electrical firing as it appeared in Our Iron Roads is too well told to be spoilt by paraphrasing, and here it is: -

"At the time appointed for the blasting, a number of distinguished visitors reached the Downs, and joined the directors and the scientific corps at a commodious pavilion erected near the edge of the cliff, at a distance of about a quarter of a mile from the point of explosion. When the arrangements were completed and the spectators assembled, curiosity was at its height, and the most strange and fearful speculations were entertained by the people assembled as to the possible contingencies which might arise. 'What,' said Professor Sedgwick - 'what if there should be a concealed fissure - a blinded chasm - in the cliff behind us? A smart vibration might throw it open.' 'What then?' inquired a ghastly querist. 'We shall be swallowed up!' muttered one in response; while another sighed, 'We shall be swallowed down!' Still the fascination was irresistible, and though many were uneasy, and wished to be gone, no one withdrew. After a long suspense of half an hour the discharge of half a dozen blasts on the face of Abbot's Cliff occasioned a great sensation. When two o'clock arrived, the time appointed for the explosion, the interest which pervaded the multitude became most intense. The choughs and crows that winged the midway air were distinctly heard amid the profound calm that prevailed. The signal which announced it to be fifteen minutes before firing having been given, all the other flags were hoisted. The air was still, the sea was calm, and the murmuring surges gently laved the cliff's huge base. A quarter of an hour now passed and a shell with a lighted fuse was thrown over the cliff, from which it bounded to the beach, where it burst with an astounding report, followed by echoes from the hills, which had the effect of sharp fusillades of musketry. The flags were then hauled down and at length the one minute before firing arrived. The excitement of the people was now painfully intense, while their courage was put to the severest test. 'Now! Now!' shouted the eager multitude, and a dull, muffled, booming sound was heard, accompanied for a moment by a heavy jolting movement of the earth, which caused the knees to smite. The wires had been fired. In an instant the bottom of the cliff appeared to dissolve, and to form by its melting elements a hurried sea-borne stream. The superincumbent mass, to the extent of about five hundred feet, was then observed to separate from the mainland, and as the dissolution of its base was accomplished it gradually sank to the beach. In two minutes its dispersion was complete. The huge volleys of ejected chalk, as they swelled the lava-like stream, appeared to roll inwards upon themselves, crushing their integral blocks, and then to return to the surface in smaller and coalescing forms. The mass seemed to ferment under the influence of an unseen, but uncontrollable power. There was no roaring explosion, no bursting out of fire, and, what is very remarkable, not a single wreath of smoke; for the mighty agent had done its work under an amount of pressure which almost matched its energies: the pent-up fires were restrained in their intensity till all smoke was consumed. A million tons of weight and a million tons of cohesion held them in check. When the turf at the top of the cliff was launched to the level of the beach, the stream of debris extended a distance of 1200 ft., and covered a space of more than fifteen acres! The moment the headlong course of the chalk had ceased, and the hopes of the spectators were realised, a simultaneous cry arose of 'Three cheers for the engineer!' and William Cubitt was honoured with a hearty huzza from the lips of a grateful people. An era in the history of engineering had passed."

The best-known tunnel on the line is, however, not in the chalk, but in the Weald Clay at Bletchingley, through a spur of Tilburstow Hill. Here the resident engineer was F. W. Simms, who carefully recorded in detail every step in its construction and took it as the example for his book on tunnelling, which is the standard work on the subject known to every engineer. It is the whole story of a tunnel from its survey to its completion. Bletchingley cost 72 per yard, and it measures 1324 yards; Saltwood, near Sandling Junction, to which Simms moved on as resident when he had finished it, and treated much in the same way, measures 954 yards, and cost 118 per yard, it being a much more difficult job. Here the men had to be worked in four shifts, and at one time the water was running at a thousand gallons an hour, bringing the sand along with it in dangerous quantities, until the happy idea occurred to him of packing straw behind the poling which kept the sand back and let the filtered water through. All along the engineering work was thoughtful and sound, and, as Cubitt pointed out, the line was made with a wider base than usual, for it was 36 ft. wide, to secure greater safety and better drainage than had up to then been attained. "A railroad," says Robert Hunt, "has three parts, substructure, superstructure, and rolling stock." The substructure is the bed, the superstructure is the permanent way; and with regard to these the South Eastern was the best line of its time.

The Bletchingley tunnel was opened in May 1841. In May next year the first train ran through from London to Tonbridge, then called Tunbridge, where the branch to Tunbridge Wells, opened two years afterwards, had been begun. In August Headcorn was reached, and in December the trains began to run through to Ashford. In 1843 the line was opened to Folkestone, and the year following it reached Dover.

That year, 1844, was an important one for the company, for not only did they get to Dover, but they opened their first London branch, that to their new "West End Station" - which was Bricklayers Arms! Railway companics are occasionally somewhat bold in their advertisement, but it may be doubted if any of them in these days would venture so to describe Bricklayers Arms, which is in the Old Kent Road. Passenger trains were worked into it as a terminus until the end of January 1852, and then it began its career in the goods business only, broken by one bright interval for which it is not likely to be forgotten. When H.R.H. Princess Alexandra of Denmark arrived at Gravesend on the 3rd of March 1863, the special train was run into Bricklayers Arms Station. There London received the future Queen of England on the way to the wedding at Windsor; and after this blaze of glory it settled down to its position as the chief goods depot of the line.

Bricklayers Arms is notable in railway story for the step forward there taken in signalling. When it was opened, Charles Gregory, who introduced the semaphore into railway practice by placing the first at New Cross, gathered the chains from all the signals into a stirrup frame, and fixed to the frame a sort of parallel motion that ran between the stirrups in such a way that the depression of any one stirrup pushed the parallel bars into a position to act as a block on the others. Thus two conflicting signals could not be given at the same time. This was not quite interlocking, as there was no mechanical connection between the signals and the points, but it was the first move in that direction.

In 1856, when the signalling arrangements were enlarged and improved, John Saxby of Saxby & Farmer worked from the signal cabin eight semaphores and six pairs of points, all so governed and locked that it was impossible to move any signal which was contrary to the position of the points, and equally impossible to give any signal that was in conflict with another. The principle was the simultaneous movement of points and signals contrived in such a way that the signals were dominated by the points.

Saxby was the first to put in a row together the levers for working the points as well as those for working the signals. At first he used rocking shafts, but in 1860 he replaced these by sliding bars, the principal levers being vertical and the locking levers horizontal. In 1867 he introduced locking by the spring catch, so that before the lever was moved the mere intention of moving it effected the locking, and a wrong signal could not be given by negligence or any strain or slackness of the apparatus; but in this device he ran a sort of dead heat with Easterbrook. who was three days in front of him with one patent and three days behind him with the next, so that for a short time no levers could be moved owing to Saxby having secured one end of them while Easterbrook had hold of the other.

There was another patent for interlocking of which some mention must be made. In October 1859 Kentish Town Station was ready for opening on the North London when Colonel Yolland, the Government Inspector, refused to pass it as he wanted some means of preventing the signalman from making a mistake. Stevens, the contractor for the signalling work, undertook to put this right, and the opening was postponed for him to do so. In November Colonel Yolland came again to examine the new contrivance, in which the signals were so arranged that the putting down of one stirrup disengaged the other. The colonel put his foot into both stirrups, and so lowered both the up main and the up branch; and he refused to pass the line. He was asked to suggest some way out of the difficulty. "Oh," said he. "it is not my province to suggest but to approve." But having understood what the colonel had in his mind, Austin Chambers tackled the problem, and in a month was ready for the colonel with an arrangement that was satisfactory, and the line was opened in December. The same day the General Manager gave Chambers a cheque for fifty pounds to patent the invention, and this was done; and it was immediately adopted all over the North Western.

Neither of these interlocking systems can be understood without an examination of the mechanism or working a model. They have been compared to a church organ, but as has been well said of them, a performer on the organ can touch any keys he pleases in any order or in any number; he can discourse most eloquent music, or he can rend the ears of his audience by abominable discord. Not so the signalman. Concord he can produce at will, but discord is utterly beyond his powers. He cannot open the points to one line and at the same time give a safety signal to a line which crosses it; and the points must be properly set or the signal for a train to pass cannot possibly be given. Moreover, while a train is actually travelling through the points, not even the signalman can change their position or disturb them until the last vehicle has passed in safety. When he gives a clear signal for a main line, he cannot open a point crossing to it; and when he gives a clear signal for a crossing he must show danger for all the lines which it crosses. He can send a train on to any one line, but he has to do so in a systematic manner, and if he brings about an accident it is not by one pull of a lever but by the pull of perhaps half a dozen, all in due order and strictly according to rule; and often in these days he is stopped from doing this by the man in another box, with which his signals are also connected.

The simplification of signalling is progressing apace and soon it will be almost entirely automatic, and it is interesting to note that the Chatham & Dover did much to help along the reform by its early introduction of Sykes's electric block system alluded to above. The telegraph block, however, goes back much earlier, for it was introduced on the Yarmouth & Norwich in the very year that Bricklayers Arms was opened with Gregory's stirrups; while signalling by electrical contacts began in a small way on the Lancaster & Preston in 1849.

The block system on which our trains are now worked is not difficult to understand. The line is divided into sections by signal-boxes in electrical communication with each other, and only one train is allowed to be between any two boxes on one line at a time. The signalman receives a warning that a train is coming and answers it that the line is clear if that be the case. He then receives the notification "Train on line," and as soon as he does so sends on the "Be ready" signal to the next box, where it is answered and sent on in the same way, so that the signals are always a section in advance of the train. In some places there is a "permissive block" by which two trains may be on the same section, but the second train is always under control.

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