(From a correspondent)

A definite assurance may be given to cyclists that their interests in respect of the safe carriage of their machines by rail are in no way being overlooked by the railway companies, but form a subject of close, if not, indeed, of anxious consideration. The matter has been discussed at various conferences of railway managers to which the inventors of sundry appliances have been invited; officials have been specially told of to watch the present operations at the great railway termini; inquiries have been instituted throughout the country, on the Continent and especially in the United States, where, it has been thought, the inventiveness of the American people might hit upon some happy discovery; while during the past two years something like 40 different schemes and projects, more or less futile, have been submitted to the companies, who, it is declared, are willing to consider any proposal that might be likely to help them to overcome the difficulties of the situation. Yet, in spite of all this, it is felt that matters have not yet got beyond the experimental stage and the remark is freely made that a fortune is in store for anyone who can discover some method of combining the all-important features of simplicity and efficiency in carrying a valuable item of luggage which will not stand by itself, occupies, relatively, a good deal of space because nothing can be put on top of it, is troublesome to handle and either gets scratched or injured itself, or damages its neighbour, on the slightest provocation. The appliances or methods already suggested to the railway companies, in addition to what their own officials have thought of for themselves, have certainly not been lacking in variety and a glance through a collection of such diagrams, plans and descriptions as those with which almost every railway company has been favoured by ingenious outsiders is not without interest. A favourite idea is that there should be “grips” or “hangers” either of iron or broad indiarubber bands suspended from the roof of the goods van for holding up a bicycle clear of the floor and some of the inventors suggest that the space underneath could be utilized for the stowing away of luggage; but they fail, it seems, to make sufficient allowance for oscillation, while the space under the cycles suspended from a roof only 6ft high would be of little or no use for ordinary luggage. Another suggestion is that, to economise space, the cycles should be in two tiers – one lot standing on the bottom of the van and the other suspended from the roof; but this could not be done in a space of 6ft, while the height of the van could not be increased because of the tunnels. As an alternative it has been recommended that the floors of the vans should be partially lowered, but the railway engineers say this is impracticable because the mechanism underneath the vans could not be interfered with. Then there are diagrams of “grips” fastened to the side of the van and intended to hold a machine firmly in position, though likely, as some of the railway experts think, to cause it to get scratched or damaged worse than ever; and there are some elaborate designs of floor arrangements, the objection to which is that they would render a van useless for any other purpose than cycle carrying. Still another ingenious inventor would have the side of the van fall down on hinges, after the fashion of a horse-box, fit the cycles on it and then raise it again into position, having the machines hanging in a row, all on end – and liable, one would think, to be very much knocked against one another by the movement of the train. Other suggestions turn on the folding in of the handles and treadles, which are the chief causes of the present difficulties, so that the cycles should occupy less space; but the companies rightly hold that what they have to do is to adapt their vans to the existing machines and not require that all the machines should be made or altered to suit the vans. Many cyclists have urged that railway companies ought to provide special vans with special fittings for bicycles, so that the latter could be carried with perfect security. By way of seeing what this idea would i9nvolve, one of the companies had a van fitted up in such a way as would certainly secure the desired result; but they found that, whereas the van would easily accommodate from 40 to 50 cycles before the fittings were put in, it would hold only about 14 or 16 with the fittings. As the Great Eastern Railway Company, for instance, booked 11,047 bicycles from Liverpool Street Station during the month of August, last (an increase of 3,553 as compared with August, 1896), no fewer than 1,042 of these being sent off on the Saturday before the August Bank Holiday, it is a simple sum in arithmetic to say how many vans would be required to carry this number, provided that the capacity of each were reduced to 16. To the suggestion, also, that more vans should be added to the trains it is answered that, what with the steadily increasing number of passengers carried and also, as it happens, with the steadily increasing amount of luggage, year by year, which individual railway travellers take with them, it would be impossible, in a vast number of cases, to increase the present length of the trains, either because it would be unwise to put any further strain on the drawing capacity of the engines, or because the station platforms would not accommodate the longer trains. On the former point the position of the South Eastern Railway Company is particularly striking. Owing to the difficulties at present experienced in working in and out of London stations, the company cannot put on any more trains than they run at present, while the trains cannot be lengthened because of the heavy gradients. Between New Cross and the summit of “Halstead bank,” as it is called, there is, for instance, a rise of about 400 feet in a distance of 12 miles and to add, in these circumstances, to the weight of the trains as now run by putting on specially fitted cycle vans, carrying only a small number of machines each, might strain the couplings to the breaking point and cause some terrible accident. This particular difficulty as to the heavy gradients might not be so serious in the case of a line like the Great Eastern, which runs mostly on the flat; but there the question of platform accommodation as well as of weight arises, many of the trams being already of quite exceptional length. In the case, too, of a train which is split up at various junctions en route it might be thought necessary to have a special cycle van for each section and this would increase the difficulty still further. The railway managers point out, also, that the uncertainties of the cycle traffic are trying in the extreme. On one occasion a South-Eastern train found at a wayside station a group of 27 cyclists who were going to a “meet” two stations further off, a distance of eight miles and preferred to take their machines by rail so that they could reserve all their strength for the labours of the day. A still worse experience was that of a train on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway which pulled up at Bognor to find over 300 cyclists and machines waiting there to be taken on, no notice having been previously given so that arrangements could be made for them. In this case many of the machines had to be put in third-class carriages. These may be exceptional instances, but it is a matter of common experience that cyclists out on a Saturday afternoon should make a rush for the nearest railway station in case of a heavy shower of rain and tax the cycle-carrying capacity of some local train to the utmost. These considerations may serve to show that the problem of cycle-carrying on railways is surrounded by more difficulties from the point of view of the railway manager than the average cyclist may suppose. Specially adapted cycle vans would, of course, be of great service for express through trains, such as those from London to Scotland where no “handling” en route would be required and provided that the fittings did not seriously diminish their carrying capacity. But the ideal solution, it is said, must be sought for in some simple contrivance which can be readily adapted to existing conditions without either requiring to much space for each machine or interfering with the adaptability of the vans for carrying other things besides. It is declared by some of the most experienced railway managers that any system of carrying cycles by rail which involves extensive structural alterations of the vans must be vetoed and especially as regards stopping trains, making comparatively short journeys. But at present the whole subject is still in a transition stage.  Some of the companies are having vans fitted up experimentally; others, unable to arrive at an immediate solution, are ordering luggage vans of increased carrying capacity, though without special fittings; while still more are waiting further developments and, in the meantime, are patiently investigating every proffered solution of what they regard as a very troublesome problem.

The Times, Tuesday, Oct 12, 1897; pg. 8&

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