The Cheap Trains Act, 1883, was passed to amend and consolidate the law relating to (a) railway passenger duty, and (b) the conveyance of the Queen’s Forces by railway. It did not apply to Ireland. Passenger duty was never exacted in that happy land. In Great Britain the Act relieved the railway companies from payment of the duty on all fares not exceeding one penny per mile; provided for the running of workmen’s trains; and prescribed a scale of reduced fares for the conveyance of Her Majesty’s soldiers and sailors.
After this Act, and until the year 1888, no further general railway legislation of importance took place.
After eighteen years of railway life, at the age of 34, I had attained the coveted position of a general manager. Of a small railway it is true, but the Belfast and County Down Railway, though unimposing as to mileage, was a busy and by no means an uninteresting line. A railway general manager in Ireland was in those days, strange to say, something of a rara avis. There were then in the Green Isle no less than eighteen separate and distinct working railways, varying from four to nearly 500 miles in length, and amongst them all only four had a general manager. The system that prevailed was curious. With the exception of these four general managers (who were not on the larger lines) the principal officer of an Irish railway was styled Manager or Traffic Manager. He was regarded as the senior official, but over the Traffic Department only had he absolute control, though other important duties which affected more than his own department often devolved upon him. He was, in a sense, maid of all work, and if a man of ability and character managed, in spite of his somewhat anomalous position, to acquire many of the attributes and much of the influence of a real general manager. But the system was unsatisfactory, led to jealousies, weakened discipline, and was not conducive to efficient working. Happily it no longer exists, and for some years past each Irish Railway has had its responsible General Manager. Something that happened, in the year 1889, gave the old system the first blow. In that year a terrible accident to a Sunday school excursion of children occurred on the Great Northern Railway near Armagh, and was attended with great loss of life. This led the company to appoint a General Manager, which they did in June, 1890, Thomas Robertson, of the Highland Railway of Scotland, of whom I spoke earlier in these pages, being the capable man they selected.
Curious certainly was the method which up to then prevailed on the Great Northern system. Three different Managers exercised jurisdiction over separate sections of the line, and the Secretary of the Company, an able man, stationed in Dublin, performed much more than secretarial duties, and encroached, so I often heard the managers complain, upon their functions. This divided authority was a survival of the time before 1877, when the Great Northern system belonged to several independent companies; and, in the words of the Allport Commission of 1887, “its continued existence after ten years could hardly be defended.”