Illicit travel

The railways were highly ordered and regulated spaces. They had to be, to ensure they ran and that (for passengers at least) they ran safely. But that doesn’t mean illicit travel wasn’t a problem. The railway companies employed their own police forces, to keep order, protect company assets and reassure the public. Of course, railway police men and women weren’t immune from accidents, as in this blog post and a guest post to come in the future. Fare evasion was one problem – and trespass was another. The companies didn’t, perhaps, expect to find that illicit travel was encouraged by their own staff – but in this post, another for the Explore Your Archive ‘Travel’ theme this month, that’s exactly what happened.

Edinburgh Waverley passenger and goods stations

Edinburgh Waverley passenger & goods stations, c.1912. Courtesy National Library of Scotland Maps.

Just before 1pm on 11 July 1914, goods porter Alexander Slattie was on duty at the North British Railway’s Edinburgh Waverley Goods Station. He was in the delivery office when local confectioner R Diekman called to pick up a suitcase. Diekman planned to walk to passenger station ‘by way of the public streets’ at first refused Slattie’s offer to carry the case ‘but eventually accepted it.’ Once he had the case, Slattie told Diekman he would take him by a short cut – across the lines between the goods station and the passenger station. Diekman ‘protested against going that way as he considered it dangerous’ – presumably this was a route familiar to Slattie from past practice.

Eventually Slattie persuaded Diekman to go with him, but whilst crossing the lines Diekman ‘suddenly realised that an approach train was almost upon them.’ He shouted a warning ‘and rushing forward was very fortunate to get clear of the train.’ Slattie was less fortunate – he was knocked down, with an unknown number of wheels passing over his right leg at the ankle. Inspector Campbell was stern in his admonition of Slattie: ‘He had no right to leave the goods station when he did so, and he added to the offence by inducing a member of the public to trespass on the Company’s lines’ (1914 Quarter 3, Appendix C).

Why did Slattie do it? Plenty of staff travelled over railway property in ways that their employees forbade – particularly walking along or across the track, to or from work, to save time. But in this case it looks like there was another motive, one which the companies recognised and encouraged in other situations: the desire to help. Presumably Slattie thought he would be saving Diekman time and effort, and in doing so rendering a service from the Company. He might not even seen it as trespass – but in the eyes of the North British Railway Company and the Board of Trade inspector, it remained illicit travel.

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