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How old are container trains in the UK? Well, it’s not simple answer, although we are all familiar in 2021 with Freightliner trains, and the Eddie Stobart and Tesco container carrying trains. Of course these are intermodal services nowadays – but there have always been intermodal freight operations on the railway – transferring goods from horses and carts onto goods wagons. Railway freight traffic was never always about bulk loads of minerals, coal and oil, and it was the wagon load and part load consignments that kick started some interesting developments in British Railways days.
There were numerous methods of providing specialised containers for wagon or van load consignments of goods, whether for household furniture, or bulk transport of engineering components in a lengthy supply chain for manufacturers.
Before Liner Trains
In 1964, BR London Midland Region issued a small glossy booklet, entitled “Freight Handbook”, which, apart from the usual details of goods depot and regional telephone numbers contained brief descriptions of some of the innovations in wagonload and container traffic facilities. The services include what BR described as “demountable containers” carried on a rail wagon, and transferred to and from road vehicles at the terminals at each end of the journey. Described as a “door-to-door service” that was being constantly improved and extended, the fact that road transport by the early 1960s was entirely privately owned meant that BR had fewer road vehicles to provide the last lap of the journey.
Well, well, the media have had a spectacular day today, observing and commenting on this radical reform of the railways – a new public body to oversee the running of the track, signalling, train control, stations, timetables, and ticketing, etc., etc. Then they will be managing the awarding of contracts to train operating companies, to provide train services to those schedules – not to mention the exciting new multi-faceted tickets that (a) can be bought on the day of travel, and (b) offer greater flexibility to meet the UK’s new working arrangements.
Hmm – I guess at some point the ORR (Office of Rail & Road) will be involved in oversight too, and then up to the Transport Secretary – well done Grant Schapps. Just a pity it took so long to start getting the rail house in order. But who owns the trains? Will the TOCs still lease the trains – new and old – from the ROSCo’s through the banks and investment houses?
It will be interesting to see how this develops…
There is a famous rail route that runs over 1,800 miles from Adelaide / Port Augusta in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory by way of the equally world-renowned town of Alice Springs. The history of railway development in Australia might be described as a patchwork of different shapes, sizes, lengths and ownership, and this route is also home to the “The Ghan Express”, or more commonly “The Ghan”, which has an equally chequered history.
The story of the line from South to North in Australia is fascinating one, and the line where ‘The Ghan’ operated – and indeed operates to this day as a private company is even more interesting. But, as I’m sure many of us will remember from school geography, the continent of Australia is very dry, and posed many problems for steam train operations – especially on this route – so it was something of a blessing when diesel traction arrived.
In this example, which is one of international co-operation, no less than three separate companies were involved in the design and construction of 13 diesel locomotives for freight and mixed traffic duties. The power units were supplied from Barrow-in-Furness, on the south-western extremity of the English Lake District, from Vickers Armstrong’s engineering works, and electrical equipment from AEI in the midlands, with the whole package put together by Tulloch in Australia.
The basic design of these locomotives was a joint effort between Sulzer in the UK and SLM in Switzerland, with the overall operational needs laid down by Australia’s Commonwealth Railways to run on the 3ft 6ins gauge line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs. The engineering works of Vickers Engineers & Shipbuilders of Barrow-in-Furness had – by the 1960s – been building hundreds of Sulzer diesel engines for British Railways, and many of these were also shipped to railways in other countries, from Africa to Australia.
This is a review of just one of those examples ….. and one which has been successfully preserved
According to the media today, Wabtec has announced it is to close its Brush Traction plant at Loughborough. So now the UK has lost just about all of its links with the industry that it began over 150 years ago.
Brush Electrical Engineering, and Brush Traction traces its ancestry back to 1889, when the Anglo American Brush Electric Light Corporation acquired the assets of the Falcon Engine and Car Works and merged their activities at Loughborough, England.
So what next for the Loughborough site? Or will this be the end of manufacturing for the railway industry in the area?
Well, actually, not according to the latest reports, the staff are moving out of town, to Ashby, a few miles away in north west Leicestershire, and there will be no redundancies. The Falcon Works site will close, and Brush Transformers will still continue in business at the Nottingham Road development, close to Loughborough’s main railway station.
Almost 50 years ago, the WD/MOS 2-10-0 that had been used by the ‘Royal Engineers’ on the Longmoor Military Railway (LMR) was retired to the Severn Valley Railway, where it sits today in the museum at Highley Station. This engine was one of 150 locomotives built by the North British Loco. Co., in Glasgow between 1943 and 1945, which were all originally destined for overseas service with the Allied Army after D-Day to provide supply chain and European recovery and restoration. The Ministry of Supply (MOS) had placed two orders with North British – L945 and L948 – and the majority of these were sent to France, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece and the Middle East.
Some were sent to Egypt, where they were stored for a time, before dispersal to Greece to help rebuild the transport infrastructure, with a handful seeing service in Syria. The lion’s share were leased by The Netherlands – 103 in total – and were used on freight workings until 1952, and had some changes to the original design, most notably in the boiler and steam circuit. In 1948, British Railways acquired 25 of their number, which were put to work in Scotland until 1962, when they were all withdrawn.
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The image immediately below will enable you to download a PDF copy of the Brush booklet describing the locos built for New Zealand.
The 1980s saw some notable achievements by the U.K. rail industry, in particular, the decision to introduce two more new classes of electric locomotive, with the most advanced technology, on British Rail’s west and east coast main lines. On board microcomputers were introduced in ever increasing numbers, in the control systems of new multiple units like the class 318 and 319, and the class 87/2 (later Class 90) and 91 ‘Electra’ locomotives. With the announcement of’ the go-ahead for the Channel Tunnel, a consortium of U.K. manufacturers, including Brush, GEC Traction., Metro-Cammell and BREL, were quick to announce plans for motive power for the through trains, planned for operation between Britain and the rest of Europe. These latter saw the beginning of the end of the d.c. motor as the standard form of power transmission to a locomotive’s wheels, extending further the use of power electronics into rail traction service, with a.c. motor drives.
Whilst the major companies like Brush and GEC Traction regularly supplied British Railways with locomotives and power equipment, with the latter winning the major contracts for1986, the U.K. industry was equally successful overseas. In the main, a substantial number of orders involved rapid transit rolling stock, taking in other household names in the British railway industry, like BREL, and Metro-Cammell, although exports of locomotives and power equipments did not lag far behind. The major successes in that decade for the export market again involved GEC Traction and Brush, with the latter handing over the first of 22 new locomotives in 1986, for the North Island electrification project in New Zealand. GEC’s most important export contract at that time was worth some £35 million, for 50 class 10E1 electric locomotives for South African Railways. On the whole, the 1980s continued to witness export success for British companies, in many fields, against some very stiff competition.
20 years ago, and 2 years after the East Coast Main Line (ECML) was electrified from London to Edinburgh – only 10 years late – BR’s flagship locomotive “Electra”; also known as Class 91, saw service for the first time on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). To be fair it didn’t last long on the WCML, but in 1992, it set a fastest service record, with a train from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly in 2hrs 8mins. At the time this loco was being developed, British Rail – and the InterCity Sector especially was making significant operating profits – and the completion, finally of the electrification work on the ECML was perhaps the icing on the cake.
In 1991, they put out this publicity brochure, to advertise what was coming:
Springboks & Bongos – Part 2
The Thompson era on the LNER was in sharp contrast to the previous twenty years, under the guiding hand of Sir Nigel Gresley. During Gresley’s day there were a number of notable designs, and the locomotive stock was represented by a large number of different types, often designed for specific purposes, produced in response to current business and commercial demands. Gresley’s designs could almost be described as bespoke, or niche products, aimed at satisfying an immediate business need, and not providing a standard range, or designing motive power which could be used on a wide variety of services.
The business of running a railway and providing commercial transport services had begun to change dramatically when Edward Thompson took charge, and of course, the demands of the Second World War denied Thompson the luxuries (in locomotive design terms) of the Gresley years. The business was demanding more efficient services, reducing costs – a recurring theme – and simplicity in the locomotive department.
Diesel traction was pioneered in Britain by the LMSR in the 1930s, with a variety of shunting locomotive types, and by the late 1940s steps had been taken towards the arrival of the first diesel locomotive intended for main line work. Under the guidance of the LMSR’s C.M.E., H.G.Ivatt, and the co-operation of English Electric Ltd.,1600hp diesel-electric No.10.000 took to the rails in December 1947.
Here was the first of an entirely new breed – the 16-cylinder English Electric diesel engine operating a generator, supplying power to the six electric motors driving the road wheels of the two bogies. English Electric had long been involved with non-steam design and build, mostly for overseas railways, and were at the forefront of most development and innovation around the world.
The use of traction motor/gear drives had already replaced the jackshaft/side rod drives ofthe pioneer shunters, but No.10,000 was its ultimate development on the LMS. Diesel power was also the first step towards the elimination of steam locomotives as the principal source of main line motive power. But nobody looked at it that way then; it was the train of the future, something for small boys to marvel at on station platforms.
There is a new word in town – it’s “digital” – and you can use it for anything to make it sound big, clever, or a technological marvel. Take the “digital railway” for instance, what is it? This is what they say on their website:
“Digital Railway aims to deliver the benefits of digital signalling and train control more quickly than current plans, deploying proven technology in a way that maximises economic benefit to the UK.”
So is this a review of where the UK is, or just PR and marketing speak to account for delays in funding and implementing Automatic Train Protection (ATP) and signalling and train control technology across the UK, deploying the ETCS Level 3 systems. It also includes more sophisticated driver advisory systems such as CDAS from Denmark – but much more than just a computer based version of AWS – then there is Automatic Train Operation (ATO), now a requirement for ETCS implementation.
Back in 2002 I wrote an item for ‘Engineering’ magazine looking at the range of options on offer and being implemented at that time. Almost 20 years ago, but there has been much change since, and there now seems to be a push towards implementing on a wider scale the ERTMS/ETCS technology.
For all the talk of Nigel Gresley and his exceptional express passenger types, the LNER were in dire need of a easy to build, easy to maintain and all-round workmanlike mixed traffic locomotive. This arrived with the company’s last CME – Edward Thompson – and who provided the basis for the locomotives to meet the operating departments exacting demands during and after the Second World War.
These were the 2-cylinder 4-6-0s of Class B1, or “Antelope Class”, which arrived in 1942, and quickly acquired the nickname “Bongos”. The early examples were named after Antelopes, and included Springboks, Gazelles and Waterbucks – but it was after the 6th member appeared in February 1944, and sporting the name Bongo that that name stuck, and they were affectionally forever known as “Bongos”. They were a great success, adapting and adopting the latest ideas and techniques in design and construction, and with only two sets of outside cylinders and valve gear, were destined to give Stanier’s ubiquitous “Black Five” a run for its money as the 1940s came to an end and nationalisation took place.
35 years ago in February 1986, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed the Canterbury Treaty with French President Francois Miterrand, and this began the joint construction and operation of the Channel Tunnel. Equally important was the Concession Agreement, signed a month later in March 1986, which provided France Manche and the Channel Tunnel Group with the responsibility for construction and operation of the Channel Tunnel. This agreement ends in 2086.
The North East Corridor of the Amtrak rail network has been, and remains, the most important rail route in the USA, connecting the major cities of the Eastern Seaboard with the federal capital of Washington D.C. It has been at the forefront of the deployment of high-speed trains for decades, way back to the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s grand electrification work, and the use of the world famous GG1 locomotives, with Raymond Loewy’s streamlining.
When Amtrak – more precisely the National Railroad Passenger Corporation in 1971, under the ‘Railpax Act’, passenger rail services were and had been run down to a very considerable extent, and the Federal Government decided it was important to rescue the most important routes. Of greatest importance were the lines in the North East States, and the infrastructure was just not fit to provide late 20th century passenger services, and so began the NECIP – North East Corridor Improvement Project.
Back in the 1980s, high-speed rail was dominating the headlines, and by 1986, the USA had experimented with, and was developing that membership of the high-speed club, and only the UK, despite the technology, research and the ill-fated APT, was being left behind. In the USA had had in mind high-speed rail transport since 1965, when it enacted the “High Speed Ground Transportation Act” in 1965, which was a direct response to the arrival of the ‘Shinkansen’ bullet trains in Japan the previous year.
So where is the Corporation today? Well, it has genuinely embarked and delivered on a high-speed rail offering for the Northeast Corridor, with over 700 miles of track, serving the most densely populated part of the country, and now has genuine high-speed trains and technology. But it took almost 20 years to deliver the first of the fixed formation train sets.
Many years ago, I read a copy of the magazine “Model Railway Constructor”, and inside, was an interesting item about the “Great Central Railway’s “Immingham Class” 4-6-0, designed under the direction of J.G. Robinson, the railway’s CME, and built by Beyer-Peacock at Gorton, Manchester. They were classified 8F by the GCR, and went on to become Class B4 under later LNER ownership, but only 10 locomotives were built, with four of the class surviving into British Railways days.
All 10 were built in June and July 1906, and were intended to operate on fast freight and of course fish trains. But in the mid 1920s they could also be found on express passenger and other services. They were the second post 1900 design with a 4-6-0 wheel arrangement for passenger traffic, and followed two 4-6-0s designated Class 8C by the GCR, for comparison with Robinson’s 4-4-2 express passenger types. Both classes could be said to have provided the necessary drive away from the late Victorian ‘Atlantic’ 4-4-2 designs, and ushered in a new era and approach to hauling prestigious trains.
The 4-6-0 was fast becoming popular for passenger workings – and next out of the blocks on the Great Central was the “Immingham” class – so-called because their arrival in 1906 coincided with the official start of construction of the new docks and harbour at Immingham. But this design was intended for fast, express goods trains, to and from the major East Coast ports.
How do you turn an HST into a Blue Pullman? Well, it seems you repaint power cars 43055 and 43046, together with 7 coaches and a kitchen car (41176, 41108, 41162, 41059, 40801, 41182, 41169 and 44078) in the original ‘Nanking Blue’ livery, and send it off on a number of journeys to mark the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the original ‘Blue Pullman’ in 1960.
The first run was due to take place on Saturday 12th December from St Pancras to Crewe, with fare paying passengers on the restored HST set.
A recent announcement in the press about high-speed trains that are fitted with bogies that can automatically adjust to a change of gauge seems a remarkable achievement.
Whilst there have always been different track gauges in many countries around the world, the challenge of running a train from A to B on one gauge, and B to C on a different gauge has usually involved people, or goods, changing from one coach or wagon to another – and sometimes different stations.
Automatically changing the space between the wheels as the train runs entirely from A through to C, when the tracks are different gauges – wow, that’s new – well, relatively.
Some 34 years ago, I wrote a feature for the PA Features entitled “High Speed Trains for the 21st Century”, which was essentially a look at some of the then ground breaking innovation, research and ideas in development for rail transport. In 1986, we were in the grip of an explosion of ideas, and that despite the axing by the UK government of the British Rail APT, with its tilting technology.
The Virgin Hyperloop, which successfully had its first run carrying a human passenger on the test track near Las Vegas is a great step forward, and has its most recent antecedents in the 1980s. Some of the innovative ideas back then – be it TGV, or Maglev have had some success, but will Virgin Hyperloop be able to deliver a commercial operation. Back in 1986 they were going to bury these vacuum tubes below ground level, but will the latest incarnation of the idea be anything more than a novelty?
Nowadays we seem to expect trains to be delayed or cancelled for bad weather, but back in the 1920s, even the monsoon rains could not stop India from running electric trains for Bombay’s suburban commuters. In 1925, the trains, built by English Electric in Preston provided some novel solutions for the Bombay Harbour Line, and later for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway.
The first electrification work for India was sanctioned by the government in August 1922, as the railway’s traffic continued to increase, and the escalating costs of coal for steam hauled services. Contracts were let to the Tata Hydro Electric company to provide the power supplies, and English Electric for the supply of substation equipment including rotary converters, circuit breakers and control panels.
The first electrified railway in India is 95 years old this year.
India’s rail network is vast, and its cities have extensive suburban and metro networks, with Delhi seeing one of the most recent projects to build a 122 km double-track Orbital Rail Corridor. The route will run around the west of Delhi from Palwal in the south to Harsana Kalan in the north, and provide some relief for the severe congestion on the capital’s inner routes.
But Mumbai – or Bombay – remains the first, and oldest electrified metro – and this short overiew outlines its beginnings……
First there was horse, and then steam followed by diesel and electric – and some of these concurrently – and now the future may be a hydrogen fuel cell powered train. In a tenuous link back to the atomic trains proposals of the mid 20th century perhaps, the University of St Andrews is looking to design and test a power plant for rail vehicles, using hydrogen fuel cells, and fit this to an existing rail vehicle platform.
In September, the university published a ‘Prior Information Notice’, to indicate the key boundaries of this home grown project, with a power source that further reduces the rail industry’s dependence on fossil fuels for traction. The idea itself has been around for some time – well since 2018 at least – and no doubt much earlier theoretically.
Back then Birmingham University’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) began development of a project to utilise hydrogen fuel-cell technology on a railway vehicle – their test bed being a former British Rail Class 319 multiple unit. British Rail Engineering Ltd. originally built these electric multiple units, from 1987 onwards, and after privatisation, they were rented by various train operating companies. A number of the class were modified, upgraded in various ways, including a number that were converted to bi-mode units in 2016.
Over 70 years ago, the locomotive manufacturers in Britain began supplying its last main line steam locomotives for Indian Railways – steam traction was still in abundance at home and abroad, but diesel and electric traction was making rapid progress. UK based manufacturers like English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers were early exploiters – mainly in what were then British colonies. Prior to World War II, more than 95% of steam locomotives were built in Britain and exported to India, for use on the various railways – which were then a range of state/privately owned companies – and on top of this, with different gauges.
During the steam era, both pre and post nationalisation, the North British Locomotive Co., in Glasgow, and Vulcan Foundry, in Newton-le-Willows, were heavily involved in the design, construction and export of steam locomotives to the Indian sub-continent. But the British builders had to contend with competition from other countries, including the USA, Canada and Europe before, during and after World War II.
This was the main transport story on the 4th September on numerous news outlets – well after the Covid-19 quarantine issues for travellers. What does it actually mean – work has been underway for some time in site clearances, groundworks in preparation to build a dedicated line for passengers from London to Birmingham.
This is what HS2 stated on its website at what was deemed the official launch day:
“HS2 Ltd has today (4 September 2020) announced the formal start of construction on the project, highlighting the large number of jobs the project will be recruiting for in the coming months and years.“
So, this controversial project continues to progress, and the objections and protests continue, but will HS2 achieve its objective? Again, according to the company’s own website, this what they are seeking to achieve:
Yes, I know it is only Phase 1, and the remaining sections will take the high speed links to Manchester, Leeds, etc. But – that’s still a long way off, as indeed is the completion of the 140 miles from London, near Euston & Paddington, to Birmingham Curzon Street. Yesterday too, Solihull gave consent to the building of the Birmingham Interchange Station, with its ‘peoplemover’ link to the NEC. Wonder if that’ll be “Maglev Revisited”? (See: Worlds First Commercial Maglev System)
Following nationalisation, new and repainted locomotives continued to appear in traffic bearing the initials of their former owners, though replaced very quickly by a complete absence of any titling. This early period saw also a number of new engines built to the designs of their former owners, outshopped with their original works/builders’ plates fitted, but with the tell tale signs of having had the initials LNER, LMS, &c., removed before the locomotive went into traffic. The appearance of evidence of former ownership was very long lasting in some cases, with ‘sightings’ of a faded ‘GWR’, or ‘LMS’ being noted in the contemporary railway press of the late 1950s.
The full title BRITISH RAILWAYS was carried by many locomotives and numerous classes, lasting, at least officially, until the arrival in 1949 of the lion and wheel emblem, or totem as it was known. The style of lettering adopted officially in 1949 was Gill-Sans, and had been widely used on the London Midland, Eastern, North Eastern, Scottish, and Southern Regions of BR, from 1948, although the Western Region perpetuated for a time the style of the old GWR, and some examples of former SR style on the newly formed Southern Region could also be found.
These have been the sorts of headlines that have greeted rail travellers from the mid-Autumn to early Spring, every year on Britain’s railways, and back in the days when it was just British Rail, the target for complaints and abuse was just one organisation. Today, and coming in the next 8 weeks perhaps, the same problems will doubtless occur, and delays, cancellations and complaints, along with tempers no doubt, will rise.
But, are we any further forward? The answer is yes and no – obviously!
Recently, a research paper was published identifying the tannin in leaves that mixed with the damp conditions at the railhead, and in Network Rail’s words – are “the black ice of the railway”. This in certainty will reduce friction between rail and wheel, and loss of traction. The problem, is how to remove it, and increase the adhesion levels.
This was how the media ‘broke’ the story at the end of July.
Fascinating and sad story – the new Merseyrail electrics have not even entered service, but stored at Tonbridge in Kent, they’ve already received a repaint, courtesy of local vandals. The trains from Stadler’s Wildenrath test track in Germany had been sent to Tonbridge on their way to Merseyside, and are now having the graffiti removed at the Merseyrail Kirkdale depot.
These are the new Class 777 units, and 52 of the 4-car articulated sets were ordered back in 2017 from the Swiss manufacturer, with an option to buy another 60. The present Class 507 and 508 will all of course ultimately disappear. The first of the new trains was delivered in January, but this latest arrival has resulted in the need to spend a significant amount of money making the new trains look new.
This video shows some shots, courtesy of the Railmen of Kent Twitter feed – https://twitter.com/RailinKent
In Ireland, the new CIE Class 22000 now features a hybrid drive, from a Rolls Royce-MTU diesel engine and Li-ion battery pack. The principle is not new, and the Class 22000 have been around for the best part of a decade, but this latest development further enhances the railway’s green credentials.
CIE have a 10-year strategy for investment in ever more sustainable rail transport, and back in October 2019, the Government approved an order worth €150 million for 41 new “22000 Class” railcars/multiple units, on top of the current 234 car fleet. The new rolling stock will enter service in late 2021 in the Greater Dublin area, and according to CIE, will provide a 34% increase in capacity on peak commuter services.
The Wellington Suburban Electrification
Well, not strictly suburban, but the second major electrification on New Zealand’s railway lines that involved English Electric; this time on the main line linking the capital, Wellington, with Auckland, 400 miles away to the north. This was the first stage in electrifying the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT), across some of the world’s most spectacular, and challenging terrain.
English Electric were pioneers of electric traction, and were especially successful around the world, notably of course in former British colonies, whether India, Australia, and of course, New Zealand. In the 1930s, increasing traffic around Wellington, and the success of the Arthur’s Pass project almost a decade earlier, the North Island electrification work led to an order for tnew main line electric locomotives. These were the first heavyweight (my italics) locos in service on the route from Wellington to Paekakariki, which later became the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT).