Railway Matters



From Preston to Mumbai

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.

English Electric CoverThe 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……

Read on ….

Hydrogen Power for Scottish Rail in 2021?

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.


The Birmingham University-Porterbrook Rail “HydroFLEX” demonstrator multiple unit. This innovative technology is growing rapidly with a number of UK based projects.

In the UK St Andrews is following Birmingham University’s Centre for Railway Research and Education in the development of ever greener rail technology.  The de-carbonising of transport is high on the government’s agenda, and hydrogen fuel cell technology is going to play a key role, especially as there are 1000s of diesel trains still operating  in Britain.

Coradia iLint 2018 - Low Resolution JPG

The world’s first Hydrogen fuel-cell regional multipme unit train – Alstom’s Coradia iLint. Now in service with both German and Austrian railways.

The world’d first commercial hydrogen powered train began working in September 2018, and comes from the Alstom stable – the ‘Coradia iLint’. In 2017 they had plans to bring the iLint to the UK, in partnership with the rolling stock leasing company Eversholt Rail.

This latest UK project will convert an old, 1979 3-car emu design, the Class 314, to provide a demonstrator platform for this new power/drive train technology, and provide another example of the rapidly growing work to de-carbonise the rail industry.

Read on …

Last British Steam for the Raj

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. 

Vulcan Orders India WG2Britain secured a number of orders after the Second World War, and construction continued within India after 1951, with the opening of the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, where many steam engines were built.

Read on …

HS2 – We’re Off – Officially

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.

hs2_phase_1This 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)

Read on ….

British Railways Early Locomotive Liveries

A4 Sir Charles Newton at York in 1950

Gresley’s A4s certainly suited that express passenger blue – here 60005 “Sir Charles Newton” is captured at York in 1950.                  Photographer unknown.

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.

BR Regional colours 1948

Read on ….


Leaves On The Line : Wrong Kind Of Snow

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.


Network Rail Windhoff Multi-Purpose Vehicle DR98910/60 at Dereham in May 2008.                      Photo: DiverScout at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6802613

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.

Guardian headline

Read on ….


Merseyrail Trains’ Messy Graffiti

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.


BBC News story imageThese 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.

Read on ….


Going Greener with Hybrid Diesels

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.


The new Hybrid Class 22000 for CIE

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.

Read on ….

Wellington to Paekakariki – with English Electric

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).

Read on ….


Updated Camels & Camelbacks

Just in case you missed a post, from a year or two back, the innovative design and use of “Camelback Locomotives” – a style that was very popular on US railroads for many years.


Philadelphia and Reading Railway. One of the large Vauclain Compound “Atlantics” engaged in the fastest Regular Service in the World.                                                                 Scanned Photo from: Howden, J.R. (1907) The Boys’ Book of Locomotives, London: E. Grant Richards,  Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10548075

There were two different types of locomotive with a centre cab, on top of the boiler – the earlier design built by Ross Winans in the 1840s, were simply known as “Camels”, but the later design with a new, and innovative design of firebox.  This also appeared initially on the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, with the wide grate of the “Wooten Firebox”  its key component.  The design was patented by John Wooten in 1877.

I’m afraid an error crept into the original post, but I am grateful to one of my readers Jim Hansen for identifying this, and as you can see the original post has now been updated.

For a more detailed look, why not follow this link:


It is a good read.


Class 47 -Almost 60

In 2022, BR’s most common – take that whichever way you like – diesel locomotive that started life in 1962, as the first of the 2nd generation of main line diesel-electric locomotives.  It came at a time when there was certainly competition between Britain’s locomotive manufacturers, and a fair degree of collaboration and partnership within the railway industry.  

Brush Type 4 Title pageSo, the Class 47 – which to be precise, was announced in the railway press as a new, highly innovative design from Hawker Siddeley – who had only recently become owners of Brush Traction Ltd and Brush Electrical machines.

The most widely used, most well known, longest surviving, successful – just some of the words you might use to describe the Brush Traction design ordered by British Railways in the early 1960s. Successful was not at one time a word you would have used to describe this locomotive – a bulk order, rushed through as BR’s debts were climbing, and the ‘Pilot Scheme’ diesels were still “on trial”.

Read On …..


Halls of Fame – A Mixed Traffic Masterpiece

Some might say, that the Great Western Railway’s “Hall” and “Modified Hall” class 4-6-0s were simply a do anything, go anywhere mixed traffic design – which they were – but of course, the GWR would not be able to operate without them. These locomotives were the unsung heroes of the steam railway, and yet not one was set aside for inclusion in the UK’s “National Collection”. Happily though a number of both the original Hall and Modified Hall designs can still be seen in operation, and under restoration. In fact, one of their number is being ‘re-modified’ to represent the precursor Churchward “Saint Class”, which is a tribute to the design’s longevity and importance.

Saint Martin - Green Folder GWR 63

This is the locomotive which gave birth to the most numerous, popular, and successful of’ the GWR two-cylinder classes. The extensive modifications to No.2925 Saint Martin, here seen in converted form, resulted in the building of the Hall Class 4-6-0s. © Lens of Sutton

This class of 4-6-0 was easily the most numerous on the GWR., and was a design whose ancestry can be directly traced to the famous Saint Class. In a number of instances they have been referred to as “6ft 0ins Saints”. No fewer than 258 of Collett’s new Hall Class engines were built between 1928 and 1943, following the highly successful modification and operation of saint class engine No. 2925 “Saint Martin”.

The New Kid On The Block

The first 80 of the new breed of locomotives came out of Swindon Works under Lot 254, between December 1928 and February 1930.

4901 Adderley Hall copy

The first of the many – No. 4901 in photographic grey at Swindon Works in 1928. This was a very successful design, and formed the backbone of GWR and BR Western Region mixed traffic working until it was scrapped in 1960. (c) Historical Railway Images

Read on ….


Non-Standard Diesel Shunters of British Railways – Part 3

To complete this little anthology, it seemed appropriate to include the least well known, and some pretty obscure examples of low-powered locomotives used on British Railways – many at small yards and depots, and dockyards.  Many locos of the sizes described here were adapted, or used for large industrial, engineering, quarries and mining operations, whilst one example remains unique from a major British manufacturer – Brush Traction.


Nowadays, none of these shunting types exist, except on preserved lines or as museum exhibits, since as a result of major changes in the 1960s, the disappearance of many smaller yards spelled the death knell for this type of locomotive. There are 58, possibly more if anyone has any additional information, at a variety of locations around the UK. By far the largest group are the former BR Class 03 shunters, with 45 examples, many of which are operational. There are several examples from Andrew Barclay, Hunslet, Yorkshire Engine Co. and a solitary Hudswell-Clarke.

Read on …

Atomic Trains

Back in the early 1950s, nuclear power was very fashionable – much like electricity was 50 years earlier – and numerous ideas for its uses were produced. Some were mad, some were bad, and some just plain crazy – at least for land transport, since as we know, a variety of submarines and ships are powered by nuclear reactors. On land, aside from a crackpot idea dreamed up by Ford, for a family car with a nuclear reactor in the boot, the potential for ‘atomic trains’ was seriously investigated 70 years ago.

In fact, I was prompted to have another look into these ideas by a letter I received in 1990, which suggested that “…could render main line electrification unnecessary the development of a nuclear powered locomotive.”

British Atomic Loco - Eagle 1952In the 1950s, there were no such inhibitions or potential constraints, and in 1954, a certain Dr Lyle Borst at the University of Utah proposed the 360 ton X-12 locomotive, carrying a nuclear reactor fuelled by Uranium-235, and designed by Babcock & Wilcox.   But, this wasn’t unique, and proposals appeared in Britain and Russia, although by 1960-62 these proposals had all but disappeared.  

Whilst it was intriguing to learn of a new proposal in 1990 in the UK, that too disappeared, but just when you thought it had gone for good, in 2009 a patent was applied for at the US Patent Office for another.  The end – probably ….??

Read on …

Non-Standard Diesel Shunters of British Railways – Part 2

In the first of these posts, I looked at the most widely built 0-6-0 shunters, based largely around the Gardner series of diesel engines, mostly the 204bhp rated design, which was applied to a mechaniucal transmission by a number of builders, and BR workshops.  But they were not the only small diesel shunters bought from manufacturers, and in this offering I took a look at the two most well known Scottish builders.

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Perhaps uniquely, the world renowned North British Loco Co had build many thousands of steam locomotives over the 50 years to 1953, but its initial forays into diesel traction were less than successful.  It had of course experimented with diesels around the time of nationalisation, and had built a collection of products for mine working – appropriately named the “Miner” series.  But their choice of diesel engine paired with hydraulic transmission – whether from Paxman or MAN – was a risky venture.

Andrew Barclay, in nearby Kilmarnock had opted for a more conventional approach, and opted for the Gardner design of engine, with mechanical transmissions.

Read on ….

Non-Standard Diesel Shunters of British Railways

British Railways standard diesel shunter was the English Electric designed 0-6-0, with almost any number of variations of the ‘K’ series engine of 1930s vintage.  This was developed from the 1930s designs used on the LMS, and was the mainstay of goods, and train marshalling yard operations – it seemed almost forever.

However, in 1962 there were no fewer than 666 diesel shunting locomotives in operation on BR, of either 0-4-0 or 0-6-0 wheel arrangement and powered by engines of less than 350 hp.  These “non-standard” types performed a variety of the most mundane tasks, and their earliest appearance was from a pre-nationalisation order to the Hunslet Engine Co. of Leeds, also by the LMS.  Following the end of the Second World War, many more were ordered from various makers.

Hunslet small shunters 7


Read on …..

An Italian Odyssey

Since 1995, I have taken a number of photographs in Italy, at various locations where we have started, ended, or simply watched the trains go by, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to share some of those images on these pages.

IMG_0716Naturally, some of the steam locos were seen in the Science Museum in Milan, including the Ansaldo built 2-8-2 of Class 746, together with the 1,000th locomotive built by Breda – Class 685 No. 600.  

Milan’s cavernous Central Station provides a brilliant backdrop in 2009 to the power car E414-103, built in the late 1990s, and heading an ETR500 high-speed train, shown in the post 2006 livery of grey,white and red.  Another example – E414-128 is shown leaving Verona with a Milan bound service in 2008.

Read on ….


Diamonds Were Forever

It is just over 60 years since the very first of the British Railways main line diesel locomotives took to the rails – they were built by the North British Loco Co in Glasgow, and included a pair of V12 engines and hydraulic transmission.  There were the first of a new breed, the pioneers of the British diesel and electric era, but sadly they were not a great success, and only 5 were built.

Lens of Sutton D600 'Warship'

D600 “Active” on one of the class’s main roles, hauling expresses over the South Devon Banks. A key service for a short time was the “Cornish Riviera Express”.                                                                    Photo: Lens of Sutton/RPBradley Collection

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the debate around electric versus hydraulic transmission was resolved – BR opted for electric transmission as standard – but left its Western Region, from London Paddington to Bristol and the west to adopt the alternative.  The five locomotivers that became the “Warship” class, were amongst the final orders received by the North British Locomotive Co., which went into liquidation just 4 years after the orders were placed.

NBL DiamondThat said, BR’s “Pilot Scheme” dithering did not do either the company or the locomotives any favours, and soon after these first diesels were built, another design, also with hydraulic transmission took to the rails – a second “Warship” class.  But the only remaining evidence of the pioneer class is a single nameplate in the National Railway Museum in York.

Read On …

Eurostar – From TMST to E320

The recent withdrawal and scrapping of the first generation of Eurostar trains comes 30 years since the contract for building them was awarded, and barely two years after the last refurbishing was completed. They were designed to run through the  Channel Tunnel  – massive, and truly international project.  Today Eurotunnel International Ltd., who run and manage the services and infrastructure, from London to Paris, on what we have termed HS1 is now known as Eurostar, and these now ageing super trains are being enhaced with the next generation.

Eurostar Nose at NRM_RPB picture

The nose of one of the original TMST sets is now included in the NRM collection at York.     Photo: RPBradley

The original TMSTs were perhaps the most complex machines introduced for what was a challenging operation.  The GEC-Alsthom built trains have an installed power on 25kV AC of 12.2 MW, and a complete train weighs in at 750 tonnes, and an overall length of 294 metres, carrying 750 passengers, and noted as Class 373 in Britain.

The new 16-coach e320 trainsets are derived from the Siemens ICE3 trains for Germany, from which Siemens developed the “Velaro” range, which has been used in a number of other countries, including Russia and Spain. The new Eurotunnel trains – noted as Class 374 in Britain – require a less complex power equipment and contact system, compared to the TMSTs, although much of the power technology is a development of that used previously.

e320 No 4016

New e320 train 4016 from London to Brussels, photographed at Enghien, Belgium in July 2017.        Photo © Andy Engelen

These new cross channel trains are actually much more powerful than their predecessors, with a maximum rating of 16MW, delivered through 32 of the 64 axles, and carrying 900 passengers, with each car or coach being part of the power train and drive.

Sadly, the old ones are being withdrawn – but they have provided the UK’s first high-speed rail service, through the Channel Tunnel to the rest of mainland Euope.

Read on …

UK Rail Franchises Suspended By Covid-19

Emergency measures introduced by the UK Government have been set out today, by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, which include suspending the normal rail franchises for a period of 6 months.  These are defined by the DfT (Department for Transport as Emergency Measures Agreements, and the train operating companies will be given the opportunity to “transition” to the new arrangements.

Rail emergency measures during the COVID-19 pandemic

Read on ….



BR Regional Magazines

I was fortunate to have a Grandfather who drove steam engines, right through from pre-Grouping to British Railways days, and was the beneficiary of numerous copies of the BR London Midland Region magazine – avidly read when I was on holiday.  Obviously, many of the stories related to people, locations, and some new technology developments – locomotives, new stations, new lines, and a gardening section.

John Drayton Post HeaderOne interesting series of items that appeared in the 1950s was John Drayton’s  “Illustrated Rules”, which took specific rules, and with the aid of a cartoon illustration provided a simplified explanation of how they were applied.  Sometimes they were very serious, and sometimes the cartoon might show some of those railwaymen who knew it was OK to hang off the footsteps on a moving loco – like this one:


Read on ….

Britain’s Train Hell

Fascinating story emerging over the past 24 hours or so – about the storage of unused emu’s in places like Crewe, Worksop, Ely and Long Marston, all being covered by the national press, and Channel 4 are broadcasting  a “Dispatches” documentary on the TV today – 16th March.

Read on …

Rails from Cumbria To The World

Exactly 30 years ago, British Steel Corporation received a £12 million order from India, to supply Grade A wear- resistant rails for the modernisation of a number of high-density urban and high speed inter-urban routes.  The rails would account for around 20% of BSC’s Workington Rolling Mill’s output in a year. Railpower June 1989 CoverThe contract was won against international competition, particularly from companies in Western Europe, Japan and Canada.  In 1989 Workington was one of the world’s leading producers of high quality, wear-resistant rail products.

As part of the United Steel Companies of Sheffield – and later British Steel – Workington ceased making new steel, but operated primarily as a rolling mill, taking in steel ingots from other United Steel sites, and rolling into various sections.  

From 1974, the Moss Bay site began to specialise in permanent way products – such as rails and fish-plates. Continued investment, together with their acquired know-how, ensured that they became the largest British producer of these products.  Whilst further south, in Barrow-in-Furness, the plant that had been the world’s pioneering supplier of steel railway rails, by volume, the works concentrated on even more innovative steelmaking ideas.

Read on ….

Petrol-Electric Railcars

When researching material for my book on the history of GEC Traction, I came across a description of the “British Westinghouse” petrol-electric railcars, which were of course the design developed for the Great Central Railway, and which took to the rails in 1912. The British Westinghouse Co. became Metropolitan-Vickers, and ultimately part of the GEC Traction empire.

1912-great-central-railway-petrol-electric-railcarPlan and elevation of railcarWhy petrol-electric, and why railcars?

In essence, the railcar idea had been around since before the turn of the 19th to 20th Century – commonly known as steam railmotors, and were set to work on the railway companies’ lightly loaded, and rural branch lines. The economics of self-propelled rolling stock was all well and good for urban and intra/inter-urban operations had been long proven before the start of the First World War, but of course, these were electrically powered, both overhead and by conductor rails. On top of this, urban and suburban tramways had seen considerable expansion, with the electrical technology and vehicles manufactured by the likes of Dick, Kerr & Co., another GEC Traction business as English Electric in later years.

Read on ….

Coniston Branch – Gateway To The Lakes

Foxfield 1951 copy

Foxfield Station looking North in 1951, just 7 years before the Coniston Branch – which joined the main line just beyond the signal in distance.

The Coniston Branch of the former Furness Railway Co. was actually formed as a separate company by a group or Furness directors, and incorporated on 10th August 1857. Opened on18th June 1859, and closed only seven months short of its centenary, in October1958, the track was very soon lifted, and the impressive station building at the Coniston end of the line demolished.

Peter Millar photo from FB

The terminus of the Furness Railway’s branch at Coniston with its impressive, mountainous backdrop, where, from nearby quarries, both slate and copper had been extracted for many years. Coniston was also the birthplace of the famous water colour artist, w. Heaton-Cooper. Photo: Peter Millar

Although in existence for 100 years, it has not acquired the fame of its near neighbour, the shorter Lakeside Branch. Yet, it is, or rather was, equally picturesque. Running for nearly ten miles on continuously rising gradients – well almost, there were a couple of sections of level or falling grades – the terminus at Coniston was set against the dramatic backdrop of “Coniston Old Man”, towering to some 2000ft. above village and

Read on ….


Northern Rail Nadir

So finally, Northern Rail has been de-privatised – I’m not sure simply cancelling the franchise contract, and appointing a quango to oversee the operation counts as nationalisation. No changes will take place operationally for some time, and in so far as the infrastructure upgrades and developments are concerned, the existing projects are still ongoing. New work is still needed to cope with the existing increase in passenger numbers, and not just to Manchester Piccadilly’s platforms 13 and 14.

Northern front pageOver the past 10 years, Northern Rail – in both Arriva and Serco formats – has seen passenger miles increase by 31%, from 1,209 million to 1,606 million miles, between 2009/10 to 2018/19.  Using the published ORR figures – although the most recent figures have changed to kilometres from miles.

This table is based on those published figures, Northern have received over £3 billion in direct subsidy – ironically perhaps that is also a 31% increase over 10 years, but obviously that is not the whole story, and it is more complex.  There is clearly much to be done, and in some cases, work that was cancelled needs restarting.

Read On ….


Some Posts You May Have Missed …

Campaign for more Electrification

This is an ongoing campaign, and supported by some of the industry’s household names.

In their ‘About Us’ page, they make this observation:

“We passionately believe that a rolling programme of electrification will radically improve the UK Railway. The UK has suffered from too many boom and bust infrastructure projects. A steady, planned, rolling programme will reduce costs, speed up journey times, create more seats on more reliable trains – and ultimately reduce ticket prices.”

It is time to drive this particular campaign forward, and the ‘stop-start’ approach that has dogged Britain’s rail network for decades needs to change.


Alstom agrees to buy Bombardier Transportation

So Alstom have agreed to buy Bombardier, in an agreement signed a few days ago, although the purchase will not be fully complete until 2021 – assuming everything goes smoothly.

More Freight on Rail is Essential

A publication by the Rail Delivery Group and referred to on Network Rail’s website points to an increased demand for freight on rail over the past few years – perhaps unsurprising in view of the growing attention devoted to our impact on the environment.

Will HS2 Really Benefit The North?

This is a great podcast from Helen Pidd, the Guardian’s Transport Editor, and highlights some of the real issues facing rail users in the north……

“As the government prepares to give the green light to a new high-speed rail line between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, Helen Pidd looks at the dire state of transport links in the north of England. Plus: Annabel Dixon argues that Britain should follow the lead of other European countries on assisted dying legislation”


The Last British Diesel?

It may be a controversial observation, but the Brush designed Class 60 heavy freight locomotive was the last genuinely British built diesel-electric type. The locomotive was considered initially as a replacement for English Electric’s ageing Class 37 design – but with British Rail sectorisation, and the changed Railfreight priorities, a different approach was needed.

In the late 1980s, a private company, contracted to haul mineral trains ordered and brought to the UK, the 2-stroke General Motors Class 59 – it was of course Foster Yeoman. The design and operation of this locomotive was a success, but it was for a niche market, although it brought some innovative ideas in its use of technology.


60015 Bow Fell in Railfreight grey livery with Transrail branding hauling a freight train through Cardiff General in 1996.          Photo: Murgatroyd49 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78385895

Before their arrival, BR had produced its main line locomotive renewal programme, within which it was stated that 750 new freight diesels would be needed of between 750 and 2,500hp, with delivery from 1990 onwards. BR also stated it would not place orders of less than 100 locos at a time, to ensure continuity of production, and rolling replacement of older designs.

Of course, by the late 1980s, both the Class 56 and 58 freight types – built in Doncaster and Romania – had been in service for a few years, with the rail industry still suffering from under investment across the board. On the horizon too was the prospect of privatisation, which had already had an impact on the railway workshops, individually, and as BR Engineering Ltd.

So, in 1987, it was perhaps no surprise to learn that BR had issued an invitation to tender (ITT) for a new heavy freight locomotive; the Class 60.

Class 60 Header

Read On ….


HS2 – Off We Go – Better Late than Never? UPDATED

Well, now it’s official, HS2 gets the go ahead by the Government – well, as far as Birmingham at least, since that’s the only bit that has been sanctioned by Act of Parliament.  The arguments will continue to rage about its benefits and certainly its costs, but those who are using the environment to plead against the project have already lost, and hedgerows and woodlands, as well as houses will disappear.

GAL_12016_Euston_HS2_Platform_Wide_005D-1400x631The main argument in favour of the London to Birmingham link now being advanced is that of increased rail capacity, which it must be assumed is that removing passengers travelling on the existing London to Birmingham link will move to HS2.  That it is said will free up the paths on the WCML for freight, and other, regional and semi-fast connections.  The questions that this now raises is how will that freed up capacity be allocated, how will it be regulated – unless of course the rail network is nationalised, there will be further negotiations around passenger train franchising.

Of course it will not ‘rebalance the economy’ as one commentator offered on the TV news today, but it could be seen as starting in the wrong place and going in the wrong direction, as another commentator implied.

Read on ….

Screenshot 2020-02-12 at 16.32.42

Rail industry: HS2 decision could unlock ‘golden age of rail’

Hong Kong MTR & Stockport

The UK business of Davies & Metcalfe was most famous for key components on locomotives and rolling stock, from steam injectors, to brake systems and latterly to automatic couplers for rapid transit and light rail systems.

D&M CouplersMost of the company’s business was carried out from the wortks in Romiley, Cheshire, south of Manchester.  It was a long established family business, begun in North Wales in Aberystwyth in 1878, and after a move to Romiley became a household name in manufacturing steam locomotive injectors in the 20th century.  Diversification into braking systems came by way of a partnership with the Swiss company Oerlikon, and sold braking technology under the brand “Metcalfe Oerlikon”.

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 12.18.55

Read On …


Nationalised Northern Rail

Well, it took a bit of time, but finally some action has been taken on another of these failing train operating franchises.  Of course nothing will change overnight, and no doubt nothing will stop those interminable excuses for the poor performance:

  1. Platforms too short
  2. Electrification delays
  3. Too many passengers
  4. Etc.

Screenshot 2020-01-29 at 15.10.54

So – from 1st March 2020, the extensive Northern Rail franchise will be operated as a publicly owned railway, woefully short of investment, and ironically perhaps the birthplace of railways is still on life-support.

We await the next announcements with interest – unless they are delayed of course!

Read on ..

£500 Million to Re-Open Rail

Beeching rail cuts: Fund to help restore lines goes ahead amid criticism

Reversal of Beeching rail cuts should happen quickly, says Shapps

Government promises £500m to fund reverse Beeching cuts

This seems to be a great headline grabber, but in reality will only manage a few miles of track. Much of the media has touted the Preston and Wyre lines, maybe up to Fleetwood, or Ashington in Co Durham.

If it happens it may be factually correct, but only as part of a more strategic plan to enhance rail capacity.

Remaining questions would be: who and how will routes be selected for re-opening? Which stations? Will it be electrified? Will it bring more freight onto rail?

If the latter, then additional freight facilities will be needed.

I’m not sure £500 million represents anything other than a gimmick. It needs to be followed up with more extensive and expansive proposals.

Will this funded being taken away from HS2?

We won’t be holding our breath on this one.


Northern to Be Nationalised

Is this one of those about time too moments?

The investment is still needed, despite the projects that have been undertaken in the past couple of years.  There is still much to be done.

Screenshot 2020-01-26 at 18.54.08

I wonder where or indeed how it will be funded – the budget awaits.

Read on ….


HS2 – Impossible & Too Complicated ??

OK, so now we have another report on the progress with HS2 – and its increasingly vast cost.  The NAO have said this today:

HS2 Report 1st para

Perhaps worse still is the timescale to achieve HS2 – which as we know is intended to connect the South with the North, by way of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.  But the costs for Phase 1 alone – just to get to Birmingham seems to be well over £30 billion. The programme is certainly optimistic about the benefits, but amongst the key facts in the NAO report is the date with which this high-speed passenger line will reach the major cities in the North of England – 2040 seems to be the prospective far end date.

Read on ….

HS2 – The Wait Goes On

HS2 route mapThe leaking of the draft report to the Financial Times newspaper about the recommendation for a “pause” after HS2 reaches Birmingham, is cold comfort to the businesses and passengers who depend on rail services from Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.  Of course it was bound to stir up controversy – but really, where is the demand for 1,000s of passengers from London to Bimingham to arrive 29 minutes earlier?

It is suggested that the trains will provide over 1,000 seats, and operate at 14 per hour in both Birmingham and London Bound directions.  Imagine that, and assume a 50% occupancy, then you have 7,000 passengers per hour across the peak to peak periods, in either direction.  Or – let’s be generous and say over a 6-hour day – that’s 42,000 passengers between London and Birmingham, who then either go home, or travel on, northwards.  Really??

Read on …

60 Years of AC Electrics

60 years ago on the 27th November 1959, Britain’s pioneer 25Kv A.C. electric locomotive was officially handed over to British Railways. Then numbered E3001, it 
was to be the first of a long series of successful 
locomotive designs for the West Coast Main
Line (WCML). Within this series there have
 come to be seven basic designs, and a number of sub-divisions of the classes ALl to AL7. Although the last of these was never actually
 introduced under the old title of AL7, but
 designated Class 87 with the new “TOPS”
 locomotive codes, the family likeness remains
 very strong despite the detail alterations to the appearance of the latest type.

In 30 years, the UK railway industry, together with British Rail’s workshops had provided innovation, specialist technical, design and manufacturing skills that delivered the high-speed rail network, with the East and West Coast Main Line routes as their backbone.

Read on ….

Britannia Rules The Rails

Sometimes, it just has to be done.  Back in 1951, British Railways unveiled its brand new steam locomotive, at the same time as the Festival of Britain was showcasing the country’s capabilities, and the author also appeared!  This class of steam locomotive broke many of the traditional design and building rules of the old ‘Big Four’ companies, and these were especially noticeable in its appearance.

70028As a classic design, the BR Standard Britannia pacific was the pinnacle of steam locomotive development in Britain. At least, that argument could be held true for the mixed traffic design. Clearly, in other more specialist categories – express passenger, freight, etc. – the argument may be much more tenuous.

Quite apart from statements from the Railway Executive in 1951, the new standard range of locomotives for British Railways embodied many of the most up to date characteristics of 20th century British locomotive design. In truth, it also sought to include some rather more international features, especially some aspects that were derived from Continental European and North American practices.

Read on ….

The Digital Railway – Still On Time?

Back in the 1990s, Railtrack, and subsequently Network Rail, was charged with implementing the Europe wide signalling and train control system – ERTMS. This included the emerging ETCS (Electronic Train Control System), which was intended to remove the use of optical, lineside signals completely, and use track to train communications through a system of track mounted transmitters/receivers.

But is there more to this digital railway business than simply providing a better train control, management and signalling system?


A trio of newly built Class 345 at TfL’s Crossrail Depot. Photo courtesy: Bombardier

The UK is still years behind our European neighbours in implementing the ERTMS platforms – although to be fair Railtrack/Network Rail have rolled out the halfway house of Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS), and today the core routes are at the entry level for ETCS. Today’s push for the “Digital Railway” has a lot of chatter, and media speak around improving performance and capacity for economic and commercial growth, but on the technology front, there seems to be some way to go – still.

Read on ….

CrossRail – More Delays – What’s The Point?

Unbelievable! Perhaps as Victor Meldrew might have said – the Crossrail line from Paddington to Liverpool Street in East London might not be operational in 2021. December 2018 was long since abandoned, as was end of 2019, and in April newspaper reports carried the news that the back end of 2020 was a target, but likely to be missed.

Why? Ah well, it’s all very complicated – as we knew from an engineering perspective it was back in the early days – but the most recent concerns about running this railway were cited as “continuing uncertainty about the software behind the new rail line”. According to the Guardian on the 26th April.

Then, on 8th November, the paper also reported:

“Crossrail will not open until at least 2021, incurring a further cost overrun that will take the total price of the London rail link to more than £18bn, Transport for London (TfL) has announced.”

Mind you, in that piece, they kindly referenced the 20-year timeline of delays and cost overruns.

That was a serious underestimate of the time it has taken to complete this cross London rail line. The starting point for this railway really dates back to the 1970s, and the idea even earlier.

Crossrail project timeline - House of Commons Briefing PaperThere have been a number of Acts of Parliament/Bills that have been raised, and some successful since the early days of the 1980s, and the first Bill, failed to receive the Royal Assent in 1990 – already some years behind the original plan.

The first appearance of a reference to ‘Crossrail’ was way back in 1974, following publication of what was known as the Bartlett Report, and which included plans, or at least proposals for a cross-London rail link.

Read On ….

British Rail – InterCity Catering

I have travelled on the West Coast Main Line in Britain for many years, from the days of steam, to the days of the Pendolino, and it seems to me all that the general public are fed is a diet of stories about the curly sandwich. This seemed especially true of the nationalised network.

The last time I made a journey by a main line service, all that seemed to be on offer was a vending machine, several varieties of crisp, bread rolls, burgers and a coffee from an automated dispensing device. Fast food seems to have taken a stranglehold on train travel in the 21st Century.

Well clearly that’s not much better than the impression that the nationalised system was offering nothing more than a dried up sandwich, and watery tea – or coffee.

Back in the later British Rail years, where InterCity was making a profit, the food offering could be quite impressive too.

Read on …

Hong Kong Metro – 40 Years On

It was once described as the largest building project in Asia, and it carried its first fare paying passengers on 1 October 1979 when the 8.5km section of the Metro between Kwun Tong and Shek Kip Mei was opened to the public.

Mtrc79It is also 40 years ago this month that another order was placed with Metro-Cammell for the growing Hong Kong MRT, just three years after they were awarded a £35 million order for 140 trains in November 1976. GEC traction and Metro-Cammell’s combined success with the first orders, was followed in November 1979 by another £40 million order for a further 135 multiple unit vehicles for the Kowloon-Canton railway.   This came hard on the heels – just five weeks later – of the order for a further 150
 metro cars worth £50 million for the MTR routes.

So much has changed over the years in Hong Kong, what with the new airport at Chek Lap Kok, and the suspension bridge carrying the metro to the airport, along with further new lines, and a link to the Disney resort. On the railway, several refurbishments of the original M-Trains – which are still running, and the fitting of automatic train Control (ATC), the now almost universal Platform Screen Doors on metros around the world – but the trains from Washwood Heath are still running – for now.

Read On …

North American Steam


As is well known, steam power was invented and developed in Britain country for both stationary and locomotive purposes. Its introduction and use in the United States very likely came about as a result of illegal activity here in England. At around the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, it was deemed an offence by ·the government of the day to transmit any information about the development or use of steam power to North America. In fact it was punishable by a one-year prison sentence in addition to a £200 fine! But, evidently news of James Watt’s success was transported across the Atlantic it would appear that industrial espionage is not a modern phenomena!

Replica Stourbridge Lion - United_States_National_Museum_(1956)_(14781532311)

A replica of the first steam loco to run in the USA – built in 1932 by the Delaware & Hudson Corp. Photo: Internet Archive Book Images https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43475790

The first practical use of steam power, as applied to railways, in the USA, was first witnessed in the shape of locomotives imported from England by the Delaware & Hudson Canal Co., which operated a sixteen-mile horse and gravity operated coal railway in Pennsylvania. The first steam locomotive to run in the USA was in fact the English built “Stourbridge Lion”.

The first American built locomotive to be operated by an American railroad, was built at the West Point Foundry in 1830 and made its inaugural run for the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Co. of Charleston, on Christmas Day 1830. The locomotive was appropriately named the “Best Friend Of Charleston”.

Then they got bigger!!!

North American 1

Read on ….

EU Rail Privatisation & Prospects – Episode 1

It is over 25 years since the EU determined that separating train operations from the management of the tracks and infrastructure would be a good idea. 15 years ago, I covered the topic in detail, and at that time there was a clear distinction between what was happening in the UK compared with the rest of Western Europe in particular.

IMG_2067Britain had charged headlong into a massive restructuring of the rail industry, creating bodies that would own and lease rolling stock to businesses who would simply run trains under a franchising scheme, not dissimilar to that used by parcel delivery firms today. The track, signalling and communications were the province of a single business unit we called Railtrack plc.

Frecciarossa and SBB ETR 610 at Verona - August 2017

Today’s high-speed rail in Italy, seen at Verona Porta Nuova in August 2017. The SBB ETR 610 is returning from Venice to Geneva. (Photo: Rodger Bradley)

In Europe, by contrast, the separation of operation from infrastructure was more protracted. The former national railways of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands separated their train operation functions from the teams that looked after the track and established separate business units. They were accounted for separately, but still reporting under the group umbrella.


Read on ….

Class 158 – New Lights for Old

But, we went a step further still, breaking down the assets of the infrastructure company, and allowing a variety of smaller maintenance and other businesses to repair, update and manage the track and trackside systems. And, we did this over a 2 or 3-year window. Railtrack plc proved to be a disaster, and following various court processes in 2001, the private business of Railtrack was transferred to Government ownership as a not for profit business – Network Rail in 2002.

The BREL built “Express Sprinter” dmu’s of 1989-92, constructed at Derby’s Litchurch Lane Works are some 30 years old now, and have been dispersed around the UK through BR’s Regional Railways Sector, to the post-privatisation TOCs.  The 40 two-car sets allocated to Abellio/Scotrail may soon be receiving another minor refurb, with a proposal to fit LED lighting in the driving cabs and saloons – or perhaps not.

LED Procurement Tender Notice extract

Extract from the August 2019 procurement notice for Abellio Scotrail

The successful tenderer was to be retrofit the 40 2-car sets with the fitting – and the ongoing management of these installations, and the original tender was announced in December 2018, then cancelled, and re-posted in July 2019. Both the interior lighting question and these last BR built multiple units have had a bit of a chequered history, and their design has been unkindly referred to in some quarters as a “garden shed” approach.

Read on ….

Deltics in Retrospect – Part 2

The second part of this post looks at aspects of operations, liveries and life after service on British Rail.  Still regarded as unique and legendary in the world of diesel rail traction, these locomotives are still at work on charter specials and heritage lines, and occasionally with modern ‘open-access’ services.

The_'Napier'_Bellow_-_55_009_(14675011249) copy

Class 55 English Electric ‘Deltic’ diesel locomotive No. 55 009 “Alicydon” roars up Holloway Bank out of Kings Cross with an Inter-City express for the North East in the mid 1970s. The green livery has gone, and full height warning panels in use. By Barry Lewis CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44987568

The 22 ‘Deltics’ lasted 20 years in high-speed main line service between London and Edinburgh, until they were replaced by the equally successful HSTs. The English Electric Type 5, later Class 55 has achieved as much fame and respect in the eyes of rail and engineering enthusiasts as the equally famous steam locomotives of Class A3 ‘Flying Scotsman’ and Class A4 ‘Mallard’ steam era 4-6-2 pacific locomotives.

Read on …

Deltics in Retrospect – Part 1

Deltic at NRM large_CD040355

The original “Deltic” prototype Photo courtesy Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Descriptions and all other text content are licensed under a https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The DeItics, or rather the 22 locomotives originally designated English Electric Type 5 Co-Co diesel-electric, over a working life of more than twenty years became top favourites with all rail enthusiasts as they carried out the express passenger duties on the East Coast Main Line. And yet, initially, the design was not in tended for the Eastern Region at all, but the London Midland. Following the highly successful operation of the prototype Deltic locomotive, on LMR and ER metals, it was decided to place an order with English Electric for a production version. In essence this retained the twin I8-cylinder ‘Deltic’ engines of the prototype in a stretched body, with a number of other detail modifications, providing BR with what was at the time the world’s most powerful single unit diesel locomotive.

Deltic D9001 - Vulcan Works Photo March 1961

D9001 one of the first of the class seen here fresh from the paint shop at the Vulcan Foundry works in March 1961. Sporting the two-tone-green livery and BR’s lion and wheel crest on the body side, with white-framed cab windows. © RPB/GEC Traction Collection

The first three production Deltics appeared in March 1961 and were allocated to the Scottish, Eastern and North Eastern Regions respectively. They were numbered D9000-02 in the then current numbering scheme. They were the result of six years running experience with the prototype; which remained the property of English Electric until its withdrawal and preservation in the Science Museum in 1963.

Read on …..

HS2 Hits the Buffers

Alsyom HS2 designSo now we know – too costly, and at least another 5 to 7 years to go before Birmingham is reached.  Controversial from the beginning, and 10 years in the making – a bit like Crossrail – the cost has seemingly outweighed the benefits.  It was begun in 2009, and yet now seems to be at an end, due to the ever increasing budget overspends.  HS1 – the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) was also very much delayed, and the connection to the Chunnel was initially at an embarrassingly low speed, until the train emerged on the French side of the Channel.  The UK it seems, is still waiting to catch up with the rest of Europe when it comes to high-speed, high-tech trains.

What surprises me, and perhaps many others, is that we have had the technology – be it, power control electronics, signalling systems, infrastructure technology – for over 30 years, and the last high-speed main line (excluding HS1) was completed in 1990.


Read on ….

High Altitude Steam

In  1871,  the first mountain railway  in  Europe using the rack and pinion system,  the Vitznau Rigi Bahn (VRB) was opened, and not surprisingly perhaps, it  was in Switzerland. It was not the first mountain railway, since just 3 years ealier, the Mont Cenis Railway, linking France and Italy was opened, using the unique ‘Fell System’.  The new railway climbed from  Vitznau  on the shores of Lake Lucerne to  the  summit  of Mount  Rigi – the ‘Queen of Mountains’ – some 6,000 feet above sea level. Apart from its position as the first rack railway in Europe, the Vitznau Rigi Bahn (VRB) is unusual, in being built to the 4ft 8 1/2ins gauge, where most other railways in Switzerland are built to the metre gauge, or less. Of course, it  was not possible to climb the mountain by conventional means, and the first  steam locomotives also saw the introduction of  the  “Rig­genbach” cog wheel, or rack railway system. With this, a toothed rack  was placed in the centre of the two running rails, and  the cogwheels  on  the locomotives engaged tooth by tooth  with  this rack, to enable the train to maintain a grip.

Other rack systems had  been developed, all more or less dervived from Blenkinsop’s toothed wheel locomotive design for the Middleton Colliery near Leeds. 

In central  Switzerland, as the expansion in the use of rack and pinion railways grew, a near neighbour of Mount Rigi – Mount Pilatus –  needed to adopt an entirely different system. So, in  addition to the first, and oldest mountain  railway in Europe, the Lucerne area also boasts the world’s steepest rack railway.

Luzern -8

No.16 making ready for the ascent from Vitznau. The experience of riding to the summit of the “Queen of Mountains” being propelled by one of these is truly amazing. (c) Rodger Bradley

The  Riggenbach Rack system, and the Vitznau Rigi  Bahn (VRB) hold a particularly special place in railway development in Switzerland and Europe. To this day, the “Queen of Mountains” – Rigi  – continues to see steam locomotives hauling people to  one of the most famous Alpine summits. A famous visitor, one Mark Twain, likened his experience on the Rigi to sliding down the balusters of a staircase!

Read on ….

Fell Country

An Englishman abroad could be said to have built the first mountain railway in Europe. Well, the railway engineers and builders of the day used an invention from that man, with both English and French patents, to construct a mountain railway – the first – between France and Italy, in the 1860s. It was an international project, and had the backing of both French and Italian governments of the day. But it was partly its novelty and cost that led to its European demise, since it was built in parallel with another project on the same route that constructed a rail tunnel under the same alpine pass.

Fell Photo Header2John Barraclough Fell was born in London in 1815, moved to West Cumberland (now part of Cumbria) in 1835 and in the early 1840s was at work on the mineral lines of the Cumberland coast. In addition he worked with and for the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway, although not in connection with any proposal to construct a line through, across or over Lake District fells or mountain passes.  By the 1850s, John Fell was living in Italy, and became closely involved in the building of a new railway over the Mont Cenis pass, to link Italy and France by rail.


Fell locomotive ascending the Serra do Mar on the EF Contagallo, clearly showing the raised centre rail. (Photo: Matheus Peixoto)

Read on ….

Coal-Dust Fired Steam Engines!

In 1919, ‘The Engineer’ carried a short reference in its January 13th issue to experiments in using ‘coal dust’ in locomotive fireboxes, describing them as powdered fuel engines:

“Of the Great Central powdered fuel engine we can at the moment say no mote than that we hope before long to place a complete description before our readers. We dealt in our issues of Aug. 23rd and 30th, with the device employed on American locomotives for coal-dust burning, and we may note now that, whilst the general principles followed by Mr. Robinson are naturally not very different, the arrangement of the parts has been worked out afresh. The Great Central experiments are being watched with interest, and in view of the present desire to economise fuel, and the now proved fact that coal-dust can be used satisfactorily in locomotive fire-box, we shall not be surprised to see other engineers following Mr Robinson’s lead.”

To be honest, I’d not considered the idea of pulverised fuel as a source for steam locomotives before, considering the availability of considerable quantities of black coal from mines in the UK. There were other countries where good steam coal was not so readily available – the USA, Italy, Germany, and Australia – at least in some areas – can be considered in that category.

58_1261-5_1 copy

The last of a pair of the ex-Prussian Railways design of 2-10-0 that were rescued for preservation. 25.281 is seen here at Potsdam in 1993. By MPW57 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3726331

In Germany, six of the Prussian “G12” Class 2-10-0swere converted to ‘coal-dust burning’ in 1930, but because of the considerable deposits of lignite/brown coal, a much softer coal with a high water content, new ‘coal-dust burning’ locomotives were being built in the 1950s.

A fascinating idea, driven by economics as much as technical innovation.

Read on …


Electric Traction Revolution?

60 years ago on the 27th Nov
ember this year, Britain’s pioneer 25Kv a.c. electric locomotive was officially handed over to British Railways. Then numbered E3001, it
was to be the first of a long series of successful 
locomotive designs for the West Coast Main
Line (WCML). Within this series there have
 come to be seven basic designs, and a number of sub-divisions of the classes ALl to AL7. Although the last of these was never actually
 introduced under the old title of AL7, but
 designated Class 87 with the new “TOPS”
 locomotive codes, the family likeness remains
 very strong despite the detail alterations to the appearance of the latest type.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Currently, in 2019, Crossrail – which links in to the GWR main line west of London – is still not complete, and the plans for a route between Oxford and Cambridge, and a north-south Crossrail2 are still only on the drawing board. The very latest activity on the London (Euston) to Birmingham – HS2 – is looking more likely to be cancelled than progressed, whilst the demand for increased electrification between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and beyond is growing by the day. The so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail is clearly an essential need, to link the economic centres in the North of England, which, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford, and Tyneside/Wearside has a population of well over 7 million.

So, 60 years on from the handover at Sandbach in Cheshire, in November 1959, we have come so far, but there is still a long way to go.

Read on ….

Hybrid On Snowdon

Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, and home of the only rack railway in Britain is about to get some new motive power.  Although steam is popular on many of the world’s rack railways, diesel power has gradually been adopted over the past few decades, and now as diesel’s reputation as a pollutant has soarded, hybrids are coming to the rescue.

TrainatSnowdonSummit copyIn its 123+ year history, the 800mm gauge railway to the summit of Snowdon, this line has operated with 8 steam locomotives, all built by SLM in Switzerland, 5 diesel locomotives and 3 diesel railcars.  All of the railcars have been scrapped, along with the diesel-mechanical loco bought secondhand in 1949 have been scrapped.

More …


The Premier Line

The London & North Western Railway Co., or “Premier Line” as it ultimately became known, was undoubtedly one of this Country’s premier railway companies, 
The LNWR came into existence following the amalgamation in 1846,of three of the principal west coast companies; the London & Birmingham, Grand Junction and Manchester & Birmingham Railways. The latter however did not fully extend to the limits implied in its title, occupying roughly the same route as the present
 Styal Line into Manchester Piccadilly, with its connection to Birmingham made over Grand Junction metals from Crewe.

Hardwicke - large_NRM_CT_936889

Webb’s early designs for the LNWR were very successful – before he got hung up on coimpunding – and No. 790 in the national collection at the NRM is the most famous of the “Precedent” Class. Building began of 166 of these engines in 1874, but the last of the class was not withdrawn until 1934. Photo courtesy NRM. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence

The LNWR as it existed in 1846 was divided into Northern and Southern Divisions, with separate Chief Mechanical Engineers (CMEs) for each, not to mention individual livery styles and a number of other things. Wolverton and the Southern Division was in the hands of Edward Bury, from London & Birmingham days, later followed by McConnell. The Northern Division based on Crewe began life under Alexander Allan and Richard Trevithick, and later John Ramsbottom. From 1857 onwards however, the two divisions of the LNWR were merged, with Ramsbottom assuming overall control of the C.M.E.’s side from Crewe.

LNWR Coach Montage

More ….

St Rollox – Gone But Not Forgotten?

This month saw the last of the once huge manufacturing railway workshops in Glasgow closed.  The facilities were established in the Springburn district of the city by the Caledonian Railway in 1854, brining to an end the 169 year history of building, repairing and maintaining railway locomotives and rolling stock on a 15 acre site.  The St Rollox site was just one of three major sites in the area – the others being the former North British Locomotive Co works, which closed in the 1960s, and of course the Cowlairs Works.

Screenshot 2019-07-31 at 17.22.23

Read on ….

The Stanier Caprotti Fitted Class 5 4-6-0s

Probably the most recognisable – and, dare I suggest it – famous of William Stanier’s steam locomotive designs for the LMS.  Introduced as a conventional 2-cylinder steam locomotive in the 1930s, and no fewer than 842 were built.  The majority – only just! -were built by Armstrong Whitworh and Vulcan Foundry – a total of 427 locomotives, the remaining 415 were built at Crewe (241) and Horwich (120), and Derby (54).

EPSON scanner image

Stopping train for Manchester leaves Southport (Chapel Street). A splendid view westward towards the buffer-stops of the main (ex-L&Y) Southport Station, taken from a footbridge just outside. The train is headed by one of the post-war modified LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0s, No. 44686, built 4/51 with Caprotti valve-gear, double-chimney and roller-bearings: it lasted until 10/65.    
By Ben Brooksbank, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16964387

They were almost all were relatively conventional in design, but with a number of detail variations until after the Second World War.  The chief protagonist for the post war experimental and innovative work was the LMS company’s new CME, H.G. Ivatt, and it was under his guidance initially that the 20 poppet valve gear fitted variants took to the rails.

Read on …..

Overcrowding on Trains – Nothing Changes

30 years ago, the Central Transport Consultative Committee (CTCC) reported on the overcrowding on British Rail’s trains. The quality of service standards that described overcrowding were supported by agreed load factors, and as a measurement of the train capacity can be traced back to the 1980s. In the CTCC reports from 1986/87, and 1988/89 they looked at this in relation to BR’s Network Southeast Sector, and the load factors for sliding door stock was set at 135% and for the old slam door stock at 110%. On top of this it was agreed that no passengers would stand for journeys of more than 20 minutes, unless it was their choice.

10 Worst TrainsNothing has changed – and before anyone says passenger numbers have changed dramatically – proportionately that is not necessarily accurate.

But the latest Transport Focus Annual Report (2018-19) does not even mention overcrowding on trains at all.



Read on ….


Rail Review – Root & Branch or Fig Leaf?


Back in September 2018, the DfT announced that the UK railway network would be the subject of a ‘root and branch’ review, led by a former executive of British Airways and John Lewis Partnership.   According to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, privatisation delivered:

“Privatisation has delivered huge benefits to passengers on Britain’s railways — doubling passenger journeys and bringing in billions of private investment.”

According to the DfT, the review will focus on these 5 areas:

  • leveraging the commercial model to ensure improved services for passengers and taxpayers, and more effectively balance public and private sector involvement
  • the roles and structures of all parts of the industry, looking at how they can work together more effectively to reduce fragmentation, improve passenger services and increase accountability
  • how the railway can support a fares system that delivers value for money for passengers and taxpayers; and improved industrial relations to maintain performance for passengers

The appointed Chair of the review, Keith Williams said:

It’s clear that Britain’s railway has seen unprecedented growth and is carrying more passengers than it did a century ago on a network a fraction of the size. But it also clear it faces significant challenges.

A clear focus on the passenger side of the business then.  So what happens to freight, and is there an impact on the ‘Northern Powerhouse’?


Long Rails From Austria

Back in the 1980s, as manufacturing industry – especially the primary industries like steelmaking -was coming to an end in the UK, steel railway rails were still being rolled in England’s North West.

Voestalpine copy

The train as it leaves Leoben-Donawitz in Austria   Photo: DB Cargo

The global centre of rail production seems to have shifted to Austria and the heart of Europe these days, with Linz, Graz and Leoben-Donawitz taking the places of Barrow-in-Furness, Redcar and Sheffield.

Today (4th July 2019), 108 metres long rails are being carried – by rail – from Leoben-Donawitz, just to the north west of Graz, through Germany and on to Belgium, and via the Channel Tunnel to Dollands Moor, using a DB Cargo Class 66.  

DB Cargo are running four such trains across Europe to the UK from Leoben-Donawitz to Aachen West, by DB Cargo Belgium on to Antwerp, by ECR on to Calais-Frethun, before DB Cargo UK pick up the final leg on to Eastleigh.

Read on …

British Railways Locomotive Crests

Following the nationalisation of the railway companies in 1948, the first attempts at giving locos a new identity was simply to paint BRITISH RAILWAYS on the sides of the locomotive, or its tender.  From 1949, the first crests, or totems were devised by the British Transport Commission, to give some ‘brand identity’.  This short posts just illustrates some of the first and second generation crests, used between 1949 and 1968 – the end of steam traction.


Later notes will include the styles applied to diesel and electric types.

Read on ….


Electro-Diesels & Hybrids

There has been much talk, and quite a few examples in recent years of what are described as “Bi-mode” trains – in the UK, these are the 800 Class multiple units on the GWR, together with the 10 DRS Class 88 locomotives.  Across Europe these are becoming more common too, and Bombardier’s “Mitrac” is another recent hybrid offering, with power from overhead contact systems, and a diesel engine.

Cover image_1But, these are not a new idea, just the latest incarnation of an idea more than a century old, with the first claim being made in 1889.  This was the “Patton Motor Car”, which was followed in what was known as a “gas-electric hybrid system” applied to a tramcar at Pullman, Illinois.  

During the early British Railways era, there was no example of main line ‘hybrid’ or electro-diesel locomotive, although the former private companies had begun experiments in non-steam traction, but with little significant growth.  The end result of discussions was the arrival in 1962 of a 1,600hp electric locomotive, also fitted with a 600hp diesel engine, and designed to fit the narrow ‘Hastings Gauge’, with 6 of these appearing from Eastleigh Works, between February and November 1962. These were designated type JA, or under the TOPS coding system they became Class 73/0. 

Following successful trials in service of the new electro-diesels, in 1964 BR placed an order for 30 from English Electric, and which were built at Vulcan Foundry, in Newton-le-Willows, where the diesel engine was also built. This order was later extended by a further 13 locomotives, to a total production run of 43. 

More ….


Frecciarossa 1000 – Ferrari of the Rails

Italian State Railways (FS), will be the operator of the fastest ever high-speed service in Europe, once the latest Frecciarossa series begin running.   The new trains, designed and built in Italy are a development of the “Frecciarossa 1000” – but maybe the Ferrari of the rails is a more fitting epithet.

Saying that they will be the “fastest ever high-speed trains in Europe” – you have to bear in mind that’s comparing them with the ICE trains, TGV, and ts derivatives.  Hitachi, as the successful bidder, in partnership with Bombardier were also involved directly with the world’s first high-speed trains – the “Shinkansen” in Japan.

This week (4th June), FS, placed an order for 14 of these new trains in a composite contract with Hitachi and Bombardier, worth €575 million, which includes a 10-year maintenance agreement.  Each train is 200 metres long, and designed to operate at up to 360 km/h, carrying 460 passengers.  Other facilities include onboard Wi-Fi, a meeting room and bistro area.

More ….

You Couldn’t Make It Up!

Yesterday, the DfT issued a press notice asking for suggestions/volunteers to make use of redundant, soon to be removed Pacers from rail services in the north. According to the DfT’s proposals, they are launching a competition for community groups to provide ideas and plans to take one of these vehicles – no they don’t actually say if they mean a single vehicle or a 2-car set – into a new “public space”.

IMG_2337In their lives to date, those Pacers have indeed created public spaces, but I wonder how this “initiative” will pan out.

Any takers out there for a garden shed?

The Rail Minister (Andrew Jones) actually said this:

“The Pacers have been the workhorses of the north’s rail network, connecting communities for more than 30 years, but it is clear that they have outstayed their welcome.”

Really?!  He might have added that they have been a source of misery, complaints, discontent and overcrYou couldn’t make it up!owding for about the same length of time.  An opinion piece in the Guardian put it rather more interestingly:

Turning Pacer trains into village halls?

The Managing Director (David Brown) of Arriva Rail North made this interesting comment too:

“Northern is introducing 101 new trains worth £500 million, the first of these new trains will be carrying customers this summer, and at the same time we will start to retire the Pacer trains. Using a Pacer as a valued community space is a very fitting way to commemorate the service they have provided since they entered service a generation ago.”

Read on …..

Paxman – Probably The Finest Diesel Engines On Rails

The firm of Davey Paxman, then Ruston Paxman, and in its final guise of GEC Diesels Ltd was established in 1865, in Colchester, Essex.  Their original product line included agricultural machinery, steam boilers, portable steam engines, and stationary engines, with a wide range of applications in mind.

It was not until just before the First World War that they took an interest in the possibility of ‘oil engines’, with some of the early designs arranged horizontally, just like the company’s steam designs.  From around 1925 they began designing and building engines in the more conventional, vertical layout.

Paxman engined LMS No.1831 copy

What was to prove revolutionary in diesel traction’s use of quick-running engines, allied to innovative mechanical and ovcerall design. This view shows the very first diesel locomotive on British railways, built by the LMS, with its Paxman engine, on what was essentially a steam engine chassis.      Photo; Lens of Sutton

Only 5 years later, in 1930, as the LMS railway began its experiments with diesel rail traction, and the first diesel engine was installed in LMS prototype shunter No. 1831.  The engine was a 6-cylinder machine, developing 412hp at 750rpm, and designated type 6XVS.   The railway company constructed the mechanical portion of the locomotive, based around the frames of a steam engine, and other details, whilst the Paxman engine was the first rail traction diesel engine, installed in the first diesel locomotive on the standard gauge, for a major British railway company.

However, Paxman’s global reputation was based around quick-running ‘vee’ form diesel engines, and it began to make inroads in this area from around 1932, and with that step they were wholly successful, be it marine, stationary or rail traction.  Davey Paxman’s fortunes were assured.

Read on ….

Ocean Mails at 100 mph!

The magic three figures of 100 mph have held, and in some cases still do hold respect in so far as speed is concerned. Around the turn of the century, perhaps this was nowhere more apparent than on the railways. Competition for traffic between the railways had always been keen, none more so perhaps than 
the intense rivalry initiated between the East and West Coast routes to Scotland. In this, the principal combatants, the London & North Western and Great Northern Railways vied with each other to claim the honours in the days of the railways’ “Race To The North” in the l890’s. Yet despite some formidable feats of haulage and speed; none more so than that of the diminutive Locomotive, “Hardwicke”, not once was the three-figure barrier broken.


The final development of William Dean’s 4-4-0s for the high-speed West of England service was the “City” class, and this engine “City of Truro” was (depending on your railway loyalty perhaps) the first steam type to exceed 100mph.

By Hugh Llewelyn – 3717Uploaded by Oxyman, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24390196

At the turn of the century, competition between the LSWR and the GWR was rapidly growing in intensity and although the GWR had the longer of the two routes between Paddington and Exeter (The LSWR route between Waterloo and Exeter was some 23miles shorter), the LSWR competition was hampered between that city and Plymouth, by having to use through running powers over the GWR branch line to that place.

Read on …

Timetables Are Hard To Find

Just today I vcame across an old story from the Department for Transport from 2014, when the Government announced – Plans for £38 billion investment in railways unveiled. This was 5 years ago, and clearly much has changed since, but just picking up on the heavy investment in rail infrastructure in, around, through and under London, I wondered how much of what was planned has been achieved.

These are just a few of the points made in that announcement:

  • the Northern Hub: transforming rail across the north of England with capacity for hundreds more trains and 44 million more passengers, with the potential to boosting the regional economy with thousands more jobs
  • the Thameslink programme: increasing to 24 trains per hour at peak times each way through the centre of London, freeing up capacity on the capital’s transport network
  • Over 850 miles of railway electrification: including the Great Western Main Line, Midland Main Line and across the north and north west of England, bringing greener, more frequent and more reliable journeys for millions of passengers



From Preston to Montreal


The first efforts to electrify the railway in and around the harbour at Montreal in Canada came after 1915, and in part were driven by the British Government’s desire to increase its trade within the empire, and expand and develop resources.  They even set up a Royal Commission to look into how that could be achieved just before the start of the First World War.  One of the commissioners appointed was Sir William Lorimer, Chairman of the North British Locomotive Co., and yet it would be one of his company’s newer competitors who won an order for locomotive power for the Montreal Harbour Commissioners’ impressive project.

montreal-harbour-final-mapIn 1915, the Harbour Commissioners had had a report prepared on the benefits of electrifying the railways around Montreal Harbour. The Harbour Commissioners were able to complete the electrification of the harbour lines, in 1925, and in order to conform to the standards adopted by CNR for the Mount Royal Tunnel, again, 2400V d.c. was adopted throughout. ee-co.-boxcab-class-z-4-aHowever, and perhaps due to British Government influence, the Harbour Commissioners looked to the UK and English Electric for their project. The Preston based company not only provided the nine, 100 ton locomotives, but also the motor generator sets for the substations that provided the traction power supply.   For the infrastructure work, three 1000kW motor generator sets were supplied to the initial installation, with the last two being manufactured at English Electric’s Stafford Works. Subsequently, the Harbour Commissioners ordered two more machines from English Electric, each of which consisted of a 2,300kW, 63 cycles, synchronous motor, coupled to a pair of 1200V d.c. generators, connected in series. cn_6716

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BBC Thinks British Rail Did Not Work ??

On the BBC’s Breakfast show today a comment was made when interviewing a representative from a Campaign Group and a Rail Delivery Group spokesman.

The interview at Birmingham New Street Station was reviewing a proposal by the RDG to end the current rail franchising arrangements.

The idea is patently going to be considered under the Government review. But during the interviews, this comment was made in closing the piece:

“We know British Rail did not work”

Read on ….

Siemens New Rail Factory in Goole

The name of Siemens has an exceptionally long history with railway equipment and rolling stock manufacturing in the UK. To be precise since 1864, when the Woolwich factory was established in London, although the company had been set up in London in 1850, and over the next 30 years, William Siemens was responsible for the arrival of electric traction. Amongst many other innovative developments and delivering what we might today call ‘disruptive’ technology.

Goole Infographics V2-02 (002)This week – April 23rd – it was announced that the company had submitted their plans to build a new factory in Goole, East Yorkshire, for the construction, testing and support for new rolling stock for UK train companies. The application is for outline consent to enable the development to be delivered in phases, with the first phase – the manufacturing facilities expected to open in 2023, with the factory fully operational in 2025.

More ….

Pandora and Her Sisters

If there was ever a reason to refer to diesel and electric locos. as tin boxes on wheels, then surely this class was the ideal example. Mind you, the EM2s were only a development of’ their smaller, EM1 (Bo-Bo) brethren of 1950, which in turn were designed by the LNER even before nationalisation. This company had plans to electrify the former Great Central Railway route over the Pennines from Manchester to Sheffield, through the Woodhead Tunnel. But, delayed by WWII, amongst other things, the project was not completed until the1950s, under British Railways guidance.


“Juno” leaving Manchester London Road with a very light load of 4 ex-LMS coaches, carrying express passenger train markers. Photo: RPBradley Collection

The EM2’s were all built at Gorton in 1954, and were then the most powerful locomotives in operation anywhere on B.R. – I am ignoring the two gas turbine prototypes of course, since these were only experimental. The Class’ predecessors, the EM1s were 1868hp, and intended for mixed traffic duties, and although the Co-Co development could be seen on such workings, these seven locos. were primarily passenger types. Their ‘substantial’ construction was undoubtedly responsible for the low power/weight ratio, and this general heaviness in appearance is noticeable in any photograph.

More ….

More Named Trains That Got Away

BR Western Region Named Trains 1961 17

Another collection of named trains that had long histories, and which have long since disappeared, could be found on British Railway Western Region, running out of Paddington to Penzance, South Wales, and even Birkenhead on Merseyside in the 1950s and 1960s. Leafing through a copy of the 1961 timetable, no less than 18 such services were listed, one of which – “The Pines Express” – was also operated in concert with London Midland Region, whilst others covered the West Midlands, South and North Wales.

EPSON scanner image

No. D600 ‘Active’, the very first ‘Warship’ class Diesel-hydraulic, struggling up Dainton Bank with the ‘Royal Duchy’, near Newton Abbot in South Devon.. The train is the 13.30 Paddington – Penzance. (c) Ben Brooksbank Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

In South Wales, international services operated to Fishguard for Ireland, along with numerous cross-country trains to Chester, Liverpool, and further north to Durham and Newcastle.

Lens of Sutton Britannia 70028

BR Standard ‘Britannia’ pacific 70028 “Royal Star” on one of its regular workings when the class were assigned to the Western Region. Photo: Lens of Sutton / RP Bradley Collection

As on other regions of British Railways, the naming of principal expresses was reinstated after the Second World War, and some new names were introduced, whilst others were withdrawn, then reinstated and dropped again.

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Is Leeds Station Being Short Changed?

Back on the 7th March – the BBC carried a short story about the inability of Northern Rail to run longer trains out of Leeds City, due to ‘constraints from platform length’  That is, they were suggesting the platforms were not long enough to accommodate any multiple unit longer than a 3-car set.  This is the story they carried:

Northern’s long six-carriage trains delayed by two years

A bit odd perhaps, especially considering the huge upgrades, platform lengthening, additional tracks, facilities, etc., etc., etc. that were delivered by the “Leeds 1st” rebuilding project of 2001.


Class 333 No. 333 007 is seen here at Platform 1 of Skipton’s station forming a train to Bradford Forster Square on the Airedale Line on 1st April 2007. Photo: Dr Neil Clifton, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12894718

Read on …………..

Passenger Growth – An Inconvenient Number?

Today in the UK, the number of rail passengers – we are repeatedly told – is at the highest its ever been, and there has been rapid expansion over recent years. As an arch-sceptic on statistics, I wonder what ‘truth’ lies behind these reports.   In the area where I live, the volume of cars on the local roads is much more today than say 30 years ago – and yet the local economy has declined, with fewer industries.

Passenger km Chart

Passenger numbers have indeed increased – in some examples quite dramatically. It may be that the number of passenger kilometres would increase because there are many more commuter – short distance journeys – not that passengers are travelling further.

That said, the annual rate of increase in the UK has declined in recent years, between 2014 and 2017 the rate has fallen from 4% to 1%. Is it because of the slower infrastructure and rolling stock investment rates, or higher ticket prices per kilometre than in two of our neighbours?

More ….

Batteries Included!

Earlier in March, there was an announcement by Vivarail that the disappointing delayed entry into service of the Class 230 battery trains had a piece of better news for us – the development of a new fast charging feature.  That said, the first of the delayed 2-car units did make its way to the Marston Vale Line in the West Midlands in late February.

These trains have been re-engineered from London Transport’s ‘D78’ stock units, originally manufactured for London Transport by Metro-Cammell in Birmingham, with electrical equipment from GEC Traction and Brush.  The D78s were used on LT’s 600v DC surface lines, and started service between 1979 and 1983, with the Bombardier refurb taking place between 2004 and 2008.  Vivarail bought 150 of the driving motor cars and 300 non-powered cars.  These would be used to build not just these new battery powered trains, but additional, low emission diesel-electric multiple units, and hybrid sets for non-electrified routes.

2048px-D-Train-203001-Approach-Honeybourne-P1410129The first three of these new trains will operate over Marston Vale line, between Bedford and Bletchley, under the new London Northwestern operating label, and the third of what have been termed ‘D Trains’ to operate on this route will be 230002 – the battery train. A further five ‘D Trains’ – now the Class 230 series have been ordered, for use in Wales.

The trial runs of both the diesel-electric and battery operated versions of the Class 230 have been successful, and it will be interesting to watch their progress, both here in the UK, and perhaps for export.

Read on ….

2-Stroke Diesels on British Railways

Back in the 1950s, when British Railways was beginning work on the “Modernisation & Re-Equipment Programme” – effectively the changeover from steam to diesel and electric traction – the focus in the diesel world was mainly between high and medium speed engines. The few main line types that had been built were based around medium speed, 4-stroke power units, with complex valve gear, and perhaps over-engineered mechanical components.  Power to weight ratios were poor.

One of the first BR 2-strokes was to become legendary, whilst the other was perhaps at the other extreme. I mean of course, the Napier “Deltic” engines for the English Electric Type 5 Co-Co, and the other was the 1200hp Crossley engines fitted to the Metropolitan-Vickers Co-Bo locomotives.

In Britain, the changeover from steam to electric traction became a very hit and miss affair during the 1950s and 1960s.  Orders for the rail industry, and especially the locomotive industries, was subordinate to the railway workshops – which in the ‘experimental’ years received the lion’s share of the work.  That said, the supply chain included companies like English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers, who had had considerable experience in non-steam traction, especially in export orders.

Read on …..

Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway – Locos at Work on BR

One year before the grouping of railways in 1923 the Lancashire & Yorkshire and London & North Western Railways amalgamated, forming the largest operating railway system in this country. It lasted only one year. After the formation of the LMSR a series of internal wranglings and power struggles, that would have pleased the most ardent admirer of Machiavelli, resulted in LNWR and L&Y motive power strategies becoming subordinate to that of the Midland company.

1204 Ex LYR C5 4-6-0 No. 50455

Ex LYR C5 4-6-0 No. 50455, in early BR livery on York Shed after working a special from Blackpool Central 01/07/1951 (c) Frank Dean

It is a tribute to their skill, and indeed innovation, that many of their designs survived until nationalisation – indeed, one of the Barton-Wright types traced its design back to 1877, and almost 100 were handed over to BR in 1948.

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Springburn Closure

What was once the heart of the Scottish rail engineering industry – the Springburn district of Glasgow – has been dealt perhaps a mortal blow, with the announcement of the closure of Gemini Rail’s Springburn Depot.  There was never a railway works or even a maintenance depot bearing the name Springburn, but it was an area home to the North Briotish Loco Co.’s Hyde Park and Atlas Works.  Side by side with these were the Caledonian’s St Rollox and the North British Cowlairs Works – all of which built many thousands of railway locomotives, for home and export around the world.

Gemini Rail Services plant in Springburn to close with 120 jobs set to go

Looking at this, and given the UK Government’s continued insistence about the ‘huge invetment’ in the rail network, capacity, trains and services, this seems an odd reason for the closure of the depot.   Scotland still has trains to operate and in need of maintenance.

More …. 


Travelling Post Offices No More

Came across these in my collection recently, and it set me to ask why we don’t carry post by train anymore – more specifically, why no “Royal Mail” coaches, whether TPOs or not?


A close-up view of the mailbag receiving gear at the end of TPO No. 80337, during its final years of operation under the EWS banner after rail privatsation. By Evelyn Simak, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link


A TPO built on the 1950s design of Mark 1 coach, with the mailbag capture and release gear attached to the two recesses at either end of the vehicle. In classic post office red, the TPO is carried on BT4 bogies, first introduced in 1963. Photo By P.A.King CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17089719

It started on the Grand Junction Railway in 1838 – the first time mail was sorted on a moving train, and was still being done over 150 years later.  The platforms of major stations would invariably see mini-mountains of mailbags, some stacked, some on platform trolleys, but all being transported by rail.

We still use postal services for letters and parcels – well mostly junk mail I suppose – but they still need to travel in bulk between ‘sorting offices’ – or have they gone too?  Maybe they’ve called them distribution centres, or regional post logistics management centres.

So although mechanised sorting offices had effectively eliminated the need to sort on board long distance trains, these specialised multiple units were used until the end of 2014.  For the past 4 years, mail has only been transported by road – HGVs pounding up and down the motorways, and a plethora of smaller vans delivering mail, and parcels across the country.

BR Standard Steam Locomotives – Class 4MT 2-6-0

4MT 2-6-0 HeaderThree years after nationalisation in 1951, the first of a new range of standard steam locomotives took to the rails, only 6 years after the end of the Second World War, and in the same year as the ‘Festival of Britain’. The post-war years were marked by shortages – not just of food and everyday items – but also by shortages of labour and the raw materials for industry.

Britain was still operating a rail system dependent on steam and coal, but was also casting an eye to the adoption of oil, and new power systems to rebuild its railway network, and its locomotive stock. Many of the steam types still in use were well past pension age, and had been designed for specific routes and operating requirements of their previous owners.

In 1951, 12 steam types were announced that would provide almost universal route availability across British Railways, but where an existing design met those requirements, it would be adapted into what became the BR ‘Standard’ designs. The Class 4MT 2-6-0 tender design came in at design No. 7 in the original plans:

BR Standards - original 1950-51 list

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Did BR Workshop Closures Benefit Manufacturers?

Back in the 1960s, as the British Railways Workshops were being re-organised under a programme announced in 1962, the UK still had a significant number of private sector manufacturers.  Although, some were already in serious financial difficulties, as they tried to make the transition from building from steam to diesel and electric traction.

In 1965, the British Railways workshops in North Road, Darlington, some 1,400 employees were  building diesel locomotives.  So, they had made the transition, and as part of BR were supporting the modernisation programme.


Beyer Peacock built BR Type 2 D7628 “Sybilla” – on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in 2016.             Photo (c) Charlie Jackson, and Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

From the autumn of 1962, when news of Darlington’s closure was announced, thousands of protestors filled the A1 (the Great North Road) in the centre of the town, and the traffic struggled to pass. These protests continued – and were widely reported in the local press – continued until the works was closed in 1966.

Politicians too were alarmed at the prospect of closure of the works, and in 1965, the local MP ( Ted Fletcher) made this observation in the House of Commons:

  • As far as I am aware, A.E.I. has not got any locomotive building works. Much of this work is put out to subcontractors. The jigs, the tools, the templates, and the fixtures in Darlington North Road shops were transferred to a private firm—Beyer-Peacock in Manchester—so that it could fulfil a subcontract for part of the order for diesel locomotives.


12C – A Metamorphosis 

The image below shows what remained of the eastern facade of the old Furness Railway’s erecting shop at Barrow as the company became part of the LMS in January 1923.  Whilst the works built wagons, coaches, and even the early steam railmotors, they never built any locomotives.

This was actually created by re-using and expanding the second locomotive shed on the site, which was by then located slightly further east and south, towards Cavendish Dock.

It was surprising to find the remains of some of the walls, and foundations in 2018, although almost all of the remaining evidence of the once extensive works was just rubble.

Furness Railway Works Barrow

This photo stated to be taken in January 1923, and shows the east facing view of the Furness Railway Company’s works in Barrow.                  Photo Courtesy: Paul Sankey

Read the rest of the story here …..

South Africa’s Giants of Steam

On the 31st May 1910, the Union of South Africa was formally established, and brought together the separate colonies:- Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River and Transvaal.  This ‘newly’ created British colony also had a governor general, and six years later, in 1916, legislation was passed to create the unified South African Railways. This included:

  • Central South African Railways,
  • Cape Government Railways, and
  • Natal Government Railways

The first railway was established back in 1845, and over the years expanded across the land, from the Cape, not to Cairo, but into Zimbabwe and Mozambique, opening up the interior of a land rich in minerals, precious metals, especially gold, diamonds and of course coal.

SAR Class GMA:M Beyer Garratt type 4-8-2+2-8-4 steam locomotives Nrs. 4066 & 4101 copy

A pair of specially prepared South African Railways GMA/M class 4-8-2+2-8-4 Beyer-Garratt locomotives at Greyville (Durban) ready to head the Centenary Special train – “Durban – Pietermaritzburg 1880-1980” – 1st December 1980. Nos. 4066 and 4101 were built by Henschel (works number 28695 / 1953) and the North British Locomotive Company (Hyde Park, Glasgow 27693 / 1956) respectively. Photo taken Essenwood, Durban, Kwazulu, Natal.                   Photo courtesy: Historical Railway Images

As a government agency, South African Railways and Harbours was responsible for this combined rail network, and it was in that form that rail operations lasted until the 1980s, when ‘Transnet’ arrived in 1990. This was the privatisation of what had been effectively a publicly owned, national rail network, for passengers and freight. After 1990, the ‘Spoornet’ division became responsible for rail freight and main line passenger carrying services.

Many locomotives were sold into industrial use at gold and platinum mines, collieries and other locations, and this included the big Garratt types, the GMA/M class, numerous 4-8-2s of classes 12, 14, 15 and a number of the smaller pacific and 2-8-2 designs.

On the steam front, those giants are still there, and operating, but of course in much smaller numbers, and primarily for tourist, and charter specials.

Read on ….

Giants of Steam - Cover Extract copy

Amfleet Replacement

Amtrak is in the business of ordering more new rolling stock and locomotives in 2019. Hard on the heels of that $850 million contract for 75 new Tier 4 locomotives from Siemens Mobility in December 2018, Amtrak issued an RFP (Request for Proposals) in January 2019 for a new fleet of single-level passenger cars. These are to be replacements for the 40+ years old Amfleet I and ex-Metroliner cars, with an initial order/orders to include “75 trainsets or their railcar equivalents”. The responders to this RFP will be required to provide options for equipment for Washington D.C.-New York-Boston Northeast Corridor, Northeast Regional services, and adjacent state-supported routes.

E60CP and Amfleet train

A 5-car consist of Amfleet cars on the NEC, hauled by one of the then new E60CP electric locos

The original Amfleet vehicles, with their stainless steel, corrugated sides and what some have described as “slit like” windows, were awarded the dubious nicknames of “AmTubes” or “AmCans” in some quarters. The fleet has recently refurbished the interiors of its Amfleet I railcars with new seating upholstery and carpeting, but now they are to be replaced – and there are quite a lot to replace! – over 400 in total, including the re-engineered “Metroliners”. The Amfleet cars are described as the workhorses of Amtrak’s passenger rolling stock, and Corporation states their replacements are to include:

  • Improved Wi-Fi equipment and connectivity,
  • Improved seating,
  • Weather-tight doors and vestibules as well as freedom to move throughout the train conveniently.
  • The modernized fleet will also feature large picture windows, improved climate control systems for passenger comfort and completely new designs for restrooms and passageways between cars.

Read on …..

So You Want To Be An Engine Driver?

When I was younger, like all teenagers there were so many options for careers in industry, engineering, and of course railways that were on offer, and amongst those was working on the railway – British Railways. Not everyone wanted to be on the footplate, and there were equally as many options for work across the industry in workshops, research, design, train control, telecoms, and later even computing.

1963 cover imageIn 1948, at the start of the BR era, the railways employed 648,740 staff at every level, and although only 3 years later this had fallen to 599,980, BR was still one of the biggest employers. In the early 1950s, traffic levels for passenger and freight was fairly stable, and modernisation had yet to start, there were the traditional footplate occupations, and engineering apprenticeships to encourage young people to join.

From 1948, until the late 1960s, BR produced a series of booklets, summarising what the railways did, and what jobs, training, progression, and health and social facilities were offered to the potential new recruits.

br regions 1953

Is UK Rail Privatisation Just a Fake?

As I’m sure we all know, back in the early 1990s, the EU attempted to increase competition in the rail industry through a directive, which was, designed to separate train operations from infrastructure support and maintenance. Not an unreasonable idea we might think, especially as all of our rail networks in Europe started out as private businesses, which owned and operated the trains as well as the track.

Most countries opted to “privatise” by simply creating two separate companies – one to run the trains, the other to manage the physical infrastructure. In Britain, we carried this much further and created that simple, single entity managing the track, but created many separate train operating companies. Not only that, but the rolling stock and motive power was transferred to another group of private businesses – the rolling stock companies – that leased these back to the train operators.

includes network supportThe past couple of years has seen a lot of controversy over extending, cancelling or re-bidding for various franchises, and some of the existing franchises will not end for another 6 years. Subsidies for the TOCs look set to continue for some time according to the Dept. For Transport’s Franchise Schedule.

Is this still the right way to run our railways?

Read on …….

“Bring Me Sunshine” – Lancaster to Morecambe & Heysham

To me, the railway from Lancaster to Morecambe has always been linked to holidays by the sea. We would arrive from Lancaster Castle, by way of Lancaster Green Ayre, and on to Morecambe, almost never to Heysham.  We almost always travelled between Lancaster Castle, then down to Green Ayre on the electric trains, and across the Lune past Scale Hall to Morecambe Promenade station.  Right next door was the famed Winter Gardens, and directly opposite, the outstanding Midland Hotel.  On occasions we did arrive at Euston Road as well via a diesel multiple unit, and just that little bit further from the seafront.

morecambe prom 1933 - facebook post - unknown source

This impressive aerial view from an unknown source shows both Morecambe stations in 1933, with the Euston Road station in the top background, and the imposing Promenade Station at the front. Also, just visible to the left is a corner of the Art Deco “Midland Hotel”, which still forms the centrepiece of the seafront today.

The line was of course never intended to be a mere holiday branch line, and the route from industrial West Yorkshire, through Skipton was to connect to the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway at Low Park (Grayrigg / Dillicar) near Kendal, with a branch to Lancaster from Sedbergh.

In the 1840s a plan was hatched to build a railway from industrial West Yorkshire, through Skipton to a port at Lancaster – St George’s Quay – on top of which it was agreed by the businessmen involved, it would also connect with Hull on the East Coast. Over £1million in share capital was raised, with Charles Vignoles as the engineer in charge.

rylands railway map 1950s extractThe original terminus of the Morecambe Harbour & Railway Company was on the wooden jetty at Poulton-le-Sands, which was later replaced by a stone structure. The present day “Midland Hotel” was originally known as the “Morecambe Hotel”, and the stone jetty marked the western boundary of the harbour. A more ‘conventional’ station, with an overall roof was built at Northumberland Street, as the railway’s passenger traffic grew, along with a hotel to serve travellers for Douglas and Belfast.

Just after the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, the original station at Northumberland Street was replaced by the impressive Morecambe Promenade station, and a curve linking the LNWR line to Morecambe via Bare Lane was completed. This longer route from Lancaster Castle provided the LNWR with access to its own station at Euston Road – only a very short branch from the Midland’s line.

In the end like all Victorian enterprises it has had a fascinating and tortuous history, with some of its structures remaining, but much of it long since disappeared.

Read on …

Freight On Rail In The UK

Back in October 2013, Network Rail published a report entitled “Long Term Planning Process: Freight Market Study”, and in the opening remarks of its summary stated:

“The Freight Network Study sets out the rail industry’s priorities for enhancing the rail freight network, so it is fit for the future. The dominant issue is the need to create capacity on the network. This will enable it to serve the future needs of the rail freight market, ensuring the sector remains competitive and expands.”

One of the objectives of this forward view seems to have been to “reduce road congestion” – great idea.  Given both the speed and weight (44 tonnes) of HGV lorries on Britain’s roads – especially trunk and ‘A’ class roads, that’s got to be included too – yes?

Some of the internal statistics from the DfT and ORR make interesting comparisons with figures produced by Eurostat too, and whilst in general, this is an optimistic view, strict comparisons are difficult.  More importantly perhaps it stated that the overriding need was to create more capacity in the network, to cope with the projected increased market share with the internal road network.  These priorities were defined as:

  • Increasing the future capacity of the network – to enable more trains to operate
  • Enhancing its capability – to make more efficient use of the rail freight network.

This interesting little graph shows the tonne-km of freight trains in the UK, showing the result after 30+ years, is that freight tonne-km, are slightly ahead of where they were in 1980:

Network Rail stats for freight moved

The second graph in comparison shows the volume of freight carried – no international through services, just internal workings.  However, compared to the previous chart, you could say this was less positive.

Longer distances, but lighter weights perhaps.

Guards or Conductors?

The role of the passenger guard on trains has been in the headlines over the past year, with the protracted dispute on Southern Rail, Northern Rail and changing the role of the driver, whilst the guard becomes a conductor with what appears to be less responsibility for the safety and security of the train. It is interesting to reflect what the old Southern Railway rulebook said about the role of both driver and guard in 1933:

Rule 138

“The Driver must afford such assistance with his engine as may be required for the formation, arrangement, and despatch of his train. Each train is under the control of the Guard, who must give the Driver any instructions that may be necessary as to the working of it.”

Fascinating – clear definitions of the role – but have the roles changed with changes in the technology of the train?


Even the next generation of high-speed trains – the Hitachi Inter-City Express trains have been ordered as DOO – so at least it will not be able to stop at unstaffed stations. So what is the role of the on-board Conductor – Customer Experience Person – just as on the Docklands Light Railway? On the DLR the Customer Experience Person is charged with responsibility for stopping the train if suspicious activity or an urgent/emergency incident is encountered.

But, are the Train Operating Companies using advances in technology for the benefit of the passenger – or just another way of treating their staff as commodities, or avoidable costs – human resources?

More …..

Self Discharging Trains (SDT)

Heywood is a small town within the Greater Manchester region, and according to most recorded sources was home to railway wagon building since 1863, which is curious, since Companies House only have a record of the company’s formation in 1933. It may be that this was due to a simple change in the company’s status to become a ‘limited’ company, but if anyone out there can offer some additional advice I would be grateful.

Heading picBack in 1988 – yes, 30 years ago, the then Standard Railway Wagon Co., built and delivered an innovative Self Discharging Train (SDT), for transporting and delivering aggregates from quarries to lineside locations.  The company remained successful in the 1980s, and the following year, it’s share capital had been increased and stood at £1,402 million, so despite the lack of investment in rail, for these wagon builders their approach looked confident.

First SDT at Heywood

Read on ….

Where Have All The Named Trains Gone?

During the 1950s and into the 1960s, the romance of travelling by rail was still supported by the naming of many express trains, not just in Britain, but also around the world, from the USA, to India and Australia.


Princess Coronation Class locomotives changing over on the “Royal Scot” train at Carlisle on 7th Sept 1958. 46221 “Queen Elizabeth” (left) and 46240 “City of Coventry” (right).                          Photo: Licensed under Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:RuthAS

In Britain, the naming of principal express trains was reinstated after the end of the Second World War, and in the 1950s and 1960s some were added, and some withdrawn. In and around 1961 the London Midland Region listed these:

Main tableWhat happened to them – and do these services still exist in some form I wonder?

City of Glasgow on 1st Caledonian 17th June 1957

City of Glasgow on 1st Caledonian 17th June 1957

Read on ….

The 1980s – A Decade of Disaster for Railway Workshops

In the UK, at the start of the 1980s, there were 13 major railway works, employing over 30,000 staff with extensive engineering design and construction skills, but by the end of the decade, only 4 works were left and staff numbers had fallen to just over 8,000. Following the 1968 Transport Act, BR’s Workshops Division was able to bid for non-BR work, including potential export orders internationally. On 1st January 1970 it became rebranded as British Rail Engineering Limited.

BR Workshops 1982There were a number of major workshop closures in the 1960s, with Glasgow Cowlairs being one of the last, and in the 1970s, only Barassie Wagon Works, near Troon shut its gates for the last time. That said, the impact of loss of jobs and engineering skills continued, but the pace of industrial demise in the 1980s would see a step change in the pace of that decline.

This was driven to a great extent by the government’s “Transport Act 1981”, which provided British Railways Board with the option to dispose of any part of its business, and subsidiary companies, amongst other activities related to components of the old British Transport Commission, and various road transport measures. The act did not specify which subsidiaries were, or could be offered for sale, but debates in parliament did contend that this would include BREL.

Doncaster - Class 58

Inside Doncaster Works, on the day the first of the Class 58 locomotives was presented to the public and media.                      Photo: Rodger Bradley

Between 1980 and 1989 the total jobs lost directly reached more than 8,000, so if you factor in the jobs lost in the supply chain, on simple statistics alone, that could be in excess of 30,000. Whilst the last diesel locomotives built for British Rail came from Brush, at Loughborough, following the completion of the East Coast electrification, Crewe Works of BREL built the final locomotives, the Class 91, to an order from GEC-Alsthom.

Swindon Works on film

Read on:

The Race for a Free Seat

According to a report in the “I” newspaper at the beginning of November, and several others, the London North Eastern Railway has fitted free seat sensors in its entire rolling stock fleet. The entry in the paper stated:

“Sensors which detect whether a seat is free have been rolled out ….”

Back in August, the Daily Telegraph carried this exciting headline:

“Seat sensors on trains will end scramble for spare places, railway firm announces”

Hmmm – the August announcement was for a trial -this trial was apparently a success, so all the stock has now been kitted out.

Why, and how will that help if there is still 50% of the seating free because it’s in first class, and few people choose to pay the extra for a first class seat?

Metrolink Orders 27 New Vehicles

Metrolink – the UK’s first light rail network of the modern era was designed and built by the GMA Group (a consortium of AMEC, GM Buses, John Mowlem & Company, and GEC) at a cost of £145 million.  So, at least one local business (GEC) was heavily involved. This was a time though when light rail, and rapid transit was in its infancy in the UK, and the first units were built by Ansaldo-Breda, with Bombardier Transportation and Vossloh Kiepe.


Knorr-Bremse subsidiary Kiepe Electric is to supply a further 27 high-floor vehicles to Manchester. © Markus Dorlöchter

Metrolink’s first services began operating on 6th April 1992, when the Bury line opened to Victoria Station, and was officially opened by The Queen on 17 July 1992.

It has been a great success, and today, “Kiepe Electric”, have been awarded an order to supply another 27 Metrolink vehicles – now described as “high-floor” – in partnership with Bomardier Transportation UK.


Francis William Webb was appointed Locomotive Superintendent of the London & North Western Railway (LNWR), in 1871, and for 32 years held that position, until failing health forced him to resign in 1903.  He has been described as an autocratic manager, and during his time, it has been argued that much of his work – especially in the use of compounding – was unnecessary or ineffective operationally.  However, it cannot be denied that he was a man who drove the development of Crewe Works, and established the company at the forefront of railway and engineering technology in the Victoria era.

Webb started his career back in 1851, at the age of 15, as an engineering apprentice, under the tutillage of Francis Trevithick, and later John Ramsbottom – himself a prodigious inventor, designer and locomotive engineer.   By 20, Webb had moved into the Drawing Office, and in March 1859, when he was just 23, FW Webb was appointed Chief Draughtsman.  In 1862, the LNWR was formed by the combination of the Manchester & Birmingham, and Grand Junction Railways, and Webb was promoted and moved to Crewe as Works Manager, as John Ramsbottom was appointed CME of the LNWR.

RPB No 1368 - HMRS Collection

Read on …..


Furness Railway “Cleator Tanks”

Mention Furness to most people, and the response will doubtless be; “Where?”, or even perhaps; “What?” !! But to those who do know where, and readily associate it with a peninsula at the southernmost fringe of the Lake District, few I think will now associate the railways in this area as primarily intended for mineral traffic. Yet, that is in fact just exactly what the majority of the Cumbrian railways were constructed for, including the largest, the Furness Railway.

Strangely too, the Furness’s first purpose built designs, the Cleator Tank Class L1 0-6-2T, was constructed tor use on the West Cumberland mineral lines around Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont.

Furness Railway (UK) - FR 0-6-2T copy

The Cleator Tanks owe their origin on Furness metals to the appointment in 1896 of W.F. Pettigrew as locomotive superintendent. Pettigrew had worked under Adams on both the Great Eastern and London & South Western Railways, and brought some of this influence to bear on ensuing Furness Railway locomotive policy. His first essay was born of a need to replace the locos. of the former Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont Railway, where the considerable increase in freight traffic was outstripping the capacity of the motive power. Prior to this home produced design, the Furness had purchased the standard designs from Messrs. Sharp Stewart & Co., and others, including the celebrated “Coppernob”, alias F.R, No 3

Read on …..

The Post Office Tube Railway

Another English Electric FIRST……

The world’s first fully automatic electric railway was opened in 1924, beneath the streets of London. The civil engineering work for the Post Office tube, including the running tunnels and tracks, were laid down before the 1914-18 war, although it was not until 1924 that electrification work was begun, following the acceptance of the English Electric Co.’s proposals. English Electric’s contract with the Post Office included the provision of rolling stock, substation equipment, automatic control systems, signalling and cabling.

Post Office Tube Railway 1924_2

The route covered in the project was 6 ½ miles long, with tracks laid to 2ft 0ins gauge, and power supplied at 440V d.c., and fed to the conductor rails from three substations. The original plan was to carry the mails between main line termini in London to the Post Office’s major sorting offices at the Western and Eastern ends of the city, to avoid the intense congestion in London’s streets.

The Pacers – Cheap But Not So Cheerful

Director of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) Robert Nisbet told BBC 5 Live yesterday (30th July 2018) that the nation’s railways are:

“hugely successful in many ways,”

Adding that our European counterparts could only dream about having the British kind of performance and punctuality records.  He continued:

“A lot of us get on those gleaming fast trains that go from city to city in France, Spain and Italy, but a lot of their commuter lines are terribly inefficient. They have suffered for years with a lack of investment.”

Source: http://www.railtechnologymagazine.com/rail-news/rail-delivery-group-boss-british-railways-the-envy-of-europe


Back in 1985 I wrote a shortish piece about what was the new self-propelled vehicles for “lightly loaded” and “suburban” services. Today, these Class 142 units are still in service, on quite extended routes, including around tourist hot spots like the Lake District, and some heavily used commuter routes around Manchester and other northern cities.


BR Automatic Train Control System (AWS)

BR ATC Diagram

In 1948, the Railway Executive made a recommendation to the British Transport Commission to adopt, in principle, the application of a system of automatic train control. The term “Automatic Train Control,” although that was its official title, is probably somewhat misleading, since it does convey the idea of total automation and that, as we know today, is something entirely different, The ATC system subsequently adopted on British Railways provided for a visual and audible warning of the position of a distant signal, and where the latter was at caution, if the indication in the locomotive cab was not cancelled by the driver, an automatic brake application was made.


BR’s Main Line Locomotive Renewal Programme

Who would have thought that 33 years ago, the national rail network was planning to provide strategic and phased withdrawal of older motive power, and replacing it with newer, more efficient (operationally and economically) over a 25-year strategy.

The plan was to cover the needs from 1985 to 2009 – what happened?

Renewal Prog CoverOne factor may be that 6 years into the plan, the fragmentation and disintegration of rail services began to take place – “privatisation” – which contributed to the continued existence of poor quality passenger and freight services we have today. Who would have believed that those rail/bus combinations – the “Pacers” – would still be running.

That said, there were successes – on both the passenger and freight motive power fronts, but with a 10-year gap between the last genuine BR type – the 100 Class 60 locomotives, and the imported General Motors Class 66. These latter were built between 1998 and 2003, and developed from the privately run Foster-Yeoman owned Class 59 diesels, introduced the year that the BR strategy was published.

Read on ….

Engine Number 23468

This was an 0-6-0 goods locomotive, built by the North British Locomotive Co at its Queens Park Works, in Glasgow in 1926. It was produced about ½ way though order L821, awarded to North British in 1926.

NBL Plate copy

Order L821 consisted of 25 of these locomotives, carrying works numbers 23456 – 23480, and became part of the LMS company’s standard fleet of 0-6-0 goods tender locomotives, when Henry Fowler was that company’s CME. No fewer than 80 of what became the LMS standard 4F goods engine were built by North British, along with numerous ‘Jinty’ tank engines, and of course, the famous ‘Royal Scot’ class locos. The LMS had a strong supplier/partner relationship with North British in the 1920s, and the orders helped to keep the company in business during the traumatic years of the 1920s and 1930s.

Read on ….

Class 210 – New Generation DMU – Doomed to Fail?

Back in 1978, British Rail’s fleet of 1950s design diesel multiple units was ageing rapidly, and alongside a refurbishment programme, BR was designing and building its second-generation dmus – the Class 210.

210 001 December 29 1982

Unit 210 001 on a test run near Sonning Cutting on the WR main line on 29th December 1982. Photo Courtesy: Stephen Dance

Its design was almost literally built on existing components and architecture, using mechanical parts developed for other passenger rolling stock, with bodywork matched to the then ‘new’ Mark III Inter-City passenger coach. They were of course built by BR’s manufacturing arm “British Rail Engineering Ltd.”, which at its 12 and more workshops employed almost 40,000 people.

Read on ….

Vulcan Foundry – 120 Years On

Yes, I know it actually pre-dates 1898, by almost 70 years, and was there as a driving force of Britain’s industrial revolution, and global industrialisation.  The railway workshops and foundries had been established some years earlier, in 1830, by Charles Tayleur of Liverpool, who was joined in 1832 by Robert Stephenson.  As Tayleur & Stephenson, working from the foundry at Newton-le-Willows, almost alongside the Liverpool to Manchester Railway.

Vulcan Foundry -

“Wheeling” an English Electric Type 4 (BR Class 40) at Vulcan Foundry, and slightly hidden to the right is one of the electric locos built for South African Railways during the 1950s.

This world famous company was formally established as Vulcan Foundry Ltd in 1898, based at Newton-le-Willows, almost alongside the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, and within a short distance of  the principal Anglo-Scottish main railway line.  The diagram above shows some of the key connections between Vulcan, its acquistion – almost 60 years later – by English Electric of Preston, and on to form part of the GEC Traction empire.

Vulcan ad logo

Read on ….. 

Gloucester RC& W Co. – Diesel Multiple Units for BR

As we know the history of the design and operation of diesel – or is it oil-engine powered? – multiple unit trains can be traced back well beyond nationalisation in 1948, although their use was not widespread in Britain until the mid 1950s. Today, we can see their most recent developments in the fixed formation sets operated over long distance routes on today’s networks, such as those of the Virgin Voyager design.

It can be argued that the real ancestry can be seen in such as the experimental Michelin railcar and the Beardmore 3-car unit for the LMS in the 1930s, and the various streamlined GWR railcars of the same period. Whilst the idea of a self-propelled passenger vehicle, in the shape of numerous steam rail motors, was adopted by a number of the pre-grouping companies from around the turn of the 19th/20thcentury. (The earliest steam motor coach can be traced to 1847 – at the height of the so-called ‘Railway Mania’.).


No. W55003 at Toddington on 6th June 2013, and undergoing restoration on Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway. Photo: Amos Wolfe

The factory where these and many others were built closed in 1986, with loss of jobs and rail engineering skills, but the company’s 1stgeneration DMUs for the BR Modernisation Plan of the 1950s still have a great role to play in the 21stCentury.

Gloucester RCW Factory from the air copy

Read on ….. 

Darjeeling For Two

The British love affair with India continues to this day, and perhaps no more fittingly than with the steam locomotives still at work on its railways. Well, even in the subcontinent they are now almost a thing of the past. The British commitment to steam is matched with a passion for tea and in the foothills of the Himalayas. a picturesque and extensive 2ft 0ins gauge line was built in the days of the Raj.

DHR Train on loop - Historical Railway Images copy

A very recent shot taken in December 2017 shows the classic DHR train kaking its way up the line – although in this view, there doesn’t appear to be anyone sat on the front of the engine dropping sand onto the rails. Photo Courtesy: Historical Railway Images

The hill country of India gives a pleasant respite from the intense heat of the plains, and in some of these exotic locations the Empire stationed resting troops, and many expatriate civilians lived and worked, as the British Empire spread its tentacles across more than half of the world. In construction and operation the Darjeeling and Himalaya Railway is about as far removed from ‘typically British’ practice, as it is perhaps possible to be.

The original line, opened in 1881, winding its 50+ miles leisurely northwards and upwards in a series of frequent loops, ‘double bow knots’, and some sections of almost straight track – but not many!

North British Order L587 copy

Ordered from the North British Loco Co in 1913, and built in the Atlas Works as works numbers 20641 and 20642 this pair of pacific types was referred to by NBL as the type S713, and by the DHR as ‘Class C’. Only two of this outside framed pacific design were built by the company, and one of them is preserved as a static exhibit at the Head Quarters Office of the North East Frontier Railway (NFR), Guwahati.                                                                                                        ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections

Electrification 1970s v 21st Century

Back in 1974, British Rail completed a major electrification between Crewe and Glasgow, and introduced a new timetable on 6th May that year.  This project was planned back in the mid 1950s, with the modernisation plan, which also included both the West and  East Coast routes.  Until 1966, when the London Euston to Manchester and Liverpool was completed, cash strapped BR was forced to delay the East Coast route, but in only 8 years the remaining length of the West Coast was completed.

BR Elec News 1974Today – or rather back in 2013 – work began on electrifying the railway between London Paddington and Cardiff, and planned for completion by 2018, a distance of just 145 miles, and now it has been put back to 2024.  The decision to electrify the line was taken in 2009 by the Dept for Transport, but it was beset with management/organisational problems almost from the word go, and the National Audit Office made some critical observations.

Towards Nationalisation

The ‘Big Four’ railway companies had all been under state control during the Second World War, and largely expected to return to private ownership and pre-war operation and management from 1945. However, the political landscape changed radically with a Labour Government in office, and the cultural and social impact of the war had dramatically affected the mood of everyone.

Although it had been something of a struggle, from Herbert Morrison’s early speeches in late 1945 to Parliament to outline how the process would bring all inland transport within public ownership.

An interesting comment made by him in November 1945 is worth recalling:

“It is the intention of the Government to introduce, during the life of the present Parliament, Measures designed to bring transport services, essential to the economic well-being of the nation, under public ownership and control.”

BR & The Future - cover


In 1948 the railways of Britain were nationalised – and so were the railways in Argentina. Ours under Clement Atlee, theirs under Juan Peron, but the similarity and connections don’t end there, because many of Argentina’s railways were constructed, operated and owned by British businessmen.

Of course, Britain’s steam loco builders were always going to provide the lion’s share of motive power, and other equipment, with such extensive business investment in Latin America.

North British Order L182

North British Loco Co. built 12 of these 2-cylinder compound 4-6-0s, designated “Class 12A”, they were built at the company’s Atlas Works in Glasgow. They were built to order L182 in 1906, and carried works numbers 17436-47. Photo Courtesy: ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections

There were in fact a total of eight British owned railways that became vested in the Argentine State Railways by 1948. Four of these were broad, 5ft 6ins gauge, two standard gauge, and two metre gauge. The largest of the former British owned railways was the Buenos Aires Great Southern, and most of its locomotives were supplied by Beyer Peacock, Vulcan Foundry, North British, Robert Stephenson & Co., Nasmyth Wilson, Hawthorn Leslie, and Kitson.

BAGS Class 12 4-6-0 copy2

Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway – BAGS Class 12 4-6-0 2-cylinder compound locomotive, built by Beyer Peacock in Manchester Gorton, the type was used extensively on passenger and mixed traffic duties. Photo Courtesy: Historical Railway Images

It was Beyer Peacock, Vulcan Foundry, and North British Loco Co that supplied the many hundreds of steam types for Argentina, and these covered each of the different gauges, from the 5ft 6ins, broad gauge, to 4ft 8 1/2ins standard gauge, metre and even narrow gauge types. They included both simple and compiund expansion types, rigid frame and articulated designs.

Useful Links:

VF Logo

Historical Rly Images logo

Electro-Diesels are Back

No – I know this is not the same!  But any opportunity to highlight the centenary of the formation of the UK’s own English Electric Co. seems OK.

Hitachi Class 802 at Doncaster Depot

Hitachi Class 802 for Transpennine Express at Hitachi’s Doncaster depot.

The new Hitachi built Bi-Mode trains for Trans Pennine Express are a lot more sophisticated than the English Electric built electro-diesels for BR’s Southern Region in the 1960s, but the principle is the same – isn’t it?  Taking power from an external electrified contact system and having on-board diesel engines when on non-electrified lines.

Here’s what we had in BR days:

Preston’s English Electric Co. received an order for 43 locomotives, numbered E6007-49 by BR, and designated Type JB. which later became classes 73/1 and 73/2 respectively.  As electric types, each 1,600hp loco took power from the 675V d.c. third-rail system, whilst on non-electrified lines the electro-diesel can work as a 600hp diesel-electric locomotive, powered by an English Electric Type 4 SRKT diesel engine.

EE Class 73:2 No 6021

Class 73/2 No. E6021, and one of the few that never carried a name, on a typical transfer freight duty. Photo: RPB Collection

Here’s what Hitachi have delivered:

The first of the “Nova 1” (class 802) trains arrived at Southampton on the 11th June 2018, and was successfully tested between Darlington and Doncaster in a 5-car set this month (July).  Further testing is planned for the TPE route in the North of England and Scotland over the coming months.  Also appearing in July 2018 are the new Hitachi Class 385 trains for the Glasgow Queen Street-Edinburgh Waverley route via Falkirk High. More class 385 trains  will be phased in over the coming months, before being extended to other routes across the Central Belt.


An account of rail travel in the 21st Century

Just for Fun!

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, travelling by train was a real adventure – for adults and children alike – then the march of progress delivered us the excitement of motorway travel, speed, convenience and personal choice. Today we have anti-social trains, with connections between travellers limited to a few seats in each open carriage or coach, with vast majority of travellers – especially over medium and longer distances facing an immovable plastic wall, commonly known as the back of the seat in front. This wall, rarely more than a few centimetres in front of the face becomes your friend and companion for hours – yes there are windows – but there are also some of these aircraft style seats which are located next to a blank wall.

Over The Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass

By the early 1920s, both English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers were very successful in wining contracts around the world, mostly in the British Colonies. In the far east, English Electric had won major orders in Japan and New Zealand, whilst Metropolitan-Vickers had been awarded contracts to supply locomotives for the first main line electrification project in South Africa.

Freight Train on embankment

Furthest away from home, the New Zealand electrification scheme was a “comprehensive contract”, awarded to English Electric, for the conversion to electric traction of the line from Arthur’s Pass to Otira on the South Island.


Nice shot of the sole remaining English Electric Bo-Bo from the first electrification in New Zealand 95 years ago, as now preserved.                                                                                                                                        Photo: Matthew25187 at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The contract involved the installation of catenary through what was at the time, the longest railway tunnel in the British Empire. The tunnel, 5.5 miles long, on a ruling gradient of 1 in 33, was hewn out of the solid rock, beneath Arthur’s Pass in the Southern Alps. The route itself was very important, linking two of the South Island’s provinces, Canterbury and Westland, and the towns of Christchurch and Greymouth.


Whilst it is the anniversary this year of the end of steam on BR, in 1968, just 20 years earlier, a series of comparative trials took place across the country, to analyses what was then the best in steam traction design, construction and operation.  Not surprisingly, these trials – which took place between April and August 1948, were latched on to by enthusiasts – as a form of competition to see which railway had the best steam types.

City of Glasgow on 1st Caledonian 17th June 1957

A classic shot of a classic pacific – although 46236 “City of Bradford” was used in the 1948 trials. Seen here is sister loco 46242 “City of Glasgow” on the inaugural run of The Caledonian in June 1957. Photo: RPB Collection

RPB 220_Lens of Sutton

‘A4’ Class No. 60004 “William Whitelaw” at York on an enthusiasts’ special in the 1960s. As an express passenger type, it was natural to choose one of Gresley’s A4s, but 60022 “Mallard” did not acquit herself well, and was substituted by 60033/34 for the Interchanges.                                         Photo Courtesy: Lens of Sutton

70 years ago, a series of trials took place on the newly nationalised British railway network, to contrast and compare the best elements of the locomotive engineering design, and practice used by railways across Britain. Well, at least that was the plan.

EPSON scanner image

Ex-Great Western ‘Modified Hall’ 4-6-0 entering Marylebone during the 1948 Exchange Trials View northward just outside the terminus of the ex-GC London – Leicester – Sheffield main line. No. 6990 ‘Witherslack Hall’ was on test on the 08.25 from Manchester London Road via Sheffield Victoria, during the trials of Mixed Traffic locomotives.   © Copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

The trials led, eventually to the new BR Standard steam locomotives, and covered espress passenger, mixed traffic and freight types, including a selection of some of the latest designs, WD ‘Austerity’ types, and some traditional designs.  The process was not particularly controversial, but new steam locomotives in the 1950s – especially as diesel and electric traction had already been established, and was developing rapidly.

A Postscript to Piggyback Freight

The Piggyback Consortium proposal was tied to the ‘modernisation’ of the West Coast Main Line, and detailed in Railtrack’s proposal “A Railway for the Twenty First Century”, published in March 1995.

WCML Modernisation - cover

At the same time, the Government was busy preparing Railtrack for privatisation, and the Thrall Car Company were established in the old BR works at York – this is what they said in their brochure at the time:

Sadly, the BR works at York closed in 1996, but was re-opened in 1997, with Thrall Car Manufacturing Co.  The company had received an order from EWS for around £200 million to build 2,500 wagons, including steel coil carriers, coal hoppers, box and container flat wagons. Sadly, this was the only major order received at York, and Thrall’s successor – Trinity Industries – closed the plant in 2002, with the loss of 260 jobs.

Europspine 1?

In original guise, Thrall’s spine wagons were publicised like this

.Thrall and Babcock Rail’s lack of success with the spine wagon idea, was largely as a result of the lack of take up commercially of the piggyback innovation, for domestic and international services, along with unresolved national problems around transport policy, never fully resolved.

What Happened to Piggyback Freight?

Almost 25 years ago I wrote a piece for a popular rail industry/enthusiast magazine about the exciting new developments in freight train technology, but sadly, the plan never came to fruition.

Piggyback Feature CoverHere’s something of what I wrote back then:

“The past few years have seen some important changes in the way rail freight services are operated throughout Europe – changes which have not been implemented so rapidly or effectively in Britain. It is perhaps more than 30 years since radical changes were proposed and implemented on British Rail, in the aftermath of the Beeching Plan. In 1996, though, the introduction of the Babcock Rail/Thrall piggyback vehicles offers the scope to attract a wider range of freight traffics back to rail network.

Freight nowadays travels commonly in ISO containers, and despite Freightliner services, and fragmented developments of long haul freight, hundreds of articulated lorries are a common sight on Britain’s motorways, often carrying single containers. The more recent introduction of piggyback and swap body vehicles has improved the railway’s ability to attract traffic from the roads, but its adoption in the UK has been much slower than the rest of Europe. A particular example of the successful development of such intermodal services, are the trans-Alpine piggyback workings, where articulated lorries and their trailers have been a feature for some time. In the UK, a Piggyback Consortium was established a couple of years ago, largely inspired by Eurotunnel, and seeking ways to establish a corridor between the Channel Tunnel, Scotland and Ireland, using the West Coast Main Line.   A variety of other freight forwarders, joint ventures, and other business combinations have been set up in recent times, with a view to exploiting the through running offered following the completion of the tunnel.”

Back in 1993, shortly after the privatisation of British Rail, the freight services operated by BR’s freight sectors were taken over by the American owned EWS Railway – or English, Welsh & Scottish if you prefer.  At that time, the physical infrastructure was owned by Railtrack, and neither of these “businesses” were a success, and yet the prospect of 1992’s “Big Bang” – the European single market appeared to open up possibilities.

Babcock Rail pocket wagon with curtain Side Trailer

InterCity Rail in Britain – A Landmark Paper – 25 Years On

No, this is not about the integrated services across the UK today – since there is no InterCity Rail in 2018, but it is almost 25 years ago to the day, that Chris Green, Managing Director of BR’s InterCity sector gave a speech to the Royal Society on 23rd June 1993.

Future of InterCity Rail coverIn 1993 this was the sector of British Rail that received no subsidies from Government, but disappeared on the fragmentation of the rail industry that occurred following the implementation of the EU Directive for separation of operations from infrastructure. That the UK chose the worst possible way to achieve this, still causes repercussions today – and the apparent ‘infighting’ between Network Rail, Northern Rail, and Govia Thameslink, etc.

Chris green made an interesting statement in his early paragraphs in this speech:

“We should be clear from the beginning that it is now government policy to cease operating a national Intercity passenger network and to fragment the services into seven train companies from April 1994. A nationalised Railtrack organisation is being created to own and maintain railway infrastructure from 1994.”

That the plan was for 7 – yes, 7 – different train operators to run the services that were in the 1990 to 1994 period operated as a single entity seems in itself a rash policy. Has it worked – either in terms of passenger receipts, economies driven through inter-company competition, providing new rolling stock and services? Well the answer is mostly no, but it certainly added complexity to train travel on long distance services and connecting feeder/secondary lines.

BR’s Last Main Line Diesel Hydraulic Locomotives

BR Class 14 new at Swindon 1964Just about 50 years ago, 43 of the 56 ill-fated diesel-hydraulic 0-6-0s built at Swindon Works were withdrawn, 3 more in February and March 1969, and the final 10 in May 1969.  These ‘Type 1’s were designated main line locomotives, intended primarily for shunting and trip freight work, initially in South and Mid-Wales, and later classified ’14’ in the TOPS renumbering scheme.

BR Class 14 new at Swindon 1964 1 cropped

As the only B.R. Type 1 locomotives to have a hydraulic transmission, should they really have been built at all?

They were intended to replace the 0-6-2 tank locomotives working the Welsh valleys lines, which from a freight traffic perspective served mainly the coal mines.  It was decided that these rigid frame Type 1 diesels would be better than the Type 2s, which were much more powerful.

The Northern Nightmare – An Insoluble Puzzle?

Scots Guardsman Dalton_2337 copyWhatever you read in the media about railways in the north these days – whether it’s North West or North East, we see to have accepted that this was unforeseen, almost as if there was no plan. Now it seems the timetable problems have created a political North West versus North East skirmish, between councillors in Newcastle and the Regional Director of Northern Rail.

6 months ago we heard very little about timetable problems, cancelled or massively delayed trains, nor did we hear too much about shortages of trained train crews, but at the same time Government was advertising the biggest investment since the 1800s.


From Preston to Japan

I watched a TV programme the other day about building nuclear submarines, and how the UK’s skills shortages had badly affected the availability of engineering skills in general.   It put me in mind of the reach of railway engineering skills and products from English Electric, and Preston in Lancashire.

Japan Electrified mapThis part of Britain was the birthplace and development of diesel and electric rail traction and a powerhouse of innovation and world leading development.  Against the background of the world’s economic depression in the late 1920s and 1930s, English Electric were successful in winning an order from Japan, for the Imperial Government Railways.

More ……..

12C – Metamorphosis – An Update

The early developments at Barrow-in-Furness are clearly shown in this extract from the 1873 OS Map of the town.  The first proper station and the second engine shed, together with the works are found close to the point where the first iron ore shipments were sent off by sailing ship, from a jetty at “Rabbit Hill”.  The lower left corner of this map shows part of the original Timber Pond and the land where the final Barrow MPD would be built.

1873 OS Map

“Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland”

All of the land to the north of Salthouse Road would become housing, as the town of Barrow-in-Furness grew rapidly, and the railway company’s works would continue expanding until around the turn of the century.

A fascinating story – read more.

NW Steam Spot – “Austin 7” LMS 0-8-0s

Updated – new photos

Perhaps to be considered as one of nature’s ugly ducklings, the Fowler 0-8-0s built for the LMS from 1929, were intended as an update of the “Super D2” 0-8-0s of LNWR origin. The two inside cylinders were operated by Walschaerts valve gear, and the boiler pressed to work at 200 lb/sq in, was fitted with a superheater to provide 342 sq ft of’ heating surface. The boiler itself was basically the same as that fitted to the ex LNWR. locos, but with modifications to the valve gear including the use of long lap, long travel valves, and smaller diameter cylinders.

49618 - peter Rigby - Facebook

49618 “on shed” at 26F (Oldham Lees) – judging by the early BR “totem” on the side of the adjacent tank engine, this may be before 1956. Lees was this loco’s last shed before withdrawal.  (Photo courtesy: Peter Rigby)

They were lighter in all up weight than their old LNW counterparts, and nominally slightly more powerful than the Super Ds. Curiously the Hughes designed 0-8-0 for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railways were – in terms of tractive effort at least – the most powerful of this type, but rather cruelly nicknamed “Sea Pigs”.

NW Steam Spot – “Royal Scot” 4-6-0s

What can be said about these locomotives that has not already been said at one time or another? It may be difficult to see that these engines were particularly associated with the north-west area of British Railways’ London Midland Region, but in BR days they were to be found in by far their greatest numbers at North West depots.

Scots Guardsman Oxenholme_2324 copyThis is just a snapshot of some of their details and where they worked across the North West area of the London Midland Region of British Railways, and where they were based between 1950 and 1964.

12C – Metamorphosis of an Engine Shed – Barrow-in-Furness

Towards the end of 1979 – almost 40 years ago now – all locomotive inspection, maintenance, and fuelling operations ceased to be carried out at the former British Railways locomotive depot at Barrow-in-Furness. The shed itself had remained largely derelict for some time, and had only been used as a fuelling point.

This facility was provided from 1979 at the north end of Barrow station, in what had been the coach storage sidings for many years. Thus, what had been a 10-road motive power depot, along with all its facilities, from repair workshops and offices, had been reduced to a single road fuelling and inspection point, with a bare minimum of capability for minor repairs and maintenance.


Siemens TrainguardToday, the current Transport Minister Chris Grayling said that as a result of the “digital rail revolution”:

“Trains will become faster, more frequent, more punctual and safer through the introduction of new digital technology on the rail network.”


And he went on to say:

“Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Network Rail Chief Executive Mark Carne will today (10 May 2018) launch Network Rail’s Digital Railway Strategy and commit to ensuring all new trains and signalling are digital or digital ready from 2019. They will also set out that they want to see digital rail technology benefiting passengers across the network over the next decade.”

London to Bordeaux – High-Speed Rail

It was announced recently that the owners of the UK’s only high-speed rail line, and link to the Channel Tunnel and beyond are proposing to introduce a service between London and Bordeaux.

DSC_7833-Gare-de-BordeauxWell, after London to Amsterdam began at the beginning of April 2018, I guess there ought to be another service.

But the older TMST trains are now being withdrawn and disposed of, and the UK still has no effective international services beyond London.  This was what was on offer 30 years ago, and yet now all we have is two extra routes from London to a couple more places – in the Netherlands and south-west France.

Blue Pullman – A Fascinating Failure?

Back in the early post-nationalisation years, there were still a number of Pullman train workings operated on British Railways, including the famous “Brighton Belle” and “Devon Belle” trains, with passengers carried for a supplementary fare.  The traditional pullman coaches were operated by the Pullman Car Co., and manned by staff who were not employed by BR, but the private company.   These services were carried on for a time in the early 1950s, but were both uneconomic and an anachronism in the run up to BR’s “Modernisation Programme”, and the changeover from steam to diesel and electric traction.

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Then, in 1960, a new and unexpected Pullman service appeared, with trains ordered by the British Transport Commission (BTC), as it took control of the British Pullman Car Co. – which was subject to a number of debates in Parliament.  Six years earlier, in 1954 the discussions centred on the financial prospects for the Pullman Car Co. and the problems that would ensue after its franchise – yes, franchise! – expired in 1962.  The Government were concerned about the future of all supplementary fare Pullman services, and how, or if the BTC should absorb this private operator on the national railway system.

Alan Lennox-Boyd, Minister of Transport made this observation in a debate on 27th May 1954:

“The Commission has said that it does not intend that there should be any alteration in the control and operation of the Pullman cars, nor that the specialised services given by the Pullman Car Company should be altered in any way whatsoever. The Commission adds that it is its intention to continue the Pullman car service and to give consideration to the extension of this facility to other lines throughout the country.”

Why on earth would BTC / BR pay for and operate a new Pullman service in the nationalised railway era??


GEC TRaction Photo SP 8671

As new, the Metro-Vicks were given some pretty severe tests before entering service. This view clearly shows the original “wrap-around” windows. (GEC Traction /RP Bradley Collection)

In July 2018, it will be 60 years since what have been described as the ‘ugly ducklings’ of BR’s ‘Pilot Scheme’ diesels first appeared. They were the only type built on a 2-axle and 3-axle bogie layout, and the first to appear without the almost mandatory nose, or bonnet, following the ex-LMS examples of 10,000 and 10,001.

Yes, I know there was a flat nosed ex-Southern Railway design too.

However, the Metro-Vick Co-Bo Type 2 was intended to be a major option included in the British Railways’ 174 pilot scheme types, for testing and approval before placing further orders to replace steam traction.
The asymmetrical wheelbase of the Metro-Vick design was not its downfall. This proved to be the 2-stroke 1,200hp diesel engine produced by Crossley, and only a couple of years after their introduction a plan was hatched to provide them with English Electric power.

Hest Bank - Mandy SharpeAll were withdrawn from operational service by the Autumn of 1968, although the single example that survived became the subject of a rescue and restoration exercise, currently in progress at Bury on the East Lancashire Railway. For a complex locomotive the restoration work is equally complex.


The 19 week programme to electrify the line from Preston to Blackpool North has – it seems – finally been completed, and on 16th April, the new service is now planned to start.  The programme was extended by a 3 weeks – and according to Network Rail, the major cause of the delay was the extreme bad weather in March.

PROJECT UPDATE: Blackpool North line to reopen on Monday 16 April

So, the project has overrun by 16% – but at least it is now finished.  Services to Blackpool stopped on 11th November and were due to restart on the 26th March – in good time for the start of the Easter holidays and the tourist season.

New York Central Giants

J1E Hudson No. 5344 streamlinerThe legend and romance of railroading and steam power has perhaps never been expressed as eloquently as it was in the USA.

On the eastern seaboard, the New York Central served some of the most prestigious cities in the eastern states, including its namesake, and with some of the most famous named express passenger trains.

This railroad also boasted a design of locomotive, too, whose fame is ranked alongside the legendary Gresley A4 Pacifics of the LNER.
The engines in question were the ‘J’ series of 4-6-4s, the Hudsons, whose design, construction, and appearance was eye-catching to say the least – especially the streamlined versions,

Read more …..

Underfunding & Cancelled Electrification

IMG_0903On Thursday 29th March, the UK’s “National Audit Office” released the results of its investigation into why the UK Government, and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling chose to cancel electrification projects.  Back at the start of CP5, Network Rail stated that electrification was a strategic top priority, with £3 billion in schemes to be carried out between 2014 and 2019.

In 2017 the Government then decided that three of those schemes were to be cancelled, because:

“… the Secretary of State explained that the projects were cancelled on the basis that it was were no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.”

Perhaps the most telling statement in the NAO Press Release is this one:

“The NAO investigation identifies that that it is too early to determine whether the Department will still be able to deliver the benefits of electrification without these electrification projects in place.”

NAO Press Release


Network Rail’s Upgrade Plan

According to their latest Tweets and New Releases, Network Rail’s “Railway Upgrade Plan” is the biggest investment and engineering project/programme of projects since Victorian times.  Now I know that’s a bit of a stretch, but…


The video is imaginative and entertaining.

The Class 50 is 50 this year

Image From brochureIn the same year that the company celebrates its centenary – yes I know it no longer exists! – it is 50 years since the final EE built diesel-electric locomotive was delivered to British Rail.  They were ordered in 1967 and delivered in the space of a year, between 1967 and 1968, and described in glowing terms by the contemporary railway press as:

“The 50 English Electric Type 4 locomotives of 2,700 hp now entering service with the London Midland Region of British Railways as the D400 class represent a significant step forward in traction engineering because they embody a number of features combined for the first time in one design.”

English Electric were the principal suppliers of diesel and major electric traction equipment in the post-war years into the 1950s, but their dominance was under threat from changes in the AEI Group companies, which included Metropolitan-Vickers.  But the 1960s proved a watershed in the UK rail industry, and for English Electric.

Network Rail – Lots of Alliances

oxford-17-block-0215-768x384A Prior Information Notice (PIN) was published by Network Rail yesterday in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), for a tender exercise covering design and construction of track works on plain line track and switches and crossings. Alongside this the scope of work will include surveying, drainage, investigations and installation works for foundations, traction power, signalling systems, station and lineside works.

Well, everything associated with the infrastructure really.

English Electric – A Centenary Appreciation

gec074In 1918 one of the UK and world’s most famous engineering companies was born – The English Electric Company Limited. In the year of its formation, it acquired the Coventry Ordnance Works Ltd., and the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company Ltd.; most importantly though – the shares of Dick, Kerr & Co. were exchanged for shares in the new business. At the time of its formation, it was fast becoming Britain’s major manufacturer in electrical technology, especially in tramways, light railways and general electrical engineering.

Snow = Subsidy for TOCs ?

As the so-called “Beast from the East” delivers its fall of snow across England’s southern and eastern counties, train services are delayed or cancelled.

According to a news report on the BBC, Network Rail is paying compensation to Train Operating Companies (TOCs) when services have to be cancelled.

This seems to be like paying Marks & Spencer compensation if bad weather prevents enough customers from buying clothes or food from their stores.


Back in 2002, Virgin Trains started operating the new “Pendolino” trains.  That year saw the beginnings of the use of a great deal of new rail engineering technology, and the prestigious UK journal “Engineering” carried a series of features.

Rail e2 Engineering 2002The link above will take you to articles that were written at that time, covering some of the aspects of the ‘new technology’ as it – literally – began to be rolled out.

Flying By Rail

Exactly 20 years ago, in the Spring of 1998, the German Government approved the project to build the world’s first high-speed maglev railway line.  The plan was to link Berlin and Hamburg with what was effectively a development of British Railways Research Dept., and Professor Eric Laithwaite’s “Linear Rotating Machine”.  The invention by Eric Laithwaite took place in the 1960s, and a little over 30 years later, in 1997, the world record speed for this form of traction achieved a speed of 450 km/hr.  In effect, rendering the Japanese ‘bullet’ trains to what might be described as ‘semi-fast’!!

Transrapid 08 for DBaG_Close View


Some 25 years or more ago, an unfortunate BR spokesman when asked about why snow was affecting trains, causing delays and cancellations, replied with the immortal phrase indicating it was …. “the wrong kind of snow”.

March 1993 - Wrong Kind of Snow - 2Naturally, this provoked a flurry of commentary by the newspaper media, and even TV and radio, but with little attention to detail or consideration of facts.  At the time, the electrified railways in the south of England were hampered as much by the use of 3rd rail contact systems; a technology dating from pre First World War days, as by anything the weather could provide.

But, in a feature for ‘Electrical Review’ in 1993, I wanted to explore the problem further, and wrote the article below.  It’s interesting to see how Britain tackled the problem compared with our European neighbours, who had far worse conditions to deal with.  So, are we any better at out today than we were then…. maybe I’ll have a look at this after our next bout of “arctic blast” – due next week I believe.

The Great North Rail Project

Manc-preston-OLEAs part of Network Rail’s £1 billion, 25-year “Railway Upgrade Plan” there are 7 projects that form the  “Great North Rail Project” sub-project which is intended to be complete by 2022 – only 4 years from now.  They include:

  • Liverpool City Region upgrade
  • Manchester to Preston improvements
  • Preston to Blackpool North
  • Transpennine Route upgrade
  • West Yorkshire signalling upgrade
  • Ordsall Chord
  • Calder Valley improvements

These seven projects are highlighted as the infrastructure improvements in the north of England.  Fair enough, Network Rail doing infrastructure work – but these projects seem to suggest Network Rail may be providing new trains – in particular there is a reference to those trains as part of the “Railway Upgrade Plan”.

Old Oak Common – An HS2 Station!

Fascinating.  It has been announced that bidders for the design and construction of this new station – along with Euston – were announced on 6th February.


Old Oak Common Depot’s open day in 2017 featured a ‘Legends of the Great Western’ line up to show the changes in motive power over the depot’s 111 years.  Photo (c) Geof Sheppard

Many of us remember this site as the motive power depot on the old Great Western Railway, and Western Region of BR.  Never considered it as a station, but now included in the HS2 list of stations between London and Birmingham – or Phase 1 – and as well as allowing passengers to transfer from the new line to Birmingham to local services, it will provide a connection to HS1.   Hmm – wonder if the new e320 Eurotunnel trains will be able to provide services through to other parts of the UK.

Not So High-Speed Northern Rail

Last month (November), the Government published its vision paper on rail, entitled Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail”, extolling the virtues of the latest UK plans for ‘modernising” the rail infrastructure and services. It sets great store by the increased investment already made, against the backdrop of ever increasing passenger numbers, much of which is accurate.

Strategy Paper coverAt the same time it makes some bizarre statements about cuts in journey times of 15 minutes between Liverpool and Manchester that are simply not borne out by facts. Here’s what it says on page 21 of the published document:

  • “2.18  This investment in rail networks in the North of England has already delivered improvements, with the fastest journey between Liverpool and Manchester cut by 15 minutes, new direct services between Manchester Airport and Glasgow, and Manchester Victoria station upgraded.

It carefully avoids any comparison with a figure for earlier years, so we are left to wonder if they mean the journey is 15 minutes quiker compared with 1947, 1957, or 1977.

Lacklustre Performance Continues

There is a lot of waffle in the 21st century surrounding the measurement of train performance and punctuality.   This is what the public see today:

Public Performance Measure” (PPM) – defined as the percentage of  trains arriving at their terminating station within five minutes for commuter services and within 10 minutes for long distance services.”

See: Public Performance Measure

However, ‘on time’ means within five minutes of the scheduled destination arrival time for regional operators, or within ten minutes for long-distance operators”

So, in 2017, with this definition of ‘on time’ it actually means being LATE!

Confusing Statistics

I know its boring, but I couldn’t help myself today – with the flurry of news about East Coast franchising and Chris Grayling’s announcement on the government Transport Strategy I had a sneaky browse through some ONS statistics on railways.

One table in particular made me smile, it was preceded with this heading:

“K33U Railway locomotives and rolling stock up to and including May 2016”

ONS Search box

70 Years On & Still Little Improvement in Train Punctuality

Network Rail announced the last 4 weeks punctuality figures recently, and noted that 574,856 passenger trains were operated in total, which is actually 8,733 less than a comparable period (September) 1947.  And that was with steam trains!

1947 Timekeeping

The 1947 figures were actually published in Hansard in response to a question from an MP during a debate in the weeks following the assent given to the Transport Act 1947.  Royal Assent was given to the bill on 6th August 1947.

The ‘Big Four’ railways had been subsidised by the Government during the war, and whilst controversy continued in the post war era about compensation for the companies’ shareholders, one or two of the companies were almost bankrupt by 1939.  Their operational performance had suffered badly due to equipment in appalling sites of repair, and ongoing minimal maintenance – it’s a wonder that by 1947, they were able to run trains at all.

30 Years of Docklands Light Railway (DLR) – New Trains To Come

This month TfL has announced the 4 pre-qualified bidders to design and build the new trains for the DLR including Alstom, CAF, Bombardier and a Siemens consortium, with the contract due to be placed in autumn 2018, and delivery in 2022.  5 Years to deliver 43 ‘walk-through’ trains, replacing the existing stock, and including features such as on-board real-time information, air-conditioning and mobile device charging points.

DLR at Canary Wharf Station

DLR unit 23 at the Canary Wharf Station in today’s livery – (c) Transport for London

It is worth remembering that 2017 also marked the 30th anniversary of the opening of the DLR by HM The Queen on 30th July 1987, and in the same year, GEC-Mowlem were awarded a £50 million contract to extend the line, even before it was opened.  All of this was in response to the huge level of investment in reshaping London’s Docklands – a process that continues to this day.

GEC-Mowlem were tasked with designing, building, and handing over to the DLR, a fully operational railway, and within a cash limit of £60 million, following placement of the order in 1984.

This was achieved in 3 years, so why does it now take 5 years to provide new rolling stock?

Closing the Blackpool Line

Today, 10th November 2017, it has been announced that the line from Preston to Blackpool is to be closed for 19 weeks, to carryout ‘electrification works’, and a replacement bus service will operate instead.  But not all of the line is to be electrified, since only the ‘northern’ route via Poulton will receive the overall benefit, whilst the coastal line through Lytham, St Annes and Blackpool South will remain non-electrified – wonder how that will affect the choice of multiple units to be used.

I imagine this must be because either Network Rail don’t have the necessary technical and management skills, or sufficient resources and experience to electrify the line whilst maintaining a train service.  However did we manage to electrify the West and East Coast main lines in the 1960s and 1980s/90s and still run a train service.

Between 11th November 2017 and 28th January 2018, no trains will run to Blackpool, Lytham, and all points in between at all.  The route to Blackpool South will re-open at the end of January, but the line from Kirkham to Blackpool North will stay closed until 25th March.

Edinburgh – Technology Beneath Your Feet

Back in the Edwardian era across Britain, many towns and cities embraced and installed tramways to provide a mass transport system.  With the arrival of the mass market motor car, fixed urban transport systems like trams rapidly went out of favour and the tracks and facilities ripped up.

Edinburgh_tram_03_first_day_of_operationEdinburgh had an extensive tramway network – no less than 24 different routes criss-crossing the city, from Joppa to Corstophine, and Granton to Liberton, with a total of more than 47 miles of route.  The first of the Edinburgh Corporation Trams began operating from July 1919, and the last tram ran on 16th November 1956.

In 2014, the new tram network opened with “Urbos”3 series vehicles from Spanish train maker CAF.  The design has been used across Europe, from Budapest and Belgrade, to Malaga, Freiburg and Utrecht, and deployed typically as 3-car or 5-car sets.  The vehicles for Edinburgh are 5-car units, and a low-floor design, with 100% wheelchair.

From “Settebello” to “Frecciabianca”

When I was about 9, my parents bought me a copy of the Ian Allan “Locospotters Annual” for Christmas, and inside were all manner of railway stories and photographs. Amongst these was a particular item about the Italian State Railways train which operated from Rome to Milan, as one of the new, post war luxury trains – this was the “Settebello”, “Beautiful Seven” or “Lucky Seven”.

Settebello at Rome

This, and a few other stories set me on course to visit and travel on a variety of European railways.

Crossrail2 Hits the Buffers?

In a press release today, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) expressed concern that Crossrail2 was not mentioned in this week’s Queen’s Speech, although commitment to HS2 was retained.

8,000 Kilometres of Railway Closed

In the UK today, we constantly hear about the massively expanding number of passengers – all supported by the statistical evidence.  Whilst it would be true to say that the route mileage – well kilometres – was most drastically cut between 1965 and 1975, with just under 6,000 km disappearing, another 2,000km plus has gone since then.

Hitachi and IEP

The UK opted to buy trains from Hitachi as replacement multiple-unit sets for the highly successful Inter-City 125 diesel trains built in BR workshops in the 1970s.  The intervening years have not been kind to the UK rail industry, with the closure and in some cases demolition of engineering design and manufacturing workshops.

Train at Stoke Gifford (2) copyIt was inevitable that the new generation of 21st Century trains would be designed and built outside the UK.

£15 billion Crossrail – Value for Money?

Having spent this eye watering sum of money how do we know we have value for money?

Train Performance – No Data Available!

Trying to find data on train performance on the punctuality of train services in this country is a nightmare!  If the figures exist they are not easily found, and some of the reports simply focus on the dumbest measures imaginable – was your journey a happy one?  Were the services you expected provided, etc., etc.

BR Punctuality 1979-81What about how many express trains arrived within 5 minutes of their booked time.

What % of trains were cancelled this year – by area, by line, by region.

Cranes No More from Carlisle

The city of Carlisle was once home to the world’s most well known crane maker – Cowans Sheldon, with their works built on the former leper hospital of St Nicholas, they began building cranes, and turntables – most notably for railways at home and all over the world. Those skills, knowledge and experience passed into history in 1987 – some 30 years ago.

USA Crane 1982In 1986, just a year before the St Nicholas works closed with the loss of 400 jobs, the company had been awarded a £4 million contract to design and build a 140tonne capacity railway breakdown crane for the Indian Government Railways.

UK Exports to China by Rail

Today we were treated by BBC Breakfast to the sight of a Class 66 locomotive, built in the USA, sporting the logo of the UK freight operator Deutsche Bahn hauling wagons, possibly built in Belgium or France about to set off on a rail journey to China.

BBC Breakfast Clip 10/4/2017

The presenter, at Thurrock described the products made in the UK that are being exported on the train to China as including pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, ‘baby products’, food, and other typically British products.

Goodbye Amtrak

This is so sad, if true. In the USA, there are so many iconic routes, and after the passenger services have been discontinued, freight could be next.

Donald Trump may scrap US rail network funding and kill popular transcontinental routes

Removing any federal funding from the rail network will be a disaster for transportation as a whole.

Freight on Rail & EU TEN-T Projects

Today we have little or no competition to run freight services on the UK rail network, and for almost the last decade there has been little expansion of the north-south core routes. Back in the 1990s, and at the turn of the century, the West Coast Main Line had been upgraded to the cost of 2.2 Billion, all prior to the introduction of tilting passenger trains and as intermodal and container traffics were expanding.

Falling Freight Services

It is disappointing to read the ORR’s latest ‘statistical release’ on ‘Freight Rail Usage’, with a wonderful little graph on page 10, which indicates the number of freight train movements has declined from 416,100 in 2003/4 to a paltry 236,300 in 2015/16.

There are several questions that this publication raises – not l;east of which is the language it is written in – which for the most part seems to include a very full economic/statistical jargon. It would be hard pressed to achieve the award for ‘plain English’! One of the more interesting to me is what is defined as a ‘freight train movement’?

Is the UK Rail Network Full ??

Recently, on a news programme, someone commented that one of the challenges the UK rail network – in support of the HS2 project – was that the current main lines are nearly full – suggesting that there were insufficient paths to run more train. Really!?

That set me thinking. Allowing for the recorded increase in passengers travelling by train in the past 15 years, could it really be true that the main lines are approaching capacity? Back in the 1950s and 1960s, despite the increase in private motoring and long distance coach travel, most people travelled by train for journeys of more than 40 miles.


We all know the trouble Southern Rail are in right now – the dispute with the RMT and ASLE&F are just part of the story with this train operating company.

It seems though that the automatic ticket issuing machines could be at risk of cyber attack, with the reduced numbers of station staff, and the remote management of the devices on stations, perhaps the IOT (Internet of Things) has its part to play too.

According to a report in “SC Magazine” (“Southern Rail ticket kiosks allegedly open to cyber-attack” ):

Information kiosks used by Southern Rail in stations with fewer staff are wide-open to cyber-attacks, according to a security researcher.

Rail Ticketing – A Complex Farce?!

In the UK, the complexity of buying the correct train ticket and knowing when to use it has turned into a farce. Why?

Complexity – A Way of Life through Technology

It seems the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) who designed and implemented the systems through ATOC are now blaming the UK Government for over regulation. Whilst many criticisms may be levelled at the UK Government, ticketing for train journeys is surely a problem of the TOC’s own making.

When I travelled more regularly by rail, I simply turned up at the station, caught the train, and bought the ticket from the guard. Or, on occasion I would go to my nearest manned station, go to the ticket office counter and buy the ticket – sometimes the day before I was due to travel.

Now, as ticket offices seem to be in decline, and maybe as guards’ ability to issue tickets may be on the way out, I am being ‘encouraged’ to buy tickets online, or through the automated machines at some stations. The latter is a real challenge – not all stations have them, not all the information needed is available on the machine, and the touch-screen displays leave a lot to be desired – they are certainly not intuitive. Just badly designed ICT systems and software.

Was Beeching the Fall Guy for workshop redundancies?

Back in the early 1960s, the Government of the day had spent millions modernising the railway network, with dieselisation and electrification schemes, which were an attempt to reduce the railway’s losses, whilst saddling the industry with massive debts. At the same time almost no attempt was made to integrate the road and rail transport businesses, with the road lobby freed from earlier restrictions, such asd the ‘C’ licences, and Marples giving free rein to build motorways without any thought for demand. Odd you might consider for a ‘free market’, and ‘competition’ driven politician.

HS2 – Useless for UK Rail Growth

We have all heard that Phase 1 of HS2 will open in 2020, and Phase 2 by 2032 … or is it 2035. So almost 20 years from now, assuming no dramatic changes to economic activity in the UK, and technology advances at the same lethargic rate, rail passengers will benefit, and numbers will grow. However, by all other measures, HS2 is overall, an economic white elephant.

1966 – Death of Darlington Loco Works

In 1962, the British Transport Commission (Railway Executive), implemented a workshop rationalisation.  The idea being to eliminate duplication, over capacity, and create a more efficient national operation.

darlington-closure-protest-marchThis was overshadowed by the “Beeching Plan”, implemented by the Government from 1963 onwards.  But, Dr Beeching was not the principal ‘bad guy’ – the real culprit was Ernest Marples, the Transport Minister.

 ***** New Publications *****

An Amtrak Retrospective

Back in 1986, I had the great pleasure of writing a book on the US National Railroad Passenger Corporation – Amtrak. This was one of the most interesting and in many ways surprising pieces of research I had done reviewing the way rail systems were operated in countries other than Britain. At the time of publication, British Rail was being underfunded to a greater degree than ever before, and competition with air and road traffic continued to take more freight and more passengers away from the nationalised rail system. Similarly aggressive completion across transportation networks was being seen in the USA, and the Class 1 railroads were suffering financially.

Amtrak Cluster

Today Amtrak is looking forward to a new fleet of 28 trains, known as “Avelia Liberty”, and will enter service in 2021, to provide both the high-speed (planned, 350 km/h (220 mph) top speed), and extra capacity on the route.

Amtrak_Composition_04 copy

Alstom’s composition of the train soon to arrive on Amtrak rails.

Investment in Amtrak and rail in general in the USA has in many ways surpassed that of the UK, and for a country stereotyped for its love of the automobile, it continues to demonstrate the benefits of a holistic transportation system.


The Last North British Type 1 Diesel

In 1958, the North British Loco Co in Glasgow delivered the first of the company’s last Type 1 diesel electric loco for British Railways, which was also one of the very last orders for the company, before its demise just four years later. Order L78 was the third of a group of four placed by BTC on 16th November 1955, and was for the ten Bo‑Bo Type 1 freight locomotives.

d8409-stratford-slide-Grahame WarehamNorth British had made an unsuccessful transition into designing and building the new form of traction, not helped by British Railways decision to commit to electric rather than hydraulic transmissions. NBL had teamed up with Voith of West Germany, and built hydraulic transmissions for the BR designed diesel-hydraulic locomotives based on the German V200 designs.

But, it must be noted that the first truly British Railways main line diesel locomotives were the North British Built “Warship” class, Nos. D600 to D604 with hydraulic transmissions and put to work on the Western Region.

Kestrel – A 50 Years Old Flight of Fancy?

Happy birthday to the world’s most powerful single engine diesel locomotive – the HS4000 – “Kestrel”. Well it was the most powerful when it began its short working life in 1968. The design also served to pioneer later used in the immensely successful HST power cars, and which still provide the Brush Traction legacy to this day.

HS4000_Derby Sulzers

HS4000 after bogie modifications at Cricklewood Open Day, 12th July 1969

50 years ago, in January 1968, Brush Electrical Machines handed over the 4,000hp Co-Co diesel locomotive to British Railways. It has been described in some quarters as a “technology demonstrator”, powered by a Sulzer 16LVA24 diesel engine, and fitted with an alternator instead of the usual generator. The traction motors were still DC, but supplied through an advanced design of silicon rectifiers, which helped increase the power output and overall performance of the power train.

 Footplate Conditions of Service


Photo (c): Colin Jacks

The steam locomotive footplate may, by and large, be seen as amongst the poorer working environments to many people, with the designs differing between the various railways, from the spartan confines of the GWR variety, to the more commodious BR Standard version. Back in the early years of the 20th Century, footplate men were fighting hard to improve both their working conditions and hours of service, including safety and rates of pay.

Leafing through a copy of the Rates of Pay and Conditions of Service for BR Staff, for the 1950s recently (dated 1958), it was surprising to see how little things had changed since 1919.

Towards Nationalisation – The Transport Act 1947

On the 6th August 1947, the “Transport Act” was given the ‘Royal Assent’, which created the Transport Commission, who were empowered to – “…to provide, or secure or promote the provision of an efficient, adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public inland transport and port facilities within Great Britain for passengers and goods …”.   This included the railways, road passenger and freight transport, docks, canals and coastal waterways, and established the Transport Consultative Committees – both national and regional – to monitor and report on the performance of the services.

BR 1948 Lion & WheelThe main management bodies were the “Executives”, and at the start these consisted of:

  1. Railway Executive
  2. Docks and inland Waterways Executive
  3. Road Transport Executive
  4. London Passenger Transport Executive

Later the Hotels Executive was set up to manage the establishments and hotels created by the former privately owned railway and transport companies around the country.

BTH Type 1 Bo-Bo – Happy 60th Birthday …. 

This design was another of the ‘Pilot Scheme’ diesels that was not so much a failure in design, but a product of the lack of clear definition of requirements, and the reliance on the electrical industry in the UK to design, and deliver systems that functioned well on the 1950s and 1960s railway. They were too, it has to be said, very much at the mercy of Government policies that were in a state of flux, and driven by the rapidly changing economy of the times.

Class 15So, we have in the BTH, or AEI if you prefer, Type 1 diesel-electric locomotive intended for use primarily on freight traffics, and especially the wagonload, and non-bulk traffics.

Class 56 – 40 Years On ….

In 2017, the last of what might be called the ‘traditional’ British style diesel locomotive achieved ‘middle age’ – the Class 56 is now 40 years old.  It is not dead, there are still quote a few around – it was the last of what may be described as the classic Brush Electrical Eng. Co. designs.  The penultimate BREL built diesel, and the last but one to be built at either Doncaster, Crewe, or any BR workshop.

56114 on MGR - Mandy Sharpe photo

“The first 30 of the Class 56 diesel-
electric Co-Co heavy freight locomotives supplied to British Rail by Brush Electrical
Machines Ltd were built by the Romania subcontractor “Electroputere”, and entered service 40 years ago. These were classed as a “Type 5” and fitted with a Ruston-Paxman 3,250 bhp (2,423 kW) 16RK3CT diesel engine, with a Co-Co wheel arrangement. The diesel engine was the final development of the old English Electric CSVT series, under the GEC Diesels badge, which brought together both English Electric and Ruston-Paxman at Newton-le-Willows.”

English Electric Traction for Japan

Back in the early 1920s, railways in many countries around the world were beginning to invest more widely in electrification projects, and Preston based English Electric were what would be described today as world leaders in this field.

Japan Railway LocoToday we have been accustomed to recognising Japan as home to very high speed trains since the early “Shinkansen” in the 1960s, and we now see electric units from Hitachi being delivered for use on railways in the UK.  Barely 40 years earlier, English Electric designed and built a new Bo-Bo electric locomotive design, and shipped them 12,000 miles to Tokyo, for the Imperial Government Railway.

Early British Railways Diesel Locomotives

In the 1970s, Britain’s railways finally put an end to the transmission war in the design of motive power, with the withdrawal or the Class 52 “Western” series diesel hydraulic locomotives.

English Electric Type 4 at Carlisle 1989The “transmission war” – electric versus hydraulic – was precipitated by British Railways in 1955 with the introduction of the ‘Modernisation and Re-equipment Programme,”


The revolutionary Birmingham Maglev Peoplemover was opened by the Queen in 1984 – and closed in 1995. The text below is how I wrote about the system in ‘Rail Bulletin’ – probably 1985. One of the original cars was reportedly sold for £100, and between 2001 and 2003, the original elevated guide way was re-used for a new horizontal cable-car link between the airport, the railway station and the NEC. Ironic that such an advanced system as ‘Maglev’ was replaced in the 21st century by what is effectively a cable car shuttle.

The Schafbergbahn

Dominating the area above the Wolfgangsee (Lake Wolfgang), is the Schafberg, from the summit of which it is possible to see some five lakes of Austria’s Lake District, and on a clear day, to Salzburg. At the top of this mountain a climber’s hut had been in place since 1839, and just over a decade after the railway was opened, a hotel was built in 1906, to provide even more facilities for the visitor.

schafbergbahn-1992-summit2After the end of the Second World War, Austrian State Railways renovated and extended the hotel and restaurant facilities, and it is still a popular stop to this day.

The LMS “Patriot” Class 4-6-0 in North West England

These 52 locomotives had a varied history, and although they can be considered as being introduced in1930, under the supervision of Henry Fowler, they were based on the ex-LNWR ‘Claughton’ class 4-6-0, and officially described as rebuilds. In Fowler’s Patriot design of1930, some locomotives retained the wheels and other chassis details of the ‘Claughton’ design.

rpb-collection2-16The intermediate traffic types so produced were also known as the “Baby Scot” class, and the similarity in design of the parallel boiler versions was unmistakeable.

One Hump or Two – Camels and Camelbacks !

Absolutely nothing to do with either Lawrence of Arabia, or the ship of the desert!! The nickname “Camelback” was attributed to a distinctly North American steam locomotive, and to all intents and purposes the design was unique to the eastern railroads of the USA, although examples could be found further afield. The most obvious distinguishing feature was the location of the driving cab, which was mounted on top of the boiler. The poor old fireman’s position was in a more or less conventional position behind the firebox and of course, much lower down – the arrangement must have made communication between the crew something of a challenge!


New York, Ontario & Western 2-6-0, No.1. (Photo courtesy Walter Kierzkowski) Source: http://www.steamlocomotive.com/camelback/nyow1.jpg

There were two different types of locomotive with a centre cab, on top of the boiler, and the most common of these were known as Camelbacks, and fitted with the Wooten type of firebox. An earlier design of centre cab engine, nicknamed Camels were designed and built by Ross Winans in the 1840s. In fact, Winans first Camel locomotive appeared in 1847, and was supplied to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. Similar Camels were supplied to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

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