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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:
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.
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 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?
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Three 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
The 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?
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.
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.
The 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.
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:
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.
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:
“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?
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.
Back 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.
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.
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:
What happened to them – and do these services still exist in some form I wonder?
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.
There 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.
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.
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:
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
One 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.).
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.
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.
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!
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.
Today – 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
.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.
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.
Here’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.
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.
In 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.
Just 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.
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.
Whatever 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.
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
This 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.
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.
Today, 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.”
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.
Well, 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.
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.
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??
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.
All 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.
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.
The 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,
On 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.”
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.
In 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.
A 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.
In 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.
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.
The 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.
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’!!
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”.
Naturally, 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.
As 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”.
Fascinating. It has been announced that bidders for the design and construction of this new station – along with Euston – were announced on 6th February.
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.
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.
At 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.
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.”
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!
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:
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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”.
This, and a few other stories set me on course to visit and travel on a variety of European railways.
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.
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.
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.
It was inevitable that the new generation of 21st Century trains would be designed and built outside the UK.
Having spent this eye watering sum of money how do we know we have value for money?
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.
What 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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
Removing any federal funding from the rail network will be a disaster for transportation as a whole.
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.
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’?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This 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 *****
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.
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.
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.
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.
Britain 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.
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.
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.
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.
North 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The main management bodies were the “Executives”, and at the start these consisted of:
- Railway Executive
- Docks and inland Waterways Executive
- Road Transport Executive
- 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.
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.
So, 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
Today 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.
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.
The “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.
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.
After 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.
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.
The 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.
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!
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.