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.
Of the diesels built since the publication of the programme, only 100 were built in the UK, and the remainder, some 547 locomotives, were supplied from the USA.
By 1991, the East Coast Main Line was completed, with the latest IC225 motive power (Class 91) operating on a fully electrified main line, the Channel Tunnel was being built and BR’s Crewe Works had built the only other electrics to appear – Class 90.
This is what BR said about the new locomotives:
“Over the next 25 years, about 1500 locomotives will have to be built to meet the increasing shortfall between the total demand for locomotives and the residue of the existing fleet
On the basis of currently approved electrification schemes this total includes:
- About 250 electrics
- About 400 passenger diesels
- About 850 freight diesels.
Further main-line electrification after completion of the East Coast route could increase the number of electrics by about 150, with a corresponding reduction in the total number of diesels. ”
So, it may be clear from what happened in the late 1980s, and on into the 1990s, there was little or no expansion in locomotive power for main line services. The fixed formation high-speed train sets brought in with the HST/IC125s expanded after the turn of the century, with the all new tilting trains – the “Pendolino”. So the likelihood of high-speed passenger diesels or electrics was a non-starter, and the lack of a co-ordinated strategy nationally during the 1990s, left the private train operators with options to buy/build on a more or less ad-hoc basis.
Under the wires, only 127 new electric locomotives were built during the years covered by the plan, compared with the 250 possible, although perhaps the “Pendolino” power cars should be included for comparison. These are all still in service today:
For freight service, equally, little or no long term planning was the likely outcome of a post privatisation service, and the ‘off the shelf’, or at most the modifications of the private builders’ designs was inevitable. As can be seen from the little table showing the current position of freight diesels, nothing was built in the UK, and almost all were North American in origin. A curious choice perhaps?
Of the proposed 1,250 or so new diesels, again less than ½ were built, with 647 in service today, despite increases – planned and unplanned – increased demand for freight on rail. These are the current stock:
What would the railway’s motive power have looked like if at least some of BR’s 1985 programme had been implemented? Would more knowledge and expertise have been retained in the UK rail industry, would they have been more or less successful, in performance, in efficiency and reliability?
Who knows, but perhaps the most obvious missing element of the jigsaw is the lack of strategic planning in the 21st Century, with no planned withdrawals and replacements, just tactical remedies as the creaking infrastructure is upgraded in a piecemeal manner. Yes, passenger growth has been considerable, and perhaps that in itself should have led to the development of a longer term strategy.