Metro-Vicks: 60 Years On

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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.

GEC TRaction Photo SP 8671

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

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.

Leading Dimensions

Main Dims & CapacitiesThese locomotives were fitted with an electro-pneumatic control system, and designed to be operated in multiple with other Pilot Scheme designs, including:-

  • North British Loco. Co. type 1, nos. D8400-9
  • North British Loco. Co. type 2, nos. D6100-37
  • Brush/Sulzer type 2, nos. D5500-19

Aside from the collapse of the North British Loco Co in 1962 – which perhaps influenced the decision to abandon the design – BR itself was battling a range of problems in the 1960s.   The changing economic climate and competition from road transport growth, and BR’s mounting operational losses were amongst the reasons for their withdrawal.  That coupled with increasing unreliability, and ‘unconventional’ technology, sealed their fate.

In the Beginning

Spanning little more than a decade of working life, these locomotives were amongst the 174 locomotives of the ‘Pilot Scheme’ diesel types in British Railways’ Modernisation and Re-equipment Programme of 1956.

BR Weight Diagram for M-VMetropolitan-Vickers were responsible for the overall design of these locomotives, which were built at the Trafford Park works in Manchester, with mechanical parts supplied by Beyer-Peacock. Although subsequently known as type 2 locomotives, the original power classification was letter code B covering locomotives with engines rated at between 1000-1500 h.p.

Building & Withdrawal

These locomotives were ordered in November 1955 and two and a half years elapsed before the first was handed over to BR in July 1958. This delay between order and delivery occurred to most other types ordered at the same time. Operational Ups & Downs

Building & WithdrawalIt was originally proposed that they should be classed as mixed traffic locomotives for use on the Midland division lines of the London Midland Region (LMR).  Following delivery they were allocated to Derby, from where it was intended that they would work passenger and freight services between St. Pancras, Manchester and Carlisle.

During proving trials before delivery, these locomotives were required to start from rest a 420 ton train and accelerate to 10 m.p.h. on a I in 42 gradient. This haulage capacity was tested, not perhaps to the full, when two of these locomotives were frequently used on the all-fitted Condor freight service between Hendon and Gushetfaulds, Glasgow.

D5716 at Carnforth - Mandy Sharpe

D5716 at Carnforth, probably taken in 1967 at Carnforth, but withdrawn in September 1968.
(Photo courtesy Mandy Sharpe)

Due to their indifferent performance, on 28 January 1962 the entire class was transferred to Barrow depot on the Western Division, where they were worked a variety of duties, but their performance still gave rise to problems. During their early years, and perhaps because of the engine faults and failures, the whole class was considered a candidate for being fitted with new engines.

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.

Further Reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed review of the class.

M-V Article cover page

More Useful Links

Class 28 Metrovick diesels (Cumbrian Railways Association) – Images

D5705 Preservation group on the ELR

D5705 Facebook Group

George Woods – Flickr Photos

 

Metro-Vick Co-Bos on Condor

The Co-Bo’s original fast fitted freight working was the Hendon to Gushetfaulds “Condor” service.
This view also shows the original “wrap-around” windows.

Metropolitan_vickers_logo

The Class 50 is 50 this year

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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.

Image From brochure

The new Class 50, or 2,700hp D400 series of locomotives were based on the DP2 prototype of 1962, which was used as a ‘testbed’ for English Electric’s new design of diesel engine; the 16CSVT.  The use of a ‘Deltic’ bodyshell as the locomotive was being built at EE’s Vulcan Works, was a bonus.  The 2,700hp was less than the existing 3,300hp ‘conventional’ Deltic, but DP2 was used on their workings and timing son the East Coast Main Line.  It proved to be better on acceleration, and included a number of innovative design features, such as automatic wheelslip and slide detection.  DP2 continued its workings on ‘Deltic’ timings until the 1967 accident at Thirsk, when it was severely damaged after running into a stationary cement train.  After this it was withdrawn from service, and engine parts were used as spares in what became the Class 50.

DP2

GEC Traction/R P Bradley Collection

English Electric’s engine design and its technology was a great success, and in addition to the BR order, in 1968, English Electric signed a £2.7 million contract, for the construction and supply of locomotives for Portugal, and based around the same power unit.  These new BR locomotives provided considerable improvement in power to weight ratio, being demanded by the railway, and following the tender invitation from BTC/British Railways Board, the order for 50 locos similar to DP2 was placed.

English Electric had hoped to use their original ‘Deltic’ style nose, and cab, and even offered alternatives, including wraparound windscreens, but the BR design team’s preferred layout of two windows and flat front end was approved.

Class 50 Dimensions

Class 50 DiagramWorks Numbers, Running Numbers and Build/Withdrawal Dates

Class 50 numbering

The Technology

EE Class 50 copyThese locomotives – quite apart from the impressive diesel engine design – included some interesting new electronic technology, including:

  • Slow-speed control; with precise control below 3 mile/hr for merry go round coal trains.  The driver could pre-set speeds, which would be automatically maintained.
  • Pre-set tractive effort control; this could be set by the driver, and the control system would maintain constant TE, through acceleration, which in turn was planned to further improve the loco’s operating efficiency.
  • Automatic integration of loco and train brakes; an electro-mechanical system, again designed to improve braking efficiency, and reduce wear on brake rigging.

Early diesel locomotives on BR benefited from developments in traction diesel engine technology, and these locomotives applied that to the maximum available at the time, from charge air cooling, to increase the volumes available for combustion, to turbocharging.  Even the radiator cooling fans were automatically controlled through electronic sensors, to match the needs of the engine when in use.

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GEC Traction/RP Bradley Collection

The new English Electric Type 4 was fitted with the 16CSVT engine, a ‘vee’ form16 cylinder design, with charge air cooling (intercooler) and turbocharged to deliver 2,700hp at 850 rpm. The engine had been extensively tested in the DP2 prototype, and was a forerunner of the 16RK3CT from Ruston Paxman, as used in the Class 56 locomotives of the late 1970s, early 1980s. A 12-cylinder variant was produced for the last ever diesel locomotives built in Doncaster Workshops – the Class 58.

Getting the power to the traction motors, which were the same type as those supplied for the still successful EE Type 3 (Class 37), came via the same generator used on DP2. The EE538/5A motors were arranged conventionally, as axle hung, nose-suspended, driving the wheels through reduction gearing.

Electric train heating was delivered by means of a separate generator, so gone were the steam heating boilers for the train!

The whole thing was built on a pair of rolled steel joists, linked together with fabricated cross members to form the main underframe assembly. Beneath this platform a pair of cast steel bogies, of the same basic design used on the Type 5 and some EE built Type 3 locomotives, were provided. English Steel Castings, supplied the bogie castings with a 13ft 6ins wheelbase, whilst the wheels were given a modified Heumann profile. This was developed to protect against derailment and ‘hunting’ of wheels and wheelsets in service. Naturally, roller bearing assemblies from Timken and SKF were the order of the day.

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GEC Traction/RP Bradley Collection

At the time these locomotives were introduced, BR still had its Design Panel, who had developed a standard interior layout. The Class 50 layout was based on this standard style, with heat and sound 
insulation, and forced-air ventilation
. One interesting aspect was a device that provided a delay when the engine was shut down and ‘parked’ at the end of its duty, which automatically switched off all the lights after 15 minutes – except tail lights.

The bodies were painted in the then standard rail blue, using a polyurethane paint, with full yellow ends, and bogies and running gear in black.  The paints used on locomotives has always come in for a great deal of interest – although mostly from the viewpoint of its colour.  But paint technology had moved on too in the 1960s, and the old oleo or synthetic resins of the 1950s, with coats of varnish overlaid had long since disappeared.

 The Subcontractors

Interesting to reflect that many of the subcontractors listed above have disappeared from the rail industry in the UK, though some like Skefko (SKF) and Oleo Pneumatics still have a presence.

Class 50 subcontractors

Operations

When these locomotives entered service, British Rail did not actually buy them immediately, and they were effectively rented through a company called “English Electric Leasing”.  Maybe this could be viewed as a forerunner of the many ROSCO’s that came into being in the 1990s.

They were used on the West Coast Main Line between Crewe, Preston, Carlisle and Glasgow, as a stopgap measure before full electrification in 1974. Initially working the main line expresses as single locomotives; they were responsible for a significant acceleration of timings north of Crewe after double heading was adopted from 1970. They worked the principal Anglo-Scottish services, including the “Royal Scot”, and on occasions were found as far north as Aberdeen.

Following the introduction of the “Electric Scots”, the fleet was transferred to the Western Region, whgere again they worked the principal Paddington to the West of England services, at least until the arrival of the IC125s (HSTs) took over these workings. They were also found on trains to Birmingham and the West Midlands, whilst during their time on the Western Region they began to acquire names.

Not long after British Rail bought the fleet of Class 50s – English Electric Type 5s – they began experiencing reliability problems, and a programme of refurbishment and modifications at Doncaster in the early 1980s brought improvements. They were re-delivered to the Western Region, and based at depots like Plymouth Laira and West London’s Old Oak Common.

Later in the 1980s, they acquired a ‘sector’ colour scheme, with the garish “Network Southeast” livery applied a to a number, whilst true to GWR and Western Region form, one was painted in a green livery.

The Class 50 continued to work on West of England trains, some engineering and work trains too, whilst 50049 was modified still further in an attempt to use the type on freight services. It was not a success. At the start of the 1990s, the class was becoming troublesome again, and on some services were replaced by Class 47 and multiple unit trains.

In 1992, just eight remained in service with BR – 50007/008/015/029/030/033/046/050 – whilst by 1994, the few that had been specially repainted for railtours had also come to the end of their working life. In that year 50033 (D433) was dispatched to the National Railway Museum for preservation.

Preservation

50026 at Bridgnorth

50026 resplendent in Network Southeast Sector livery on the Severn Valley Railway.                         (c) RPBradley

 

Perhaps as a result of the pedigree of the original builders, and the affection they had acquired from the professional as well as the enthusiast community, a number of locomotives have been preserved, and remain in use on specials today. The lion’s share of ‘preserved’ Class 50s are on the Severn Valley Railway, with 5 of the 6 locomotives owned and operated by Alliance Rail, and the other by Paul Spracklen. In the north, the East Lancs Railway has D408, whilst Peak Rail is the home of D429 and D430, currently under restoration by the “Renown Repulse Restoration Group”.

The West Midlands is home to another collection of 3 locomotives, including the first of the class, D400, and based at Washwood Heath, and all are approved for mainline operations.
Considering that this English Electric design was the last of its type, and the last wholly UK built locomotive, the preservation and railtour operators have delivered some remarkable working exhibits. It seems the English Electric heritage from Preston and Newton-le-Willows is continuing well into the 21st century, in the company’s centenary year, and this locomotive is fitting legacy for one of Britain’s greatest engineering companies.

-oOo-

Useful links:

The Class 50 Alliance 

Class 50 Alliance logo

The Fifty Fund

50 Fund logo

Severn Valley Railway

Severn Valley logo

 

English Electric – A Centenary Appreciation

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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.

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Prototype ‘Deltic’ – perhaps the most famous of English Electric’s diesels in the erecting shop, alongside locos for South Africa and BR shunters, amongst others.                      Photo (c) RPB/GEC Traction Collection

English Electric went on to become one of the most famous engineering companies that the UK had ever seen, and covering every conceivable product from railway locomotives, to household products, jet aircraft to computers. Its zenith was perhaps achieved in the 1950s, and the only possible comparison in the 21st Century would be if you added BAe Systems, IBM, and Siemens together.

English Electric went on to research, design, and develop products in all of the markets that those three companies are working in today.

In 1918 the new company had a capital of £3 million, and the board represented other major industries, from the Great Easter, London & North Western and Great Northern railways, to shipbuilders such as Harland & Wolff, John Brown and Cammell Laird. Announcing this new business in the January 3rd issue of The Railway Gazette, commenting:

“… the company will be one of the three principal electrical manufacturing concerns in this country.”

Something of an understatement perhaps, but with Dudley Docker’s achievements with the soon to arrive “Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co.” a year or so later, competition was strong in the aftermath of the First World War.

Head office was in Preston, and English Electric and the town would become almost synonymous, but the works along both sides of Strand Road existed because of the arrival of Dick, Kerr & Co. from Kilmarnock. Dick, Kerr’s was the first British company to specialise in tramways and tramcar building, and in 1897 bought the old works and land on the west side of Strand Road, to establish the “Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Ltd.”, which was registered on 25th April 1898.

Dick Kerr & English Electric Works, Strand Road, Preston. Aerial Image, May 1951 copy

Aerial view of English Electric Preston works in 1951     Photo (c) BAE Systems

 

Such was the company’s success; they needed extra space, which was provided by building on land on the opposite side of Strand Road, to form the English Electric Manufacturing Co., in November 1899. The first time the words “English Electric” had appeared, and although Dick, Ker’s had spawned the new factory, the two works were managed as separate companies.

The tram building works manufactured their own trucks or bogies to fit under the tramcar bodies they built, but would also fit trucks from Brill or Peckham if the customer requested.   The works on the East side of Strand Road concentrated on making the electrical machinery alone, from traction motors, to switchgear and control equipment.

Just after the turn of the century, in 1903, the English Electric Manufacturing Co. amalgamated with Dick, Kerr & Co., whilst three years later, the works on the West side of Strand Road had its name changed to the “United Electric Car Co.”.

So at the outbreak of the First World War, Dick, Kerr’s works occupied one side of Strand Road, and the United Electric Car Co. the other. During the war, Dick Kerr’s built mainly shells, and employed over 8,000 people, whilst United Electric built wagons, shells, and even flying boats, with the workforce rising from around 600 to 800, to over 1,200.

The next major event occurred in 1917, and propelled the company towards its final form. In that year, Dick, Kerr & Co. obtained financial control of United Electric, and laid the foundation for English Electric Co., which finally appeared 100 years ago. Some 10 years later, this is what the Preston Works looked like:

EE Works Preston - 1926 copy

A plan of the Dick, Kerr Works in 1926

There is more to English Electric’s story than Preston Works, but this where it all began.

English Electric achieved many ‘firsts’, but even before the company began business in 1919, the Preston Works had equipped Britain’s first main line electrification between Liverpool Exchange Station and Crossens/Southport.   Dick, Kerr’s electrified this with a third rail system at 600V d.c., and the rolling stock constructed by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway themselves, at Horwich and Newton Heath.

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English Electric/Dick Kerr’s first major electrification – the Liverpool to Southport line.  The first of many.                                                                                                                                           Photo: RPB/GEC Traction Collection

From a business point of view, the English Electric Co. Ltd., was established in 1918, and a spate of mergers followed quickly, as the demand for the new technology rapidly grew, both at home and abroad.

English Electric were pioneers and innovators in rail traction, electrical technology, computing, wireless and telecoms, until their protracted demise following the great GEC-AEI takeover some 50 years ago. Ironically 1968 too was a watershed year in the electrical industry in Britain.

The last owners and inhabitants of the Strand Road Works in Preston were of course Alstom, and the cliché of ‘end of an era’ was never so true as the factory is to close in July 2018, just over 120 years since Dick, Kerr & Co. set up the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Ltd.

Rail Technology Magazine – Alstom To Close Preston Site

BBC News: Alstom To Close Preston Site

-oOo-

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

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

DLR at Canary Wharf Station

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

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

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

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

Whilst the DLR was an entirely new construction, extensive use was made of former British Rail lines, since the railway was to be built to standard gauge, with the old London & Blackwall Railway followed for some of its route  in phase one.  The Beckton extension was planned in to support what is now the London City Airport.

DLR Original No. 1

The original DLR colours seen on this view taken in 1987

Trains for the initial railway were twin-car articulated units, with bodies supplied by Linke-Hoffman-Busch, and powered by GEC Traction. The Germans won the order on their strength, and reputation in the rapid transit market, since in the UK there was little experience at that time.

DLR Train Diagram

General arrangement of the twin car articulated units.

The vehicles collected power at 750V d.c. from a bottom contact, steel faced conductor rail, insulated from accidental contact on the top and two sides. The innovative contact systems were supplied by Brecknell-Willis, and described by the Railway Industry Association in April 1987:

“On two new urban transit systems, more than 10,000km apart, a modern development of one of the oldest electric traction technologies is enhancing the performance of dc electrification. Both the Singapore Mass Transit Railway and the Docklands Light Railway in East London are being equipped with Brecknell, Willis aluminium/steel composite conductor rails to supply direct current power to trains.

DLR Contact System diagram

(c) Railway Industry Association

The conductor rail, of aluminium, is steel faced, to reduce wear from the under- running contact shoe, and the contact systems were supplied by Brecknell Willis.

Other UK companies involved in this automated railway were Brush Electrical Engineering, who were brought in to provide power equipments on the extension project.  GEC Transmission & Distribution Projects and GEC Telecommunications were all heavily involved in this work.

The new light railway was designed to operate automatically from day one, but were provided with the essential – at that time – control panels for use on the vehicle in an emergency.  The ATP and ATO control systems in the original railway were independent of each other, controlling and operating the railway from the the Operation and Maintenance Centre.  Information is fed to the train’s on-board computers by means of Data Docking Links (DDL) at each station, and update the train computers. The ATP system ensures trains observe speed limits and prevents unsafe train movements, with operating speeds regulated by the rate at which transponders are crossed on the trackbed.

The original layout looked like this:

DLR Route Map 1987

This was of course later expanded, and now looks like this:

dlr-route-map 2017

(c) Transport for London

The DLR was not the first of GEC’s major light rail projects in the UK, but, like the Manchester Metrolink, was one of the UK’s earliest, and ranks alongside Birmingham’s ill-fated Maglev as one of the most innovative.

-oOo-

 

From “Settebello” to “Frecciabianca”

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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.

Settebello at Rome

Settebello at Rome – photo from 1962 ‘Locospotters Annual’

In Italy, this service started in 1953, using the ETR300 series of multiple unit trains. At the time it was the epitome of high-speed luxury, with the fastest section of its route between Rome and Bologna, where it would average 130 km/hr. This train was seven-carriages, electrically hauled throughout, reaching Milan in 6 hours initially, but accelerated until the journey time in 1978 was 5 hours 35 minutes. It became part of the TEE network from 1974, with international services operated jointly by Italy, West Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Settebello leaving Rome

As the luxury, supplement-charging train, the “Settebello” ceased operating in 1984, but was renamed in that year, under the TEE brand as the “Colosseum”. Sadly, I never got the opportunity to ride on this service, but Italian railways have continued to expand its high-speed network, with “Direttissima” lines connecting the major cities, Rome, Florence, Turin, Milan, Venice, etc.

Like the UK, Italy developed and operated ‘tilting trains’ in fixed formations since the 1960s, to enable increased speeds on existing tracks, without the need to build new, more direct high-speed lines. The Italian developments back to the late 1960s when Fiat Ferroviaria carried out its first experiments with tilting technology. The first real steps forward were made in 1976, when the experimental ETR401 took to the rails. This four-coach train was the first in the world and the nickname “Pendolino” adopted on the famous tilting railcar experiments stuck.

 

Ironically perhaps, the technology used on the “Pendolino” trains in Britain uses technology developed by British Rail in Derby for the ill-fated “Advanced Passenger Train” (APT). This was later acquired and adapted by Fiat, for the ETR450 trains, which began operating between Rome and Milan in 1988, followed by another 9-car series – the ETR460 in 1992.

ETR460 Set at Verona PN

ETR460 at Verona Porta Nuova in 2016

However, not all high-speed trains in Italy are tilting trains, largely thanks to the construction of the new high-speed routes. Services like the Freccia Rossa, Freccia Argento, and Freccia Bianca provide the backbone of operations on long distance national and international services. More recently, as the expansion of ‘privatisation’, competition from the new ‘Italo’ train operators has seen ever more innovation, and the latest ETR600 series of tilting trains, first seen in 2006.

 

Italo at Rome

‘Italo’ Set 4 at Rome

Whilst not having had the pleasure of a trip on the “Settebello”, I have had a number of enjoyable trips on high-speed (non-tilting) trains on the Turin-Milan-Venice main line, notably behind the ETR500 series, such as the ‘Frecciabianca’ below:

 

ETR500 Frecciabianca at Verona PN

ETR500 on Frecciabianca service at Verona Porta Nuova in 2016

We have a lot in common with the Italian approach to the ‘little pendulum’ trains, although the UK has been much slower to invest in high-speed rail than other European countries, and the tilting trains operated by ‘Virgin Trains’ in Britain are now 16 years old. The tilting mechanism was applied to the all-electric units as shown below, and some of the diesel powered variants on cross-country services.

Virgin Pendolino at Oxenholme 2014

Virgin Pendolino service at Oxenholme in 2014

There are some new trains entering service in 2017/18 in the UK, built by Hitachi, in Pistoia, Italy, Japan, and in the UK. These new 9-car units will operate on the Great Western and East Coast main lines, and as Class 800 also have both all electric and diesel powered options, and are part of the UK’s IEP (InterCity Express Programme), announced back in 2009.

GWR Intercity Express Train edited

Whilst the old manufacturers such as GEC-Alstom (who built the original UK high-speed pendolino sets), may not be as common as they once were on the rails, perhaps the Hitachi designs will offer comparable results.

-oOo-

Cranes from Carlisle No More

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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.

Indian Crane

Indian Railways – World’s Heaviest Breakdown Crane in 1986

In 1969, the company was bought by a North East engineering firm – Clarke Chapman, who, in turn, merged with John Boyd Ltd., and the Carlisle works was renamed as Cowans-Boyd, but still turning out cranes for home and export. In 1977 Clarke Chapman merged with another Newcastle company – Reyroll-Parsons to form NEI (Northern Engineering Industries). The Cowans Sheldon, or Cowans Boyd works remained part of NEI until its closure in 1987.

Eight years earlier in 1979, the company had received not only £1/2 million order from Tanzania, but had designed and was building three types of rail mounted cranes as part of British Rail’s programme to replace and refurbish its crane fleet that were, in some cases, more than 40 years old.

BR Heavy Duty Crane

BR Heavy Lift Breakdown Crane – 1979

 

On top of this, in 1982 in a joint venture with Portec Inc. of the USA the Cowans Sheldon Unit of NEI Cranes Ltd was designing and building new standard cranes for US railroads, with the possibility of orders from Amtrak.

USA Crane 1982Just a few short years later, it seems nobody wanted to buy cranes for railway use from the UK any more, with neither home or export orders.

So what happened to the St Nicholas site – well, it was turned into one of those shopping parks now known as “St Nicholas Gate”, and houses Asda, Halford, B&M Bargains, Iceland, amongst others.

How times have changed!

Further reading:

Acknowledgements:

All illustrations are by courtesy of ‘Railpower’ published by the Railway Industry Association

-oOo-

60 Years of Modernisation

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In 1955, the then British Transport Commission announced its programme for the modernisation & re-equipment of British Railways.  This was set against a backdrop of a worn out rail network, which had had little or no investment since the end of WW2.  The programme included the building of no more steam locomotives, and the use of diesel and electric traction for commuter as well as main line services.

More importantly it included a massive programme to electrify main lines, rebuild stations, workshops, signalling and telecoms systems that were out of date and falling apart.

The programme was simply announced by the BTC in 1955, with Government support. The following year, the Government issued a white paper “Proposals For The Railways”, which was intended to review the financial prospects and strategy for the railways.  The BTC had put in a request to increase freight charges, partly to cover the financial troubles which were becoming ever deeper.

On reflection, you might think it ironic, considering that the railways were generating operating surpluses of between £29million and £55million between 1948 and 1955.  The cause of their losses was simply the capital interest charges they were required to pay – amounting to £50million annually.

When the BTC was set up in 1947 they were hampered from the start by having no capital reserves, and constrained by fixed interest borrowing to allow replacement of expired assets (valued at pre-1939 prices), with new at increased post-war prices.  The amount of spending and type, and volume of assets that could be replaced was also constrained….

Until the modernisation and re-equipment programme was approved.

The 1956 “Proposals For The Railways” white paper recognised these difficulties and introduced a more flexible freight charging arrangement to try in some way to enable British Railways to compete on a more commercial footing.

The modernisation plan had already shown some clear benefits with the introduction of new diesel multiple unit trains on selected routes/services.  They were still a novelty as this excursion handbill from 1959 shows:

BR Ingleton Diesel Excursion May 1959 copy

The 1956 White Paper certainly seemed to provide evidence of very considerable uplift in both passenger numbers and receipts on the new services.   The choice of the West Cumberland lines gave an interesting comparison with the ‘city centred’ commuter lines around Leeds and Birmingham.

% Increase
Service Inaugurated Journeys Receipts
Leeds-Bradford-Harrogate

14-6-1954

144

100

Carlisle-Silloth 29.11.1954 66 44
Carlisle-Penrith-Workington 3.1.1955 84 104
Carlisle-Whitehaven 7.2.1955 44 62
King’s Lynn-Wells-Norwich 19.9.1955 40 30
Bury-Bacup 6.2.1956 132 164
Birmingham-Lichfield 5.3.1956 210 208

Clearly the modernisation plan was working in these examples, and the investment in new equipment continued to be justified.  However, only 3 years later, the “Re-Appraisal” white paper set the scene for some memorable errors, and paved the way for the perhaps greater errors delivered through Ernest Marples in 1963, with Dr Beeching’s report.

-oOo-