The Class 50 is 50 this year

Standard

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  After this it was withdrawn from service, and engine parts were used as spares in what became the Class 50.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.

gec036

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.

gec037

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

 

Confusing Statistics

Standard

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

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

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

This is what the summary of locos and rolling stock in the official ONS spreadsheet displayed:

Loco Stock Summary

Apparently the UK had no stock in 2009, but by 2010, 2.3 vehicles (locos or rolling stock items) had disappeared when compared with 2008.

What is 0.1, or 0.3 of a rolling stock asset?

Clearly an absurd set of numbers, but the apparent increase of 15.2 items of rolling stock assets – or around 18% – between 1996 and 2013 may be what Mr Grayling was referring to in the “Strategic Vision for Rail” policy:

“The last few years have seen massive growth on Britain’s railways. This industry has reversed decades of decline under British Rail, delivered new investment and new trains, and doubled the number of passengers.”

Well, can’t argue with the increase, based on the ONS numbers, but are these really useful way or reporting, or measuring railway assets?

A bit more digging

The information I obtained above from the ONS is actually related to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculations, but in the ONS search box I simply input the term “railway” to see what it produced:

ONS Search box

I suppose, since the rolling stock is not directly owned by the UK, the assets are private company data, so I should not have been surprised when I learned that the numbers and tables simply relate to fluctuation in operational costs to the traveller.

Surely the Government can’t be subsidising train operators maintenance costs, or capital asset amortisation?

No, they apparently relate to the cost increase of using the product or service – in this case railways – but unless you’re a macro economist, or maybe a global bank, I’m not sure looking at some ONS tables does anything other than become a puzzle.

Here’s one, I wonder what the table and the chart mean:

Combined CPI and graph

The numbers seem to be just a statistical exercise to feed into the CPI measure for the UK economy as a whole, from an understanding of UK rail operations for the general public, the tables and charts are not useful at all.

Are they?

-oOo-

 

 

 

70 Years On & Still Little Improvement

Standard

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.

A comparison of some punctuality and performance figures with those recently published by Network Rail is fascinating.  We may have a lot more data, and more analysis of those figures, but little perhaps by way of improvement.

This is what Network Rail published about Period 8 in 2017:

Last 4 weeksNetwork Rail’s figures also announced a change from the way punctuality is measured, and no longer uses PPM, where trains arriving up to 10 minutes late are deemed to be ‘on time’.  This current measure states that 83.9% of trains were therefore on time in the 4 weeks between 15th October and 11th November 2017.

New Industry Measure

 Network Rail Punctuality October-November 2017

In 1947, in the 4 weeks ended on 6th September, 541,434 trains arrived either on time, or up to 10 minutes late – using the same criteria as Network Rail today.  So what does that mean?  In % terms, just 2 years after the end of World War 2, the soon to be nationalised railways managed to get 93% of trains to arrive on time!!

Original source of this data is a written response from Mr James Callaghan(MP for Cardiff South) the Parliamentary Secretary for the Transport Minister (Alfred Barnes), to Mr Joseph Sparks (MP for Acton), and recorded in Hansard at HC Deb 03 November 1947 vol 443 c154W .

Hansard passenger-trains-running-time

1947 Timekeeping

More interesting still perhaps is that in 1947 whilst only 63% of main line / express services arrived on time, or no more than 10 minutes late, on local services no less than 94% of all trains arrived on time, or up to 10 minutes late.

Why would that be?

Almost all main line / express services were steam hauled, and the majority of local services, with commuter services on 3rd rail dc electrified lines.

Yes, I know the timetabling and scheduling was designed with steam era point to point acceleration and timings in place – but you have to admit the results are impressive given post war shortages of fuel and rationing.

-oOo-

Rail Workshop Closures Overshadowed by Beeching?

Standard

Was Beeching the Fall Guy for workshop redundancies?

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

More intriguingly, perhaps Beeching was used to further remove competition for road traffic in the transport market – whether passenger or freight. Removing the rail workshops capacity to compete for work in a declining market prefaced the reduction in route mileage, and flexibility driven by the Beeching Plan. That the workshops needed to be rationalised in a state controlled infrastructure is clear, but maybe Beeching was simply Marples’ “fall guy” in pursuit of road transport and motorway building.

The rationalisation and re-organisation of British Railways saw the loss of skills, and the lack of foresight to train existing personnel in new technologies that were emerging, aside from which, the community and social impacts were never fully addressed. Politicians were very much exercised in 1962 and 1963 about these dramatic changes – some of which led to the creation of regions, or ‘development zones’ across the UK, but which ultimately did very little to create sustainable manufacturing industry.

In the debate about the dismantling of the British Transport Commission on 27th June 1962, Ernest Popplewell the MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne made the following observation in relation to the closure of BR workshops:

  • Another important factor in regard to Government interference concerns the skill of the men in the railway workshops, which is now being cast aside. We find in this new development scheme —and I will not argue against the merits of it—the concentration of new works in a few up-to-date, modern railway workshops. This means dispensing with the services of many workshop employees, although it is admitted by the British Transport Commission that these men have the skills and are capable of doing other work, such as producing locomotives for export. They are not being allowed to do so. We have proved, as was proved during the war years, that these self-same men can produce other things apart from those necessary for transport, and can make a jolly good job of it. But now, because this is a publicly-owned undertaking, the skill of these men is to be completely wasted.

This debate in the House of Commons on the changes to the railway organisation, and the creation of British Railways Board, was the precursor to the dramatic changes in the later Beeching Report. The new British Railways Board was due to take over the role of the old Railway Executive from 1st January 1963, and plans were already well in hand to ‘rationalise’ the railway workshops, and reduce staffing.

Even without the even more dramatic consequences following the Beeching Plan, the re-organisation of workshops had a major impact on communities up and down the country.

This debate was – to say the least – lively – and with the then Transport Secretary, Ernest Marples, in the hot seat, some ‘sharp quips’ were recorded. When describing the work of Beeching’s study group, Mr Popplewell advised Ernest Marples that a study group was not needed to determine what were and what were not the most suitable traffic for the railways. Marples retort was to say that the Newcastle MP could all that was needed to know about railways, but didn’t do so well when he was there.

The ‘banter’ at the Parliamentary debates seems to have been as good – or childish – then as it is today!

Overall, this debate was about how the organisational changes were to be put in place, and what the work in hand by Dr Beeching and his advisors would produce. The social and community impacts of the Beeching Plan have been covered at length over the years, but the effect of closing workshops, loss of jobs, loss of skills, opportunities, and local communities’ economic loss have been overlooked.

Was this deliberate?

-oOo-

1966 – Death of Darlington Loco Works

Standard

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.

marples-at-leicesterAt that time, rationalisation of workshops was a practical, and likely cost effective move.  However, Marples prevented the re-organised workshops from competing for engineering work beyond British Railways.  Had this been allowed, it might not have saved all of the engineering jobs, but might have been a life saver for many of the workforce, and their skills.

darlington-closure-protest-marchJust 50 years ago this year – most people recall that England won the football world cup – but at the same time, the historic locomotiove works at Darlington was closed, making more than 2,000 skilled people redundant.  The birthplace of railways had been dealt a dramatic and fatal injury by the action and inaction of the Government of the day.

This dramatic decline in the fortunes of railway employment in the area resulted – not surprisingly in some interesting exchanges in parliament.  A local MP received this response when asked what support was being made available to the men declared redundant:

“A special office of the Darlington Employment Exchange was set up at the North Road Workshops in October, 1965, and almost all the workshop employees registered for other jobs. Terminations have so far exceeded the number of planned discharges. It is estimated that about 250 people have 47W been placed, about 100 have found work and 40 have been transferred to other railway employment. Prospects of alternative jobs for the remaining employees are generally good; these include opportunities at the Railway Workshops, Doncaster for men willing to transfer.”

The MP making the response for the Ministry of Labour on 25th January 1966, was the MP for Farnworth – Ernest Thornton.

Late in the previous year, Ted Fletcher, the MP for Darlington made a significant speech in a parliamentary debate held specifically about the closure of Darlington Works.  A key point he made a number of times was about the adaptability and capability of the skills that the men had shown over many years. In the British Railways era they had also demonstrated the ability to build, repair and maintain diesel locomotives.

However, it seems that the railway management had a strategy and an agenda that they were sticking to, despite some clear examples that they might be travelling in a less sensible direction.  Take this particular observation that Ted Fletcher made in his speech on 4th November 1965, just a few weeks after the closure announcement by British Railways:

“I give an illustration of what has happened in one department of the works, the spring shop. In June, 1964, the management notified the unions that the spring shop was to close and that springs of locomotives being repaired at Darlington would have to be manufactured at another centre. The shop was closed and the machinery and equipment were put up for sale. Serious delays immediately commenced. Other sources of supply failed the management and eventually they had to reopen the spring shop. Meanwhile, the skilled men had got other jobs and the shop had to be carried on 1365 on a part-time basis. In a very short period orders for springs poured in from other railway centres and the spring shop had to be reopened for normal work.”

That doesn’t sound like a particularly practical way of managing a significant change within the works, let alone across the whole industry.

Inevitably, as in all other examples when major changes and where work is planned to cease in any business, the people needed to make the changes successful leave, and that approach still holds true over 50 years later.  There was no long term plan, no structure or development, save for the introduction of competition and allowing ‘market forces’ to dictate the industry’s future.

In the works, perhaps the 2,000 employees does not seem like a very large number, but then there was the impact on the works’ supply chain, local shops, communities, education and schooling, training, loss of apprenticeships and skills development.  Did the railway workshops’ reorganisation really save money?

-oOo-

 

60 Years of Modernisation

Standard

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-