The 1980s – A Decade of Disaster for Railway Workshops

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

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

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

“The object of the amendment (“amendment No. 1”) is clear. It is to keep British Rail Engineering Ltd. strictly within the scope of British Railways and the British Railways Board and to remove the ability that the Bill would confer on the Minister to instruct the board to sell the engineering subsidiary or to prevent British Railways from seeking the consent of the Minister to sell the subsidiary.”

Unsurprisingly, the Transport Secretary, Norman Fowler, rejected this suggestion, with this reply on the same day:

“The future of BREL is currently a matter of discussion between the Government and British Rail. The British Railways Board certainly wants improvements in British Rail engineering. Frankly cannot remember at this stage whether we have discussed the issue of private investment.”

A kind of non-answer, and with hindsight this seems to be an inaccurate response.

During this time too, two Transport Acts (1981 and 1985), which privatised and deregulated sections of the road transport industry came into full effect. In 1980, the National Freight Corporation was privatised, and certain rail/shipping/road integration activities were abolished, with changes to regulations about public service vehicles (buses). This was a precursor to the full-blown privatisation of buses that occurred after the 1985 Transport Act, and which led to chaotic urban transport operations in many areas of the country. On top of this, there was the controversial “Serpell Report” of 1983, which aside from its other findings, seemed to consider BREL workshops as an odd asset to be owned and operated by the national rail industry.

But the impact of the changes that occurred in the 80s was more than just about numbers, and the tragic consequences for many families dependent on these engineering works – this was equally as much about the loss of skills, training programmes, and technical and technology development. Between 1980 and 1985 innovation had seen the end of projects such as the APT, where the technology was later adapted within the “Pendolino” series of trains, but produced under a combination of Fiat and Alstom.

The private sector had an extensive partnership with the railway workshops too, and during this time the last major innovations from Britain’s railway industry included heavy involvement in the original Eurostar trains, and of course the ‘Le Shuttle’ locomotives. It could be argued that the completion of the Channel Tunnel, and the arrival of the TMST (Trans Manche Super Trains) marked the final chapter in the UK’s railway engineering expertise. Closure of the railway workshops would affect the likes of GEC, Metro-Cammell, Brush and others.

During the 1980s, some of the most well known, indeed world famous railway works were scheduled for closure, including: Ashford (1980); Derby Locomotive Works (1990); Horwich (1985); Swindon (1986); Wolverton Carriage Works (1980) – better know today perhaps for a nearby town with concrete cows. In addition to these major works, that disappeared completely, others were reduced to a mere fraction of their former size, and none were permitted to compete for other engineering work beyond British Rail orders.

They had the skills, but the official policy of the day did not permit those skills to be used.

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

The last orders for British Railways workshops to build new locomotives, was for the ill-fated Class 58, constructed at Doncaster Works from 1982 until the last of the class was completed in 1987. The works took on a role as the national locomotive stores in 1986, and parts of the site demolished, with other areas sold to Bombardier, and the US company Wabtec. For the next 20 years the remnants of the works remained in use with small orders for repairs and maintenance, and parts for train equipment, including braking systems until it was finally closed in 2007. On the 20th December that year, plans were reported in the press “ … to turn the land into a massive housing, retail and business complex …”.

Read more at: https://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/news/closure-at-plant-works-means-end-of-the-line-for-150-years-of-history-1-509529

A sad end to a 153-years-old engineering history. But these stories were repeated elsewhere, and perhaps one of the most well known and reported was that of Swindon Works, originally over 360 acres in extent, it closed in 1986, and the site put up for sale. Following a reorganisation begun in 1962, it was planned that the loco works would continue, but with a reducing workforce – as steam power disappeared. By 1966, the old carriage and wagon works had been closed, and a new apprentice training school was built, and Swindon had a total workforce of 5,320 at that time. That was despite the loss of over 2,000 men in 1963 and 1964.

Swindon too had built up skills in the new technology of diesel traction – with both hydraulic and electric transmission – from the new “Warship” and “Western” class main line diesels, to refurbishing multiple units, including electric multiple units for other regions. In March 1960, Britain’s last steam locomotive “Evening Star” was completed at Swindon, and 20 years later at the start of the 1980s, Swindon built twenty 0-8-0 diesel-hydraulic locos for the metre gauge railways of Kenya. Of course, the skills developed to support hydraulic transmission was rendered unnecessary, since British Railways had decided that all future traction would be fitted with electric transmission. A similar problem befell the North British Loco Co in Glasgow, who had built BR’s first main line diesels for the Western Region.

Swindon - first Hymek 26391534468_e2d2807eb1_o

D7000 at Swindon Works in May 1961. Original livery with white cabs, black buffer beam surrounds and no horns on the cab roof.           Photo Courtesy: Historical Railway Images

During the early 1980s less and less repair and maintenance work was undertaken at Swindon as part of the recently formed British Rail Engineering Limited, which was seen mostly to be awarded to Crewe or Derby, and with the embargo on bidding for non-railway work, the decline of the works was perhaps inevitable. The loss of engineering skills, and the loss of engineering apprenticeship opportunities was clearly bad for future prospects. It is well known, that like many “engineering towns” across the country, from Birmingham to Barrow-in-Furness, or Doncaster to Derby, the railway works at Swindon employed generations of the same families.

Ironically perhaps, some of the coach building skills were transferable to bus companies, and some of the men employed at Swindon were able to use those skills in the road transport industry.

The year after closure, in 1987, when 1500 people lost their jobs, the works were bought by Tarmac Swindon Ltd, with the intention of building a complete new community – housing, retail, etc. – which it thought to name ‘Churchward’. A few years later plans were approved to include a new railway museum in the remaining buildings, ‘R Shop’, which today is known as the “Steam Museum of the Great Western Railway” (https://www.steam-museum.org.uk/Pages/Home.aspx ).

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElNi5fQ2W-A

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This view shows the interior of the Horwich Works erecting shop in 1890, barely 3 years after the works was opened. A traditional view perhaps, but the works lasted until BR days, and after steam also developed some innovative engineering techniques for fabricating components.                    Photo Courtesy: Science Museum Collection – https://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/co417786

Another railway town hit hard by the dramatic loss of jobs and skills from the railway workshops in the 1980s was Horwich in Lancashire. There was both a locomotive works and a wagon works in Horwich – the loco works was established by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, in the Victorian Era, whilst wagon building only started in 1963, when the work was transferred from the nearby Earlestown Wagon Works.

Horwich Works covered some 81 acres, and was begun in 1887, lasting just about a century until 1985, when it too closed. It had been expanded during its life, and in the post WW2 era had a covered area of over 150 acres, and had churned out artillery pieces, tanks, aeroplane parts and shells during the war.   As a locomotive works it was closed in 1963/4, but had turned out 35 of the new BR Standard Class 4 2-6-0s in 1952 and 1956, and continued to repair and maintain many other loco types until closure. The last steam type to be overhauled at Horwich was a Stanier 8F 2-8-0 No. 48756, completed on 4th May 1964.

At the end of 1966, 2492 people were directly employed in the works, on wagon building but by 1983 this had been reduced to 1400, and 3 years later the works closed finally with the loss of 300 jobs. Some small-scale engineering activity continued for a time, when BREL sold the site to the Parkfield Group in 1988, and the following year the rail connection was removed. The site became broken down into numerous industrial units on what was named the “Horwich Loco Industrial Estate”, and many of the buildings are still in use today.

Horwich Railway Works heritage is not forgotten either, and the Horwich Heritage Centre (http://www.horwichheritage.co.uk/index.php ), located nearby, remains committed to telling the story of the men and women who worked at Horwich and their engineering achievements over the years.

Unsurprisingly, the ongoing run down of the railway workshops in the 1980s, despite suggested opportunities to win export orders, to a degree considered possible by the government, the impact of the changes was greeted with much scepticism by MPs.

This was a typical view recorded in Hansard in February 1986, by Peter Snape MP for East Bromwich:

“Mr. Snape: Does the Secretary of State accept that since the Conservative party took office, the railway works at Shildon, Stratford and most of Horwich have closed? Does he accept that Swindon is scheduled shortly to close and that the works at Glasgow are also under threat? Does he accept that up to 12,000 further redundancies in BREL are threatened and that it will take more than the disgraceful slur from his creeping hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) to alter that?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is the Government’s intention to run down BREL even further prior to privatisation and that the public sector will again pick up the bill, while the private sector picks up the orders? Railwaymen will not forget the right hon. Gentleman’s role in that.”

At that time, Nicholas Ridley was the Transport Minister, and offered this response:

“Mr. Ridley: The hon. Gentleman has been told—again he does not seem to take it in—that his pressure for increased investment in the railways, which has been met, as I said earlier, has resulted in rolling stock that does not require so much repair, maintenance and reconstruction because it is new and of a higher quality. That has been the cause of the rundown in BREL’s work force. To try to increase employment in the railway engineering industry I have agreed with the chairman of British Rail the new arrangements whereby BREL’s activities will be split into repair and new build. The new build part will, therefore, at least have the opportunity to gain export orders. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that. He never seems to welcome good news.”

Judging by what we know occurred in the 1980s, Peter Snape’s estimate of 12,000 further redundancies was about ½ way through this “slimming down” of BREL.

The emergence of BREL Ltd as a separate business under the British Railways Board was a clear indication of the government’s desire to sell off the workshops. Not just the traditional heavy locomotive engineering side, but the wagon works where the railway’s freight vehicles were built and maintained, with a smaller number of specialist vehicles supplied by private industry. One of the most well known of the ‘wagon works’ was at Shildon, in County Durham – a town of 14,000 in 1982, and where around 1/7th of the population were employed in the works. BREL had scheduled it for closure, and in May 1982, the local MP, Derek Foster made this observation:

“Only a short time ago British Rail Engineering announced that it was to close the works in Shildon. It is a profitable works. This works has been described as the most efficient wagon works in the whole of Europe—not by me, not by the workers at the plant, but by the managing director of BREL. Not more than 14 months ago it was described as the jewel in the crown of British Rail Engineering, and now British Rail is saying that it is obsolete.”

 

Part of the government minister’s reply was interesting too:The works did close in 1984, and 1,750 jobs were lost – jobs and skills – and in the debate, the local MP referred to the many jobs and livelihoods that were at stake, and indeed would be lost when the works closed. At that time too, the economic recession had hit industry hard, and it was cited that British Rail had given as a justification for closure the over valued pound, “….the tight financial limits that have been imposed by the Government….” the failure to win export orders, and the recession.

“The Shildon works lie in the Bishop Auckland employment office area, which is part of the Darlington and south-west Durham travel-to-work area. It is the effect on unemployment in that area that must be considered. The latest available figures for Darlington and south-west Durham indicate that 11,500 people are without work—a rate of 13.9 per cent. Thus, as the House can see, if the addition of 2,500 people to this list over the two-year period involved in closure took place, although much to be regretted, it would not increase those figures to the rates that the hon. Gentleman suggested. They would be about 161⁄2 per cent.”

Four more wagon and coach building works also closed in the early 1980s – Ashford, Temple Mills (W. London)Townhill (Dunfermline), and Wolverton – leaving York as BREL’s only remaining rolling stock workshop, and a dependence on private contractors for new vehicles.

BR Workshops 1990Another notable loss of the decade was the St Rollox works in Glasgow. Here, the existence of both Cowlairs and St Rollox in the same area had led to the concentration of activity at St Rollox, when work was transferred from Cowlairs after its closure in 1968, and the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. In 1988, as BREL was being put up for sale – which was something that the government had indicated was not included in its earlier Transport Act – St Rollox was also closed, with a loss of 1,206 jobs. Seen against the background of the run down of other engineering industries in and around Glasgow, especially shipbuilding, this was a dramatic blow to the economy, and with little by way of other industry to absorb these changes.

Looking back at the 1980s, the decade had seen immense change in the railway industry, and manufacturing, which left Britain poorly prepared for any growth in rail transport, and yet, in that same decade, British Rail had proposed an investment programme for the building of hundreds of items of rolling stock and locos. An optimistic view to say the least, as the closures continued. This, despite the sale of BREL to a consortium of ABB, a MEBO (Management Employee Buy Out), and Trafalgar House (a finance company).

Overall, yes the world of work was changing, and the lack of investment and development of core industrial strategies, together with the economic recession of the 1980s would prove to be a turning point. The continued loss of the skills and technological development over many decades would ultimately prove the final nail in the coffin of the UK’s railway engineering industry, and the technical lead it had established over its competitors.

It could equally be argued that these had little impact on the railway manufacturing businesses, and the workshops in particular, but the general trend was towards fragmentation and disassembly of a national industry, and the loss of skills and opportunities for economic development in those fields. Of course, the UK did still have a fairly extensive private sector railway manufacturing industry, with the likes of GEC Traction, Brush Electrical Engineering, Ruston Paxman, and Metropolitan Cammell, amongst others still winning orders – mainly for export it may be said, but there was little growth. Job losses from the railway workshops would not be absorbed by the private sector, and the long-term prospects were poor.

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.

In the end, before the railways were privatised, former British Railways workshops played their part in delivering innovative technology, before the wilderness years of the 1990s.

-oOo-

Further reading and useful links:

BR Automatic Train Control System (AWS)

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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.

There were prior to 1948, two other ATC/AWS systems already in use, that on the GWR, introduced there in 1912, and a system, similar in many respects to the later BR standard type, installed by the LMSR on the LTS line in 1938. In keeping with the Railway Executive’s principle of standardising combinations of the best practices from other regions, experiments of various kinds were carried out between 1948 and 1952 on potential ATC/ AWS systems. On the face of it, only having two practical systems with which to effect comparisons, the task would seem to have been relatively straightforward. However it appears that a number of technical difficulties arose during this time, and then, if one is to believe the report of the inquiry into the disastrous Harrow & Wealdstone accident of October 1952, there was the question of snow and ice in the north. 1n point of fact it was the cause of this accident which both laid emphasis on the need for, and gave additional impetus to, the development of British Railways Standard ATC system.

BR ATC DiagramBR ATC Maintenance InstructionsThe prototype apparatus was installed during 1952 over the 43 miles between New Barnet and Huntingdon on the Eastern Region main line. The first locomotive to be equipped with the new ATC apparatus was the new Peppercorn Al Pacific no. 60150 Kestrel, which on 17 October 1952 took the 3.10 p.m. from Kings Cross on the first of a series of tests. The testing took some considerable time, for it was not until 1957 that the authorities were entirely happy with the system, and then declared it to be adopted for standard use on all regions of British Railways, the GWR system notwithwithstanding, although much of the latter was replaced by the BR standard system in later years. It has now been fitted to almost all traction units and extended to cover most of the important lines throughout the BR network; the title being altered to Automatic Warning System in order to give a more precise indication of the system’s function.

Operation of the system was based on the use of magnets situated in the permanent way between the running rails, with the tops of the magnets at rail level. The designed purpose of the system was to give the driver audible and visual indication of the position of a distant signal, 200 yards in advance of the signal. The two magnets were placed 2ft 6ins. apart, centre to centre, the one furthest away from the signal being permanent, the nearer being electrically activated when the distant signal was held in the clear position, and dead when at caution. If the indicators were overrun with the signal at caution and the driver had not cancelled the indication, an application of the brake would be made since the apparatus was connected to the automatic brake. There were a total of four indications of the position of a distant signal that could be given to the driver, two visual and two audible. The audible indications were given by a bell or a horn; the former ringing for two seconds on passing over the inductor of a distant signal at clear, and the horn was actuated after a delay of one second on passing over the inductor of a distant signal at caution. The two visual indications were provided by the Driver’s Control Unit (DCU). On passing over the permanent magnet of a signal at caution, the visual display would be changed from yellow and black to all black; then on passing over the electromagnet the horn would be sounded and an automatic brake application made after a delay of three seconds. Re-setting the equipment by the driver would return the display to a yellow and black aspect. If the signal being approached was off, or at clear, the same procedure would take over the perm- anent magnet although, since the electromagnet would in this case be energised, on passing it the DCU display would remain black and a bell would ring for two seconds. In point of fact the DCU would display a black indication until a distant signal set at caution was approached, following which, operation of the re- setting device would change the display to yellow and black.

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BR Standard Class 2MT 2-6-0 in this view, shows the battery box on the running boards, immediately in front of the cab spectacle plate. Photo courtesy: Lens of Sutton

Locomotive Equipment.

The apparatus provided on the track was basically very simple, consisting essentially of the two inductors. Locomotive equipment however amounted to a total of some ten separate items and associated cabling and pipework. Since it was intended for use on steam locomotives, the apparatus had to be specially designed to withstand the extreme conditions to be met with: smoke, steam, heat, vibration, shock etc. The equipment was further designed about two basic parameters:-

  1. From one shopping to the next, all items should function without maintenance from the shed staff.
  2. Should one item fail, it could be replaced without requiring any disturbance to the electrical wiring.

The sensing device, or receiver, was mounted on a stretcher immediately in front of the leading coupled wheels and positioned centrally between the frames at a height above rail level of about 4 Y, and 6 Y, inches. The height of the receiver was not over critical, hence the allowable range of movement of two inches although once fixed no provision was made for adjustment. The receiver was basically a polarised relay, actuated by the track mounted inductors, to transmit electric current to the Relay & Cab Junction Box. This was effected through its own junction box mounted on the frame, to which it was attached through a flexible connection. Flexible connections were provided between the receiver junction box, receiver and relay unit, to allow for any relative movement between the engine frame and receiver. The relay and cab junction box, or relay unit, could be described as the nerve centre of the apparatus, to which all cables from the other items of equipment were connected, its function being to translate the electrical information into audible and visual indications of the signals and where appropriate to initiate the application of the brake. Perhaps the second most important item was the Driver’s Control Unit (DCU) on this unit, the signals being displayed to the driver visually. The unit, mounted in the cab on the driver’s side contained an electro-pneumatically operated solenoid valve, indicator and resetting handle. The solenoid valve, being connected to both electrical and pneumatic circuits and when not activated, under normal conditions ensured that the feed to the horn was maintained at normal air pressure with the brakes off, via the timing and ATC reservoirs. The last key item of equipment on the engine was the ATC Brake Valve, through which the actual automatic application of brake was made. The Brake Valve consisted of a diaphragm acting on a flat disc whose centre was attached to a spindle operating the main brake valve. The valve was normally closed to atmosphere, one side being attached to the train pipe and the other to the Timing Reservoir. Application of the brake was made by admitting air at a controlled rate through the Timing Reservoir, lifting the diaphragm and opening the valve to admit air to the train pipe. A plug on the valve, which would normally be sealed in the open position, could be screwed down to close it in the event of a failure. The remaining items of equipment could probably be classed as ancillary, except perhaps for the ATC Vacuum Reservoir, whose function was to maintain vacuum in the Timing Reservoir and to equalise pressure between train pipe and ATC side of the brake valve.

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BR Standard Class 7MT Britannia Pacific No. 7033 “Charles Dickens” in original guise, with handrails around the smoke deflectors, also shows the battery box on the running boards, immediately in front of the cab spectacle plate. Photo courtesy: Lens of Sutton

On the whole, it is not necessary to describe all the individual items of the Standard AWS apparatus at this stage, since it is the broader principles of the operation of such devices that concerns the majority of us. In retrospect it is interesting to note that much of the equipment, including the specialised electrical devices, was perhaps crude and bulky when compared with equipment of today.

As previously indicated, it was not until 1957 that British Railways decided to adopt as standard the form of AWS described here and eventually extended to cover most important lines on the system. It was intended to fit all traction units with the equipment. Though this has largely been accomplished, quite a number still remain in service unfitted. The GWR’s original electro- mechanical method of AWS has also now succumbed to the standard arrangement, removing the last traces of individuality of that region. Doubtless though it will not be long before the Standard AWS is superseded by a more sophisticated arrangement further to improve signalling and train control.

References.


  1. BR London Midland Region Magazine – November 1952.
  2. BR Automatic Train Control: Maintenance Instructions [BR 31168/2).
  3. BTC Handbook For Steam Locomotive Enginemen.
  4. See also: Kempe’s Engineers’ Yearbook Vol. 1.

 

-oOo-

Towards Nationalisation

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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.”

Unsurprisingly, the Government’s official opposition were obviously against the idea, and supported the ‘Big Four’ railway companies campaign against nationalisation. In parliament they were accused of obstructing and delaying tactics to try and prevent its passage. One commentator suggesting that if the Government did not use parliamentary procedures to limit the time for debate, it would be years and not months before any progress could be made.

Given the economic state of Britain in the late 1940s, this would be very damaging to post-war recovery.

The LMS and the other companies were actively campaigning against nationalisation, and in March 1946, amongst many other questions in Parliament, there were questions about how the then subsidies paid to the LMS would be prevented from campaigning against state ownership.

HC Deb 12 March 1946 vol 420 c202W

H. Hynd asked the Minister of War Transport whether he is taking steps to ensure that the L.M.S. Railway Company’s campaign against the Government’s nationalisation policy will not be financed from profits that would otherwise accrue to the State under the Railway Control Agreement.

Barnes Expenditure incurred by the railway companies for the purpose in question would be charged to their own funds and would not fall upon the Control Account.

The companies had all contributed to a document – which might be called both a publicity booklet – and, the start of that campaign. This is what it said in its introduction:

In their conclusion at the end of the booklet describing how well they’ve achieved efficiencies and continued to operate services during wartime they stated:

Conclusion

Clearly, the ‘Big Four’ believed they would be best placed to take the business forward, despite the massively damaged economy, ongoing rationing, general economic stagnation, and shortage of all kinds of materials, products and most importantly, shortage of people.

In December 1946, as the Transport Bill was being given its second reading, the government position was exemplified in an interesting comment made by Mr Strauss the Transport Minister’s right hand man:

“…. suggest that we are, in this Measure, adopting the only solution that is capable of resolving the deep economic conflict within this industry.”

The Transport Act 1947 received the “Royal Assent” on 6th August 1947, and on 30th December 1947, the Manchester Guardian’s carried this interesting reflection from its “Special Correspondent”:  State Ownership of Railways

The aim was clearly for an integrated transport system, a view reinforced by a prominent “railway MP” and former railwayman – Walter Monslow – the MP for Barrow-in-Furness. Writing in the ASLE&F magazine “Locomotive Journal” in February 1947 he quoted the English philosopher John Stuart Mill:

“Countries which, at a given moment are not masters of their own transport, will be condemned to ruin in the economic struggles of the future.”

Loco Journal Cover - Feb 1947

Walter Monslow Article - Feb 1947 ASLE&F

Since 1948, the development of Britain’s rail network has undergone many changes, many technological, and quite a few operational and economic, but the goal of an integrated system has never been achieved. If anything since 1991, the country has seen ‘disintegration’ of transport, and with a private operator having to balance its public service, with responsibilities to shareholders, had the ‘Big Four’ taken over again in 1948, it is doubtful if progress would have been made easily.

Now that we have seen the impact of a return to private operations, and the lack of integration across transport, both within and beyond rail operations, I wonder what John Stuart Mill – once described as “the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 19th century” would have to say about that in the 21st Century.

-oOo-

 

Electro-Diesels are Back

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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:

In November 1964, an item appeared in the “Locomotive Journal” from ASLE&F, and in describing the Bournemouth Electrification project, this little snippet appeared:

ASLEF Journal Extract 1964

Preston’s English Electric Co. had received an order for 43 of these locomotives, which was in essence part of the plan to elimiate steam traction, as well as following the Bournemouth electrification scheme.

They were numbered E6007-49 by BR, and designated Type JB to distinguish them from the six prototype Type JA locomotives, Nos. E600l-6, which later became class 71.  The new English Electric/Vulcan Foundry built locos became classes 73/1 and 73/2.  English Electric had supplied the power equipment for the six Type JA, BR built locos, which were constructed at Eastleigh Works, and entered service between February and December 1962.

The next batch, Type JB, were built at English Electric Co’s works at Newton-Le-Willows – originally the Vulcan Foundry – and delivered between October 1965 and January 1967.  The diesel engines were also manufactured at Vulcan Foundry, with the electrical equipment produced at the Preston works.

Class 73:2 Electro-Diesel

EE Class 73:2 No 6021

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

Here’s what Hitachi have delivered:

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

The new Class 802s for TPE are essentially closely similar to the same type delivered by Hitachi to Great Western, and for TPE are fitted with MTU/Rolls-Royce Series 1600 MTU PowerPacks.  The core of the PowerPack is the MTU 12V 1600 R80L, a 12-cylinder diesel engine, with low consumption/emissions, and meets the EU Stage IIIB emission legislation.

The trains, ordered as 19 x 5-car sets will be able to run in either five or ten carriage formation, capable of speeds of up to 140mph in electric mode and 125 mph using diesel engines.

Hitachi Class 802 at Doncaster Depot

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

Further reading:

Transpennine Express “Nova 1” Begins Tests

Hitachi Class 385 Electrics

One issue that has not been addressed for the UK so far as the bi-mode trains are concerned, is whether this is a stop-gap solution pending the restart of electrification projects across the Pennines.

Nevertheless the new rolling stock looks like a welcome improvement.   This is a long way from the designs and requirements for rail operations in the 1960s, with fixed formation train sets – multiple units – and certainly more aerodynamic styling.

Let’s hope they can also be used on Northern Rail territory and lines in North West England.

-oOo-

British Railways: Interchange Trials 1948

Standard

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

City of Glasgow on 1st Caledonian 17th June 1957

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

RPB 220_Lens of Sutton

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

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

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.

Stanier 8F nearing Dalton in 2008

The LMS built this 2-8-0 in huge numbers – with over 600 in service by 1948. Many having been built by the other main line railway companies, Beyer Peacock and North British Loco. for war service at home and overseas. A natural choice perhaps for the 1948 trials.                                    Photo: RPB Collection

It may be that one of the main drivers was the ease of availability of coal as a fuel,where oil had to be imported, and the cost of electric traction’s infrastructure was expensive in the post-war economy of the UK.

Further reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed discussion of the trials:

Interchange Trials - cover

Useful Links:

National Archive – Report of the Locomotive Testing Committee

RM Web – The 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials – Discussions

1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials

BR’s First Year (The Spectator)

Loco Interchange Trials 1948 (Rly Mag)