Electro-Diesels & Hybrids

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There has been much talk, and quite a few examples in recent years of what are described as “Bi-mode” trains – in the UK, these are the 800 Class multiple units on the GWR, together with the 10 DRS Class 88 locomotives.  Across Europe these are becoming more common too, and Bombardier’s “Mitrac” is another recent hybrid offering, with power from overhead contact systems, and a diesel engine.

But, these are not a new idea, just the latest incarnation of an idea more than a century old, with the first claim being made in 1889.  This was the “Patton Motor Car”, which was followed in what was known as a “gas-electric hybrid system” applied to a tramcar at Pullman, Illinois.   Also quick on the take up was Belgium, where in the 1890s, a petrol-electric vehicle was taking to the rails, also fitted with a generator and traction motors.  British Westinghouse built a similar example, with a 100hp diesel engine, for the Great Central Railways in the early years of the 20th century.  After the First World War, the hybrid approach took a step further forward in Belgium, with batteries – a collection of accumulators – an equally important step in hybrid developments.

Electro Diesel in Rail Blue liveryIt was not until the 1950s that a class of main line locomotives able to operate on electrified and non-electrified lines.   During the early British Railways era, there was no example of main line ‘hybrid’ or electro-diesel locomotive, although the former private companies had begun experiments in non-steam traction, but with little significant growth.

Many of British Railways’ electro-diesel locomotives for the Southern Region are, amazingly perhaps, are still in regular operation.  It was a unique solution to implement in the early 1960s, to provide go anywhere motive power, for a wide range of mixed traffic and shunting duties.  The BR Modernisation Programme was in full swing, and diesels were replacing steam, but future electrification was on the overhead system, and the Southern’s 3rd rail network had limited potential.

This is a brief look at what BR developed, and its operations over many years:

Electro-diesels cover

 

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From Preston to Montreal

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The first efforts to electrify the railway in and around the harbour at Montreal in Canada came after 1915, and in part were driven by the British Government’s desire to increase its trade within the empire, and expand and develop resources.  They even set up a Royal Commission to look into how that could be achieved just before the start of the First World War.  One of the commissioners appointed was Sir William Lorimer, Chairman of the North British Locomotive Co., and yet it would be one of his company’s newer competitors who won an order for locomotive power for the Montreal Harbour Commissioners’ impressive project.

In 1915, the Harbour Commissioners had had a report prepared on the benefits of electrifying the railways around Montreal Harbour.  The following year, 1916, in the company’s annual report, they made this statement:

“It was ascertained that, in addition to the primary object of overcoming the smoke nuisance, the application of electricity would prove to be economical and flexible and especially advantageous for the elimination of the corrosion of steel and galvanized iron by acid gases.   Although preparations were made to urge forward the completion of this important work, the Commissioners decided that under existing conditions it would be advisable to postpone the expenditure for this undertaking until after the War.”

The “corrosion of steel and galvanised iron by gases” might well have been an early reference to acid rain.

Prior to the electrification of Montreal Harbour’s lines, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) had constructed a new line from the town of Mount Royal, to downtown Montreal, and had also introduced the first main line electrification to Canada.  Mount Royal is a town to the North West of central Montreal, and lies on the north west of the mountain from which it takes its name. In 1910 the CNR first proposed constructing a 5-km-long tunnel under Mount Royal, and developed the town as a “Model City”, originally laid out after the style of Washington, DC.  The line then made a connection with Montreal’s harbour lines, and a new central station was built, with a freight station located near the Lachine Canal and what is now described as Montreal’s old Harbour.  The newly electrified track to downtown Montreal used Bo-Bo electric locos built by General Electric at Schenectady, New York, whilst the Canadian GEC supplied the overhead equipment and power systems.    The point of this first scheme was to handle both suburban and main line trains from the new passenger station in Montreal to the suburban territory beyond Mount Royal, wherethe mainline traffic wastransferred to steam haulage.  

The electrification of the Mount Royal Tunnel section was electrified at 2,400V d.c., completed in September 1918, with the first train running through on 21stOctober that same year.

This period – marked both by enormous growth in freight traffic, and by the collapse of the Canadian Northern Railway (amongst others) – was a very difficult time.  The Federal Government nationalized the railway, and later took on board the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), alongside others, and by 1923, Canadian National Railways became the major Railway in Canada. 

This photograph originally appeared on the cover of English Electric booklet No. 55 of its ‘Railway Electrification’ series, and published in 1931, shows some indication of the harsh conditions faced by electric traction in Canada.

It is speculation to suggest that this work and the GE built locomotives – which were completed between 1914 and 1918 – encouraged the Montreal Harbour Commissioners to press ahead with their plans to electrify the harbour lines.  It was 7 years later that the Harbour Commissioners were able to complete the electrification of the harbour lines, in 1925, and in order to conform to the standards adopted by CNR for the Mount Royal Tunnel, again, 2400V d.c. was adopted throughout.

However, and perhaps due to British Government influence, the Harbour Commissioners looked to the UK and English Electric for their project.  The Preston based company not only provided the nine, 100 ton locomotives, but also the motor generator sets for the substations that provided the traction power supply.   For the infrastructure work, three 1000kW motor generator sets were supplied to the initial installation, with the last two being manufactured at English Electric’s Stafford Works.  Subsequently, the Harbour Commissioners ordered two more machines from English Electric, each of which consisted of a 2,300kW, 63 cycles, synchronous motor, coupled to a pair of 1200V d.c. generators, connected in series.

The locomotives

No. 103 in original condition, and newly arrived from Preston, prior to embarking on its 70+ years of work in and around Montreal Harbour, and the Mount Royal line.

The new locomotives were a Bo-Bo design of 1720hp, and were supplied against two orders, and at the time, considered to be the most powerful units of their type, anywhere in the world.  The orders were placed in 1923, with the first four locomotives entering service in February 1925, and the second batch of five in operation from August the following year.  The locomotives were built at the Preston Works, and shipped across the Atlantic to Montreal.  In design, the units were a simple box cab layout, with a driving cab at each end, although one of these was provided with projecting lookouts so that the driver could have unobstructed vision during some shunting operations.  The cab with the projecting lookouts had duplicate controls, a further advantage for shunting service, whilst the cab at the opposite end, with only a single set of controls, and no lookouts, would be used predominantly for long haul operations.

Up until the completion of electrification works around the harbour, and arrival of these new locomotives, the Harbour Commissioners had been renting two electric units Canadian National Railways. It was a temporary measure, and to some degree an experiment in the use of electric traction, and the rented locos were from the six boxcab units built at GE’s Schenectady Works.

CNR blueprint diagram of the EE locos for Montreal Harbour. This diagram – also showing the position of the illuminated number board fitted in later years, was originally published in the journal of the Canadian Railroad Historical Society in January 1962.

Power equipment layout consisted of four; 430hp force ventilated traction motors, each being axle hung, and driving the wheels through single reduction spur gearing.   Given the harsh winter conditions in Canada, the traction motors received some interesting design attention.  To avoid condensation in the traction motors in cold weather, after the locomotive had completed its roster, all the field coils were connected in series, and heated through a connection to an external 220V power source.  Not without some irony perhaps, but the UK’s own problems with electric traction some 60 years later surfaced with a newspaper headline about service failures due to the ‘wrong kind of snow’ falling in Britain!  Most European rail networks – especially in Scandinavia – paid far more attention, like Canada, to the effects of freezing weather on traction systems than British Rail.

The locomotives were capable of exerting a tractive effort of 70,000 lbs at the wheel treads, and soon after their introduction, one of their number demonstrated these abilities, by hauling a train of some 5,240 tons, the heaviest then recorded.  Within the body of the locomotive, the remaining equipment was installed in cubicles along either side of a central gangway. This hardware consisted of a motor generator set, air compressors and banks of resistances, with standard English Electric camshaft control.  

With the English Electric version of this form of control, the operating current was not switched at the camshaft itself, but on line breakers, connected in series with the camshaft controller.  Special provision was made for the high-tension equipment, which was housed in a separate compartment, included access through substantial, interlocked, sliding doors, and which could not be opened unless the main switch was closed, isolating the equipment.

In view of the harshness of the Montreal climate in winter, important amongst the numerous design considerations, was the provision of adequate ventilation and heating. Provisions were made to guard against condensation in the traction motor field windings, which could be connected in series to a 220V shore supply, and the driving cabs were double glazed, and heavily insulated against the cold.

Leading Dimensions, Numbering & Withdrawal

For their time and size these were very powerful machines, and the maximum tractive effort they were able to exert was actually a little more than one of English Electric’s most famous diesel locomotive from the 1950s – the 3,300hp “Deltic” prototype.

CN No. 186 with commuter train in Montreal with the running number applied in 1949, and renumbered 6722 after 1969.
Photo © A.J.Schill/Joseph Testagrose Collection

The locomotives were numbered 9180 to 9188 when they were taken into CN service, as Class Z-4-a and renumbered as 180 to 188 in 1949, before a final renumbering in 1969, with numbers 6716 to 6724.  They were finally withdrawn from service in 1995, when carrying this number series.

In the same year, 1923, English Electric also received an order for a pair of 760hp Bo-Bo electric locomotives, for operation on the Niagra-St Catherines-Toronto route, which was electrified at 600V d.c., and used a ‘trolley pole’ form of overhead contact.  The 1920s were perhaps the last decade when electric tramway, inter-urban or other light rail networks used this form of electrification.

The petrol-electric crane/servicing locomotive built and delivered by English Electric in 1929.  Seen here in Preston shortly after completion, and before shipping to Montreal.

The Petrol-Electric Locomotive

Even these were not the only motive power designed and supplied by English Electric for Canada’s early electrification projects. In 1929 the Montreal Harbour Commissioners ordered what was described as a general service locomotive for repair and construction work – this was a 54ton petrol-electric locomotive, fitted with a 100hp 6-cylinder engine.  Attached to this petrol engine was a 52kW, 500 volt main generator and a 120 volt auxiliary generator, powering the traction motors through a 12-notch controller that provided fine control over the loco’s speed, up to a maximum of 12 mph.   Its unique feature – clearly because of its intended use – included a roof mounted jib crane, and a swinging/collapsible gantry, for maintenance and service personnel to reach whatever equipment was in need of attention on the overhead system.

 English Electric received yet another order from Canada – the company’s last, in 1952 – but this time for the Toronto Transit Commission, and perhaps sadly from Preston’s view, the order was only for motorcoach control equipment. That said, the 1952 order consisted of no less than 140 sets of that control equipment, with the mechanical parts and assembly from Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F), from its factory in Montreal.  Today, CC&F is part of the Bombardier Transportation business, as its railcar facility in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The original nine locos for Montreal Harbour had a very long service life, and were only withdrawn fully in 1995 – more than 70 years after their delivery and initial operation.  In later years the class ceased working around Montreal Harbour after 1940/41.This extract from a discussion on these locomotives appeared in the January 1962 edition of the newsletter of the Canadian Railroad Historical Society:

“The Montreal Harbour electrification, however, did not prove to be too successful. Technically it was fine but the financial burden was too great and at the close of the 1940 navigation season, electric operations were brought to a halt. During the following months, the National Harbours Board wire crews took down the expensive overhead and dismantled the electrification works. The electric locomotives, however, fitted admirably with the CNR’s need for additional motive power for the National System’s expanding Montreal Terminals electrification. The locomotives, therefore, were transferred to the Canadian National Railways in 1942 in exchange for nine steam-powered 0-6-0 switchers numbered 7512 to 7518 inclusive.”

In its final guise for CN, No. 6716 and a sister locomotive head a commuter service near Mount Royal in July 1983.  Although the headlight is still in the original position, the loco now has an illuminated number board just above the central cab window.
Photo © Clayton Langstaff

The electrification work, and the provision of these new boxcab locomotives was an important milestone for English Electric, and whilst the mechanical parts were sub-contracted to Beyer-Peacock in Manchester, this marked a major success for the company. These first orders for substation power equipment and locomotives were received only 4 years after the company came into existence, brining together the years of experience, and expertise already shown by the Dick, Kerr Co., pushing forward with electric traction. 2019 marks the centenary of what was for half a century perhaps the most famous electrical engineering company in the UK, and it was only just over a year ago that the doors on the factory in Preston, Lancashire were closed for the final time.

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