Container Trains

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The heading photo shows DRS 88003 hauling a Daventry to Mossend container train. Photo: NK Ian – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61767573

How old are container trains in the UK?  Well, it’s not simple answer, although we are all familiar in 2021 with Freightliner trains, and the Eddie Stobart and Tesco container carrying trains.  Of course these are intermodal services nowadays – but there have always been intermodal freight operations on the railway – transferring goods from horses and carts onto goods wagons.  Railway freight traffic was never always about bulk loads of minerals, coal and oil, and it was the wagon load and part load consignments that kick started some interesting developments in British Railways days.

There were numerous methods of providing specialised containers for wagon or van load consignments of goods, whether for household furniture, or bulk transport of engineering components in a lengthy supply chain for manufacturers.

Before Liner Trains

In 1964, BR London Midland Region issued a small glossy booklet, entitled “Freight Handbook”, which, apart from the usual details of goods depot and regional telephone numbers contained brief descriptions of some of the innovations in wagonload and container traffic facilities.  The services include what BR described as “demountable containers” carried on a rail wagon, and transferred to and from road vehicles at the terminals at each end of the journey.  Described as a “door-to-door service” that was being constantly improved and extended, the fact that road transport by the early 1960s was entirely privately owned meant that BR had fewer road vehicles to provide the last lap of the journey.

One of the most blindingly obvious commercial errors to us, looking back from 2021 is that no charge was made for the use of containers “owned by the railway”, but just the contents.  Nobody would make that mistake today – would they?!

BR London Midland offered 12 different types of covered container, and three described as ‘open’.  The covered versions were of either ventilated, refrigerated, and insulated, or just simply a wooden box with doors on, and able to carry 4 to 5 tons.  Some had two compartments and bottom doors, whilst others – for meat traffic – had roof bars and hooks for hanging carcasses.  The handbook actually shows images of what BR called the ‘SW’ type – which was essentially a container on wheels that could hold about 1 ton, and could be loaded onto a rail wagon/van by two men.

Manual handling of some of these containers would clearly have been very hard work, but it was not uncommon activity in the 1960s workplace, and mechanical handling appeared over time to both reduce the physical strain and increase efficient load handling.

A couple of interesting examples are illustrated too of the handling of ‘palletised traffic’, where boxes of baked beans on pallets are then loaded into one of the then new ‘pallet vans’.  Judging by the examples in both BR’s own ‘handbook’ and other publications – “Transport Age” – the railway was responding to changes in traffic types by designing and building bespoke vehicles, from pallet vans to specialist ferry vans.  The latter take us away from container trains a little, but perhaps serves to highlight the challenge the industry faced in competition with road hauliers, and standardisation of containers carried at sea on international journeys.

But the most important development to precede the Liner Train project was the “Condor” service, which carried the existing designs of container – essentially a cut down covered van – on a train of specially designed four-wheeled wagons: “Conflats”.  The train began service in 1959, running from Hendon in North London, to Gushetfaulds in Glasgow, and hauled by a pair of the new Metro-Vick 2-stroke, 1,200hp diesel locos.  From Glasgow to London, the load included manufactured goods from Scotland, and in the reverse direction, imported raw materials were shipped from London’s docks to the factories around Glasgow.  The service was door to door, using British Road Services lorries at either end, and with customers paying £16 or £18 to hire a container to carry their products.

The Condor service was a success, and a second route between Birmingham (Aston) and Glasgow in 1963 – the year of the Beeching Report – but it succumbed in the end to Beeching, although it was also the route operated by the first Liner Train / Freightliner service in 1965.

The Liner Train project 

Ironically too, the BMC and BR operated ‘Charter Trains’ between Cowley, Oxford and Bathgate – on specially designed flat wagons – to transport Morris Minor cars to Scotland, and vans and commercial vehicles from Scotland to England.  A few years later, cars were being transported by road, on transporter lorries in ever greater numbers, and liberalisation of commercial road traffic dealt a bit of a blow to the door-to-door service of the ‘Condor’.

The famous “Liner Trains” proposed by Beeching was really a development of existing modular, palletised, and containerised goods services, which ultimately led to the intermodal and company train services of today.  Amongst many other – some would say disastrous – changes proposed under Beeching some radical proposals around “open goods depots” were put forward.

In Appendix 4 of the Beeching Report, the concept is described specifically as:

“…. A conception of transport based upon joint use of road and rail for door-to-door transport of containerised merchandise, with special purpose, through running, scheduled trains providing the trunk haul.”

So there we have it – what we now call inter-modal services, albeit introduced, or at least considered mainly to reduce the financial burdens of non-train-load goods traffic.  In its original concept, the Liner Train was described as a series of permanently coupled flat wagons, for carrying containers, and running to a schedule that would demand high utilisation of the stock.  Each train would have a gross load of 680 tons, with a 360-ton payload, and running at between 50 and 75 mph.

The traffic itself – given that the early 1960s were the years of huge investment in motorways, and roadbuilding – was optimistically described as goods which would be suitable for rail if the right conditions were met – heavy and full loads, on specific routes at reasonable rates.  Having said that this idea was optimistic, it also has to be said that the report considered that the potential tonnage identified for this service was ‘conservative’ at 93 million tons.  Traffic studies had shown that 16 million tons of freight carried annually on the roads, could transfer to rail on this service.

Between this first mention of “Liner Trains” and their appearance in traffic, the political landscape changed, not to mention the review of the “Beeching Proposals”, which were in full swing by late 1964.  In October that year, the General Election resulted in yet another change, and railway policy was about to change again, but the “Liner Train” / Intermodal concept was still a popular option, although none were at that time in operation.  In December 1964, and in answer to a question raised in Parliament about the delay, the new Transport Minister made this statement:

“The Railways Board hopes to introduce the first experimental liner trains next summer, if early agreement is reached with the unions on the principle of “open” depots. My predecessor approved investment of £6 million for liner trains; of this about £700,000 will be spent in 1964. Investment for 1965 will depend on the date of introduction of the services.”

At the time, the “open” depots referred to were the subject of negotiations on working arrangements with the railway trades unions.  The “Liner Train” proposal was given a boost in this early period, with British Railways and the Post Office’s plans to concentrate the handling of parcels and what they described as “sundries” at a small number of larger centres.  Exactly as the road based parcels delivery companies operate today with their distribution hubs and centres – history repeating itself?

An interesting paragraph in the report about the loss of the traffic in small manufactured components to road hauliers, it states that such traffic would not pay the railway to carry it, yet it is just that type of traffic that is “expected to grow”.  In the next paragraph it states too that there is likely to be a growth in the shipment of containers overseas – classic intermodal from rail to seaport – with containers built to “international standards”.  Each of which has proven an accurate prediction.

By 1967, work had progressed, and was even the subject of a Pathe Newsreel report, as the extract shown in the link describes: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/freight-liner-trains .  That said, the clip only shows the early “Freightliner” liveried stock being loaded onto a ferry for the Dover to Dunkirk service.  Two years earlier, the trials and testing of the liner trains with their new ‘flat cars’ was under way, as the Government had approved the funding, and in a parliamentary debate, this was what one MP commented:

“It seems to me that all those who have studied this matter are satisfied that the liner trains will succeed in attracting a very considerable volume of traffic which is now carried on the roads. They will do so only if new specialised railway vehicles are constructed for the purpose. These vehicles are now being constructed in the railway workshop at Derby, and I do not think this would be a proper time for me to have a review of the whole principle underlying the substitution of the existing stock of vehicles by these new ones.”

The discussion had centred around the obsolescence or otherwise of existing wagon designs, and some people seemed to think that the new liner train vehicles would not be interchangeable with existing types – which was of course the point in many ways.  Other goods traffic was declining, and most of the professional railwaymen, including the NUR, were very supportive of the project were anxious to press ahead.

In 1965, British Railways published a further report on the “Development of Trunk Routes”, looking ahead to the 1980s, and based on existing and forecast rail and road traffic flows.  It was also based on the location of industry – from mining to manufacturing – with the principal traffic centres of London, the West Midlands, Merseyside – Manchester – Hull, and Glasgow and around Newcastle.  But the prospects outlined could not take account of the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas reserves, or the ‘offshoring’ of most of the UK’s manufacturing, and dramatic social and economic changes that began in 1979.  

Huge investments in road transport were ongoing, with enormous expansion of the motorway network, and little if any thought of integration or collaboration.  So, the “Liner Train” concept was largely on the back burner for many years, with limited – if any innovation – in multi or intermodal services, and certainly no consideration of environmental impact.

That argument about “could transfer from road to rail” has featured prominently about rail freight services for over 50 years now, as roadrailer, pocket wagon and piggyback concepts have all come and gone.  But, maybe the intermodal services need to be looked at again now, and mimic some of the networks used by the parcel delivery companies, who themselves seem to follow the old railway marshalling yard (hubs), to regional (distribution centres) and local goods (local depot) depots mechanisms.

Currently there are 11 Freightliner depots – Cardiff, Southampton, London, Felixstowe, Birmingham, Cannock, Doncaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.  The services are now owned and operated by a company from the USA– Genesee & Wyoming Inc. – with its headquarters in Connecticut, and in 2015 the company purchased the UK’s Freightliner Group Ltd.  This separate business is a mix of the traditional bulk mineral haulage that are traditional railway fodder, and the container traffic that, at least on the surface, shows interaction between carrying goods on a flatbed lorry, and its equivalent on rail. 

The concept of intermodal – from the dockside to a depot has changed – but it appears that the majority of seaborne containers that arrive at ports are still ultimately carried on the roads, to an importer/supplier’s regional hubs and distribution centres.  The lorry’s engines may be more efficient and less polluting than before, but multiple engines are needed to carry 20 or 30 containers on a 100 mile journey from port to inland depot.  The likes of the UK’s major supermarket chain and ‘traditional’ road hauliers do run specialised long-haul trains carrying those seaborne containers, but it may be true to say there is still some way to go before a truly intermodal containerised goods traffic is operated in Britain.

47258 "Forth Ports Tilbury" at Stafford on 24/09/99.                                                            By Steve Jones from Telford, United Kingdom - 47258 at Stafford, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73194374
47258 “Forth Ports Tilbury” at Stafford on 24/09/99n on a Freightliner service. Photo: Steve Jones CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73194374

There have been many useful ideas in the past, but none have really got to grips with the obsession of road transport for long distance traffic – and is it really that convenient for business?  

-oOo-

From Signalboxes to ROCs

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There is a new word in town – it’s “digital” – and you can use it for anything to make it sound big, clever, or a technological marvel.  Take the “digital railway” for instance, what is it?  This is what they said on their website in 2019:

“Digital Railway aims to deliver the benefits of digital signalling and train control more quickly than current plans, deploying proven technology in a way that maximises economic benefit to the UK.”

In 2021, this was changed slightly and now reads:

“What’s the Digital Railway programme?”

The rail industry’s plan to transform the rail network for passengers, business and freight operators by deploying modern signalling and train control technology to increase capacity, reduce delays, enhance safety and drive down costs.”

Now, a couple of short videos are posted on the opening page:

That said, hundreds of signalboxes are now on their way into history, and the UK has come a long way from mechanical, through electro-mechanical and electronic systems, and is changing at an even faster pace today.

Chris Grayling, the then Transport Secretary, stated in 2017 he was taking £5 million from the £450 million pot for the UK’s “Digital Railway”, to enable Network Rail to investigate options for making the Manchester to Leeds route “digital”.  But why Network Rail – implementing ETCS at even Level 1 will require work from the train operating companies and rolling stock owners to retrofit their locomotives and trains.  On top of which, some have already been fitted with what will become non-standard TPWS, and cab signalling/driver advisory systems, which would add to the cost, although today ETCS has been used on lines in mid-Wales, and under test on the Hertford loop.

Clearly Mr Grayling – and maybe even the “Digital Railway” web pages are highlighting what they might like to see, and there is still much work to be done.

York IECC Control Room – 20th Century signalling technology

Yes – I know about the WCML upgrade work – but, although it was included in the EU “TENS” programme – I can’t help but wonder if it will be fully complete without more private investment, or ideally perhaps state investment.  ETCS together with GSM-R telecoms was and remains an integral part of the ERTMS platform, which perhaps not surprisingly has progressed in fits and starts over the years.

I remember first writing about this over 20 years ago, and whilst yes, historians will say that automatic train control systems have been around on London Underground, the Great Western Railway (in steam days), and even British Railways in the 1950s, this is really about ETCS.  Back in the 1990s, as Solid State Interlocking and IECCs (Integrated Electronic Control Centres) began to arrive on BR, the old fixed block systems were gradually being phased out and replaced by the new technology, which today we are obliged to call the “digital railway”. 

Inside Three Bridges (London) ROC

Ironically perhaps the video on the Digital Railway website states that the UK needs a new signalling system designed for the 21st century – what a pity the UK didn’t invest sooner in the 20th century system that this Digital Railway will use.  Perhaps the one thing I would take issue with in their promotional video is that this nirvana will provide “better connections” – well only if you provide more stations and more trains on new or re-opened lines perhaps! 

A current version of the same video, and the “better connections” feature seen previously seems to be missing, and more attention focussed on the improved capacity, and CDAS (Connected Driver Advisory System) included.  

Automatic Train Operation (ATO) still features, the ‘autopilot’ for trains, along with real time train performance information gathering – oh yes – and being able to update passengers in real time about delays.  This latter presumes that stations have information displays on the platform – many still do not have this, and it seems to depend on the train operating company (TOC) to put these facilities in place.  But it is progress – albeit slow.

Still we do have the experience of the Cambrian Line ETCS at Level 2 to gather data from, analyses and provide that next step.  However, despite Mr Grayling’s proposition, Thameslink is next in line, along with Crossrail – and presumably Crossrail 2, which has replaced the planned work on the Transpennine electrification.  The Thameslink core will be receiving in addition, a system from Hitachi that allows automated route setting, and claims to minimise signaller involvement, but does not control the interlocking directly, but responds to status information, with sophisticated software used to set or amend the route.

In 2018, details were published of the ETCS rollout projects for the remainder of Control Period 5 (CP5), which took us up to the end of 2019, and these included:

From that list – intriguingly – the ETCS deployment on Crossrail has been described as a “Metro based” signalling system, which is apparently not compatible with mainline deployment.  So, here we have a “digital strategy” to deploy ETCS Level 2, but which is not being deployed in a strategic way.  This is what the strategy document actually said:

“The Crossrail core section utilises Metro based signalling that is not scalable from either a technology or procurement perspective for widespread mainline applications.”

Given that Crossrail is supposed to provide a cross London route for main line trains, why would you deploy such a system?  Does it provide full ETCS/ERTMS compatibility, and does calling is a “Metro based” system just mean that its name is the only thing that has changed?

More recently, the rollout of ETCS has been proposed to the East Coast Main Line, and in 2018, the “Digital Railway Strategy” indicated that this would be done in a ‘discrete’ manner, as and when signalling was due for renewal and/or replacement.   Is this just a piecemeal approach?  This is what was stated as the 2018 strategic approach to signalling:

So, further deployments were planned in line with funding through CP6 and CP7, and in late 2020 it was announced that £350 million was to be used to deploy “digital signalling” on the southern section of the East Coast Main Line.   This is the section from King’s Cross to just north of Peterborough, and will be migrated to ETCS level 2 with no lineside signals in a phased approach.  At the same time existing passenger and freight trains will be fitted with the new technology.   The major changes to the infrastructure and signalling systems, including the provision and deployment of ETCS, was set to be carried out by a partnership of Network Rail, WS Atkins and Siemens in a framework contract. 

With a new Transport Secretary in place – Grant Shapps replaced Chris Grayling in July 2019 – the development and rollout of the “digital railway” is still not a strategic plan, but based on business cases for the routes, and often only sections of the main routes.  Much of the national rail network’s main routes will not see ETCS in either Level 1 or Level 2 form until the next two control periods have passed – sometime in the next 10 years.  In fact, according to the Long Term Deployment Plan, most work on the infrastructure – based on a business case for the specific renewals, and retrofitting trains – will happen between 2028 and 2039.  Presumably that depends on funding being available, and whether or not the private train operating companies – passenger and freight – buy into this evolving strategy.

Goodbye to the Signalbox

With the reliance on in-cab signalling and in formation, lineside signals will gradually reduce in importance to the operation of the train, and as innovation and technical developments take place, the control of train movements will become ever more centralised.  That said, controlling traffic flow will still need to have multiple – if fewer – points of control, and changes to movements and/or direction can be implemented more rapidly with 21st century communications.  This will have perhaps its greatest impact on the lineside feature that is the signalbox.

The traditional signalbox – IECCs and SSI as well? – is being replaced by the ROC (Railway Operating Centre) – which although essentially a Network Rail facility, will be a shared facility with the private train operators’ staff working alongside Network Rail at 12 locations. 

So close to nationalisation surely?

Of the ROCs being rolled out by Network Rail, Manchester was first, and kitted out with the latest software and systems for train control, planning, and automated route setting, opened in July 2014 by Sir Richard Leese.  In the UK this is the Hitachi platform for train management, known as “Tranista”, which was developed initially for GE Transportation Systems, but works with both Alstom MCS and Siemens Westcad

Manchester ROC Entrance

Nice, but functional, and behind the walls lies the heart of the operation, computer systems and traffic management software.

I’m guessing they’re not necessarily using Windows!

This has been a long time coming. Back in 2002 I wrote this item for ‘Engineering‘ summarising some of the platforms available, and what was being used and proposed on the UK rail network – much has changed and developed with technology, but it makes an interesting review.

-oOo-

Useful Links:

Network Rail Links

Northern Rail Nadir

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So finally, Northern Rail has been de-privatised – I’m not sure simply cancelling the franchise contract, and appointing a quango to oversee the operation counts as nationalisation.

No changes will take place operationally for some time, and in so far as the infrastructure upgrades and developments are concerned, the existing projects are still ongoing.  New work is still needed to cope with the existing increase in passenger numbers, and not just to Manchester Piccadilly’s platforms 13 and 14.

Northern Rail passenger milesOver the past 10 years, Northern Rail – in both Arriva and Serco formats – has seen passenger miles increase by 31%, from 1,209 million to 1,606 million miles, between 2009/10 to 2018/19.  Using the published ORR figures – although the most recent figures have changed to kilometres from miles.

This table is based on those published figures, Northern have received over £3 billion in direct subsidy – ironically perhaps that is also a 31% increase over 10 years, but obviously that is not the whole story, and it is more complex.  There is clearly much to be done, and in some cases, work that was cancelled needs restarting.

Northern Rail Subsidies

In the same period, it appears that Northern were able to pay a little over £39 million back, as part of the revenie share.

Is that good value for money?

I would not suggest that simply transferring it into a quasi publicly owned and operated rail service will suddenly make it a profitable operation, as even in BR days, whilst InterCity and Freight were profitable, Provincial, regional services were not.  Maybe we are heading back to the era where, for social, and community reasons, as well as sound environmental and sustainable reasons, we need the rail network.

Too many train operating companies, leasing stock from rolling stock companies (mainly owned by banks and financial institutions), seems to make for a complex, and bureaucratic  management of train services.  Quite apart from running trains, there is contract management and negotiation with Network Rail (yes I know that is governed within the franchise arrangements), inter-operation with other train operators – freight and passenger, together with day to day asset management.  It seems the UK style of privatisation has added a number of layers to the running of a railway, and Northern Rail has been the most serious symptom of failure.

It will be interesting to see how this develops, and how changes to funding and management models are implemented to deliver the improvements and, hopefully success, that the private train operator was unable to achieve.

The Northern website on 1st March had this updated front page:

Northern front page

-oOo-

Further reading:

Northern franchise enters new future

Northern press release cover

Rail Delivery Group response to Northern franchise announcement

Northern rail franchise to be renationalised

Northern franchise termination was the only option, says Transport for the North

 

Timetables are Hard to Find

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Just today I vcame across an old story from the Department for Transport from 2014, when the Government announced – Plans for £38 billion investment in railways unveiled. This was 5 years ago, and clearly much has changed since, but just picking up on the heavy investment in rail infrastructure in, around, through and under London, I wondered how much of what was planned has been achieved.

These are just a few of the points made in that announcement:

  • the Northern Hub: transforming rail across the north of England with capacity for hundreds more trains and 44 million more passengers, with the potential to boosting the regional economy with thousands more jobs
  • the Thameslink programme: increasing to 24 trains per hour at peak times each way through the centre of London, freeing up capacity on the capital’s transport network
  • Over 850 miles of railway electrification: including the Great Western Main Line, Midland Main Line and across the north and north west of England, bringing greener, more frequent and more reliable journeys for millions of passengers
  • A new, electrified railway linking the Great Western, West Coast and Midland main lines, connecting Oxford with Bedford and Milton Keynes as part of the East-West Rail project
  • Transformed stations at Birmingham New Street, Manchester Victoria, Bristol Temple Meads and London Bridge

The second point seemed to be the easiest to prove had taken place – so off I went, looking for the Thameslink timetables for 2018 (not even this year’s), to see if progress had been made. It is suprisingly difficult to finmd details of the times of day that are a) defined as ‘peak’, and b) whether a journey from say Bedfor to St Pancras counts as one of those 24 per hour. That statement would suggest that there would be 24 trains arriving at St Pancras betwween 09:00 and 10:00, and another 24 leaving to head for Bedford.

To me, that sounds odd. However …

Looking at a PDF copy of the GTR timetable 9 December 2018 to 18 May 2019, here’s what I found: just 11 trains arrived at London St Pancras International – and that seems to be 13 short of what was planned. In the opposite direction, between 09:00 and 10:00 only 10 departed from St Pancras heading for Luton and Bedford.

Now, I appreciate that this is only one route – so I assume that the missing 13 or 14 services per hour will be found on other Thameslink routes. From the Thameslink Programme site, they provide some interesting information about what is going to happen, and how progress is being made. The same is true of Network Rail and their Thameslink Programme web page – although it does state that this is a 10-year programme, and will cost £7 billion. Clearly some costs from the £38 billion mentioned by the Government in 2014 will come from Network Rail in CP5, and other costs from CP6 allocations. The National Audit Office (NAO) have been keeping us all updated on this programme, from a review (Progress in delivering the Thameslink programme) before the £38 billion announcement to an update (Update on the Thameslink Programme) back at the end of 2017.

So maybe if we look at the route from Bedford through London to Brighton we would find additional trains? Well, yes, we now have 14 services going through St Pancras – the extra 3 coming from where – well it appears they originate at St Albans.

Still a few short of the Department’s statement of 24 trains in each direction.

Well, that went well.

Before anyone comments – yes I am being selective in my choice of data, but if someone tells me there will be 24 trains per hour in each direction at peak times, then I will look at the timetable peak times, and count trains. I did pick a major London station, at the heart of the Thameslink Programme too.

Thameslink can be considered a success, but the descriptions used by its proponents ought perhaps to be reconsidered. One classic statement made by Danny Alexander, at te time Chief Secretary to the Treasury is fascinating:

“This £38 billion programme starting this week will involve the largest modernisation of the railways since Victorian times, funding projects across the whole of the UK and building on the work that is already underway to give us the modern efficient transport infrastructure that we need to compete.”

Yet another one of those “largest investments since Victorian times” – which patently is absurd.

However, unless you choose to use one of those online ticketing apps/services, or the “National Rail Enquiries” website, and do a lot of digging, finding a timetable can be difficult. On top of which GTR/Thameslink has produced timetables in a route by route format, so you will need to download, or move to a cloud platform that PDF copy for reference. I don’t advocate printing a copy off, but maybe the train operating companies could come up with a version of their timetables for all of the routes they operate in one document.

Next stop – trying to find out where the £38 billion has been spent over the past 5 years – Network Rail’s elements seem fairly easy to uncover, but how do we apportion the TOC’s and ROSCO’s spends.

PS: I’ve not added up the mileage of electrification yet – 850 seems a lot – I’m speculating that that was track miles and not route miles!

-oOo-

So You Want To Be An Engine Driver?

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When I was younger, like all teenagers there were so many options for careers in industry, engineering, and of course railways that were on offer, and amongst those was working on the railway – British Railways. Not everyone wanted to be on the footplate, and there were equally as many options for work across the industry in workshops, research, design, train control, telecoms, and later even computing.

In 1948, at the start of the BR era, the railways employed 648,740 staff at every level, and although only 3 years later this had fallen to 599,980, BR was still one of the biggest employers. In the early 1950s, traffic levels for passenger and freight was fairly stable, and modernisation had yet to start, there were the traditional footplate occupations, and engineering apprenticeships to encourage young people to join.

From 1948, until the late 1960s, BR produced a series of booklets, summarising what the railways did, and what jobs, training, progression, and health and social facilities were offered to the potential new recruits.

The 1950s

These booklets carried the same title throughout:

br 1953 booklet cover

 

The wording of the 1953 booklet, produced just 5 years after nationalisation has some fascinating phrases, especially when compared with later editions, take this statement entitled: “Our General Policy”, for example:

Our policy is:-

  • To give safe, speedy, dependable railway service at reasonable cost.
  • To give the staff good wages, security, and conditions as good as is reasonably possible.
  • To make British Railways pay their way.

The last point might seem, in the face of all the negative publicity to be a wish rather than a policy statement, but BR did pay its way in the 1950s, and indeed, in later years, and was not the economic disaster some claim. In 1953, Sir John Elliot’s introductory remarks included:

1953 quote 1

1953 quote 2

This same booklet just a few pages later urges new recruits to learn the routes of the railway system, and notes that the new starts own region contained maybe 3,000 route miles, or maybe more. Luckily the booklet came complete with a map of the entire system.

Some interesting cartoons were included, such as this one:

cheerful obedience cartoon

Hmm – “Cheerful obedience” eh? Maybe some of the old companies’ management styles were still around – I gather on the Western Region, railway staff were still referred to as the company’s servants. I know it sounds a bit odd to us nowadays, but despite the enormous changes taking place in the post-war society, some aspects took a while to die off.

Facts about BR for the new recruit in 1953

According to this booklet, total staff would be six times as many as went to an FA cup final match, or if all the steam locomotives were coupled together in a single continuous line, they would stretch from London to Cardiff, or Liverpool to Hull. On that same note, apparently:

“The total miles run by our locomotives in a year would be equal to about 21,500 times round the earth.”

“The tonnage of freight which starts a journey every working day on British Railways is nearly ten times the tonnage of the Queen Mary.”

Amongst numerous other facts, although the idea that any new sleepers used annually if placed end to end would form a plank between London and Calcutta (Kolkata today), seems an odd one.

1953 jobs montage

The remainder of this booklet goes on to describe how the all six regions work, from signalmen, ticket collectors, lorry drivers, permanent way gangs, booking office and control office staff, station porters to workshops staffed by fitters, plumbers, electricians, etc. There are several pages about opportunity, either promotion within a department, or moving to another role somewhere else, but there is a particularly interesting comment about the influence of the private companies practice over the nationalised system. It was stated that it may not mean anything to the new start, but the old practices were still in place in almost everything said or done in 1953.

Maybe that was partly to blame for the Western Region’s enthusiasm a few years later for its chocolate and cream (ex GWR) livery on main line rolling stock, and its ultimately failed attempt to use hydraulic transmission systems for diesel locomotives.

Training was emphasised, along with opportunities for further education such as day release, or night school, for many engineering or craft apprentices. These training options lasted well into the 1970s, and have only recently seemed to die out – perhaps as Britain’s engineering industry began its long, slow decline.

Paragraphs about, pay security, recreation and welfare made up the remainder of the booklet, with details of the grading system, and arrangements, and the ever popular staff magazines and notices. The concluding paragraph sums up the BR approach – at least at policy making level – to the running of the railways:

1953 conclusion quote

conclusion cartoon 1953

Some of these ideas, policies, and practices changed significantly over the years, for a new starter on British Railways, and later British Rail. A decade later, the same booklet was produced, but this time, with a foreword by the then chairman of the British Railways Board – Dr Richard Beeching.

The 1960s

1963 cover image

The change in tone from the tone of the introductory remarks in the 1953 edition is quite marked.

The language of Dr Beeching’s introductory remarks in 1963, showed that difference, and focussed on the changing times, and the upheaval in operations. The first sentence seems quite a contrast to the paternal, family friendly style of a decade earlier:

1963 quote 1

The brevity was continued:

“The organisation that changes is the organisation that lives, and British Railways are going to change fast to match the changing needs of the times.”

His last comment seemed to suggest the ‘new’ organisation wanted only those recruits who were able to bring or develop the skills needed to make and sustain technological change – with the carrot of promotion dangled much more obviously:

1963 quote 3

Fascinating, still generally paternal in approach, but now with little reference to public service, or stability. Perhaps rightly reflecting the very dramatic changes that Beeching and Marples brought to the railways, using the hook of new technology and promotion for those ‘bright minds’. The comment he made about needing to … “ design and operate new equipment” …. Suggested the door was closing on the old style railway workshops as engineering education and apprenticeships.

[15 railway workshops were closed between 1962 and 1966, with the loss of more than 12,000 jobs, but despite this, BR still managed to recruit apprentices, and the engineering skills were maintained and grown – for a time.]

There was clearly a theme that reflected the change that BR was undergoing, and technological progress was affecting the available career options, whether in engineering, traffic, or administrative roles. The prospect of secure employment on the railways was seen as diminishing, and yet BR was actively developing and inventing technology that is still in service today, and not just in the UK. BR was also still active in ferries and coastal shipping in the early 1960s, and operated cross-channel hovercraft services under the “Seaspeed” label, in partnership with SNCF.

So, yes, there were still prospects for those ‘bright minds’, but by the 1970s, with the exception of the ill-fated APT, and the extension of electrification from Crewe to Glasgow – as promised in the 1950s, things were beginning to slow down.

Jobs for the Boys

There were still jobs for the boys, with the occasional reference to women in clerical and secretarial roles in these “Welcome” booklets, and this gender divide was certainly in evidence in this 1961 edition, which opened with this comment:

extract from 1961 booklet_1
That said, women were shown in these booklets in their stereotypical roles of the day, such as these examples from 1961 & 1963:

Each of these introductory booklets showed the layout of BR’s regions, and included a much larger map of the whole network, and perhaps that too, along with the free and ‘privilege’ travel, seen as an inducement to an adventurous career on the railway. The list of contents was equally wide ranging, and this is typical:

Regional Variations

There were regional variations of these booklets too, and the example below is from the London Midland, and dates from 1961. The cover would look particularly patronising today, but as it is important to say, that was how society at work and play expressed its opinions on roles.

special for boys - lmr 1960s

This particular booklet was issued by the LMR’s Traffic Department, and obviously focused on the roles that operated the trains. This included a variety of jobs from cleaner, through the other footplate roles, and you could start as telephonists, junior porters, messengers and letter sorters.

Pay & Conditions

In 1953, statements about pay were included in a section marked “WE and YOU”, which had become “Rewards and conditions” by 1963, but in both examples, the rates were agreed in negotiations with the trades unions. This included basic hours of duty, and overtime payments when necessary at a higher rate. The actual hours had changed too in the 1950s, and the ‘guaranteed week’ of 44 hours had been reduced to a 42 hour week by 1963 – for what was then called “wages grades”.

There was a mention of “Security” in 1953, which is not mentioned in later editions. However, the security refers more to the value of the “guaranteed week” – clearly no longer available to anyone on a “zero hours contract” in 2019 – and to sick pay and other “benevolent funds”. For BR’s new recruits in 1963 this was referred to under “Pensions and sick pay”.

1960s wages list - full

Looking at the wages in the above list from 1966, it is difficult to relate to what this meant in practical terms, but a great deal of information provided to new starts covered pay, promotion routes, duties, responsibilities, health and safety, leisure and recreation. I wonder how much of that remains in place for many businesses today.

-oOo-

 

EU Rail Privatisation & Prospects – Episode 1

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It is over 25 years since the EU determined that separating train operations from the management of the tracks and infrastructure would be a good idea. 15 years ago, I covered the topic in detail, and at that time there was a clear distinction between what was happening in the UK compared with the rest of Western Europe in particular.

Britain had charged headlong into a massive restructuring of the rail industry, creating bodies that would own and lease rolling stock to businesses who would simply run trains under a franchising scheme, not dissimilar to that used by parcel delivery firms today. The track, signalling and communications were the province of a single business unit we called Railtrack plc.

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But, we went a step further still, breaking down the assets of the infrastructure company, and allowing a variety of smaller maintenance and other businesses to repair, update and manage the track and trackside systems. And, we did this over a 2 or 3-year window. Railtrack plc proved to be a disaster, and following various court processes in 2001, the private business of Railtrack was transferred to Government ownership as a not for profit business – Network Rail in 2002.

In Europe, by contrast, the separation of operation from infrastructure was more protracted. The former national railways of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands separated their train operation functions from the teams that looked after the track and established separate business units. They were accounted for separately, but still reporting under the group umbrella.

The 1991 EU Directive required member states to separate operations from infrastructure, and by the turn of the century, success was partially achieved, with most Western European states adopting a structure with a single company running the trains, and another supporting and maintaining the track and routes.   In 2000, just under 10 years after it was agreed, this liberalization had been progressed by 21 countries, since when, several further reforms of the directive have been carried out, and significant changes in rail operations has taken place across Europe as a whole.

EU DirectivesBack in 2000, in conclusion, I wrote:

  • “All member states of the EU are required to commit to the liberalisation and separation policies defined by EC Directive 91/440. An overall view of “privatisation”, “railway reform” or “liberalisation” of the rail business across Europe, ranges from a two company approach, to multiple businesses, covering operations and infrastructure.”

This liberalisation has certainly moved on a great deal since then, although it has not – in general – achieved one of the major aims; reducing state subsidy and improving efficiency in operation.

The Directive itself has been repealed, and was replaced in 2012 by Directive 2012/34/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 establishing a single European railway area. As before though, this directive does not mandate the setting up of separate train operating companies, as per the UK style, nor does it mandate that both infrastructure and operator be separate companies.  They could simply be separate divisions within the same company.

But in essence, all that happened in 2012, was the merging of the various amndments in the table above, into a single Directive/Act.

Of course, it must be said that much of the progress has been ‘hampered’, or at least challenged by the interoperability question across Europe, and the directive’s amendments has tried to introduce commonalities across operational and management. On top of this, the EU has expanded by more than 9 new member states, and suffered the consequences of the financial/banking crisis and economic recession.

Bruges 2000 - RPBNorwegian Suburban emu_ABB photo 1993

Nonetheless, the opening up of the rail markets to new operators – be it train operator, or infrastructure manager – has continued apace. It could be argued today, that the British approach ‘pioneered’ in the 1990s, has dominated the liberalisation, or privatisation process.

One striking feature in the past decade or so, has been the number of new agencies and representative bodies that have been established, whilst others have had name changes, and national governments have re-organised functions. A classic example is in Sweden, where Trafikverket, which now has responsibility for rail, road and maritime services, replaced Banverket in 2004. This is mirrored in the UK by the ORR, which has morphed from the old SRA into ORR – originally Office for Rail Regulation, into the Office for Road & Rail.

Screenshot 2019-10-24 at 13.41.01Examples of some of the new organisations demanded by the increasing fragmentation of the individual state rail networks includes “RailNetEurope (RNE)” an association for ‘infrastructure managers’, which cover such tasks as co-ordinating timetabling across Europe, coordinating access charging, train pathing, operation monitoring, the One-Stop Shop (OSS) system, etc.

There are now 28 EU member states, but not all have fully implemented Directive 91/440, or its subsequent amendments, which since 2001 have been described as “Railway Packages”, whether or how the “Brexit” negotiations and the UK’s position will affect this is as yet unknown.  Although quite clearly, if the UK does cease to be a member of the EU there will be changes to the relationship with a variety of bodies, although membership of key technology and management institutions will continue.

Passiondutrain.com

A Velaro E320 (UK Class 374) train 4023/24 on the Eurostar 9031 Paris/London St Pancras service at Longueau , near Amiens Photo By: BB 22385 / Rame 4023-24 E320 détourné par la gare de Longueau / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57593082

The practical impacts on train operations through the Channel Tunnel, via Eurostar, and maybe on the technology and accreditation used to drive those trains, including Euroshuttle will likely be adjusted.

ICE3 Train on 09_07_1999 at Wildenrath_Adtranz Photo

Out of the original 19 countries reviewed in 2000, 9 had stated they would definitely complete the separation – although in some cases, this took longer than planned. Germany, Greece and the Netherlands were “in progress”, whilst only one country – Ireland – had said a definite no. At the same time, both Austria and Switzerland had said no, but were progressing reforms, and in Spain, partial separation was claimed at the start of the new millennium.

Here, in Britain, we set up a new train operating company grouping, with the catchy title the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC). We’re good at setting up committees, and this one seemed to be an umbrella organisation for a number of businesses running train services on the Railtrack infrastructure. Mostly, these were regional operators, in some ways mimicking the outline of the old pre-grouping railway companies!

The initial approach to running trains was for a business, or consortium of business partners to bid for a ‘franchise’ to run train services over a particular route, or number of routes.  These contractual arrangments were time limited, and within which there was a fair amount of variety in the duration, from a handful of years, to more than a decade.  In part this semi-stable approach would not be conducive to increased investment in new technology or services, especially as the investment in any new rolling stock would come through another authority – the rolling stock leasing companies.

But, the UK’s method of leasing rolling stock and bidding for franchises, over the old British Rail network – albeit under a different name – would come in for much criticism and failures in later years.  The introduction of ‘open access train operators’ further down the track added further complexity.

Separation

By 2000, our next-door neighbours in Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and France had taken the separation approach in what was perceived as the orthodox manner, establishing Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen, NS Railinfratrust BV, Banedanmark, and Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) respectively. By 2015, Maatschappij had been replaced by Infrabel , RFF by SNCF Réseau in France, and ProRail B.V. became the trading name of NS Railinfratrust BV in the Netherlands, whilst Denmark opted for keeping the same name – essentially.

The regulations did not specify how the train operations or the infrastructure companies were to be created; it simply stated that there should be separation between the two elements of a railway system. The same technique was used in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

EU Separation

As you can see from the table, there have been quite a number of changes in the past decade, some connected with technological development, but equally as many with business process changes, especially in regard to managing and charging for access to the infrastructure. A key theme running through the changes that have been made is “multi-modal” operation, where either the operating company, or infrastructure manager runs bus, ferry or road and freight logistics services.

Also noted in the table – ironically – is the difference between the separation plans from Ireland and Norway. Ireland an EU member state indicated it was not progressing separation, whilst Norway, NOT a member state had made a commitment to follow the EU Directive!

Train Operators

The train operators are perhaps the ones who have changed most – not least because we tend to see them at work! A characteristic of the separation that has undergone the most reform is the way access rights and charges are granted, and the financing schemes to underpin one of the original objectives – to reduce indebtedness and secure a more financial, and commercially stable railway system. This vision was to apply across Europe, and develop interoperability through designated corridors and high priority projects, whilst at the same time opening up the markets to competition and innovation from new entrants.

Has it achieved this aim so far? In part perhaps, but the introduction of this ‘openness’ across national boundaries has also led to more collaboration, and partnerships developing between existing operators. Take Britain as an example – which UK train operators run services in other countries? These are not so easy to determine, since they are usually within the scope of multi-business partnerships, such as Arriva, or Abellio. Their business includes operations in Germany and the Netherlands, mostly offering regional, or corridor specific services.

McNulty Report - Summary - Cover

Perhaps the most significant change in Britain was setting up the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) in 2014, following the recommendations of the “McNulty Report” in 2011. The fact that the RDG was established perhaps reinforced the notion that fragmenting through franchising privately run train operations in the UK, on an essentially state owned infrastructure business, was a poor choice of implementing the 1991 EU Directive. In short it seems to have said – train operators and the infrastructure maintainers were not talking to one another, and co-ordination is necessary. It remains to be seen if “decentralisation and devolution” within Network Rail, as Railtrack’s succssor will be any more effective, and it seems to indicate that fragmentation practices applied in the early 1990s are still in favour.

The UK still has some 24 TOC’s, including 2 ‘Open Access’ providers, and following the failure of yet another franchise for the East Coast Main Line, the London to Edinbuirgh route has been nationalised again.  Or, in the jargon of the day, it is now run by the “Operator of Last Resort”.

The UK’s approach remains fairly unique amongst European countries in the way that it approach, and continues to implement the aims and objectives of the 1991 Directive, and is focussed more intensely on finances than the prospects for rail services.  Yes, and I can see that HS2, and other rail proposals remain in that future pipeline … we remain interested to see what happens next.

-oOo-