What Happened to Piggyback Freight?

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Almost 25 years ago I wrote a piece for a popular rail industry/enthusiast magazine about the exciting new developments in freight train technology, but sadly, the plan never came to fruition.

Here’s something of what I wrote back then:

“The past few years have seen some important changes in the way rail freight services are operated throughout Europe – changes which have not been implemented so rapidly or effectively in Britain. It is perhaps more than 30 years since radical changes were proposed and implemented on British Rail, in the aftermath of the Beeching Plan. In 1996, though, the introduction of the Babcock Rail/Thrall piggyback vehicles offers the scope to attract a wider range of freight traffics back to rail network.

Freight nowadays travels commonly in ISO containers, and despite Freightliner services, and fragmented developments of long haul freight, hundreds of articulated lorries are a common sight on Britain’s motorways, often carrying single containers. The more recent introduction of piggyback and swap body vehicles has improved the railway’s ability to attract traffic from the roads, but its adoption in the UK has been much slower than the rest of Europe. A particular example of the successful development of such intermodal services, are the trans-Alpine piggyback workings, where articulated lorries and their trailers have been a feature for some time. In the UK, a Piggyback Consortium was established a couple of years ago, largely inspired by Eurotunnel, and seeking ways to establish a corridor between the Channel Tunnel, Scotland and Ireland, using the West Coast Main Line.   A variety of other freight forwarders, joint ventures, and other business combinations have been set up in recent times, with a view to exploiting the through running offered following the completion of the tunnel.”

ewsBack in 1993, shortly after the privatisation of British Rail, the freight services operated by BR’s freight sectors were taken over by the American owned EWS Railway – or English, Welsh & Scottish if you prefer.  At that time, the physical infrastructure was owned by Railtrack, and neither of these “businesses” were a success, and yet the prospect of 1992’s “Big Bang” – the European single market appeared to open up possibilities.

Plans to implement the new, daily, piggyback rail service between London and Glasgow in the Spring of 1996 were advanced, and according to the “Piggyback Consortium”, with essential loading gauge changes over the route set to cost £70+ million.

The purpose of this innovation was to take much of the long haul “juggernaut” lorries off the UK roads, resulting in less environmental damage, to say nothing of the costs to repair and maintain motorways and trunk routes.   Road lorries were becoming heavier and heavier, from 38 tonnes, to 40 tonnes, and even 44 tonnes – but their use needed Government approval.

“The growth of intermodal activities throughout Europe was mirrored for a time in the UK, during the early 1990s, with such initiatives as ‘Charterail’, using Tiphook Rail’s “swing centre” vehicles, various swap body designs, and the the ‘Trailer Train’ projects. The demise of ‘Charterail’ in 1993 brought a premature pause, in the expansion of combined road and rail freight developments. Shortly after the demise of Charterail, Tiphook were keen to re-introduce their innovative vehicles, and attract road freight traffic, whilst Boalloy Industries resurrected the road-railer idea in 1993. The most recent development of this latter included the first use of ‘curtain sided’ trailers, with road and rail wheels, and variable design geometry of the body, to fit the British and European loading gauges.”

At the time, the UK Government seemed unable to come to a decision about permitting the use of lorries with these increased axle loads, and the delay in finalising a policy contributed to the demise of the piggyback proposal.

The cost of freight movement was also fairly high on the agenda at the time:

“In Britain, the cost of moving freight by road is enormous, and represents a cost (estimated in 1993, and published in the Financial Times in February) to the taxpayer of around £18 billion annually. Against this cost, the revenue from road freight for the Government is only £14 billion, representing an annual loss to UK, and cost to businesses of around £4 billion every year.”

That was 25 years ago – and whilst the DfT and ONS produce a pl;ethora of figures on goods moved, goods lifted, by mode and region, getting the same leve of detail on the cost of those movements is not as easy as it was a quarter of a century ago.  I’d love to publish both volumes carried and the cost today as a comparison, but the numbers are not readily available – just like train performance figures.

Unless of course you know different?

The rest of my original item is available below if you fancy a read:

Piggyback Feature Cover

Of course it’s different today isn’t it?

Interesting Links

The Independent

Railway Gazette

-oOo-

From Preston to Japan

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I watched a TV programme the other day about building nuclear submarines, and how the UK’s skills shortages had badly affected the availability of engineering skills in general.   It put me in mind of the reach of railway engineering skills and products from English Electric, and Preston in Lancashire.

Japan Electrified mapThis part of Britain was the birthplace and development of diesel and electric rail traction and a powerhouse of innovation and world leading development.  Against the background of the world’s economic depression in the late 1920s and 1930s, English Electric were successful in winning an order from Japan, for the Imperial Government Railways.

In fact, English Electric had supplied two sample locomotives in 1922, as Japan pressed ahead with electrification of suburban lines around Tokyo, and the main lines, which were electrified at 1500V d.c.  Japan had demonstrated a progressive attitude towards railway electrification, for both government and privately owned lines, which became national policy. In 1922,

These two locomotives were English Electric’s first orders from the far east.  The order was for two complete 1200hp Bo-Bo locomotives for the Tokyo Suburban lines, and were  dual voltage, for use on either 600V d.c, or 1200V d.c. systems. The order was placed by the Imperial Government Railways as work began on electrification of a stretch of the Tokaido Railway, covering some 590 kilometres, between Tokyo and Kobe.

gec061The dual voltage of 600V and 1200V d.c. was not the standard adopted for major electrification work, and Japan’s Railway Administration adopted 1500V d.c., as used on many railway main lines around the world. The plans for the Tokyo Railway included an overhead contact system, energised at 1500V d.c., and construction of the Tanna Tunnel, with which some difficulty was experienced. In 1923, progress with the project suffered a temporary setback in the Great Earthquake, which affected the whole area.

Following the successful trials of the ‘box cab’ Bo-Bo design, the company received an order for a further 26, box cab type locomotives, 9 for local passenger and 17 express freight locos. The only differences between the two types being the gear ratio of the final drive, and the brake gear.

Eight express passenger locomotives were also built by English Electric at Preston, of 1,836hp, and weighing 100 tons, sporting a 2-Co-Co-2 wheel arrangement, with leading and trailing bogies. Overall, the design was an extension of the Bo-Bo box cab types, but this time, equipped with six of the 305hp traction motors.

100 ton express passenger JapanGroup of express passenger locos JapanAn unusual incident befell these huge locomotives during their delivery in 1923. At the time of the Great Earthquake, in that year, the ship carrying the locomotives from Preston to Tokyo was in Tokyo Harbour, and unloading was in progress. Unfortunately the bogies (for the Bo-Bo locomotives) and the motors were on the wharf, with the superstructure and control gear on barges, which sank during the earthquake. The bogies and traction motors disappeared beneath the sea too, as the wharf on which they had been deposited also collapsed. Replacement locomotives were built, and subsequently shipped out successfully.

Tokyo depotThese early Japanese projects were very successful, and further orders were awarded to English Electric in the 1920s, in turn paving the way for ever more electrification work around the world, from Buenos Aires to Mumbai, and South Africa to Australia.  It is perhaps ironic that in 2017 and 2018, Japan is now exporting innovative electric traction back to Britain.

Japan is renowned for its high-speed “Shinkansen” trains, and Britain’s privatised train operating companies now operate trains built by Hitachi – equally as famous a name in engineering as English Electric.

Preston Works from EE Brochure

 

-oOo-

 

Blue Pullman – A Fascinating Failure?

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Back in the early post-nationalisation years, there were still a number of Pullman train workings operated on British Railways, including the famous “Brighton Belle” and “Devon Belle” trains, with passengers carried for a supplementary fare.  The traditional pullman coaches were operated by the Pullman Car Co., and manned by staff who were not employed by BR, but the private company.   These services were carried on for a time in the early 1950s, but were both uneconomic and an anachronism in the run up to BR’s “Modernisation Programme”, and the changeover from steam to diesel and electric traction.

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Then, in 1960, a new and unexpected Pullman service appeared, with trains ordered by the British Transport Commission (BTC), as it took control of the British Pullman Car Co. – which was subject to a number of debates in Parliament.  Six years earlier, in 1954 the discussions centred on the financial prospects for the Pullman Car Co. and the problems that would ensue after its franchise – yes, franchise! – expired in 1962.  The Government were concerned about the future of all supplementary fare Pullman services, and how, or if the BTC should absorb this private operator on the national railway system.

Alan Lennox-Boyd, Minister of Transport made this observation in a debate on 27th May 1954:

“The Commission has said that it does not intend that there should be any alteration in the control and operation of the Pullman cars, nor that the specialised services given by the Pullman Car Company should be altered in any way whatsoever. The Commission adds that it is its intention to continue the Pullman car service and to give consideration to the extension of this facility to other lines throughout the country.”

Why on earth would BTC / BR pay for and operate a new Pullman service in the nationalised railway era??

The Blue Pullman Experiment

On 24 June 1960 a demonstration run of BR’s diesel-electric Pullman train took place between Marylebone and High Wycombe. The six and eight-car trains were designed and built by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage & Wagon Co. for the Pullman Car Company, to be operated on the LMR and WR respectively. The Railway Gazette used an interesting phrase as it reported the new arrivals;

“The term de-luxe applied by the British Transport Commission to the new diesel-electric Pullman multiple- unit trains which begin operations shortly in the London Midland and Western Regions of British Railways suggests an over-abundance of rare but desirable qualities which are not necessary for life.”

The British Transport Commission’s Press Release for 23rd June 1960 described them as:

“These 90 mph de-luxe diesel expresses – there are five of them altogether-are of an entirely new type designed to bring a fresh conception of main-line railway passenger travel to Britain, with superior standards of comfort, and a personal service of’ meals and refreshments for all passengers.”

8-car Bristol Pullman

8-car Western Region ‘Blue Pullman’

The reasoning behind the introduction of these units was basically to attract the businessman to rail travel; or perhaps to return to rail travel, for BR had by 1960 to be on a competitive footing with air transport. The new Metro-Cammell pullmans were prestigious trains, and turned out in a striking blue and white livery.

Elevation & Layout diagrams

This was a dramatic contrast to the existing maroon livery of standard steam hauled stock, and traditional Pullman style of cream and umber. Many previously untried (on British Railways) design features were first seen on these units; some came to be adopted on a wider scale, while others were unique to the Blue Pullmans.

The first mention of the new trains (which were not conceived as Pullman at that time) was made in the Government’s White Paper of October 1956, where it was stated that new trains would be introduced for high-speed travel on selected services between important cities.

Leading Dimensions

Leading DimensionsHowever, to suggest that the Pullmans were introduced at a difficult time for BR, would be an classic understatement. Mounting deficits and continual pressure from the anti-railway brigade, road lobby, and others were not conducive to what could be seen as extravagant expenditure.

On speed terms, competition with the new electric services on the London Midland Region in particular was easily ruled out, and by 1967 the Pullmans were less patronised than ever, and a solution to their operating problems was needed.  From 6th March 1967 all were transferred to the Western Region and with three eight-car and two six-car Pullman units, they were in a position to provide an extensive service for the businessman and long distance commuter. That they were not entirely successful cannot wholly be blamed either on BR or on the Blue Pullmans themselves.

Chris Williams Photo at Reading in 1967

In late 1967 the ‘Blue Pullman’ sets received their first taste of BR’s ‘Corporate Livery’.  Here, one of the repeated sets approaches Platform 4 at Reading General on a Westbound Service.           (Photo Courtesy Chris Williams)

Even allowing for the luxurious internal appointments, there could be no suggestion of their competing on any terms with the pattern of fast Inter-City services envisaged – and later provided – by BR for the future. Time was not on the side of the Blue Pullmans.  One of the last duties of one of the power cars was during the winter of 1972/1973, when it acted as a standby generating set at Swindon,.  Withdrawal of all the sets took place in May 1973, when they were not quite thirteen years old.

Sadly, none were rescued for preservation.

Further Reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed review of the ‘Blue Pullmans’

M-V PDF file cover

Useful Links:

Railcar.co.uk/type/blue-pullman/summary

Metcam.co.uk

British_Rail_Classes_251_and_261

“Blue Pullman, 1960”

The image below will take you to the YouTube clip of the BTF film called “Blue Pullman, 1960”  This film was directed and written by Jimmie Ritchie and photographed by David Watkin and Jack West. It was edited by Hugh Raggett with music by Clifton Parker. The film lasts about 23 minutes, and covers the testing of the new  Midland Pullman, and its maiden journey from Manchester to London.

 


 

 

 

Metro-Vicks: 60 Years On

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In July 2018, it will be 60 years since what have been described as the ‘ugly ducklings’ of BR’s ‘Pilot Scheme’ diesels first appeared.  They were the only type built on a 2-axle and 3-axle bogie layout, and the first to appear without the almost mandatory nose, or bonnet, following the ex-LMS examples of 10,000 and 10,001.

Yes, I know there was a flat nosed ex-Southern Railway design too.

However, the Metro-Vick Co-Bo Type 2 was intended to be a major option included in the British Railways’ 174 pilot scheme types, for testing and approval before placing further orders to replace steam traction.

GEC TRaction Photo SP 8671

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

The asymmetrical wheelbase of the Metro-Vick design was not its downfall.  This proved to be the 2-stroke 1,200hp diesel engine produced by Crossley, and only a couple of years after their introduction a plan was hatched to provide them with English Electric power.

Leading Dimensions

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

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

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

In the Beginning

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

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

Building & Withdrawal

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

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

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

D5716 at Carnforth - Mandy Sharpe

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

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

All were withdrawn from operational service by the Autumn of 1968, although the single example that survived became the subject of a rescue and restoration exercise, currently in progress at Bury on the East Lancashire Railway.  For a complex locomotive the restoration work is equally complex.

Further Reading

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

M-V Article cover page

More Useful Links

Class 28 Metrovick diesels (Cumbrian Railways Association) – Images

D5705 Preservation group on the ELR

D5705 Facebook Group

George Woods – Flickr Photos

 

Metro-Vick Co-Bos on Condor

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

Metropolitan_vickers_logo

The Class 50 is 50 this year

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In the same year that the company celebrates its centenary – yes I know it no longer exists! – it is 50 years since the final EE built diesel-electric locomotive was delivered to British Rail.  They were ordered in 1967 and delivered in the space of a year, between 1967 and 1968, and described in glowing terms by the contemporary railway press as:

“The 50 English Electric Type 4 locomotives of 2,700 hp now entering service with the London Midland Region of British Railways as the D400 class represent a significant step forward in traction engineering because they embody a number of features combined for the first time in one design.”

English Electric were the principal suppliers of diesel and major electric traction equipment in the post-war years into the 1950s, but their dominance was under threat from changes in the AEI Group companies, which included Metropolitan-Vickers.  But the 1960s proved a watershed in the UK rail industry, and for English Electric.

Image From brochure

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

DP2

GEC Traction/R P Bradley Collection

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

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

Class 50 Dimensions

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

Class 50 numbering

The Technology

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

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

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

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GEC Traction/RP Bradley Collection

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

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

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

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

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GEC Traction/RP Bradley Collection

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

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

 The Subcontractors

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

Class 50 subcontractors

Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preservation

50026 at Bridgnorth

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

 

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

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

-oOo-

Useful links:

The Class 50 Alliance 

Class 50 Alliance logo

The Fifty Fund

50 Fund logo

Severn Valley Railway

Severn Valley logo

 

English Electric – A Centenary Appreciation

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In 1918 one of the UK and world’s most famous engineering companies was born – The English Electric Company Limited. In the year of its formation, it acquired the Coventry Ordnance Works Ltd., and the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company Ltd.; most importantly though – the shares of Dick, Kerr & Co. were exchanged for shares in the new business. At the time of its formation, it was fast becoming Britain’s major manufacturer in electrical technology, especially in tramways, light railways and general electrical engineering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

EE Works Preston - 1926 copy

A plan of the Dick, Kerr Works in 1926

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rail Technology Magazine – Alstom To Close Preston Site

BBC News: Alstom To Close Preston Site

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Cranes from Carlisle No More

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The city of Carlisle was once home to the world’s most well known crane maker – Cowans Sheldon, with their works built on the former leper hospital of St Nicholas, they began building cranes, and turntables – most notably for railways at home and all over the world. Those skills, knowledge and experience passed into history in 1987 – some 30 years ago.

In 1986, just a year before the St Nicholas works closed with the loss of 400 jobs, the company had been awarded a £4 million contract to design and build a 140tonne capacity railway breakdown crane for the Indian Government Railways.

Indian Crane

Indian Railways – World’s Heaviest Breakdown Crane in 1986

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

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

BR Heavy Duty Crane

BR Heavy Lift Breakdown Crane – 1979

 

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

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

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

How times have changed!

Further reading:

Acknowledgements:

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

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