Standard Wagon and the SDT

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Heywood is a small town within the Greater Manchester region, and according to most recorded sources was home to railway wagon building since 1863, which is curious, since Companies House only have a record of the company’s formation in 1933. It may be that this was due to a simple change in the company’s status to become a ‘limited’ company, but if anyone out there can offer some additional advice I would be grateful.

Heading picBack in 1988 – yes, 30 years ago, the then Standard Railway Wagon Co., built and delivered an innovative Self Discharging Train (SDT), for transporting and delivering aggregates from quarries to lineside locations.  The company remained successful in the 1980s, and the following year, it’s share capital had been increased and stood at £1,402 million, so despite the lack of investment in rail, for these wagon builders their approach looked confident.

The driver for this particular wagon design, and maybe the company’s confidence, was the Department of Transport’s identified need to build 650 new by-passes under its road building programme, which of course attracted the attention of aggregate suppliers.

Side tipping wagonCarrying bulk aggregates over long distance by road to a target site would obviously be expensive, both financially and environmentally, so why not bulk haulage to a nearby railhead? At the time, aggregates would typically be discharged from conventional hopper wagons into stockpiles, like a merry-go-round coal train – by way of undertrack structures, from which the aggregate would then be loaded onto lorries. Clearly, with the government’s road building plans going ahead, construction of several hundred temporary discharge points for stockpiles at the railheads was out of the question.

SDT Train showing discharge wagonThe answer, so far as Standard Wagon was concerned, and in partnership with Redland Aggregates, was of course the self-discharge train. The idea was a train of hopper wagons, using a built-in conveyor built to discharge the stone. Simple enough you might think. The wagons were grouped in sets of 5 or 10, with the conveyor belt running underneath and between all wagons, and at the end of each group, the system allowed the transfer of stone to another group of wagons, or onto a transfer / unloading wagon. The fixed section of wagons were connected to one another using British Rail’s standard Freightliner coupling gear, whilst the hopper wagons, designated type PHA were mounted on GFA pedestal axles, built by Gloucester Carriage & Wagon. The unloading wagon was fitted with a boom, mounted on a turntable, which could be rotated to discharge the stone to either side of the wagon, either onto a lineside stockpile, or even into a lorry.

SDT SpecStandard Wagon received an initial order for four 10-wagon sets, each having 8 wagons sandwiched between the two boom transfer wagons, one of which carried a 65hp diesel engine, and the other a belt tensioning device. The boom transfer cars were fitted with an adjustable swinging arm boom and conveyor, and stated to be capable of delivering 1,500 tonnes of aggregate from Redland’s quarry at Mountsorrel. When travelling to or from a site – quarry or lineside location – this rotating boom was supported on a steel frame on the outer wagons, and locked in position.

Initially they were formed into trains of 20 hoppers, and first entered service in April 1988. In the same year, a second order for five SDT trains, but connected as 8 wagon sets, and these went into service in 1989. Standard Wagon claimed that trains of almost any length could be formed with this system, given the modular nature of the design and build.

The idea had been developed in the USA, but on shorter trains than normally used in the UK. An early prototype was built at Heywood in 1982, to develop the concept using a standard ‘PGA’ hopper wagon, with a conveyor belt fitted beneath its twin hoppers, and discharge its contents over and above the solebars to either side of the vehicle. Sadly it was not a great success, but further work was carried out, and the SDT train was born six years later using and developing this principle.

First SDT at Heywood

SDT load transferAt the time of its introduction, the SDT was claimed to be achieving all it was designed for, after loading at conventional batch loading points, the 1,500 tonnes payload could be deposited at the trackside. The company also suggested the load could be delivered over a hedge into a field – certainly avoiding the need for costly offload site preparation or planning permission. The booms at either end allowed material to be offloaded, according to the manufacturer at a rate of 1,000 tonnes per hour, but it was this ‘rotating boom’ that was at the centre of one of the most serious accidents in which the SDT was involved.

In February 2016, an accident occurred at Barrow-upon-Soar, when an East Midlands Train – the 10:20 Leicester to York service – a Class 222 set, number 222005 collided with the discharge boom of the SDT, which was stationary in a siding next to the main line. A fault caused the boom to be rotated out over the main line, and it struck two cars of the train, which was travelling 102 mph (163 km/h), but thankfully it was not derailed. Sadly a fitter who had been working on the boom wagon was badly injured, although no one on the passing train was injured.

The RAIB (Rail Accident Investigation Board) made a number of recommendations, including for improvements needed to the SDT’s owners, operators and maintainers methods of assessing risks and hazards. The maintenance company, Wabtec, were required to improve their management processes, and the then owners, Tarmac, were required to improve processes for determining when to instigate interim safety measures, as wagon conditions deteriorated.

An SDT had suffered another accident some 9 years before, in June 2007, when the type PHA hopper wagons used in the SDT were involved in a serious derailment at Ely, in Cambridgeshire. This train was en route from Mountsorrel to Chelmsford, and consisted of three ten-wagon sets and one five-wagon set 
but derailed causing substantial damage to a bridge over the River Ouse. Thankfully no injuries resulted from the derailment, but both the section of line and part of the River Ouse were closed for 6 months.

Standard Wagon of Heywood was registered in November 1933, and 70 years later, following acquisition and integration with Cardiff based Powell Duffryn in 1989, the company had effectively ceased trading. Powell Duffryn itself, a general engineering business and ports operator, was sold to a venture capitalist in 2000. Currently, it is listed as a non-trading company, based in Bracknell, Berkshire, but classed as a builder of locomotives and rail vehicles.

Standard Wagon logo

Standard Wagon WorksOnce acquired by Powell Duffryn, they continued in the manufacture and repair of goods wagons, and bogies, but barely 2 years later in 1991/92, things had started to deteriorate, with orders drying up, and as Standard Wagon, the company made a loss of almost £1 ¼ million in 1992. The company still had its innovative wagon design, and was clearly hoping to sell the product to a wider customer base, than just Redland Aggregates, but the losses continued and all wagon-building operations ceased in 1993/94.

Today, as part of French construction materials company Lafarge, three SDT trains are still in use in the UK, each of course based at the Mountsorrel Quarry. A fascinating experiment with innovative ideas for the loading and unloading of aggregates in bulk, but one which, despite massive investment in road building in the UK has not been an outstanding success. At least the engineers, designers and wagon builders at Standard Wagon in Heywood can take some comfort for the fact that their innovation is still in operation today.

Further reading:

 

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The 1980s – A Decade of Disaster for Railway Workshops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swindon - first Hymek 26391534468_e2d2807eb1_o

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between 1980 and 1989 the total jobs lost directly reached more than 8,000, so if you factor in the jobs lost in the supply chain, on simple statistics alone, that could be in excess of 30,000. Whilst the last diesel locomotives built for British Rail came from Brush, at Loughborough, following the completion of the East Coast electrification, Crewe Works of BREL built the final locomotives, the Class 91, to an order from GEC-Alsthom.

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

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Further reading and useful links:

Metrolink adding 27 light rail vehicles to its fleet

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Metrolink – the UK’s first light rail network of the modern era was designed and built by the GMA Group (a consortium of AMEC, GM Buses, John Mowlem & Company, and GEC) at a cost of £145 million.  So, at least one local business (GEC) was heavily involved. This was a time though when light rail, and rapid transit was in its infancy in the UK, and the first units were built by Ansaldo-Breda, with Bombardier Transportation and Vossloh Kiepe.

Kiepe are still with us today, in this latest expansion.

As the original UK metro, it did not adopt the now universal low-floor vehicle design, but required elevated platforms at the various stops.

Metrolink’s first services began operating on 6th April 1992, when the Bury line opened to Victoria Station, following the line of the former BR rail link, with the first street-level trams began running 3 weeks later on 27 April. The Altrincham line opened on 15 June, and the branch to Piccadilly station on 20 July, with Metrolink officially opened by The Queen on 17 July 1992.

But it has been a great success, and today, “Kiepe Electric”, have been awarded an order to supply another 27 Metrolink vehicles – now described as “high-floor” – in partnership with Bomardier Transportation UK.  Kiepe Electric is a subsidiary of Knorr-Bremse, renowned around the world for braking technology and solutions in particular.

Here’s what they had to say about the latest order:

“We’re fully focused on the mobility of the future,” says Dr. Jürgen Wilder, Member of the Executive Board of Knorr-Bremse AG responsible for the Rail Vehicle Systems division.

“Through our solutions for buses and rail vehicles we are driving forward the almost full electrification of the mass transit sector: This latest order from Manchester provides further evidence of the technological class and economic efficiency of our products and systems.”

Kiepe Electric is to build the high-floor vehicles in conjunction with consortium partner Bombardier Transportation UK. The systems specialist from the Knorr-Bremse Group is to supply the entire drivetrain and control technology. The Knorr-Bremse contribution will also include the on-board power converters, HVAC system, air-conditioned driver’s cab, CCTV system and outside cameras, as well as the diagnostics system. Bombardier will be responsible for building the vehicles.

“The new vehicles will be equipped with an even more powerful and reliable on- board and drivetrain converter concept,” explains Dr. Peter Radina, Member of the Manage- ment Board of Knorr-Bremse Rail Vehicle Systems and responsible for Kiepe Electric.

“In this respect, this project documents our successful approach to the subject of obsolescence within a series of vehicles: Our systems are downward compatible, which means that the new trams can be coupled to existing vehicles with no problems.”

Today, Metrolink is the largest light rail network in the UK, carrying some 42 million passengers a year, and this will bring the fleet total up to 147 trams on the TfGM (Transport for Greater Manchester) owned network.

The new vehicles, scheduled for delivery between spring 2020 and summer 2021, can each carry 206 passengers, and the latest order provides a substantial expansion of what is already a large fleet. This additional capacity will enable the network to increase the number of double units on the busiest routes.

Good to see this latest expansion of the pioneering light rail/rapid transit going from strength to strength.

Read more …

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The Post Office Tube Railway

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Another English Electric FIRST……

The world’s first fully automatic electric railway was opened in 1924, beneath the streets of London. The civil engineering work for the Post Office tube, including the running tunnels and tracks, were laid down before the 1914-18 war, although it was not until 1924 that electrification work was begun, following the acceptance of the English Electric Co.’s proposals. English Electric’s contract with the Post Office included the provision of rolling stock, substation equipment, automatic control systems, signalling and cabling.

The route covered in the project was 6 ½ miles long, with tracks laid to 2ft 0ins gauge, and power supplied at 440V d.c., and fed to the conductor rails from three substations. The original plan was to carry the mails between main line termini in London to the Post Office’s major sorting offices at the Western and Eastern ends of the city, to avoid the intense congestion in London’s streets.

London_Post_Office_Railway_Map

From Paddington to Liverpool Street, the deep level tube was constructed to link the principal GPO sorting offices. This included the Paddington District Post Office and the Eastern District Post Office in Whitechapel Road with the most important station at Mount Pleasant, about half way along the line, which also provided the maintenance and repair shops. A pair of running tracks was laid in 9ft diameter tunnels, which reduced to 7ft at station approaches. At each station, an island type platform arrangement was adopted, with passing loops for non-stop trains, and the railway operated 22 hours a day for most of its life.

Post Office Tube Railway 1924_2
Original Stock list

Actual vehicle speeds were set at 32 mph in the tunnels, slowing to 8 mph at the station platform roads. The rolling stock order consisted originally of 90 two axle trucks, though these were replaced in the 1930s by 50 wagons on “maximum traction trucks”. These were fitted with a pair of 22hp d.c. traction motors, reverser, and electrically operated brake gear.

Driver's cab

This photo shows the driver’s controller, with the words ‘English Electric’ at the top (obscured by driver’s handle), and stating ‘Dick Kerr System’ nearest the camera. Preston heritage.                    Photo: Matt Brown, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

New Stock & Early Upgrades

The 1924 stock was put to work when the system opened in 1927, but it was quickly discovered that they were not sufficiently reliable, and were prone to derailment. In addition, the increase in mail traffic growth demonstrated that the railway required new vehicles with greater capacity to cope with the traffic growth.

So, in 1930 50 new vehicles were ordered from English Electric, and used in articulated train formations, but within a few years, as traffic continued to grow another 10 units were ordered and delivered in 1936.

However, the newer vehicles re-used some of the equipment from the early stock, and the new stock proved much reliable and lasted into the 1980s, supplemented by a new design developed again from an English Electric prototype.

One loco – No. 809 – from the 1930 vehicles has been preserved and is stored at the National Railway Museum.

Post Office Tube Railway 1925

English Electric were justifiably proud of this narrow gauge railway, and in a review of progress published by the company in 1951, considered it to be unique in the whole railway world. The Post Office Tube did have some human intervention, at a distance, as the operation of a switch was necessary to start a train on its way, and control of the points on the track was exercised remotely, guiding the vehicles on their way.

Points

On the tracks at Mount Pleasant station.                                                                                                       Photo: Matt Brown, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Later Changes

The railway was still carrying considerable traffic in the 1960s, and in 1962, The Post Office ordered a pair of prototype units, which were intended to provide the base of a new design, some features of which were included the 1980 stock. Whilst English Electric built the prototypes, Hunslet built the new rolling stock, although they too were not the first choice, and the order was passed from Greenbat, who had gone bust. The vehicles were completed by 1982, and remained in operation until the system was closed in 2003.

1962 - 1980 Stock list

Some of the earlier stock was retained, and renumbered after 1984, from the 1930 and 1936 batches, although none of the original 1924 order was around, the electrical equipment did continue in use in the 1930s stock.

Retained stock list

Of the two English Electric prototypes from 1962, No.1 was withdrawn and scrapped in 1967, whilst No.2 remained in service until 1980, and was repaired using parts from No.1, and renumbered 66, lasting until the railway’s closure in 2003.

Although Greenbat managed to build three of the new 1980 sets, developed from the English Electric prototypes, before going into administration, the remainder were built at neighbouring Hunslet, who supplied sets 504 to 534. The intention was to replace the almost 50 yerars old English Electric stock from the 1930s, but as noted in the table, 17 of the units built in 1930 and 1936 were kept going.

In 1984, all of the stock was renumbered, with the most recent Hunslet units carrying numbers 1 to 34, and the retained 1930s stock renumbered from 35 to 51. They did manage to survive another 19 years until the system was finally closed in 2003.

Closure, Preservation & Re-opening

The English Electric innovation may not have been the first such plan to support the Post Office, but was certainly a pioneer in the field of automation on a railway. From the first order in 1924, the system and stock lasted some 76 years, and has now been given a new lease of life as a tourist attraction.

When the railway closed in 2003 it remained out of use. However thanks to years of fundraising it was up and running again in September 2017 – at least a short section – for tourists to travel on, using new rolling stock supplied by Severn Lamb of Stratford-upon-Avon. As part of the New Postal Museum, this is likely to be a star attraction, and has already received royal patronage, with a visit from HRH Princess Anne.Severn Lamb Post Office & Princess Anne

A number of the tractor units and trailers have been rescued, including No. 809 at the NRM – however, on their page Post Office Railway, underground train, No. 809 it shows incorrect information. But the Post Office Museum has a great deal of additional information about the railway and its operations: Mail Rail Exhibition

Others were rescued and can be found at:

A fascinating piece of railway and engineering history, with its success assured as much by the innovative ideas from English Electric in Preston, as the foresight of the General Post Office. Today, mails are carried almost exclusively by road – both in and across London, and around the rest of the UK.

EE Post Office Tube Railway - book extract

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Engine Number 23468

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This was an 0-6-0 goods locomotive, built by the North British Locomotive Co at its Queens Park Works, in Glasgow in 1926. It was produced about ½ way though order L821, awarded to North British in 1926.

Order L821 consisted of 25 of these locomotives, carrying works numbers 23456 – 23480, and became part of the LMS company’s standard fleet of 0-6-0 goods tender locomotives, when Henry Fowler was that company’s CME. No fewer than 80 of what became the LMS standard 4F goods engine were built by North British, along with numerous ‘Jinty’ tank engines, and of course, the famous ‘Royal Scot’ class locos. The LMS had a strong supplier/partner relationship with North British in the 1920s, and the orders helped to keep the company in business during the traumatic years of the 1920s and 1930s.

The engines were built at Queens Park Works, because the North British Atlas Works had had to be closed, due the country’s dire economic recession. The railway company too was undergoing significant changes at its works, and in particular, at Crewe, where major re-organisation was under way.

In fact, during the early ‘depression’ years of the 1920s, North British’s Queens Park Works built some 201 locomotives for the LMS, including 7 for the Northern Counties Committee and a batch of 25 0-6-0 pannier tanks for the GWR.

This engine was put to work in 1927 for the LMS, carrying running number 4394, and by 1950 had already completed thousands of miles of service, on its intended work, with coal and mixed wagon loads of main line and branch traffics. After nationalisation, she was renumbered 44394, and was rostered at Mansfield shed (16D), then in one of the final allocations was transferred to Stockport Edgeley (9B) by 1964.

Fowler4F_GWSharpe

Sadly not a photo of 44394 – Engine No. 23468 – but a view of one of the later builds from North British in order number L836, begun in 1927. The sister engine shown above is actually Works No. 23669. Photo courtesy: G.W. Sharpe

 

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Vulcan Foundry Ltd – 120 Years On

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Yes, I know it actually pre-dates 1898, by almost 70 years, and was there as a driving force of Britain’s industrial revolution, and global industrialisation.  The railway workshops and foundries had been established some years earlier, in 1830, by Charles Tayleur of Liverpool, who was joined in 1832 by Robert Stephenson.  As Tayleur & Stephenson, working from the foundry at Newton-le-Willows, almost alongside the Liverpool to Manchester Railway.

 

 

0-4-0 Tayleur

The first steam locomotive to be built at the Vulcan Foundry, and intended for use on the North Union Railway.

Indian Railways 4-4-0 at Liverpool

An early Vulcan product destined for India – a 4-4-0 being loaded aboard ship at Liverpool (Photo: RPB Collection)

In 1847 the name was changed to the Vulcan Foundry Company, but Robert Stephenson had left, and Tayleur appointed another famous engineer – Henry Dubs – as Works Manager.  Charles Tayleur had also acquired a new partner, George Samuel Sanderson, and with Charles and Edward Tayleur they opened the Bank Quay Foundry, a stone’s throw from what is now one of Warrington’s railway stations.

The Bank Quay Foundry was equally as notable as the Vulcan works, and was responsible for building the world’s first iron tea clipper – the “Tayleur”, together with hydraulic presses used to construct the Stephenson designed ‘Britannia Tubular Bridge’.  As a separate undertaking, the Warrington foundry closed only 7 years later in 1854.

Vulcan Foundry family tree

The ‘organogram’ included in the GEC Diesels short publication describing the story of the Vulcan works at Newton-le-Willows

This world famous company was formally established as Vulcan Foundry Ltd in 1898, based at Newton-le-Willows, almost alongside the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, and within a short distance of  the principal Anglo-Scottish main railway line.  The diagram above shows some of the key connections between Vulcan, its acquistion – almost 60 years later – by English Electric of Preston, and on to form part of the GEC Traction empire.

 

By the time Vulcan Foundry Ltd was formed in 1898, the company had already built over 1500 steam locomotives, beginning with a pair of 0-4-0s (No.1 Tayleur, and No.2 Stephenson) for the North Union Railway, and a Mr Hargreaves.  The first locos built in 1898 were for the East Indian Railway – 16 x 0-6-0 types.  The same year saw another 4 orders for India, 1 for Uganda and 1 for Ireland.

 

From 1898 to the outbreak of the First World War Vulcan had supplied the same number of steam engines, as it had in its first 60 years of existence, clearly demonstrating the huge growth in both railways and locomotive building.  During hostilities – in both First and Second World Wars, Vulcans supplied military hardware, including tanks and munitions, demonstrating the ability and capability of its workforce.

Vulcan Foundry Advert - 1952 Rly Gazette

A typical advertisement for Vulcan Foundry from the 1958 edition of the “Directory of Railway Officials & Year Book”

The inter-war era – the 1920s and 1930s depression – saw a reversal of the country’s manufacturing growth, job losses and near commercial failure.  This was repeated with Vulcan’s competitor’s, such as the giant North British Loco. Co., although orders from the British Colonies – especially India – continued to be won.  This together with its early foray into non-steam traction, with A/S Frichs of Denmark, and a partnership with English Electric for diesel traction kept the company going.

That partnership with English Electric proved a major success and from 1945 onwards, the company’s construction of non-steam types continued to grow.  This was especially encouraged by the BR “Moderinsation & Re-Equipment Programme” of the 1950s, and the UK’s first 2000hp diesel type was built at Newton-le-Willows in 1958.

Vulcan Foundry - "wheeling" a Class 40

“Wheeling” an English Electric Type 4 (BR Class 40) at Vulcan Foundry, and slightly hidden to the right is one of the electric locos built for South African Railways during the 1950s.

At that time of course, Vulcan Foundry was becoming part of the EE Co. empire, and having been in at the start of the railway revolution and steam traction, it was also building ‘firsts’ towards the end of its independent existence.  The company’s last order was for a 500hp diesel shunter for ICI’s Northwich Works in Cheshire in 1980 – a long way from some of the most powerful  steam, diesel and electric locomotives that emerged from the Newton-le-Willows works and desptached around the world.

By 1980, the Vulcan works had been in the railway engineering business for 148 years – not a bad record!

Well Worth a watch:

These two films were made in 1954, and show the work in all areas of the Vulcan works at Newton-le-Willows – this was typical not just of Vulcan Foundry, but of the heavy engineering industry in Britain at that time.  Sadly all gone now.

 Vulcan ad logo

Vulcan Foundry 1954 (Part 1)

Vulcan Foundry 1954 (Part 2)

Useful Links:

Newton Heritage – Vulcan Foundry

 

 

Watch this space for more Vulcan info to come …..

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Compound Steam on The Pampas

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In 1948 the railways of Britain were nationalised – and so were the railways in Argentina.  Ours under Clement Atlee, theirs under Juan Peron, but the similarity and connections don’t end there, because many of Argentina’s railways were constructed, operated and owned by British businessmen.  The early railway engineers included men like Robert Stephenson, whilst Argentina was also home to numerous civil engineers, and 78% of the country’s rail network was effectively British owned by 1900.

According to a publication by the Institute of Civil Engineers:

“Large scale railway development in Argentina was marked by the commencement of the construction of the Central Argentine Railway initially from Rosario to Cordova.”

“While the American Wheelwright was the key to the negotiations it was the experience and capital of the contractors, Thomas Brassey, Alexander Ogilvie and George Wythes that gave the project credibility.”

Of course, Britain’s steam loco builders were always going to provide the lion’s share of motive power, and other equipment, with such extensive business investment in Latin America.

North British Order L182

North British Loco Co. built 12 of these 2-cylinder compound 4-6-0s, designated “Class 12A”, they were built at the company’s Atlas Works in Glasgow. They were built to order L182 in 1906, and carried works numbers 17436-47.    Photo Courtesy: ©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections

There were in fact a total of eight British owned railways that became vested in the Argentine State Railways by 1948. Four of these were broad, 5ft 6ins gauge, two standard gauge, and two metre gauge.  The largest of the former British owned railways was the Buenos Aires Great Southern, and most of its locomotives were supplied by Beyer Peacock, Vulcan Foundry, North British, Robert Stephenson & Co., Nasmyth Wilson, Hawthorrn Leslie, and Kitson. There was some ‘foreign’ success too in winning order from the BAGS, including, J. A. Maffei, and even Baldwin.

BAGS Class 12 4-6-0 copy2

Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway – BAGS Class 12 4-6-0 2-cylinder compound locomotive, built by Beyer Peacock in Manchester Gorton, the type was used extensively on passenger and mixed traffic duties.     Photo Courtesy: Historical Railway Images

However, it was Beyer Peacock, Vulcan Foundry, and North British Loco Co that supplied the many hundreds of steam types for Argentina, and these covered each of the different gauges, from the 5ft 6ins, broad gauge, to 4ft 8 1/2ins standard gauge, metre and even narrow gauge types.  They included both simple and compiund expansion types, rigid frame and articulated designs.

The compound locomotive was extensively employed on these railways, and the ‘fashion’ for lasted longer in the southern hemisphere than the north, with many variations in design and operation.

The offering below covers this period, with a focus on the broad gauge Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway lines, where both two and four cylinder compounds were put to work.  Some details too of other railways, and the considerable numbers of locomotives supplied by the North British Co. from its works in Glasgow is outlined.

Compound Steam

Useful Links:

VF Logo

Historical Rly Images logo

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Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway  Class 12k 4-6-2 steam locomotive Nr. 3941 – taken at Vulcan Foundry in 1926    Photo Courtesy: Graeme Pilkington

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