Siemens New Rail Factory in Goole

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The name of Siemens has an exceptionally long history with railway equipment and rolling stock manufacturing in the UK. To be precise since 1864, when the Woolwich factory was established in London, although the company had been set up in London in 1850, and over the next 30 years, William Siemens was responsible for the arrival of electric traction. Amongst many other innovative developments and delivering what we might today call ‘disruptive’ technology.

This week – April 23rd – it was announced that the company had submitted their plans to build a new factory in Goole, East Yorkshire, for the construction, testing and support for new rolling stock for UK train companies. The application is for outline consent to enable the development to be delivered in phases, with the first phase – the manufacturing facilities expected to open in 2023, with the factory fully operational in 2025. The new facility will manufacture and commission the latest development of the “Desiro” family, which itself – in the UK – dates back to 2000, when the first emu’s were ordered for service with First Great Eastern, and owned by Angel Trains.

Goole Infographics V2-02 (002)The new £200 million factory uses land on a 67 acre site, adjacent to the Guardian Industries UK glass factory, and the Goole intermodal rail terminal – a clearly appropriate location from a rail perspective – and is also close to junction 36 of the M62 motorway. The plans submitted include 80,000 sqm of manufacturing, commissioning, warehouse buildings and stabling sidings, as well as a four-storey, 5,000 sqm office building. Siemens Mobility is planning to create up to 700 jobs as part of this project, and 250 during the construction period, with an estimated additional 1,700 in the UK supply chain.

But Siemens Mobility is not just planning to build trains in Goole, as the company’s UK rolling stock engineering and commissioning team will be based here, and is planning to locate its Digital Operations Centre onsite, collecting and analysing train borne data for train operators.

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Artists impression of the new tube rolling stock design Photo: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44094899

The driver to carry the proposal forward was of course the £1.5 billion order for new trains for the Piccadilly Line for London Underground. The Piccadilly Line had the distinction at one time of being London’s longest tube line, and is now 113 years old. Under the Deep Tube Upgrade Programme, Siemens Mobility Ltd’s contract will supply 94 small-profile metro trainsets, following their successful award from the tender process that began in 2016. Siemens’ success was achieved against stiff competition from Alstom, Bombardier, CAF, and Hitachi, and which included three of the companies launching legal challenges that automatically prevented award of the contract. Suspension of the contract award was lifted by the High Court on 2nd November 2018, and the contract placed.

Whilst it is true that Siemens already have a considerable presence in the area, supporting the offshore and renewables industry, manufacturing turbine blades, this new factory is an important step in the re-growth of the UK’s rail manufacturing industry. It is interesting to reflect too that between 1957 and 1972, GEC Traction (later merged with Alsthom), secured orders for 720 sets of motorcoach power equipment for the Piccadilly, and the Heathrow Extension.

Some useful links:

 

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Batteries Included!

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Earlier in March, there was an announcement by Vivarail that the disappointing delayed entry into service of the Class 230 battery trains had a piece of better news for us – the development of a new fast charging feature.  That said, the first of the delayed 2-car units did make its way to the Marston Vale Line in the West Midlands in late February.

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One of the original Metro-Cammell D78 stock built by Metro-Cammell, and refurbished by Bombardier in the early 2000s                                                                                                                Photo: Alex Nevin-Tylee (AL6NT) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58215231

These trains have been re-engineered from London Transport’s ‘D78’ stock units, originally manufactured for London Transport by Metro-Cammell in Birmingham, with electrical equipment from GEC Traction and Brush.  The D78s were used on LT’s 600v DC surface lines, and started service between 1979 and 1983, with the Bombardier refurb taking place between 2004 and 2008.  Vivarail bought 150 of the driving motor cars and 300 non-powered cars.  These would be used to build not just these new battery powered trains, but additional, low emission diesel-electric multiple units, and hybrid sets for non-electrified routes.

1187-Interior-Future-Colour-3D-ViewIn their new guise, the aluminium underframe and bodyshell is retained, but the vehicles have been completely stripped out and re-equipped internally, and fitted out with low emission diesel engines, and other energy saving elements.  The batteries are lithium phosphate (LiFeMgPO4), with multiple cells in each unit.  ‘Valence’ battery modules, examples of which are already at work on ‘Optare’ buses in the UK, were fitted in the original test train.  More recently, Vivarail have signed a contract with Dutch firm ‘Hoppecke’ for ongoing supply of battery packages for the on-board systems as well as the charging points. The diesel engines, for traction, and powering gensets are, like most modern cars equipped with stop-start technology, adding further to their green credentials. These are 200hp Ford diesel engines, and meet the EU’s Stage IIIB emissions standard, and have been modified by Revolve in the UK, to the requirements for the rail traction environment, and these re-engineered trains from Vivarail.

c61e93d8-e9ec-469d-b118-d18394b01e00Overall, the new trains themselves are a highly innovative way of recycling older designs of rolling stock, and adopting the latest technology in battery, control and traction systems, extending, and expanding their working life.  The Vivarail designs can be built in either diesel-electric, battery, hybrid, or just about any combination of traction power required, and in a variety of configurations, in a 2-car and 3-car layout.

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Next up – how about a hydrogen fuel cell powered train? Such plans are already well advanced, and would suit the Vivarail approach to development in the UK, whilst Birmingham University’s Centre for Railway Research and Education faculty is already moving down that path.

Read more by clicking on the image below:

Cover - Batteries included

Useful & Interesting links:

Vivarail

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InnovateUK

 

 

 

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2-Stroke Diesel Engines on BR

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Back in the 1950s, when British Railways was beginning work on the “Modernisation & Re-Equipment Programme” – effectively the changeover from steam to diesel and electric traction – the focus in the diesel world was mainly between high and medium speed engines.

On top of which, there was a practical argument to support hydraulic versus electric transmission technology – for main line use, mechanical transmission was never a serious contender.

Lens of Sutton - LMS 10000The first main line diesels had appeared in the very last days before nationalisation, and the choice of prime mover was shaped to a great extent by the experience of private industry, and English Electric in particular. The railway workshops had little or no experience in the field, and the better known steam locomotive builders had had some less than successful attempts to offer examples of the new diesel locomotives.

In Britain, the changeover from steam to electric traction became a very hit and miss affair during the 1950s and 1960s.  Orders for the rail industry, and especially the locomotive industries, was subordinate to the railway workshops – which in the ‘experimental’ years received the lion’s share of the work.  That said, the supply chain included companies like English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers, who had had considerable experience in non-steam traction, especially in export orders.

GEC TRaction Photo SP 8671Examples operated in British Railways experimental period between 1948 and 1956 was powered by ‘heavy oil engines’ – the use of the word ‘diesel’ seemed to be frowned on by the professional press in some quarters.  The few main line types that had been built were based around medium speed, 4-stroke power units, with complex valve gear, and perhaps over-engineered mechanical components.  Power to weight ratios were poor.

In the USA in particular, where fuel oil and lubricating oil costs were much less of a challenge for the railroads, 2-stroke diesel engines were common, with much higher power to weight ratios, but equally higher fuel costs.  Indeed, the Fairbaks-Morse company had designed and built opposed piston engines, long before English Electric’s ‘Deltic’ prototype appeared.

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A fascinating glimpse into the workings of the 2-stroke ‘Deltic’ engines. In this animation, the source of the power unit’s name as an inverted Greek letter ‘Delta’ is perhaps more obvious.

Eventually, BR produced its modernisation plan, and included numerous diesel types, for operation and haulage of the very different services in all regions of the UK – they were dominated by medium speed 4-strokes, and only two examples of the 2-stroke design.  The two examples were at opposite ends of the league – both in terms of operational success – and perhaps in the application of the 2-stroke to rail traction.

Intermodel locoThey remained the only two examples in main line use until the 1980s/1990s, when as a result of privatisation of rail services, many more 2-stroke powered examples were ordered and delivered from the major manufacturers in the USA.  It may be though, that this technology will see only a brief life, as further electrification, and other technology changes take place.

This is just a brief overview of some aspects; please click on the image below for a few more thoughts:

2-Stroke Diesels Cover

Useful links:

M-V Article cover page

 

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Did BR Workshop Closures Benefit Manufacturers?

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Back in the 1960s, as the British Railways Workshops were being re-organised under a programme announced in 1962, the UK still had a significant number of private sector manufacturers.  Although, some were already in serious financial difficulties, as they tried to make the transition from building from steam to diesel and electric traction.

In 1965, the British Railways workshops in North Road, Darlington, some 1,400 employees were  building diesel locomotives.  So, they had made the transition, and as part of BR were supporting the modernisation programme.

Darlington – the birthplace of railways – the locomotive works closed in the same year that England won their one and only football world cup, resulting in the loss of more than 2,100 jobs. From the autumn of 1962, when news of Darlington’s closure was announced, thousands of protestors filled the A1 (the Great North Road) in the centre of the town, and the traffic struggled to pass. These protests continued – and were widely reported in the local press – continued until the works was closed in 1966.

Politicians too were alarmed at the prospect of closure of the works, and in 1965, the local MP ( Ted Fletcher) made this observation in the House of Commons:

  • I did address a Question to the Minister on 22nd March asking him what reduction had taken place in the manpower of the railway workshops over the last five years. I was informed by the Minister that 24,000 jobs had disappeared in British railway workshops over the last five years. So it seems to us that over the five years of Tory rule preference has been given to private enterprise, and publicly-owned industry has been deliberately sabotaged for doctrinaire reasons and, as a consequence, the labour force has been allowed to run down too rapidly.

More tellingly, in the same session Ted Fletcher made this interesting observation:

  • As far as I am aware, A.E.I. has not got any locomotive building works. Much of this work is put out to subcontractors. The jigs, the tools, the templates, and the fixtures in Darlington North Road shops were transferred to a private firm—Beyer-Peacock in Manchester—so that it could fulfil a subcontract for part of the order for diesel locomotives.
  • This action was taken by the Railways Board in spite of the assurance given by Sir Steuart Mitchell at that time to the Railway Shopmen’s National Council that everything possible would be done in the granting of new orders to alleviate the necessity for redundancy at Darlington. Machinery and equipment were disposed of to private enterprise.
  • At the same time, the manpower in the workshops has been allowed to run down.

Fascinating – was it true?  Was this a way of the Government trying to support the failing Beyer-Peacock, because the prevailing view about railway workshops was ‘over capacity’, and yet, according to Ted Fletcher in the debate:

  • It (British Railways)has completely over-estimated the number of redundancies that should take place. This is borne out by the fact that many railway workshops now work a considerable amount of overtime. This includes some shops in Darlington. As much as 30 hours a week are now being worked in overtime in many workshops.Many of the thousands made redundant struggled to find work, but the nearby Darlington & Simpson Rolling Mills provided some opportunity for continued employment in engineering.

It is equally ironic perhaps that in addition to the closure of BR’s Darlington Works, Beyer-Peacock’s Gorton Works were closed in the same year – 1966.  Rather like the North British Loco Co. in Glasgow, which closed in 1962, Beyer’s foray into diesel traction was not successful, as they allied themselves to the Western Region’s use of diesel-hydraulic types.  Perhaps the company’s most well known design was the ‘Hymek’ Type 3.  That said they also fabricated the mechanical parts for diesel-electric and electric locomotives, but they found that subcontracting activity uneconomic.

Hymek - Beyer Peacock

Beyer-Peacock’s transition to non-steam construction was not helped by its decision to construct these Type 3 design for BR Western Region’s attempt to use hydraulic transmission. This example of the publicity material was sound, but the product was less successful.                                        Photo courtesy: Historical Railway Images

Clayton Type 1

The ill-fated Clayton Type 1 was very definitely non-standard, and had technical shortcomings too.

On top of that, Beyer Peacock also built what was perhaps the worst diesel locomotive ordered by British Railways – the infamous “Clayton Type 1”.  BR had ordered no fewer than 117 of this twin engined, centre cab design, straight off the drawing board, and Beyer’s were unfortunate enough to be the sub-contractors for the last 29, built in the company’s final year of life, 1965.

Looking at Beyer’s position in the 1960s, the possibility of the Darlington tools being transferred to Manchester increases.  In 1962 Beyer’s were awarded 2 orders for 18 locomotives each, of the Type 2, (Class 25/3 in TOPS numbering) 1,250hp Bo-Bo design, to be numbered in the range from D7598 to D7677.  The other 44 locomotives were to be built at Derby.

NB: The heading illustration shows the preserved D7628 “Sybilla” – on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in 2016.  Photo (c) Charlie Jackson, and Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. 

However, Beyer-Peacock were unable to complete the final 18 locomotives ordered by BR and the work was transferred to Derby.  Given that the Type 2 locomotives were a BR design, and were predominantly built at Darlington – all of Class 25/0, and many from classes 25/1 and 25/2, it does seem likely that any jigs and tools could have been provided to Beyer-Peacock.

The idea that the Government and British Railways Board allowed the transfer of jigs, tools and other machinery to Beyer-Peacock in the 1960s does not seem to have prevented the company from failing.

So, with hindsight both the BR workshops – Darlington in particular, where many BR Type 2 diesels were built – and the Beyer-Peacock works in Manchester were significant losses to the engineering industry.  On the one hand, the BR works closed as part of a Government plan to reduce railway workshop capacity, and on the other a failure of the particular private sector business to make the right commercial choices perhaps.

Useful links:

1966 – Death of Darlington Loco Works

Beyer Peacock – Locomotive Builders to the World

Beyer, Peacock & Co – Grace’s Guide

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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.

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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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