Siemens Mobility have just been awarded a $3.4 billion contract for 73 of the new Venture 4-car trains for the Northeast Corridor, with the first deliveries due in 2024, and included in that order are 15 diesel-battery hybrids, 50 are electro-diesels, with the remainder EPA4 compliant diesels. But this contract also includes technical support along with design and construction.
Sometimes from our position in Europe we simply see the USA as the home of the automobile, and gas guzzling muscle cars, and so depndent on road transport. But, it is true to say that these days, sustainability in rail transport is driving the modernisation programmes there, and this latest project clearly indicates the commitment to carbon emissions reduction for the long term. This is Siemens largest ever North American contract, includes maintenance and monitoring services, together with the potential for another 140 of these trains, and additional maintenance contracts.
What are they? Well, Amtrak is following a brief to operate the most sustainable and efficient trains on the market, which include dual powered and hybrid battery vehicles. Amtrak has without doubt transformed passenger rail travel in the USA over its 50 year history, and has had its share of ups and downs along the way, but these trains will include ‘American made equipment’.
The video below shows the Amtrak Siemens Venture test train at Hammon, Indiana 0n the 25th January 2021, where the difference when compared to a Heritage Fleet car in the consist can be clearly seen.
They are based on the well known Siemens Viaggio series of passenger coaches, operated in Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, and Florida. In the USA they were purchased by the first privately owned and operated main line railway since Amtrak was formed in the 1970s – AAF (“All Aboard Florida”). This subsequently became Virgin Trains USA, and most recently as Brightline Trains.
The new trains will operate along the Northeast Corridor and across various state-supported routes, including operations in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. With expanded capacity and the ability to shorten trip time, Amtrak expects the new trains will add over 1.5 million riders annually.
Amtrak’s CEO Bill Flynn was full of praise for the new trains, and commented:
“These new trains will reshape the future of rail travel by replacing our aging 40-to- 50-year old fleet with state-of-the-art, American-made equipment.”
“This investment is essential to preserving Northeast Regional and state- supported services for the future and will allow our customers to travel comfortably and safely, while reducing carbon emissions.”
It is expected that the first of the new trains will enter service in 2024, followed in 2025 by testing of the first Venture Hybrid battery train, and overall, the current contract should see trains delivered to the NEC and the other state supported routes on track between 2024 and 2030. The trains will be manufactured at Siemens Mobility’s manufacturing facility in Sacramento, California and will comply with the Federal Railroad Administration Buy America Standards.
Of course, it’s also Amtrak’s 50th Birthday this year – Happy Birthday Amtrak!
Or, maybe read the story of the first decade or two here:
There is a famous rail route that runs over 1,800 miles from Adelaide / Port Augusta in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory by way of the equally world-renowned town of Alice Springs. The history of railway development in Australia might be described as a patchwork of different shapes, sizes, lengths and ownership, and this route is also home to the “The Ghan Express”, or more commonly “The Ghan”, which has an equally chequered history.
The line was built in various stages between 1879 and 1929 – by which date it had reached Alice Springs – was opened between Port Augusta and Alice Springs as the Central Australian Railway and built to the narrow gauge of 3ft 6ins – thus adding to the country’s complement of rail gauges. In fact, even before the full route had been opened, the Central had been taken over as a section of the Commonwealth Railways, which was already operating the standard gauge route from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie.
The story of the line from South to North in Australia is fascinating one, and the line where ‘The Ghan’ operated – and indeed operates to this day as a private company is even more interesting. But, as I’m sure many of us will remember from school geography, the continent of Australia is very dry, and posed many problems for steam train operations – especially on this route – so it was something of a blessing when diesel traction arrived.
In this example, which is one of international co-operation, no less than three separate companies were involved in the design and construction of 13 diesel locomotives for freight and mixed traffic duties. The power units were supplied from Barrow-in-Furness, on the south-western extremity of the English Lake District, from Vickers Armstrong’s engineering works, and electrical equipment from AEI in the midlands, with the whole package put together by Tulloch in Australia.
General Design & Ordering
The basic design of these locomotives was a joint effort between Sulzer in the UK and SLM in Switzerland, with the overall operational needs laid down by Australia’s Commonwealth Railways to run on the 3ft 6ins gauge line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs. The locos needed to operate in a harsh environment, with a hot dry climate and temperatures that exceeded 100 deg F for days on end, and frequent sand and dust storms. On top of this they needed to run on lightweight track – 60lbs/yard – with demanding curves in places.
The effect of the weight of the locomotive and train speeds demanded particular consideration with the bogie design to minimise rail stress, and the effect of bogie movement and axle loads. Compared with the ‘Zambesi’ design delivered around the same time, the NT Class was some 12tons lighter.
The order for three locomotives was placed in 1964, and many aspects of the design, including the power unit were based on an design that Sulzer-AEI had already supplied to Africa for the Nyasaland and Trans-Zambesia Railway in 1962/3. In March 1964, Nigeria placed an order for 29 of the same ‘Zambesi’ design, again using the same Sulzer 6LDA power unit, which was the heart of the NT Class design ordered from Sulzer in the same year.
The bodies of these locomotives had a very different design and construction than many of the more conventional designs of the day – as a rectangular full width box, the bodysides were created as stressed skin forms, or semi-monocoque. Fabrication of the assembly used rolled steel sections, covered with sheet steel panels, and to provide the rigidity against deformation, a series of closely spaced vertical pillars and horizontal rails was used.
This provided a fully integral structure, with the bodysides connected by headstocks, bolsters, crossbars, deck plates, and bulkheads separating the cab at one end from the radiator compartment and engine room. The coupler height was a particular issue with the NT Class and to handle buffing loads of up to 150 tons, a triangular fabrication was installed at each end behind the drawgear.
Immediately behind the cab was a full width 3ins thick bulkhead, heavily insulated, and the door into the engine room was double glazed, to provide protection for the crew from excess noise and heat. The radiators were positioned on either side, with part bulkheads to provide extra stiffness in the body, and similar, part bulkheads were provided at the other end of the engine room, separating the control equipment from the engine and generator. Beyond these bulkheads was the ‘free’ end of the engine.
In its final form, the cab was placed at the No.2 end of the loco, although there had been some consideration of the design having a cab at each end. The reason given for the cab at the No.2 end was again to do with the nature of the track it would run on, and having the cab at the No.2 end would make for better weight distribution. Another interesting departure from the original design in the NT class was that after the first order was delivered, the following two orders and 10 locomotives were built with a body some nine inches wider.
The engine, an uprated version of the 960hp 6LDA28 series fitted into Class NSU locos, was exhaust pressure charged and intercooled, delivering 1,400hp, and running at 800 rpm. At the time of their construction 4-stroke medium speed engines were commonly used in the UK and many countries, and the Sulzer engines were all built in the Engineering Works of Vickers-Armstrongs in Barrow-in-Furness. By the time these engines were built in Barrow, the works had already constructed around 1,000 of 6, 8 and 12 cylinder types for British Railways, and of course many for other countries, including the ‘Zambesi’ design for Africa.
For the NT Class though, fitting the engine and generator assembly in the body of the loco really drove the design, since to meet the height requirement specified by the design it was necessary to mount the engine below the deck plating. This meant that a conventional underframe could not be used, and the loco’s bodysides would be the main load bearing elements, taking both traction forces and equipment loading through cross stretchers. Hence the stressed skin technique.
The engine itself required major changes to the workplace at the Vickers site in Barrow, and a large proportion of the engineering output there was focussed on building diesel engines, including marine types, along with cement plant, boilers, armaments and equipment for nuclear submarines. In fact Vickers, Barrow first Sulzer engine order was received in 1947, but in 1955 orders began to be received in large numbers from British Railways, which led to the company creating a separate Traction Division to manage the design, build, testing and inspection of the Sulzer engines. According to a commemorative brochure to mark the 1,000th engine:
“The manufacture of Sulzer engines can generally be undertaken on general purpose machine tools but specialised techniques have been developed to assist the large scale productions and inspection of these engines. Extensive use is made of jigs and tools to ensure the interchangeability of all finished parts.”
In the 1960s, Vickers, Barrow was a very busy works, and by the time the Australian order for 6LDA Sulzer diesels arrived, they had already built 1,000 of the Sulzer LDA design. The power unit was used in the earlier A1A-A1A locos built for Commonwealth Railways over a decade earlier.
As a 4-stroke design, Sulzer engines were already easy on fuel, but for the Australian order, the ‘Zambesi’ variant provided lower fuel consumption, and showed good consumption over the full working range. The cylinder block was described as being “… of the wet liner type …” with a single camshaft on the outside operating the valve gear and fuel injection pumps. Fibre glass inspection panels and a full length steel cover on each side of the engine provided access to fuel pumps and crankcase. The latter was built from a number of transverse cast steel members welded to mild steel fabricated longitudinal elements.
The engine was completed by being mounted on side girders, fabricated in a box section, and extended at one end to provide a mounting for the generator. The design and manufacture of the engine provided a significant contribution to reducing the overall weight, and the subsequent impact loading on the lightweight rail used on the narrow gauge networks. In addition, by comparison with the NSU Class, the new locomotive’s power unit provided some 50% more power, and had been tested to achieve a 1,540hp over 1 hour on test at the Test House in Barrow.
The electrical equipment – generator and 6 traction motors were supplied by AEI. The generator, an AEI TG 5302W was mounted at the far end of the loco from the cab and connected to the engine with a solid coupling. The generator armature shaft connected to an auxiliary drive gearbox mounted on the main generator’s end frame of the main generator in a clover leaf format and provided three separate auxiliary drives. One of these was located vertically above the main generator shaft, the other two below to the left and right respectively. The auxiliary generator provided power for lighting, control systems and battery charging.
Immediately behind the cab/engine room bulkhead the cooling radiators were sited on either side of the loco, together with the combined fuel, lubricating oil and water pump set. For cooling the engine only one circuit was used for cooling the engine, lubricating oil and charging air. The advantage claimed by the builders for this simple system was that under all conditions of load the temperature of the engine water, lubricating oil and charging air would be kept at the correct value. This equipment was supplied by Serck and claimed to provide ample margin for operation under the extreme climate conditions of the line.
With so few partitions and bulkheads, ventilation of the engine room was an important aspect of keeping operating and maintenance costs low, as well as combating the harsh environment. The outside air was drawn from the top of the roof at the rear end of the locomotive through an axial flow fan and passed through filters into the engine compartment, effectively providing a positive pressure environment, to exclude fine dust and sand. Additional air flow was provided via the traction motor blowers.
Running Gear and Transmission
Below decks so to speak, the locomotive body and power unit was carried on a pair of 3 axle bogies. The bogie proper was a mixture of cast and fabricated components in a design intended to provide a good ride quality, with the metal-to-metal contact elements replaced by in rubber, and other non-metallic materials. The basic assembly followed the same pattern as the ‘Zambesi’ class for Africa, where rolled mild steel sections and plates were welded into sub-assemblies to form a box-section frame.
Primary springing used helical coil springs between the equalising beams and the bogie frame, with four sandwich rubber units widely spaced providing secondary springing, and hydraulic dampers fitted at each primary spring location. The secondary springing also reduced the weight transfer during periods when the loco was working hard or exerting higher tractive effort.
The bogies of course carried the clasp type brake gear, and this was operated by Australian Westinghouse air-brake system, and followed standard Commonwealth Railways practices. Another weight saving aspect of the design was the aluminium fuel tank, which was “U” shaped in order to allow space to fit the inter-bogie control mechanism. This latter’s purpose was designed to reduce the wear on tyre flanges when running through tight curves, by ensuring the wheels were at the best angle to the rail. This assembly consisted of a pair of yoke arms, running on rollers supported by a body mounted bracket, with the yoke arms on each bogie were connected by a coupling. The braking system on the new NT Class was pretty standard for the 1960s, with clasp type tread brakes and rigging, operated by Australian Westinghouse supplied air-brakes.
Each bogie carried three AEI Type 253AZ 149hp traction motors driving each axle, in the conventional nose suspended, axle hung arrangement. Again, these were the same as fitted to the ‘Zambesi’ design – 4-pole, series wound, and with 3 pairs permanent connected in series, with three stages of field weakening. The final drive to the wheels was achieved using a pinion on the motor shaft driving the axle mounted solid spur gear wheel with a ratio of 92/19, and the whole assembly was enclosed in a sheet steel casing.
Overall control is electro-pneumatic, with the relays/switches located in the control cubicle at the ‘B’ end of the locomotive providing the operation of the different stages of traction motor field weakening. The cubicle was effectively sealed from the rest of the engine/generator compartment and supplied with air taken from the traction motor blowers, at a slightly higher pressure.
The output from the engine to the main generator used a hydraulic load regulator, linked to the engine governor, and an 18 notch master controller, mounted in a pedestal style in the cab regulated the engine speed and power. The train crew were provided with a range of visual and audible alarms for earth faults, wheel slip, high water temperature and low oil pressures, amongst other alarms.
The NT Class were equipped to operate in multiple, and up to three locos could be coupled together and driven from one cab, whilst it was also possible to operate in multiple with the earlier NSU Class A1A-A1A design. It was claimed at the time of their introduction that, at 1400hp, they were the most powerful diesel locos for their weight anywhere in the world.
Numbering & Operations
The first order for the three new NT Class locos was driven by increased passenger and freight traffic, and as a result Commonwealth Railways placed its order for a locomotive type with Tulloch Ltd of Rhodes, Sydney. The design needed to be innovative because of the quite badly laid 3ft 6ins gauge tracks of the Central Australia Railway. The first three were set to work on the section of line between Maree and Alice Springs.
Overall, at first glance, the orders for the NT Class appear quite haphazard – the first 3 in 1964, then an order for 3 more in 1966, and a final order for 7 in 1968, bringing the total to 13. The second order was placed to meet an expected increase in iron ore traffic from the Frances Creek mine on the Northern Australia Railway, and as the tonnage taken out of the Frances Creek mine continued to increase the third order was placed.
The first of the new 1400hp diesels was delivered to the Central Railway for service on the demanding route through the Flinders Range mountains between Port Augusta, Maree, Oodnadatta and Alice Springs. When NT65 was delivered in April 1965, it was decided to name the first of the class after the then Transport Minister- Gordon Freeth – and it remained the only named example of diesels on this route.
NT65 to NT67 were delivered from the Tulloch Works on standard gauge transfer bogies to Broken Hill, where the 3ft 6ins gauge bogies were fitted, and working initially from Quorn, through the Pichi Richie Pass to Port Augusta. In addition to passenger traffic, the coalfields to the northwest of the Flinders Range provide significant freight traffic, and where before a pair of the older NSU diesels would be used, the same working would need only a single NT.
The same process was followed for delivery of the remaining locomotives between 1966 and 1968, and, given that the standard gauge route to Alice Springs was by then in operation, the NTs destined for the Northern Railway were shipped overland from Alice. This involved removing the NTs bogies, and carrying the three new locos on low loaders across country along the Stuart Highway.
The second order for three more NT class locos were sent to the Northern Railway, which were joined by another five from the third order. The remaining two NTs were retained for duties on the Central Railway. The final seven were all intended for the Northern, as the output of iron ore continued to grow rapidly, and which led to the transfer of one of the class on the Central – NT67 – as a temporary measure.
In 1971 the Central was again seeing some new motive power – the Clyde built NJ Class locos, which allowed for the remaining NTs to be sent to the Northern, where they saw out their final years.
The Northern Railway was just over 300 miles long from Darwin to Birdum, but no connection to Alice Springs. In the south, services operated over the Central Railway consisted of passenger and freight, running from Port Augusta to Maree, on to Oodnadaata and finally Alice Springs, a distance of over 770 miles.
Iron ore from the Frances Creek was at the heart of a very serious accident, with no fewer than four NT Class engines involved on 4th November 1972, and which led to the loss of three complete locomotives, and damage to the fourth.
The Darwin Accident
This was the Northern Territory’s worst rail accident and involved four NT Class locos, and this recorded quote provides an interesting description:
“Just after 5am on a November morning in 1972, a train fully loaded with iron ore crashed into a stationary train at Darwin’s Frances Bay rail yards. One railway official said, “I never saw anything like it. I ran down there expecting to be pulling bodies out of the wreckage.” But incredibly, there were no casualties, even among the crew of the runaway train, who had realised it was out of control and jumped out in time. However the accident destroyed over $1 million worth track and rolling stock.”
The locos involved were NT68, 70, 71 and 75. NT70, 71 and 75 were written off after the accident, and although NT68 survived, it survived only another 6 years in service, and was scrapped in 1978.
In 1911 the Northern and Central Railways were owned by the Commonwealth Railways, and operated as Commonwealth Railways since 1926, and 50 years later – a decade after NT65’s arrival – four were operating on the Central and the remaining nine on the Northern, all subsequently became assets of Australian National.
For the NT Class locos it could be argued, their time was almost up before they were put to work, since with the closure of Central Railway in sections from 1957 to 1972, the majority of ‘narrow gauge’ workings took place in the Northern Territory. All of the NT Class were transferred north in the 1970s, but not for more than a few years, until 1976.
By 1976 the Northern Railway was closed, leaving NT’s redundant, and with the closure of the vestiges of the 3ft 6ins route from Alice Springs to Maree in 1981, there was nowhere for them to go. Except, there were still trains to haul on the Eyre Peninsula Railway, in what became South Australia’s Port Lincoln Division. The remaining NT’s were joined there by the six newer NJ Class that were delivered to the Central Australia line from 1971.
One of the NT Class locomotives has been rescued and preserved on the Pichi Richi Railway. NT76 was officially withdrawn in 1989, and is now operational on this heritage railway, along with an older sibling from the NSU Class. The Pichi Richi Railway has its headquarters at Quorn and operates through the Pichi Richi pass in the Flinders Range down to Port Augusta.
So we know of at least one Barrow-in-Furness built Sulzer diesel engine that is still operational – some 12,000 miles away – and approaching its 60th birthday on the picturesque and dramatic line that was home to the original “Ghan Express”.
I am indebted to the Pichi Richi Railway, Jeremy Browne, Julian Sharp and Chris Carpenter for additional information, and some excellent images whilst researching this small offering on what you could say was a tenuous connection between Barrow-in-Furness and Alice Springs. The vastness of the Australian interior, and the amazing work of the people who designed, built and completed the railway across the continent was matched by the diesel engines, train crew and everyone involved in operating a railway in such a hostile environment. Thankyou.
According to the media today, Wabtec has announced it is to close its Brush Traction plant at Loughborough. So now the UK has lost just about all of its links with the industry that it began over 150 years ago.
We have seen North British, Vulcan Foundry, English Electric AEI Traction, Metropolitan-Vickers, Hunslet, Andrew Barclay, Metro-Cammell, and many, many more companies disappear. Yes, I know about Hitachi and Siemens – and the irony that English Electric, and later GEC Traction traced their ancestry back to William Siemens, but really, is the name Brush Traction now about to disappear for good?
Wabtec bought Brush Traction just 10 years ago, and a press release at the time included this statement:
“With its focus on the locomotive aftermarket, Brush Traction is a strategic complement to our Wabtec Rail unit in Doncaster, England, which offers mainly transit car refurbishment. The company has expertise in high-speed rail, strong engineering capabilities, a highly skilled work force and a long-standing reputation for quality.”
Brush Electrical Engineering, and Brush Traction traces its ancestry back to 1889, when the Anglo American Brush Electric Light Corporation acquired the assets of the Falcon Engine and Car Works and merged their activities at Loughborough, England. The Falcon Works had been set up as a new business in 1882, which replaced the Hughes’s Locomotive and Tramway Engine Works Ltd, which started building vehicles from a seven acre site, including coaches, wagons and horse-drawn tramcars from around 1865.
So, the Falcon Works in Loughborough had a long and distinctive history, and as Brush Electrical Machines the company designed and manufactured some of the most well known locomotives for main line passenger, freight, transfer and shunting duties and also supplied power and control equipment for all types of traction applications. In recent times these include a “who’s who” list of equipment for British Railways and British Rail, alongside the Euroshuttle locomotives used on the Channel Tunnel.
As a business, they survived from 1889 to 2011, with a brief period under the Hawker Siddeley Group – which has also now disappeared. This is a sad day in the life of the UK’s railway and manufacturing industry, as the site is being closed down. What remains of today’s activities, and the 80 staff will continue, just not at the old Falcon Works.
So what next for the Loughborough site? Or will this be the end of manufacturing for the railway industry in the area.
Well, actually, not according to the latest reports, the staff are moving out of town, to Ashby, a few miles away in north west Leicestershire, and there will be no redundancies. The Falcon Works site will close, and Brush Transformers will still continue in business at the Nottingham Road development, close to Loughborough’s mainland railway station.
Almost 50 years ago, the WD/MOS 2-10-0 that had been used by the ‘Royal Engineers’ on the Longmoor Military Railway (LMR) was retired to the Severn Valley Railway, where it sits today in the museum at Highley Station. This engine was one of 150 locomotives built by the North British Loco. Co., in Glasgow between 1943 and 1945, which were all originally destined for overseas service with the Allied Army after D-Day to provide supply chain and European recovery and restoration. The Ministry of Supply (MOS) had placed two orders with North British – L945 and L948 – and the majority of these were sent to France, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece and the Middle East.
Some were sent to Egypt, where they were stored for a time, before dispersal to Greece to help rebuild the transport infrastructure, with a handful seeing service in Syria. The lion’s share were leased by The Netherlands – 103 in total – and were used on freight workings until 1952, and had some changes to the original design, most notably in the boiler and steam circuit. In 1948, British Railways acquired 25 of their number, which were put to work in Scotland until 1962, when they were all withdrawn.
These ‘WD Austerity’ engines were not particularly well liked, or successful in the UK, but many aspects of their design principles were later adopted in the design and construction of the BR ‘Standard” series locomotives – not so surprising really considering that the designer, on behalf of the wartime Government was R.A.Riddles.
The WD 2-10-0s were only the third example of ten-coupled locomotives in this country. The first being the Great Eastern’s “Decapod”, which was converted unsuccessfully in 1906 into an 0-8-0 tender type. The second example was still running at the time the WD ‘Austerities’ were introduced – this was the LMSR 0-10-0 No. 2290 used for banking on the Lickey Incline. However, the only similarity between either of these examples and the MOS type was the coupled wheel arrangement. Both of the earlier types were designed with a specific purpose in mind, whereas the WD 2-10-0 was intended for use on all types of freight duties over varying qualities of permanent way, and even in the restricted confines of marshalling yards.
One of the class No. 90764 found its way south of the border in 1950 to the Rugby Test Plant, and controlled road tests were carried out in 1953/4 with engine No. 90772, on the Scottish Region, between Carlisle and Hurlford, near Kilmarnock. The tests were carried out in company with WD 2-8-0 locomotive No. 90464, and ultimately became the subject of the BTC Test Bulletin No. 7.
Four of these WD 2-10-0s have been saved – ‘Gordon’ from the LMR is still on the Severn Valley Railway, 90775 is on the North Norfolk Railway, and named “The Royal Norfolk Regiment”, whilst a third – 73672 – is undergoing restoration on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, both of which were repatriated from Greece. The last of the preserved locos is 73755 and named “Longmoor”, complete with Royal Engineers badge, and is now on display in the Netherlands Railway Museum in Utrecht.
Details of the design of the loco and construction of the 25 that were purchased by British Railways in 1948 are outlined in the booklet below – just click on the image to read or download.
The 1980s saw some notable achievements by the U.K. rail industry, in particular, the decision to introduce two more new classes of electric locomotive, with the most advanced technology, on British Rail’s west and east coast main lines. On board microcomputers were introduced in ever increasing numbers, in the control systems of new multiple units like the class 318 and 319, and the class 87/2 (later Class 90) and 91 ‘Electra’ locomotives. With the announcement of’ the go-ahead for the Channel Tunnel, a consortium of U.K. manufacturers, including Brush, GEC Traction., Metro-Cammell and BREL, were quick to announce plans for motive power for the through trains, planned for operation between Britain and the rest of Europe. These latter saw the beginning of the end of the d.c. motor as the standard form of power transmission to a locomotive’s wheels, extending further the use of power electronics into rail traction service, with a.c. motor drives.
Whilst the major companies like Brush and GEC Traction regularly supplied British Railways with locomotives and power equipment, with the latter winning the major contracts for1986, the U.K. industry was equally successful overseas. In the main, a substantial number of orders involved rapid transit rolling stock, taking in other household names in the British railway industry, like BREL, and Metro-Cammell, although exports of locomotives and power equipments did not lag far behind.
The major successes in that decade for the export market again involved GEC Traction and Brush, with the latter handing over the first of 22 new locomotives in 1986, for the North Island electrification project in New Zealand. GEC’s most important export contract at that time was worth some £35 million, for 50 class 10E1 electric locomotives for South African Railways. On the whole, the 1980s continued to witness export success for British companies, in many fields, against some very stiff competition.
In 1984, Brush Electrical Machines received an order for 22, 3000kW Bo-Bo-Bo locomotives, as part of a £30 million contract placed with Hawker Siddeley Rail Projects by New Zealand Railways Corporation. First deliveries were originally scheduled for December 1985, but the official handover of the first of the new locomotives did not take place until April 1986.
New Zealand’s latest motive power is finished in a striking red livery, with yellow ends, black underframe, bogies and roof, and operated on the 3ft 6ins (1067 mm) gauge of the North Island’s electrified main lines. Taking power from the 25kV a.c.,50Hz overhead contact system, these 22 locomotives from Brush incorporated some of the latest thinking in rail traction technology. The monocoque body, with a driving cab at either end, housed the main transformer, traction converters, and all auxiliary equipment. The overall design of the locomotives was prepared in accordance with specifications provided by New Zealand Railways Corporation, with their principal workings planned tor the Palmerston North to Hamilton sections of the North Island main line.
The solitary, single-arm, air-operated pantograph mounted in a shallow roof well collected power from the overhead catenary, feeding the main transformer through a roof mounted vacuum circuit breaker. The transformer itself was oil cooled, and mounted in the centre of the loco., with outputs from the secondary windings feeding the two thyristor, traction converters. From these, d.c. supplied the six, axle mounted, 500kW traction motors. The power control electronics, in addition to providing stepless control of tractive effort, also allows for regenerative braking, with the traction motors acting as generators, and returning power back into the overhead line.
The traction motors have separately excited field coils (sep-ex), with force ventilation., and represented the then current thinking in d.c. traction motor technology; their continuous rating of 500kW was reached at a speed of 910 rpm. Sep-ex motors enabled better use to be made of a traction unit’s available adhesion properties, along with more precise control of wheelslip, through the preferred arrangement of power control circuits.
Each of the three bogies in the N.Z. locos had a wheelbase of 2500mm (8ft 2ins approx., if you prefer) at bogie pivot centres of 5850 mm (19ft 2ins), with main and secondary suspension provided by coil springs. The bogies sported traditional air-operated clasp type brakes, in addition to regenerative braking, with the shoes bearing directly on the wheel treads.
Basic dimensions and data are as follows;
GEC Traction’s connection with South African Railways goes back many years, including numerous orders in a fleet of electric locomotives that constitute the largest single type in the world. In 1985 the company won an order for 50 claas10E1(series 2) 3kVd.c. electric locomotives, worth some £35 million. At that time, the S.A.R. class 10E1’s were the most advanced d.c. traction units in the world, incorporating state of the art technology. The order was placed with GEC Transportation Projects of the U.K., with mechanical parts supplied by Union Carriage & Wagon Co., of South Africa.
Weighing in at 126 tonnes, these Co-Co units included microprocessor based ‘chopper’ control, and up to six could be connected in multiple, with a continuous rating of 3,000kW each – the same as the New Zealand triple Bo locomotives built by Brush.
Basic dimensions of the SAR locomotives are given below, and are worth comparing with the Bo-Bo-Bo units for New Zealand;
Power equipment installed in the 10E1 locomotives was designed to cover supplies from 2kV to 4kV d.c., with each of the two single arm pantographs connected to high-speed circuit breakers. Equipment layout in the locomotive body was based on a modular and functional grouping arrangement, where the obvious advantage is in the reduction in complexity of pipework and cable runs, and easier maintenance. The two fixed frequency choppers are air cooled, and the three thyristor arrangement was similar to installations provided by GEC on multiple unit stock for the Dublin and Seoul (Korea) metro schemes.
Again, like the Brush locos. for New Zealand, d.c., traction motors with separate excitation of field coils was provided, with the six motors connected in two groups of three motors in series. Individual control of the two motor groups allowed compensation of wheel wear, and reduction of the effects of weight transfer. In a similar manner to the numerous class 6E1 locomotives, the traction motors were mounted on a ‘U’ tube suspension unit and axle hung. Regenerative braking, and when required, rheostatic braking was included, independently controlled from the air brake system operating conventional clasp type tread brakes. Auxiliary power supplies were 3-phase a.c., supplied from a single motor alternator set.
The microprocessors that form the heart of the sophisticated control system provided rapid detection and correction of wheelslip not automatically corrected by the sepex motors, load sharing between locomotives connected in multiple, and the weight transfer compensation. One of the features of the microprocessors was enabling the new units to operate in multiple with other types, by storing the operating characteristics of the different types, and matching the performance of the 10E1 type to suite. As with all locomotives fitted with microprocessor control, fault monitoring, diagnosis and logging, was an important feature, and eventually a standard facility.
Designed for operation in some very arduous environmental conditions to exacting technical specifications, the first of the new SAR locomotives entered service in late 1986.
Again, both Brush and GEC Traction figured prominently in diesel traction equipment for the export market, joined by others, such as Thomas Hill and Hunslet, with specialist diesel shunting locomotives, primarily for industrial use. Brush, who are most familiarly associated with numerous class 47 and HST, and later the class 56 units for British Rail, saw success in 1980 with a £1 million order from Japan for diesel-electric shunters.
And, in the early 1980s, following completion of a new purpose-built locomotive assembly shop at Loughborough, the Company concentrated efforts on building up sales of a range of shunting and trip working locomotives. For Turkey, Sri Lanka and Ghana, Bo-Bo type locomotives were built between 1981, 1982 and 1983, of a relatively similar basic layout, but some variations in detail design. Also in 1983, Brush’s links with India were reinforced with an agreement covering the development and construction of shunting locomotives with Suri & Nayar of Bangalore.
The Bo-Bo locomotives which Brush were building for Sri Lanka in 1982 were a hood type, housing a 1000hp General Motors diesel engine coupled to the main alternator, with four conventional series-wound traction motors. The general-purpose locomotives were essentially an orthodox hood type, with a major feature of the designs being the elimination/reduction of maintenance, through the provision of simple mechanical drives for all auxiliary machinery.
Whether the locomotives were intended for Sri Lanka, Ghana, or in the later examples delivered to Gabon, the body was divided into three groups, carried on a conventional steel underframe. At the rear, a. short hood housed the batteries, followed by the cab, and a long hood over the power equipment, which itself was divided into three compartments. The compartment nearest the cab housing the electrical equipment, including the rectifiers, the next in line included the engine and generator/alternator assembly. Both of these compartments had a filtered air supply, whilst the third, at the front of the loco., housing the cooling group, radiator fan drives, etc., had no such luxury. The two two-axle bogies beneath the locomotive carried the d.c., series wound traction motors, hung from the axles, and with a spur gear final drive, in a fabricated steel frame, and main suspension of coil springs and hydraulic dampers. The fuel tank, as convention dictated was carried between the bogies.
The six metre gauge locomotives ordered for Ghana in 1983, had a 645 hp Rolls Royce engine, paired with the Brush generator, of the same basic design, but weighing 54 tonnes. The hood shape was slightly different too, being lower, and the cab roof had a much flatter profile. Turned out in a colourful red and gold livery, these six locomotives were worth some £2.5 million, and intended for trip freight working on the main lines.
Amongst the last major orders for diesel locomotives for main line service beyond the U.K., and for Brush, were 1100hp Bo-Bo’s for Gabon Railways (0CTRA) , constructed in 1985. These 90 tonne units were powered by Cummins diesel engines, coupled to a Brush alternator, for mixed traffic duties on the standard gauge. The three-phase output from the alternator was rectified to feed the four axle hung, nose suspended d.c. traction motors. Mechanically, the layout of the locomotives for Gabon was the same as previous orders .
GEC Traction’s involvement in new locomotive construction for overseas railways was largely limited to power equipment, or as subcontractors to others. Later examples of this in the 1980s was an order for 45 sets of electric transmission equipment for Krauss-Maffei built diesels for Turkey, with a Bo-Bo wheel arrangement a continuous rating of 940hp and weighing in at 68 tonnes. Another 5 locomotives for TCDD were to be supplied with 3-phase drives provided by Brown Boveri. The majority of locomotives were to be built, or rather put together in Turkey, as they were shipped out in completely knocked down. Most of these latter – 30 in all – had been shipped by mid-1986, although local assembly had not started until later that year and into 1987. Initially, after official handover, the Krauss-Maffei/GEC Traction locomotives were set to work on the Istanbul to Kapikule (On the Bulgarian border) line, and operated between Ismir and Ankara.
Refurbishing the electrical equipment of English Electric built diesel locomotives for East Africa and the Sudan and supplying engine spares also occupied the expertise of GEC Traction. The class 87 of Kenya railways is the equivalent of British Rail’s class 37, and extending its working life was a priority for its owners.
The Sudan became another overseas market for U.K. motive power when, in 1982, the Hunslet Engine Co., received an order for 11 0-8-0 locomotives for a 600mm rail line hauling cotton and cotton seeds from plantations to processing factories. Hunslet had been supplying locos. to the Sudan Gezira Board – the operators of this line – for almost 30 years, and the repeat order took the total supplied to the Sudan by Hunslet to 67 locomotives.
In the 1980s, the U.K. rail industry has undoubtedly been particularly successful in supplying main line electric locomotives, the winning of these contracts influenced by the wealth of experience and expertise of the contractors. Provision of power equipment, including alternators, generators, traction motors and control equipment also saw many more successes for the railway industry during this period, from Australia’s XPT to AMAX mine locomotives for the USA.
Multiple unit rolling stock for suburban and rapid transit systema around the world was another area where U.K. builders, again particularly GEC Traction and Brush, gained many valuable orders. A number of’ these contracts were secured in the far east, in locations like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia, where competition from the Japanese is especially fierce. Motive power orders though were predominantly concentrated in the field of electric traction, and the design and construction of locomotives for South Africa and New Zealand, were by some margin the stars of the 1980s.
20 years ago, and 2 years after the East Coast Main Line (ECML) was electrified from London to Edinburgh – only 10 years late – BR’s flagship locomotive “Electra”; also known as Class 91, saw service for the first time on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). To be fair it didn’t last long on the WCML, but in 1992, it set a fastest service record, with a train from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly in 2hrs 8mins. At the time this loco was being developed, British Rail – and the InterCity Sector especially was making significant operating profits – and the completion, finally of the electrification work on the ECML was perhaps the icing on the cake.
The profitability of British Rail continued into the early 1990s, and in 1992/3, this press release was issued alongside the annual report:
In 1991, they put out this publicity brochure, to advertise what was coming:
Please click on the image opposite to read on >>
The “Electra” Project – the Class 91 – was one of the most innovative locomotives then developed for use on British Rail. In its Bo-Bo wheel arrangement it was able to generate some 4.54MW of power and haul 11-coach rakes of the new Mark IV coach when it became available. On the WCML it was planned to haul 750 tonne sleeper trains single handed, and the West Coast route, with the arduous ascents of Shap and Beattock between London and Glasgow, was much more demanding than the East Coast.
Thirty one Class 91 ‘Electra’ locomotives were ordered by BR, along with 50 of the Class 90 (formerly known as 87/2), and 86 sets of power equipment for the Class 319 multiple units. The locomotives featured the latest thyristor control systems, with more extensive use of microprocessors, and in a radical departure the separately excited (sep-ex), d.c. traction motors were included in the bogie space, but carried in the locomotive body.
The electrical equipment included oil cooled traction converters – featuring GTO thyristor components – and the main transformer was located below the body, between the bogies, lowering the centre of gravity, and assisting in the reduction of body roll, and relative pantograph movement.
The traction motors, as mentioned above, are body mounted, but slung below the floor, in the bogie space, which in turn, has enabled a more or less conventional layout of equipment on board. The transmission features a coupling arrangement patented by GEC Traction, with the motors driving the wheelsets through a right-angle gearbox, and bevel gears. The hollow output shaft of the gearbox drives the wheels through a rubber bushed link coupling, isolating the drive from relative radial and lateral movement of the wheelsets imparted by the primary suspension. Each traction motor was fitted with a ventilated disc brake at the inboard end.
The major characteristics of the Class 91 are detailed below;
Max service speed
Weight in working order
Unsprung mass per axle
Bogie pivot centres
Wheel diameter (new)
Max tractive effort
Cont tractive effort
Max power at rail
Brakes – locomotives
The class 91 order included an option for a further 25, and featured a double ended design, but with only the No.1 end having any degree of aerodynamic styling. In normal service, during the day, the streamlined end would normally be at the end of the train, pulling when running in one direction, and pushing, when running in the opposite direction. When pushing, control signals are transmitted to the Driving Van Trailer (DVT) attached to the opposite end of the train, by means of Time Division Multiplex (TDM) signals, sent along train wires, on board. The No.2 end cab is flat faced, and a profile that matched the profile of the adjoining coaches was adopted. The non-streamlined end would be used normally when the locomotives were running semi-fast, sleeper services, or other non high speed duties.
Interestingly, the class 91 was designed for a 35-year working life, averaging 420,000 km per year, which meant that in a couple of years’ time – 2023 – we would be saying goodbye to this impressive locomotive. But of course, events have turned out rather differently, and privatisation has created a much more complex operating environment, for both the technology of the train, and the management of the railway.
Sadly – although this year marks the 30th anniversary of its use on the WCML – they were never used in anger there, and by the turn of the century, the ‘Pendolino’ had arrived – by way of Fiat, Alstom and Metro-Cammell. There too, the technology developed at BR’s Derby Research Centre played its part in the late 1970s and into 1980, with the APT – but that’s a story for another day.
Diesel traction was pioneered in Britain by the LMSR in the 1930s, with a variety of shunting locomotive types, and by the late 1940s steps had been taken towards the arrival of the first diesel locomotive intended for main line work. Under the guidance of the LMSR’s C.M.E., H.G.Ivatt, and the co-operation of English Electric Ltd.,1600hp diesel-electric No.10.000 took to the rails in December 1947.
Here was the first of an entirely new breed – the 16-cylinder English Electric diesel engine operating a generator, supplying power to the six electric motors driving the road wheels of the two bogies. English Electric had long been involved with non-steam design and build, mostly for overseas railways, and were at the forefront of most development and innovation around the world.
The use of traction motor/gear drives had already replaced the jackshaft/side rod drives of the pioneer shunters, but No.10,000 was its ultimate development on the LMS. Diesel power was also the first step towards the elimination of steam locomotives as the principal source of main line motive power. But nobody looked at it that way then; it was the train of the future, something for small boys to marvel at on station platforms.
These first main line diesel types were perhaps considered along the lines of proposed ‘atomic trains’, a far-off concept in the post-war era. Strangely enough, by the time BR came to embark on its dieselisation programme, diesel locomotives had become smelly tin boxes on wheels, and the seeds of steam nostalgia were sown. It’s doubtful that steam era footplatemen were anything other than happy with improved conditions.
So much for the train of the future!
Click on the image below for more information on the ex-LMS projects on British Railways:
The Southern Railway too was progressing with main line diesel traction in the post-war era, but it was not to be for a further three years after nationalisation that their locomotive appeared. Meanwhile the GWR had decided as usual to pursue an independent course, with plans for gas turbine types, although these too would not be completed until 1950.
This cartoon appeared in the April 1948 issue of the railway’s “Carry On” magazine, and reflected the new technology, and its need for heavy fuel oil to power the locomotive, and not coal.
The railway network of India is vast, and its cities have extensive suburban and metro networks, with Delhi seeing one of the most recent projects to build a 122 km double-track Orbital Rail Corridor. The route will run around the west of Delhi from Palwal in the south to Harsana Kalan in the north, and provide some relief for the severe congestion on the capital’s inner routes. The metro routes in and around Kolkata have also been expanded in recent years, with October seeing the first underground station on the East-West metro line opened for revenue service.
But the first electrification work for India was sanctioned by the government in August 1922, as the railway’s traffic continued to increase, and the escalating costs of coal for steam hauled services. Contracts were let to the Tata Hydro Electric company to provide the power supplies, and English Electric for the supply of substation equipment including rotary converters, circuit breakers and control panels. The 110,000V a.c. supply was delivered to three principal substations at Dharavi, Kalyan & Thane, where it was converted through the English Electric rotary converters to 1500V d.c. as the feed to the overhead catenary.
Each of the substations was equipped with a pair of 1,250 kW, 750V converters, connected in series – the total installed power was 15,000kW. At Kalyan, three of these 2,500kW units were installed, and used English Electric’s own design of automatic switching equipment. The line’s outdoor switchyard was located here too, and included electrically operated oil circuit breakers and the step up transformer for the 110,000V incoming supply, along with other control and auxiliary equipment.
First there was horse, and then steam followed by diesel and electric – and some of these concurrently – and now the future may be a hydrogen fuel cell powered train. In a tenuous link back to the atomic trains proposals of the mid 20th century perhaps, the University of St Andrews is looking to design and test a power plant for rail vehicles, using hydrogen fuel cells, and fit this to an existing rail vehicle platform.
In September, the university published a ‘Prior Information Notice’, to indicate the key boundaries of this home grown project, with a power source that further reduces the rail industry’s dependence on fossil fuels for traction. The idea itself has been around for some time – well since 2018 at least – and no doubt much earlier theoretically.
Back then Birmingham University’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) began development of a project to utilise hydrogen fuel-cell technology on a railway vehicle – their test bed being a former British Rail Class 319 multiple unit. British Rail Engineering Ltd. originally built these electric multiple units, from 1987 onwards, and after privatisation, they were rented by various train operating companies. A number of the class were modified, upgraded in various ways, including a number that were converted to bi-mode units in 2016.
Back in 2018, BCRRE demonstrated a 10 ¼ ins gauge locomotive “Hydrogen Hero” at the Quinton Rail Technology Centre, in Warwickshire, and in partnership with Porterbrook Leasing the Birmingham team went on to design and demonstrate the ‘HydroFLEX’ demonstrator. This was based on Class 319 No. 319001 from Porterbrook, and successfully demonstrated at Quinton in June 2019. Mainline testing followed, and the “HydroFLEX” project was awarded a £400,000 funding grant from a £9.4 million fund for innovative projects this month to develop the final, detailed design for the world’s first bi-mode electric hydrogen train.
Over 70 years ago, the locomotive manufacturers in Britain began supplying its last main line steam locomotives for Indian Railways – steam traction was still in abundance at home and abroad, but diesel and electric traction was making rapid progress. UK based manufacturers like English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers were early exploiters – mainly in what were then British colonies. Prior to World War II, more than 95% of steam locomotives were built in Britain and exported to India, for use on the various railways – which were then a range of state/privately owned companies – and on top of this, with different gauges.
During the steam era, both pre and post nationalisation, the North British Locomotive Co., in Glasgow, and Vulcan Foundry, in Newton-le-Willows, were heavily involved in the design, construction and export of steam locomotives to the Indian sub-continent. But the British builders had to contend with competition from other countries, including the USA, Canada and Europe before, during and after World War II.