British Railways: Interchange Trials 1948

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Whilst it is the anniversary this year of the end of steam on BR, in 1968, just 20 years earlier, a series of comparative trials took place across the country, to analyses what was then the best in steam traction design, construction and operation.  Not surprisingly, these trials – which took place between April and August 1948, were latched on to by enthusiasts – as a form of competition to see which railway had the best steam types.

City of Glasgow on 1st Caledonian 17th June 1957

A classic shot of a classic pacific – although 46236 “City of Bradford” was used in the 1948 trials. Seen here is sister loco 46242 “City of Glasgow” on the inaugural run of The Caledonian in June 1957.                                                                                                                                                                    Photo: RPB Collection

RPB 220_Lens of Sutton

‘A4’ Class No. 60004 “William Whitelaw” at York on an enthusiasts’ special in the 1960s. As an express passenger type, it was natural to choose one of Gresley’s A4s, but 60022 “Mallard” did not acquit herself well, and was substituted by 60033/34 for the Interchanges.                                      Photo Courtesy: Lens of Sutton

70 years ago, a series of trials took place on the newly nationalised British railway network, to contrast and compare the best elements of the locomotive engineering design, and practice used by railways across Britain. Well, at least that was the plan.

The trials led, eventually to the new BR Standard steam locomotives, and covered espress passenger, mixed traffic and freight types, including a selection of some of the latest designs, WD ‘Austerity’ types, and some traditional designs.  The process was not particularly controversial, but new steam locomotives in the 1950s – especially as diesel and electric traction had already been established, and was developing rapidly.

Stanier 8F nearing Dalton in 2008

The LMS built this 2-8-0 in huge numbers – with over 600 in service by 1948. Many having been built by the other main line railway companies, Beyer Peacock and North British Loco. for war service at home and overseas. A natural choice perhaps for the 1948 trials.                                    Photo: RPB Collection

It may be that one of the main drivers was the ease of availability of coal as a fuel,where oil had to be imported, and the cost of electric traction’s infrastructure was expensive in the post-war economy of the UK.

Further reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed discussion of the trials:

Interchange Trials - cover

Useful Links:

National Archive – Report of the Locomotive Testing Committee

RM Web – The 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials – Discussions

1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials

BR’s First Year (The Spectator)

Loco Interchange Trials 1948 (Rly Mag)

A Postscript To Piggyback Freight

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The Piggyback Consortium proposal was tied to the ‘modernisation’ of the West Coast Main Line, and detailed in Railtrack’s proposal “A Railway for the Twenty First Century”, published in March 1995.

WCML Modernisation - cover

At the same time, the Government was busy preparing Railtrack for privatisation, and the Thrall Car Company were established in the old BR works at York – this is what they said in their brochure at the time:

Sadly, the BR works at York closed in 1996, but was re-opened in 1997, with Thrall Car Manufacturing Co.  The company had received an order from EWS for around £200 million to build 2,500 wagons, including steel coil carriers, coal hoppers, box and container flat wagons. Sadly, this was the only major order received at York, and Thrall’s successor – Trinity Industries – closed the plant in 2002, with the loss of 260 jobs.

Europspine 1?

In original guise, Thrall’s spine wagons were publicised like this.

Thrall and Babcock Rail’s lack of success with the spine wagon idea, was largely as a result of the lack of take up commercially of the piggyback innovation, for domestic and international services, along with unresolved national problems around transport policy, never fully resolved.

Babcock Rail Wagons

Built by Babcock Rail Rosyth, this image shows a standard road tanker mounted on one of the Babcock piggyback wagons. The lack of a national strategy for bulk transport of liquids, including foodstuffs dealt a mortal blow to this type of piggyback operation.

There was potential for this and other proposals, such as the pocket wagons, with successful trials run between Penrith and Cricklewood using the road tanker on a piggy back trailer, but the customer demand needed buy-in from more than one or two national organisations, and some “public monopolies” such as “Milk Marque” were fragmented, taking away those potentials.  Later still, other commercial interests died away, and despite the success of these ideas, from an engineering and operational trial perspective, it has simply melted away.

By 2017, a lot of changes had taken place, although investment in the routes has occurred in some places, it is by no means as comprehensive – or indeed integrated – as it was almost 20 years ago.   Network Rail published a “Freight Network Study”, in April 2017, though in short, for rail freight, we appear to be little further forward:

Freight Network Study Cover

The Thrall / Babcock Eurospine wagons were simply mothballed after 2002, and stored out of use at Carlisle, near the old Upperby Maintenance Depot, which itself was pulled down only a few years ago.

Eurospine - Phil Taylor Facebook Carlisle

The last days of Carlisle Upperby TMD shows the Eurospine wagons still hanging around – still a potential if only a commercial use could be found.                        Photo ©: Phil Taylor

 

 

Thrall Piggyback Wagon

Weeds growing over the bogie of a Thrall Eurospine wagon at what remained of Carlisle Upperby TMD back in 2012. Photo ©: Gordon Edgar

 

A Postscript to Piggyback_cover

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What Happened to Piggyback Freight?

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

Here’s something of what I wrote back then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unless of course you know different?

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

Piggyback Feature Cover

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

Interesting Links

The Independent

Railway Gazette

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BR’s Last Main Line Diesel Hydraulic Locomotives

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Just about 50 years ago, 43 of the 56 ill-fated diesel-hydraulic 0-6-0s built at Swindon Works were withdrawn, 3 more in February and March 1969, and the final 10 in May 1969.  These ‘Type 1’s were designated main line locomotives, intended primarily for shunting and trip freight work, initially in South and Mid-Wales, and later classified ’14’ in the TOPS renumbering scheme.

DimensionsAs the only B.R. Type 1 locomotives to have a hydraulic transmission, should they really have been built at all?

Preston_Riverside_-_D9537_and_D9539

Two class 14 diesel-hydraulics at Preston Riverside station in 2015. Green D9539 is based here on the Ribble Steam Railway by sand-coloured D9537 is making a visit from the East Lancashire Railway. (Photo Courtesy: Geof Sheppard) (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

They were intended to replace the 0-6-2 tank locomotives working the Welsh valleys lines, which from a freight traffic perspective served mainly the coal mines.  It was decided that these rigid frame Type 1 diesels would be better than the Type 2s, which were much more powerful.

Class 14 Running NUmbersSo, they were essentially BR Western Region’s answer to the ‘pick-up’ goods train, normally hauled by small tank engines.  Considering too that they were delivered after both Beeching 1 and around the time of Beeching 2 – for BR, this was clearly a mistake.

They survived to be taken over by the extensive industrial lines of the National Coal Board, and British Steel sites, which for the latter was mainly at Corby.  Here they went on for a fuurther 5 to 7 years or so, with a couple being sold abroad, and no less than 19 of the 56 being preserved at various locations.

They seem to have become the most common of preserved diesel locomotives – so ironic.

Preserved 14sFurther Reading

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

Class 14 Cover shot

Further information and links

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The Northern Nightmare – An Insoluble Puzzle?

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Whatever you read in the media about railways in the north these days – whether it’s North West or North East, we see to have accepted that this was unforeseen, almost as if there was no plan.  Now it seems the timetable problems have created a political North West versus North East skirmish, between councillors in Newcastle and the Regional Director of Northern Rail.

6 months ago we heard very little about timetable problems, cancelled or massively delayed trains, nor did we hear too much about shortages of trained train crews, but at the same time Government was advertising the biggest investment since the 1800s.

Why?

Was it a lack of communication between train operating companies, the owners of the rolling stock, Network Rail’s project management of electrification schemes, and overly long contractor and supplier chains?

Mike Paterson, the regional director for Northern, admitted that some trains had been kept in the north-west to deal with the problems, which were worse in that region.

“Because of delays to the electrification of the Manchester to Preston (via Bolton) line, we had to re-plan those timetables at short notice and keep some diesel trains in the north-west to help deliver services to our customers on those lines affected by the delay,” he said.

Source: North West v. North East (Guardian)

In his statement above, Mr Paterson appears to suggest that the timetable re-plan was done at short notice – so was there no contingency plan to cope with a potential electrification delay?

Passengers in the North East have, like everyone else the right to complain when they are promised new trains in a great ‘modernisation plan’, and then get reconditioned trains instead.  A great many trains across the northern routes are more than 25 or 30 years old, with some – like the ‘Pacers’ – operating services for which they were never intended.  Are the reconditioned trains for the North East a ‘stop gap’ measure?  Still, they are ‘digitised’, as Northern Rail suggest:

“These will feature free wifi, plug sockets, automated customer information screens and new seating – and some will even have full climate control,” said a spokesperson. “Our refurbished trains will feel like new and customers will experience a level of comfort not seen before on Northern services in the region.”

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

I don’t believe – I guess like many others – that simply nationalising the services in the north will end the problem quickly.  Removing the franchise from Northern Rail and taking the routes and services into public ownership will still have those problems.  Let’s say there is a new Northwest Rail and Northeast Rail – they will still be hamstrung by the need to manage relationships with rolling stock operators, manufacturers and Network Rail.

The skills of timetable planning, arranging for assets to be in the right place at the right time to move people and goods, alongside upgrades to infrastructure, signalling and telecoms seem to be in short supply?  Or, is it a shortfall of project management skills, a lack of engineering skills and a reliance on short term contracts to do a job.

With so much of the franchised rail industry divided into so many different units, and in a small country like the UK, we have perhaps little hope of integrating land transport systems.  The idea that British Rail in the 1970s and 1980s was worse than this is laughable nowadays.

Ah well, HS2 will be here soon – or will it be cancelled or delayed!

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Blue Pullman – A Fascinating Failure?

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

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

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

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

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

The Blue Pullman Experiment

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

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

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

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

8-car Bristol Pullman

8-car Western Region ‘Blue Pullman’

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

Elevation & Layout diagrams

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

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

Leading Dimensions

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

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

Chris Williams Photo at Reading in 1967

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

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

Sadly, none were rescued for preservation.

Further Reading

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

M-V PDF file cover

Useful Links:

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

Metcam.co.uk

British_Rail_Classes_251_and_261

“Blue Pullman, 1960”

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

 


 

 

 

Blackpool Lights Up – Finally

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The 19 week programme to electrify the line from Preston to Blackpool North has – it seems – finally been completed, and on 16th April, the new service is now planned to start.  The programme was extended by a 3 weeks – and according to Network Rail, the major cause of the delay was the extreme bad weather in March.

PROJECT UPDATE: Blackpool North line to reopen on Monday 16 April

So, the project has overrun by 16% – but at least it is now finished.  Services to Blackpool stopped on 11th November and were due to restart on the 26th March – in good time for the start of the Easter holidays and the tourist season.

When the delay was announced the MP for Blackpool South was incensed and took the matter up with Norther Rail (the franchisee), and of course in Parliament.  The local paper carried a story about the delay:

‘Damaging’ rail delay will impact on tourism, says MP

However, Network Rail has completed:

  • Rebuilding 11 bridges
  • Remodelling 11 station platforms
  • Replacing 11km of track
  • Upgrading drainage
  • Installing a completely new signalling system, operated entirely from the Manchester ROC

Alongside the changes at Blackpool North and Kirkham & Wesham stations, Blackpool train care depot to support the roll out of new Class 331 trains later in 2018.

In the meantime Class 319 units will be relocated from Southern England – good to recycle.  But at least one observer has noted that whilst Transpennine run electrified services into Manchester Airport, currently it seems Northern Rail are not planning for this.

Whilst Network Rail are to be congratulated on completing the job – it’s still ‘wait and see’ to find out how the ‘Great Northern Rail Project’ fulfils its declared intentions.