Back in the immediate post second world war period, the railways had been “nationalised’ for the duration of the war, and following the election of Clement Attlee’s Labour Government, they were keen to return to the pre 1939 arrangements. The new government were clear that they were going to bring all of the LMS, LNER, GWR and Southern under a single umbrella, as a truly nationalised industry. A national rail network and operating as a single entity.
The call for nationalisation went back to at least 30 years earlier, with the Geddes Report, and David Lloyd George – when Prime Minister in 1918 – told a TUC deputation at a Select Committee that he was “in complete sympathy” with the projects for railway and canal; nationalisation. 29 years later, one MP quoted the English philosopher John Stuart Mill in a debate:
“Countries, which at a given moment are not masters of their transport, will be condemned to ruin in the economic struggles of the future.”
It seems the railway companies in the 1940s were not “in complete sympathy” with either Lloyd George or John Stuart Mill. Mill’s maxim is as valid in 2022 as it was in 1947.
But …. Unsurprisingly, the shareholders and ‘investors’ in the previous separate businesses were going to publish an alternative view, where they would claim the ‘Big Four’ had plans for investment and development at all levels. There are some examples that could rightly lay claim to being developed by the private companies – the early diesel, electric, and gas turbine locomotives. At least in terms of main line locomotives these were more a case of the British companies playing catch up with railway systems elsewhere in the world.
Britain’s main source of fuel and energy was the huge coal resources that were still being mined, and the non-steam development was always going to be a difficult project, and even where oil burning was tried on steam traction, it was not a success.
The Big Four were clear about their opposition to nationalisation, and claimed in their publicity material, such as the booklet produced in 1946, that they had great plans, as well as laying claim to some dubious successes of the 1930s.
Typical of their claims were these two statements:
The inter-war period was not an economic period they should have looked at to suggest some of their ‘developments’, characterised as it was by the ‘Great Depression’. Many of the UK’s world-famous engineering companies were close to going bankrupt during this period, and examples such as the North British Loco Co survived by the skin of their teeth.
The railway companies claimed that they had achieved this work during the period from 1928 to 1938 – it may be argued that some of it was achieved, but then the booklet was designed for marketing and a ploy to dissuade the supporters of nationalisation.
The world was changing rapidly, and the manufacturers and suppliers, as well as the railways were faced with major change.
These changes might not be so easily met by reverting to pre-war management and supply chain practices, and the haphazard developments in motive power and rolling stock. The ‘Big Four’ were adamant that they were best placed to take the separate railway companies forward and provide the technological and operational developments needed.
They concluded the booklet with this statement:
But there were those in parliament who offered their different views, including those of railwaymen like Walter Monslow:
Some years ago, whilst on holiday in Munich, we were walking through the Englischer Garten park in Munich – a huge open space in the city – and many years later I discovered that the area was the original home of the firm of J.A. Maffei, and built many 100s of steam locomotives. From these works emerged a couple of well-known examples, such as the S 2/6 and S 3/6 designs for the Royal Bavarian State Railway. The S 2/6 was the holder of the German speed record for steam traction – 154.5 km/h back in 1907, whilst a year later, the Class 3/6 arrived, two of which are preserved in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, and the Transport Museum in Nuremberg.
It was in 1908 that the firm of Maffei in Munich delivered its classic 4-cylinder compound pacific to the Royal Bavarian State Railways, with the class (S.3/6) numbering 145 in all by 1931. These majestic locomotives were used on almost all of the principal services within and extending beyond Bavaria, they were indeed classic locomotives, undergoing a variety of minor design changes and mechanical improvements during their life. In turn though they were the precursors of an equally successful simple expansion pacific, but with only two cylinders, one of which – No. 01 1104 was resident at “Steamtown”, Carnforth in England for a time, before returning to Germany. This was originally DB Class “012″ 4-6-2 No. 012 104 which had been rebuilt with an all welded boiler and converted to oil burning.
The design of their precursors, the S.3/6 compounds was developed by Anton Hammel, Maffei’s Chief designer and, in turn, their appearance owed a lot to the adoption/inclusion of aspects of North American design practices. Amongst these newer features was the adoption of bar frames, with a long, wide firebox. All four cylinders drove the second coupled axle, with the two inside, high-pressure cylinders, set at a slight inclination, with the two outside, low-pressure cylinders set horizontal. The majority of these locomotives were equipped with 6ft 0ins coupled wheels, although 18 of their number, built in 1912-1913 were given 6ft 6ins coupled wheels. Known as “die Hochbeingen” (the Longlegs), one of this class was rescued for preservation in the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Maffei constructed 127 Class S.3/6, whilst Henschel of Kassel built 18 under licence. They were both successful and long lived, with the last of the class being taken out of service in 1965 – 57 years after their arrival in July 1908. This classic Central European style was built on by the following Class 01 pacifics, with another version, Class 03 built with a lighter axle loading constructed throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1920, some 11 years before construction of the S.3/6 4-cylinder compounds had ceased, Deutsche Reichsbahngesellschaft (DRG) was in need of a new express locomotive type, to meet the changing traffic demands. It was in the position of needing to either continue building a proven design such as the Bavarian. S3/6 or the pr. S10 – or alternatively to decide on a new construction.
So, DRG decided to pursue a new approach, by adopting standardisation with the intention of reducing maintenance costs on passenger workings. In essence this resulted in stocks of spares being held at various depots across the network, so that repairs could be undertaken swiftly, by swapping out the failed component, and the loco could then be put back into traffic.
This was essentially how the famous BR 01 and 02 Class of pacifics appeared – Germany’s first ‘standard’ design. Initially 10 of the Class 01 were built, and 10 of the 02 series – the difference between the two was that the 01s were 2-cylinder simple expansion, whilst the 02s were 4-cylinder compounds. The idea was then to compare the performances of each and decide which best suited DRG’s express passenger services going forward – controversially perhaps it was the simple expansion Class 01 design that proved the most effective overall. The stated intention of standardisation was to reduce maintenance costs, and despite the fact that the 2-cylinder design was less powerful and less economical than the four-cylinder compounds, the 01 Class won the DRG’s support.
No fewer than 231 of these locomotives were built between 1926 and 1938, mainly by AEG and Borsig, but also from Henschel, Hohenzollern, Krupp and BMAG. Although strictly speaking, after the initial order for 10, another 221 were ordered, and with the 10 Class 02 compounds converted to 2-cylinder simples between 1937 and 1942, a grand total of 241 of these express locomotives took to the rails. The first 01 to enter service was actually 01 008, and which is preserved today in the Bochum-Dahlhausen Railway Museum.
Their axle load of 20 tonnes (19.9 long tons) was slightly less than the later British Railways ‘Standard’ Class 7 “Britannia” Class pacifics built a quarter of a century later. In Britain though the idea of standardisation was thought of in a different way and was driven by differences between the engineering designs and workshops of the former private railway companies. In Britain the idea being to standardise on the optimum component design produced by the ‘Big Four’ companies, so that valve gear design was adapted from the former LNER, with the larger boiler designs from the LMS.
The Class 01’s axle load of 20 tonnes restricted its use on a number of routes, and this began in the 1930s, along tracks that had been upgraded to take this increased axle load, and in the area around Berlin this required bridge arch strengthening work. Compared to the Bavarian Class 3/6, which had a 16.8 tonnes axle load, they were significantly heavier, and the first 90 engines were sent to home depots from Berlin in the Northeast, across to Essen in the West, Hamburg in the North, and to Nuremberg in the South. Unsurprisingly perhaps, this initial deployment covered the industrial north, whilst later distributions took the class to Cologne, Frankfurt, and Dresden.
The 01s were also modified during the various batches of locomotives built, which included changes such as providing electric lighting for headlamps, instead of gas, increasing the bogie wheel diameter to 1,000mm to enable higher speed, and increasing the braking effort with additional brake shoes. In addition, changes to boiler tubes, smoke deflector designs, and smokebox locking were included in the pre-war modifications.
The major changes, and rebuilding took place in the 1950s, which included such features as water pre-heating apparatus, yet another design of smoke deflector, and the inclusion of combustion chambers. These were done as experiments on locos 01 042, 01 046, 01 112, 01 154 and 01 192. Between 1957 and 1961, the then Deutsche Bundesbahn rebuilt 50 of the class with a new all-welded boiler, roller bearings, changes to the front end frames, cylinder blocks, amongst other modifications. In the East, the Deutsche Reichsbahn in the workshops at Meiningen rebuilt another 35 of the class, also providing a new boiler, pitched higher, and fitted with a combustion chamber and preheater arrangement, along with a new cab and new smoke deflectors.
The class was retained in service in West Germany until 1973, and in East Germany until 1982, with numerous members of the class still operational as preserved examples, in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
The 01s were a very successful design, and in 1988, the DB Transport Museum in Nuremburg obtained 01 150 for preservation in the national collection. This locomotive was built by Henschel in 1935 and was still in service in the early 1970s, before being taken out of operation on November 13, 1973.
It is beyond the scope of this brief look at a couple of classic German pacific types to provide more extensive detail – but we may return to the subject in a future post.
English Electric was a world famous name in just about every aspect of electrical and many other areas of manufacturing industry – from power generation, to transport, aerospace and even computing. But in the railway industry they will forever be associated with the power equipment, and complete locomotives and multiple units running in just about every country on the planet.
It may or may not be true that “all roads lead to Rome” during the empire days, but the majority of ‘roads’ in electrical and especially railway engineering led to Preston and South Lancashire.
lf you want a locomotive for any track gauge, or you need a supersonic jet fighter, a washing machine or a fridge – the maker’s label could quite easily say “English Electric”.
During the 1920s and 1930s, there was considerable interest in the development of non-steam traction, and at the forefront of the latest electrification schemes, mostly it has to be said in former British colonies, and English Electric were out there designing, building, and supporting new technologies.
The company itself was formed in 1919, in the aftermath of the First World War, and the ‘home economy’ was in pretty poor shape, along with many other countries. In fact, Dick,Kerr & Co., Siemens Bros., Dynamo Works, and the Coventry Ordnance Works were merged with Willans & Robinson to form the English Electric Co.
But, from their home base in Preston, the former Dick, Kerr works, the new English Electric Co. began delivering some world beating projects and deployed the latest technology. At the same time, they were focussed on developing that technology, whether for new lines, or new ideas – one of the the world’s unique railways – the Post Office Tube, an automated line was built in the 1920s. Numerous tramway and mass transit rolling stock, as well as equipments for the early electric locomotives came out of the Dick, Kerr shops. Later, the electrification works in Japan, Denmark, New Zealand and India all saw the arrival of the products of Preston, and its workshops.
Of course, these were early days, and neighbouring steam locomotive works – Vulcan Foundry – at Newton-le-Willows were busy diversifying too, with their partnership with A/S Frichs of Aarhus, Denmark as diesel traction began to attract the interest of railway companies. Vulcan Foundry would soon become part of the English Electric brand too, along with another steam locomotive builder – Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns, of Newcastle.
Steam railway technology may have begun in the North East, but the new technologies for non-steam power saw their genesis and power base in Lancashire – and soon English Electric builders’ plates would be everywhere from London and Liverpool to Tokyo.
The images above are linked to the original EE Co. material in PDF form, which I hope you enjoy.
The extent of English Electric’s engineering expertise and skills filled almost every aspect of engineering industry, from washing machines to computers and nuclear power stations, where Hinckley Point included turbines supplied by English Electric. Here are a few examples:
Perhaps not everyone’s favourite loco, but it was unique in a number of ways, and one of these was the fact that it was the last new locomotive type built at Doncaster Works, which in the early 1980s was part of the soon to be privatised BREL. Its power unit built on the legacy of Ruston Paxman, English Electric and latterly GEC Diesels, which were built at the historic Vulcan Foundry in Newton-Le-Willows – that too was the victim of mass closures and the run-down of the railway industry in the 1980s.
The class 58 had a less than successful career in Britain, and was dispensed with in short order under EWS, and sadly for BREL no export orders were received. But …. It was exported on hire to the Netherlands, Spain and France, where in Spain and France it provided the motive power needed when the high-speed lines were being expanded in the early 2000s, before being returned to the UK, stored or scrapped.
The design and fabrication techniques employed were very much of the mass production line process and should perhaps have been more widely employed in the UK industry, but that was not to be, and it remains a final, and curious example of a good idea that was not fully exploited. There are a number of the class in varying stages of restoration, and one is providing the base for the building of a replica of the first English Electric main line diesel, developed by the LMS and its CME H.G.Ivatt. So the Class 58 legacy remains to be seen in service on specials, and in operation on heritage services.
This small offering is based on my invitation to the handover in December 1982 of the very first Class 58 at Doncaster, where I enjoyed a tour of the works, to see the processes in action, and the unveiling on a bright sunny day of 58001 outside the main office block.
Back in the days of British Rail, train performance figures were routinely published by the central and regional transport committees, which included a range of voices on the panel, and was independent of the railway operator. The details provided in annual reports covered passenger operations, disabled passengers’ facilities, bus-rail interchanges, design of rolling stock, and major projects including electrification. Funding was also covered, and the gradual reduction in PSO grants to local authorities, which led to a further run down of services, was a key feature of the 1980s in particular.
From a press release provided by The Compensation Expertsearlier this month (November), an interesting set of statistics was provided to illustrate which stations had the most delayed services – missed their arrival time, or beyond the 1 to 15 minute threshold, but not cancelled. In that release, they make this observation:
“Unsurprisingly, the worst UK station for delays and cancellations is in London. If you want a quick commute, you should aim to avoid using City Thameslink at all costs. On average, an absolutely staggering 67% of all trains that pass through City Thameslink are delayed between 4pm and 6pm, with 66% being delayed between 7am and 9am.”
To illustrate the point they include this table:
As I referred to in an earlier post, access to detailed information is difficult to come by, through “official” channels, and obvious sources such as Transport Focus, and the ORR web sites are long on rhetoric, but short on readily available data. On the Transport Focus home screen, you have to scroll to the very bottom of the page to find a link to the “Data Hub”, which then takes you to another page, strewn with icons and images of various transport modes – then you click on the “National Rail Passenger Survey” – which gets you this image:
Not much by way of useful information about train performance, and none about puncutality. Previously, reports would include charts about the percentage (%) of trains arriving on time, or within 5 minutes, and so on – but with this source you have to delve a further 3 or 4 pages into “Advanced Analysis”. Then you can generate a spreadsheet to provide details of punctuality.
BUT – it does not calculate that data, it simply describes whether passengers were satisfied or dissatisfied with their journey.
Not a very useful source then if you are looking for details about train arrivals on or behind time, as happened in British Rail days. So maybe I misunderstand what the purpose of “Transport Focus” is then? Seems to be measuring whether a passenger was happy or unhappy.
This can be a useful source, and they publish a PDF file online at 3 monthly intervals, but an important point has to be how punctuality is defined and recorded. The ORR use a definition of on time as either arriving ahead of the booked time or less than one minute late, but there is another measure described as te Public Performance Measure (PPM), which is defined as trains arriving early or up to 10 minutes after the scheduled arrival time. This is also classed as a punctuality measure.
So, if you aggregate train services from all operating companies, and you measure their arrival as punctual, you could say that 98% of all trains were punctual if your definition was early or on time, and up to 15 minutes after timetabled arrival.
All the results aggregated by the ORR for on time, or 1 minute late arrivals are published as a chart, and the example below shows these punctuality figures for the past 8 years. If option (c) is selected – trains arriving up to 15 minutes late – unsurprisingly trains can be said to be 99% punctual.
Train punctuality was also measured as % of arriving right time, or up to 5 minutes late. These were also grouped as either express trains or other trains, and further subdivided by region (equivalent to train operator today. It is interesting to note that in 1981 BR Eastern, Scottish and Western Region express train punctuality was 81%, 82% and 74% respectively. For other trains (this would include commuter services), these same three regions recorded punctuality figures of 91%, 93%, and 92% arriving on time, or no more than 5 minutes late.
Before the pandemic, the same services, allowing for arrivals up to 3 minutes late, were roughly the same in 2018/19 as they were in 1981 – fascinating.
Back in 2001 I was compiling a status report of the Light Rail Projects and existing networks in operation, or under active construction around the UK. We had a busy programme, with 6 networks open and operational, and plans to build 3 more around Portsmouth, Leeds and Bristol being put forward, and the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) was being built. Of the existing systems, Croydon – or the London Tramlink as it is now called – and the Birmingham network had only been open a couple of years.
There were other proposed systems being put forward, including Edinburgh, which did finally get completed, and a “revamped trolleybus scheme” for Liverpool and Merseyside – the “Mersey Tram” – another pie in the sky scheme. The new generation of light rail and tramway schemes were being scattered around the UK a bit like confetti 20 years ago, and included Hull, Bath and East Lancashire – at least that was what the Transport Secretary was reported as saying in Parliament in 2001.
The major projects actively operating or under construction, with a couple of exceptions, including those that were cancelled by the Department of Transport, included these:
Back in 2001 there were plans for expansion of the existing systems, with Manchester (3 new lines) and Birmingham (2 new lines) at the head of the list. It was clearly essential for the expanding connurbations of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, and they had already proved their value in passengers carried, and the associated revenue – the Midland Metro had seen a 25% increase in passengers carried in its first fully operational year.
Before looking back at where we were in 2001, it is worth noting that all of these networks were essentially built around a new concept of street running trams, and the UK was following the lead set in other European cities. With the exception perhaps of the Tyne & Wear Metro, the technology being used was new, and whilst the UK’s first new light rail system in Manchester was not exactly the low floor design seen elsewhere, it was a pioneer. The Tyne & Wear had been up and running since the late 1970s, and piggy backed on the readily available ‘heavy rail’ technology, including a 1500V d.c. overhead contact system, and conventional railway station platforms.
The other ‘metro systems’ that could be included would be the underground networks of London and Glasgow, and Blackpool’s century old tramway system. But, Light Rail was evolving down a different path, and in 1989, the industry was first fully showcased in the UK at Bristol, at the “Light Rail 89” exhibition and conference, opened by Mchael Portillo, who was then Transport Secretary. The industry was ambitious, and the outlook was poistive, and by the turn of the century, those 6 new systems were up and running – including the highly successful and automatic Docklands Light Railway.
Where are we today? These are the current Light Rail (LRT) systems in operation in the UK:
Only two new systems have been built and opened in the past 20 years – Edinburgh and Nottingham – so now we have 8 light rail systems, with the older networks continuing to expand.
Click on the image below to read about the systems and technology that was in place back in 2001.
A report in the news today (Sunday 17th October) describes the failure of yet another Train Operating Company (TOC) as tie Government withdraws its franchise.
This system has never been a success in the UK, as the numerous and repeated TOC failures demonstrate. The fragmentation of a key national infrastructure in the manner it was sliced up in the 1990s was doomed to failure. Too much bureaucracy, red tape and subsidies to failing business models.
Is this latest failure of South Eastern the death knell for the “British model”? When will we see the whole infrastructure nationalised – or as some might suggest “owned in common”.
There is no future in the franchising model, the UK cannot keep sticking a plaster / band aid over this key transport mode. It is also perhaps behind the piecemeal – unsuccessful – approach to the inertia seen, or maybe not seen, fir the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.
Meanwhile public funding, technology, and innovation seem to be thrown at the HS2 line from London to Birmingham. No doubt that too will eventually be admitted into public ownership.
If there was such an animal as a typical Midland locomotive, then surely Henry Fowler’s class 4 passenger tanks were in that category. First built at Derby Works from1927, many of the class came to the northwest, in BR days particularly, although it was not until the early 1960s that there were ever more than half the total allocated to this area.
NB: The heading image shows Banks Station, with the 17.59 from Preston, headed by LMS Fowler 2-6-4T No. 42369. This is a classic Fowler working on this Preston – Southport train, looking eastwards, towards Preston. The line and station was closed on 7/9/64 – less than two weeks after this photograph.
They were intended for heavy suburban and intermediate passenger work, and classified 4P, with steam pipes inside the smokebox on the original 1927 build. Modifications introduced in 1930 included outside steam pipes, side windows in the cab, and an altered smokebox saddle, with a solid bottom to the cylindrical wrapper.
This latter, with outside steam pipes, was essentially adopted to eliminate a. corrosion problem, where the steam pipes had passed through the bottom of the smokebox and saddle.
In general, the modified locos. were the same as the earlier version and covered by diagram ED172C. The parallel boiler was retained, supplying two outside cylinders, operated by Walschaerts valve gear, with long travel inside admission piston valves. Other minor modifications included the provision of’ cast steel axleboxes, compared with the earlier, manganese bronze variety. The original cab and gangway door arrangement contributed to the draughty nature of the footplate, and the large gap behind was partially closed, and some locos. were fitted with folding doors. In early BR days, a number of engines we refitted with new, cast steel cylinders.
Operationally, the class was a success from the word go, and have been reported by some sources as “excellent performers”.They were more economic to run than the later Stanier designs, on faster, heavier and more demanding duties. On building they were allocated numbers previously carried by a variety of, pre-grouping types, including North Staffordshire and Midland Railway 0-6-0s. In the north west they were assigned to duties originally undertaken by the Hughes, ex L & Y, Baltic tanks, where they proved highly successful. There were though, some curious differences in mileages run between general repairs. The engines allocated to Scotland for instance, were able to work 240,774 miles between repairs, whilst in England the figure was only slightly more than half this.
In service with British Railways, the locos. were reclassified as mixed traffic, with just less than half allocated to northwest depots. Of these, the majority were stabled in South Lancashire, North Cheshire and Derbyshire. The engines sent to Oxenholme and Tebay were mainly for banking assistance on the climb to Shap, whilst the Furness line’s passenger duties were very largely powered by these class 4 tanks. By the mid 1950s, Buxton, Alsager and Tebay had lost their stock, though they could still be seen in some strength in the Potteries, North Cheshire and around Manchester. Macclesfield for example had maintained a stud of 11 Fowler class 4’s for many years, but by the early 1960s they had been withdrawn.
The class total too, was dramatically reduced at this time from 125 to a mere 16 in 1964, and were completely extinct soon after.
The livery carried in British Railways days was mixed traffic black, lined red, cream and grey, with at one time or another, both designs of lion and wheel symbol being applied to the side tanks. They were, in this guise, a very attractive engine – what a pity only the Stanier and Fairburn types are represented in preservation.
1950 = 125, with 62 or 49.6% at northwest depots.
1954 = 125, with 53 or 42.4%at northwest depots.
1964 = 16, with 12 or 75.0% at northwest depots.
Further reading & Useful Links
“LMS Locomotive Profiles No. 3: The Parallel Boiler 2-6-4 Tank Engines” – David Hunt, Bob Essery Fred James (2002) ISBN1-874103-72-0
“Engines of the LMS built 1923–51” – Rowledge, J.W.P. (1975). Oxford: Oxford Publishing Company. ISBN0–902888–59–5.
There was an advert on TV the other day, encouraging people to use the “National Railway Network”. Odd, I thought, especially since passenger and freight services are run by private train operators, and pay a fee to Network Rail to use the tracks and infrastructure. So, what is the purpose?
Well, blindingly obvious – it is to get people back on trains as their use has been drastically cut over the past 18 months by this awful Coronavirus Pandemic.
Great idea – but given that the advertisement is to underpin Network Rail – which does not operate trains – and uses the imagery of British Rail from the 1970s and 80s, and they also use the double arrow logo, that was so closely associated with British Rail.
Before anyone mentions it, yes I do know that Nationalrail.co.uk is an online national timetabling service, and it has been using the double arrow symbol for years:
Selling travelling by train with nostalgia seems to be the subliminal messaging going on here – well not that subliminal if I can spot it! This is what their ad campaign has been saying:
Anyway, I thought – indeed was told in no uncertain terms back when British Rail existed – that it was a failure, and privatising it was going to make everything so much better, and it would be profitable. Well that was a mistake, an error, and misleading wasn’t it. Since “privatisation” the public purse has been well and truly reduced by subsidising the loss making operators.
Still, the “Rail Delivery Group” – a bit like the old Railway Clearing House, or British Transport Commission of the 1940s and 1950s – appears to believe selling the idea on a “national” basis is the way forward, by going backwards with its message content.
Are they suggesting there is no other way forward than to relaunch British Rail? Their slogan: ‘Let‘s get back on track‘, was created for Network Rail, which, as we know, does not run trains. Or is it just that if the train operating companies were to come up with a marketing programme, it would need to involve 2 continents, 5 countries (excluding the UK), and 10 parent companies and more than 20 different operators! Then, in turn there are the companies that actually own the rolling stock – the ROSCOs – there are 9 of them, and they are owned in turn by groups of banks and financial institutions in Canada, China, Germany, France and Australia.
The table below is just the passenger train operating companies – I think it’s relatively accurate, but I’ve excluded the Channel Tunnel, and Eurostar – neither of which are involved with this exercise – well, so far!
Abellio ScotRail (SR), East Midlands Railway (EM), Greater Anglia (GA) (60%), Merseyrail (ME) (50%), West Midlands Trains (WM) (70%)
Arriva Rail London (LO), Chiltern Railways (CH), CrossCountry (XC), Grand Central (GC)
East Japan Railway Company
West Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
Department for Transport
London North Eastern Railway (GR), Northern Trains (NR)
Avanti West Coast (VT) (70%), Great Western Railway (GW), Hull Trains (HT), South Western Railway (SW) (70%), TransPennine Express (TP)
Greater Anglia (GA) (40%), West Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
South Western Railway (SW) (30%), TfL Rail (XR)
Caledonian Sleeper (CS), Merseyrail (ME) (50%)
Transport for Wales (Welsh Government)
Transport for Wales Rail (AW)
c2c (CC), Avanti West Coast (VT) (30%)
In the 1980s, British Rail were promoting a range of operational, financial and technology improvements and innovations, and included some quite sophisticated marketing too – but it seems that the benefits of rail are only seen clearly during a time of crisis. Now, it seems transport is on a crisis of economic, financial and environmental proportions, and encouraging people to return to the train is highlighting the crises we are seeing today.
Back in the 1980s, it was “crowned” by the infamous “Serpell Report”, amongst whose chief proposals was the reduction of the national route mileage from 10,500 miles to an incredible 1,630 miles. Thankfully this ludicrous report was consigned to the dustbin, despite the political climate encouraging the tarmac lobby with wild and weird ideas about converting rail routes into new roads, with one supporter claiming that railways had been anachronism since the pneumatic tyre was born.
But, whilst that absurd plan did not go ahead, British Rail was left to “wither on the vine” in the 1980s, and a prophetic paragraph in the 1980 Rail Policy document indicated the options for the railway at the crossroads:
“A crucial decision has to be taken soon about the future of British Rail. BR must prepare to take either the path of progress by re-equipment and modernisation, or that of decline through a gradual but deliberate run-down of the system. We cannot continue as we have done in the past. We are reaching the dividing of the ways.”
It is easy to look back and say it couldn’t have been implemented, since the early 1980s – at the heart of BR’s “Corporate Plan 1981-85”, because of the dramatic effects of the economic recession. As we discovered it was a deliberate run down of the system, and the 1990s privatisation was a straw clutching exercise, which, at the same time, saw the national economy clinging on to old fashioned notions of growth and development.
BR was being marketed on a number of fronts: new technology in train control and signalling, fibre-optic communications, computerised systems, greater electrification, expansion of freight services such as “Speedlink”. For passengers there was the new High Speed Trains – InterCity 125 – and the prospect of the tilting Advanced Passenger Train (APT) – the latter ironically arriving 20 years later via Fiat in Italy, and Bombardier in Birmingham.
Plans for the Channel Tunnel were in hand in the Corporate Plan, and cost savings by replacing diesel traction with electrification were clearly identified, both for long distance and commuter services. Dedicated high-speed lines to airports like Gatwick and Stansted, where air traffic was rapidly growing were factored into the mix, and whilst the options for less densely populated rural areas were less successful, efforts were being made to change.
Sadly, none of this was achieving much positive media coverage – the focus, whether broadcast or newsprint relied heavily on promoting expansion of HGVs, and private cars for long and short journeys – oh yes, and the apocryphal on-board catering of the curly sandwich and pork pie. No thought whatsoever appeared to be given to the environmental impact – and yet less than a decade earlier, the oil crisis of 1974 – suggested there could be challenges ahead.
And yet, these ads seem to provide the same feel as the “Let’s Get Back on the Train” ideas:
The latest marketing idea to get people back onto the train is likely to fail – not because people don’t want to – it’s because the pandemic and climate emergency has changed the focus, and perhaps those hoardes of parcel delivery vans are not so sustainable for future generations.
In the 1930s, the English Electric Co. were busy designing and building diesel engines for railways – mostly around the former British colonies, but the impact of the economic depression had Britain’s railways looking for efficiency – especially for use on shunting operations. But English Electric had for some years been at the heart of technology innovation and development and had been trying to persuade the more conservative railway operators to look to the future.
The company developed a diesel-electric version of the classic 0-6-0 steam shunting locomotive, powered by a 6-cylinder diesel – or as the press referred to it an ‘oil-engine’ – to sell the idea to either the LMS, GWR, LNER or Southern railways. The LMS was first out of the blocks and with English Electric as the engine supplier, with Derby constructing the mechanical parts, they embarked on an ambitious project to tap into the benefits of diesel power for shunting work. They were followed by the GWR and Southern Railway, and the latter followed the English Electric power plant path, whilst the GWR had opted for a variety, including Davey Paxman engines.
20 years after the first LMS shunters began to appear in the early 1930s, in 1953, British Railways placed orders for what became the standard shunting locomotive – the 350hp, or Class 08 type. Hundreds of these were built, mainly at Derby, Crewe, Darlington, Doncaster and Horwich Works with a pair of d.c. traction motors driving the wheels, which were linked by coupling rods, exactly as a steam loco would have been. Ultimately, 996 of these 0-6-0 shunters were constructed at the railway works – some were built at English Electric’s works in Preston, and Vulcan Foundry at Newton-Le-Willows (mainly for Netherlands Railways).
At nationalisation in 1948, British Railways inherited a motley collection of 60 of the 0-6-0 diesel shunters – 46 from the LMS, 7 from the GWR, 4 from the LNER and 3 from the Southern. Of these all, bar one had an English Electric 6KT diesel engine and traction motors, and that exception was the 1934 Armstrong Whitworth built loco, with a Paxman engine and a mechanical drive through jackshafts from its single traction motor.
The Harrier HydroShunter project to convert locomotive from diesel to hydrogen traction will take ex BR Class 08 shunter No. 08635 and remove the English Electric engine and generators, to be replaced by a hydrogen fuel cell stack and battery, as a hybrid installation. The project is unique and involves the University of Birmingham, Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions, and the Severn Valley Railway.
It’s a brilliant idea, and if successful could pave the way for similar replacements at home and abroad, and whilst passenger trains for commuter services have seen similar projects highlighted, such as the conversion of Class 314 for the “Hydroflex” train, this has perhaps just as wide ranging potential. Following the earlier projects, the traction system being designed by Vanguard at the University of Birmingham, this hybrid system will consist of a hydrogen cylinders, a fuel stack where the electricity is generated and a battery.
The loco was formerly D3802, built at Derby in December 1959, and renumbered in January 1974 and withdrawn from BR service in December 1981. It is currently at the SVR’s Kidderminster diesel depot, and the team of volunteers have removed the diesel engine and generator, and have been busy renovating and overhauling other key components. The SVR had to hire a 100-tonne crane to lift the diesel engine out of the shunter, and the work is now well underway to achieve trials later in 2021.
The new power unit includes pressurised hydrogen stored in cylinders for supplying to the fuel cell stack via a regulating device, oxygen from the atmosphere will then be mixed, and electricity generated and delivered to the loco’s traction motors. The battery will also be charged by the fuel cell stack, to provide energy reserves as and when needed. The existing traction motors, controls and final drive is being retained, with the new equipment fitted to a new sub-frame, which in turn is mounted to the existing engine-generator mounting points.
Of course, with the hydrogen fuel-cell power, emissions are zero compared to the old diesel engine, and it has been suggested that there will be a reduction in maintenance costs of possibly 50%, which if it is successful could see many more similar retrofit projects. Although, whilst we may be at the start of a new era in terms of non-electrified traction, as the fuel cell technology evolves, it may be that larger locomotives could see similar replacements. This might not see huge numbers in countries where expenditure on electrification has been significant, but in other countries, where funds are lower, it could provide opportunities – providing the capital costs are also low.
There are of course some disadvantages to hydrogen as a fuel, mostly in terms of the way it is produced, and its storage – according to one source (https://www.theengineer.co.uk/comment-hydrogen-trains-uk/ ). “Firstly, hydrogen storage is bulky. Even at 350bar, the volume of fuel needed is eight times that of Diesel.” The author goes on to state that that could be a problem for long haul freight services, and would be unsuitable for high-speed rail, on account of the amount of electrical energy required, and the losses developed in the power unit. But, it is being considered for some types of rail passenger service, in order to remove the dependence in rural area on diesel multiple units.
It will be fascinating to see this project completed, and what might develop over the next few years, and whether the technology does play a part in maintaining the railway’s place as a sustainable mode of transport.