The Premier Line

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The London & North Western Railway Co., or “Premier Line” as it ultimately became known, was undoubtedly one of this Country’s premier railway companies, 
The LNWR came into existence following the amalgamation in 1846,of three of the principal west coast companies; the London & Birmingham, Grand Junction and Manchester & Birmingham Railways. The latter however did not fully extend to the limits implied in its title, occupying roughly the same route as the present
 Styal Line into Manchester Piccadilly, with its connection to Birmingham made over Grand Junction metals from Crewe.

The LNWR as it existed in 1846 was divided into Northern and Southern Divisions, with separate Chief Mechanical Engineers (CMEs) for each, not to mention individual livery styles and a number of other things. Wolverton and the Southern Division was in the hands of Edward Bury, from London & Birmingham days, later followed by McConnell. The Northern Division based on Crewe began life under Alexander Allan and Richard Trevithick, and later John Ramsbottom. From 1857 onwards however, the two divisions of the LNWR were merged, with Ramsbottom assuming overall control of the C.M.E.’s side from Crewe.

Lady of the Lake 2-2-2 from BR Magazine

Described as a “Problem” Class loco, No. 531 “Lady of the Lake” was built at the LNWR’s Crewe Works in 1859. The 2-2-0 design was produced when John Ramsbottom was Loco Superintendent. These were not so successful in passenger service as his      2-4-0 ‘Newton’ and the later ‘Precent’ derivatives.

Crewe itself soon assumed considerable importance as major junction, with completion of Robert Stephenson’s Chester & Holyhead line – the “Irish Mail Route”.  The old Grand Junction Railway was also connected northwards from Crewe with the Liverpool & Manchester and Wigan & Preston Railway. The Potteries too, through the North Staffordshire Railway, also had an interest in Crewe and the flowering LNWR. Further north there was the Lancaster & Preston Junction and Lancaster & Carlisle Railways, which later became part of the LNWR empire, though not for some years after the merger of 1846.

To the south, the LNWR was anxious to improve its communication with the capital, avoiding the need for a circuitous route from the manufacturing centres of the north through Birmingham, the Trent Valley line was constructed, though not without some opposition. The opposition to this line came initially from the LNWR itself, since the Trent Valley line was projected originally as a separate company, the LNWR taking it over after the light had been seen, so to speak. At Rugby, connection was made with the fast growing empire of George Hudson’s Midland Railway. In fact, until the Midland opened its own route to London and St. Pancras, that company was obliged to rely on the LNWR for through carriage of its passengers and goods, from the manufacturing districts of the East Midlands, and of course coal from the South Yorkshire Coalfields. There was much antagonism between the two companies at one stage, the Midland threatening to send its traffic to London over the metals of the rival east coast route of the Great Northern Rly. The LNWR was to encounter the Midland again in later years, much further north, with the building of the Settle-Carlisle line.

Motive power in the early days was diminutive, both by modern standards and those of contemporary companies, particularly the broad gauge GWR, whose massive outside framed single wheelers were twice the size of Bury’s bar-framed 0-4-0 and 2-2-0 types. Coaching stock was small by comparison too, though despite this, tales are told of double, triple and even quadruple heading trains out of Euston. About this ti.me too, there appeared from Crewe, one of the Company’s famous and unique locomotive types – the now preserved “Cornwall”, a relatively small engine with massive single driving wheels. Trevithick’s original design though was rather different to the form in which it is preserved today, essentially, in order to lower the centre of gravity, its boiler was carried below the driving wheel axle!

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Originally built by Trevithick in 1847, with a boiler beneath the driving axle, “Cornwall” seen here at Crewe, was rebuilt by Ramsbottom to follow a conventional layout. The loco was withdrawn from service in 1927 – some 80 years after building!

A nightmarish proposition for those required to maintain it no doubt. However, not all LNWR motive power was quite so freakish, some solid designs were produced at Wolverton under McConnel, known for some obscure reason as ”Bloomers”. Although again, they were really quite s all designs. In fact the Company was to be beset for many years with motive power of both small size, and in many instances poor performance. Ramsbottom’s ”Newton” class 2-4-0’s though small, were the forerunner of perhaps the Campany’s most successful design of steam locomotive until the early years of the 20th Century. I refer of course to the ever famous “Precedent” class, or as they became popularly known – the “Jumbos”.

Hardwicke - large_NRM_CT_936889

Webb’s early designs for the LNWR were very successful – before he got hung up on coimpunding – and No. 790 in the national collection at the NRM is the most famous of the “Precedent” Class. Building began of 166 of these engines in 1874, but the last of the class was not withdrawn until 1934. Photo courtesy NRM. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence

Probably the LNWR’s most “colourful” period coincided with the. arrival of the autocratic F.W. Webb as Chief Mechanical Engineer, and also with those of Richard Moon as Chairman and Capt. Mark Huish as Company Secretary. This trio were, even by Victorian standards, extreme in their attitudes and formidable in the wielding of their power and influence over all who ca.ne into contact, or conflict, with them. Two interesting stories are related over the activities of two members of this trio, though the one concerning Capt. Huish serves to underline his management methods, which, it appears, were learned whilst pirating the South China Sea, in pursuit of the lucrative, but illegal, opium trade; F.W.Webb on the other hand was of a more religious upbringing, his father having been a vicar. Christianity left its mark on this man in an obscure sort of way, for on an occasion whilst paying a visit to one of the workshops at Crewe, upon entering a building which had shortly before seen some form of accident, the area being thick with smoke and fumes, a workman had been overcome by these same fumes. On witnessing this, Webb is reported to have instructed the foreman to take the hapless individual outside, revive him and sack him forthwith. Perhaps in relating this incident, all the reasons are explained for Webb’s dogmatic and obstinate pursuit of the compound locomotive.

Greater Britain 2-2-2-2 Compound

Classic Webb era design of another of the less than successful compounds. The LNWR “Greater Britain” 2-2-2-2 locomotive No. 2525 (LNWR Crewe Works 3292 / 1891) The class consisted of ten of these 2-2-2-2 compound locomotives designed for express passenger work by Francis Webb in 1891.             Photo (c) Historical Railway Images

During this period, between say 1860 and 1900, there occurred the steady expansion of the Euston empire, stretching to the Scottish border and beyond, with the lliance of the Caledonian Railway to across the Irish Sea and the Euston owned Dundalk, Newry & Greenore Railway. Its steamship services ere surpassed by few others, whilst its main line, forever known as the West Coast Route was amongst the busiest and hardest to work of any railway in the country. The LNWR even managed to gain a foothold in West Cumberland, over the Cockermout, Keswick & Penrith line, purchasing the Whitehaven Junction Railway, and having operating agreements and joint ownership with the Furness, of one or two others. By 1870, the LNWR had indeed established a fair sized and extremely profitable railway. In size, with around 1400 miles of track, even this was to more than double by the end of its independent life, it was second only to the GWR; although its 
income was very nearly double that of the company with the broad gauge. It had also, the two important arteries of the Chester & Holyhead, acquired in 1858, and the Lancaster & Carlisle, leased, optimistically perhaps, for 90 years.

Locomotives figure prominently in any account of the “Premier Line” at this time, not surprisingly in view of the almost bewildering number of designs produced by Webb during the period from 1870 to 1903. Webb, as is well known, was an ardent and staunch a supporter of compounding as a means of effecting economies in locomotive operation as any other. He was also ably backed in this respect by the company Chairman – Richard Moon. Moon too was constantly striving for economy, tempered with the desire to maintain the position of the LNWR, and his own naturally, as one of the world’s largest, wealthiest and most respected joint stock companies. This he undoubtedly achieved during his tenure of that office, between 1861 and 1891. But it was perhaps Webb’s brilliance as a mechanical engineer that is remembered most, many of the innovations on this country’s railways in the latter half of the century were the product of his inventive genius. As an example, Adam’s ”Radial Tanks” on the London & South Western Rly. possessed a design of trailing axlebox which owed much of its development to Webb’s own ideas on the LNWR, to say nothing of his patented electro-mechanical interlocking lever frames for signalling!

As a locomotive engineer, Webb was probably second to none. Although remembered most for his largely unsuccessful pursuit of compounding, in his simple expansion designs of
the “Precedent” class 2-4-0 and “Cauliflower” goods 0-6-0’s there appeared successful designs of locomotive unsurpassed by many, many others. A great number of the latter survived nearly a century, passing into the hands of British Railways. But it was in the direction of locomotive design that his genius really let him down for not being content with developing simple expansion types that would perform the work required, he became obsessed with his pursuit of the compound locomotive. It was this principle really that consisted in costing the LNWR far more than any equivalent saving in fuel consumption. His designs, such as the “Experiment”, “John Hick” and “Dreadnought” classes were almost total failures, being both heavy on fuel and difficult to operate. Moreover, he later attempted to dispense with the idea of coupling the driving wheels together, with the result that whereas often the leading wheel could be seen turning in one direction, the trailing wheel would revolve in the opposite direction!

Despite this handicap in the motive power department the LNWR’s train services provided a level of punctuality second to none, smoothness and comfort in travelling too were unmatched, for a time at least, by any other company. In appearance, the ”Blackberry Black” of its locomotives, with their complex lining in red, cream, pale blue and grey made a pleasant, and in some of the grimier industrial areas, outstanding contrast with the “Purple Brown” and white coaches.

LNWR Coach Montage

Train speeds of the late Victorian period were not, on the whole, high, but certainly comparable with those of other railways. The crack Anglo-Scotch express, was the 2-0 pm “Corridor” from Euston, even so, it took some eight hours to reach the Scottish border from the Capital. Indeed, just prior to the famed ”Race to the North” of the late 80’s and 90’s, Edinburgh was reached in around ten hours of travelling – an interesting comparison with the 4.5 to 5 hours of today’s “Pendolinos”. These timings are roughly comparable to the speeds achieved soon after the Euston to Glasgow electrification was completed in 1974.  For the LNWR’s premier services, around 120 years ago, “slow”, would not perhaps be the right word – sedate would fit the bill much mare precisely.

Lens of Sutton - LNWR 4-6-0

Classic LNWR – and one of George Whale’s first designs after taking over as CME. The “Experiment” class 4-6-0 were built between 1905 and 1910. This class 0f 105 locomotives was intended to carry the ‘Scotch Expresses’ over the formidable Lancaster to Carlisle route, with the ascent of Shap to contend with.                           Photo (c) Lens of Sutton / R.P. Bradley Collection

Following the turn of the century, the first two decades saw yet another interesting period in the LNWR’s history, and one of considerable change. This relatively short period saw three changes of C.M.E., taking the Company up to amalgamation with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1922, before finally merging into the LMSR on 1st January 1923. Train timings were improved somewhat after 1900, although by today’s standards, still sedate, with average speeds in the order of 55 mph for express trains. Passenger loadings were constantly increasing hence also the trailing tonnages hauled by the locomotives. It should be pointed out though, whilst we are now accustomed to reading accounts of performance with train weights cited in tons, in LNWR days it was customary for the guard to inform the driver that he had ”Eight equivalent to sixteen on”. This in effect was to say that there were eight bogie coaches behind the engine, each of which, by tradition was reckoned to be of equivalent weight to two standard four-wheelers.

The practice of quoting grain weights in terms of vehicle numbers continued for some time. Not so for the Webb compounds though, for no sooner had George Whale succeeded to the post of CME, than he embarked on a program of scrapping the three-cylinder passenger types, and modifying the 4-cylinder goods locomotives. The LNWR was desperately in need of efficient, powerful and simple, above all simple, locomotives. To this end, Whale saved the day, surprisingly quickly too, by all accounts the drawings for the ”Precursor” class 4-4-0 were prepared in March 1904 and quantity production was in full swing by September of that year. Whale also produced the “Experiment” class 4-6-0, a larger version of the “Precursor”. In fact, it has been said that both of these designs were developed from Webb’s own ”Precedent” class 2-4-0. Perhaps the last, and in some ways most outstanding LNWR locomotive type was produced under the guidance of C.J. Bowen-Cooke in 1913, the 4-cylinder 4-6-0’s of the “Claughton” class. This locomotive was the result of a series of comparative tests on the LNWR of a
 Great Western “Star” class 4-6-0, though in appearance, the “Claughton” was unequivocally a product of Crewe. The later products of the LNWR from Crewe, from various CME’s of the early Twentieth Century, were entirely successful in their work. The “Claughtons” particularly, for in fact it was on this design that the LMSR based its ”Baby Scot” or “Patriot” class 4-6-0s, some of which were “Claughton” chassis with LMS designed superstructures.

ClaughtonThe days following the 1914-18 war were something of a period of “marking time” for the LNWR, and Crewe Works, having been fully occupied with munitions work there was little prospect of recovery to pre-war levels of operation. In 1921,the Act of Parliament which sanctioned the formation of the four grouping companies, came into being, whilst the amalgamation in 1922 with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway was nothing more than a curtain raiser for the fun and games that beset the newly constituted LMSR in 1923. Having just emerged from a war, slightly the worse for wear; the LNWR was about to engage in another, with even greater consequences. But that, as they say, is another story.

A number of the LNWR locomotive designs lasted into the British Railways era, and even one of the “Claughton” 4-6-0s survived to be given BR No. 46004, and classed as 5XP – albeit with a new boiler fitted.  The smaller classes and freight designs from the Webb and Whale years lasted a very long time, and in 1955, the last of Webb’s 2-4-2 tank engines was withdrawn – and claimed a place in the BR London Midland Region magazine:

Last LNWR 2-4-2T - ex Precursor Dec 1955

At the time of the 150th anniversary of the ‘Rainhill Trials’ in 1980, the LNWR was represented by another Webb Stalwart – the “Coal” tank, the last of which had been withdrawn in 1958.  Still looking good in “Blackberry Black”.

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Coal tank at the Rainhill 150 Celebrations in 1980. (c) R.P. Bradley

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Useful Links:

 

LNWR Society Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 11.38.37

Science Museum Group

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St Rollox – Gone But Not Forgotten

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This month saw the last of the once huge manufacturing railway workshops in Glasgow closed.  The facilities were established in the Springburn district of the city by the Caledonian Railway in 1854, brining to an end the 169 year history of building, repairing and maintaining railway locomotives and rolling stock on a 15 acre site.  The St Rollox site was just one of three major sites in the area – the others being the former North British Locomotive Co works, which closed in the 1960s, and of course the Cowlairs Works.

Screenshot 2019-07-31 at 17.22.23As a loco works for the Caledonian Railway, it produced many fine steam types, but the works’ status changed dramatically after the grouping of 1923, and under the ownership of the LMS, no new building was carried out there after 1927.  As a workshop responsible for maintenance and repair, this was the position of St Rollox for the next 40 years.

At the time of nationalisation the works employed 3,382 staff, whilst neighbouring Cowlairs employed a little over 1,200 in 1949, with work being transferred away to Horwich.  Interestingly, at the time the staffing of railway works came under scrutiny, in 1962, both Cowlairs and St Rollox employed just over 1,900 on each site.  Plans were laid to modernise and re-equip the works, and in order to do that, most of the work in St. Rollox was moved temporarily into Cowlairs.  Once re-equipped the plan was to transfer all work into St. Rollox, and close Cowlairs. The new St. Rollox was re-named the Glasgow Railway Works – at least on paper. In addition to repairs and maintenence of motive power and rolling stock, manufacture light alloy containers and the repair of all signal and telegraph equipment was to be set up. The total labour force by 1966 will be approximately 2,800 men.

St Rollox in Glasgow’s Springburn area was at the heart of railway and locomotive engineering in Glasgow, and Scotland, the work to modernise the works was expensive, costing more than £1 million, but the eventual outcome was closure of Cowlairs in 1968. All of the Scottish works of BR were discussed in great detail during the 1960s, and the social and economic consequences of decisions taken in London were not lost on local MPs.

The same seems to be happening again in 2019.

05.06.82_Glasgow_St_Rollox_Works_26028_(6159479398)

Inside one of the workshops of BREL Glasgow St Rollox Works on an organised visit with the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society. Seen closest to the camera is 26028.           By Phil Richards from London, UK – 05.06.82 Glasgow St Rollox Works 26028, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26695179 

St Rollox became part of BREL with the 1980s restructuring of BR workshops, and following the privatisation of BREL in 1988 was operated purely as a rail maintenance facility by British Rail Maintenance Limited (BRML).

In effect St Rollox was closed in 1988 with the loss of 1,200 jobs.  That said, in the seven years that followed, much of what was the St Rollox site was sold off to developers, and occupied by a Tesco supermarket, Costco, Lidl, and a new Springburn fire station.  The rump of what was left for rail maintenance was sold off after privatisation, in 1995, to a Babcock/Siemens consortium.  In 2007 it was sold on again to Alstom, and finally to Railcare Ltd., which went into administration in July 2013.  The following month, the remaining works was purchased by Knorr-Bremse, who created Knorr-Bremse RailServices (UK) Ltd as a new rolling stock maintenance and repair company.  Five years later it was sold on to Mutares, a German based group specialising in acquiring low income companies, with a view to turning them into growing, and profitable enterprises.

The Mutares acquisition, and operation under the Gemini Rail Group  took pl;ace in late 2018, and by December, the new owner announced it planned to close the Springburn works.

The annoucement was greeted with dismay, and in the early hours of 14th January 2019, the MP Paul Sweeney made this observation:

In 2018, it was sold to another German company, an industrial turnaround specialist called Mutares. In November 2018, just a few weeks after its acquisition, it was formed into a newco known ​as Gemini Rail, which was a wholly owned subsidiary company of Mutares but also associated with Knorr-Bremse—for instance, sharing the same company house number. It is clear this has been an exercise conveniently designed to quickly rationalise their operations in the UK.

As at December 2018, St Rollox continues to carry out component and rolling stock repairs and overhauls. Recent work has included overhauls of class 156s, class 158s and Class 320s for Abellio ScotRail. It is the largest rolling stock repair site in Scotland. Two smaller sites in Kilmarnock are operated by Brodie and Wabtec respectively, and are still operating at capacity.

In December last year, shortly after acquiring the site, the new owner announced very suddenly that it planned to close the works, stating that it was making losses of between £3 million and £4 million.

At the time, St Rollox had barely 200 staff, but they would be the last to work at this famous site, if the closure went ahead.  As a final point in the January 2019 debate, Paul Sweeney made the following point:

The Minister is making a number of pertinent points, but the fundamental crux of this issue is that while it is a private decision for a private company at this point, it is clear that the company, ScotRail and Network Rail could work collaboratively to restructure the site to put it on a sound commercial footing and allow it to win business competitively. This is not about bailing something out or state aid for a failing industry; this is a kernel of expertise and a centre of excellence that could thrive with a restructuring of ownership.

However, despite the perhaps good intentions, and warm words from the Government spokesperson, the closure has gone ahead, and St Rollox is no longer a railway works, be it construction, or maintenance.  The skillsets remain, but it seems the desire to maintain a rail industry has all but evaporated.

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Useful Links & Further Reading

  1. An Illustrated History of British Railways’ Workshops; Edgar Larkin; Pub Ian Allan 1998
  2. St Rollox Railway Works: Closure
  3. St Rollox Railway Works closure threatens hundreds of jobs
  4. Save the Caley in Springburn

Rail Review – Root & Branch or a Fig Leaf?

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Back in September 2018, the DfT announced that the UK railway network would be the subject of a ‘root and branch’ review, led by a former executive of British Airways and John Lewis Partnership.   According to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, privatisation delivered:

“Privatisation has delivered huge benefits to passengers on Britain’s railways — doubling passenger journeys and bringing in billions of private investment.”

According to the DfT, the review will focus on these areas:

  • leveraging the commercial model to ensure improved services for passengers and taxpayers, and more effectively balance public and private sector involvement
  • the roles and structures of all parts of the industry, looking at how they can work together more effectively to reduce fragmentation, improve passenger services and increase accountability
  • how the railway can support a fares system that delivers value for money for passengers and taxpayers; and improved industrial relations to maintain performance for passengers

The appointed Chair of the review, Keith Williams said:

It’s clear that Britain’s railway has seen unprecedented growth and is carrying more passengers than it did a century ago on a network a fraction of the size. But it also clear it faces significant challenges.

A clear focus on the passenger side of the business then.  So what happens to freight, and is there an impact on the ‘Northern Powerhouse’?

Well, on 16th July, at a Northern Powerhouse event in Bradford, according to a report of the event in The Guardian: “UK railway needs revolution not evolution, says review chief”.  The event and his comments were also reported in the railway press too, including the observation that the Government should step back from a role in the management of the rail industry.  But, does that also only refer to passenger service operations, and whilst lauding the value of collaboration, and another new ‘arms length body’, he also indicated that there would be no option for Network Rail to control trains.  The observation he chose to make about Network Rail was –

“You don’t create a customer-focused railway by putting engineers in charge.” 

So – do you put sales and marketing people in charge?  Are both sides of this coin needed to ensure a railway that performs for all sectors of its operations, both passenger and freight?  What about integration with other transport modes – let’s say urban and rapid transit, and maybe even buses that key into regional and longer distance rail services?

To be fair though, in his comments at the Northern Powerhouse event in Bradford, he did actually suggest that both the culture and design of the railway must ‘prioritise its customers’ – both passengers AND freight.

Overall, Williams indicated that to achieve its goals, the rail sector needs to focus on 5 key areas:

  1.  A new passenger offer focussed on customer service and performance measures that drive “genuine behavioural and cultural change” with initiatives to give a stronger consumer voice, improved accessibility, and better passenger information.
  2. Simplified fares and ticketing: Williams notes that there have been no substantial structural reforms of the ticketing system since 1995 and this is “holding back innovation and customer-focussed improvements.”
  3. A new industry structure to reduce fragmentation, align track and train more closely, create clear accountability and reduce government influence in day-to-day operations. Williams says a wide range of organisations have expressed support for a new arm’s length body to act as a ‘guiding mind.’
  4. A new commercial model: Williams argues the current franchising model “has had its day” and is holding the sector back, stifling collaboration, preventing the railway from operating as a cohesive network and encouraging train operators to prioritise “narrow commercial interest” over passengers.
  5. Address people-related challenges: a range of proposals on leadership, skills and diversity are being drawn up to support reform and help involve the workforce in the long-term.

It will be interesting to see how this root and branch review delivers that revolution – but we will have to wait until 2020 and afterwards to see if this does deliver improvements.

Of course we will still be importing rolling stock, equipment, rails, signalling systems and ticketing technology from other countries.

I’m not suggesting that this review is not a good thing, and maybe the whole 2018 timetable fiasco, underwritten by a failing ‘privatisation’ of the rail network needs a kick up the …. it’s going to be interesting.  It’s taken almost a quarter of a century to get to the point where UK style rail franchising and fragmentation on such a small network has been chaotic.

If it’s taken this long to work out we need to do something about how ‘conventional’ railways need to work – imagine how long it will take to integrate the benefits – if any – when HS2/HS3 is completed.

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Electro-Diesels & Hybrids

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There has been much talk, and quite a few examples in recent years of what are described as “Bi-mode” trains – in the UK, these are the 800 Class multiple units on the GWR, together with the 10 DRS Class 88 locomotives.  Across Europe these are becoming more common too, and Bombardier’s “Mitrac” is another recent hybrid offering, with power from overhead contact systems, and a diesel engine.

But, these are not a new idea, just the latest incarnation of an idea more than a century old, with the first claim being made in 1889.  This was the “Patton Motor Car”, which was followed in what was known as a “gas-electric hybrid system” applied to a tramcar at Pullman, Illinois.   Also quick on the take up was Belgium, where in the 1890s, a petrol-electric vehicle was taking to the rails, also fitted with a generator and traction motors.  British Westinghouse built a similar example, with a 100hp diesel engine, for the Great Central Railways in the early years of the 20th century.  After the First World War, the hybrid approach took a step further forward in Belgium, with batteries – a collection of accumulators – an equally important step in hybrid developments.

Electro Diesel in Rail Blue liveryIt was not until the 1950s that a class of main line locomotives able to operate on electrified and non-electrified lines.   During the early British Railways era, there was no example of main line ‘hybrid’ or electro-diesel locomotive, although the former private companies had begun experiments in non-steam traction, but with little significant growth.

Many of British Railways’ electro-diesel locomotives for the Southern Region are, amazingly perhaps, are still in regular operation.  It was a unique solution to implement in the early 1960s, to provide go anywhere motive power, for a wide range of mixed traffic and shunting duties.  The BR Modernisation Programme was in full swing, and diesels were replacing steam, but future electrification was on the overhead system, and the Southern’s 3rd rail network had limited potential.

This is a brief look at what BR developed, and its operations over many years:

Electro-diesels cover

 

Useful Links:

 

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You couldn’t make it up!

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Yesterday, the DfT issued a press notice asking for suggestions/volunteers to make use of redundant, soon to be removed Pacers from rail services in the north. According to the DfT’s proposals, they are launching a competition for community groups to provide ideas and plans to take one of these vehicles – no they don’t actually say if they mean a single vehicle or a 2-car set – into a new “public space”.

In their lives to date, those Pacers have indeed created public spaces, but I wonder how this “initiative” will pan out.

Any takers out there for a garden shed?

The Rail Minister (Andrew Jones) actually said this:

“The Pacers have been the workhorses of the north’s rail network, connecting communities for more than 30 years, but it is clear that they have outstayed their welcome.”

Really?!  He might have added that they have been a source of misery, complaints, discontent and overcrowding for about the same length of time.  An opinion piece in the Guardian put it rather more interestingly:

Turning Pacer trains into village halls?

The Managing Director (David Brown) of Arriva Rail North made this interesting comment too:

“Northern is introducing 101 new trains worth £500 million, the first of these new trains will be carrying customers this summer, and at the same time we will start to retire the Pacer trains. Using a Pacer as a valued community space is a very fitting way to commemorate the service they have provided since they entered service a generation ago.”

Ironically, just a short while before the Metro Mayors of Greater Manchester and Merseyside both called for Northern to have its franchise terminated immediately.  According to a report in the Guardian today (29th May), both Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham believe:

” ….has consistently failed to show it is able to take the action required to restore public confidence or deliver its legally-binding franchise requirements …”” ….has consistently failed to show it is able to take the action required to restore public confidence or deliver its legally-binding franchise requirements …”

It is perhaps ironic too, that the first of the “Pacers” were out to work 34 years ago in May 1985, in the Greater Manchester area, although as is common knowledge, a number of prototypes were built before a major order was placed. Officially, they were described as lightweight diesel multiple units, developed for use on lightly loaded and suburban services.

The first days went reasonably well – apart from the ‘blacking’ by the rail unions of a later design – but quite soon after their introduction they ran into some operational challenges.  They were also used after privatisation on longer distance workings, including one between Middlesborough and Carlisle – a distance of over 100 miles, and well out of their intended working.  When these twin-units were sent to the south west, they were nicknamed “Skippers”, and reportedly ran into difficulties keeping to time on the South Devon banks.

RPBRLY-12 copyWhilst the entire fleet had their Leyland engines replaced by a Cummins design in the 1990s, some ‘refurbishment’ was carried out on each of the classes, from Class 142 to Class 144.  The original prototype was initially preserved, and BREL did try to sell this idea to various countries around the world, from the USA to Malaysia – but there were no takers.

Perhas fitting that some should be turned into garden sheds or community facilities, where people can reminisce about the good old days of travelling by “Pacer”.

Here’s a link to a piece I wrote earlier:

Pacers Cover

Lee Worthington Facebook - off to Lime Street

Class 142 at Manchester Oxford Road in Northern Rail livery, en route to Liverpool Lime Street. (Photo © Lee Worthington)

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Paxman – Probably the Finest Diesel Engines on Rails

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The firm of Davey Paxman, then Ruston Paxman, and in its final guise of GEC Diesels Ltd was established in 1865, in Colchester, Essex.  Their original product line included agricultural machinery, steam boilers, portable steam engines, and stationary engines, with a wide range of applications in mind.

It was not until just before the First World War that they took an interest in the possibility of ‘oil engines’, with some of the early designs arranged horizontally, just like the company’s steam designs.  From around 1925 they began designing and building engines in the more conventional, vertical layout.

Paxman engined LMS No.1831 copy

What was to prove revolutionary in diesel traction’s use of quick-running engines, allied to innovative mechanical and ovcerall design. This view shows the very first diesel locomotive on British railways, built by the LMS, with its Paxman engine, on what was essentially a steam engine chassis.      Photo; Lens of Sutton

Only 5 years later, in 1930, as the LMS railway began its experiments with diesel rail traction, and the first diesel engine was installed in LMS prototype shunter No. 1831.  The engine was a 6-cylinder machine, developing 412hp at 750rpm, and designated type 6XVS.   The railway company constructed the mechanical portion of the locomotive, based around the frames of a steam engine, and other details, whilst the Paxman engine was the first rail traction diesel engine, installed in the first diesel locomotive on the standard gauge, for a major British railway company.

However, Paxman’s global reputation was based around quick-running ‘vee’ form diesel engines, and it began to make inroads in this area from around 1932, and with that step they were wholly successful, be it marine, stationary or rail traction.  Davey Paxman’s fortunes were assured.

The Second World War provided a pivotal platform for the technology,  and the Paxman 12TP engine – originally designed for a special assignment – was used in the British Landing Craft, and of course played a key part in the D-Day landings.  From that event 75 years ago, more than 4,000 Paxman 12TP engines were used in every assault operation carried out by Allied Forces in Europe.  This same engine design was refined for wider commercial use in the 1950s, including rail traction, and re-designated type RPH.

12RPH

The early 1950s saw the introduction of the YH range, direct fuel injection, and 4-valve cylinder heads.  The refinements of these designs, with ease of maintenance, provided an ideal platform for railway locomotives, with many examples used in branch line, shuntin, and in later develoipments for main line operations.  The quick-running 4-stroke diesel had certainly come of age.  By the end of the decade, a further development of these engines appeared in the shape of the “Ventura” range.

Paxman images 8 copyThe latest design was developed to meet the requirements set by British Railways, building on the design and construction of the RPL and YH engines, incorporating advanced engineering features, and competing with the best European builders were offering.  In fact, these engines were built under licence by Breda for Italian State Railways’ Class 343 locomotives, whilst further east in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), “Ventura” engines were fitted to a fleet of diesel hydraulic locomotives for shunter/trip and main line duties.

Paxman images 3 copyOn British Railways, the first of these new engines were fitted and trialled in one of the Western Region’s Swindon built “Warship” Class diesel-hydraulic locos – No. D830 ‘Majestic.  The “Ventura” engines were also retro-fitted to 20 of the North British Bo-Bo diesel-electrics, developing 1,350-hp at 1,500 rev/min engines, following the disappointing service experience with the locomotives’ original power units.  

D6123 from Paxman booklet

One of the NBL built Type 2 engines after refitting with Paxman engines proved much more successful.

Another order from British Railways, was for power unist for the last diesel-hydraulic type used on the Western Region – the Class 14 0-6-0 – together with 6-cylinder versions for the Southern Region’s “Electro-Diesels”.

Class 14 – The last Main Line Diesel Hydraulics

The experience with the “Ventura” design also provided background for the next step in the development of the Paxman range.  Paxmans’ working with British Railways and the MOD (Royal Navy), a new range of high-speed diesels, in the shape of the “Valenta” series were created.  These new engines were the same size and shape as the “Ventura”, but although of the same bore and stroke, gave 40% – 50% more horsepower.  

Paxman Valenta cutaway for HST

The heart of high-speed, the Paxman Valenta engine. Powerful and efficient too – a good combination for rail traction use.

It was these engines that were fitted to the HST, IC125, high speed trains that provided the mainstay for British Rail’s express passenger services for more than 45 years.  Some are of course still in service today.

HST in Sonning Cutting

On the Western Region, the HST sets – or IC125s were the mainstay of high-speed services. This is a typical view of 253003 running through Sonning Cutting between Reading and London Paddington. Photo; British Rail

The prototype HST was fitted with a 12 -cyl. Valenta 12 RP200L, charge-air cooled engine developing 2,250 bhp (UIC) at 1,500 rev/min.  Announced in 1970, the production sets would consist of a pair of power cars equipped with these powerful diesels at eaither end of a 7-car formation of Mark III coaches, which included two catering vehicles.  British Rail’s plan was to order 150 of these trains over a 5-year period, which it was suggested could be extended to 10 years up to 1985, starting in 1975.  They were set to work on both the London to Cardiff and London to Newcastle routes.

Paxman Prototype HST

This diagram shows the compact layout of the prototype HST power car. The buffers were of course not used on the production series.

In their HST guise, Paxman’s “Valenta” engines were definitely at the top of the tree.  They achieved no less than three world speed records.  The first was on 12th June 1973, when the prototype reached a speed of 143.2 mph between Northallerton and Thirsk on the East Coast main line.  The second, 22 years later, when on 27th September 1985 the Tyne-Tees Pullman, with Paxman power ran from Newcastle to London King’s Cross (268 miles) in under 2 hours 20 minutes, achieving a start to stop average speed of 115.4 mph.  Finally, just two years later in 1987, with power cars 43102 and 43104, the world speed record for diesel traction was broken again.  Over a measured mile between York and Northallerton, a speed of 148 mph was recorded, with peaks at just under 150 mph.

HST set leaving Edinburgh - January 1994 - RPB

Still on active service in the 1990s, 43113 is seen here running through the approaches to Edinburgh Waverley, but westbound through Prines Street Gardens.   (c) RPBradley

The longevity of their success suggests that Paxman high-speed diesels were probably the finest diesel power plant designed and operated on rail.

Further reading:

 

http://www.paxmanhistory.org.uk/paxeng34.htm

 

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Ocean Mails at 100 mph

Standard

The magic three figures of 100 mph have held, and in some cases still do hold respect in so far as speed is concerned. Around the turn of the century, perhaps this was nowhere more apparent than on the railways. Competition for traffic between the railways had always been keen, none more so perhaps than
the intense rivalry initiated between the East. and West Coast routes to Scotland. In this, the principal combatants, the London & North Western and Great Northern Railways vied with each other to claim the honours in the days of the railways’ “Race To The North” in the l890’s. Yet despite some formidable feats of haulage and speed; none more so than that of the diminutive Locomotive, “Hardwicke”, not once was the three-figure barrier broken.

The LNWR had already had the experience of its rivalry with the East Coast companies under its belt, when later, a similar “event” took place in the South of England between the London & South Western and Great Western railway
 companies. This time, the competition was for the much-coveted carriage of the West of England traffic, and the Transatlantic Mails.The Great Western was in this case the underdog, having much leeway to make up on other railway companies following its enforced abandonment of the broad gauge in 1892, it being a relative newcomer to the design and operation of standard gauge locomotives and rolling stock at speed.

At the turn of the century, competition between the LSWR and the GWR was rapidly growing in intensity and although the GWR had the longer of the two routes between Paddington and Exeter (The LSWR route between Waterloo and Exeter was some 23miles shorter), the LSWR competition was hampered between that city and Plymouth, by having to use through running powers over the GWR branch line to that place.

The competition for this traffic had its effect on the locomotive department and brought about the development of new designs for express passenger engines. On the LSWR, William Bridges Adams passenger Loco, designs must rank amongst the most graceful of all typical British 4-4-0 types. William Dean at Swindon would not see the GWRleft with second best however, despite his advancing years and the doubts being cast on his abilities and the rising stature of Churchward. Dean’s latest passenger designs were excellent machines themselves, a very attractive 7ft Sins single driver type.  
In the late 1890’s however, Dugald Drummond as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LSWR, in succession to Adams, introduced the T9 class 4-4-0, and by 1900 had assisted that company in gaining the upper hand in the competition for the West of England traffic; the improved timings of the LSWR services obviously
 increased their patronage. The GWR however were not to be outdone, and the reduction in mileage of the Western’s route to Exeter by construction of the cut-off lines, improved the balance in that company’s favour. Following which, with the introduction of 4-4-0 designs of the “Atbara” and ever famous ”City’ class, the seal was about to be set on the GWR’s prestigious West of England services.


3293 was the 2nd of the class and named after the GWR’s Chairman at the time.  Built in 1897, and used in common with Atbara and Duke class locos on the Ocean Mails runs.   (c) Historical MRS

The greatest degree of competition occurred on the working of the Ocean Liner Specials between Plymouth and London, and despite its initial handicap of 23 extra miles on the Paddington route, the GWR was not prepared to concede to the position of runner up. The competition between the two companies actually arose from the extremely fast Atlantic crossings made by the German owned Holland-Amerika line vessels. Crossing between New York and Plymouth, the Holland-Amerika line ships took away the Blue Riband from the British Cunard White Star line, whose crossings were made from and to Liverpool, whence the Transatlantic traffic was traditionally carried via the London & North Western Railway to London. Not unnaturally the potential traffic of the Holland-Amerika Line was attractive to both the GWR and LSWR, consequently both companies were anxious to improve their facilities at the Plymouth terminus in order to 
obtain this highly prized Transatlantic traffic. The GWR gave its Millbay Station a ‘facelift’, whilst the South Western built a special station for the ocean traffic at Stonehouse Pool. That the competition between the two companies was fierce, would possibly be something of an understatement, and in 1900 began to reach its climax. In that year, two rival Holland-Amerika ships raced each other across the Atlantic, the passengers and mails from the winner, the SS “Deutschland”, were conveyed from Plymouth to Paddington, a distance of 246.7 miles, in 4hrs 40mins, with two intermediate stops. An average speed of just over 52mph start to stop, may not seem particularly fast today, but over that distance at that time the fastest journey time was booked as 5hrs 5mins, an average speed of 48 mph, hence that particular run was a noteworthy 
achievement.

A dispute between the two companies over this traffic resulted
 ultimately in an agreement that from each transatlantic crossing, the LSWR would carry the passengers and the GWR the mails. In so far as the GWR was concerned, it had little, if any, of non-stop running and on the Plymouth route, rather surprisingly; its first attempt was made whilst conveying H.M. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra! The ‘Atbara’ class engine used on the train put up an average speed of over 55mph between Paddington and Exeter, and without the usual requirement of a pilot engine running 15mins in advance of the Royal Train! The GWR’s experiment with non-stop running at ‘high speed’ was
 consolidated in 1903, with a second and even more spectacular performance, once again with the Royal Train!

Though not precisely the Royal Train, it was the advance portion of the up “Cornishman”, carrying the Prince and Princess of Wales (Later, H.M. King George V and Queen Mary). The engine was one of the new taper boiler ”City’ class 4-4-0’s; No.3433, “City of Bath”.  The train was booked non-stop from Paddington to Plymouth and covered the distance of 246 miles in 3hrs 53 ½ mins, giving the very high average start to stop speed of 63 ½ mph.

During the course of the journey, some remarkably high intermediate average speeds were recorded, such as the 73.4mph between Nailsea and Taunton on 
slightly unfavourable gradients. Actually, the average speed from Paddington to passing Exeter was just under 70mph (67.3,to be precise). The sustained high speed running to pass Exeter in 2hrs 52imins necessary with a 4-4-0 type, was indeed remarkable, and indicated the potential for free running and high speeds developed by the “City” class 4-4-0’s.

The final development of William Dean’s 4-4-0s for the high-speed West of England service was the “City” class, and this engine “City of Truro” was (depending on your railway loyalty perhaps) the first steam type to exceed 100mph.
 
By Hugh Llewelyn – 3717Uploaded by Oxyman, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24390196

This level of high speed running by the GWR evidenced by these two runs, obviously led to even more intense competition with the South Western company. Some extremely fast runs were made with increasing regularity on both routes, and culminated in the first authenticated run made at 100mph. It should however be pointed out that despite the more or less general acceptance of that achievement, doubts as to both the reliability of the witnesses and feasibility of the locomotives of the day to achieve such a maximum have continued to be expressed, almost since the details were first published. Some of this doubt possibly resulted from the almost daily reports of incredible speeds achieved in the USA with 4-4-0 types, many of which claimed speeds of 120 and 130mph and more! Of course such speeds were impossible with the machinery of that time, but the unreliability of such reports probably influenced the partisan feelings of those who doubted the achievement of the GWR on May 9th 1904.

The record run of this particular Ocean Mails special from Plymouth to Paddington was carried out with two engines, that section from Plymouth, Millbay Crossing to Pylle Hill Junction, Bristol by the ”City” class 4-4-0 No. 3440,”City of Truro”, and from there a “Dean”, 7ft 8ins ‘Single’, No.3065,
 “Duke of Connaught”, hauled the train the remaining 118.7 miles to Paddington
in 1hr 39 3/4 mins. Though it was the performance of “City of Truro” over the adverse section to Bristol which received the honours, the performance of the Dean ‘Single’ was unquestionably spectacular. Perhaps even more so in view of Chunchward’s far sighted locomotive design policy was bearing fruit in the shape of some extremely powerful 4-cylinder 4-6-0 types, not to mention the solitary pacific, “The Great Bear”.  “City of Truro” took the special from Millbay
 Crossing to Exeter, almost all of this route against the grade, a distance of
 52.9 miles in 58mins, a very creditable performance.

There then followed the
 most remarkable section of the run, from Exeter to Pylle Hill Junction, where the 74.9 miles were covered in a time of 64 ¼ mins. On this section of the run a claim was made by a well-known train performance recorder of the day, C. J. Rous-Marten, for a maximum speed of 102.3mph, reached on the descent of the Wellington Bank.  Rous-Marten, who took details of the run, it has always been insisted, was required by the authoriti.es not to disclose details for fear of alarming the public. His records were however subsequently made public, but it appears that full details had already been disclosed of the run, the day following, in the Western Daily Mercury, and replete with a further claim for a speed of 100mph achieved between Whiteball Summit and Taunton.

Whatever the reasons for publishing or not publishing such details, it is now generally accepted that the three figure barrier was broken with this train, on the run referred to.
  The mails special was also followed on that occasion by a passenger special, in competition with a South Western special from Plymouth, Stonehouse Pool to Waterloo.  The GWR train made the run from Plymouth to Paddington in 264 mins, just 32mins slower than its record-breaking predecessor, and with a decidedly heavier train.


Not carrying the “Ocean Mails” anymore, but the legacy of the competition between the GWR and LSWR for this prestigious traffic lasted into British Railways days in the 1950s and 60s.  Here, the down ‘Cornish Riviera Express’ is entering Exeter St David’s behind typical motive power – a “King” class 4-6-0.
 
By Ben Brooksbank, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15556548

As a result of these spectacular high-speed runs, emanating from the competition for traffic with the LSWR, the Great Western instituted regular non- stop services between Paddington and Plymouth on July 1st 1904.  This entirely new express service was booked to cover the distance, via the Bristol avoiding lines, in 4hrs 25mins; ultimately it became known as the “Cornish Riviera Express” – Which of course it has been known as ever since.

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