BR Regional Magazines

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I was fortunate to have a Grandfather who drove steam engines, right through from pre-Grouping to British Railways days, and was the beneficiary of numerous copies of the BR London Midland Region magazine – avidly read when I was on holiday.  Obviously, many of the stories related to people, locations, and some new technology developments – locomotives, new stations, new lines, and a gardening section.

Each area, and region of course had their own sports teams, first aid teams, amateur dramatics sections, and individuals who had built models from matchsticks, or replicas of main line steam locomotives in miniature.  There were the retirements, and trbutes to the people who built and ran the railways in the past, and those who worked on the permanent way, maintaining its safety, and keeping the trains running.  The extent and variety of activities and events reported were enormous, with reflections on the past in equal measure to the changes then taking place.

One interesting series of items that appeared in the 1950s was John Drayton’s  “Illustrated Rules”, which took specific rules, and with the aid of a cartoon illustration provided a simplified explanation of how they were applied.  Sometimes they were very serious, and sometimes the cartoon might show some of those railwaymen who knew it was OK to hang off the footsteps on a moving loco – like this one:

Drayton0015

Rule 118 in the 1950 rule book does indeed state:

“Staff riding on engines or vehicles, or when on the ground alongside vehicles, at converging points in sidings, must take special care that there is sufficient clearance for their safety”

Or this one about the emission of smoke and steam from engines – Rule 126 (v):

“arrange the fire so as to avoid any unnecessary emission of smoke particularly whilst standing at or passing stations, and prevent blowing off steam at safety valves as far as possible”

Drayton0018

 

But not everything John Drayton sketched was about the rule book, he offered some interesting drawings about new technology too:

Drayton0035Drayton0036Drayton0037

Of course, the LM Region Magazine covered new loco builds – like this one – the Crosti boilered 9F 2-10-0s, which were very much a non-standard design of British Railways Standard steam locomotive designs.  This was the story the magazine carried in July 1955 of the Crewe built locomotives.

Franco-Crosti

I’ll post some more of John Drayton’s sketches, and others in future posts.

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Northern Rail Nadir

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So finally, Northern Rail has been de-privatised – I’m not sure simply cancelling the franchise contract, and appointing a quango to oversee the operation counts as nationalisation.

No changes will take place operationally for some time, and in so far as the infrastructure upgrades and developments are concerned, the existing projects are still ongoing.  New work is still needed to cope with the existing increase in passenger numbers, and not just to Manchester Piccadilly’s platforms 13 and 14.

Northern Rail passenger milesOver the past 10 years, Northern Rail – in both Arriva and Serco formats – has seen passenger miles increase by 31%, from 1,209 million to 1,606 million miles, between 2009/10 to 2018/19.  Using the published ORR figures – although the most recent figures have changed to kilometres from miles.

This table is based on those published figures, Northern have received over £3 billion in direct subsidy – ironically perhaps that is also a 31% increase over 10 years, but obviously that is not the whole story, and it is more complex.  There is clearly much to be done, and in some cases, work that was cancelled needs restarting.

Northern Rail Subsidies

In the same period, it appears that Northern were able to pay a little over £39 million back, as part of the revenie share.

Is that good value for money?

I would not suggest that simply transferring it into a quasi publicly owned and operated rail service will suddenly make it a profitable operation, as even in BR days, whilst InterCity and Freight were profitable, Provincial, regional services were not.  Maybe we are heading back to the era where, for social, and community reasons, as well as sound environmental and sustainable reasons, we need the rail network.

Too many train operating companies, leasing stock from rolling stock companies (mainly owned by banks and financial institutions), seems to make for a complex, and bureaucratic  management of train services.  Quite apart from running trains, there is contract management and negotiation with Network Rail (yes I know that is governed within the franchise arrangements), inter-operation with other train operators – freight and passenger, together with day to day asset management.  It seems the UK style of privatisation has added a number of layers to the running of a railway, and Northern Rail has been the most serious symptom of failure.

It will be interesting to see how this develops, and how changes to funding and management models are implemented to deliver the improvements and, hopefully success, that the private train operator was unable to achieve.

The Northern website on 1st March had this updated front page:

Northern front page

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Further reading:

Northern franchise enters new future

Northern press release cover

Rail Delivery Group response to Northern franchise announcement

Northern rail franchise to be renationalised

Northern franchise termination was the only option, says Transport for the North

 

The Last British Diesel

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It may be a controversial observation, but the Brush designed Class 60 heavy freight locomotive was the last genuinely British built diesel-electric type. The locomotive was considered initially as a replacement for English Electric’s ageing Class 37 design – but with British Rail sectorisation, and the changed Railfreight priorities, a different approach was needed.

60_015_Bow_Fell

60015 Bow Fell in Railfreight grey livery with Transrail branding hauling a freight train through Cardiff General in 1996.         Photo: Murgatroyd49 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78385895 

In the late 1980s, a private company, contracted to haul mineral trains ordered and brought to the UK, the 2-stroke General Motors Class 59 – it was of course Foster Yeoman. The design and operation of this locomotive was a success, but it was for a niche market, although it brought some innovative ideas in its use of technology.

Before their arrival, BR had produced its main line locomotive renewal programme, within which it was stated that 750 new freight diesels would be needed of between 750 and 2,500hp, with delivery from 1990 onwards. BR also stated it would not place orders of less than 100 locos at a time, to ensure continuity of production, and rolling replacement of older designs.

Class_60_Beeston

Class 60 passing through Beeston station in April 2007.                                                                 Photo: Zverzia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3063590

Unlike the Class 58, BR’s last heavy haul locomotive design returned to the Brush monocoque, load bearing mechanical structure – this was the company’s ‘traditional’ approach – where the Class 58 was essentially a couple of longitudinal girders with a body and power equipment ‘on deck’.

Nottingham_-_DB_Cargo_60100_with_oil_tanks

A train of empty oil tanks heads through Nottingham in 2016 behind the last of the class No. 60100, in DB Schenker / DB Cargo colours. They are on the way from Kingsbury in the West Midlands to an oil refinery on Humberside.         Photo: Geof Sheppard – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53982372

Consultants Jones Garrard, who had been involved with the styling of the class 442 “Wessex Electrics”, undertook the design of the class 60, and provided a couple of alternatives. Mock-ups were provided of both varieties, inspected by Railfreight personnel and the B.R. Design Panel, and after deliberation, the style with a positive rake to the front end was chosen. The end result was a locomotive who’s appearance bore more than a passing resemblance to the ubiquitous Brush Type 4 / BR Class 47.

This was Britain’s last truly home produced – designed and built – diesel locomotive design, and represents a fitting end to the British Rail freight chapter.

Useful Links & References:

  • Railway Industry Association (RIA)
  • DB Cargo UK
  • GB Railfreight
  • DC Rail
  • “True Brit – Class 60 in Close Up” by Roger Ford (Modern Railways – March 1989)
  • Rail Freight (House of Commons Library Briefing Paper) Number SN151, 12 December 2016; By Louise Butcher
  • Railways: privatisation, 1987-1996 (House of Commons Library Briefing Note) SN/BT/1157
18 March 2010
; By Louise Butcher

Class 60 Videos

Click on the image below for more …..

Class 60 Cover

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Nationalised Northern Rail

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Well, it took a bit of time, but finally some action has been taken on another of these failing train operating franchises.  Of course nothing will change overnight, and no doubt nothing will stop those interminable excuses for the poor performance:

  1. Platforms too short
  2. Electrification delays
  3. Too many passengers
  4. Etc.

I think the most untenable of the excuses is the ‘short platforms’.  Back in the days of steam, when an 8-coach train pulled up at a station where platforms were short, the train often pulled further along to allow the trailing coaches to access the platform.  But perhaps now that’s no longer possible – after all trains must be at least 10 coaches or more today, surely?

The idea that electrification delays – they will cite the Preston to Blackpool stretch as an example – is equally daft.  That’s worse than the “wrong kind of snow” – because it was a planned piece of work, and the infrastructure is already owned and managed by the Government as Network Rail.   So was that just a – look over there “squirrel” excuse to deflect attention from the operators overall poor performance?

According to recent figures from the ORR Network Rail are “responsible” for 58% of delays to train services.  Is that shorthand for Government have UNDER-INVESTED in the rail network infrastructure?

It must be, since Network Rail DO NOT RUN TRAINS.

 

Can’t see that holding up too well against the timteable chaos of the previous year.

Anyway, we are going to see the change from 1st March, and the media area ready, and busy with their various pronouncements:

Screenshot 2020-01-29 at 14.48.22

Further Reading

RMT ON NORTHERN BEING TAKEN INTO PUBLIC OWNERSHIP

Screenshot 2020-01-29 at 15.10.54

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Class 158 – New Lights for Old

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Upper Image:   A Class 158 twin unit entering Edinburgh Waverley station.

Photo courtesy: Ad Meskens – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29600938

The BREL built “Express Sprinter” dmu’s of 1989-92, constructed at Derby’s Litchurch Lane Works are some 30 years old now, and have been dispersed around the UK through BR’s Regional Railways Sector, to the post-privatisation TOCs.  The 40 two-car sets allocated to Abellio/Scotrail may soon be receiving another minor refurb, with a proposal to fit LED lighting in the driving cabs and saloons – or perhaps not.

LED Procurement Tender Notice extract

Extract from the August 2019 procurement notice for Abellio Scotrail

The successful tenderer was to be retrofit the 40 2-car sets with the fitting – and the ongoing management of these installations, and the original tender was announced in December 2018, then cancelled, and re-posted in July 2019. Both the interior lighting question and these last BR built multiple units have had a bit of a chequered history, and their design has been unkindly referred to in some quarters as a “garden shed” approach. Yet still, after more than three decades of service, they are fulfilling some of the intermediate to long distance passenger train duties – at least in Scotland.

Class 158 in 1990 on Glasgow to EdinburghThe Class 158 “Express Sprinter” were the 3rd gestation of the British Rail “Sprinter” range of 2nd generation dmus. Unlike the earlier “Provincial Sector” designs, these were not designed from either older emu designs, like the ‘Sprinter’ series, but they were driven by the 1980s financial constraints on BR. At the time, between 1989 and 1991, the application of inter-city style seating and layout for these longer distance regional services were still dependent on the first generation dmu’s. These were by this time more than 30 years old, and increasingly unreliable, and the refurbishment programmes of the 1970s really did nothing other than a new paint job, or interiors. Then there was the ongoing cost of asbestos removal from the 1950s designs, which, coupled with the financial strictures and operations in the days of sectorisation in the 1980s, ultimately, led to the building of new multiple units.

The end result was the “Express Sprinter”, built at Derby, to the BREL design, and using the key features of the main line and inter-city rolling stock designs, to meet the increased needs and performance criteria for Provincial Sector. The BREL built 158s were first put to work on the Scotrail Sector, over the time when BREL was being privatised by the government, firstly as BREL Group Ltd under ABB Transportation, and later as Adtranz (ABB-Daimler Benz). Each of which is now consigned to the history books. BREL built 447 vehicles, most as 2-car sets, but with a small number as 3-car, and the last was handed over in 1991.

The idea of this latest modification for Abellio ScotRail Ltd was to gain the benefits from energy saving and an increased lighting lifespan on these trains. The most recent upgrade/refurb of the Scotrail units was carried out at the now closed Springburn Works, then operated by Knorr-Bremse, back in 2015.  The work carried out then included the current ‘Saltire’ livery and modernisation of the interiors with new carpets, surface finishes and toilets.  At the same time, the 137-seat trains were equipped with new CCTV systems and automatic passenger-counting systems.

The 2015 renovation and upgrade/update work was carried out at Springburn under the Railcare banner.

The 2015 renovation and upgrade/update work was carried out at Springburn under the Railcare banner.

So, new lights for old may be seen as another minor, but useful upgrade to this long-lived type of rolling stock.  The technology itself may not seem so new, but ranks up there with proposals some years ago that one single light source could supply – through the use of fibre-optic cable – individual lighting throughout a train.  Gone are the days of 60-watt incandescent bulbs in the centre of the passenger compartment – now departing are the harsh glare of fluorescent tubes, with or without luminaires on the coach ceiling.

Some 17 years ago, I wrote about the advances in lighting technology on stations and on trains, for passenger circulating areas, and for on-board functions.  It was back then when the use of laser-optics was being advanced as the way forward, like this:

The Future is Fibre-Optic

  • A great deal of advancement has been seen recently in the use of fibre-optics for lighting purposes. Unlike conventional lighting, with fibre-optic technology, only the light is transmitted. The principal areas where this technology can be used may be summarised as:

  • Difficult access (lack of height and space)

  • Reduced maintenance (multiple lighting points from one lamp)

  • Where objects may be sensitive to heat and ultra violet rays

  • Regulating light in specific places, with minimum visual intrusion

  • Use of fibre-optic cable in data communications, and indeed for entertainment or decorative purposes is not new, but it is state of the art as far as the specialist railway environment is concerned. In principle, its use is based on light from a single source – probably the most obvious departure from conventional practice – and transmission of light along a group of fibres, with the light emitted in a concentrated beam at the remote end of each fibre. This technology in railway use could lead to the elimination not only of the multiple lamps and luminaires, but also the costs of maintaining illumination at recommended and safe levels – especially on board trains.

  • Applications of this technology for the passenger are perhaps most obvious for such activities as reading. Other uses could benefit the train crews, on the driver’s control desk instrumentation – much like their use in cars today. A major advantage is the fact that no heat is generated at the point of illumination, so perhaps a beneficial application could see its use in areas where light but no heat is needed – fuel tank levels, or similar gauges and indicators in hazardous or hard to reach areas for instance. Alternatively perhaps, a way of providing a light source for CCTV and other monitoring systems regularly used today.

  • Ultimately, the future use of fibre-optics in railway lighting applications looks positive. As the production of second-generation metal halide and micro discharge lamps increases the efficiency of the technology, the future is indeed brighter.

This seemed to be the way forward back at the beginning of the 21st century, and now, approaching ¼ of the century, the use of LED (Light Emitting Diodes), has become the lighting source of choice. In fact, LED tube lighting is an ideal candidate for retrofitting to the good old standard fluorescent tube lighting on trains, with some designs being a simple replacement of the older tubes, using the same fittings. The technology itself is claimed to result in an energy saving of up to 75%, and has been in use with TfL in London for the past couple of years, reducing both energy and maintenance costs.

Shining a light on historical sites too, LED lighting has been installed at Rainhill on Merseyside – so even the location with one of he greatest claims to fame for Victorian ‘new technology’ is now an example in the 21st century – 190 years later. Of course, today everything has to have the adjective “smart” attached to it, and lighting on the railway is no exception, so now we also have ‘smart lighting’ – for which no doubt an ‘app’ will be available – soon?

I started off this little item just thinking about the Class 158 and its new lights, but there is much more to lighting on the rail network today, so we will revisit this story for a more detailed look at the technology shortly. So much for fibre-optic lighting!

Class_158_No_158721_(14802782564)

Class 158 721, awaiting departure from Inverness in “First Scotrail” colours.   Photo: Peter Broster – Class 158 No 158721, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49576344

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HS2 Hits the Buffers

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So now we know – too costly, and at least another 5 to 7 years to go before Birmingham is reached.  Controversial from the beginning, and 10 years in the making – a bit like Crossrail – the cost has seemingly outweighed the benefits.  It was begun in 2009, and yet now seems to be at an end, due to the ever increasing budget overspends.  HS1 – the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) was also very much delayed, and the connection to the Chunnel was initially at an embarrassingly low speed, until the train emerged on the French side of the Channel.  The UK it seems, is still waiting to catch up with the rest of Europe when it comes to high-speed, high-tech trains.

What surprises me, and perhaps many others, is that we have had the technology – be it, power control electronics, signalling systems, infrastructure technology – for over 30 years, and the last high-speed main line (excluding HS1) was completed in 1990.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, British Railways managed to electrify the West Coast Main Line (WCML) from London to Manchester and Liverpool, and then to Birmingham – completed by 1967.  This was at a time when the technology and techniques were new, novel, untried and untested on a UK main line, and complete in just 8 years – 2 years LESS than it has taken work on the single route from London to Birmingham for HS2 to even begin construction.  On top of that, the west coast route was electrified to Glasgow by 1974 – just 15 years after work began.

OK, maybe I am comparing apples and oranges in some areas, and the WCML was not an entirely new railway, but maybe that is offset by the fact that in the 1960s, the technology was brand new, and the railway was much more complex than it is today.

According to the latest report – before the latest delays were announced – the new high-speed railway would not reach Crewe (where no interchange station was planned) until 2031, and Manchester Piccadilly by 2035.  That’s a full 26 years after HS2 Ltd was set up, and 22 years after the Act of Parliament gave it the go-ahead, and now if the 5-year delay is included, that means Crewe by 2036 and Manchester by 2040.

It seems it’s not just money that is affected by inflation, but major infrastructure project time lines – what took 15 years in the 1960s/70s, takes around 40 years in the 21st Century!  Oh, yes, and there’s the cost spiral too from around £55 billion in 2015 to £88 billion in 204? – an increase of 60%.

Back in 2014 HS2 Ltd submitted its case for the new route as both an engine for growth and rebalancing Britain – the report was quite thorough, but with little by way of reference to the environment as a whole.  Of course, it was not possible 5 years ago to see the growth in importance of climate change – although it was possible to estimate a significant growth in the UK population by 2040.  Maybe HS2 Ltd was not aware of the connection between the two.

HS2 Key Principles 2014

But one of the key principles mentioned in the document, and an aspect of the project that is not being addressed is transport integration.  HS2 is about separation, and it is not a network of rail routes – it is just a number of new links between centres of population, with almost no attention paid to freight transport.

It goes on to suggest that the Crewe hub, with links to Liverpool, will be “transformative” for businesses.  What it does not say is how, or even take account of current information systems technology where business travel is being rendered unnecessary.

Transformative for business

Fascinating statement here, where it states that having the link to Manchester will make it easier to work in both London and Manchester, with a 60 minute reduction in journey time.  In 2014, the authors of this report were clearly unaware of the ability of people to work on trains, whether by using the on-board WiFi, or any of the various sophisticated ‘telepresence’ systems, that allow people to be present in meetings from different locations.

The element of the rail infrastructure that demands much more attention is the East-West routes to link Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle – NOT a link from London to Birmingham.  This diagram in the 2014 HS2 document shows the right place to start:

East West & North South

Still, all that seems to be behind us now, with the Government review likely to be underway soon, progress of this project has now followed the pattern of most UK train journeys in the 21st Century – delayed or cancelled.

Useful Links:

Alstom Proposed HS2 Train Design

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Electric Traction Revolution?

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60 years ago on the 27th Nov
ember this year, Britain’s pioneer 25Kv a.c. electric locomotive was officially handed over to British Railways. Then numbered E3001, it
was to be the first of a long series of successful 
locomotive designs for the West Coast Main
Line (WCML). Within this series there have
 come to be seven basic designs, and a number of sub-divisions of the classes ALl to AL7. Although the last of these was never actually
 introduced under the old title of AL7, but
 designated Class 87 with the new “TOPS”
 locomotive codes, the family likeness remains
 very strong despite the detail alterations to the appearance of the latest type.

gec092

87005 – the final design of the 1st generation electric traction for British Rail, provided the motive power for the completion of the 400+ miles of route from London to Glasgow in 1974.

The choice of 25kV a.c. electrification to be used on B.R. was the subject of exhaustive investigation and comparative examination with other arrangements. Indeed, as there was no a.c. overhead
 main line contact system in regular operation, B.R. decided in 1951
 to convert the Lancaster-Morecambe-
Heysham section to 50 cycle, 6,600 volt, to
 evaluate the potential. The only alternative to 
an untried a.c. system was the l500v d.c. arrangements favoured by the former LNER for its Manchester-Sheffield-Wath and Liverpool St.-Shenfield lines.

However, by the time of the announcement in 1955 of B.R.’s multi-million pound modernisation and re-equipment programme, a not inconsiderable degree of experience of operation of an a.c. system had been acquired. It was perhaps the potential of the system, using 25,000V from the National Grid, rendering it economically superior to the d.c. system that finally won the day.

The decision was announced on 6th March 1956, that 25Kv a.c. would be the system of electrification used by British Railways on the WCML between London (Euston), Manchester and Liverpool, and additionally on the East Coast Main Line (ECML), between London (King’s Cross) and York and Leeds. The optimism generated through the Modernisation Plan for the electrification of two main routes was relatively short lived however. By 1959, it was seen that this would not be possible within the time limits proposed in the 1956 White Paper, and consequently a re-appraisal of the Modernisation Plan provided for the introduction of diesel
 traction “without prejudice to eventual electrification” on the main line where this was to be deferred. Another factor in this re-evaluation was the enthusiasm with which the private car, road building, and the removal of some restrictions on licensing of road haulage, and goods transport.

Another interesting statistic is the total route mileage electrified in Britain. There is a Wikipedia entry that states: “In 2006, 40%—3,062 miles (4,928 km) of the British rail network was electrified, ….”   But, in a BR publication (“Railway Electrification – A Discussion Paper”), dated May 1978, the route mileage electrified was 2,341 miles, or 21% of the total network.

So, does that mean that between 1978 and 2006, the increase in the electrified network was only 721 miles, and the 2006 total route mileage was just over 7,600 miles, but 38 years earlier the route mileage was 11,100 miles. A reduction in the size of the network of 3,500 miles, and at the same time adding just under 400 miles to the electrified main lines with the East Coast Main Line project – delayed from 1956.

There was of course a Department of Transport / BRB report on the subject of main line electrification in 1981, which offered a number of options to expand the network. From the perspective of the 25kV a.c. schemes, the final report’s “Option II’ – the ECML, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh, and Edinburgh to Carstairs was the option followed.   This was described in the report’s accompanying table as a “modest” expansion of the network. Ironically the recently completed electrification from Preston to Blackpool was included in the “Base Case”, and for completion in 1984 – a mere 35-year delay for that particular line. Slightly less of a delay was incurred by the Western Region (now GWR) main line out of Paddington. That scheme was included in the more advanced “Option III” ‘Medium Case’ for completion by 1996 to Bristol, and by 2002 to Plymouth – ah well, some of it got completed, but all has been hampered by the tragedy of privatisation.

87034 - William Shakespeare at Carlisle

Penultimate days of British Rail operations, with the classic motive power for the West Coast Main Line, here seen at Carlisle in the late 1980s.

 

 

Today we are still waiting on the possibilities of the HS2 / HS3 developments, and have pressed ahead in the last 10 years or so with the Paddington to South Wales, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh central belt, and a number of smaller connecting lines. These latter have mainly been around big cities; Manchester, Leeds, etc., with additional links to Blackpool, and specialist lines such as that connecting London with Heathrow Airport, or the Crossrail projects.

Looking back at the 1978 BR discussion paper, the current routes and electrified network was covered then by Options B and C for the Inter City Routes strategy. Had the strategy been implemented back then as Option C – the electrified network would have reached 5,300 miles, some 2,200 more than was achieved by 2006. However, the real issues that delayed the strategy was the lack of will to invest, and the mounting subsidies paid to BR during the later 1970s and 1980s.

So this was Richard Marsh’s plan in 1978:

InterCity Route Miles Strategy


In the nearly 40 years since, some work has been done, but the UK’s once extensive railway industry – both private and BR’s own workshops – has largely disappeared, and any achievements have been wholly dependent on the success of imported technology. One of the most telling observations in the 1978 discussion paper was in the concluding paragraphs, where the BRB stated:

“A railway system needs to be provided which enables our successors to run an economic transport system in the year 2000 and beyond If railway electrification is to be part of that, as now seems probable, a start needs to be made now. If the country has available the capital for regeneration of industry and preparation for the energy conditions of the next century, it would require only a very small proportion of this investment to convert the main public bulk transportation system to electric power.”

In that same booklet, it was pointed out that the UK was well behind in the proportion of its network that was electrified, coming 17th out of 21 countries, from Norway to Belgium and Japan.

Table A1

Today we are still waiting on the possibilities of the HS2 / HS3 developments, and have pressed ahead in the last 10 years or so with the Paddington to South Wales, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh central belt, and a number of smaller connecting lines. These latter have mainly been around big cities; Manchester, Leeds, etc., with additional links to Blackpool, and specialist lines such as that connecting London with Heathrow Airport, or the Crossrail projects.

By 2016/17 that position had changed, and the UK had slipped 3 places to 20th, or second from bottom, and yet the % of the network now electrified had risen to 33%.

Country Network Length Electrified length % Electrified
 Switzerland 5,196 5,196 100%
 Luxembourg 275 275 100%
Sweden 10,874 8,976 83%
 Belgium 3,602 2,960 82%
Italy 16,788 13,106 78%
 Netherlands 3,055 2,314 76%
Japan 27,311 20,534 75%
 Bulgaria 4,030 2,880 71%
 Austria 5,527 3,826 69%
 Norway 3,895 2,622 67%
 Portugal 2,546 1,633 64%
Poland 19,209 11,874 62%
Spain 15,949 9,699 61%
France 29,273 15,687 54%
Germany 38,594 20,500 53%
Russia 85,500 43,700 51%
 Slovakia 3,626 1,587 44%
 Hungary 7,945 2,889 36%
 Czech Republic 9,567 3,237 34%
United Kingdom 16,320 5,357 33%
Romania 10,774 3,292 31%

Source of table: (Wikipedia) List_of_countries_by_rail_transport_network_size

So according to this latest table, another 5,120 miles of route have been electrified in the UK since 1978. By far the longest route to receive its 25kV a.c. overhead contact system was the East Coast Main Line, from London (Kings Cross) to Edinburgh, which was completed in 1991 – so that was another 400 miles. After that, there was a plan to electrify the route from London (St Pancras) to Sheffield – although that’s only reached as far north as Leicestershire, before being controversially abandoned. The completion of the Channel Tunnel was the driver to construct a high-speed link between the tunnel and London (Waterloo), and with minor extensions added a further 100 miles by the time HS1 was opened in 2003.

The Western Region main line, or after privatisation, the GWR main line from London (Paddington) to Bristol and South Wales has only been completed in the last couple of years – but only as far as Bristol Parkway. The piecemeal, stop-start nature of progress on electrification of main lines since the mid 1990s has spectacularly affected interoperability across the whole network. The latest trains on the old Western Region main line to Bristol are hybrids, and have to operate as diesel trains in the non-electrified sections, obviously at lower speeds. The plan to electrify the main line to South Devon, Plymouth and possibly Penzance is not even on the horizon in the 21st Century.

The additional 4,000+ miles that have been electrified since 1978 includes the completion of the Edinburgh to Glasgow corridor, and the link to the West Coast Main Line at Carstairs, together with numerous other ad-hoc changes and extensions. This activity included work to extend the overhead out of London (Liverpool Street) into East Anglia; Cambridge and Kings Lynn.

In 1981, the Government published a final report advocating the case for main line electrification, and in a couple of key points made a recommendation that more, and not less electrification at a faster rate would offer best value for money. These are two of the key paragraphs that make those points:

Para 13 - 1981 DoT ReviewPara 14 - 1981 DoT Review

So how did we do? Well, not so good really.

Currently, in 2019, Crossrail – which links in to the GWR main line west of London – is still not complete, and the plans for a route between Oxford and Cambridge, and a north-south Crossrail2 are still only on the drawing board. The very latest activity on the London (Euston) to Birmingham – HS2 – is looking more likely to be cancelled than progressed, whilst the demand for increased electrification between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and beyond is growing by the day. The so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail is clearly an essential need, to link the economic centres in the North of England, which, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford, and Tyneside/Wearside has a population of well over 7 million.

In February 2019, “The Engineer” carried out a poll of its readers to see what form of motive power would be 1st choice to replace the diesel trains – all of which will be gone by 2040. In the poll some 43% of respondents advocated full electrification.

Another 29% were in favour of batteries+hydrogen power, with another 12% advocating pure hydrogen powered trains.

If the recent progress of electrification is anything to go by, I doubt if any of these will progress very far, and we will, as usual be subject to the same uncertain, start-stop process that we have seen for the past 20 years. But, electrification is, and remains the only sustainable option – both in energy cost, and environmental impact.

So, 60 years on from the handover at Sandbach in Cheshire, in November 1959, we have come so far, but there is still a long way to go. The ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ proposals include some aspects of planned 25kV electrification from the 1950s, 1960s, and late 1970s, and the line from Manchester to Leeds is more than 40 years late. There has been very limited activity on rail, and especially electrification work over the past 20 years, and today’s ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ ideas are not a fitting reflection of the work completed in 1959.

Northern Powerhouse Rail Map

The lines shown on this map in light green are for new electrified routes, and the connection from Manchester to Leeds was identified as needing electrification almost 40 years ago – and it is still pending!

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Azuma_and_HST_at_Leeds_station_(geograph_6187255)

One of the new generation Azuma high-speed trains alongside one of the remaining IC125 (HST) sets at Leeds Station. By Stephen Craven, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79978602 

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