Travelling by Rail is Now Fashionable

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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. 

National Rail enquiries have always used the old British Rail logo

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:

The latest marketing video aiming to convince people to get back on the trains also includes the old British Rail logo – it bears a remarkable similarity to the approach taken in the 1980s.

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!

Parent CompanyTrain Operator
AbellioAbellio ScotRail (SR),  East Midlands Railway (EM),  Greater Anglia (GA) (60%),  Merseyrail (ME) (50%),  West Midlands Trains (WM) (70%)
ArrivaArriva Rail London (LO),  Chiltern Railways (CH),  CrossCountry (XC),  Grand Central (GC)
East Japan Railway CompanyWest Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
Department for TransportLondon North Eastern Railway (GR),  Northern Trains (NR)
FirstGroupAvanti West Coast (VT) (70%),  Great Western Railway (GW),  Hull Trains (HT),  South Western Railway (SW) (70%),  TransPennine Express (TP)
Go-Ahead GroupGovia Thameslink Railway (GN, SN, TL),  Southeastern (SE) (65%)
KeolisGovia Thameslink Railway (GN, SN, TL),  Southeastern (SE) (35%)
MitsuiGreater Anglia (GA) (40%),  West Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
MTR CorporationSouth Western Railway (SW) (30%),  TfL Rail (XR)
SercoCaledonian Sleeper (CS),  Merseyrail (ME) (50%)
Transport for Wales (Welsh Government)Transport for Wales Rail (AW)
Trenitaliac2c (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.

The train that never was – well not until the arrival of the “Pendolino” in 2001, which adopted the same technology.
In the 1980s British Rail had a strategy, but it was undermined and overlooked by the transport politics of the day.

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 Engineering was at the forefront of adopting computer aided design technology, before it too fell victim of the retrograde steps that privatisation forced on the railway industry.

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.

Parcels and newspapers were carried by train over the longer distacnces 30 years ago, whilst now, 1,000s of small vans and lorries hurtling up and down the motorways carry that traffic in an unsustaianble way. Anothjer casualty of the backward steps that were implemented after privatisation.

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:

Classic 1980s advert – still reaching to encourage us all to use the profitable InterCity services over those long distances. BR’s long distance services’ profitability helped to reduce the cost to the national budget of a national rail service.
I know not many people would recognise Jackie Stewart and Hattoe Jacques, but replace these two with Lewis Hamilton and Dawn French, and with today’s road traffic congestion, I think Dawn French would complete the journey hours before Lewis Hamilton got as far as paying the London congestion charge.

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.

-oOo-

Container Trains

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The heading photo shows DRS 88003 hauling a Daventry to Mossend container train. Photo: NK Ian – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61767573

How old are container trains in the UK?  Well, it’s not simple answer, although we are all familiar in 2021 with Freightliner trains, and the Eddie Stobart and Tesco container carrying trains.  Of course these are intermodal services nowadays – but there have always been intermodal freight operations on the railway – transferring goods from horses and carts onto goods wagons.  Railway freight traffic was never always about bulk loads of minerals, coal and oil, and it was the wagon load and part load consignments that kick started some interesting developments in British Railways days.

There were numerous methods of providing specialised containers for wagon or van load consignments of goods, whether for household furniture, or bulk transport of engineering components in a lengthy supply chain for manufacturers.

Before Liner Trains

In 1964, BR London Midland Region issued a small glossy booklet, entitled “Freight Handbook”, which, apart from the usual details of goods depot and regional telephone numbers contained brief descriptions of some of the innovations in wagonload and container traffic facilities.  The services include what BR described as “demountable containers” carried on a rail wagon, and transferred to and from road vehicles at the terminals at each end of the journey.  Described as a “door-to-door service” that was being constantly improved and extended, the fact that road transport by the early 1960s was entirely privately owned meant that BR had fewer road vehicles to provide the last lap of the journey.

One of the most blindingly obvious commercial errors to us, looking back from 2021 is that no charge was made for the use of containers “owned by the railway”, but just the contents.  Nobody would make that mistake today – would they?!

BR London Midland offered 12 different types of covered container, and three described as ‘open’.  The covered versions were of either ventilated, refrigerated, and insulated, or just simply a wooden box with doors on, and able to carry 4 to 5 tons.  Some had two compartments and bottom doors, whilst others – for meat traffic – had roof bars and hooks for hanging carcasses.  The handbook actually shows images of what BR called the ‘SW’ type – which was essentially a container on wheels that could hold about 1 ton, and could be loaded onto a rail wagon/van by two men.

Manual handling of some of these containers would clearly have been very hard work, but it was not uncommon activity in the 1960s workplace, and mechanical handling appeared over time to both reduce the physical strain and increase efficient load handling.

A couple of interesting examples are illustrated too of the handling of ‘palletised traffic’, where boxes of baked beans on pallets are then loaded into one of the then new ‘pallet vans’.  Judging by the examples in both BR’s own ‘handbook’ and other publications – “Transport Age” – the railway was responding to changes in traffic types by designing and building bespoke vehicles, from pallet vans to specialist ferry vans.  The latter take us away from container trains a little, but perhaps serves to highlight the challenge the industry faced in competition with road hauliers, and standardisation of containers carried at sea on international journeys.

But the most important development to precede the Liner Train project was the “Condor” service, which carried the existing designs of container – essentially a cut down covered van – on a train of specially designed four-wheeled wagons: “Conflats”.  The train began service in 1959, running from Hendon in North London, to Gushetfaulds in Glasgow, and hauled by a pair of the new Metro-Vick 2-stroke, 1,200hp diesel locos.  From Glasgow to London, the load included manufactured goods from Scotland, and in the reverse direction, imported raw materials were shipped from London’s docks to the factories around Glasgow.  The service was door to door, using British Road Services lorries at either end, and with customers paying £16 or £18 to hire a container to carry their products.

The Condor service was a success, and a second route between Birmingham (Aston) and Glasgow in 1963 – the year of the Beeching Report – but it succumbed in the end to Beeching, although it was also the route operated by the first Liner Train / Freightliner service in 1965.

The Liner Train project 

Ironically too, the BMC and BR operated ‘Charter Trains’ between Cowley, Oxford and Bathgate – on specially designed flat wagons – to transport Morris Minor cars to Scotland, and vans and commercial vehicles from Scotland to England.  A few years later, cars were being transported by road, on transporter lorries in ever greater numbers, and liberalisation of commercial road traffic dealt a bit of a blow to the door-to-door service of the ‘Condor’.

The famous “Liner Trains” proposed by Beeching was really a development of existing modular, palletised, and containerised goods services, which ultimately led to the intermodal and company train services of today.  Amongst many other – some would say disastrous – changes proposed under Beeching some radical proposals around “open goods depots” were put forward.

In Appendix 4 of the Beeching Report, the concept is described specifically as:

“…. A conception of transport based upon joint use of road and rail for door-to-door transport of containerised merchandise, with special purpose, through running, scheduled trains providing the trunk haul.”

So there we have it – what we now call inter-modal services, albeit introduced, or at least considered mainly to reduce the financial burdens of non-train-load goods traffic.  In its original concept, the Liner Train was described as a series of permanently coupled flat wagons, for carrying containers, and running to a schedule that would demand high utilisation of the stock.  Each train would have a gross load of 680 tons, with a 360-ton payload, and running at between 50 and 75 mph.

The traffic itself – given that the early 1960s were the years of huge investment in motorways, and roadbuilding – was optimistically described as goods which would be suitable for rail if the right conditions were met – heavy and full loads, on specific routes at reasonable rates.  Having said that this idea was optimistic, it also has to be said that the report considered that the potential tonnage identified for this service was ‘conservative’ at 93 million tons.  Traffic studies had shown that 16 million tons of freight carried annually on the roads, could transfer to rail on this service.

Between this first mention of “Liner Trains” and their appearance in traffic, the political landscape changed, not to mention the review of the “Beeching Proposals”, which were in full swing by late 1964.  In October that year, the General Election resulted in yet another change, and railway policy was about to change again, but the “Liner Train” / Intermodal concept was still a popular option, although none were at that time in operation.  In December 1964, and in answer to a question raised in Parliament about the delay, the new Transport Minister made this statement:

“The Railways Board hopes to introduce the first experimental liner trains next summer, if early agreement is reached with the unions on the principle of “open” depots. My predecessor approved investment of £6 million for liner trains; of this about £700,000 will be spent in 1964. Investment for 1965 will depend on the date of introduction of the services.”

At the time, the “open” depots referred to were the subject of negotiations on working arrangements with the railway trades unions.  The “Liner Train” proposal was given a boost in this early period, with British Railways and the Post Office’s plans to concentrate the handling of parcels and what they described as “sundries” at a small number of larger centres.  Exactly as the road based parcels delivery companies operate today with their distribution hubs and centres – history repeating itself?

An interesting paragraph in the report about the loss of the traffic in small manufactured components to road hauliers, it states that such traffic would not pay the railway to carry it, yet it is just that type of traffic that is “expected to grow”.  In the next paragraph it states too that there is likely to be a growth in the shipment of containers overseas – classic intermodal from rail to seaport – with containers built to “international standards”.  Each of which has proven an accurate prediction.

By 1967, work had progressed, and was even the subject of a Pathe Newsreel report, as the extract shown in the link describes: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/freight-liner-trains .  That said, the clip only shows the early “Freightliner” liveried stock being loaded onto a ferry for the Dover to Dunkirk service.  Two years earlier, the trials and testing of the liner trains with their new ‘flat cars’ was under way, as the Government had approved the funding, and in a parliamentary debate, this was what one MP commented:

“It seems to me that all those who have studied this matter are satisfied that the liner trains will succeed in attracting a very considerable volume of traffic which is now carried on the roads. They will do so only if new specialised railway vehicles are constructed for the purpose. These vehicles are now being constructed in the railway workshop at Derby, and I do not think this would be a proper time for me to have a review of the whole principle underlying the substitution of the existing stock of vehicles by these new ones.”

The discussion had centred around the obsolescence or otherwise of existing wagon designs, and some people seemed to think that the new liner train vehicles would not be interchangeable with existing types – which was of course the point in many ways.  Other goods traffic was declining, and most of the professional railwaymen, including the NUR, were very supportive of the project were anxious to press ahead.

In 1965, British Railways published a further report on the “Development of Trunk Routes”, looking ahead to the 1980s, and based on existing and forecast rail and road traffic flows.  It was also based on the location of industry – from mining to manufacturing – with the principal traffic centres of London, the West Midlands, Merseyside – Manchester – Hull, and Glasgow and around Newcastle.  But the prospects outlined could not take account of the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas reserves, or the ‘offshoring’ of most of the UK’s manufacturing, and dramatic social and economic changes that began in 1979.  

Huge investments in road transport were ongoing, with enormous expansion of the motorway network, and little if any thought of integration or collaboration.  So, the “Liner Train” concept was largely on the back burner for many years, with limited – if any innovation – in multi or intermodal services, and certainly no consideration of environmental impact.

That argument about “could transfer from road to rail” has featured prominently about rail freight services for over 50 years now, as roadrailer, pocket wagon and piggyback concepts have all come and gone.  But, maybe the intermodal services need to be looked at again now, and mimic some of the networks used by the parcel delivery companies, who themselves seem to follow the old railway marshalling yard (hubs), to regional (distribution centres) and local goods (local depot) depots mechanisms.

Currently there are 11 Freightliner depots – Cardiff, Southampton, London, Felixstowe, Birmingham, Cannock, Doncaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.  The services are now owned and operated by a company from the USA– Genesee & Wyoming Inc. – with its headquarters in Connecticut, and in 2015 the company purchased the UK’s Freightliner Group Ltd.  This separate business is a mix of the traditional bulk mineral haulage that are traditional railway fodder, and the container traffic that, at least on the surface, shows interaction between carrying goods on a flatbed lorry, and its equivalent on rail. 

The concept of intermodal – from the dockside to a depot has changed – but it appears that the majority of seaborne containers that arrive at ports are still ultimately carried on the roads, to an importer/supplier’s regional hubs and distribution centres.  The lorry’s engines may be more efficient and less polluting than before, but multiple engines are needed to carry 20 or 30 containers on a 100 mile journey from port to inland depot.  The likes of the UK’s major supermarket chain and ‘traditional’ road hauliers do run specialised long-haul trains carrying those seaborne containers, but it may be true to say there is still some way to go before a truly intermodal containerised goods traffic is operated in Britain.

47258 "Forth Ports Tilbury" at Stafford on 24/09/99.                                                            By Steve Jones from Telford, United Kingdom - 47258 at Stafford, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73194374
47258 “Forth Ports Tilbury” at Stafford on 24/09/99n on a Freightliner service. Photo: Steve Jones CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73194374

There have been many useful ideas in the past, but none have really got to grips with the obsession of road transport for long distance traffic – and is it really that convenient for business?  

-oOo-

Almost Re-Nationalisation?

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Well, well, the media have had a spectacular day today, observing and commenting on this radical reform of the railways – a new public body to oversee the running of the track, signalling, train control, stations, timetables, and ticketing, etc., etc.   Then they will be managing the awarding of contracts to train operating companies, to provide train services to those schedules – not to mention the exciting new multi-faceted tickets that (a) can be bought on the day of travel, and (b) offer greater flexibility to meet the UK’s new working arrangements.

Hmm – I guess at some point the ORR (Office of Rail & Road) will be involved in oversight too, and then up to the Transport Secretary – well done Grant Schapps.  Just a pity it took so long to start getting the rail house in order.  But who owns the trains?  Will the TOCs still lease the trains – new and old – from the ROSCo’s through the banks and investment houses?

It will be interesting to see how this develops…

Even The Guardian (to be fair they published their story on the 16th May) gets in on the act:

Huffington Post …

The broadcasters have been covering it too, even the BBC.  But this is probably going to be interesting, with the private sector’s track record and heavy subsidies, the Government’s planned budget cut may not get this new ‘arms length body’ off to a good start.  This is all part of the Williams Review – due out as a ‘White Paper’ today (Thursday) – will, like the much re-written and reviewed report, also be delayed?

The essence of this latest upheaval on the railways, which – implied if not admitted – is a failure of the whole episode of privatisation begun under John Major’s stewardship.  This is though only part nationalisation – which industry people have been calling for over many years – and the most recent impacts of the timetabling fiasco, and Northern Rail’s nightmare years have led to equally strident calls from the travelling public.

Manchester and Transport for the North have each clearly welcomed the proposal

The mainstream media have been obsessed with the introduction of Carnet style ticketing systems, which in this case amounts to a digital ticket for 8 trips in 28 days, with no pre-booking of days that you will travel.  At least one UK TOC has been offering these already, but as a physical book of single trip tickets – a sort of voucher arrangement – this latest idea is of course paperless.  Since the details of the operation of Great British Railways (GBR) have yet to be fully finalised, there is scope for a ticketing App disaster perhaps too.

That said, I believe it’s a step in the right direction, as so very clearly is brining the whole of the infrastructure and scheduling of train services under one management system. Except obviously for train operation, maintenance and maybe on-train catering, and the ownership and provision of rolling stock.

The official view:

Watch this space.

-oOo-

British Railways First Locomotive Liveries

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Following nationalisation, new and repainted locomotives continued to appear in traffic bearing the initials of their former owners, though replaced very quickly by a complete absence of any titling. This early period saw also a number of new engines built to the designs of their former owners, outshopped with their original works/builders’ plates fitted, but with the tell tale signs of having had the initials LNER, LMS, &c., removed before the locomotive went into traffic. The appearance of evidence of former ownership was very long lasting in some cases, with ‘sightings’ of a faded ‘GWR’, or ‘LMS’ being noted in the contemporary railway press of the late 1950s.

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Bulleid “West Country” pacific at Waterloo still in ex-Southern Railway colours, sporting its new 1949 BR number – but still carrying the 1948 ‘British Railways’ on the tender sides. Photo: Lens of Sutton

The full title BRITISH RAILWAYS was carried by many locomotives and numerous classes, lasting, at least officially, until the arrival in 1949 of the lion and wheel emblem, or totem as it was known.  The style of lettering adopted officially in 1949 was Gill-Sans, and had been widely used on the London Midland, Eastern, North Eastern, Scottish, and Southern Regions of BR, from 1948, although the Western Region perpetuated for a time the style of the old GWR, and some examples of former SR style on the newly formed Southern Region could also be found.

An exhibition of experimental colour schemes was held at Addison Road station in January 1948 involving a number of newly built LMR Class 5MT 4-6-0s (See Table). The first locomotive turned out with any indication of its new ownership was the WR 4-6-0 No.4946 Moseley Hall repainted in full GWR livery, but with the tender lettered BRITISH RAILWAYS using the old GWR style letters.

LMR Class 5 LiveriesOf course, it was not just locomotives that were exhibited at Addison Road, rolling stock too was displayed, with a selection of new colours, covering express passenger, suburban, and the few multiple unit types around at that time. During the first six months of 1948, the Railway Executive was concentrating equally as hard on the new image of British Railways, as with homogenising the administrative and operating procedures of the former owners.

Officially, the six regions of British Railways were colour coded from 1st May 1948, and the colours applied across most of the range of railway activity, from posters and timetables to station nameboards.

But, locomotives and rolling stock were excluded from this level of uniformity.

BR Regional colours 1948

The BTC published a series of Temporary Painting Schedules for its inhgerited motive power in late 1948 covering these experimental liveries:

1949 Liveries Table

Some of the first applications of the experimental locomotive colours were combined with similarly repainted rolling stock, and no less than 14 trains were dispatched over various routes around the country, and the public invited to comment on the new schemes. To what extent the public responded to the request is not known, and sadly, no official records of the ‘experimental’ colours now exist, other than the temporary painting schedules.The shades displayed by the locomotives came in for much retrospective comment, often incorrectly.

1949 Loco Liveries

BR’s first standard locomotive liveries, adopted from 1949 onwards. Later regional variations included some interesting changes for the Class8P passenger types in particular.

The 1948 trials brought LMS Class 5s, and GWR Kings and Castles in lined light green and lined blue, with incorrect suggestions that two different blues were used.  The appearance of the experimental colours was directly affected by the materials used. With both oleo resinous and synthetic paints applied, the latter as an alternative for the green and lined black styles, there would be perhaps appear to be differences in the colours themselves.

A4 Sir Charles Newton at York in 1950

Grelsey’s A4s certainly suited that express passenger blue – here 60005 “Sir Charles Newton” is captured at York in 1950.           Photographer unknown.

Painting of locomotives could be divided into two principal stages: Preparatory Work and Finishing Processes.

Preparatory work on complete repaints comprised a number of operations: first, a coat of primer was applied, followed by whatever stopping and filling was necessary, whilst the intermediate operations were a combination of rubbing down and undercoating. Lastly, a single coat of grey undercoat was applied, prior to the finishing processes.

The Finishing Processes took no less than three days, on the first day a single coat of sealer/undercoat was applied in the livery colour, followed by a coat of enamel/finishing paint was laid down. The second day was occupied with lining and lettering, and finally, on the third day, a coat of protective varnish was applied.

The fact that two shades of blue have been reported as ‘sightings’ in the contemporary enthusiast press could be attributed to the difference between oil based and synthetic resin paints, with the addition of extra pale varnish, or equally to the effects of cleaning. However, there was only one shade of blue, in both the experimental and early standard liveries.

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Jubilee Class 45575 “Bahamas” immaculately turned out in the standard BR lined green livery for express passenger types, sporting the 1949 ‘totem’, and shedplate for Kentish Town.     Photo: (c) G.W.Sharpe

Cab and side panelsLettering and numbering was also subject to variation and initially, this was affected by the regional management, and resulted for a time in the use of serif and non-serif characters, depending on whether Swindon, Brighton, or Crewe were completing the repaints. Plain white letters was the official order of the day for London Midland, whilst Swindon, independent to the last – and some would say beyond – offered its own elaborate style. But, in September 1948, the Railway Executive announced its standard instructions, whereby all letters and figures were to be in Gill Sans Medium normally be applied in gold or golden yellow, and where the outline was other than black, these letters and numbers were to be outlined in black. The statement went on to advocate not a standard size of engine cabside number, but the use of the largest possible figures that would fit in the available space.

And these were just the first steps in achieving what today would be described as the “brand image”, with the final decisions taking into account – to some degree – regional practices. The lion and wheel emblem (icon, logo or totem) was the brand that featured strongly in the years up to 1956, when it was replaced with a genuine heraldic ‘device’. Sadly, there are too few colour images of the locos carrying the early experimental liveries, and aside from the decision not to use blue for express passenger types, the 1949 standard colours were retained until the end of steam. (Yes, I well remember seeing an ex LMSR “Coronation” class pacific running through Preston in the late 1950s, but it was an exception).

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Castle Class 4-6-0 – probably 5079 “Lysander” on “The Cornishman” around 1950, complete with red & cream coaches. 5079 was previously converted to oil-burning in the late 1940s, but here seen back as a coal burner. Sadly not in colour, but it would be in standard lined green livery.             Photo: Lens of Sutton

Then from the late 1950s onwards, as diesel traction began to make its progress felt and heard, green became a favourite colour choice, and there were not a few variations there too.  The totem or logo changed in the mid 1950s too, and although often described as a crest, it was only the 1956 lion holding wheel crest was a proper heraldic device.  See “British Railways Locomotive Crests” for more details.

The liveries and styles carried by British Railways motive power in the steam era were very much suited to the motive power of the day, and provided that essential unification – and ‘brand image’ – that the nationalised railway network demanded.

To be continued …… 

-oOo-

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:

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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”

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

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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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