Electrification 1970s v 21st Century

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Back in 1974, British Rail completed a major electrification between Crewe and Glasgow, and introduced a new timetable on 6th May that year.  This project was planned back in the mid 1950s, with the modernisation plan, which also included both the West and  East Coast routes.  Until 1966, when the London Euston to Manchester and Liverpool was completed, cash strapped BR was forced to delay the East Coast route, but in only 8 years the remaining length of the West Coast was completed.

BR Elec News 1974Today – or rather back in 2013 – work began on electrifying the railway between London Paddington and Cardiff, and planned for completion by 2018, a distance of just 145 miles, and now it has been put back to 2024.  The decision to electrify the line was taken in 2009 by the Dept for Transport, but it was beset with management/organisational problems almost from the word go, and the National Audit Office made some critical observations. Some of these were directed at Network Rail, but equally at the DfT, inckuding this little observation in its 2016 reportModernising the Great Western Railway“:

“The Department did not produce a business case bringing together all the elements of what became the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme until March 2015. This was more than two years after ordering the trains and over a year after Network Rail began work to electrify the route.”

Comparing what was achieved in 1974, with the electrification work of major trunk routes like Glasgow to Preston and Crewe, to connect with the existing WCML wires, the time to complete this quite short route seems excessive.   The cost so far is over £5 billion, and whilst some of that is infrastructure, some includes of course the new ‘bi-mode’ trains.

Headspan Catenary Crewe to Carlisle 1973British Rail electrified 200 miles from Weaver Junction to Gretna, and Glasgow Central in just 8 years.  But it wasn’t just electrification back then, since there was considerable rebuilding and remodelling of trackwork, raising or replacing bridges, and resignalling throughout from London to Glasgow.  The overall cost was £74 million in 1970s prices, or approximately £1 billion today.

Another publication from BR at the time was “Electric All The Way”, which included these interesting comments relating to service improvements to and from Preston:

“The new pattern of services between London and Glasgow introduced on May 6 1974, provides passengers travelling to and from stations between Carlisle and Warrington on the newly electrified portion of the Anglo-Scottish route with more high-speed trains. Preston-Glasgow services have more than doubled, from seven to 15 daily, with an average reduction in journey time of almost one hour.  Preston-London trains have been increasedfrom 12 to 19.”

“Faster journey times and improved connections at Oxenholme for Windermere make the Lake District more easily accessible from all centres on the electrified route.”

So how many high-speed trains from Preston to Glasgow today, and how many southbound?

The introduction of the “Electric Scots” also saw the arrival of Britain’s most powerful AC electric locomotives – the Class 87.  Built by BREL workshops, and powered by GEC Traction equipment.

Class 87 at Preston copy

Class 87 at Preston in original 1970s livery

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Out of use at Crewe, Class 87 in final BR livery

10 years later work began on electrifying the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, which was completed in 1992, also completed in 8 years – clearly building on the experience and skills gained on the West Coast.  Some sections of the East Coast route were actually completed 12 months earlier than planned – London Kings Cross to Leeds for example.

Here again, the ECML saw the introduction of a nother new form of high-speed motive power, this time from the GEC Traction stable, and codenamed “Electra”, the Class 91 marked perhaps the zenith of British electric traction design.

gec076 copyWhy can’t we organise this as effectively today as happened in the 1970s and 1980s?  

Interesting Reads:

 

 

 

Towards Nationalisation

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The ‘Big Four’ railway companies had all been under state control during the Second World War, and largely expected to return to private ownership and pre-war operation and management from 1945. However, the political landscape changed radically with a Labour Government in office, and the cultural and social impact of the war had dramatically affected the mood of everyone.

Although it had been something of a struggle, from Herbert Morrison’s early speeches in late 1945 to Parliament to outline how the process would bring all inland transport within public ownership.

An interesting comment made by him in November 1945 is worth recalling:

“It is the intention of the Government to introduce, during the life of the present Parliament, Measures designed to bring transport services, essential to the economic well-being of the nation, under public ownership and control.”

Unsurprisingly, the Government’s official opposition were obviously against the idea, and supported the ‘Big Four’ railway companies campaign against nationalisation. In parliament they were accused of obstructing and delaying tactics to try and prevent its passage. One commentator suggesting that if the Government did not use parliamentary procedures to limit the time for debate, it would be years and not months before any progress could be made.

Given the economic state of Britain in the late 1940s, this would be very damaging to post-war recovery.

The LMS and the other companies were actively campaigning against nationalisation, and in March 1946, amongst many other questions in Parliament, there were questions about how the then subsidies paid to the LMS would be prevented from campaigning against state ownership.

HC Deb 12 March 1946 vol 420 c202W

H. Hynd asked the Minister of War Transport whether he is taking steps to ensure that the L.M.S. Railway Company’s campaign against the Government’s nationalisation policy will not be financed from profits that would otherwise accrue to the State under the Railway Control Agreement.

Barnes Expenditure incurred by the railway companies for the purpose in question would be charged to their own funds and would not fall upon the Control Account.

The companies had all contributed to a document – which might be called both a publicity booklet – and, the start of that campaign. This is what it said in its introduction:

In their conclusion at the end of the booklet describing how well they’ve achieved efficiencies and continued to operate services during wartime they stated:

Conclusion

Clearly, the ‘Big Four’ believed they would be best placed to take the business forward, despite the massively damaged economy, ongoing rationing, general economic stagnation, and shortage of all kinds of materials, products and most importantly, shortage of people.

In December 1946, as the Transport Bill was being given its second reading, the government position was exemplified in an interesting comment made by Mr Strauss the Transport Minister’s right hand man:

“…. suggest that we are, in this Measure, adopting the only solution that is capable of resolving the deep economic conflict within this industry.”

The Transport Act 1947 received the “Royal Assent” on 6th August 1947, and on 30th December 1947, the Manchester Guardian’s carried this interesting reflection from its “Special Correspondent”:  State Ownership of Railways

The aim was clearly for an integrated transport system, a view reinforced by a prominent “railway MP” and former railwayman – Walter Monslow – the MP for Barrow-in-Furness. Writing in the ASLE&F magazine “Locomotive Journal” in February 1947 he quoted the English philosopher John Stuart Mill:

“Countries which, at a given moment are not masters of their own transport, will be condemned to ruin in the economic struggles of the future.”

Loco Journal Cover - Feb 1947

Walter Monslow Article - Feb 1947 ASLE&F

Since 1948, the development of Britain’s rail network has undergone many changes, many technological, and quite a few operational and economic, but the goal of an integrated system has never been achieved. If anything since 1991, the country has seen ‘disintegration’ of transport, and with a private operator having to balance its public service, with responsibilities to shareholders, had the ‘Big Four’ taken over again in 1948, it is doubtful if progress would have been made easily.

Now that we have seen the impact of a return to private operations, and the lack of integration across transport, both within and beyond rail operations, I wonder what John Stuart Mill – once described as “the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 19th century” would have to say about that in the 21st Century.

-oOo-

 

British Railways: Interchange Trials 1948

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

City of Glasgow on 1st Caledonian 17th June 1957

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

RPB 220_Lens of Sutton

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

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

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

Stanier 8F nearing Dalton in 2008

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

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

Further reading

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

Interchange Trials - cover

Useful Links:

National Archive – Report of the Locomotive Testing Committee

RM Web – The 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials – Discussions

1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials

BR’s First Year (The Spectator)

Loco Interchange Trials 1948 (Rly Mag)

The Northern Nightmare – An Insoluble Puzzle?

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

Source: North West v. North East (Guardian)

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

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

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

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

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

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

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

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

-oOo-

 

English Electric – A Centenary Appreciation

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In 1918 one of the UK and world’s most famous engineering companies was born – The English Electric Company Limited. In the year of its formation, it acquired the Coventry Ordnance Works Ltd., and the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company Ltd.; most importantly though – the shares of Dick, Kerr & Co. were exchanged for shares in the new business. At the time of its formation, it was fast becoming Britain’s major manufacturer in electrical technology, especially in tramways, light railways and general electrical engineering.

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Prototype ‘Deltic’ – perhaps the most famous of English Electric’s diesels in the erecting shop, alongside locos for South Africa and BR shunters, amongst others.                      Photo (c) RPB/GEC Traction Collection

English Electric went on to become one of the most famous engineering companies that the UK had ever seen, and covering every conceivable product from railway locomotives, to household products, jet aircraft to computers. Its zenith was perhaps achieved in the 1950s, and the only possible comparison in the 21st Century would be if you added BAe Systems, IBM, and Siemens together.

English Electric went on to research, design, and develop products in all of the markets that those three companies are working in today.

In 1918 the new company had a capital of £3 million, and the board represented other major industries, from the Great Easter, London & North Western and Great Northern railways, to shipbuilders such as Harland & Wolff, John Brown and Cammell Laird. Announcing this new business in the January 3rd issue of The Railway Gazette, commenting:

“… the company will be one of the three principal electrical manufacturing concerns in this country.”

Something of an understatement perhaps, but with Dudley Docker’s achievements with the soon to arrive “Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co.” a year or so later, competition was strong in the aftermath of the First World War.

Head office was in Preston, and English Electric and the town would become almost synonymous, but the works along both sides of Strand Road existed because of the arrival of Dick, Kerr & Co. from Kilmarnock. Dick, Kerr’s was the first British company to specialise in tramways and tramcar building, and in 1897 bought the old works and land on the west side of Strand Road, to establish the “Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Ltd.”, which was registered on 25th April 1898.

Dick Kerr & English Electric Works, Strand Road, Preston. Aerial Image, May 1951 copy

Aerial view of English Electric Preston works in 1951     Photo (c) BAE Systems

 

Such was the company’s success; they needed extra space, which was provided by building on land on the opposite side of Strand Road, to form the English Electric Manufacturing Co., in November 1899. The first time the words “English Electric” had appeared, and although Dick, Ker’s had spawned the new factory, the two works were managed as separate companies.

The tram building works manufactured their own trucks or bogies to fit under the tramcar bodies they built, but would also fit trucks from Brill or Peckham if the customer requested.   The works on the East side of Strand Road concentrated on making the electrical machinery alone, from traction motors, to switchgear and control equipment.

Just after the turn of the century, in 1903, the English Electric Manufacturing Co. amalgamated with Dick, Kerr & Co., whilst three years later, the works on the West side of Strand Road had its name changed to the “United Electric Car Co.”.

So at the outbreak of the First World War, Dick, Kerr’s works occupied one side of Strand Road, and the United Electric Car Co. the other. During the war, Dick Kerr’s built mainly shells, and employed over 8,000 people, whilst United Electric built wagons, shells, and even flying boats, with the workforce rising from around 600 to 800, to over 1,200.

The next major event occurred in 1917, and propelled the company towards its final form. In that year, Dick, Kerr & Co. obtained financial control of United Electric, and laid the foundation for English Electric Co., which finally appeared 100 years ago. Some 10 years later, this is what the Preston Works looked like:

EE Works Preston - 1926 copy

A plan of the Dick, Kerr Works in 1926

There is more to English Electric’s story than Preston Works, but this where it all began.

English Electric achieved many ‘firsts’, but even before the company began business in 1919, the Preston Works had equipped Britain’s first main line electrification between Liverpool Exchange Station and Crossens/Southport.   Dick, Kerr’s electrified this with a third rail system at 600V d.c., and the rolling stock constructed by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway themselves, at Horwich and Newton Heath.

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English Electric/Dick Kerr’s first major electrification – the Liverpool to Southport line.  The first of many.                                                                                                                                           Photo: RPB/GEC Traction Collection

From a business point of view, the English Electric Co. Ltd., was established in 1918, and a spate of mergers followed quickly, as the demand for the new technology rapidly grew, both at home and abroad.

English Electric were pioneers and innovators in rail traction, electrical technology, computing, wireless and telecoms, until their protracted demise following the great GEC-AEI takeover some 50 years ago. Ironically 1968 too was a watershed year in the electrical industry in Britain.

The last owners and inhabitants of the Strand Road Works in Preston were of course Alstom, and the cliché of ‘end of an era’ was never so true as the factory is to close in July 2018, just over 120 years since Dick, Kerr & Co. set up the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Ltd.

Rail Technology Magazine – Alstom To Close Preston Site

BBC News: Alstom To Close Preston Site

-oOo-

The Great North Rail Project

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As part of Network Rail’s £1 billion, 25-year “Railway Upgrade Plan” there are 7 projects that form the  “Great North Rail Project” sub-project which is intended to be complete by 2022 – only 4 years from now.  They include:

  • Liverpool City Region upgrade
  • Manchester to Preston improvements
  • Preston to Blackpool North
  • Transpennine Route upgrade
  • West Yorkshire signalling upgrade
  • Ordsall Chord
  • Calder Valley improvements

These seven projects are highlighted as the infrastructure improvements in the north of England.  Fair enough, Network Rail doing infrastructure work – but these projects seem to suggest Network Rail may be providing new trains – in particular there is a reference to those trains as part of the “Railway Upgrade Plan”.

The key benefits include longer, faster, more frequent trains; a better, more reliable infrastructure; and better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.

To be fair, and maybe I am being picky but isn’t it the job of the rolling stock leasing companies to buy and offer the new trains to the train operating companies – Transpennine, Northern Rail, etc. – not Network Rail.  Or perhaps since the physical infrastructure is being upgraded, is this going to be a first step towards re-nationalisation?

However, amongst the key projects of this grand plan, electrification is being progressed – yet not in the North.  The new “Azuma” trains have already encountered a problem, since the East Coast Main Line franchise is soon to be terminated, so they may not enter service at all, or be delayed, or under a publicly owned railway.  Similarly, Network Rail indicate that HS2 is one of their key projects – but I thought this was another privately funded scheme.

So where are we today?  There is still a lot of infrastructure work to be completed before Blackpool can be reached by a new electric train service, and Liverpool Lime Street is being closed in the summer for a couple of months, and the Chorley “Flying Arches” appear to be uplifted.

Here are a few snaps of work in progress in the North West:

 

 


Not so High Speed Northern Rail

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Last month (November), the Government published its vision paper on rail, entitled Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail”, extolling the virtues of the latest UK plans for ‘modernising” the rail infrastructure and services. It sets great store by the increased investment already made, against the backdrop of ever increasing passenger numbers, much of which is accurate.

At the same time it makes some bizarre statements about cuts in journey times of 15 minutes between Liverpool and Manchester that are simply not borne out by facts. Here’s what it says on page 21 of the published document:

  • “2.18  This investment in rail networks in the North of England has already delivered improvements, with the fastest journey between Liverpool and Manchester cut by 15 minutes, new direct services between Manchester Airport and Glasgow, and Manchester Victoria station upgraded. 
”

It carefully avoids any comparison with a figure for earlier years, so we are left to wonder if they mean the journey is 15 minutes quiker compared with 1947, 1957, or 1977.

However, comparing this claim between the timings for 2017 with those of the 1972 timetable – 45 years ago! – the fastest journey time is only 6 minutes quicker, and in 1972, there was still a lot of steam age legacy infrastructure and systems in place.

This is 2017

Liverpool to Manchester 2017

Fastest Journey Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester (Piccadilly / Victoria)

 

1972 - 2017 TimingsThe fastest services in 1972 were operated as ‘Inter-City’, with this example of a weekday service leaving Lime Street at 08:35, and arriving at Piccadilly 51 minutes later. Today’s service has only 1 more stop, at Wavertree Technology Park, a new station, and yet only manages a 6 minute reduction in journey time.

Still it is quicker, and yes, I am being picky!

This is 1972

Overall, the ideas suggested include work that has already been done, and work that might get completed. With the cancellation of electrification in the north earlier this year, in favour of Crossrail 2, I’m not holding my breath.

Investment in new trains as well as new technology is and has been long overdue, but to keep referencing HS2 in this ‘vision’ paper does not cut the mustard if the DfT want to demonstrate a commitment to rail services. Changes to franchising are perhaps just adding ever more complexity and ‘red tape’ to a privatisation scheme that has not offered a major performance – both operationally and economically – improvement to the UK’s network. The UK is still, after 25+ years of a ‘privatised railway’, still subsidising train operating companies.

Ah well, let’s see what happens next.

-oOo-