Electric Traction Revolution?

Standard

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!

Useful Links:

 

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 

-oOo-

 

 

 

The Premier Line

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RPBRLY-36

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

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

Hardwicke - large_NRM_CT_936889

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

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

Greater Britain 2-2-2-2 Compound

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

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

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

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

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

LNWR Coach Montage

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

Lens of Sutton - LNWR 4-6-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RPB COLLECTION3-79 copy

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

-oOo-

Useful Links:

 

LNWR Society Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 11.38.37

Science Museum Group

Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 11.43.42

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rail Review – Root & Branch or a Fig Leaf?

Standard

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

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

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

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

The appointed Chair of the review, Keith Williams said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-oOo-

 

 

British Railways Locomotive Crests

Standard

1949 – 1956

BR LIVERIES 4 copyThe first BR crest was something of a misnomer, since it implies a heraldic device, and this it most certainly was not. It was a symbol devised by the Railway Executive of the British Transport Commission for use on its locomotives, and was referred to as a “totem”, and as such British Railways was entitled to display it in whatever manner they chose, The ‘directive’ issued stated that it should face FORWARD on BOTH SIDES of locomotives. There was no question of the College of Heralds being involved, since it was not a heraldic device.

In this respect therefore, the contemporary literature is correct, particularly the reprint of the “Railway Pictorial
 and Locomotive Review” brochure from July 1949,which in reference to the general details and planned applications is correct. This is also borne out in photographs 
of the period. I have not yet come across any with the crest facing the rear of the locomotive on the right hand side.

1949 Cab side numbers1949 cabside number layout

1949 Loco Liveries

1949 locomotive livery colours and lining

The first colours and lettering remained in place until the end of steam traction, with the exception of the blue livery for express passenger types. In the early 1960s, regional variations in colours occurred, but the only major change in totem, crest or logo took place in 1956, before the corporate style with the double arrow totem appeared everywhere until, and in some cases after privatization.

1956 – 1968

The second style of crest was a heraldic device, and registered as such with the College of Heralds. Or, more precisely, the College of Arms in England, and the Lyon court in Scotland. The badge comprised a demi-lion rampant (not a lion and mangle wheel, or even a ferret and dartboard!!) – the British Lion, holding between the paws a silver locomotive wheel.

IMG_1630 copyThe lion was issuant from an heraldic crown of gold on which were arranged the rose, (for England) the thistle (for Scotland) the leek (for Wales), completed by an oak leaf representing all Great Britain. The whole was enclosed in a gold circle and flanked by the words “British Railways” in serif gold lettering. The design was prepared in consultation with Dr. C.A.H.Franklyn. The first locomotive to display the new crest was BR Standard Class 7MT No. 70016 “Ariel” at Marylebone Station on 21st June 1956.

IMG_1630

Stanier 4MT No. 42073 at Haverthwaite, sporting the final BR livery and crest for steam traction.  (c) Rodger Bradley

Quite a number of’ locomotives were turned out
 in 1956/7 with the crest facing forward on both sides, which would suggest that an assumption was made on the part of the depot
 staff that its application on a locomotive was to be the same as the earlier 1949 “totem” – with the lion always facing forward. 
Not all depots would have made that assumption, obviously, hence
 there were only a small number of locomotives turned out with the crests facing forward on both sides. The College of Heralds/Arms were quick to point out that wherever any part of the achievement was used, the lion must be heraldically correct, consequently the lion was always supposed to face left. I was going to state ALWAYS. FACED LEFT, but this would not strictly be correct, since there are numerous photos illustrating crests facing forward on the right hand side, i.e;
 the lion would be right facing.

RPB COLLECTION2-5 copy

Classic BR in the late 1950s, early 1960s, as 46207 passes through Rugby with a down express.    (c) RPB Collection

These notes relate to the circumstances of application of the crests and the change(s) insisted on by the heraldic authorities when crests were applied incorrectly for a short period. It is not possible to state, at-the time of writing, the precise dates when the “change” referred to in the 1956 crests was insisted upon by the authorities concerned.

Hall at Buckasfleigh 1990 - RPB copy 2

The post 1956 crest is facing the right way in this shot of preserved ex-GWR Castle Class No. 7027 “Thornbury Castle” at Buckfastleigh in 1990.  (c) Rodger Bradley

The obvious suggestion to be made is that since the application of new paint schemes, insignia, etc., was so much in the public eye, it would not be unreasonable to EXPECT a maximum time limit for “regular” mis-application of the new 1956 transfers to be in the vicinity of SIX MONTHS; from
 between June and December 1956. References to the new crest are contained in the “Railway Observer” for July 1956. It has not so
far proved possible to locate any reference to the “changes”. No such difficulties apply to the earlier crest used between 1949 and 1956, and the principally correct reference source is the one mentioned.

Again, contemporary photographs of the later crest can be found in either private collections, or albums, or the principal magazines of the period, including a number of photographic books. In particular, the “Railway Magazine” and “Trains Illustrated” for 1956/7.

Leander_Dalton_2018_3781

Preserved Jubilee passing Dalton-in-Furness with an eastbound special in 2018.  The lined black looks good on this loco with the 1949 totem, but most of the class received the lined green livery.  (c) Rodger Bradley

-oOo-

BBC thinks British Rail Did Not Work?

Standard

On the BBC’s Breakfast show today a comment was made when interviewing a representative from the “We Own It” campaign group and a Rail Delivery Group spokesman.

Screenshot 2019-04-30 at 11.22.12The interview at Birmingham New Street Station was reviewing a proposal by the RDG to end the current rail franchising arrangements.

The idea is patently going to be considered under the Government review. But during the interviews, this comment was made in closing the piece:

“We know British Rail did not work”

A clearly absurd statement – quite apart from being factually incorrect.

Whilst British Rail had many problems, it is plainly the UK privatisation model that has failed. The proposal from the RDG about “localising” control and regulation of commuter and suburban services is just regurgitating the PTE formats set up during BR days.

Half baked schemes – like open access services – are just that, half baked. These latest suggestions just seem to add complexity to an already complex and badly managed arrangement.

Disappointing from the BBC – what next, repeat the myth about curly sandwiches on trains and in refreshment rooms?!!

-oOo-

So You Want To Be An Engine Driver?

Standard

When I was younger, like all teenagers there were so many options for careers in industry, engineering, and of course railways that were on offer, and amongst those was working on the railway – British Railways. Not everyone wanted to be on the footplate, and there were equally as many options for work across the industry in workshops, research, design, train control, telecoms, and later even computing.

In 1948, at the start of the BR era, the railways employed 648,740 staff at every level, and although only 3 years later this had fallen to 599,980, BR was still one of the biggest employers. In the early 1950s, traffic levels for passenger and freight was fairly stable, and modernisation had yet to start, there were the traditional footplate occupations, and engineering apprenticeships to encourage young people to join.

From 1948, until the late 1960s, BR produced a series of booklets, summarising what the railways did, and what jobs, training, progression, and health and social facilities were offered to the potential new recruits.

The 1950s

These booklets carried the same title throughout:

br 1953 booklet cover

 

The wording of the 1953 booklet, produced just 5 years after nationalisation has some fascinating phrases, especially when compared with later editions, take this statement entitled: “Our General Policy”, for example:

Our policy is:-

  • To give safe, speedy, dependable railway service at reasonable cost.
  • To give the staff good wages, security, and conditions as good as is reasonably possible.
  • To make British Railways pay their way.

The last point might seem, in the face of all the negative publicity to be a wish rather than a policy statement, but BR did pay its way in the 1950s, and indeed, in later years, and was not the economic disaster some claim. In 1953, Sir John Elliot’s introductory remarks included:

1953 quote 1

1953 quote 2

This same booklet just a few pages later urges new recruits to learn the routes of the railway system, and notes that the new starts own region contained maybe 3,000 route miles, or maybe more. Luckily the booklet came complete with a map of the entire system.

Some interesting cartoons were included, such as this one:

cheerful obedience cartoon

Hmm – “Cheerful obedience” eh? Maybe some of the old companies’ management styles were still around – I gather on the Western Region, railway staff were still referred to as the company’s servants. I know it sounds a bit odd to us nowadays, but despite the enormous changes taking place in the post-war society, some aspects took a while to die off.

Facts about BR for the new recruit in 1953

According to this booklet, total staff would be six times as many as went to an FA cup final match, or if all the steam locomotives were coupled together in a single continuous line, they would stretch from London to Cardiff, or Liverpool to Hull. On that same note, apparently:

“The total miles run by our locomotives in a year would be equal to about 21,500 times round the earth.”

“The tonnage of freight which starts a journey every working day on British Railways is nearly ten times the tonnage of the Queen Mary.”

Amongst numerous other facts, although the idea that any new sleepers used annually if placed end to end would form a plank between London and Calcutta (Kolkata today), seems an odd one.

1953 jobs montage

The remainder of this booklet goes on to describe how the all six regions work, from signalmen, ticket collectors, lorry drivers, permanent way gangs, booking office and control office staff, station porters to workshops staffed by fitters, plumbers, electricians, etc. There are several pages about opportunity, either promotion within a department, or moving to another role somewhere else, but there is a particularly interesting comment about the influence of the private companies practice over the nationalised system. It was stated that it may not mean anything to the new start, but the old practices were still in place in almost everything said or done in 1953.

Maybe that was partly to blame for the Western Region’s enthusiasm a few years later for its chocolate and cream (ex GWR) livery on main line rolling stock, and its ultimately failed attempt to use hydraulic transmission systems for diesel locomotives.

Training was emphasised, along with opportunities for further education such as day release, or night school, for many engineering or craft apprentices. These training options lasted well into the 1970s, and have only recently seemed to die out – perhaps as Britain’s engineering industry began its long, slow decline.

Paragraphs about, pay security, recreation and welfare made up the remainder of the booklet, with details of the grading system, and arrangements, and the ever popular staff magazines and notices. The concluding paragraph sums up the BR approach – at least at policy making level – to the running of the railways:

1953 conclusion quote

conclusion cartoon 1953

Some of these ideas, policies, and practices changed significantly over the years, for a new starter on British Railways, and later British Rail. A decade later, the same booklet was produced, but this time, with a foreword by the then chairman of the British Railways Board – Dr Richard Beeching.

The 1960s

1963 cover image

The change in tone from the tone of the introductory remarks in the 1953 edition is quite marked.

The language of Dr Beeching’s introductory remarks in 1963, showed that difference, and focussed on the changing times, and the upheaval in operations. The first sentence seems quite a contrast to the paternal, family friendly style of a decade earlier:

1963 quote 1

The brevity was continued:

“The organisation that changes is the organisation that lives, and British Railways are going to change fast to match the changing needs of the times.”

His last comment seemed to suggest the ‘new’ organisation wanted only those recruits who were able to bring or develop the skills needed to make and sustain technological change – with the carrot of promotion dangled much more obviously:

1963 quote 3

Fascinating, still generally paternal in approach, but now with little reference to public service, or stability. Perhaps rightly reflecting the very dramatic changes that Beeching and Marples brought to the railways, using the hook of new technology and promotion for those ‘bright minds’. The comment he made about needing to … “ design and operate new equipment” …. Suggested the door was closing on the old style railway workshops as engineering education and apprenticeships.

[15 railway workshops were closed between 1962 and 1966, with the loss of more than 12,000 jobs, but despite this, BR still managed to recruit apprentices, and the engineering skills were maintained and grown – for a time.]

There was clearly a theme that reflected the change that BR was undergoing, and technological progress was affecting the available career options, whether in engineering, traffic, or administrative roles. The prospect of secure employment on the railways was seen as diminishing, and yet BR was actively developing and inventing technology that is still in service today, and not just in the UK. BR was also still active in ferries and coastal shipping in the early 1960s, and operated cross-channel hovercraft services under the “Seaspeed” label, in partnership with SNCF.

So, yes, there were still prospects for those ‘bright minds’, but by the 1970s, with the exception of the ill-fated APT, and the extension of electrification from Crewe to Glasgow – as promised in the 1950s, things were beginning to slow down.

Jobs for the Boys

There were still jobs for the boys, with the occasional reference to women in clerical and secretarial roles in these “Welcome” booklets, and this gender divide was certainly in evidence in this 1961 edition, which opened with this comment:

extract from 1961 booklet_1
That said, women were shown in these booklets in their stereotypical roles of the day, such as these examples from 1961 & 1963:

Each of these introductory booklets showed the layout of BR’s regions, and included a much larger map of the whole network, and perhaps that too, along with the free and ‘privilege’ travel, seen as an inducement to an adventurous career on the railway. The list of contents was equally wide ranging, and this is typical:

Regional Variations

There were regional variations of these booklets too, and the example below is from the London Midland, and dates from 1961. The cover would look particularly patronising today, but as it is important to say, that was how society at work and play expressed its opinions on roles.

special for boys - lmr 1960s

This particular booklet was issued by the LMR’s Traffic Department, and obviously focused on the roles that operated the trains. This included a variety of jobs from cleaner, through the other footplate roles, and you could start as telephonists, junior porters, messengers and letter sorters.

Pay & Conditions

In 1953, statements about pay were included in a section marked “WE and YOU”, which had become “Rewards and conditions” by 1963, but in both examples, the rates were agreed in negotiations with the trades unions. This included basic hours of duty, and overtime payments when necessary at a higher rate. The actual hours had changed too in the 1950s, and the ‘guaranteed week’ of 44 hours had been reduced to a 42 hour week by 1963 – for what was then called “wages grades”.

There was a mention of “Security” in 1953, which is not mentioned in later editions. However, the security refers more to the value of the “guaranteed week” – clearly no longer available to anyone on a “zero hours contract” in 2019 – and to sick pay and other “benevolent funds”. For BR’s new recruits in 1963 this was referred to under “Pensions and sick pay”.

1960s wages list - full

Looking at the wages in the above list from 1966, it is difficult to relate to what this meant in practical terms, but a great deal of information provided to new starts covered pay, promotion routes, duties, responsibilities, health and safety, leisure and recreation. I wonder how much of that remains in place for many businesses today.

-oOo-

 

Is UK Rail Privatisation Just a Fake?

Standard

As I’m sure we all know, back in the early 1990s, the EU attempted to increase competition in the rail industry through a directive, which was, designed to separate train operations from infrastructure support and maintenance. Not an unreasonable idea we might think, especially as all of our rail networks in Europe started out as private businesses, which owned and operated the trains as well as the track.

Most countries opted to “privatise” by simply creating two separate companies – one to run the trains, the other to manage the physical infrastructure. In Britain, we carried this much further and created that simple, single entity managing the track, but created many separate train operating companies. Not only that, but the rolling stock and motive power was transferred to another group of private businesses – the rolling stock companies – that leased these back to the train operators.

Things were equally complex when it came to fixing track, and general repairs and upkeep of the infrastructure, where various subcontractors in the supply chain offered civil and mechanical engineering services, and often with more than one company competing for a contract. I imagine in any business, when multiple suppliers and multiple contracts are involved for either the same, or ongoing maintenance work, managing those suppliers can be a heavy cost burden on the business.

The overall idea that the degree of fragmentation applied to a single business – i.e. running a train on a piece of track from ‘A’ to ‘B’ – could reduce operating costs, through increased competition to provide goods and services is clearly false.

Passenger Rail Operations in the UK Today

In 2017/2018, there were 23 – well 24, but one of these lost their licence to run trains in the summer of 2018 – train operating companies (TOCs) across the UK rail network. Some passenger services were transferred to the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and then there were the old PTE style operations for metropolitan areas like London and Manchester.   All of these train operating companies received some form of subsidy from central government, part of which is the network charge, to cover their share of costs relating to the fixed infrastructure, with the rest a payment to run services. In the majority of cases the income charged through ticketing, whether regulated, off peak, peak, or any other form, does not cover the costs of franchising.

Some of the operators’ do not of course get franchises awarded, or are contracted to provide services by franchise from central government. These are either ‘open access’ operators – who run trains on specific routes if and when timetable paths permit – whilst others simply run from one station stop to another, such as the Heathrow Express or Gatwick Express. On top of this there are of course the cross channel Eurostar services, which do not have a franchise agreement with the UK government, and is owned and operated by its French, Belgian and Hermes Investment Co owners.

Of course we still subsidise the railways – and not just the state owned arms length business of Network Rail – but it is interesting to compare just how much taxpayers have contributed, both before and after privatisation. The graph below simply shows direct government grants to support the passenger rail business, and it does not include some aspects of the Railtrack/Network Rail, or project funding:

central gov grants

It looks as though the government managed to stop subsidising passenger rail operations in 2010/11 – but then, there is more to operating a rail network than just running a few trains from A to B. The total government support also has to include support for major projects – Crossrail, HS1, HS2, etc., and the graph below shows just how much has been centrally funded over the same time period. As before, starting from a low base in the 1980s:

total gov support

The list below is just an example of how much some of the current TOCs received in 2017/18 to run services, both with and without the “Network Support Grant” that is due to Network Rail:

table 1

Looking at the above, there is a 50:50 split between profitable and loss-making operations. But only if you leave out the subsidy paid to each operator to cover the infrastructure (network) support and maintenance where they run their trains. If you include the network support grant element, none of the operators in the list above generates positive figures. So, do we accept that separating infrastructure from operations has not really improved either cost of services or performance, but simply shown that some regional rail services are just more expensive to run than others? No real change from the 1960s, 70s, or even in the 1980s when investment levels were really poor.

includes network support

excluding net support

The past couple of years has seen a lot of controvwersy over extending, cancelling or re-bidding for various franchises, and some of the existing franchises will not end for another 6 years. Subsidies for the TOCs look set to continue for some time according to the Dept. For Transport’s Franchise Schedule.

Is this still the right way to run our railways?

-oOo-