The Premier Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardwicke - large_NRM_CT_936889

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

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

Greater Britain 2-2-2-2 Compound

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

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

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

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

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

LNWR Coach Montage

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

Lens of Sutton - LNWR 4-6-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-oOo-

Useful Links:

 

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Rail Review – Root & Branch or a Fig Leaf?

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

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

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

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

The appointed Chair of the review, Keith Williams said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-oOo-

 

 

More Named Trains That Got Away

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Another collection of named trains that had long histories, and which have long since disappeared, could be found on British Railway Western Region, running out of Paddington to Penzance, South Wales, and even Birkenhead on Merseyside in the 1950s and 1960s. Leafing through a copy of the 1961 timetable, no less than 18 such services were listed, one of which – “The Pines Express” – was also operated in concert with London Midland Region, whilst others covered the West Midlands, South and North Wales.

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No. D600 ‘Active’, the very first ‘Warship’ class Diesel-hydraulic, struggling up Dainton Bank with the ‘Royal Duchy’, near Newton Abbot in South Devon.. The train is the 13.30 Paddington – Penzance. (c) Ben Brooksbank Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

In South Wales, international services operated to Fishguard for Ireland, along with numerous cross-country trains to Chester, Liverpool, and further north to Durham and Newcastle.

As on other regions of British Railways, the naming of principal expresses was reinstated after the Second World War, and some new names were introduced, whilst others were withdrawn, then reinstated and dropped again. In 1961 the Western Region listed these:

WR Titled Trains 1961

BR Western Region Named Trains 1961 2 copyOf these 21 trains, more than half had disappeared by 1970, with no fewer than 7 being stripped of their title in 1965 including the third oldest – “The Torbay Express” – which had been operational since 1923. Three more disappeared in 1967, including the “Birmingham Pullman”, one of the newest prestige trains, and which had been operated using the “Blue Pullman” sets, built by Metro-Cammell only a few years before.

Far and away the oldest surviving named train in 1961 was, of course, the “Cornish Riviera Express”. In 1904, this was the first train booked to run non-stop to Plymouth, and was perhas the most prestigious of GWR trains, a status it carried through to BR days, with some of the most powerful steam locomotives of their day. From “City” class 4-4-0s like “City of Truro”, through to Churchward’s revolutionary designs from the “Star” class 4-6-0s, to “Castle” and “King” class. In BR days the latest, and unique “Warship” also hauled this train, together with “Western” class diesel-hydraulic locos and later still, HST sets. The Hitachi Class 802 Bi-mode trains now ply this same route. A service seemingly at the cutting edge of technology.

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Diesel-hauled Down ‘Torbay Express’ approaches Southall Station. View east, towards London Paddington; ex-GWR Paddington – Reading etc. main line. By 1960 main-line Diesel-Hydraulics were handling many of the principal Western Region expresses. Here No. D823 ‘Hermes’, a Swindon-built 2,200hp Type 4 B-B (introduced 8/58), is heading the 12.30 West of England express from Paddington, having just passed Southall Locomotive Depot, seen in the distance with the branch from Brentford coming up on the right. (c) Ben Brooksbank by CC BY-SA 2.

The schedule from the outset was tight, but after opening the shorter route via the “Westbury Cutoff” in 1906, it was possible to speed up the service to the west, with a start from Paddington at 10:30am, arrival at Plymouth was set for 2:37pm. Looking at the 1961 timings, these timings were still in force more than 50 years later. In the up direction, Paddington was reached from Penzance in 6hrs 40mins, with a 10:00am departure. The arrival at Paddington in 1961 was 4:40pm, which was only 5 minutes quicker than for most of its life.

Two trains that I remember seeing regularly were “The Royal Duchy” and “The Mayflower”, both destined to run from Paddington to the West Country, with the “Royal Duchy” starting life in January 1955, but needing consent from the Queen to carry the name. In the down direction, the train left Paddington for Penzance at 1:30pm, taking 7 ½ hours to reach Penzance, whilst in the up direction, Penzance departure was 11:05am, arriving at Paddington by 7:10pm. In the early evening, the down “Mayflower” left Paddington for Plymouth at 5:00pm, for a 10:20pm arrival, and in the up direction, Plymouth departure was 8:30am, with a 1:25pm arrival in Paddington.

Both of these trains carried headboards with the coats of arms of the Duchy of Cornwall, and the services received their names in te same year that the Western Region began to repaint its rolling stock in chocolate and cream. This individuality shown by the region, with its reference back to the former Great Western Railway lasted just over a decade, before the being consigned to history. The services carried on, but the names assigned to prestige trains like these were dropped in large numbers in the 1960s.

Cornishman BR Western Region Named Train 1961 14The West Country was served in total by 8 of these prestigious expresses, one of which “The Cornishman” originated in Wolverhampton – at least the BR service which was given the name officially in 1952. In fact, this had originally been a London to Penzance train, towards the end of the GWR’s ‘Broad Gauge’ period, starting life in 1890, and prior to the “Cornish Riviera Express” was the fastest GWR service to the far west. Starting from Paddington at 10:15am, Penzance was reached over the last miles of Brunel’s broad gauge tracks by 6:57pm – but this was before the ‘Westbury Cutoff’ and the route was via Bristol. After 1904, this particular service ceased to carry a name.

For the summer timetables of 1952, British Railways re-introduced the name for what was essentially a cross-country express from the West Midlands to the South West, taking in Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cheltenham, Bristol and Penzance. In 1961, the train was still using Wolverhampton Low Level and Birmingham Snow Hill, for the down service, staring at 9:00am, through Cheltenham and Gloucester at 11:02am and 11:20am respectively. From Bristol at 12:15, the “Cornishman” made Plymouth at 3:15pm and finally, Penzance at 5:55pm.

Bristolian BR Western Region Named Train 1961One of the last of the West Country express services that was started before the Second World War was “The Bristolian”, which was initiated by the GWR in 1935, as a tribute to the centenary of the company. The GWR was proposed in the 1830s to link the cities of London and Bristol, and the new service was intended to link the two cities in as short a time as possible. In 1935, this was set at 105 minutes, some 15 minutes less than the previous best for the trip in the down direction. The down and up “Bristolian” used different routes – one via the original GWR main line to the city – 118.3 miles, whilst in the return trip to London, from Temple Meads, the train used the Badminton cut-off, from Filton Junction via Wooton Bassett. The ‘up’ service route was 117.6 miles – just a fraction shorter.

From Paddington, and a start at 10:00am, Bristol arrival was 11:45am, whilst in the up direction, arrival at Paddington at 6:15pm, from a 4:30pm start at Temple Meads, to maintain the schedule.  In the 1950s, the same 105 minute schedule was maintained – with “Castle” Class 4-6-0s, and despite an attempt to introduce a 100 minute timing in 1959, by 1961 the service reverted to its 105 minute schedule. However, with increased loadings, of 10 or even 11 coach trains, and the new 2,000hp diesel-hydraulic locos, the time from Paddington to Temple Meads was actually increased by 14 minutes to 119 minutes.

Sadly, despite the advent of the 2,700hp “Western” class diesels, the train lost its name in 1966, starting from Paddington at 8:45am and an arrival in Bristol at 10:30am, but the service continued until 1973 before its final demise.

Cheltenham BR Western Region Named Train 1961 9The West Midlands and Manchester & Liverpool was served by five express services in 1961, two of which dated from GWR days – “The Cheltenham Spa Express” and “The Pines Express”, which started life in 1923 and 1927 respectively.   Actually, the “The Cheltenham Spa Express” “The Cheltenham Spa Express” began life just after the First World War, with a service from Cheltenham and Gloucester timed to arrive in Paddington at 5:00pm. By the early 1920s, the Cheltenham service had been turned into the “Cheltenham Flyer”, with a view by the GWR to turn this into the fastest express service in the world. The claim was based around a 75-minute schedule from Swindon to Paddington, a distance of 77.3 miles, with a start to stop average of 61.8 mph.  This was essentially how the service remained, and with an accelerated timing to 67 minutes between Swindon and Paddington was the fastest train in the world in 1931, and after the timing was cut again to 65 minutes the following year, the train achieved an average of 71.4 mph. The service was briefly the fastest in the world, but by the start of WW2, that title was lost, as indeed was the name.

In British Railways time, the name “Cheltenham Flyer” never re-appeared, but in the 1950s, in common with many other expresses, BR chose to revive the “Cheltenham Spa Express”. In 1961, the down service left Paddington at 5:00pm, arriving in Gloucester at 7:17pm, and Cheltenham St James at 7:40pm. In the up direct, starting from Cheltenham at 8:00am, Paddington was reached by 10:35am, and was allowed 74 minutes between Swindon and Paddington – almost the same as the 1920s timing.  The “Cheltenham Spa Express” lost its title in 1973, although the service continued well into the 1980s.

Castle 7007 'Great Western'

GW Castle 7007 ‘Great Western’ has arrived with an express from Worcester and is now ready to be turned and serviced before returning westward. Paddington, UK. Negative scan. Taken in June 1962 Photo: © Nigel Kendall

Cathedrals BR Western Region Named Train 1961 12

Another service from Paddington to the West Midlands in 1961 was the “Cathedrals Express”, which was designed to serve Oxford, Worcester and Hereford – the cathedral cities. The train only received its name in BR days, in 1957, but services had been operated by the GWR over this route since around 1904, and was the only named train to carry a bishop’s mitre on its headboard.

Of course, the “Blue Pullman” diesel sets made their appearance in 1960, and both the “Bristol Pullman” and “Birmingham Pullman” made their debut arrival at Paddington at almost the same time, and in adjacent platforms. The Birmingham train took 2 hours 5 minutes in the up direction, departing from Snow Hill at 7:30am, to arrive at Paddington at 9:35am, whilst the Bristol service started from Temple Meads at 7:40am.   The service actually started from Wolverhampton Low Level at 7:00am, but in the down direction, the service only went as far as Birmingham Snow Hill, on a 115 minute timing, and a 25 minute turnaround in Birmingham before heading back to London at 2:30pm. These “Blue Pullman” services in 1961 were expanded, as an existing Pullman service to South Wales was converted to diesel traction.

Wales had no fewer than 6 main line express services in the 1950s and 1960s, although only one of these, the “Cambrian Coast Express” had been introduced before British Railways, which had begun life as a restaurant car service to the Welsh coast in July 1921. The “Cambrian Coast Express” in GWR days started in the summer of 1927, and was operated on Fridays and Saturdays only, leaving Paddington at 10:10am, for Aberystwyth, Barmouth and Pwhelli. In 1961, from a 10:10am start, the train’s route took it to Birmingham Snow Hill, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth, where it arrived at 4:15pm. To get to Pwhelli of course required a different train to carry you around the coast by way of Barmouth, Harlech, Portmadoc (Porthmadog), and Pwhelli, with a final arrival at 6:10pm. The return trip to Paddington started out at 9:45am from Aberystwyth, arriving, via Birmingham Snow Hill, in Paddington at 4:00pm in the afternoon.

Following the introduction of diesel traction, and the Pullman services in the early 1960s, to say nothing of Beeching, the route to the Welsh coastal resorts through Birmingham disappeared, and in 1967, so did the title of this train. However, not without a little irony – bearing in mind the GWR and LMS competing for traffic to Birkenhead and North Wales in the pre-war era – in 1986, this named train was revived, but started from Euston.

Blue Pullman Marshfield Mon. 4.4.73

This view shows one of the 8-car Pullmans in their final BR livery, in April 1973 passing Marshfield, Monmouth , only a month before their withdrawal. (Photo courtesy: George Woods)

All of the other titled trains running in 1961 were introduced in British Railways days – the “Red Dragon” started the naming of express trains off in 1950, and was quickly followed by the “Pembroke Coast Express” in 1953. A third service – the “South Wales Pullman” – which appeared in 1955, was introduced to take advantage of the increasing business traffic and commercial importance of South Wales. On its introduction it was a standard rake of Pullman cars, hauled by a “Castle Class” locomotive, but which by 1961, had given way to being supplanted by a new ‘Nanking Blue’ diesel Pullman set.

South Wales Pullman poster large_DS130673The “South Wales Pullman” left Paddington at 08:50am, arriving at Cardiff, in just 2hrs 50mins, at 11:40am, and by way of Bridgend, Port Talbot and Neath, arrived in Cardiff at 1:10pm – 4hrs 20mins from London. By 1973, it was no longer a named train, and no longer a Pullman service.

Lens of Sutton Britannia 70028

BR Standard ‘Britannia’ pacific 70028 “Royal Star” on one of its regular workings when the class were assigned to the Western Region. Photo: Lens of Sutton / RP Bradley Collection

The “Red Dragon” and “Pembroke Coast Express” have been described as being at opposite ends of the express train criteria – the “Red Dragon” was much slower, taking some 5hrs 54mins from Paddington to reach its final destination Carmarthen. This down train started at 5:55pm, whilst the up service fared little better, with a 7:30am start from Carmarthen, Paddington was reached at 1:00pm – a mere 5hrs 30mins. As a name, the “Red Dragon” was revived in BR’s ‘InterCity’ sector days – for a brief period – in 1984.

In the high speed category, the “Pembroke Coast Express”, which was introduced in 1953, laid claim to the fastest steam hauled service between London and Newport, and reached Swansea in 3 ¾ hrs from Paddington. Once again, this title disappeared from Western Region timetables in the 1960s, with the major regional and timetable changes – for the “Pembroke Coast Express” this meant that the name was withdrawn in 1963.

GWR Intercity Express Train edited

Hitachi Class 800 on the GWR main line – this is one of the 36, 5-car dual-fuel sets for use on the non-electrified as well as the electrified sections of the route. Photo: GWR – Creative Commons Attribution

Some of the main routes and services remain, but the names have long since gone, and now, finally, the Western Region main line has been electrified – around 60 years after the original proposals, and the familiar green livery. (I know it’s not the same.) The motive power – well fixed formation train sets, now in hybrid form as well – all look similar, so is it maybe time to re-introduce some individuality?

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