Electro-Diesels are Back

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No – I know this is not the same!  But any opportunity to highlight the centenary of the formation of the UK’s own English Electric Co. seems OK.

The new Hitachi built Bi-Mode trains for Trans Pennine Express are a lot more sophisticated than the English Electric built electro-diesels for BR’s Southern Region in the 1960s, but the principle is the same – isn’t it?  Taking power from an external electrified contact system and having on-board diesel engines when on non-electrified lines.

Here’s what we had in BR days:

In November 1964, an item appeared in the “Locomotive Journal” from ASLE&F, and in describing the Bournemouth Electrification project, this little snippet appeared:

ASLEF Journal Extract 1964

Preston’s English Electric Co. had received an order for 43 of these locomotives, which was in essence part of the plan to elimiate steam traction, as well as following the Bournemouth electrification scheme.

They were numbered E6007-49 by BR, and designated Type JB to distinguish them from the six prototype Type JA locomotives, Nos. E600l-6, which later became class 71.  The new English Electric/Vulcan Foundry built locos became classes 73/1 and 73/2.  English Electric had supplied the power equipment for the six Type JA, BR built locos, which were constructed at Eastleigh Works, and entered service between February and December 1962.

The next batch, Type JB, were built at English Electric Co’s works at Newton-Le-Willows – originally the Vulcan Foundry – and delivered between October 1965 and January 1967.  The diesel engines were also manufactured at Vulcan Foundry, with the electrical equipment produced at the Preston works.

Class 73:2 Electro-Diesel

EE Class 73:2 No 6021

Class 73/2 No. E6021, and one of the few that never carried a name, on a typical transfer freight duty.      Photo: RPB Collection

Here’s what Hitachi have delivered:

The first of the “Nova 1” (class 802) trains arrived at Southampton on the 11th June 2018, and was successfully tested between Darlington and Doncaster in a 5-car set this month (July).  Further testing is planned for the TPE route in the North of England and Scotland over the coming months.  Also appearing in July 2018 are the new Hitachi Class 385 trains for the Glasgow Queen Street-Edinburgh Waverley route via Falkirk High. More class 385 trains  will be phased in over the coming months, before being extended to other routes across the Central Belt.

The new Class 802s for TPE are essentially closely similar to the same type delivered by Hitachi to Great Western, and for TPE are fitted with MTU/Rolls-Royce Series 1600 MTU PowerPacks.  The core of the PowerPack is the MTU 12V 1600 R80L, a 12-cylinder diesel engine, with low consumption/emissions, and meets the EU Stage IIIB emission legislation.

The trains, ordered as 19 x 5-car sets will be able to run in either five or ten carriage formation, capable of speeds of up to 140mph in electric mode and 125 mph using diesel engines.

Hitachi Class 802 at Doncaster Depot

Hitachi Class 802 for Transpennine Express at Hitachi’s Doncaster depot.

Further reading:

Transpennine Express “Nova 1” Begins Tests

Hitachi Class 385 Electrics

One issue that has not been addressed for the UK so far as the bi-mode trains are concerned, is whether this is a stop-gap solution pending the restart of electrification projects across the Pennines.

Nevertheless the new rolling stock looks like a welcome improvement.   This is a long way from the designs and requirements for rail operations in the 1960s, with fixed formation train sets – multiple units – and certainly more aerodynamic styling.

Let’s hope they can also be used on Northern Rail territory and lines in North West England.

-oOo-

Tilting at Windmills

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An account of rail travel in the 21st Century

Just for Fun!

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, travelling by train was a real adventure – for adults and children alike – then the march of progress delivered us the excitement of motorway travel, speed, convenience and personal choice. Today we have anti-social trains, with connections between travellers limited to a few seats in each open carriage or coach, with vast majority of travellers – especially over medium and longer distances facing an immovable plastic wall, commonly known as the back of the seat in front. This wall, rarely more than a few centimetres in front of the face becomes your friend and companion for hours – yes there are windows – but there are also some of these aircraft style seats which are located next to a blank wall.

All of this high speed technology helps us get from A to B so much quicker – and we only occasionally have to speak to our fellow travellers.

We also have the added benefit of the ‘voice from hell’ announcing our welcome to this service, to… – well the gaps in the language and spoken word just remind me of the film 1984. But I was forgetting, we have passed that date and are now much more advanced!

Where does that leave us in our comparative rail tour – is it just nostalgia that demands that we look for more spacious accommodation, and conformable seats, a corridor that allows us to choose whether or not to join conversation with our fellow internees.

Seat reservations are the most joyous sight – or not if you travel by tilting train – where there is no accommodation for luggage – some of the backpacks or rucksacks as we used to call them are the size of mount Everest. Our poor unfortunates then look for somewhere to stow these monstrous items – alas no, they are left near the ends of the coach, or crammed into a feeble couple of shelves mid way down the coach. Amazing that there are not more injuries from people falling over, into or across this baggage.

On longer distance trains there is food and hot beverages available.   These are served from a counter in what we used to call a buffet, in those ‘Tommy Tippee’ cups with their little plastic lids and spout so preferred by the chain store drinking dens. To cap it all, there are a bewildering array of coffees, from the double mocha skinny latte, in regular – whatever size that may be! – to the just plain enormous. They are usually then carefully inserted in those brown paper bags – with handles – my daughter would have loved to play with these in her ‘toy shop’ as a child.

The correct etiquette for requesting this refreshment is to enquire… “Can I get?”. Woe betide you if you say “May I have”, or “Can I have” – clearly that requires a phrasebook and translation into modern awesome English.

Travelling by train in the 21st century is no longer an experience that may be enjoyed, with some knowledge that you may at least find a comfortable and spacious compartment with room to breathe, exchange thoughts and opinions with others, or simply rest. Now everyone has the mandatory headphones, laptop, or iPlayer, and connecting with their legions of followers on Facebook, or Twitter. The more the technology advances, the less the people communicate!

But I digress, we are almost at our destination. That hellish voice sounds again to advise us that we will “Shortly be arriving into….”

We leave our seat, struggle over the undulating terrain of rucksacks, trolleys and suitcases on wheels – after having apologised to a fellow traveller for a minor infringement of his/her space, and the necessity to relocate his/her laptop! – and finally make our way to the vestibule.

Please don’t be alarmed, I chose the word ‘vestibule’ out of ignorance – I didn’t read the safety instructions, or the on board magazine. (I do confess to having flipped through the odd page or two, whereupon the utter banality of it drove me to the refreshment area!).

So, our train arrives, finally at the train station on this train line – I understand the use of the word railway has now all but disappeared, and comprehending the distinction between the function of the railway and the train has gone the way of our good friend the Dodo.

The train stops – don’t forget you are not permitted to leave the train whilst it is still barely moving – the door’s locked anyway! We are enjoined by a shrill beeping noise and illuminated button, embossed with iconic hieroglyphics to open the door and alight from the train, which we do, stepping down to the platform and the free world once again.

 

oOo-

Over The Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass

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By the early 1920s, both English Electric and Metropolitan Vickers were very successful in wining contracts around the world, mostly in the British Colonies.  In the far east, English Electric had won major orders in Japan and New Zealand, whilst Metropolitan-Vickers had been awarded contracts to supply locomotives for the first main line electrification project in South Africa.

 

Furthest away from home, the New Zealand electrification scheme was a “comprehensive contract”, awarded to English Electric, for the conversion to electric traction of the line from Arthur’s Pass to Otira on the South Island.

The contract involved the installation of catenary through what was at the time, the longest railway tunnel in the British Empire. The tunnel, 5.5 miles long, on a ruling gradient of 1 in 33, was hewn out of the solid rock, beneath Arthur’s Pass in the Southern Alps. The route itself was very important, linking two of the South Island’s provinces, Canterbury and Westland, and the towns of Christchurch and Greymouth.

Work was begun on the Trans-Alpine route by the New Zealand Midland Railway Company in 1887, with private finance, but was taken over by the Government in 1895, after the railway company’s plans came to grief. The plan for this Midland Main Line was for steam operation, but the Arthur’s Pass section was the major challenge in the final connection.

Construction work was difficult and slow in parts, with men, horses, picks, shovels and very little machinery, and the most difficult section was over Arthur’s Pass

The route would carry heavy traffic, and the ascent over Arthur’s Pass was to have adopted the Abt Rack system, but this was clearly not a suitable option for this main line.

By 1900, the line from the West Coast to Otira had been completed, with contractors John McLean & Son were awarded a contract in 1907, to create the Otira Tunnel under the Southern Alps, and were allocated 5 years to complete the work. The project was dogged by labour troubles, and the government was petitioned for help, following strikes, disputes and difficulties during construction work. The Public Works Department took over the work, and despite the First World War, work continued, with the tunnel breakthrough taking place in 1918.

English Electric’s contract for the electrification of the “Arthur’s Pass” section of the route was one of the company’s earliest “comprehensive contract” projects, and in addition to the overhead catenary, and locomotives included a power station at Otira. This impressive project to complete this Trans-Alpine route was finally opened throughout on 4th August 1923, some 37 years after it was first proposed.

Track & Overhead

A view of the electrified section, showing the different types of contact wire support.

Overall, equipment provided by English Electric included;

  • 5 complete, 720hp, 50-ton Bo-Bo electric locomotives.
  • 1 complete, 400hp, Bo-Bo battery locomotive.
  • 1 steam generating station, with two 1,200kW, 1,650V d.c. turbo-generator sets.

The overhead line equipment also provided by English Electric, with the conductors energised at 1500V d.c. This was, at the time a common standard for the early main line schemes – and according to the company’s publicity “ …no other system than electric haulage was seriously considered”.  The fixed structures of the project included ‘double catenary’ in the open, and ‘single catenary’ through the Otira Tunnel. The conductors were supported in the open on wooden poles, with insulators attached to angle iron brackets, with more complex girder structures in stations and yards.

Steam traction was the order of the day on either side of “Arthur’s Pass”, with electric traction over and through the Otira Tunnel. The company also supplied five electric locomotives, which came to be the “E0” Class Bo-Bo design for passenger and freight duties, together with a battery locomotive for inspection and maintenance work.

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This photo taken in 1952, shows the 720hp E0 class locomotives still hard at work on mixed traffic duties on what was one of the first “composite contracts” for the 3ft 6ins gauge.               Photo: Author’s Collection

Locomotives were Bo-Bo double-ended types, rated at 720hp for those in use on the main line, and a single 400hp battery locomotive. The latter had 50hp traction motors, driving the wheels through single reduction gearing, using a ratio of 15.83 to The more powerful 720hp types, had four 179hp motors, with force ventilation, and connected permanently in series, as two pairs of motors. The tractive effort produced was 14,200 lbs at the one hour rating of the traction motors.

NZ Locos - dimensions table

These ‘box cab’ locomotives, with their twin, roof mounted pantographs used the Westinghouse air brake, and a rheostatic brake, where the electrical energy of the motors was dissipated as heat through banks of resistances. The reason why regenerative braking systems were not employed – although it was considered – was due to the fact that the power station was there purely to supply power to the railway, there being no other load to share any regenerated energy that might otherwise be fed back into the line.

The English Electric locos were still in use on this line until 1969, and one of the class has been preserved by the Canterbury Railway Society., and restored to working order in 1977, and carries its original running number E3.

NZR_EO_3_at_Ferrymead

The preserved English Electric loco No.3 at Ferrymead.
Photo courtesy Yak52fan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6938570

The success of this first scheme also resulted in the electrification of the seven miles long, suburban section of the same route, between Christchurch and the port of Lyttelton, which again involved a ‘comprehensive contract’. English Electric was awarded another ‘ comprehensive contract’ in 1929 for this work, including the tunnel section of the line to Lyttelton, the chief port of the province of Canterbury.

 

Here again, English Electric supplied rotary convertors for the substations, but this time the principal source of power was the hydro-electric station at Lake Coleridge. Six 1,200hp Bo-Bo locomotives were supplied, with power equipment similar to that installed on the Arthur’s Pass locomotives, with the English Electric Co.’s camshaft control system. The introduction of suburban services over the line from Christchurch to Lyttelton was completed in February 1929.

Further Reading:

EE No.54

Useful Links:

Otira Tunnel – Midland Railway

Rail Tunnel Pierces the Southern Alps

Tranz Alpine

RH Trust New Zealand logo

A Postscript To Piggyback Freight

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The Piggyback Consortium proposal was tied to the ‘modernisation’ of the West Coast Main Line, and detailed in Railtrack’s proposal “A Railway for the Twenty First Century”, published in March 1995.

WCML Modernisation - cover

At the same time, the Government was busy preparing Railtrack for privatisation, and the Thrall Car Company were established in the old BR works at York – this is what they said in their brochure at the time:

Sadly, the BR works at York closed in 1996, but was re-opened in 1997, with Thrall Car Manufacturing Co.  The company had received an order from EWS for around £200 million to build 2,500 wagons, including steel coil carriers, coal hoppers, box and container flat wagons. Sadly, this was the only major order received at York, and Thrall’s successor – Trinity Industries – closed the plant in 2002, with the loss of 260 jobs.

Europspine 1?

In original guise, Thrall’s spine wagons were publicised like this.

Thrall and Babcock Rail’s lack of success with the spine wagon idea, was largely as a result of the lack of take up commercially of the piggyback innovation, for domestic and international services, along with unresolved national problems around transport policy, never fully resolved.

Babcock Rail Wagons

Built by Babcock Rail Rosyth, this image shows a standard road tanker mounted on one of the Babcock piggyback wagons. The lack of a national strategy for bulk transport of liquids, including foodstuffs dealt a mortal blow to this type of piggyback operation.

There was potential for this and other proposals, such as the pocket wagons, with successful trials run between Penrith and Cricklewood using the road tanker on a piggy back trailer, but the customer demand needed buy-in from more than one or two national organisations, and some “public monopolies” such as “Milk Marque” were fragmented, taking away those potentials.  Later still, other commercial interests died away, and despite the success of these ideas, from an engineering and operational trial perspective, it has simply melted away.

By 2017, a lot of changes had taken place, although investment in the routes has occurred in some places, it is by no means as comprehensive – or indeed integrated – as it was almost 20 years ago.   Network Rail published a “Freight Network Study”, in April 2017, though in short, for rail freight, we appear to be little further forward:

Freight Network Study Cover

The Thrall / Babcock Eurospine wagons were simply mothballed after 2002, and stored out of use at Carlisle, near the old Upperby Maintenance Depot, which itself was pulled down only a few years ago.

Eurospine - Phil Taylor Facebook Carlisle

The last days of Carlisle Upperby TMD shows the Eurospine wagons still hanging around – still a potential if only a commercial use could be found.                        Photo ©: Phil Taylor

 

 

Thrall Piggyback Wagon

Weeds growing over the bogie of a Thrall Eurospine wagon at what remained of Carlisle Upperby TMD back in 2012. Photo ©: Gordon Edgar

 

A Postscript to Piggyback_cover

-oOo-

What Happened to Piggyback Freight?

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Almost 25 years ago I wrote a piece for a popular rail industry/enthusiast magazine about the exciting new developments in freight train technology, but sadly, the plan never came to fruition.

Here’s something of what I wrote back then:

“The past few years have seen some important changes in the way rail freight services are operated throughout Europe – changes which have not been implemented so rapidly or effectively in Britain. It is perhaps more than 30 years since radical changes were proposed and implemented on British Rail, in the aftermath of the Beeching Plan. In 1996, though, the introduction of the Babcock Rail/Thrall piggyback vehicles offers the scope to attract a wider range of freight traffics back to rail network.

Freight nowadays travels commonly in ISO containers, and despite Freightliner services, and fragmented developments of long haul freight, hundreds of articulated lorries are a common sight on Britain’s motorways, often carrying single containers. The more recent introduction of piggyback and swap body vehicles has improved the railway’s ability to attract traffic from the roads, but its adoption in the UK has been much slower than the rest of Europe. A particular example of the successful development of such intermodal services, are the trans-Alpine piggyback workings, where articulated lorries and their trailers have been a feature for some time. In the UK, a Piggyback Consortium was established a couple of years ago, largely inspired by Eurotunnel, and seeking ways to establish a corridor between the Channel Tunnel, Scotland and Ireland, using the West Coast Main Line.   A variety of other freight forwarders, joint ventures, and other business combinations have been set up in recent times, with a view to exploiting the through running offered following the completion of the tunnel.”

ewsBack in 1993, shortly after the privatisation of British Rail, the freight services operated by BR’s freight sectors were taken over by the American owned EWS Railway – or English, Welsh & Scottish if you prefer.  At that time, the physical infrastructure was owned by Railtrack, and neither of these “businesses” were a success, and yet the prospect of 1992’s “Big Bang” – the European single market appeared to open up possibilities.

Plans to implement the new, daily, piggyback rail service between London and Glasgow in the Spring of 1996 were advanced, and according to the “Piggyback Consortium”, with essential loading gauge changes over the route set to cost £70+ million.

The purpose of this innovation was to take much of the long haul “juggernaut” lorries off the UK roads, resulting in less environmental damage, to say nothing of the costs to repair and maintain motorways and trunk routes.   Road lorries were becoming heavier and heavier, from 38 tonnes, to 40 tonnes, and even 44 tonnes – but their use needed Government approval.

“The growth of intermodal activities throughout Europe was mirrored for a time in the UK, during the early 1990s, with such initiatives as ‘Charterail’, using Tiphook Rail’s “swing centre” vehicles, various swap body designs, and the the ‘Trailer Train’ projects. The demise of ‘Charterail’ in 1993 brought a premature pause, in the expansion of combined road and rail freight developments. Shortly after the demise of Charterail, Tiphook were keen to re-introduce their innovative vehicles, and attract road freight traffic, whilst Boalloy Industries resurrected the road-railer idea in 1993. The most recent development of this latter included the first use of ‘curtain sided’ trailers, with road and rail wheels, and variable design geometry of the body, to fit the British and European loading gauges.”

At the time, the UK Government seemed unable to come to a decision about permitting the use of lorries with these increased axle loads, and the delay in finalising a policy contributed to the demise of the piggyback proposal.

The cost of freight movement was also fairly high on the agenda at the time:

“In Britain, the cost of moving freight by road is enormous, and represents a cost (estimated in 1993, and published in the Financial Times in February) to the taxpayer of around £18 billion annually. Against this cost, the revenue from road freight for the Government is only £14 billion, representing an annual loss to UK, and cost to businesses of around £4 billion every year.”

That was 25 years ago – and whilst the DfT and ONS produce a pl;ethora of figures on goods moved, goods lifted, by mode and region, getting the same leve of detail on the cost of those movements is not as easy as it was a quarter of a century ago.  I’d love to publish both volumes carried and the cost today as a comparison, but the numbers are not readily available – just like train performance figures.

Unless of course you know different?

The rest of my original item is available below if you fancy a read:

Piggyback Feature Cover

Of course it’s different today isn’t it?

Interesting Links

The Independent

Railway Gazette

-oOo-

Blue Pullman – A Fascinating Failure?

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Back in the early post-nationalisation years, there were still a number of Pullman train workings operated on British Railways, including the famous “Brighton Belle” and “Devon Belle” trains, with passengers carried for a supplementary fare.  The traditional pullman coaches were operated by the Pullman Car Co., and manned by staff who were not employed by BR, but the private company.   These services were carried on for a time in the early 1950s, but were both uneconomic and an anachronism in the run up to BR’s “Modernisation Programme”, and the changeover from steam to diesel and electric traction.

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Then, in 1960, a new and unexpected Pullman service appeared, with trains ordered by the British Transport Commission (BTC), as it took control of the British Pullman Car Co. – which was subject to a number of debates in Parliament.  Six years earlier, in 1954 the discussions centred on the financial prospects for the Pullman Car Co. and the problems that would ensue after its franchise – yes, franchise! – expired in 1962.  The Government were concerned about the future of all supplementary fare Pullman services, and how, or if the BTC should absorb this private operator on the national railway system.

Alan Lennox-Boyd, Minister of Transport made this observation in a debate on 27th May 1954:

“The Commission has said that it does not intend that there should be any alteration in the control and operation of the Pullman cars, nor that the specialised services given by the Pullman Car Company should be altered in any way whatsoever. The Commission adds that it is its intention to continue the Pullman car service and to give consideration to the extension of this facility to other lines throughout the country.”

Why on earth would BTC / BR pay for and operate a new Pullman service in the nationalised railway era??

The Blue Pullman Experiment

On 24 June 1960 a demonstration run of BR’s diesel-electric Pullman train took place between Marylebone and High Wycombe. The six and eight-car trains were designed and built by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage & Wagon Co. for the Pullman Car Company, to be operated on the LMR and WR respectively. The Railway Gazette used an interesting phrase as it reported the new arrivals;

“The term de-luxe applied by the British Transport Commission to the new diesel-electric Pullman multiple- unit trains which begin operations shortly in the London Midland and Western Regions of British Railways suggests an over-abundance of rare but desirable qualities which are not necessary for life.”

The British Transport Commission’s Press Release for 23rd June 1960 described them as:

“These 90 mph de-luxe diesel expresses – there are five of them altogether-are of an entirely new type designed to bring a fresh conception of main-line railway passenger travel to Britain, with superior standards of comfort, and a personal service of’ meals and refreshments for all passengers.”

8-car Bristol Pullman

8-car Western Region ‘Blue Pullman’

The reasoning behind the introduction of these units was basically to attract the businessman to rail travel; or perhaps to return to rail travel, for BR had by 1960 to be on a competitive footing with air transport. The new Metro-Cammell pullmans were prestigious trains, and turned out in a striking blue and white livery.

Elevation & Layout diagrams

This was a dramatic contrast to the existing maroon livery of standard steam hauled stock, and traditional Pullman style of cream and umber. Many previously untried (on British Railways) design features were first seen on these units; some came to be adopted on a wider scale, while others were unique to the Blue Pullmans.

The first mention of the new trains (which were not conceived as Pullman at that time) was made in the Government’s White Paper of October 1956, where it was stated that new trains would be introduced for high-speed travel on selected services between important cities.

Leading Dimensions

Leading DimensionsHowever, to suggest that the Pullmans were introduced at a difficult time for BR, would be an classic understatement. Mounting deficits and continual pressure from the anti-railway brigade, road lobby, and others were not conducive to what could be seen as extravagant expenditure.

On speed terms, competition with the new electric services on the London Midland Region in particular was easily ruled out, and by 1967 the Pullmans were less patronised than ever, and a solution to their operating problems was needed.  From 6th March 1967 all were transferred to the Western Region and with three eight-car and two six-car Pullman units, they were in a position to provide an extensive service for the businessman and long distance commuter. That they were not entirely successful cannot wholly be blamed either on BR or on the Blue Pullmans themselves.

Chris Williams Photo at Reading in 1967

In late 1967 the ‘Blue Pullman’ sets received their first taste of BR’s ‘Corporate Livery’.  Here, one of the repeated sets approaches Platform 4 at Reading General on a Westbound Service.           (Photo Courtesy Chris Williams)

Even allowing for the luxurious internal appointments, there could be no suggestion of their competing on any terms with the pattern of fast Inter-City services envisaged – and later provided – by BR for the future. Time was not on the side of the Blue Pullmans.  One of the last duties of one of the power cars was during the winter of 1972/1973, when it acted as a standby generating set at Swindon,.  Withdrawal of all the sets took place in May 1973, when they were not quite thirteen years old.

Sadly, none were rescued for preservation.

Further Reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed review of the ‘Blue Pullmans’

M-V PDF file cover

Useful Links:

Railcar.co.uk/type/blue-pullman/summary

Metcam.co.uk

British_Rail_Classes_251_and_261

“Blue Pullman, 1960”

The image below will take you to the YouTube clip of the BTF film called “Blue Pullman, 1960”  This film was directed and written by Jimmie Ritchie and photographed by David Watkin and Jack West. It was edited by Hugh Raggett with music by Clifton Parker. The film lasts about 23 minutes, and covers the testing of the new  Midland Pullman, and its maiden journey from Manchester to London.

 


 

 

 

English Electric – A Centenary Appreciation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

EE Works Preston - 1926 copy

A plan of the Dick, Kerr Works in 1926

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rail Technology Magazine – Alstom To Close Preston Site

BBC News: Alstom To Close Preston Site

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