English Electric was a world famous name in just about every aspect of electrical and many other areas of manufacturing industry – from power generation, to transport, aerospace and even computing. But in the railway industry they will forever be associated with the power equipment, and complete locomotives and multiple units running in just about every country on the planet.
It may or may not be true that “all roads lead to Rome” during the empire days, but the majority of ‘roads’ in electrical and especially railway engineering led to Preston and South Lancashire.
lf you want a locomotive for any track gauge, or you need a supersonic jet fighter, a washing machine or a fridge – the maker’s label could quite easily say “English Electric”.
During the 1920s and 1930s, there was considerable interest in the development of non-steam traction, and at the forefront of the latest electrification schemes, mostly it has to be said in former British colonies, and English Electric were out there designing, building, and supporting new technologies.
The company itself was formed in 1919, in the aftermath of the First World War, and the ‘home economy’ was in pretty poor shape, along with many other countries. In fact, Dick,Kerr & Co., Siemens Bros., Dynamo Works, and the Coventry Ordnance Works were merged with Willans & Robinson to form the English Electric Co.
But, from their home base in Preston, the former Dick, Kerr works, the new English Electric Co. began delivering some world beating projects and deployed the latest technology. At the same time, they were focussed on developing that technology, whether for new lines, or new ideas – one of the the world’s unique railways – the Post Office Tube, an automated line was built in the 1920s. Numerous tramway and mass transit rolling stock, as well as equipments for the early electric locomotives came out of the Dick, Kerr shops. Later, the electrification works in Japan, Denmark, New Zealand and India all saw the arrival of the products of Preston, and its workshops.
Of course, these were early days, and neighbouring steam locomotive works – Vulcan Foundry – at Newton-le-Willows were busy diversifying too, with their partnership with A/S Frichs of Aarhus, Denmark as diesel traction began to attract the interest of railway companies. Vulcan Foundry would soon become part of the English Electric brand too, along with another steam locomotive builder – Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns, of Newcastle.
Steam railway technology may have begun in the North East, but the new technologies for non-steam power saw their genesis and power base in Lancashire – and soon English Electric builders’ plates would be everywhere from London and Liverpool to Tokyo.
The images above are linked to the original EE Co. material in PDF form, which I hope you enjoy.
The extent of English Electric’s engineering expertise and skills filled almost every aspect of engineering industry, from washing machines to computers and nuclear power stations, where Hinckley Point included turbines supplied by English Electric. Here are a few examples:
Perhaps not everyone’s favourite loco, but it was unique in a number of ways, and one of these was the fact that it was the last new locomotive type built at Doncaster Works, which in the early 1980s was part of the soon to be privatised BREL. Its power unit built on the legacy of Ruston Paxman, English Electric and latterly GEC Diesels, which were built at the historic Vulcan Foundry in Newton-Le-Willows – that too was the victim of mass closures and the run-down of the railway industry in the 1980s.
The class 58 had a less than successful career in Britain, and was dispensed with in short order under EWS, and sadly for BREL no export orders were received. But …. It was exported on hire to the Netherlands, Spain and France, where in Spain and France it provided the motive power needed when the high-speed lines were being expanded in the early 2000s, before being returned to the UK, stored or scrapped.
The design and fabrication techniques employed were very much of the mass production line process and should perhaps have been more widely employed in the UK industry, but that was not to be, and it remains a final, and curious example of a good idea that was not fully exploited. There are a number of the class in varying stages of restoration, and one is providing the base for the building of a replica of the first English Electric main line diesel, developed by the LMS and its CME H.G.Ivatt. So the Class 58 legacy remains to be seen in service on specials, and in operation on heritage services.
This small offering is based on my invitation to the handover in December 1982 of the very first Class 58 at Doncaster, where I enjoyed a tour of the works, to see the processes in action, and the unveiling on a bright sunny day of 58001 outside the main office block.
Back in 2001 I was compiling a status report of the Light Rail Projects and existing networks in operation, or under active construction around the UK. We had a busy programme, with 6 networks open and operational, and plans to build 3 more around Portsmouth, Leeds and Bristol being put forward, and the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) was being built. Of the existing systems, Croydon – or the London Tramlink as it is now called – and the Birmingham network had only been open a couple of years.
There were other proposed systems being put forward, including Edinburgh, which did finally get completed, and a “revamped trolleybus scheme” for Liverpool and Merseyside – the “Mersey Tram” – another pie in the sky scheme. The new generation of light rail and tramway schemes were being scattered around the UK a bit like confetti 20 years ago, and included Hull, Bath and East Lancashire – at least that was what the Transport Secretary was reported as saying in Parliament in 2001.
The major projects actively operating or under construction, with a couple of exceptions, including those that were cancelled by the Department of Transport, included these:
Back in 2001 there were plans for expansion of the existing systems, with Manchester (3 new lines) and Birmingham (2 new lines) at the head of the list. It was clearly essential for the expanding connurbations of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, and they had already proved their value in passengers carried, and the associated revenue – the Midland Metro had seen a 25% increase in passengers carried in its first fully operational year.
Before looking back at where we were in 2001, it is worth noting that all of these networks were essentially built around a new concept of street running trams, and the UK was following the lead set in other European cities. With the exception perhaps of the Tyne & Wear Metro, the technology being used was new, and whilst the UK’s first new light rail system in Manchester was not exactly the low floor design seen elsewhere, it was a pioneer. The Tyne & Wear had been up and running since the late 1970s, and piggy backed on the readily available ‘heavy rail’ technology, including a 1500V d.c. overhead contact system, and conventional railway station platforms.
The other ‘metro systems’ that could be included would be the underground networks of London and Glasgow, and Blackpool’s century old tramway system. But, Light Rail was evolving down a different path, and in 1989, the industry was first fully showcased in the UK at Bristol, at the “Light Rail 89” exhibition and conference, opened by Mchael Portillo, who was then Transport Secretary. The industry was ambitious, and the outlook was poistive, and by the turn of the century, those 6 new systems were up and running – including the highly successful and automatic Docklands Light Railway.
Where are we today? These are the current Light Rail (LRT) systems in operation in the UK:
Only two new systems have been built and opened in the past 20 years – Edinburgh and Nottingham – so now we have 8 light rail systems, with the older networks continuing to expand.
Click on the image below to read about the systems and technology that was in place back in 2001.
In the 1930s, the English Electric Co. were busy designing and building diesel engines for railways – mostly around the former British colonies, but the impact of the economic depression had Britain’s railways looking for efficiency – especially for use on shunting operations. But English Electric had for some years been at the heart of technology innovation and development and had been trying to persuade the more conservative railway operators to look to the future.
The company developed a diesel-electric version of the classic 0-6-0 steam shunting locomotive, powered by a 6-cylinder diesel – or as the press referred to it an ‘oil-engine’ – to sell the idea to either the LMS, GWR, LNER or Southern railways. The LMS was first out of the blocks and with English Electric as the engine supplier, with Derby constructing the mechanical parts, they embarked on an ambitious project to tap into the benefits of diesel power for shunting work. They were followed by the GWR and Southern Railway, and the latter followed the English Electric power plant path, whilst the GWR had opted for a variety, including Davey Paxman engines.
20 years after the first LMS shunters began to appear in the early 1930s, in 1953, British Railways placed orders for what became the standard shunting locomotive – the 350hp, or Class 08 type. Hundreds of these were built, mainly at Derby, Crewe, Darlington, Doncaster and Horwich Works with a pair of d.c. traction motors driving the wheels, which were linked by coupling rods, exactly as a steam loco would have been. Ultimately, 996 of these 0-6-0 shunters were constructed at the railway works – some were built at English Electric’s works in Preston, and Vulcan Foundry at Newton-Le-Willows (mainly for Netherlands Railways).
At nationalisation in 1948, British Railways inherited a motley collection of 60 of the 0-6-0 diesel shunters – 46 from the LMS, 7 from the GWR, 4 from the LNER and 3 from the Southern. Of these all, bar one had an English Electric 6KT diesel engine and traction motors, and that exception was the 1934 Armstrong Whitworth built loco, with a Paxman engine and a mechanical drive through jackshafts from its single traction motor.
The Harrier HydroShunter project to convert locomotive from diesel to hydrogen traction will take ex BR Class 08 shunter No. 08635 and remove the English Electric engine and generators, to be replaced by a hydrogen fuel cell stack and battery, as a hybrid installation. The project is unique and involves the University of Birmingham, Vanguard Sustainable Transport Solutions, and the Severn Valley Railway.
It’s a brilliant idea, and if successful could pave the way for similar replacements at home and abroad, and whilst passenger trains for commuter services have seen similar projects highlighted, such as the conversion of Class 314 for the “Hydroflex” train, this has perhaps just as wide ranging potential. Following the earlier projects, the traction system being designed by Vanguard at the University of Birmingham, this hybrid system will consist of a hydrogen cylinders, a fuel stack where the electricity is generated and a battery.
The loco was formerly D3802, built at Derby in December 1959, and renumbered in January 1974 and withdrawn from BR service in December 1981. It is currently at the SVR’s Kidderminster diesel depot, and the team of volunteers have removed the diesel engine and generator, and have been busy renovating and overhauling other key components. The SVR had to hire a 100-tonne crane to lift the diesel engine out of the shunter, and the work is now well underway to achieve trials later in 2021.
The new power unit includes pressurised hydrogen stored in cylinders for supplying to the fuel cell stack via a regulating device, oxygen from the atmosphere will then be mixed, and electricity generated and delivered to the loco’s traction motors. The battery will also be charged by the fuel cell stack, to provide energy reserves as and when needed. The existing traction motors, controls and final drive is being retained, with the new equipment fitted to a new sub-frame, which in turn is mounted to the existing engine-generator mounting points.
Of course, with the hydrogen fuel-cell power, emissions are zero compared to the old diesel engine, and it has been suggested that there will be a reduction in maintenance costs of possibly 50%, which if it is successful could see many more similar retrofit projects. Although, whilst we may be at the start of a new era in terms of non-electrified traction, as the fuel cell technology evolves, it may be that larger locomotives could see similar replacements. This might not see huge numbers in countries where expenditure on electrification has been significant, but in other countries, where funds are lower, it could provide opportunities – providing the capital costs are also low.
There are of course some disadvantages to hydrogen as a fuel, mostly in terms of the way it is produced, and its storage – according to one source (https://www.theengineer.co.uk/comment-hydrogen-trains-uk/ ). “Firstly, hydrogen storage is bulky. Even at 350bar, the volume of fuel needed is eight times that of Diesel.” The author goes on to state that that could be a problem for long haul freight services, and would be unsuitable for high-speed rail, on account of the amount of electrical energy required, and the losses developed in the power unit. But, it is being considered for some types of rail passenger service, in order to remove the dependence in rural area on diesel multiple units.
It will be fascinating to see this project completed, and what might develop over the next few years, and whether the technology does play a part in maintaining the railway’s place as a sustainable mode of transport.
Siemens Mobility have just been awarded a $3.4 billion contract for 73 of the new Venture 4-car trains for the Northeast Corridor, with the first deliveries due in 2024, and included in that order are 15 diesel-battery hybrids, 50 are electro-diesels, with the remainder EPA4 compliant diesels. But this contract also includes technical support along with design and construction.
Sometimes from our position in Europe we simply see the USA as the home of the automobile, and gas guzzling muscle cars, and so depndent on road transport. But, it is true to say that these days, sustainability in rail transport is driving the modernisation programmes there, and this latest project clearly indicates the commitment to carbon emissions reduction for the long term. This is Siemens largest ever North American contract, includes maintenance and monitoring services, together with the potential for another 140 of these trains, and additional maintenance contracts.
What are they? Well, Amtrak is following a brief to operate the most sustainable and efficient trains on the market, which include dual powered and hybrid battery vehicles. Amtrak has without doubt transformed passenger rail travel in the USA over its 50 year history, and has had its share of ups and downs along the way, but these trains will include ‘American made equipment’.
The video below shows the Amtrak Siemens Venture test train at Hammon, Indiana 0n the 25th January 2021, where the difference when compared to a Heritage Fleet car in the consist can be clearly seen.
They are based on the well known Siemens Viaggio series of passenger coaches, operated in Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, and Florida. In the USA they were purchased by the first privately owned and operated main line railway since Amtrak was formed in the 1970s – AAF (“All Aboard Florida”). This subsequently became Virgin Trains USA, and most recently as Brightline Trains.
The new trains will operate along the Northeast Corridor and across various state-supported routes, including operations in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. With expanded capacity and the ability to shorten trip time, Amtrak expects the new trains will add over 1.5 million riders annually.
Amtrak’s CEO Bill Flynn was full of praise for the new trains, and commented:
“These new trains will reshape the future of rail travel by replacing our aging 40-to- 50-year old fleet with state-of-the-art, American-made equipment.”
“This investment is essential to preserving Northeast Regional and state- supported services for the future and will allow our customers to travel comfortably and safely, while reducing carbon emissions.”
It is expected that the first of the new trains will enter service in 2024, followed in 2025 by testing of the first Venture Hybrid battery train, and overall, the current contract should see trains delivered to the NEC and the other state supported routes on track between 2024 and 2030. The trains will be manufactured at Siemens Mobility’s manufacturing facility in Sacramento, California and will comply with the Federal Railroad Administration Buy America Standards.
Of course, it’s also Amtrak’s 50th Birthday this year – Happy Birthday Amtrak!
Or, maybe read the story of the first decade or two here:
How old are container trains in the UK? Well, it’s not simple answer, although we are all familiar in 2021 with Freightliner trains, and the Eddie Stobart and Tesco container carrying trains. Of course these are intermodal services nowadays – but there have always been intermodal freight operations on the railway – transferring goods from horses and carts onto goods wagons. Railway freight traffic was never always about bulk loads of minerals, coal and oil, and it was the wagon load and part load consignments that kick started some interesting developments in British Railways days.
There were numerous methods of providing specialised containers for wagon or van load consignments of goods, whether for household furniture, or bulk transport of engineering components in a lengthy supply chain for manufacturers.
Before Liner Trains
In 1964, BR London Midland Region issued a small glossy booklet, entitled “Freight Handbook”, which, apart from the usual details of goods depot and regional telephone numbers contained brief descriptions of some of the innovations in wagonload and container traffic facilities. The services include what BR described as “demountable containers” carried on a rail wagon, and transferred to and from road vehicles at the terminals at each end of the journey. Described as a “door-to-door service” that was being constantly improved and extended, the fact that road transport by the early 1960s was entirely privately owned meant that BR had fewer road vehicles to provide the last lap of the journey.
One of the most blindingly obvious commercial errors to us, looking back from 2021 is that no charge was made for the use of containers “owned by the railway”, but just the contents. Nobody would make that mistake today – would they?!
BR London Midland offered 12 different types of covered container, and three described as ‘open’. The covered versions were of either ventilated, refrigerated, and insulated, or just simply a wooden box with doors on, and able to carry 4 to 5 tons. Some had two compartments and bottom doors, whilst others – for meat traffic – had roof bars and hooks for hanging carcasses. The handbook actually shows images of what BR called the ‘SW’ type – which was essentially a container on wheels that could hold about 1 ton, and could be loaded onto a rail wagon/van by two men.
Manual handling of some of these containers would clearly have been very hard work, but it was not uncommon activity in the 1960s workplace, and mechanical handling appeared over time to both reduce the physical strain and increase efficient load handling.
A couple of interesting examples are illustrated too of the handling of ‘palletised traffic’, where boxes of baked beans on pallets are then loaded into one of the then new ‘pallet vans’. Judging by the examples in both BR’s own ‘handbook’ and other publications – “Transport Age” – the railway was responding to changes in traffic types by designing and building bespoke vehicles, from pallet vans to specialist ferry vans. The latter take us away from container trains a little, but perhaps serves to highlight the challenge the industry faced in competition with road hauliers, and standardisation of containers carried at sea on international journeys.
But the most important development to precede the Liner Train project was the “Condor” service, which carried the existing designs of container – essentially a cut down covered van – on a train of specially designed four-wheeled wagons: “Conflats”. The train began service in 1959, running from Hendon in North London, to Gushetfaulds in Glasgow, and hauled by a pair of the new Metro-Vick 2-stroke, 1,200hp diesel locos. From Glasgow to London, the load included manufactured goods from Scotland, and in the reverse direction, imported raw materials were shipped from London’s docks to the factories around Glasgow. The service was door to door, using British Road Services lorries at either end, and with customers paying £16 or £18 to hire a container to carry their products.
The Condor service was a success, and a second route between Birmingham (Aston) and Glasgow in 1963 – the year of the Beeching Report – but it succumbed in the end to Beeching, although it was also the route operated by the first Liner Train / Freightliner service in 1965.
The Liner Train project
Ironically too, the BMC and BR operated ‘Charter Trains’ between Cowley, Oxford and Bathgate – on specially designed flat wagons – to transport Morris Minor cars to Scotland, and vans and commercial vehicles from Scotland to England. A few years later, cars were being transported by road, on transporter lorries in ever greater numbers, and liberalisation of commercial road traffic dealt a bit of a blow to the door-to-door service of the ‘Condor’.
The famous “Liner Trains” proposed by Beeching was really a development of existing modular, palletised, and containerised goods services, which ultimately led to the intermodal and company train services of today. Amongst many other – some would say disastrous – changes proposed under Beeching some radical proposals around “open goods depots” were put forward.
In Appendix 4 of the Beeching Report, the concept is described specifically as:
“…. A conception of transport based upon joint use of road and rail for door-to-door transport of containerised merchandise, with special purpose, through running, scheduled trains providing the trunk haul.”
So there we have it – what we now call inter-modal services, albeit introduced, or at least considered mainly to reduce the financial burdens of non-train-load goods traffic. In its original concept, the Liner Train was described as a series of permanently coupled flat wagons, for carrying containers, and running to a schedule that would demand high utilisation of the stock. Each train would have a gross load of 680 tons, with a 360-ton payload, and running at between 50 and 75 mph.
The traffic itself – given that the early 1960s were the years of huge investment in motorways, and roadbuilding – was optimistically described as goods which would be suitable for rail if the right conditions were met – heavy and full loads, on specific routes at reasonable rates. Having said that this idea was optimistic, it also has to be said that the report considered that the potential tonnage identified for this service was ‘conservative’ at 93 million tons. Traffic studies had shown that 16 million tons of freight carried annually on the roads, could transfer to rail on this service.
Between this first mention of “Liner Trains” and their appearance in traffic, the political landscape changed, not to mention the review of the “Beeching Proposals”, which were in full swing by late 1964. In October that year, the General Election resulted in yet another change, and railway policy was about to change again, but the “Liner Train” / Intermodal concept was still a popular option, although none were at that time in operation. In December 1964, and in answer to a question raised in Parliament about the delay, the new Transport Minister made this statement:
“The Railways Board hopes to introduce the first experimental liner trains next summer, if early agreement is reached with the unions on the principle of “open” depots. My predecessor approved investment of £6 million for liner trains; of this about £700,000 will be spent in 1964. Investment for 1965 will depend on the date of introduction of the services.”
At the time, the “open” depots referred to were the subject of negotiations on working arrangements with the railway trades unions. The “Liner Train” proposal was given a boost in this early period, with British Railways and the Post Office’s plans to concentrate the handling of parcels and what they described as “sundries” at a small number of larger centres. Exactly as the road based parcels delivery companies operate today with their distribution hubs and centres – history repeating itself?
An interesting paragraph in the report about the loss of the traffic in small manufactured components to road hauliers, it states that such traffic would not pay the railway to carry it, yet it is just that type of traffic that is “expected to grow”. In the next paragraph it states too that there is likely to be a growth in the shipment of containers overseas – classic intermodal from rail to seaport – with containers built to “international standards”. Each of which has proven an accurate prediction.
By 1967, work had progressed, and was even the subject of a Pathe Newsreel report, as the extract shown in the link describes: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/freight-liner-trains . That said, the clip only shows the early “Freightliner” liveried stock being loaded onto a ferry for the Dover to Dunkirk service. Two years earlier, the trials and testing of the liner trains with their new ‘flat cars’ was under way, as the Government had approved the funding, and in a parliamentary debate, this was what one MP commented:
“It seems to me that all those who have studied this matter are satisfied that the liner trains will succeed in attracting a very considerable volume of traffic which is now carried on the roads. They will do so only if new specialised railway vehicles are constructed for the purpose. These vehicles are now being constructed in the railway workshop at Derby, and I do not think this would be a proper time for me to have a review of the whole principle underlying the substitution of the existing stock of vehicles by these new ones.”
The discussion had centred around the obsolescence or otherwise of existing wagon designs, and some people seemed to think that the new liner train vehicles would not be interchangeable with existing types – which was of course the point in many ways. Other goods traffic was declining, and most of the professional railwaymen, including the NUR, were very supportive of the project were anxious to press ahead.
In 1965, British Railways published a further report on the “Development of Trunk Routes”, looking ahead to the 1980s, and based on existing and forecast rail and road traffic flows. It was also based on the location of industry – from mining to manufacturing – with the principal traffic centres of London, the West Midlands, Merseyside – Manchester – Hull, and Glasgow and around Newcastle. But the prospects outlined could not take account of the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas reserves, or the ‘offshoring’ of most of the UK’s manufacturing, and dramatic social and economic changes that began in 1979.
Huge investments in road transport were ongoing, with enormous expansion of the motorway network, and little if any thought of integration or collaboration. So, the “Liner Train” concept was largely on the back burner for many years, with limited – if any innovation – in multi or intermodal services, and certainly no consideration of environmental impact.
That argument about “could transfer from road to rail” has featured prominently about rail freight services for over 50 years now, as roadrailer, pocket wagon and piggyback concepts have all come and gone. But, maybe the intermodal services need to be looked at again now, and mimic some of the networks used by the parcel delivery companies, who themselves seem to follow the old railway marshalling yard (hubs), to regional (distribution centres) and local goods (local depot) depots mechanisms.
Currently there are 11 Freightliner depots – Cardiff, Southampton, London, Felixstowe, Birmingham, Cannock, Doncaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. The services are now owned and operated by a company from the USA– Genesee & Wyoming Inc. – with its headquarters in Connecticut, and in 2015 the company purchased the UK’s Freightliner Group Ltd. This separate business is a mix of the traditional bulk mineral haulage that are traditional railway fodder, and the container traffic that, at least on the surface, shows interaction between carrying goods on a flatbed lorry, and its equivalent on rail.
The concept of intermodal – from the dockside to a depot has changed – but it appears that the majority of seaborne containers that arrive at ports are still ultimately carried on the roads, to an importer/supplier’s regional hubs and distribution centres. The lorry’s engines may be more efficient and less polluting than before, but multiple engines are needed to carry 20 or 30 containers on a 100 mile journey from port to inland depot. The likes of the UK’s major supermarket chain and ‘traditional’ road hauliers do run specialised long-haul trains carrying those seaborne containers, but it may be true to say there is still some way to go before a truly intermodal containerised goods traffic is operated in Britain.
There have been many useful ideas in the past, but none have really got to grips with the obsession of road transport for long distance traffic – and is it really that convenient for business?
There is a famous rail route that runs over 1,800 miles from Adelaide / Port Augusta in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory by way of the equally world-renowned town of Alice Springs. The history of railway development in Australia might be described as a patchwork of different shapes, sizes, lengths and ownership, and this route is also home to the “The Ghan Express”, or more commonly “The Ghan”, which has an equally chequered history.
The line was built in various stages between 1879 and 1929 – by which date it had reached Alice Springs – was opened between Port Augusta and Alice Springs as the Central Australian Railway and built to the narrow gauge of 3ft 6ins – thus adding to the country’s complement of rail gauges. In fact, even before the full route had been opened, the Central had been taken over as a section of the Commonwealth Railways, which was already operating the standard gauge route from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie.
The story of the line from South to North in Australia is fascinating one, and the line where ‘The Ghan’ operated – and indeed operates to this day as a private company is even more interesting. But, as I’m sure many of us will remember from school geography, the continent of Australia is very dry, and posed many problems for steam train operations – especially on this route – so it was something of a blessing when diesel traction arrived.
In this example, which is one of international co-operation, no less than three separate companies were involved in the design and construction of 13 diesel locomotives for freight and mixed traffic duties. The power units were supplied from Barrow-in-Furness, on the south-western extremity of the English Lake District, from Vickers Armstrong’s engineering works, and electrical equipment from AEI in the midlands, with the whole package put together by Tulloch in Australia.
General Design & Ordering
The basic design of these locomotives was a joint effort between Sulzer in the UK and SLM in Switzerland, with the overall operational needs laid down by Australia’s Commonwealth Railways to run on the 3ft 6ins gauge line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs. The locos needed to operate in a harsh environment, with a hot dry climate and temperatures that exceeded 100 deg F for days on end, and frequent sand and dust storms. On top of this they needed to run on lightweight track – 60lbs/yard – with demanding curves in places.
The effect of the weight of the locomotive and train speeds demanded particular consideration with the bogie design to minimise rail stress, and the effect of bogie movement and axle loads. Compared with the ‘Zambesi’ design delivered around the same time, the NT Class was some 12tons lighter.
The order for three locomotives was placed in 1964, and many aspects of the design, including the power unit were based on an design that Sulzer-AEI had already supplied to Africa for the Nyasaland and Trans-Zambesia Railway in 1962/3. In March 1964, Nigeria placed an order for 29 of the same ‘Zambesi’ design, again using the same Sulzer 6LDA power unit, which was the heart of the NT Class design ordered from Sulzer in the same year.
The bodies of these locomotives had a very different design and construction than many of the more conventional designs of the day – as a rectangular full width box, the bodysides were created as stressed skin forms, or semi-monocoque. Fabrication of the assembly used rolled steel sections, covered with sheet steel panels, and to provide the rigidity against deformation, a series of closely spaced vertical pillars and horizontal rails was used.
This provided a fully integral structure, with the bodysides connected by headstocks, bolsters, crossbars, deck plates, and bulkheads separating the cab at one end from the radiator compartment and engine room. The coupler height was a particular issue with the NT Class and to handle buffing loads of up to 150 tons, a triangular fabrication was installed at each end behind the drawgear.
Immediately behind the cab was a full width 3ins thick bulkhead, heavily insulated, and the door into the engine room was double glazed, to provide protection for the crew from excess noise and heat. The radiators were positioned on either side, with part bulkheads to provide extra stiffness in the body, and similar, part bulkheads were provided at the other end of the engine room, separating the control equipment from the engine and generator. Beyond these bulkheads was the ‘free’ end of the engine.
In its final form, the cab was placed at the No.2 end of the loco, although there had been some consideration of the design having a cab at each end. The reason given for the cab at the No.2 end was again to do with the nature of the track it would run on, and having the cab at the No.2 end would make for better weight distribution. Another interesting departure from the original design in the NT class was that after the first order was delivered, the following two orders and 10 locomotives were built with a body some nine inches wider.
The engine, an uprated version of the 960hp 6LDA28 series fitted into Class NSU locos, was exhaust pressure charged and intercooled, delivering 1,400hp, and running at 800 rpm. At the time of their construction 4-stroke medium speed engines were commonly used in the UK and many countries, and the Sulzer engines were all built in the Engineering Works of Vickers-Armstrongs in Barrow-in-Furness. By the time these engines were built in Barrow, the works had already constructed around 1,000 of 6, 8 and 12 cylinder types for British Railways, and of course many for other countries, including the ‘Zambesi’ design for Africa.
For the NT Class though, fitting the engine and generator assembly in the body of the loco really drove the design, since to meet the height requirement specified by the design it was necessary to mount the engine below the deck plating. This meant that a conventional underframe could not be used, and the loco’s bodysides would be the main load bearing elements, taking both traction forces and equipment loading through cross stretchers. Hence the stressed skin technique.
The engine itself required major changes to the workplace at the Vickers site in Barrow, and a large proportion of the engineering output there was focussed on building diesel engines, including marine types, along with cement plant, boilers, armaments and equipment for nuclear submarines. In fact Vickers, Barrow first Sulzer engine order was received in 1947, but in 1955 orders began to be received in large numbers from British Railways, which led to the company creating a separate Traction Division to manage the design, build, testing and inspection of the Sulzer engines. According to a commemorative brochure to mark the 1,000th engine:
“The manufacture of Sulzer engines can generally be undertaken on general purpose machine tools but specialised techniques have been developed to assist the large scale productions and inspection of these engines. Extensive use is made of jigs and tools to ensure the interchangeability of all finished parts.”
In the 1960s, Vickers, Barrow was a very busy works, and by the time the Australian order for 6LDA Sulzer diesels arrived, they had already built 1,000 of the Sulzer LDA design. The power unit was used in the earlier A1A-A1A locos built for Commonwealth Railways over a decade earlier.
As a 4-stroke design, Sulzer engines were already easy on fuel, but for the Australian order, the ‘Zambesi’ variant provided lower fuel consumption, and showed good consumption over the full working range. The cylinder block was described as being “… of the wet liner type …” with a single camshaft on the outside operating the valve gear and fuel injection pumps. Fibre glass inspection panels and a full length steel cover on each side of the engine provided access to fuel pumps and crankcase. The latter was built from a number of transverse cast steel members welded to mild steel fabricated longitudinal elements.
The engine was completed by being mounted on side girders, fabricated in a box section, and extended at one end to provide a mounting for the generator. The design and manufacture of the engine provided a significant contribution to reducing the overall weight, and the subsequent impact loading on the lightweight rail used on the narrow gauge networks. In addition, by comparison with the NSU Class, the new locomotive’s power unit provided some 50% more power, and had been tested to achieve a 1,540hp over 1 hour on test at the Test House in Barrow.
The electrical equipment – generator and 6 traction motors were supplied by AEI. The generator, an AEI TG 5302W was mounted at the far end of the loco from the cab and connected to the engine with a solid coupling. The generator armature shaft connected to an auxiliary drive gearbox mounted on the main generator’s end frame of the main generator in a clover leaf format and provided three separate auxiliary drives. One of these was located vertically above the main generator shaft, the other two below to the left and right respectively. The auxiliary generator provided power for lighting, control systems and battery charging.
Immediately behind the cab/engine room bulkhead the cooling radiators were sited on either side of the loco, together with the combined fuel, lubricating oil and water pump set. For cooling the engine only one circuit was used for cooling the engine, lubricating oil and charging air. The advantage claimed by the builders for this simple system was that under all conditions of load the temperature of the engine water, lubricating oil and charging air would be kept at the correct value. This equipment was supplied by Serck and claimed to provide ample margin for operation under the extreme climate conditions of the line.
With so few partitions and bulkheads, ventilation of the engine room was an important aspect of keeping operating and maintenance costs low, as well as combating the harsh environment. The outside air was drawn from the top of the roof at the rear end of the locomotive through an axial flow fan and passed through filters into the engine compartment, effectively providing a positive pressure environment, to exclude fine dust and sand. Additional air flow was provided via the traction motor blowers.
Running Gear and Transmission
Below decks so to speak, the locomotive body and power unit was carried on a pair of 3 axle bogies. The bogie proper was a mixture of cast and fabricated components in a design intended to provide a good ride quality, with the metal-to-metal contact elements replaced by in rubber, and other non-metallic materials. The basic assembly followed the same pattern as the ‘Zambesi’ class for Africa, where rolled mild steel sections and plates were welded into sub-assemblies to form a box-section frame.
Primary springing used helical coil springs between the equalising beams and the bogie frame, with four sandwich rubber units widely spaced providing secondary springing, and hydraulic dampers fitted at each primary spring location. The secondary springing also reduced the weight transfer during periods when the loco was working hard or exerting higher tractive effort.
The bogies of course carried the clasp type brake gear, and this was operated by Australian Westinghouse air-brake system, and followed standard Commonwealth Railways practices. Another weight saving aspect of the design was the aluminium fuel tank, which was “U” shaped in order to allow space to fit the inter-bogie control mechanism. This latter’s purpose was designed to reduce the wear on tyre flanges when running through tight curves, by ensuring the wheels were at the best angle to the rail. This assembly consisted of a pair of yoke arms, running on rollers supported by a body mounted bracket, with the yoke arms on each bogie were connected by a coupling. The braking system on the new NT Class was pretty standard for the 1960s, with clasp type tread brakes and rigging, operated by Australian Westinghouse supplied air-brakes.
Each bogie carried three AEI Type 253AZ 149hp traction motors driving each axle, in the conventional nose suspended, axle hung arrangement. Again, these were the same as fitted to the ‘Zambesi’ design – 4-pole, series wound, and with 3 pairs permanent connected in series, with three stages of field weakening. The final drive to the wheels was achieved using a pinion on the motor shaft driving the axle mounted solid spur gear wheel with a ratio of 92/19, and the whole assembly was enclosed in a sheet steel casing.
Overall control is electro-pneumatic, with the relays/switches located in the control cubicle at the ‘B’ end of the locomotive providing the operation of the different stages of traction motor field weakening. The cubicle was effectively sealed from the rest of the engine/generator compartment and supplied with air taken from the traction motor blowers, at a slightly higher pressure.
The output from the engine to the main generator used a hydraulic load regulator, linked to the engine governor, and an 18 notch master controller, mounted in a pedestal style in the cab regulated the engine speed and power. The train crew were provided with a range of visual and audible alarms for earth faults, wheel slip, high water temperature and low oil pressures, amongst other alarms.
The NT Class were equipped to operate in multiple, and up to three locos could be coupled together and driven from one cab, whilst it was also possible to operate in multiple with the earlier NSU Class A1A-A1A design. It was claimed at the time of their introduction that, at 1400hp, they were the most powerful diesel locos for their weight anywhere in the world.
Numbering & Operations
The first order for the three new NT Class locos was driven by increased passenger and freight traffic, and as a result Commonwealth Railways placed its order for a locomotive type with Tulloch Ltd of Rhodes, Sydney. The design needed to be innovative because of the quite badly laid 3ft 6ins gauge tracks of the Central Australia Railway. The first three were set to work on the section of line between Maree and Alice Springs.
Overall, at first glance, the orders for the NT Class appear quite haphazard – the first 3 in 1964, then an order for 3 more in 1966, and a final order for 7 in 1968, bringing the total to 13. The second order was placed to meet an expected increase in iron ore traffic from the Frances Creek mine on the Northern Australia Railway, and as the tonnage taken out of the Frances Creek mine continued to increase the third order was placed.
The first of the new 1400hp diesels was delivered to the Central Railway for service on the demanding route through the Flinders Range mountains between Port Augusta, Maree, Oodnadatta and Alice Springs. When NT65 was delivered in April 1965, it was decided to name the first of the class after the then Transport Minister- Gordon Freeth – and it remained the only named example of diesels on this route.
NT65 to NT67 were delivered from the Tulloch Works on standard gauge transfer bogies to Broken Hill, where the 3ft 6ins gauge bogies were fitted, and working initially from Quorn, through the Pichi Richie Pass to Port Augusta. In addition to passenger traffic, the coalfields to the northwest of the Flinders Range provide significant freight traffic, and where before a pair of the older NSU diesels would be used, the same working would need only a single NT.
The same process was followed for delivery of the remaining locomotives between 1966 and 1968, and, given that the standard gauge route to Alice Springs was by then in operation, the NTs destined for the Northern Railway were shipped overland from Alice. This involved removing the NTs bogies, and carrying the three new locos on low loaders across country along the Stuart Highway.
The second order for three more NT class locos were sent to the Northern Railway, which were joined by another five from the third order. The remaining two NTs were retained for duties on the Central Railway. The final seven were all intended for the Northern, as the output of iron ore continued to grow rapidly, and which led to the transfer of one of the class on the Central – NT67 – as a temporary measure.
In 1971 the Central was again seeing some new motive power – the Clyde built NJ Class locos, which allowed for the remaining NTs to be sent to the Northern, where they saw out their final years.
The Northern Railway was just over 300 miles long from Darwin to Birdum, but no connection to Alice Springs. In the south, services operated over the Central Railway consisted of passenger and freight, running from Port Augusta to Maree, on to Oodnadaata and finally Alice Springs, a distance of over 770 miles.
Iron ore from the Frances Creek was at the heart of a very serious accident, with no fewer than four NT Class engines involved on 4th November 1972, and which led to the loss of three complete locomotives, and damage to the fourth.
The Darwin Accident
This was the Northern Territory’s worst rail accident and involved four NT Class locos, and this recorded quote provides an interesting description:
“Just after 5am on a November morning in 1972, a train fully loaded with iron ore crashed into a stationary train at Darwin’s Frances Bay rail yards. One railway official said, “I never saw anything like it. I ran down there expecting to be pulling bodies out of the wreckage.” But incredibly, there were no casualties, even among the crew of the runaway train, who had realised it was out of control and jumped out in time. However the accident destroyed over $1 million worth track and rolling stock.”
The locos involved were NT68, 70, 71 and 75. NT70, 71 and 75 were written off after the accident, and although NT68 survived, it survived only another 6 years in service, and was scrapped in 1978.
In 1911 the Northern and Central Railways were owned by the Commonwealth Railways, and operated as Commonwealth Railways since 1926, and 50 years later – a decade after NT65’s arrival – four were operating on the Central and the remaining nine on the Northern, all subsequently became assets of Australian National.
For the NT Class locos it could be argued, their time was almost up before they were put to work, since with the closure of Central Railway in sections from 1957 to 1972, the majority of ‘narrow gauge’ workings took place in the Northern Territory. All of the NT Class were transferred north in the 1970s, but not for more than a few years, until 1976.
By 1976 the Northern Railway was closed, leaving NT’s redundant, and with the closure of the vestiges of the 3ft 6ins route from Alice Springs to Maree in 1981, there was nowhere for them to go. Except, there were still trains to haul on the Eyre Peninsula Railway, in what became South Australia’s Port Lincoln Division. The remaining NT’s were joined there by the six newer NJ Class that were delivered to the Central Australia line from 1971.
One of the NT Class locomotives has been rescued and preserved on the Pichi Richi Railway. NT76 was officially withdrawn in 1989, and is now operational on this heritage railway, along with an older sibling from the NSU Class. The Pichi Richi Railway has its headquarters at Quorn and operates through the Pichi Richi pass in the Flinders Range down to Port Augusta.
So we know of at least one Barrow-in-Furness built Sulzer diesel engine that is still operational – some 12,000 miles away – and approaching its 60th birthday on the picturesque and dramatic line that was home to the original “Ghan Express”.
I am indebted to the Pichi Richi Railway, Jeremy Browne, Julian Sharp and Chris Carpenter for additional information, and some excellent images whilst researching this small offering on what you could say was a tenuous connection between Barrow-in-Furness and Alice Springs. The vastness of the Australian interior, and the amazing work of the people who designed, built and completed the railway across the continent was matched by the diesel engines, train crew and everyone involved in operating a railway in such a hostile environment. Thankyou.
Almost 50 years ago, the WD/MOS 2-10-0 that had been used by the ‘Royal Engineers’ on the Longmoor Military Railway (LMR) was retired to the Severn Valley Railway, where it sits today in the museum at Highley Station. This engine was one of 150 locomotives built by the North British Loco. Co., in Glasgow between 1943 and 1945, which were all originally destined for overseas service with the Allied Army after D-Day to provide supply chain and European recovery and restoration. The Ministry of Supply (MOS) had placed two orders with North British – L945 and L948 – and the majority of these were sent to France, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece and the Middle East.
Some were sent to Egypt, where they were stored for a time, before dispersal to Greece to help rebuild the transport infrastructure, with a handful seeing service in Syria. The lion’s share were leased by The Netherlands – 103 in total – and were used on freight workings until 1952, and had some changes to the original design, most notably in the boiler and steam circuit. In 1948, British Railways acquired 25 of their number, which were put to work in Scotland until 1962, when they were all withdrawn.
These ‘WD Austerity’ engines were not particularly well liked, or successful in the UK, but many aspects of their design principles were later adopted in the design and construction of the BR ‘Standard” series locomotives – not so surprising really considering that the designer, on behalf of the wartime Government was R.A.Riddles.
The WD 2-10-0s were only the third example of ten-coupled locomotives in this country. The first being the Great Eastern’s “Decapod”, which was converted unsuccessfully in 1906 into an 0-8-0 tender type. The second example was still running at the time the WD ‘Austerities’ were introduced – this was the LMSR 0-10-0 No. 2290 used for banking on the Lickey Incline. However, the only similarity between either of these examples and the MOS type was the coupled wheel arrangement. Both of the earlier types were designed with a specific purpose in mind, whereas the WD 2-10-0 was intended for use on all types of freight duties over varying qualities of permanent way, and even in the restricted confines of marshalling yards.
One of the class No. 90764 found its way south of the border in 1950 to the Rugby Test Plant, and controlled road tests were carried out in 1953/4 with engine No. 90772, on the Scottish Region, between Carlisle and Hurlford, near Kilmarnock. The tests were carried out in company with WD 2-8-0 locomotive No. 90464, and ultimately became the subject of the BTC Test Bulletin No. 7.
Four of these WD 2-10-0s have been saved – ‘Gordon’ from the LMR is still on the Severn Valley Railway, 90775 is on the North Norfolk Railway, and named “The Royal Norfolk Regiment”, whilst a third – 73672 – is undergoing restoration on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, both of which were repatriated from Greece. The last of the preserved locos is 73755 and named “Longmoor”, complete with Royal Engineers badge, and is now on display in the Netherlands Railway Museum in Utrecht.
Details of the design of the loco and construction of the 25 that were purchased by British Railways in 1948 are outlined in the booklet below – just click on the image to read or download.
The 1980s saw some notable achievements by the U.K. rail industry, in particular, the decision to introduce two more new classes of electric locomotive, with the most advanced technology, on British Rail’s west and east coast main lines. On board microcomputers were introduced in ever increasing numbers, in the control systems of new multiple units like the class 318 and 319, and the class 87/2 (later Class 90) and 91 ‘Electra’ locomotives. With the announcement of’ the go-ahead for the Channel Tunnel, a consortium of U.K. manufacturers, including Brush, GEC Traction., Metro-Cammell and BREL, were quick to announce plans for motive power for the through trains, planned for operation between Britain and the rest of Europe. These latter saw the beginning of the end of the d.c. motor as the standard form of power transmission to a locomotive’s wheels, extending further the use of power electronics into rail traction service, with a.c. motor drives.
Whilst the major companies like Brush and GEC Traction regularly supplied British Railways with locomotives and power equipment, with the latter winning the major contracts for1986, the U.K. industry was equally successful overseas. In the main, a substantial number of orders involved rapid transit rolling stock, taking in other household names in the British railway industry, like BREL, and Metro-Cammell, although exports of locomotives and power equipments did not lag far behind.
The major successes in that decade for the export market again involved GEC Traction and Brush, with the latter handing over the first of 22 new locomotives in 1986, for the North Island electrification project in New Zealand. GEC’s most important export contract at that time was worth some £35 million, for 50 class 10E1 electric locomotives for South African Railways. On the whole, the 1980s continued to witness export success for British companies, in many fields, against some very stiff competition.
In 1984, Brush Electrical Machines received an order for 22, 3000kW Bo-Bo-Bo locomotives, as part of a £30 million contract placed with Hawker Siddeley Rail Projects by New Zealand Railways Corporation. First deliveries were originally scheduled for December 1985, but the official handover of the first of the new locomotives did not take place until April 1986.
New Zealand’s latest motive power is finished in a striking red livery, with yellow ends, black underframe, bogies and roof, and operated on the 3ft 6ins (1067 mm) gauge of the North Island’s electrified main lines. Taking power from the 25kV a.c.,50Hz overhead contact system, these 22 locomotives from Brush incorporated some of the latest thinking in rail traction technology. The monocoque body, with a driving cab at either end, housed the main transformer, traction converters, and all auxiliary equipment. The overall design of the locomotives was prepared in accordance with specifications provided by New Zealand Railways Corporation, with their principal workings planned tor the Palmerston North to Hamilton sections of the North Island main line.
The solitary, single-arm, air-operated pantograph mounted in a shallow roof well collected power from the overhead catenary, feeding the main transformer through a roof mounted vacuum circuit breaker. The transformer itself was oil cooled, and mounted in the centre of the loco., with outputs from the secondary windings feeding the two thyristor, traction converters. From these, d.c. supplied the six, axle mounted, 500kW traction motors. The power control electronics, in addition to providing stepless control of tractive effort, also allows for regenerative braking, with the traction motors acting as generators, and returning power back into the overhead line.
The traction motors have separately excited field coils (sep-ex), with force ventilation., and represented the then current thinking in d.c. traction motor technology; their continuous rating of 500kW was reached at a speed of 910 rpm. Sep-ex motors enabled better use to be made of a traction unit’s available adhesion properties, along with more precise control of wheelslip, through the preferred arrangement of power control circuits.
Each of the three bogies in the N.Z. locos had a wheelbase of 2500mm (8ft 2ins approx., if you prefer) at bogie pivot centres of 5850 mm (19ft 2ins), with main and secondary suspension provided by coil springs. The bogies sported traditional air-operated clasp type brakes, in addition to regenerative braking, with the shoes bearing directly on the wheel treads.
Basic dimensions and data are as follows;
GEC Traction’s connection with South African Railways goes back many years, including numerous orders in a fleet of electric locomotives that constitute the largest single type in the world. In 1985 the company won an order for 50 claas10E1(series 2) 3kVd.c. electric locomotives, worth some £35 million. At that time, the S.A.R. class 10E1’s were the most advanced d.c. traction units in the world, incorporating state of the art technology. The order was placed with GEC Transportation Projects of the U.K., with mechanical parts supplied by Union Carriage & Wagon Co., of South Africa.
Weighing in at 126 tonnes, these Co-Co units included microprocessor based ‘chopper’ control, and up to six could be connected in multiple, with a continuous rating of 3,000kW each – the same as the New Zealand triple Bo locomotives built by Brush.
Basic dimensions of the SAR locomotives are given below, and are worth comparing with the Bo-Bo-Bo units for New Zealand;
Power equipment installed in the 10E1 locomotives was designed to cover supplies from 2kV to 4kV d.c., with each of the two single arm pantographs connected to high-speed circuit breakers. Equipment layout in the locomotive body was based on a modular and functional grouping arrangement, where the obvious advantage is in the reduction in complexity of pipework and cable runs, and easier maintenance. The two fixed frequency choppers are air cooled, and the three thyristor arrangement was similar to installations provided by GEC on multiple unit stock for the Dublin and Seoul (Korea) metro schemes.
Again, like the Brush locos. for New Zealand, d.c., traction motors with separate excitation of field coils was provided, with the six motors connected in two groups of three motors in series. Individual control of the two motor groups allowed compensation of wheel wear, and reduction of the effects of weight transfer. In a similar manner to the numerous class 6E1 locomotives, the traction motors were mounted on a ‘U’ tube suspension unit and axle hung. Regenerative braking, and when required, rheostatic braking was included, independently controlled from the air brake system operating conventional clasp type tread brakes. Auxiliary power supplies were 3-phase a.c., supplied from a single motor alternator set.
The microprocessors that form the heart of the sophisticated control system provided rapid detection and correction of wheelslip not automatically corrected by the sepex motors, load sharing between locomotives connected in multiple, and the weight transfer compensation. One of the features of the microprocessors was enabling the new units to operate in multiple with other types, by storing the operating characteristics of the different types, and matching the performance of the 10E1 type to suite. As with all locomotives fitted with microprocessor control, fault monitoring, diagnosis and logging, was an important feature, and eventually a standard facility.
Designed for operation in some very arduous environmental conditions to exacting technical specifications, the first of the new SAR locomotives entered service in late 1986.
Again, both Brush and GEC Traction figured prominently in diesel traction equipment for the export market, joined by others, such as Thomas Hill and Hunslet, with specialist diesel shunting locomotives, primarily for industrial use. Brush, who are most familiarly associated with numerous class 47 and HST, and later the class 56 units for British Rail, saw success in 1980 with a £1 million order from Japan for diesel-electric shunters.
And, in the early 1980s, following completion of a new purpose-built locomotive assembly shop at Loughborough, the Company concentrated efforts on building up sales of a range of shunting and trip working locomotives. For Turkey, Sri Lanka and Ghana, Bo-Bo type locomotives were built between 1981, 1982 and 1983, of a relatively similar basic layout, but some variations in detail design. Also in 1983, Brush’s links with India were reinforced with an agreement covering the development and construction of shunting locomotives with Suri & Nayar of Bangalore.
The Bo-Bo locomotives which Brush were building for Sri Lanka in 1982 were a hood type, housing a 1000hp General Motors diesel engine coupled to the main alternator, with four conventional series-wound traction motors. The general-purpose locomotives were essentially an orthodox hood type, with a major feature of the designs being the elimination/reduction of maintenance, through the provision of simple mechanical drives for all auxiliary machinery.
Whether the locomotives were intended for Sri Lanka, Ghana, or in the later examples delivered to Gabon, the body was divided into three groups, carried on a conventional steel underframe. At the rear, a. short hood housed the batteries, followed by the cab, and a long hood over the power equipment, which itself was divided into three compartments. The compartment nearest the cab housing the electrical equipment, including the rectifiers, the next in line included the engine and generator/alternator assembly. Both of these compartments had a filtered air supply, whilst the third, at the front of the loco., housing the cooling group, radiator fan drives, etc., had no such luxury. The two two-axle bogies beneath the locomotive carried the d.c., series wound traction motors, hung from the axles, and with a spur gear final drive, in a fabricated steel frame, and main suspension of coil springs and hydraulic dampers. The fuel tank, as convention dictated was carried between the bogies.
The six metre gauge locomotives ordered for Ghana in 1983, had a 645 hp Rolls Royce engine, paired with the Brush generator, of the same basic design, but weighing 54 tonnes. The hood shape was slightly different too, being lower, and the cab roof had a much flatter profile. Turned out in a colourful red and gold livery, these six locomotives were worth some £2.5 million, and intended for trip freight working on the main lines.
Amongst the last major orders for diesel locomotives for main line service beyond the U.K., and for Brush, were 1100hp Bo-Bo’s for Gabon Railways (0CTRA) , constructed in 1985. These 90 tonne units were powered by Cummins diesel engines, coupled to a Brush alternator, for mixed traffic duties on the standard gauge. The three-phase output from the alternator was rectified to feed the four axle hung, nose suspended d.c. traction motors. Mechanically, the layout of the locomotives for Gabon was the same as previous orders .
GEC Traction’s involvement in new locomotive construction for overseas railways was largely limited to power equipment, or as subcontractors to others. Later examples of this in the 1980s was an order for 45 sets of electric transmission equipment for Krauss-Maffei built diesels for Turkey, with a Bo-Bo wheel arrangement a continuous rating of 940hp and weighing in at 68 tonnes. Another 5 locomotives for TCDD were to be supplied with 3-phase drives provided by Brown Boveri. The majority of locomotives were to be built, or rather put together in Turkey, as they were shipped out in completely knocked down. Most of these latter – 30 in all – had been shipped by mid-1986, although local assembly had not started until later that year and into 1987. Initially, after official handover, the Krauss-Maffei/GEC Traction locomotives were set to work on the Istanbul to Kapikule (On the Bulgarian border) line, and operated between Ismir and Ankara.
Refurbishing the electrical equipment of English Electric built diesel locomotives for East Africa and the Sudan and supplying engine spares also occupied the expertise of GEC Traction. The class 87 of Kenya railways is the equivalent of British Rail’s class 37, and extending its working life was a priority for its owners.
The Sudan became another overseas market for U.K. motive power when, in 1982, the Hunslet Engine Co., received an order for 11 0-8-0 locomotives for a 600mm rail line hauling cotton and cotton seeds from plantations to processing factories. Hunslet had been supplying locos. to the Sudan Gezira Board – the operators of this line – for almost 30 years, and the repeat order took the total supplied to the Sudan by Hunslet to 67 locomotives.
In the 1980s, the U.K. rail industry has undoubtedly been particularly successful in supplying main line electric locomotives, the winning of these contracts influenced by the wealth of experience and expertise of the contractors. Provision of power equipment, including alternators, generators, traction motors and control equipment also saw many more successes for the railway industry during this period, from Australia’s XPT to AMAX mine locomotives for the USA.
Multiple unit rolling stock for suburban and rapid transit systema around the world was another area where U.K. builders, again particularly GEC Traction and Brush, gained many valuable orders. A number of’ these contracts were secured in the far east, in locations like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia, where competition from the Japanese is especially fierce. Motive power orders though were predominantly concentrated in the field of electric traction, and the design and construction of locomotives for South Africa and New Zealand, were by some margin the stars of the 1980s.
20 years ago, and 2 years after the East Coast Main Line (ECML) was electrified from London to Edinburgh – only 10 years late – BR’s flagship locomotive “Electra”; also known as Class 91, saw service for the first time on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). To be fair it didn’t last long on the WCML, but in 1992, it set a fastest service record, with a train from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly in 2hrs 8mins. At the time this loco was being developed, British Rail – and the InterCity Sector especially was making significant operating profits – and the completion, finally of the electrification work on the ECML was perhaps the icing on the cake.
The profitability of British Rail continued into the early 1990s, and in 1992/3, this press release was issued alongside the annual report:
In 1991, they put out this publicity brochure, to advertise what was coming:
Please click on the image opposite to read on >>
The “Electra” Project – the Class 91 – was one of the most innovative locomotives then developed for use on British Rail. In its Bo-Bo wheel arrangement it was able to generate some 4.54MW of power and haul 11-coach rakes of the new Mark IV coach when it became available. On the WCML it was planned to haul 750 tonne sleeper trains single handed, and the West Coast route, with the arduous ascents of Shap and Beattock between London and Glasgow, was much more demanding than the East Coast.
Thirty one Class 91 ‘Electra’ locomotives were ordered by BR, along with 50 of the Class 90 (formerly known as 87/2), and 86 sets of power equipment for the Class 319 multiple units. The locomotives featured the latest thyristor control systems, with more extensive use of microprocessors, and in a radical departure the separately excited (sep-ex), d.c. traction motors were included in the bogie space, but carried in the locomotive body.
The electrical equipment included oil cooled traction converters – featuring GTO thyristor components – and the main transformer was located below the body, between the bogies, lowering the centre of gravity, and assisting in the reduction of body roll, and relative pantograph movement.
The traction motors, as mentioned above, are body mounted, but slung below the floor, in the bogie space, which in turn, has enabled a more or less conventional layout of equipment on board. The transmission features a coupling arrangement patented by GEC Traction, with the motors driving the wheelsets through a right-angle gearbox, and bevel gears. The hollow output shaft of the gearbox drives the wheels through a rubber bushed link coupling, isolating the drive from relative radial and lateral movement of the wheelsets imparted by the primary suspension. Each traction motor was fitted with a ventilated disc brake at the inboard end.
The major characteristics of the Class 91 are detailed below;
Max service speed
Weight in working order
Unsprung mass per axle
Bogie pivot centres
Wheel diameter (new)
Max tractive effort
Cont tractive effort
Max power at rail
Brakes – locomotives
The class 91 order included an option for a further 25, and featured a double ended design, but with only the No.1 end having any degree of aerodynamic styling. In normal service, during the day, the streamlined end would normally be at the end of the train, pulling when running in one direction, and pushing, when running in the opposite direction. When pushing, control signals are transmitted to the Driving Van Trailer (DVT) attached to the opposite end of the train, by means of Time Division Multiplex (TDM) signals, sent along train wires, on board. The No.2 end cab is flat faced, and a profile that matched the profile of the adjoining coaches was adopted. The non-streamlined end would be used normally when the locomotives were running semi-fast, sleeper services, or other non high speed duties.
Interestingly, the class 91 was designed for a 35-year working life, averaging 420,000 km per year, which meant that in a couple of years’ time – 2023 – we would be saying goodbye to this impressive locomotive. But of course, events have turned out rather differently, and privatisation has created a much more complex operating environment, for both the technology of the train, and the management of the railway.
Sadly – although this year marks the 30th anniversary of its use on the WCML – they were never used in anger there, and by the turn of the century, the ‘Pendolino’ had arrived – by way of Fiat, Alstom and Metro-Cammell. There too, the technology developed at BR’s Derby Research Centre played its part in the late 1970s and into 1980, with the APT – but that’s a story for another day.