‘Gordon’ – The Big Blue Austerity Engine

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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.


An impressively clean looking WD 2-10-0 No. 90766 – sporting its second British Railways running number.  This example was built by North British Locomotive Co. in July 1945, to Works No. 25636.    Photo: Historical Railway Images

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1948, British Railways acquired 25 of their number, which were put to work in Scotland until 1962, when they were all withdrawn.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.

Greek State Railways )SEK) Class Λβ 2-10-0 steam locomotive Nr. 962 – North British Locomotive Works 25403 / 1943) and ex MOS/WD No. 73677 seen out of service is the sister engine to No. Λβ 960, which is now undergoing a major overhaul/rebuild at Grosmont on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.   Photo: Historical Railway Images

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.

-oOo-

1980s British Motive Power Exports

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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.

Electric Traction

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.

The artist’s impression of the New Zealand locos seen on the publicity brochure is a striking image.

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.

Outline diagram of New Zealand Railways Class 30 built by Brush Traction in the late 1980s

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;

Brush Bo-Bo-Bo locomotives for New Zealand

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;

GEC/SAR Class 10E locomotives

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.

Classic publicity shot of GEC/Union Carriage & Wagon built Class 10E Co-Co No. 10052.
Photo: RPB Collection/GEC Traction

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.

Diesel Traction

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.

This view is of one of the then new diesel shunting locos built for Ghana, with examples built for Turkey and Sri Lanka.
Photo Source: Railway Industry Association (RIA)

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. 

Photo Source: Railway Industry Association (RIA)
Another example of Brush Traction’s directional change in the 1980s – at least for export – was a focus on what might be described as shunting, mixed traffic or trip freight workings. The two images above illustrate the 1,000hp locos supplied to Sri Lanka in the early 80s.
Photo Source: Railway Industry Association (RIA)

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.

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Another Brush Electrical Machines success were the 1,100 hp Bo-Bo design, powered by a Cummins diesel engine – which was a departure for the company at the time. The locos were supplied to Gabon State Railways (OCTRA) and helped to grow and develop the country’s rail network.
Photo: RPB Collection/Brush Traction

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.

A set of 5 of the GEC Traction equipped diesel freight types for Turkey in 1983. Most of these were supplied as a kit of parts for assembly from Krauss Maffei (main contractor) and GEC as subcontractor for the electrical equipment. Photo: RPB Collection/GEC Traction

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.

GEC Traction supplied these AMAX mining locomotives to the USA, in what might be described as the UK’s last successful decade of the 20th century for exports by the railway industry. RPB Collection/GEC Traction

-oOo-

30 Years of IC225 on the West Coast??

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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;

  
Wheel arrangement Bo-Bo
Track gaugestandard
Overall length 19400 mm
Overall height3757 mm
Overall width 2740 mm
Max service speed240 km/hr
Weight in working order 80 tonnes
Unsprung mass per axle1.7 tonnes
Line voltage 25kV a.c.
Bogie wheelbase3350 mm
Bogie pivot centres 10500 mm
Wheel diameter (new)1220 mm
Max tractive effort 55440 kg
Cont tractive effort39040 kg
Max power at rail 4700 kW
Continuous power4530 kW
Brakes    – locomotives air
                – trainair

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.

Early days on the ECML – “Electra” about to leave Kings Cross on a media special..

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. 

In its standard livery 91005 seen passing Carstairs in 1993

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.

A northbound service passing through Oxenholme on a wet and windy March morning …

-oOo-

Useful links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Class_91

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brecknell_Willis_high_speed_pantograph

Early Main Line Diesel Locomotives of British Railways

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Diesel traction was pioneered in Britain by the LMSR in the 1930s, with a variety of shunting locomotive types, and by the late 1940s steps had been taken towards the arrival of the first diesel locomotive intended for main line workUnder the guidance of the LMSR’s C.M.E., H.G.Ivatt, and the co-operation of English Electric Ltd.,1600hp diesel-electric No.10.000 took to the rails in December 1947. 

Here was the first of an entirely new breed – the 16-cylinder English Electric diesel engine operating a generator, supplying power to the six electric motors driving the road wheels of the two bogies.  English Electric had long been involved with non-steam design and build, mostly for overseas railways, and were at the forefront of most development and innovation around the world. 

The use of traction motor/gear drives had already replaced the jackshaft/side rod drives of the pioneer shunters, but No.10,000 was its ultimate development on the LMS.  Diesel power was also the first step towards the elimination of steam locomotives as the principal source of main line motive power. But nobody looked at it that way then; it was the train of the future, something for small boys to marvel at on station platforms. 

These first main line diesel types were perhaps considered along the lines of proposed ‘atomic trains’, a far-off concept in the post-war era.  Strangely enough, by the time BR came to embark on its dieselisation programme, diesel locomotives had become smelly tin boxes on wheels, and the seeds of steam nostalgia were sown.  It’s doubtful that steam era footplatemen were anything other than happy with improved conditions.

So much for the train of the future!

Click on the image below for more information on the ex-LMS projects on British Railways:

The Southern Railway too was progressing with main line diesel traction in the post-war era, but it was not to be for a further three years after nationalisation that their locomotive appeared.  Meanwhile the GWR had decided as usual to pursue an independent course, with plans for gas turbine types, although these too would not be completed until 1950.

This cartoon appeared in the April 1948 issue of the railway’s “Carry On” magazine, and reflected the new technology, and its need for heavy fuel oil to power the locomotive, and not coal.

-oOo-

From Signalboxes to ROCs

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There is a new word in town – it’s “digital” – and you can use it for anything to make it sound big, clever, or a technological marvel.  Take the “digital railway” for instance, what is it?  This is what they said on their website in 2019:

“Digital Railway aims to deliver the benefits of digital signalling and train control more quickly than current plans, deploying proven technology in a way that maximises economic benefit to the UK.”

In 2021, this was changed slightly and now reads:

“What’s the Digital Railway programme?”

The rail industry’s plan to transform the rail network for passengers, business and freight operators by deploying modern signalling and train control technology to increase capacity, reduce delays, enhance safety and drive down costs.”

Now, a couple of short videos are posted on the opening page:

That said, hundreds of signalboxes are now on their way into history, and the UK has come a long way from mechanical, through electro-mechanical and electronic systems, and is changing at an even faster pace today.

Chris Grayling, the then Transport Secretary, stated in 2017 he was taking £5 million from the £450 million pot for the UK’s “Digital Railway”, to enable Network Rail to investigate options for making the Manchester to Leeds route “digital”.  But why Network Rail – implementing ETCS at even Level 1 will require work from the train operating companies and rolling stock owners to retrofit their locomotives and trains.  On top of which, some have already been fitted with what will become non-standard TPWS, and cab signalling/driver advisory systems, which would add to the cost, although today ETCS has been used on lines in mid-Wales, and under test on the Hertford loop.

Clearly Mr Grayling – and maybe even the “Digital Railway” web pages are highlighting what they might like to see, and there is still much work to be done.

York IECC Control Room – 20th Century signalling technology

Yes – I know about the WCML upgrade work – but, although it was included in the EU “TENS” programme – I can’t help but wonder if it will be fully complete without more private investment, or ideally perhaps state investment.  ETCS together with GSM-R telecoms was and remains an integral part of the ERTMS platform, which perhaps not surprisingly has progressed in fits and starts over the years.

I remember first writing about this over 20 years ago, and whilst yes, historians will say that automatic train control systems have been around on London Underground, the Great Western Railway (in steam days), and even British Railways in the 1950s, this is really about ETCS.  Back in the 1990s, as Solid State Interlocking and IECCs (Integrated Electronic Control Centres) began to arrive on BR, the old fixed block systems were gradually being phased out and replaced by the new technology, which today we are obliged to call the “digital railway”. 

Inside Three Bridges (London) ROC

Ironically perhaps the video on the Digital Railway website states that the UK needs a new signalling system designed for the 21st century – what a pity the UK didn’t invest sooner in the 20th century system that this Digital Railway will use.  Perhaps the one thing I would take issue with in their promotional video is that this nirvana will provide “better connections” – well only if you provide more stations and more trains on new or re-opened lines perhaps! 

A current version of the same video, and the “better connections” feature seen previously seems to be missing, and more attention focussed on the improved capacity, and CDAS (Connected Driver Advisory System) included.  

Automatic Train Operation (ATO) still features, the ‘autopilot’ for trains, along with real time train performance information gathering – oh yes – and being able to update passengers in real time about delays.  This latter presumes that stations have information displays on the platform – many still do not have this, and it seems to depend on the train operating company (TOC) to put these facilities in place.  But it is progress – albeit slow.

Still we do have the experience of the Cambrian Line ETCS at Level 2 to gather data from, analyses and provide that next step.  However, despite Mr Grayling’s proposition, Thameslink is next in line, along with Crossrail – and presumably Crossrail 2, which has replaced the planned work on the Transpennine electrification.  The Thameslink core will be receiving in addition, a system from Hitachi that allows automated route setting, and claims to minimise signaller involvement, but does not control the interlocking directly, but responds to status information, with sophisticated software used to set or amend the route.

In 2018, details were published of the ETCS rollout projects for the remainder of Control Period 5 (CP5), which took us up to the end of 2019, and these included:

From that list – intriguingly – the ETCS deployment on Crossrail has been described as a “Metro based” signalling system, which is apparently not compatible with mainline deployment.  So, here we have a “digital strategy” to deploy ETCS Level 2, but which is not being deployed in a strategic way.  This is what the strategy document actually said:

“The Crossrail core section utilises Metro based signalling that is not scalable from either a technology or procurement perspective for widespread mainline applications.”

Given that Crossrail is supposed to provide a cross London route for main line trains, why would you deploy such a system?  Does it provide full ETCS/ERTMS compatibility, and does calling is a “Metro based” system just mean that its name is the only thing that has changed?

More recently, the rollout of ETCS has been proposed to the East Coast Main Line, and in 2018, the “Digital Railway Strategy” indicated that this would be done in a ‘discrete’ manner, as and when signalling was due for renewal and/or replacement.   Is this just a piecemeal approach?  This is what was stated as the 2018 strategic approach to signalling:

So, further deployments were planned in line with funding through CP6 and CP7, and in late 2020 it was announced that £350 million was to be used to deploy “digital signalling” on the southern section of the East Coast Main Line.   This is the section from King’s Cross to just north of Peterborough, and will be migrated to ETCS level 2 with no lineside signals in a phased approach.  At the same time existing passenger and freight trains will be fitted with the new technology.   The major changes to the infrastructure and signalling systems, including the provision and deployment of ETCS, was set to be carried out by a partnership of Network Rail, WS Atkins and Siemens in a framework contract. 

With a new Transport Secretary in place – Grant Shapps replaced Chris Grayling in July 2019 – the development and rollout of the “digital railway” is still not a strategic plan, but based on business cases for the routes, and often only sections of the main routes.  Much of the national rail network’s main routes will not see ETCS in either Level 1 or Level 2 form until the next two control periods have passed – sometime in the next 10 years.  In fact, according to the Long Term Deployment Plan, most work on the infrastructure – based on a business case for the specific renewals, and retrofitting trains – will happen between 2028 and 2039.  Presumably that depends on funding being available, and whether or not the private train operating companies – passenger and freight – buy into this evolving strategy.

Goodbye to the Signalbox

With the reliance on in-cab signalling and in formation, lineside signals will gradually reduce in importance to the operation of the train, and as innovation and technical developments take place, the control of train movements will become ever more centralised.  That said, controlling traffic flow will still need to have multiple – if fewer – points of control, and changes to movements and/or direction can be implemented more rapidly with 21st century communications.  This will have perhaps its greatest impact on the lineside feature that is the signalbox.

The traditional signalbox – IECCs and SSI as well? – is being replaced by the ROC (Railway Operating Centre) – which although essentially a Network Rail facility, will be a shared facility with the private train operators’ staff working alongside Network Rail at 12 locations. 

So close to nationalisation surely?

Of the ROCs being rolled out by Network Rail, Manchester was first, and kitted out with the latest software and systems for train control, planning, and automated route setting, opened in July 2014 by Sir Richard Leese.  In the UK this is the Hitachi platform for train management, known as “Tranista”, which was developed initially for GE Transportation Systems, but works with both Alstom MCS and Siemens Westcad

Manchester ROC Entrance

Nice, but functional, and behind the walls lies the heart of the operation, computer systems and traffic management software.

I’m guessing they’re not necessarily using Windows!

This has been a long time coming. Back in 2002 I wrote this item for ‘Engineering‘ summarising some of the platforms available, and what was being used and proposed on the UK rail network – much has changed and developed with technology, but it makes an interesting review.

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Useful Links:

Network Rail Links

Springboks & Bongos

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For all the talk of Nigel Gresley and his exceptional express passenger types, the LNER were in dire need of a easy to build, easy to maintain and all-round workmanlike mixed traffic locomotive. This arrived with the company’s last CME – Edward Thompson – and who provided the basis for the locomotives to meet the operating departments exacting demands during and after the Second World War.

These were the 2-cylinder 4-6-0s of Class B1, or “Antelope Class”, which arrived in 1942, and quickly acquired the nickname “Bongos”. The early examples were named after Antelopes, and included Springboks, Gazelles and Waterbucks – but it was after the 6th member appeared in February 1944, and sporting the name Bongo that that name stuck, and they were affectionally forever known as “Bongos”.


The up “Queen of Scots” at Newcastle in early BR days, hauled by class B1 No. E1290 – temporary E-prefix to the number – with the full title on the tender sides.  This view of the right hand side also clearly shows the generator, mounted to the running boards for electric lighting, in place of the earlier design of axle mounted alternator.   
Photo (c) M Joyce/Gresley Society

They were a great success, adapting and adopting the latest ideas and techniques in design and construction, and with only two sets of outside cylinders and valve gear, were destined to give Stanier’s ubiquitous “Black Five” a run for its money as the 1940s came to an end and nationalisation took place. Thompson’s approach – in this case supported by the two main loco builders of North British Locomotive Co. and Vulcan Foundry – who built 340, with the remaining 70 from BR’s Darlington and Gorton Works – was a forerunner of the approach taken when the BR Standard classes were built.

The Thompson era on the LNER was in sharp contrast to the previous twenty years, under the guiding hand of Sir Nigel Gresley.  During Gresley’s day there were a number of notable designs, and the locomotive stock was represented by a large number of different types, often designed for specific purposes, produced in response to current business and commercial demands.  Gresley’s designs could almost be described as bespoke, or niche products, aimed at satisfying an immediate business need, and not providing a standard range, or designing motive power which could be  used on a wide variety of services. 

The services that the new B1 was intended to operate were very wide ranging, and it was achieved in practice, bearing some testimony to the soundness of the idea, and as a cost-effective locomotive design they were succesful and amongst the best of their era.

The first part of their story is outlined below, so please click on the link to read on …..

Part 2 to follow soon …. watch this space

Changing Face of Amtrak’s North East Corridor – and a New Acela

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Beginnings

The North East Corridor of the Amtrak rail network has been, and remains, the most important rail route in the USA, connecting the major cities of the Eastern Seaboard with the federal capital of Washington D.C. It has been at the forefront of the deployment of high-speed trains for decades, way back to the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s grand electrification work, and the use of the world famous GG1 locomotives, with Raymond Loewy’s streamlining.

When Amtrak – more precisely the National Railroad Passenger Corporation in 1971, under the ‘Railpax Act’, passenger rail services were and had been run down to a very considerable extent, and the Federal Government decided it was important to rescue the most important routes. Of greatest importance were the lines in the North East States, and the infrastructure was just not fit to provide late 20th century passenger services, and so began the NECIP – North East Corridor Improvement Project.

Back in the 1980s, high-speed rail was dominating the headlines, and by 1986, the USA had experimented with, and was developing that membership of the high-speed club, and only the UK, despite the technology, research and the ill-fated APT, was being left behind. In the USA had had in mind high-speed rail transport since 1965, when it enacted the “High Speed Ground Transportation Act” in 1965, which was a direct response to the arrival of the ‘Shinkansen’ bullet trains in Japan the previous year. There followed trials of ingenious gas-turbine trains from the United Aircraft Corporation – the UAC Turbotrains – which were in revenue earning service on NEC services between 1968 and 1976. These overlapped the formation of Amtrak, and ran in Amtrak colours for a time.

A less than successful gas turbine powered train intended to provide high-speed passenger services was the UAC Turbotrain, seen here at Providence, Rhode Island in May 1974, in the early Amtrak colours. Photo: Hikki Nagasaki – TrainWeb https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48607485
Just prior to the creation of Amtrak, Budd built these ‘Metroliner’ sets to try and improve passenger ridership on the NEC. These Penn Central liveried units were perhaps the start of a transition to high-speed rail. Photo (c) Charly’s Slides

To provide improved passenger services on the NEC, in the late 1960s, Penn Central ordered and operated the Budd built “Metroliner” trains for its electrified route out of New York. These trains were sponsored by the DOT (Department of Transportation) as a “Demo Service” for high-speed inter-city working along the corridor. They were a success and led, a few later to the appearance and styling of the first “Amfleet” cars.

But, next on the high-speed agenda were the ANF-RTG “Turbotrains”, which, once again, were powered by gas turbines, with the first two fixed formation sets built and imported from France from 1973. However, these were not set to work on the NEC initially, but sent out to Chicago, where they worked services to and from the mid-west. They were based on a very successful design running on SNCF metals in France, and whilst the first 4 were direct imports, Amtrak “Americanised” the design with another 7 of the 5-car sets, to be built by Rohr Industries, and powered by the same ANF-Frangeco gas turbine. These Turbo Trains were put to use on the “Water Level Route” out of New York, and were fitted with contact shoes for 3-rail working in and out of Grand Central Terminal. These were a success – if not super fast, they were very economical, and cut oil consumption compared to the earlier designs by about 1/3.

The first venture overseas to finmd a high-speed solution for non-electrified routes around and feeding into the NEC was the ANF-Frangeco gas tubine powered sets from France. They were much more reliable and economic operationally than the UAC Turbotrains, and resulted in a design involving this proven technology, but built and ‘Americanised’ by Rohr Industries. Photo: (c) Charly’s Slides

South of New York, the Pennsylvania Railroad had electrified its main line into and out of New York back in the 1930s – and of course bought the unique and classic GG1 electric locomotives. These hauled the most prestigious passenger trains on the Pennsylvania’s lines for many years, but the dramatic collapse in passenger operations in the 1950s and 60s was a major challenge. Railroads were going bust at a rate of knots, and there were mergers that perhaps shouldn’t have been, and with railroads focussing on freight, the track and infrastructure was not good enough for high-speed passenger trains. The Government decided that something needed to be done to protect and provide passenger services in the North East, and following the examples of other countries, provide high-speed services.

The end result was the North East Corridor Improvement Project, and of course the formation of Amtrak.

First Steps

Having taken on the PRR’s ‘Metroliner’ and GG1 for passenger duties under the wires, it was time to look for replacement and improvements. The first changes came by way of 6,000hp E60CP electric locomotives from General Electric, and to marry up with the ageing passenger cars, these Head End Power (HEP) units also had steam heating fitted. Mind you, so did some of the new ‘Amfleet’ cars that were converted to provide HEP in the early days.

On the electrified lines of the former PRR in the NEC, General Electric were commissioned to build these hge 6,000hp E60CP locomotives, which were planned to provide 120 mph running. Sadly, that objective was never achieved, and the power to weight ratio in the build of these locos was a factor. Photo: Amtrak

The E60s were not a success, and their planned operational speeds of up to 120 mph was never achieved, and in part due to the suspension and transmission arrangements, together with the less than satisfactory state of the infrastructure. The E60s had their speed limits capped at 85 mph, even after suspension design changes, and were later sold off to other railroads. High-speed passenger working was not something the American railroads and the NEC in particular had any great experience with at that time, and it was playing catch up with other countries. The next high-speed proposal out of the blocks was much more successful, as Amtrak turned to Sweden and a version of its 6,000hp Bo-Bo locomotive, which, built by General Motors in the USA was nicknamed ‘Mighty Mouse’.

An AEM7 “Mighty Mouse” built by General Motors – also offered 6,000hp but with a much greater power to weight ratio. The design was based on the Swedish ASEA Rc4, and was an outstanding success, and paved the way for further developments of high-speed rail on the NEC. Photo: (c) Rail Photos Unlimited

The imported trial locomotive was the ASEA built Rc4, and was half the weight of the General Electric E60, and more aerodynamic. It was an outstanding success on trial, and despite GE being the only US manufacture of electric locos at that time, its rival, General Motors, was licensed to built ASEA equipment, which of course made it so much simpler to introduce a modern, high-speed design to the corridor. After trials, Amtrak ordered 15 of the new AEM7 ‘Mighty Mouse’ locos from General Motors, and this was rapidly followed by another 32, bringing the class total to 47. It would be wrong to suggest they ‘revolutionised’ high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor – but they certainly paved the way for future successes – after the $multi-million NEC Improvement Project got under way.

The fixed formation sets of the ‘Metroliner’ fleet in Amtrak service on the NEC as a high-speed option dates back to 1971, when the DOT reported its preference for IHSR-1 (Improved High-Speed Rail), with the ‘Metroliners’ as the minimum investment. These self-propelled electric trains were not a great success, and were plagued with reliability problems, and even after refurbishing in the early 1970s they proved no better than the electric locos hauling the new ‘Amfleet’ cars along the corridor.

Since electrification at the time was not being progressed further – although obscure ideas such as underground tubes, STOL/VTOL aircraft and magnetic levitation systems were discussed as high-speed options – on the rail, more gas-turbine powered trains were tried. This time, the options came from France and Canada – the old UAC ‘Turbotrains’ were very heavy on fuel, alongside their perhaps questionable performance on non-electrified section.

Following the success of the French built Turbotrains, Amtrak ordered and Rohr Industries built these ‘Americanised’ versions, incoporating the technology in a style and configuration more in tune with North American design. These 5-car sets were a success on non-electrified routes feeding into the corridor, and went ‘on tour’ across the country, operating out of the mid-west. Photo: Amtrak

The new gas-turbine trials featured a French multiple unit design from ANF-Frangeco, which was already in regular use on SNCF. The two on lease from ANF were followed by an order for 4 more, and they were highly successful on mid-west routes out of Chicago, with their turbines driving the axles through mechanical cardan shaft drives. An option for more was taken up by building an ‘Americanised’ version at Rohr Industries in California – these were 5-car sets, ordered in 1974 and put to work in the mid-west, whilst the UAC ‘Turbotrains’ saw out their days on the NEC between New York and Boston. The new Rohr turbotrains were also intended for the ‘Water Level Route’ north from New York, and modifications included fitting traction motors and third rail collector shoe gear for working in and out of Grand Central Station.

Amtrak turned to Canada and Bombardier for another variant for non-electrified operations – in this casze, the Bombardier built LRC (‘Light, Rapid, Comfortable’) train, which also saw the first use of body tilting technology to enable higher speeds around curves. Here, Amtrak’s “Beacon Hill” with locomotive #38, is seen in December 1980 carrying the then current red, white and blue livery. Photo: Tim Darnell Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15751992

The poor old UAC ‘Turbotrains’ were a failure on the New York to Boston section, and the decision to scrap the extension of electrification north from New Haven left Amtrak without suitable power to run high-speed passenger services. In 1980, a pair of 5-car LRC (Light, Rapid Comfortable) trains appeared on the corridor. These were an existing design from Canadian builders Bombardier/MLW, and already in service with Via Rail, and featured automatic body tilt mechanism that would prove a useful benefit for Amtrak. In fact, the Corporation had been considering this option for Vancouver-Seattle-Portland run, but first set them to work on the northern end of the NEC between New Haven and Boston. They were initially restricted to 90 mph, but on test demonstrated that a curve previously restricted to 50 mph could safely be taken at 70 mph – a major improvement in journey times was clearly possible.

Sadly the LRC sets were returned to Canada at the end of the trial period, as Amtrak once again came up against its perpetual enemy – budget and funding constraints.

Today

So where is the Corporation today? Well, it has genuinely embarked and delivered on a high-speed rail offering for the Northeast Corridor, with over 700 miles of track, serving the most densely populated part of the country, and now has genuine high-speed trains and technology. But it took almost 20 years to deliver the first of the fixed formation train sets.

Once again, Amtrak turned to European expertise to test and determine what was the most suitable offering, and following on from the experience gained with the successful ‘Mighty Mouse’ AEM7 paired with Amfleet cars, returned to Sweden and borrowed an X2000 tilting train set in 1992. With support from ABB, the X2000 not only worked on the NEC, but toured the USA – obviously in part to raise awareness and popularity for trains and railroads. Its regular – if not full time – working was between New Haven, New York and Washington, and during the X2000’s stay, Amtrak agreed with Siemens to test the German ICE train on the same route.

Swedeish State Railways X2000, built by ABB proved a game changer for Amtrak in its view of high-speed electric traction with tilt technology and was instrumental in paving the way for the current and future generations of NEC high-speed trains.

A year later, Amtrak went out to look for bidders to build a new high-speed train for the Corporation, and of course, both Siemens and ABB were in the running, but there was also the Bombardier/Alstom consortium. Bombardier of course had already had some exposure in the USA with the trials of its LRC tilting train. It looked in the 1990s as though Amtrak was heading towards membership of the high-speed club.

The end result was the Acela Express, with an order for 20 of the high-speed fixed formation trains to be designed, tested, built and delivered by the Alstom/Bombardier consortium. The train was operationally intended to be an ‘incremental improvement’ rather than a step change in rail technology as the Japanese “Bullet Trains” or France’s “TGV” had been. It was necessary to further improve the right of way in the northeast, with extensive replacement of existing track with continuous welded rail and concrete ties/sleepers, as well as provide three new maintenance facilities. Some of the right of way work had been carried out under the NEC improvement programme in the 1980s, but even more was needed before “Acela” could be fully operational. This included the rapid completion of electrification work from New Haven to Boston.

The most recent and successful high-speed trains on the NEC are the Alstom Acela design, and will be joined in 2021 and 2022 by the even more technically advanced Avelia series, and continue to expand hgh-speed rail transportation in the USA. Here, a northbound Amtrak Acela Express is captured passing through Old Saybrook, Connecticut in 2011 Photo: Shreder 9100 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19261912

In November 2000, the Acela Express made its inaugural run. This was a train like no other seen in the USA before, with 12,000hp available from two power cars, and 6 trailers sandwiched between, to provide a smooth, quiet ride at speeds of up to 240 km/hr. No less than 20 of these trains were built between 1998 and 2001, and their popularity with the travelling public dramatically raised Amtrak’s share of the passenger market. Between New York and Washington DC, passenger share grew from 36% to 53%, and between New York and Boston it was even more marked, going up from 18% to 40%. At the same time, airline passenger share declined from 64% to 47% between the Big Apple and Washington.

America’s rapidly growing network of high-speed rail corridors that perhaps owe their inclusion following the achievements of successive Northeast Corridor Improvement Programs.

It has been a huge success, and in part at least has driven the demand for kickstarting investment in other high-speed rail corridors, from 1992 to 2009. The five corridors defined in 1992 were:

  1. Midwest high-speed rail corridor linking Chicago , IL with Detroit , MI , St. Louis MO and Milwaukee WI
  2. Florida high-speed rail corridor linking Miami with Orlando and Tampa.
  3. California high-speed rail corridor linking San Diego and Los Angeles with the Bay Area and Sacramento via the San Joaquin Valley.
  4. Southeast high-speed rail corridor connecting Charlotte, NC, Richmond, VA, and Washington, DC.
  5. Pacific Northwest high-speed rail corridor linking Eugene and Portland, OR with Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Six years later in 1998 the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century designated another group of high-speed rail corridors, and extensions to existing plans including:

  1. Gulf Coast high-speed rail corridor.
  2. The Keystone corridor
  3. Empire State corridor
  4. Extension of the Southeast corridor
  5. Extension of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Corridor (now called the Chicago Hub corridor)
  6. Improvements on the Minneapolis/St. Paul- Chicago segment of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Corridor.

Extensions has already been approved to the Southeast corridor in 1995, with further extensions to the Chicago Hu, and the Northern New England route and a new South Central Corridor in 2000, and to date further extensions and expansion of these key corridors are either in plan or approved. On top of this, for the original corridor – the NEC – new generation of Acela high-speed trains has been promised, and already under test, as the attached video shows.

Finally, after almost total dependence on the automobile for long distance as well as commuter travel, the age of the train in the USA is coming into its own. Environmental credentials are high, it is sustainable mass transportation, and popular.

A superb view of a new Avelia Liberty trainset passes Claymont, Delaware on a test between Race Street (Philadelphia) and Ivy City (Washington DC). These are set to enter service with Amtrak in 2021, with all sets in by 2022, replacing all current Acela Express trainsets. Photo: Simon Brugel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93569932

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Useful Links & Further Reading

A New Blue Pullman?

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How do you turn an HST into a Blue Pullman?  Well, it seems you repaint power cars 43055 and 43046, together with 7 coaches and a kitchen car (41176, 41108, 41162, 41059, 40801, 41182, 41169 and 44078) in the original ‘Nanking Blue’ livery, and send it off on a number of journeys to mark the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the original ‘Blue Pullman’ in 1960.

The first run was due to take place on Saturday 12th December from St Pancras to Crewe, with fare paying passengers on the restored HST set.

This image immediately below shows the restored set passing Eastleigh Arlington on the 9th December passing Eastleigh working the 5Z44 Eastleigh Arlington to Crewe. 

LSL_Blue_Pullman_43055_&_43046_(50699274803) copy

Photo: CA850 CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97770261

I have to say, it does look pretty good in its new colours, which enhance the original HST/IC 125 design – but you decide, the image below is of one of the earliest HSTs as they were known.

HST set at speed in Sonning Cutting heading west from Paddington in 1974. Photo: BRB/RPBradley Collection

This is the original ‘Blue Pullman’ set, clean out of Metro-Cammell’s works in Birmingham, albeit minus the Pullman logo on the nose.

Click on the image below to read more about the original ‘Blue Pullman’ sets:

More details about the repainted and restored HST set can be found here:

There are now 13 scheduled trips with the ‘New Midland Pullman’ scheduled for 2021, and 11 of these have already sold out, but detaiuls of the remaining trips for next year can be found here:

Useful Links:

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The Gauge War – It’s Over!

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A recent announcement in the press about high-speed trains that are fitted with bogies that can automatically adjust to a change of gauge seems a remarkable achievement. 

Whilst there have always been different track gauges in many countries around the world, the challenge of running a train from A to B on one gauge, and B to C on a different gauge has usually involved people, or goods, changing from one coach or wagon to another – and sometimes different stations.

Automatically changing the space between the wheels as the train runs entirely from A through to C, when the tracks are different gauges – wow, that’s new – well, relatively.

This is the automatic gauge changing train for international services unveiled on October 21, and manufactured by CRRC (Changchun Railway Vehicles).  Derived from the existing CHR400-BF trains of the ‘Fuxing Hao’ China Standard EMU family, this latest 212 metre long trainset is intended to operate between China dn Russia.  Automatically changing gauges along the way.
This is the automatic gauge changing train for international services unveiled on October 21, and manufactured by CRRC (Changchun Railway Vehicles).  Derived from the existing CHR400-BF trains of the ‘Fuxing Hao’ China Standard EMU family, this latest 212 metre long trainset is intended to operate between China dn Russia. 
Automatically changing gauges along the way.

Back in 1880s, Brunel’s ‘Broad Gauge’ advocates were at war with supporters of Stephenson’s ‘Narrow Gauge’, and although this did not necessarily result in literal pitched battles between teams of ‘navvies’, the contractors building the lines were occasionally at loggerheads.  One flashpoint was in Gloucestershire on a route from Stratford-upon-Avon to Chipping Campden, where, having been forced to build a 1-mile long tunnel near Mickleton, and just to the north-west of Campden.  The ‘battle’ involved some 3,000 men, and the Riot Act was read on two occasions, over two days, and Brunel and Marchant both agreed to arbitration.  However, the railway company who had appointed Brunel as engineer paid off Marchant and his contractors and completed the tunnel the work themselves.  Unsurprisingly the legacy of the disturbances caused concern from all the locals of Chipping Campden, and events even reached the pages of the ‘Illustrated London News’.

Replica of GWR Broad Gauge (7′) Gooch “Alma” or “Iron Duke” Class 4-2-2 “Iron Duke” with wood clad boiler and firebox at the Great Western Society’s Didcot Railway Centre.   Photo: By Hugh Llewelyn CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74608818

The gauge war – waged on both the technology and economic front was partially settled in 1846, and followed from an Act of Parliament, with the exciting title “An Act for regulating the Gauge of Railways”.  The reason this was only partially settled, was of course because it made clear that it was illegal to build any new railway that was not to the standard gauge of 4ft 8 ½ins and 5ft 3ins in Ireland.  BUT, the exception was Brunel’s 7ft gauge Great Western Railway – oh and various acts of Parliament already passed or in progress relating to various extensions, branches and other lines in the South West, parts of Wales, etc. 

Nice, clear and straightforward!  The same act also included a clause that prevented any railway gauge to be altered after 1846, used for “the Conveyance of Passengers”.  Fascinating, but clearly problematic, and the system of two gauges in England led to the duplication of passenger and goods station facilities in some locations, and the Act also required the GWR to include a third rail where the standard and 7ft gauge lines met.

Gauge disparity around the world has always caused difficulty, and perhaps nowhere more evidently than in Australia, where the various states began railway projects, with different contractors, and engineers leading to long term operational problems.  The vast majority of railways are built and operate on the standard gauge – 1435mm – but there are still those differences, whether it is in Spain, India, Switzerland or Russia.  In fact, the railways in Russia are built to the Irish standard 5ft 3in gauge, and that’s where the latest techniques and technology to achieve more seamless international train operations with China are being deployed on high-speed services.

The Change of Gauge Made Simple

Back in 2003, an interesting story appeared in the Japanese journal “Railway Technology Avalanche” describing “Gauge-changeable EMUs”.  It was stated that these were developed for through-operation between 1,435-mm gauge and narrow-gauge 1,067-mm gauge lines, and the 3-car test train was fitted with two types of bogie, where the back to back distance could be changed on the move.  Amongst the attributes needed were the capability to change the gauge while running, the inclusion of traction motors, high-speed running stability, and the ability to operate on routes with sharp curves.

The two types of bogie tested included one where the traction motors were essentially fixed to the wheel centre, which could be moved laterally along the fixed, non-rotating axle.  This was achieved by track mounted rails that provided support to the axleboxes, which in turn supported the vehicle body – a locking pin through the axlebox allowed the wheelset to be released and slid along the axle.   The second design adopted a single piece wheel and axle arrangement, with a Cardan shaft drive from the body mounted traction motor. With this design, a stopper in a groove in the axlebox fixed the wheels at that gauge, and during gauge-changing operation the stopper was raised by an arm mounted at ground level, with the wheelset then free to slide laterally to the new track gauge.

Class S/121 EMU for Spain includes the CAF designed ‘BRAVA’ system on the bogies, which allows change of gauge without stopping – perfect for international services between Spain, France, Italy, and other European networks.  In operation since 2009.

Each of these approaches required significant changes to the vehicle running gear, and track mounted rails and arms to complete the transition between rail gauges, but none resulted in any production series build of these EMUs.  

But, this was not the first application of such novel technology – that honour fell to Spain, where in 1969, the ‘Talgo’ system first appeared.  In Spain, the principal track gauge selected was 5 ft 5 2132 in – commonly known as the Iberian Gauge.  However, in the 1980s, all new high-speed lines – and especially those on international routes were constructed to standard gauge, which made cross border services to France much more straightforward.  The Talgo principle was well established in Spain though, and using the ‘Vevey Axle’ provided these unique, articulated trains with the ability to change gauge without stopping, and of course to cross borders.  The system also provides for much higher speeds today, and tilting technology is embedded in the design, and Talgo technology has been developed in recent years and now operates in Finland, Russia, Kazakhstan, and even the USA.

This is what the CAF designed ‘BRAVA’ system looks like in action:

Very impressive.

Spain continues to operate an extensive fleet of gauge-changing trainsets between 1435 mm and 1668 mm gauges, but they are limited to a maximum of 250 km/h.  So, the development of ‘gauge changing’ trains has progressed quite a bit in recent years, but less so perhaps on really high-speed fixed formation sets, for standard gauge routes, except for the CAF built Class 120 and 121 for Spain. 

Another view of the latest derivative of the CHR400-BF trains of the ‘Fuxing Hao’ China Standard EMU family, showing the track mounted infrastructure and a wheelset used on these latest high-speed trains.

The most recent addition to the high-speed gauge changing without stopping club is China, where, in October 2020 the state-owned rolling stock manufacturer CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles, displayed a prototype gauge-changing high-speed train intended for international operation.  At 212 m long, the new train is a development of the company’s CHR400-BF design, and intended for international operation between China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia, at speeds of up to 400km/hr.  On top of this, the train is planned to work from different voltages, and with operational temperatures varying from +50C to -50C.

Interestingly, one of the first proposals for a variable gauge wheelset was put forward for the GWR at the end of its ‘Broad Gauge’ era, in 1886, by one John Fowler.  Six years later, the ‘Battle of the Gauges’ in Britain was over, and standard gauge was king.  As we know, the rest of the world continued to follow a variety of gauges, but perhaps that problem at frontiers, or between different railway companies has finally been laid to rest with these latest gauge-changing trains.

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Useful Links & Further Reading:

Hyperloop – Not A New Idea At All

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Some 34 years ago, I wrote a feature for the PA Features entitled “High Speed Trains for the 21st Century”, which was essentially a look at some of the then ground breaking innovation, research and ideas in development for rail transport.  In 1986, we were in the grip of an explosion of ideas, and that despite the axing by the UK government of the British Rail APT, with its tilting technology.  This would later come back to us via Fiat in Italy, and the Virgin operated Pendolino trains – it is perhaps equally ironic that Italy would today, in 2020, also now be operating the UK’s West Coast Pendolino trains.

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