HS2 Hits the Buffers

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So now we know – too costly, and at least another 5 to 7 years to go before Birmingham is reached.  Controversial from the beginning, and 10 years in the making – a bit like Crossrail – the cost has seemingly outweighed the benefits.  It was begun in 2009, and yet now seems to be at an end, due to the ever increasing budget overspends.  HS1 – the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) was also very much delayed, and the connection to the Chunnel was initially at an embarrassingly low speed, until the train emerged on the French side of the Channel.  The UK it seems, is still waiting to catch up with the rest of Europe when it comes to high-speed, high-tech trains.

What surprises me, and perhaps many others, is that we have had the technology – be it, power control electronics, signalling systems, infrastructure technology – for over 30 years, and the last high-speed main line (excluding HS1) was completed in 1990.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, British Railways managed to electrify the West Coast Main Line (WCML) from London to Manchester and Liverpool, and then to Birmingham – completed by 1967.  This was at a time when the technology and techniques were new, novel, untried and untested on a UK main line, and complete in just 8 years – 2 years LESS than it has taken work on the single route from London to Birmingham for HS2 to even begin construction.  On top of that, the west coast route was electrified to Glasgow by 1974 – just 15 years after work began.

OK, maybe I am comparing apples and oranges in some areas, and the WCML was not an entirely new railway, but maybe that is offset by the fact that in the 1960s, the technology was brand new, and the railway was much more complex than it is today.

According to the latest report – before the latest delays were announced – the new high-speed railway would not reach Crewe (where no interchange station was planned) until 2031, and Manchester Piccadilly by 2035.  That’s a full 26 years after HS2 Ltd was set up, and 22 years after the Act of Parliament gave it the go-ahead, and now if the 5-year delay is included, that means Crewe by 2036 and Manchester by 2040.

It seems it’s not just money that is affected by inflation, but major infrastructure project time lines – what took 15 years in the 1960s/70s, takes around 40 years in the 21st Century!  Oh, yes, and there’s the cost spiral too from around £55 billion in 2015 to £88 billion in 204? – an increase of 60%.

Back in 2014 HS2 Ltd submitted its case for the new route as both an engine for growth and rebalancing Britain – the report was quite thorough, but with little by way of reference to the environment as a whole.  Of course, it was not possible 5 years ago to see the growth in importance of climate change – although it was possible to estimate a significant growth in the UK population by 2040.  Maybe HS2 Ltd was not aware of the connection between the two.

HS2 Key Principles 2014

But one of the key principles mentioned in the document, and an aspect of the project that is not being addressed is transport integration.  HS2 is about separation, and it is not a network of rail routes – it is just a number of new links between centres of population, with almost no attention paid to freight transport.

It goes on to suggest that the Crewe hub, with links to Liverpool, will be “transformative” for businesses.  What it does not say is how, or even take account of current information systems technology where business travel is being rendered unnecessary.

Transformative for business

Fascinating statement here, where it states that having the link to Manchester will make it easier to work in both London and Manchester, with a 60 minute reduction in journey time.  In 2014, the authors of this report were clearly unaware of the ability of people to work on trains, whether by using the on-board WiFi, or any of the various sophisticated ‘telepresence’ systems, that allow people to be present in meetings from different locations.

The element of the rail infrastructure that demands much more attention is the East-West routes to link Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle – NOT a link from London to Birmingham.  This diagram in the 2014 HS2 document shows the right place to start:

East West & North South

Still, all that seems to be behind us now, with the Government review likely to be underway soon, progress of this project has now followed the pattern of most UK train journeys in the 21st Century – delayed or cancelled.

Useful Links:

Alstom Proposed HS2 Train Design

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High Altitude Steam

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In  1871,  the first mountain railway  in  Europe using the rack and pinion system,  the Vitznau Rigi Bahn (VRB) was opened, and not surprisingly perhaps, it  was in Switzerland. It was not the first mountain railway, since just 3 years ealier, the Mont Cenis Railway, linking France and Italy was opened, using the unique ‘Fell System’.  The new railway climbed from  Vitznau  on the shores of Lake Lucerne to  the  summit  of Mount  Rigi – the ‘Queen of Mountains’ – some 6,000 feet above sea level. Apart from its position as the first rack railway in Europe, the Vitznau Rigi Bahn (VRB) is unusual, in being built to the 4ft 8 1/2ins gauge, where most other railways in Switzerland are built to the metre gauge, or less. Of course, it  was not possible to climb the mountain by conventional means, and the first  steam locomotives also saw the introduction of  the  “Rig­genbach” cog wheel, or rack railway system. With this, a toothed rack  was placed in the centre of the two running rails, and  the cogwheels  on  the locomotives engaged tooth by tooth  with  this rack, to enable the train to maintain a grip.

Other rack systems had  been developed, all more or less dervived from Blenkinsop’s toothed wheel locomotive design for the Middleton Colliery near Leeds. Blenkinsop’s rails had a toothed rack cast on the outside of the running rails, to allow a pinion on the engine’s wheels to engage, and provide the essential grip for traction. The system was patented in 1811, but apart from mineral and colliery lines, by the 1830s it was proven that adhesion only locomotives were the best fit for a conventional railway. The only exception was of course where to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, some very steep graients and sharp curves were needed.

Other systems to provide extra adhesion or braking force, such as the ‘Fell System’, adopted  for  the Rimutaka line in New Zealand, where additional wheels, driven by auxiliary steam engines, and pressed horizontally against a central rail were used. Back in central  Switzerland, as the expansion in the use of true rack and pinion railways grew, a near neighbour of Mount Rigi – Mount Pilatus –  needed to adopt an entirely different system. So, in  addition to the first, and oldest mountain  railway in Europe, the Lucerne area also boasts the world’s steepest rack railway.

Vitznaurhof & Rigi 1989-1

Classic view from the station at “Rigi Kulm”, looking down over Lake Lucerne, with a train making its way down to Vitznau. (c) Rodger Bradley

In this case, climbing over 7,000 feet, to the  summit of  Mount  Pilatus, where the three miles long Pilatusbahn was opened  in 1889, nearly twenty years after the Vitznau Rigi  Bahn (VRB). On Pilatus, the Lochner rack system was used, where  the teeth on the central rack projected sideways, and the cog  wheels on the vehicles engaged on either side of this rack, to give even greater  grip. Pilatusbahn was still steam hauled until about the time of the First World War, when  the vertical boilered  steam railcars  were superseded by electric vehicles.

The  Riggenbach Rack system, and the Vitznau Rigi  Bahn (VRB) hold a particularly special place in railway development in Switzerland and Europe. To this day, the “Queen of Mountains” – Rigi  – continues to see steam locomotives hauling people to  one of the most famous Alpine summits. A famous visitor, one Mark Twain, likened his experience on the Rigi to sliding down the balusters of a staircase!

En-route, the line climbs through lush Alpine  meadows, on quite severe gradients to an intermediate junction station  at Rigi Kaltbad – over 4,400 feet above sea level  –  to its ultimate destination Rigi Kulm. There are some six  interme­diate stops possible, although some of these are halts only,  and on request, or for other technical, or operational reasons. From the  summit, on a clear day it is possible to see for many  miles around, with superb views across Lake Lucerne, towards the  ‘Roof of Europe’ and the Bernese Oberland. Nowadays, steam traction on the VRB terminates at Rigi Kaltbad, and the journey behind one of the  two  steam  locomotives – Nos. 16 or 17  –  takes  about  45 minutes, according to the timetables.

The  early motive power used on the Vitznau  Rigi  Bahn (VRB)  was composed of vertical boilered steam  locomotives,  and not  the ‘kneeling cow’ variety more commonplace in later  years. In  fact, the very first of this type, was also the first  to  be built  by SLM (Schweizerische Lokomotiv and Maschinenfabrik),  in 1873, and carried works number 1. This locomotive was taken  out of  normal service in 1937, and for a time was on display at  the station  in  Vitznau, and eventually found a home  in  the  Swiss Railway Museum in Luzern.

In fact, VRB locomotive No.7, as  pre­served,  is  the third oldest steam locomotive  in  the  national collection, behind “Limmat” and “Genf”, which were built for more conventional  railways  in Switzerland. VRB No.7 has a  pair  of outside cylinders, carried either side of the central boiler,  on what  could  be  described as an 0-4-0  wheel  arrangement.  The driver’s position is immediately behind the vertical boiler, with a  small fenced platform to the front. With a cab roof as  well, for  1873,  No.7 was a fairly advanced  design, even considering  the comforts  of the crew! Not surprisingly perhaps, it is  far  too valuable  to be used in regular service today.  However,  during the  VRB’s 125th anniversary year 1996, No.7 was used  for special  excursions from May onwards. It is now a quarter of acentury older, and this historic railway continues to draw many thousands of visitors every year. Those special excursions are still possible today, in 2019.

Rigi_vertical_boiler

The oldest vertical boilered steam locomotive in the world – No. 7 is seen here at the summit stations ” Rigi Kulm”. Built by SLM in 1873.                        Photo: Audrius Meskauskas – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7157010

Switzerland was amongst the very first countries in the world to adopt electric traction, and its unusual mountain  rail­ways  were in almost every aspect pioneers of this form of  trac­tion. On the Rigi though, steam traction and the Riggenbach rack system  are  still in action today, with  two  more  conventional locomotives, also built by SLM. The 0-4-2 locomotives Nos. 16  & 17  are at work every year on the Rigi, normally one Sunday  each month.  Both  are now ‘getting on’ a bit, having been  built  in 1923, they are perhaps well into pensionable age. As the  photo­graph shows, the construction of the locomotive is almost conven­tional, with a horizontal boiler, rear cab, and a pair of  inside cylinders  carried  under the smokebox. The coupled  wheels  are separated by a jackshaft, which connects both the outside wheels, and  the cog wheels connecting with the Riggenbach rack,  in  the centre of the tracks. As the train climbs upwards of course, the boiler  becomes  parallel, rather than tipped  forward,  ensuring that the water level is horizontal. These are fascinating  loco­motives  to watch in action, as the inside cylinders  drive  onto the  centrally  placed jackshaft, which transfers  power  to  the coupling  rods, and finally, the wheels. The diminutive  locomo­tives  –  only 7 metres, or just under 23 feet long –  wease  and struggle  to the top of the mountain.

Luzern -8

No.16 making ready for the ascent from Vitznau. The experience of riding to the summit of the “Queen of Mountains” being propelled by one of these is truly amazing.                             (c) Rodger Bradley

Today  the  VRB’s main motive power is  electric,  with multiple units climbing to the summit and back every day, in only 30  minutes. The electric railcars reach Rigi Kaltbad in a  mere 18  minutes. Once at Rigi Kaltbad, the VRB is joined by  another line,  rising from the opposite side of the mountain –  the  Arth Goldau Bahn. The ARB too has its unique characteristics, includ­ing some of the oldest working electric railcars in  Switzerland. One  of these dates back to 1899, and is one of the oldest  vehi­cles  specially designed to transport winter sports  enthusiasts. The  ARB  route from Arth Goldau to Rigi Kulm includes  five  in­termediate  halts  in the long climb, and takes around 30  to  35 minutes for the journey.

There have been upgrades and changes in rolling stock over the years, but steam traction is still available – even down to the oldest vertical boilered loco – No.7 – and the infrastructure has been renewed in places. In the autumn of 2017, the plan to buy new rolling stock was progressed, not by simply replacing the older stock with newer designs, but by procuring new, up to date vehicles with the latest ideas and technology.

The main project “Zielkonzept Betrieb” underway is to enhance the operating environment to take account of the complexity, and interchangeability, of running services with such a variety of stock. The infrastructure changes have included renewing catenary sections and replacing all rectifier stations along the line, and a new control system. The new trains, which are scheduled to be in service This procurement project is planned to see the first vehicle of the newest generation on the rails in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary in 2021.

The new two-car trains will feature more passenger space, barrier free access, and of course, state of the art technology. That technology will include regenerative braking, where instead of burning the braking energy through banks of resistors, on descent the trains will simply feed the energy back into the supply network. A neat, sustainable solution, and in a sense perhaps, the downhill trains will power the uphill operations.

 

New 2-car sets

Planned new railcars for the VRB.

Central Switzerland still boasts more than one regular­ly  steam worked mountain railway, including  the  800mm gauge Brienz-Rothorn Bahn,  which also uses the Riggenbach rack system. The  BRB  was steam hauled until the 1960s, and in fact,  it  was the  last all steam hauled rack railway in Switzerland.  The BRB celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2017, and continues to attract thousands of visitors every year. In later years, the BRB’s fleet  of  steam locomotives was supplemented  by  modern  diesel railcars  (the railway has not been electrified), which now  work regularly  at  off-peak periods, in turn with the  steam  locomo­tives. There are no less than seven steam locomotives stored at Brienz,  and they are used to provide the main services  on  this railway to the top of the Rothorn.   The BRB starts from the base of the mountain, at Brienz, and climbs to the summit, some  2,252 metres, or nearly 7,400 feet above sea level.

BRB 1

Classic BRB locomotive about to set off from the station at Brienz – still carrying the bulk of traffic up until the 1990s.   (c) Rodger Bradley

New BRB steam loco No12

One of the then new SLM built steam locomotives, with the latest steam technology, and coupled to a new passenger car.

In 1992, the BRB, together with Austria’s Schafbergbahn ordered new steam locomotives from SLM – some 40 years after the last steam rack locomotives were built. The new locomotives took account of the latest ideas and technology available for the new locomotives, which have now been operating on the BRB for almost 30 years!

Given the Swiss reputation for reliability, and  acces­sibility,  it is a pleasure to be able to reach easily,  and  see these  fascinating  steam  locomotives still  in  use.  For  the Vitznau Rigi Bahn, now approaching its 150th birthday in 2021, the sight of some of the oldest Riggenbach locomotive in operation will be a memorable occasion.

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Useful links:

 

 

 

 

Electric Traction Revolution?

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60 years ago on the 27th Nov
ember this year, Britain’s pioneer 25Kv a.c. electric locomotive was officially handed over to British Railways. Then numbered E3001, it
was to be the first of a long series of successful 
locomotive designs for the West Coast Main
Line (WCML). Within this series there have
 come to be seven basic designs, and a number of sub-divisions of the classes ALl to AL7. Although the last of these was never actually
 introduced under the old title of AL7, but
 designated Class 87 with the new “TOPS”
 locomotive codes, the family likeness remains
 very strong despite the detail alterations to the appearance of the latest type.

gec092

87005 – the final design of the 1st generation electric traction for British Rail, provided the motive power for the completion of the 400+ miles of route from London to Glasgow in 1974.

The choice of 25kV a.c. electrification to be used on B.R. was the subject of exhaustive investigation and comparative examination with other arrangements. Indeed, as there was no a.c. overhead
 main line contact system in regular operation, B.R. decided in 1951
 to convert the Lancaster-Morecambe-
Heysham section to 50 cycle, 6,600 volt, to
 evaluate the potential. The only alternative to 
an untried a.c. system was the l500v d.c. arrangements favoured by the former LNER for its Manchester-Sheffield-Wath and Liverpool St.-Shenfield lines.

However, by the time of the announcement in 1955 of B.R.’s multi-million pound modernisation and re-equipment programme, a not inconsiderable degree of experience of operation of an a.c. system had been acquired. It was perhaps the potential of the system, using 25,000V from the National Grid, rendering it economically superior to the d.c. system that finally won the day.

The decision was announced on 6th March 1956, that 25Kv a.c. would be the system of electrification used by British Railways on the WCML between London (Euston), Manchester and Liverpool, and additionally on the East Coast Main Line (ECML), between London (King’s Cross) and York and Leeds. The optimism generated through the Modernisation Plan for the electrification of two main routes was relatively short lived however. By 1959, it was seen that this would not be possible within the time limits proposed in the 1956 White Paper, and consequently a re-appraisal of the Modernisation Plan provided for the introduction of diesel
 traction “without prejudice to eventual electrification” on the main line where this was to be deferred. Another factor in this re-evaluation was the enthusiasm with which the private car, road building, and the removal of some restrictions on licensing of road haulage, and goods transport.

Another interesting statistic is the total route mileage electrified in Britain. There is a Wikipedia entry that states: “In 2006, 40%—3,062 miles (4,928 km) of the British rail network was electrified, ….”   But, in a BR publication (“Railway Electrification – A Discussion Paper”), dated May 1978, the route mileage electrified was 2,341 miles, or 21% of the total network.

So, does that mean that between 1978 and 2006, the increase in the electrified network was only 721 miles, and the 2006 total route mileage was just over 7,600 miles, but 38 years earlier the route mileage was 11,100 miles. A reduction in the size of the network of 3,500 miles, and at the same time adding just under 400 miles to the electrified main lines with the East Coast Main Line project – delayed from 1956.

There was of course a Department of Transport / BRB report on the subject of main line electrification in 1981, which offered a number of options to expand the network. From the perspective of the 25kV a.c. schemes, the final report’s “Option II’ – the ECML, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh, and Edinburgh to Carstairs was the option followed.   This was described in the report’s accompanying table as a “modest” expansion of the network. Ironically the recently completed electrification from Preston to Blackpool was included in the “Base Case”, and for completion in 1984 – a mere 35-year delay for that particular line. Slightly less of a delay was incurred by the Western Region (now GWR) main line out of Paddington. That scheme was included in the more advanced “Option III” ‘Medium Case’ for completion by 1996 to Bristol, and by 2002 to Plymouth – ah well, some of it got completed, but all has been hampered by the tragedy of privatisation.

87034 - William Shakespeare at Carlisle

Penultimate days of British Rail operations, with the classic motive power for the West Coast Main Line, here seen at Carlisle in the late 1980s.

 

 

Today we are still waiting on the possibilities of the HS2 / HS3 developments, and have pressed ahead in the last 10 years or so with the Paddington to South Wales, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh central belt, and a number of smaller connecting lines. These latter have mainly been around big cities; Manchester, Leeds, etc., with additional links to Blackpool, and specialist lines such as that connecting London with Heathrow Airport, or the Crossrail projects.

Looking back at the 1978 BR discussion paper, the current routes and electrified network was covered then by Options B and C for the Inter City Routes strategy. Had the strategy been implemented back then as Option C – the electrified network would have reached 5,300 miles, some 2,200 more than was achieved by 2006. However, the real issues that delayed the strategy was the lack of will to invest, and the mounting subsidies paid to BR during the later 1970s and 1980s.

So this was Richard Marsh’s plan in 1978:

InterCity Route Miles Strategy


In the nearly 40 years since, some work has been done, but the UK’s once extensive railway industry – both private and BR’s own workshops – has largely disappeared, and any achievements have been wholly dependent on the success of imported technology. One of the most telling observations in the 1978 discussion paper was in the concluding paragraphs, where the BRB stated:

“A railway system needs to be provided which enables our successors to run an economic transport system in the year 2000 and beyond If railway electrification is to be part of that, as now seems probable, a start needs to be made now. If the country has available the capital for regeneration of industry and preparation for the energy conditions of the next century, it would require only a very small proportion of this investment to convert the main public bulk transportation system to electric power.”

In that same booklet, it was pointed out that the UK was well behind in the proportion of its network that was electrified, coming 17th out of 21 countries, from Norway to Belgium and Japan.

Table A1

Today we are still waiting on the possibilities of the HS2 / HS3 developments, and have pressed ahead in the last 10 years or so with the Paddington to South Wales, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh central belt, and a number of smaller connecting lines. These latter have mainly been around big cities; Manchester, Leeds, etc., with additional links to Blackpool, and specialist lines such as that connecting London with Heathrow Airport, or the Crossrail projects.

By 2016/17 that position had changed, and the UK had slipped 3 places to 20th, or second from bottom, and yet the % of the network now electrified had risen to 33%.

Country Network Length Electrified length % Electrified
 Switzerland 5,196 5,196 100%
 Luxembourg 275 275 100%
Sweden 10,874 8,976 83%
 Belgium 3,602 2,960 82%
Italy 16,788 13,106 78%
 Netherlands 3,055 2,314 76%
Japan 27,311 20,534 75%
 Bulgaria 4,030 2,880 71%
 Austria 5,527 3,826 69%
 Norway 3,895 2,622 67%
 Portugal 2,546 1,633 64%
Poland 19,209 11,874 62%
Spain 15,949 9,699 61%
France 29,273 15,687 54%
Germany 38,594 20,500 53%
Russia 85,500 43,700 51%
 Slovakia 3,626 1,587 44%
 Hungary 7,945 2,889 36%
 Czech Republic 9,567 3,237 34%
United Kingdom 16,320 5,357 33%
Romania 10,774 3,292 31%

Source of table: (Wikipedia) List_of_countries_by_rail_transport_network_size

So according to this latest table, another 5,120 miles of route have been electrified in the UK since 1978. By far the longest route to receive its 25kV a.c. overhead contact system was the East Coast Main Line, from London (Kings Cross) to Edinburgh, which was completed in 1991 – so that was another 400 miles. After that, there was a plan to electrify the route from London (St Pancras) to Sheffield – although that’s only reached as far north as Leicestershire, before being controversially abandoned. The completion of the Channel Tunnel was the driver to construct a high-speed link between the tunnel and London (Waterloo), and with minor extensions added a further 100 miles by the time HS1 was opened in 2003.

The Western Region main line, or after privatisation, the GWR main line from London (Paddington) to Bristol and South Wales has only been completed in the last couple of years – but only as far as Bristol Parkway. The piecemeal, stop-start nature of progress on electrification of main lines since the mid 1990s has spectacularly affected interoperability across the whole network. The latest trains on the old Western Region main line to Bristol are hybrids, and have to operate as diesel trains in the non-electrified sections, obviously at lower speeds. The plan to electrify the main line to South Devon, Plymouth and possibly Penzance is not even on the horizon in the 21st Century.

The additional 4,000+ miles that have been electrified since 1978 includes the completion of the Edinburgh to Glasgow corridor, and the link to the West Coast Main Line at Carstairs, together with numerous other ad-hoc changes and extensions. This activity included work to extend the overhead out of London (Liverpool Street) into East Anglia; Cambridge and Kings Lynn.

In 1981, the Government published a final report advocating the case for main line electrification, and in a couple of key points made a recommendation that more, and not less electrification at a faster rate would offer best value for money. These are two of the key paragraphs that make those points:

Para 13 - 1981 DoT ReviewPara 14 - 1981 DoT Review

So how did we do? Well, not so good really.

Currently, in 2019, Crossrail – which links in to the GWR main line west of London – is still not complete, and the plans for a route between Oxford and Cambridge, and a north-south Crossrail2 are still only on the drawing board. The very latest activity on the London (Euston) to Birmingham – HS2 – is looking more likely to be cancelled than progressed, whilst the demand for increased electrification between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and beyond is growing by the day. The so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail is clearly an essential need, to link the economic centres in the North of England, which, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford, and Tyneside/Wearside has a population of well over 7 million.

In February 2019, “The Engineer” carried out a poll of its readers to see what form of motive power would be 1st choice to replace the diesel trains – all of which will be gone by 2040. In the poll some 43% of respondents advocated full electrification.

Another 29% were in favour of batteries+hydrogen power, with another 12% advocating pure hydrogen powered trains.

If the recent progress of electrification is anything to go by, I doubt if any of these will progress very far, and we will, as usual be subject to the same uncertain, start-stop process that we have seen for the past 20 years. But, electrification is, and remains the only sustainable option – both in energy cost, and environmental impact.

So, 60 years on from the handover at Sandbach in Cheshire, in November 1959, we have come so far, but there is still a long way to go. The ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ proposals include some aspects of planned 25kV electrification from the 1950s, 1960s, and late 1970s, and the line from Manchester to Leeds is more than 40 years late. There has been very limited activity on rail, and especially electrification work over the past 20 years, and today’s ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ ideas are not a fitting reflection of the work completed in 1959.

Northern Powerhouse Rail Map

The lines shown on this map in light green are for new electrified routes, and the connection from Manchester to Leeds was identified as needing electrification almost 40 years ago – and it is still pending!

Useful Links:

 

Azuma_and_HST_at_Leeds_station_(geograph_6187255)

One of the new generation Azuma high-speed trains alongside one of the remaining IC125 (HST) sets at Leeds Station. By Stephen Craven, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79978602 

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Timetables are Hard to Find

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Just today I vcame across an old story from the Department for Transport from 2014, when the Government announced – Plans for £38 billion investment in railways unveiled. This was 5 years ago, and clearly much has changed since, but just picking up on the heavy investment in rail infrastructure in, around, through and under London, I wondered how much of what was planned has been achieved.

These are just a few of the points made in that announcement:

  • the Northern Hub: transforming rail across the north of England with capacity for hundreds more trains and 44 million more passengers, with the potential to boosting the regional economy with thousands more jobs
  • the Thameslink programme: increasing to 24 trains per hour at peak times each way through the centre of London, freeing up capacity on the capital’s transport network
  • Over 850 miles of railway electrification: including the Great Western Main Line, Midland Main Line and across the north and north west of England, bringing greener, more frequent and more reliable journeys for millions of passengers
  • A new, electrified railway linking the Great Western, West Coast and Midland main lines, connecting Oxford with Bedford and Milton Keynes as part of the East-West Rail project
  • Transformed stations at Birmingham New Street, Manchester Victoria, Bristol Temple Meads and London Bridge

The second point seemed to be the easiest to prove had taken place – so off I went, looking for the Thameslink timetables for 2018 (not even this year’s), to see if progress had been made. It is suprisingly difficult to finmd details of the times of day that are a) defined as ‘peak’, and b) whether a journey from say Bedfor to St Pancras counts as one of those 24 per hour. That statement would suggest that there would be 24 trains arriving at St Pancras betwween 09:00 and 10:00, and another 24 leaving to head for Bedford.

To me, that sounds odd. However …

Looking at a PDF copy of the GTR timetable 9 December 2018 to 18 May 2019, here’s what I found: just 11 trains arrived at London St Pancras International – and that seems to be 13 short of what was planned. In the opposite direction, between 09:00 and 10:00 only 10 departed from St Pancras heading for Luton and Bedford.

Now, I appreciate that this is only one route – so I assume that the missing 13 or 14 services per hour will be found on other Thameslink routes. From the Thameslink Programme site, they provide some interesting information about what is going to happen, and how progress is being made. The same is true of Network Rail and their Thameslink Programme web page – although it does state that this is a 10-year programme, and will cost £7 billion. Clearly some costs from the £38 billion mentioned by the Government in 2014 will come from Network Rail in CP5, and other costs from CP6 allocations. The National Audit Office (NAO) have been keeping us all updated on this programme, from a review (Progress in delivering the Thameslink programme) before the £38 billion announcement to an update (Update on the Thameslink Programme) back at the end of 2017.

So maybe if we look at the route from Bedford through London to Brighton we would find additional trains? Well, yes, we now have 14 services going through St Pancras – the extra 3 coming from where – well it appears they originate at St Albans.

Still a few short of the Department’s statement of 24 trains in each direction.

Well, that went well.

Before anyone comments – yes I am being selective in my choice of data, but if someone tells me there will be 24 trains per hour in each direction at peak times, then I will look at the timetable peak times, and count trains. I did pick a major London station, at the heart of the Thameslink Programme too.

Thameslink can be considered a success, but the descriptions used by its proponents ought perhaps to be reconsidered. One classic statement made by Danny Alexander, at te time Chief Secretary to the Treasury is fascinating:

“This £38 billion programme starting this week will involve the largest modernisation of the railways since Victorian times, funding projects across the whole of the UK and building on the work that is already underway to give us the modern efficient transport infrastructure that we need to compete.”

Yet another one of those “largest investments since Victorian times” – which patently is absurd.

However, unless you choose to use one of those online ticketing apps/services, or the “National Rail Enquiries” website, and do a lot of digging, finding a timetable can be difficult. On top of which GTR/Thameslink has produced timetables in a route by route format, so you will need to download, or move to a cloud platform that PDF copy for reference. I don’t advocate printing a copy off, but maybe the train operating companies could come up with a version of their timetables for all of the routes they operate in one document.

Next stop – trying to find out where the £38 billion has been spent over the past 5 years – Network Rail’s elements seem fairly easy to uncover, but how do we apportion the TOC’s and ROSCO’s spends.

PS: I’ve not added up the mileage of electrification yet – 850 seems a lot – I’m speculating that that was track miles and not route miles!

-oOo-

From Preston to Montreal

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The first efforts to electrify the railway in and around the harbour at Montreal in Canada came after 1915, and in part were driven by the British Government’s desire to increase its trade within the empire, and expand and develop resources.  They even set up a Royal Commission to look into how that could be achieved just before the start of the First World War.  One of the commissioners appointed was Sir William Lorimer, Chairman of the North British Locomotive Co., and yet it would be one of his company’s newer competitors who won an order for locomotive power for the Montreal Harbour Commissioners’ impressive project.

In 1915, the Harbour Commissioners had had a report prepared on the benefits of electrifying the railways around Montreal Harbour.  The following year, 1916, in the company’s annual report, they made this statement:

“It was ascertained that, in addition to the primary object of overcoming the smoke nuisance, the application of electricity would prove to be economical and flexible and especially advantageous for the elimination of the corrosion of steel and galvanized iron by acid gases.   Although preparations were made to urge forward the completion of this important work, the Commissioners decided that under existing conditions it would be advisable to postpone the expenditure for this undertaking until after the War.”

The “corrosion of steel and galvanised iron by gases” might well have been an early reference to acid rain.

Prior to the electrification of Montreal Harbour’s lines, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) had constructed a new line from the town of Mount Royal, to downtown Montreal, and had also introduced the first main line electrification to Canada.  Mount Royal is a town to the North West of central Montreal, and lies on the north west of the mountain from which it takes its name. In 1910 the CNR first proposed constructing a 5-km-long tunnel under Mount Royal, and developed the town as a “Model City”, originally laid out after the style of Washington, DC.  The line then made a connection with Montreal’s harbour lines, and a new central station was built, with a freight station located near the Lachine Canal and what is now described as Montreal’s old Harbour.  The newly electrified track to downtown Montreal used Bo-Bo electric locos built by General Electric at Schenectady, New York, whilst the Canadian GEC supplied the overhead equipment and power systems.    The point of this first scheme was to handle both suburban and main line trains from the new passenger station in Montreal to the suburban territory beyond Mount Royal, wherethe mainline traffic wastransferred to steam haulage.  

The electrification of the Mount Royal Tunnel section was electrified at 2,400V d.c., completed in September 1918, with the first train running through on 21stOctober that same year.

This period – marked both by enormous growth in freight traffic, and by the collapse of the Canadian Northern Railway (amongst others) – was a very difficult time.  The Federal Government nationalized the railway, and later took on board the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), alongside others, and by 1923, Canadian National Railways became the major Railway in Canada. 

This photograph originally appeared on the cover of English Electric booklet No. 55 of its ‘Railway Electrification’ series, and published in 1931, shows some indication of the harsh conditions faced by electric traction in Canada.

It is speculation to suggest that this work and the GE built locomotives – which were completed between 1914 and 1918 – encouraged the Montreal Harbour Commissioners to press ahead with their plans to electrify the harbour lines.  It was 7 years later that the Harbour Commissioners were able to complete the electrification of the harbour lines, in 1925, and in order to conform to the standards adopted by CNR for the Mount Royal Tunnel, again, 2400V d.c. was adopted throughout.

However, and perhaps due to British Government influence, the Harbour Commissioners looked to the UK and English Electric for their project.  The Preston based company not only provided the nine, 100 ton locomotives, but also the motor generator sets for the substations that provided the traction power supply.   For the infrastructure work, three 1000kW motor generator sets were supplied to the initial installation, with the last two being manufactured at English Electric’s Stafford Works.  Subsequently, the Harbour Commissioners ordered two more machines from English Electric, each of which consisted of a 2,300kW, 63 cycles, synchronous motor, coupled to a pair of 1200V d.c. generators, connected in series.

The locomotives

No. 103 in original condition, and newly arrived from Preston, prior to embarking on its 70+ years of work in and around Montreal Harbour, and the Mount Royal line.

The new locomotives were a Bo-Bo design of 1720hp, and were supplied against two orders, and at the time, considered to be the most powerful units of their type, anywhere in the world.  The orders were placed in 1923, with the first four locomotives entering service in February 1925, and the second batch of five in operation from August the following year.  The locomotives were built at the Preston Works, and shipped across the Atlantic to Montreal.  In design, the units were a simple box cab layout, with a driving cab at each end, although one of these was provided with projecting lookouts so that the driver could have unobstructed vision during some shunting operations.  The cab with the projecting lookouts had duplicate controls, a further advantage for shunting service, whilst the cab at the opposite end, with only a single set of controls, and no lookouts, would be used predominantly for long haul operations.

Up until the completion of electrification works around the harbour, and arrival of these new locomotives, the Harbour Commissioners had been renting two electric units Canadian National Railways. It was a temporary measure, and to some degree an experiment in the use of electric traction, and the rented locos were from the six boxcab units built at GE’s Schenectady Works.

CNR blueprint diagram of the EE locos for Montreal Harbour. This diagram – also showing the position of the illuminated number board fitted in later years, was originally published in the journal of the Canadian Railroad Historical Society in January 1962.

Power equipment layout consisted of four; 430hp force ventilated traction motors, each being axle hung, and driving the wheels through single reduction spur gearing.   Given the harsh winter conditions in Canada, the traction motors received some interesting design attention.  To avoid condensation in the traction motors in cold weather, after the locomotive had completed its roster, all the field coils were connected in series, and heated through a connection to an external 220V power source.  Not without some irony perhaps, but the UK’s own problems with electric traction some 60 years later surfaced with a newspaper headline about service failures due to the ‘wrong kind of snow’ falling in Britain!  Most European rail networks – especially in Scandinavia – paid far more attention, like Canada, to the effects of freezing weather on traction systems than British Rail.

The locomotives were capable of exerting a tractive effort of 70,000 lbs at the wheel treads, and soon after their introduction, one of their number demonstrated these abilities, by hauling a train of some 5,240 tons, the heaviest then recorded.  Within the body of the locomotive, the remaining equipment was installed in cubicles along either side of a central gangway. This hardware consisted of a motor generator set, air compressors and banks of resistances, with standard English Electric camshaft control.  

With the English Electric version of this form of control, the operating current was not switched at the camshaft itself, but on line breakers, connected in series with the camshaft controller.  Special provision was made for the high-tension equipment, which was housed in a separate compartment, included access through substantial, interlocked, sliding doors, and which could not be opened unless the main switch was closed, isolating the equipment.

In view of the harshness of the Montreal climate in winter, important amongst the numerous design considerations, was the provision of adequate ventilation and heating. Provisions were made to guard against condensation in the traction motor field windings, which could be connected in series to a 220V shore supply, and the driving cabs were double glazed, and heavily insulated against the cold.

Leading Dimensions, Numbering & Withdrawal

For their time and size these were very powerful machines, and the maximum tractive effort they were able to exert was actually a little more than one of English Electric’s most famous diesel locomotive from the 1950s – the 3,300hp “Deltic” prototype.

CN No. 186 with commuter train in Montreal with the running number applied in 1949, and renumbered 6722 after 1969.
Photo © A.J.Schill/Joseph Testagrose Collection

The locomotives were numbered 9180 to 9188 when they were taken into CN service, as Class Z-4-a and renumbered as 180 to 188 in 1949, before a final renumbering in 1969, with numbers 6716 to 6724.  They were finally withdrawn from service in 1995, when carrying this number series.

In the same year, 1923, English Electric also received an order for a pair of 760hp Bo-Bo electric locomotives, for operation on the Niagra-St Catherines-Toronto route, which was electrified at 600V d.c., and used a ‘trolley pole’ form of overhead contact.  The 1920s were perhaps the last decade when electric tramway, inter-urban or other light rail networks used this form of electrification.

The petrol-electric crane/servicing locomotive built and delivered by English Electric in 1929.  Seen here in Preston shortly after completion, and before shipping to Montreal.

The Petrol-Electric Locomotive

Even these were not the only motive power designed and supplied by English Electric for Canada’s early electrification projects. In 1929 the Montreal Harbour Commissioners ordered what was described as a general service locomotive for repair and construction work – this was a 54ton petrol-electric locomotive, fitted with a 100hp 6-cylinder engine.  Attached to this petrol engine was a 52kW, 500 volt main generator and a 120 volt auxiliary generator, powering the traction motors through a 12-notch controller that provided fine control over the loco’s speed, up to a maximum of 12 mph.   Its unique feature – clearly because of its intended use – included a roof mounted jib crane, and a swinging/collapsible gantry, for maintenance and service personnel to reach whatever equipment was in need of attention on the overhead system.

 English Electric received yet another order from Canada – the company’s last, in 1952 – but this time for the Toronto Transit Commission, and perhaps sadly from Preston’s view, the order was only for motorcoach control equipment. That said, the 1952 order consisted of no less than 140 sets of that control equipment, with the mechanical parts and assembly from Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F), from its factory in Montreal.  Today, CC&F is part of the Bombardier Transportation business, as its railcar facility in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The original nine locos for Montreal Harbour had a very long service life, and were only withdrawn fully in 1995 – more than 70 years after their delivery and initial operation.  In later years the class ceased working around Montreal Harbour after 1940/41.This extract from a discussion on these locomotives appeared in the January 1962 edition of the newsletter of the Canadian Railroad Historical Society:

“The Montreal Harbour electrification, however, did not prove to be too successful. Technically it was fine but the financial burden was too great and at the close of the 1940 navigation season, electric operations were brought to a halt. During the following months, the National Harbours Board wire crews took down the expensive overhead and dismantled the electrification works. The electric locomotives, however, fitted admirably with the CNR’s need for additional motive power for the National System’s expanding Montreal Terminals electrification. The locomotives, therefore, were transferred to the Canadian National Railways in 1942 in exchange for nine steam-powered 0-6-0 switchers numbered 7512 to 7518 inclusive.”

In its final guise for CN, No. 6716 and a sister locomotive head a commuter service near Mount Royal in July 1983.  Although the headlight is still in the original position, the loco now has an illuminated number board just above the central cab window.
Photo © Clayton Langstaff

The electrification work, and the provision of these new boxcab locomotives was an important milestone for English Electric, and whilst the mechanical parts were sub-contracted to Beyer-Peacock in Manchester, this marked a major success for the company. These first orders for substation power equipment and locomotives were received only 4 years after the company came into existence, brining together the years of experience, and expertise already shown by the Dick, Kerr Co., pushing forward with electric traction. 2019 marks the centenary of what was for half a century perhaps the most famous electrical engineering company in the UK, and it was only just over a year ago that the doors on the factory in Preston, Lancashire were closed for the final time.

-oOo-

Useful Links:

Bring Me Sunshine – Lancaster to Morecambe & Heysham

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To me, the railway from Lancaster to Morecambe has always been linked to holidays by the sea. We would arrive from Lancaster Castle, by way of Lancaster Green Ayre, and on to Morecambe, almost never to Heysham.  We almost always travelled between Lancaster Castle, then down to Green Ayre on the electric trains, and across the Lune past Scale Hall to Morecambe Promenade station.  Right next door was the famed Winter Gardens, and directly opposite, the outstanding Midland Hotel.  On occasions we did arrive at Euston Road as well via a diesel multiple unit, and just that little bit further from the seafront.

The line was of course never intended to be a mere holiday branch line, and the route from industrial West Yorkshire, through Skipton was to connect to the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway at Low Park (Grayrigg / Dillicar) near Kendal, with a branch to Lancaster from Sedbergh.

Midland Hotel_July 2018 copyIn the 1840s a plan was hatched to build a railway from industrial West Yorkshire, through Skipton to a port at Lancaster – St George’s Quay – on top of which it was agreed by the businessmen involved, it would also connect with Hull on the East Coast. Over £1million in share capital was raised, with Charles Vignoles as the engineer in charge.

At the same time as the North Western Railway secured its Act, the Morecambe Harbour & Railway Company was planning to build its own line from the harbour at Poulton-le-Sands, (as Morecambe was then known) to Lancaster.   The Morecambe Act was approved on 16th June 1846, two weeks before the North Western Railway secured its own Act.

Morecambe Promenade from above 1920 EPW004078However, the Morecambe harbour company was more focussed on gaining increased revenue from harbour dues that coastal shipping and ferry trade offered, and its line was ‘handed over’ to the North Western Railway even before construction started. In addition to the line from Morecambe to Lancaster, the Harbour Company’s plan also included a proposed connection to the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway near Hest Bank, but this was dropped in 1849, only to be resurrected under the LNWR some 10 years later, and completed in 1864.

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1891 OS Map of approaches to Morecambe. “Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland”

The ‘Little’ North Western proposal from Leeds to Lancaster’s main purpose was to carry its produce from Leeds and Bradford to the west coast ports and main line railways, and unsurprisingly, the company’s head office was at 22 Commercial Street, Leeds. Here was the northern end of the North Midland Railway in the 1840s, and George Hudson’s territory for his grand plans for the York and North Midland, and expansion westwards to Liverpool and Manchester. However, the ‘Little’ North Western came to connect with the Leeds & Bradford Extension Railway, which was absorbed into the Midland Railway in 1851, and the ‘Little’ North Western leased by the Midland from January 1859.

Morecambe to Lancaster

The original terminus of the Morecambe Harbour & Railway Company was on the wooden jetty at Poulton-le-Sands, which was later replaced by a stone structure. The present day “Midland Hotel” was originally known as the “Morecambe Hotel”, and the stone jetty marked the western boundary of the harbour.

A more ‘conventional’ station, with an overall roof was built at Northumberland Street, as the railway’s passenger traffic grew, along with a hotel to serve travellers for Douglas and Belfast. The line did actually end on the jetty, with a long, low building designed and constructed to allow goods to be offloaded rapidly from ships on to the waiting trains, before setting off on their eastward journeys. The building actually lasted around 90 years – into the 1930s – although shipping had ceased after the loss of traffic to the Furness Railway, and from 1904, following the opening of the Midland Railway’s harbour at Heysham.

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Morecambe’s original passenger station at Northumberland Street boasted an overall roof.  Photo Courtesy: Ken Ludlam

One of the major problems with Morecambe’s harbour was the range of the tide, resulting in the Midland Railway transferring sailings to Piel, near Barrow, on the Furness Railway. In 1867, the direct connection with the Furness, from Wennington was completed, connecting with the Lancaster & Carlisle at Carnforth. The new ‘Furness & Midland Joint’ line allowed the Midland to transfer its ‘boat train’ traffic from Poulton to the Furness Railway jetty at Piel, which was independent of the tide, and provided a better option for the Midland Railway. The Midland and Furness companies, together with James Little & Co., as equal shareholders, jointly owned the IOM steamers. The Furness Railway began construction of its extensive docks at Barrow in 1867, and created a new station at Ramsden Dock, specifically for the steamer traffic to the IOM, Ireland, and even America. The Midland continued to operate all its Irish and other seaborne traffic from either Piel or Barrow until 1893, when it duly gave notice of its intention to cease that operation.

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1893 OS Map of Lancaster Green Ayre.      “Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland”

Heysham Harbour

The first mention of a harbour at Heysham was included in the Act of Parliament obtained by the ‘Little’ North Western in 1849, the same year that saw approval for the connection between Green Ayre and Castle stations in Lancaster.

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Interior of the original Heysham Harbour station, possibly around 1908.                                   Photo courtesy: Mandy Sharpe

However, it wasn’t until 1897 that the Midland Railway – by then effectively owners of the ‘Little’ North Western – bought the land to build a new deep water harbour, to provide greater reliability for their cross-sea traffic. The site chosen was at the southern end of Half Moon Bay, with a branch line connecting to the original line at Torrisholme, with access from both Morecambe Promenade and the lines to the harbour, as well as directly to Lancaster Green Ayre – in effect the ‘Torrisholme Triangle’.

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The impressive approaches to Heysham Harbour in later British Railways days.            Photo courtesy: David Wood

There was a 4 year delay after giving notice to the Furness of its intention to cease running boat trains to Barrow, but after spending £3 million on a new 350 acre site, construction was completed and the new harbour with its rail connection was opened in 1904.

Electrification

Just after the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, the original station at Northumberland Street was replaced by the impressive Morecambe Promenade station, and a curve linking the LNWR line to Morecambe via Bare Lane was completed. This longer route from Lancaster Castle provided the LNWR with access to its own station at Euston Road – only a very short branch from the Midland’s line. Yet another connecting curve was made from the LNWR’s Bare Lane route to the main line at Hest Bank, which enabled trains from the north to access Morecambe directly, these changes collectively known as forming the ‘Torrisholme Triangle’.

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Taken on Heysham old station’s No.2 platform in BR days, showing the final livery applied to the ex-LNWR stock, converted by Metropolitan-Vickers and brought into use on the M&H route in 1953.                        Photo courtesy: David Wood

By far the most far-reaching change was the announcement in 1906 that electrification of the line from Lancaster Castle, to Green Ayre, and on to Morecambe Promenade. At that time Richard Deeley was the Midland Railway’s Locomotive Superintendent, and this work would have been seen as we today look at the use of ‘new technology’ in industry. This work built on the successful use of electricity at the recently opened Heysham Harbour, where the Midland’s own power station was supplying power to dockside cranes and other equipment.

Traffic

Throughout its life, the ‘Little’ North Western arm of the Midland Railway, and well into BR days, passenger traffic was typically the holidaymakers from the east, and Yorkshire in particular, which together with day trippers and local traffic from North Lancashire was certainly popular. To a degree it was also quite cost effective. For example the new station at Scale Hall, which opened in June 1957, was expected to pay for itself in 7 years, but it achieved its target in half of that time, only 3 ½ years – even before the ‘Beeching Report’ was published.

It wasn’t just holidaymakers though, as businessmen from Leeds and Bradford were provided with a ‘Residential Express’ by the Midland to transport the wealthy wool merchants and manufacturers from Yorkshire to their homes at Poulton, and for a time, the service even included a ‘Club Car’.

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Carlisle Upperby based 45518 on a stopping passenger train on the “Little” North Western at Wennington in 1962, heading for Morecambe.        Photo courtesy: Mandy Sharpe

After nationalisation, passenger numbers remained largely unchanged, and Morecambe remained a popular holiday resort, but like most UK resorts was dramatically affected by the growth of foreign holidays, and cheaper flights to destinations with guaranteed sunshine.

In terms of pure passenger numbers, in 1962/63 Beeching records these as 50,000 per week on the Lancaster to Morecambe line, but only around 5,000 a week on the ‘Little’ North Western route, along with the line from Wennington to Carnforth.

Density of freight on the other hand was an interesting picture, with 50,000 tons a week for the Heysham, Lancaster to Skipton and Leeds – at least it was justification for the original reasons for the building of the ‘Little’ North Western line, with access to the port of Heysham. Tonnage by station on these routes was much more varied, and perhaps as expected, places like Halton, Wennington, etc. delivered between zero and 5,000 tons.

Again though, Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham generated between 5,000 and 25,000 tons a week. Heysham was listed on Map No. 11 of the Beeching Report as one of the terminals for the ‘Liner Train Routes’ being considered by BR at that time, and so perhaps its future was assured even during that dramatic period. In fact daily liner train services were operated between London, Birmingham and Heysham in 1968, as the national freight strategy was set to be expanded with a £12 million investment in new terminals and routes.

Beeching & Closure

In the infamous “Beeching Report” 13 stations were scheduled for closure, and the Lancaster Castle, Green Ayre, Morecambe and Heysham service was to be stopped, and the route closed completely. Green Ayre was perhaps the largest casualty, along with the electrified line, and Morecambe’s Euston Road station. The latter was in a derelict state for many years after the line closed, until the site was cleared and redeveloped.

There is little doubt that the decision to withdraw and modify the Leeds to Morecambe services contributed greatly to the once famous seaside town’s decline, although the freight services to Heysham continued, the economic prosperity of the area suffered badly.

On the 3rd January 1966 the passenger traffic ceased on the line, four months later the locomotive and goods depots closed, including boat trains to/from Manchester, Birmingham and London and ” The Ulster Express”. In May 1966 the locomotive and goods depots closed, and with the withdrawal of all traffic on the remnants of the eastbound track from Green Ayre in 1976, the station and remaining yards were demolished.

Further reading:

Click on the image below to load a more detailed review of the lines between Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham, services, locos and rolling stock.

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Useful Links:

rylands railway map 1950s extract

-oOo-

Electrification 1970s v 21st Century

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Back in 1974, British Rail completed a major electrification between Crewe and Glasgow, and introduced a new timetable on 6th May that year.  This project was planned back in the mid 1950s, with the modernisation plan, which also included both the West and  East Coast routes.  Until 1966, when the London Euston to Manchester and Liverpool was completed, cash strapped BR was forced to delay the East Coast route, but in only 8 years the remaining length of the West Coast was completed.

BR Elec News 1974Today – or rather back in 2013 – work began on electrifying the railway between London Paddington and Cardiff, and planned for completion by 2018, a distance of just 145 miles, and now it has been put back to 2024.  The decision to electrify the line was taken in 2009 by the Dept for Transport, but it was beset with management/organisational problems almost from the word go, and the National Audit Office made some critical observations. Some of these were directed at Network Rail, but equally at the DfT, inckuding this little observation in its 2016 reportModernising the Great Western Railway“:

“The Department did not produce a business case bringing together all the elements of what became the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme until March 2015. This was more than two years after ordering the trains and over a year after Network Rail began work to electrify the route.”

Comparing what was achieved in 1974, with the electrification work of major trunk routes like Glasgow to Preston and Crewe, to connect with the existing WCML wires, the time to complete this quite short route seems excessive.   The cost so far is over £5 billion, and whilst some of that is infrastructure, some includes of course the new ‘bi-mode’ trains.

Headspan Catenary Crewe to Carlisle 1973British Rail electrified 200 miles from Weaver Junction to Gretna, and Glasgow Central in just 8 years.  But it wasn’t just electrification back then, since there was considerable rebuilding and remodelling of trackwork, raising or replacing bridges, and resignalling throughout from London to Glasgow.  The overall cost was £74 million in 1970s prices, or approximately £1 billion today.

Another publication from BR at the time was “Electric All The Way”, which included these interesting comments relating to service improvements to and from Preston:

“The new pattern of services between London and Glasgow introduced on May 6 1974, provides passengers travelling to and from stations between Carlisle and Warrington on the newly electrified portion of the Anglo-Scottish route with more high-speed trains. Preston-Glasgow services have more than doubled, from seven to 15 daily, with an average reduction in journey time of almost one hour.  Preston-London trains have been increasedfrom 12 to 19.”

“Faster journey times and improved connections at Oxenholme for Windermere make the Lake District more easily accessible from all centres on the electrified route.”

So how many high-speed trains from Preston to Glasgow today, and how many southbound?

The introduction of the “Electric Scots” also saw the arrival of Britain’s most powerful AC electric locomotives – the Class 87.  Built by BREL workshops, and powered by GEC Traction equipment.

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Class 87 at Preston in original 1970s livery

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Out of use at Crewe, Class 87 in final BR livery

10 years later work began on electrifying the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, which was completed in 1992, also completed in 8 years – clearly building on the experience and skills gained on the West Coast.  Some sections of the East Coast route were actually completed 12 months earlier than planned – London Kings Cross to Leeds for example.

Here again, the ECML saw the introduction of a nother new form of high-speed motive power, this time from the GEC Traction stable, and codenamed “Electra”, the Class 91 marked perhaps the zenith of British electric traction design.

gec076 copyWhy can’t we organise this as effectively today as happened in the 1970s and 1980s?  

Interesting Reads: