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-

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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:

 

 

 

Over The Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track & Overhead

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

Overall, equipment provided by English Electric included;

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

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

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

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

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

NZ Locos - dimensions table

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

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

NZR_EO_3_at_Ferrymead

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

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

 

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

Further Reading:

EE No.54

Useful Links:

Otira Tunnel – Midland Railway

Rail Tunnel Pierces the Southern Alps

Tranz Alpine

RH Trust New Zealand logo

Blackpool Lights Up – Finally

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The 19 week programme to electrify the line from Preston to Blackpool North has – it seems – finally been completed, and on 16th April, the new service is now planned to start.  The programme was extended by a 3 weeks – and according to Network Rail, the major cause of the delay was the extreme bad weather in March.

PROJECT UPDATE: Blackpool North line to reopen on Monday 16 April

So, the project has overrun by 16% – but at least it is now finished.  Services to Blackpool stopped on 11th November and were due to restart on the 26th March – in good time for the start of the Easter holidays and the tourist season.

When the delay was announced the MP for Blackpool South was incensed and took the matter up with Norther Rail (the franchisee), and of course in Parliament.  The local paper carried a story about the delay:

‘Damaging’ rail delay will impact on tourism, says MP

However, Network Rail has completed:

  • Rebuilding 11 bridges
  • Remodelling 11 station platforms
  • Replacing 11km of track
  • Upgrading drainage
  • Installing a completely new signalling system, operated entirely from the Manchester ROC

Alongside the changes at Blackpool North and Kirkham & Wesham stations, Blackpool train care depot to support the roll out of new Class 331 trains later in 2018.

In the meantime Class 319 units will be relocated from Southern England – good to recycle.  But at least one observer has noted that whilst Transpennine run electrified services into Manchester Airport, currently it seems Northern Rail are not planning for this.

Whilst Network Rail are to be congratulated on completing the job – it’s still ‘wait and see’ to find out how the ‘Great Northern Rail Project’ fulfils its declared intentions.

 

Underfunding & Cancelled Electrification

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On Thursday 29th March, the UK’s “National Audit Office” released the results of its investigation into why the UK Government, and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling chose to cancel electrification projects.  Back at the start of CP5, Network Rail stated that electrification was a strategic top priority, with £3 billion in schemes to be carried out between 2014 and 2019.

In 2017 the Government then decided that three of those schemes were to be cancelled, because:

“… the Secretary of State explained that the projects were cancelled on the basis that it was were no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.”

Perhaps the most telling statement in the NAO Press Release is this one:

“The NAO investigation identifies that that it is too early to determine whether the Department will still be able to deliver the benefits of electrification without these electrification projects in place.”

NAO Press Release

The lines that the Transport Secretary decided to cancel were:

  • The Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea
  • The Midland Main line between 
  • The Oxenholme to Windermere

For the latter – a short stretch of line – it’s ironic in 2018, since the Lake District is now a UN World Heritage Site, and the growth in tourists is predicted to experience significant growth.  The section of the main line between Wales two largest cities not now being electrified is very much a mystery, whilst the former main line to Nottingham and Sheffield also links major population centres.

The Midland route was a particularly bad example of decision making, since at the time the decision was made to cancel, the bi-mode trains with the required criteria to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist.

Cancelled ElectrificationsAnyway, having taken the decision the National Audit Office has identified some interesting, and perhaps key points that suggest this was and has been a poor decision, with a lack of foresight.

  1. It was no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.
  2. Bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist.
  3. Network Rail projects had to be cancelled because the ‘investment programme’ could not be delivered within the available funding.

Plans to raise and retain £1.8 billion to reduce the funding shortfall, through asset sales, were unachievable, so these projects were cancelled to help reduce that shortfall, and according to the NAO Report:

“The Department estimated that cancelling these three projects would save a maximum of £105 million in 2014-19 rail investment period, but would avert £1,385 million of spending in the following 2019-24 period.”

So now we have to wait until 2024 to find out if these savings have been made, and if the wait was worth it – wonder what the impact on passengers will be, or business, or tourists…..

Newbury station sunrise

National Audit Office (NAO) – Investigation into the Department for Transport’s decision to cancel three rail electrification projects

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