Fascinating and sad story – the new Merseyrail electrics have not even entered service, but stored at Tonbridge in Kent, they’ve already received a repaint, courtesy of local vandals. The trains from Stadler’s Wildenrath test track in Germany had been sent to Tonbridge on their way to Merseyside, and are now having the graffiti removed at the Merseyrail Kirkdale depot.
These are the new Class 777 units, and 52 of the 4-car articulated sets were ordered back in 2017 from the Swiss manufacturer, with an option to buy another 60. The present Class 507 and 508 will all of course ultimately disappear. The first of the new trains was delivered in January, but this latest arrival has resulted in the need to spend a significant amount of money making the new trains look new.
Merseyrail’s network features one of the oldest sections of electrified rail network in Britain, opened in May 1903, it was known as the Mersey Railway, running from Liverpool Central to Rock Ferry. It was in fact the first steam railway to be converted to electric traction. This was a complete electrification contract, awarded to the British Westinghouse Co. (later Metropolitan-Vickers Ltd) – although all of the electrical equipment was imported from Westinghouse USA. British Westinghouse was set up in 1899 on the Trafford Park estate in Manchester by George Westinghouse, hopin g to continue to expand the electric railway and tramway markets in the UK.
The original Mersey Railway of 1903
The much bigger network of 1977
The other early component of Merseyrail was the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Co.’s line from Liverpool Exchange to Southport, with the section from Exchange to Crossens (just north of Southport) opened in 1904, and on to Aintree in 1906, and then Ormskirk in 1913. As with the Mersey Railway, 600V d.c. was the preferred supply, via the conductor rail, and the same supplier. Also, as with the Wirral line, the railway had its own power station, based at Formby, and the generating equipment was also supplied by British Westinghouse.
The leading coach is one of the 1920s build from Metro-Vick, but still coupled to three of the original 1903 cars of Westinghouse USA design
Over the years, the network has been expanded, and with some of the most extensive work taking place long after World War 2, in the 1970s, and in effect creating “Merseyrail”, which used variants of the British Rail designs of 3rd rail trains. The Class 507s and 508s, which provide services today were refurbished by Alstom between 2002 and 2005, but the new Class 777s provide and implement some of the latest thinking for suburban and commuter train designs.
Such a shame that delivery of these latest sets have been marred by such mindless vandalism. I know, all trains – condemned or just stabled at the end of the working day – have been subject to the works of amateur Banksy’s, but this incident even made it to the BBC’s news services:
Still, once they have been cleaned up and restored to new at Kirkdale, Merseyside will have some superb new trains to travel on – from Ormskirk and Southport, to Birkenhead and Rock Ferry. Still electric after 117 years.
This video shows the new trains arriving on Merseyside, and on Merseyrail lines for the first time in January 2020:
The UK business of Davies & Metcalfe was most famous for key components on locomotives and rolling stock, from steam injectors, to brake systems and latterly to automatic couplers for rapid transit and light rail systems.
Most of the company’s business was carried out from the wortks in Romiley, Cheshire, south of Manchester. It was a long established family business, begun in North Wales in Aberystwyth in 1878, and after a move to Romiley became a household name in manufacturing steam locomotive injectors in the 20th century. Diversification into braking systems came by way of a partnership with the Swiss company Oerlikon, and sold braking technology under the brand “Metcalfe Oerlikon”.
These arrangements continued after the UK’s railways were nationalised in 1948, and Metcalfe-Oerlikon brake systems were fitted to many diesel and electric locomotive and rolling stock designs. By the 1970s, when the UK rail industry was awarded the contracts to design and build the Hong Kong MTR trains, Davies & Metcalfe, supplied the braking technology and the essential, automatic, close-couplers for the new rolling stock.
This comprehensive activity continued throughout the decades, and in 1989, Davies & Metcalfe appeared at ‘Light Rail ’89’ in Bristol, and were collaborating with Bergische-Stahl-Industrie. The Romiley company were then offering a ‘one-stop shop’ for Brake Control Systems, Safety and Vigilance Equipment, Wheel Slip/Slide Control Systems, Multi-function Automatic Couplers, Disc and Track Brakes and, Transmission Drive Systems.
A number of changes took place in the industry in the last years of the 20th century, and the company continues to supply key components to this day, whether it is for Hong Kong, or even some of the legacy steam railways in Britain.
It was once described as the largest building project in Asia, and it carried its first fare paying passengers on 1 October 1979 when the 8.5km section of the Metro between Kwun Tong and Shek Kip Mei was opened to the public.
It is also 40 years ago this month that another order was placed with Metro-Cammell for the growing Hong Kong MRT, just three years after they were awarded a £35 million order for 140 trains in November 1976. GEC traction and Metro-Cammell’s combined success with the first orders, was followed in November 1979 by another £40 million order for a further 135 multiple unit vehicles for the Kowloon-Canton railway. This came hard on the heels – just five weeks later – of the order for a further 150 metro cars worth £50 million for the MTR routes.
Almost straight out of the box. An original Metro-Cammell built MRT train for Hong Kong. Though much changed in appearance, passenger facilities and traction control systems, they are still at work today.
By that time, contracts worth over £100 million for electrical, mechanical and civil engineering work had already been placed with UK engineering firms. The initial multi-contract E11 awarded by the MRTC involved GEC Traction and Metro-Cammell, requiring close co-operation between the three organisations for the supply and installation of the electrical and mechanical equipment.
The first contracts on the Modified Initial System were placed almost ten years after a report on the problems of road traffic congestion was published by the Hong Kong Government. This was aimed at resolving the territory’s transport question further.
The mechanical and electrical contracts placed by the Hong Kong Government for the Modified Initial System (MIS), were awarded against an extremely tight schedule. The first train set was scheduled for delivery in 1979 and the whole 15.6 route km system was planned to open early in 1980. The MIS for Hong Kong was swiftly followed by the Tsuen Wan extension, with the obvious demand for more rolling stock, and by 1982, GEC Traction had supplied more than 400 sets to the MRT Corporation.
Alongside this, the 34km route of the Kowloon to Lo Wu line was being doubled and electrified at 25kV a.c. using a simple, overhead catenary construction, similar to that used by British Rail in the UK.
In the export market, the Hong Kong MRT was considered the first major project success for GEC Transportation Projects, established as a subsidiary of GEC Traction and based in Manchester, to design and manage such turnkey projects. The Mass Transit system was entirely new, with two lines providing links between the Central District of Hong Kong Island and the business and residential areas of Kowloon. The mass transit railway used an overhead contact system, electrified at 1500Vd.c. It was intended at one time that this line would be electrified using a shrouded conductor rail, but it was decided that safety margins would be improved using 1500Vd.c. catenary. At the same time, two extensions to the MRT were planned 10.6km to Tuen Wan, and the 12.5km Island Line, with completion in 1986.
Kowloon to Canton (Lo Wu)
Work began on the modernisation of the 34km Kowloon-Canton Railway, in early 1980, with the design, installation, supply and commissioning of the overhead equipment awarded to Balfour Beatty Power Construction.
The original emu’s for the Kowloon-Canton Railway, built by Metro-Cammell, with GEC Traction power equipment. Initial tests were carried out on the Tyne & Wear Metro in the UK, before being shipped out to Hong Kong. Photo: RPB/GEC Traction Collection
Metro-Cammell had also signed a contract with the Hong Kong Government to supply 135 electric multiple unit vehicles, to operate inner and outer suburban services on the Kowloon Canton Railway, which was being modernised and electrified. The fleet of rail cars, worth £40million, were designed to be operated as three-car sets with up to four sets running in multiple.
The electrical equipment and traction power infrastructure was again being supplied by GEC Traction, from Preston and Stafford, with the MRT and extension lines electrified at 1500V d.c overhead, and the Kowloon to Canton route at the standard 25kV a.c., overhead.
The trains for both the Mass Transit and Kowloon-Canton Railways, were built by Metro-Cammell. The original mass transit cars had a very high capacity, with seats for 48 passengers, and standing room for more than 300, in a length of 22m and overall width of 3m. At the time, the MRT cars were believed to have the highest capacity of any metro car in the world. With such high density, getting passengers on and off required the provision of five pairs of sliding doors on each side of the car.
The cars for the Modified Initial System, and Tsuen Wan Extension were arranged in six-car formations, and due to the demanding operating requirements, all axles were motored, to give a nominal acceleration of 1.3m/s 2. Though this was increased in practice, because many of the stations along the route were constructed on ‘humps’. The MRT cars, ultimately in eight-car formations were required to operate at 90 seconds headway between trains, and a two minute intervals with ATO (Automatic Train Operation) in use.
The body shell was common for the three types of car on the KCR, and similar to that for the Hong Kong Mass Transit cars. They differed largely only because the KCR sets had fewer side doors, and narrower gangways between cars than the MRT vehicles. Electrically the KCR propulsion equipment was almost entirely derived from that supplied to British Rail.
GEC Traction supplied the propulsion equipment, which included conventional, camshaft control systems,· although consideration had been given in the early stages to using more advanced, thyristor chopper control. An important advantage of using chopper control is the system’s ability to regenerate during braking, but the hump layout ofmany ofthe mass transit stations rendered its application less useful. By 1982, Metro-Cammell had received orders for 558 vehicles for the mass transit system, with the final contract covering 22 power and 106 trailer cars for the Island Line extension. A total of 18 powered cars were ordered with thyristor control equipment in later years, in orders worth some £l0m.
In the UK, during the 1970s, the Tyneside Metro was constructed, which proved beneficial for both Metro-Cammell and GEC Traction, since te first Hong Kong MRT cars were sent for trials on the Tyneside Metro’s test track, prior to dispatch to the Far East.
The orders for Metro-Cammell and GEC Traction continued to come in during the 1980s, with additional MTR trains for the Island Line extension, and more three-car trains for the KCR. The last order for what was later classed as M-Class trains, were delivered from Metro-Cammell in Birmingham in 1988/89. However, it was not the last order, as in 1992, and order was placed with GEC Althom (who had by then acquired Metro-Cammell), for another 64 cars, for the MRT.
The MIS trains built by Metro-Cammell were – indeed are – classified as “M-Stock” by the MRT in Hong Kong, and they have undergone various improvements and changes. The initial modifications included altering the front end, to “modernise” its appearance, and the fitting of passenger information systems. All of the original builds were fitted with GTO Chopper control between 1992 and 1995.
This final order included an option for 24 further vehicles, and all 88 were supplied to Hong Kong as a set of parts, which were assembled at the Kowloon Bay Depot. Some of these – by now classed as H-Stock – were refurbished for use on Hong Kong’s Disneyland Line.
The original Kowloon-Canton units were designed for longer journeys, and included slightly different layouts or inner and outer suburban trains, but the general construction is similar to the mass transit trains, with main structural profiles common to both designs. In three-car sets – up to four sets could be coupled in multiple to give a 12-car train), the outer suburban sets have a capacity for 884 passengers and 961 for the inner suburban sets. With full width driving cabs at each end, every three-car set is a self-contained unit.
We see climate as a 21st century issue, but of course in tropical, and sub-tropical climates, there has always been the ever present problem of torrential downpours, from storms – be they hurricanes or typhoons, along with dramatic temperature variations. The climate is such in Hong Kong, that the vehicles, and their passengers were expected to withstand extremes of temperature, from 0 to 40 degrees, up to 100% humidity, and even required to run through flood water in some sections, as a result of the impact of Typhoons.
The original Metro-Cammell built KCR trains were refurbished in the late 1990s by Alstom. This view taken in the Hong Kong Kowloon Bay Depot workshops shows work being carried out.Photo: Alstom/RPB Collection
These trains are still in service today, but have undergone a number of changes, and the original Hong Kong MTR and Kowloon-Canton Railways have seen considerable changes and modifications since the 1980s. The original KCR trains were converted by Alstom to 12-car sets, and the original 3 sliding doors were increased by the adition of a further 2 doors per side, and an emergency door in each cab front. The cab fronts were also modified, and entirely new passenger information systems were installed – all of this work was carried out between 1996 and 1999, to extend the life of these trains. Further changes included the fitting of ATO/ATC control systems, and today, 20 years later, they are still in use – now classed as Mid-Life Refurbishment Train (MLR).
So much has changed over the years in Hong Kong, what with the new airport at Chek Lap Kok, and the suspension bridge carrying the metro to the airport, along with further new lines, and a link to the Disney resort. On the railway, several refurbishments of the original M-Trains – which are still running, and the fitting of automatic train Control (ATC), the now almost universal Platform Screen Doors on metros around the world – but the trains from Washwood Heath are still running – for now.
According to reports announced in 2015, the MTR Corporation is to spend HK$6 billion on its largest- ever order of trains from a mainland manufacturer. 93 eight-car trains will replace all of the Metro-Cammell currently operating on the Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Island and Tseung Kwan O lines.
Mainland maker CSR Qingdao Sifang is delivering the trains between 2018 and 2023.
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’
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
The name of Siemens has an exceptionally long history with railway equipment and rolling stock manufacturing in the UK. To be precise since 1864, when the Woolwich factory was established in London, although the company had been set up in London in 1850, and over the next 30 years, William Siemens was responsible for the arrival of electric traction. Amongst many other innovative developments and delivering what we might today call ‘disruptive’ technology.
This week – April 23rd – it was announced that the company had submitted their plans to build a new factory in Goole, East Yorkshire, for the construction, testing and support for new rolling stock for UK train companies. The application is for outline consent to enable the development to be delivered in phases, with the first phase – the manufacturing facilities expected to open in 2023, with the factory fully operational in 2025. The new facility will manufacture and commission the latest development of the “Desiro” family, which itself – in the UK – dates back to 2000, when the first emu’s were ordered for service with First Great Eastern, and owned by Angel Trains.
The new £200 million factory uses land on a 67 acre site, adjacent to the Guardian Industries UK glass factory, and the Goole intermodal rail terminal – a clearly appropriate location from a rail perspective – and is also close to junction 36 of the M62 motorway. The plans submitted include 80,000 sqm of manufacturing, commissioning, warehouse buildings and stabling sidings, as well as a four-storey, 5,000 sqm office building. Siemens Mobility is planning to create up to 700 jobs as part of this project, and 250 during the construction period, with an estimated additional 1,700 in the UK supply chain.
But Siemens Mobility is not just planning to build trains in Goole, as the company’s UK rolling stock engineering and commissioning team will be based here, and is planning to locate its Digital Operations Centre onsite, collecting and analysing train borne data for train operators.
The driver to carry the proposal forward was of course the £1.5 billion order for new trains for the Piccadilly Line for London Underground. The Piccadilly Line had the distinction at one time of being London’s longest tube line, and is now 113 years old. Under the Deep Tube Upgrade Programme, Siemens Mobility Ltd’s contract will supply 94 small-profile metro trainsets, following their successful award from the tender process that began in 2016. Siemens’ success was achieved against stiff competition from Alstom, Bombardier, CAF, and Hitachi, and which included three of the companies launching legal challenges that automatically prevented award of the contract. Suspension of the contract award was lifted by the High Court on 2nd November 2018, and the contract placed.
Whilst it is true that Siemens already have a considerable presence in the area, supporting the offshore and renewables industry, manufacturing turbine blades, this new factory is an important step in the re-growth of the UK’s rail manufacturing industry. It is interesting to reflect too that between 1957 and 1972, GEC Traction (later merged with Alsthom), secured orders for 720 sets of motorcoach power equipment for the Piccadilly, and the Heathrow Extension.