Perhaps not everyone’s favourite loco, but it was unique in a number of ways, and one of these was the fact that it was the last new locomotive type built at Doncaster Works, which in the early 1980s was part of the soon to be privatised BREL. Its power unit built on the legacy of Ruston Paxman, English Electric and latterly GEC Diesels, which were built at the historic Vulcan Foundry in Newton-Le-Willows – that too was the victim of mass closures and the run-down of the railway industry in the 1980s.
The class 58 had a less than successful career in Britain, and was dispensed with in short order under EWS, and sadly for BREL no export orders were received. But …. It was exported on hire to the Netherlands, Spain and France, where in Spain and France it provided the motive power needed when the high-speed lines were being expanded in the early 2000s, before being returned to the UK, stored or scrapped.
The design and fabrication techniques employed were very much of the mass production line process and should perhaps have been more widely employed in the UK industry, but that was not to be, and it remains a final, and curious example of a good idea that was not fully exploited. There are a number of the class in varying stages of restoration, and one is providing the base for the building of a replica of the first English Electric main line diesel, developed by the LMS and its CME H.G.Ivatt. So the Class 58 legacy remains to be seen in service on specials, and in operation on heritage services.
This small offering is based on my invitation to the handover in December 1982 of the very first Class 58 at Doncaster, where I enjoyed a tour of the works, to see the processes in action, and the unveiling on a bright sunny day of 58001 outside the main office block.
Much has been made in recent days over the cancellation of HS2, and the abandonment of Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the new Integrated Rail Plan has been greeted with considerable scepticism – in the north of England in particular. The CILT (Chartered Institute of Logistics) made some interesting observations about the impact, or affect it will have on the network’s freight capacity, and how that may change.
One intriguing observation about the ad-hoc upgrades outlined in this new plan drove me to look at some of the details. The CILT made this comment in their press release:
“CILT welcomes the creation of a new line from Warrington through Manchester to Marsden, with capacity for freight provided in the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade (TRU), but is seeking urgent confirmation that the freight element of TRU will include gauge clearance to the full ‘W12’ standard, not merely the much smaller ‘W8a’ gauge that has been proposed thus far.”
This route follows the line on the Manchester side out from Piccadilly to Ardwick, then turns North-East towards Greenfield, Saddleworth and Diggle, and the Standedge Tunnels under the Pennines, before entering West Yorkshire and the once prosperous mill town of Marsden. According to the latest plan for improvements in the northern rail network this will replace the now cancelled eastern leg of a high-speed rail line. No mention of any extension from Marsden to Huddersfield, the nearby centre of this part of West Yorkshire.
Back in 2000, the plans now being outlined also appeared in the Railtrack Network Management Statement, so it seems this is not a new idea, and the plan was then to include the W10 loading gauge clearance across the route.
Again, according to the CILT, the Trans Pennine Upgrade is vital from an environmental perspective:
“This is critical to reducing congestion on the M62 and M60 – for passenger traffic as well as freight – since up to 1000 HGV loads per day could be shifted onto rail, saving approximately 300,000 tonnes of C02 a year and freeing up the UK’s vital HGV driver resource for other journeys (the M62 is the third busiest road freight corridor in GB, with more than 7 million truck movements pa).”
The map of routes on the rail network that were either being upgraded to meet the essential W10/12 gauge shows some interesting plans, but it seems that today’s “Integrated Plan for Rail” has a lot of work to be done on the details.
One of the most telling comments made by the CILT is this:
Building a high-speed line to the East Midlands, upgrading of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and electrification of the Midland Main Line (MML) is welcome, but CILT believes inadequate provision for freight and logistics is made in the IRP and says urgent delivery of the following is needed:
Electrification of the key freight route from Peterborough to Doncaster via Lincoln, as this route provides the link from Felixstowe and London Gateway to businesses in Yorkshire and the North East, and there will very limited capacity for freight on the electrified 140mph ECML
Upgrading and electrification of the route from Northallerton to Teesside and Ferryhill (the Stillington route) to provide adequate capacity for freight to the North East and Scotland via the ECML
Electrification north from Corby to Doncaster and through the Hope Valley to complement electrification of the Midland Main Line from Kettering to Sheffield, which will enhance passenger services but do little or nothing for freight.
From the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, and for this particular route across the Pennines, this is what the Government say they will do:
“On Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), we will build a new high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire finishing east of the Standedge tunnels. In 2019, the Prime Minister promised to fund the Leeds-Manchester route of NPR. Of the three options for this section put forward by Transport for the North (TfN) at that time, we have chosen the first, a mix of newbuild line and upgrade via Huddersfield, and extended our commitment to Liverpool (giving 40 miles of new high speed line), and York. NPR trains will use fully electrified, expanded and upgraded conventional lines between Liverpool and Warrington, and from the east of Standedge tunnels to Leeds. Trains will run from Manchester to Leeds in 33 minutes, 22 minutes faster than now. We will also upgrade and electrify the line between Leeds and Bradford giving a non-stop journey time which could be as low as 12 minutes. We carefully examined the other options put forward by TfN, for full newbuild lines from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester and Bradford. They would have made Manchester- Leeds journeys only four minutes faster than the option we have chosen, and cost an extra £18 billion.”
On freight, as part of the TRU (Transpennine Route Upgrade), they are proposing upgrades to the section from Marsden into Huddersfield, after having built a new high-speed line from Warrington through the Standedge Tunnels to Marsden. So to suggest this is a major new proposal for this route is a misnomer, and only partially implements what was proposed 21 years ago. This is specifically what is written in the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands:
40 miles of new build high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire (to the east of Standedge tunnels);
upgraded and electrified conventional line for the rest of the route;
significant improvements to the previous Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) plans between Manchester and Leeds, including electrification of the whole route, digital signalling throughout, significantly longer sections of three and four-tracking, and gauge upgrades to allow intermodal container freight services. This will now form the first phase of NPR;
Last but not least, the map below is worth comparing with the 2001 map and proposals, and shows that there are still gaps in the major freight artery across the Pennines. And, no amount of increased pathways, or digital jiggery pokery will resolve the problem if a freight service moves from high speed to conventional lines after leaving the Standedge Tunnels.
The rest of the detail in the Government’s plans is in the attached file – short on detail perhaps – just click on the image below:
Back in the days of British Rail, train performance figures were routinely published by the central and regional transport committees, which included a range of voices on the panel, and was independent of the railway operator. The details provided in annual reports covered passenger operations, disabled passengers’ facilities, bus-rail interchanges, design of rolling stock, and major projects including electrification. Funding was also covered, and the gradual reduction in PSO grants to local authorities, which led to a further run down of services, was a key feature of the 1980s in particular.
From a press release provided by The Compensation Expertsearlier this month (November), an interesting set of statistics was provided to illustrate which stations had the most delayed services – missed their arrival time, or beyond the 1 to 15 minute threshold, but not cancelled. In that release, they make this observation:
“Unsurprisingly, the worst UK station for delays and cancellations is in London. If you want a quick commute, you should aim to avoid using City Thameslink at all costs. On average, an absolutely staggering 67% of all trains that pass through City Thameslink are delayed between 4pm and 6pm, with 66% being delayed between 7am and 9am.”
To illustrate the point they include this table:
As I referred to in an earlier post, access to detailed information is difficult to come by, through “official” channels, and obvious sources such as Transport Focus, and the ORR web sites are long on rhetoric, but short on readily available data. On the Transport Focus home screen, you have to scroll to the very bottom of the page to find a link to the “Data Hub”, which then takes you to another page, strewn with icons and images of various transport modes – then you click on the “National Rail Passenger Survey” – which gets you this image:
Not much by way of useful information about train performance, and none about puncutality. Previously, reports would include charts about the percentage (%) of trains arriving on time, or within 5 minutes, and so on – but with this source you have to delve a further 3 or 4 pages into “Advanced Analysis”. Then you can generate a spreadsheet to provide details of punctuality.
BUT – it does not calculate that data, it simply describes whether passengers were satisfied or dissatisfied with their journey.
Not a very useful source then if you are looking for details about train arrivals on or behind time, as happened in British Rail days. So maybe I misunderstand what the purpose of “Transport Focus” is then? Seems to be measuring whether a passenger was happy or unhappy.
This can be a useful source, and they publish a PDF file online at 3 monthly intervals, but an important point has to be how punctuality is defined and recorded. The ORR use a definition of on time as either arriving ahead of the booked time or less than one minute late, but there is another measure described as te Public Performance Measure (PPM), which is defined as trains arriving early or up to 10 minutes after the scheduled arrival time. This is also classed as a punctuality measure.
So, if you aggregate train services from all operating companies, and you measure their arrival as punctual, you could say that 98% of all trains were punctual if your definition was early or on time, and up to 15 minutes after timetabled arrival.
All the results aggregated by the ORR for on time, or 1 minute late arrivals are published as a chart, and the example below shows these punctuality figures for the past 8 years. If option (c) is selected – trains arriving up to 15 minutes late – unsurprisingly trains can be said to be 99% punctual.
Train punctuality was also measured as % of arriving right time, or up to 5 minutes late. These were also grouped as either express trains or other trains, and further subdivided by region (equivalent to train operator today. It is interesting to note that in 1981 BR Eastern, Scottish and Western Region express train punctuality was 81%, 82% and 74% respectively. For other trains (this would include commuter services), these same three regions recorded punctuality figures of 91%, 93%, and 92% arriving on time, or no more than 5 minutes late.
Before the pandemic, the same services, allowing for arrivals up to 3 minutes late, were roughly the same in 2018/19 as they were in 1981 – fascinating.
Back in 2001 I was compiling a status report of the Light Rail Projects and existing networks in operation, or under active construction around the UK. We had a busy programme, with 6 networks open and operational, and plans to build 3 more around Portsmouth, Leeds and Bristol being put forward, and the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) was being built. Of the existing systems, Croydon – or the London Tramlink as it is now called – and the Birmingham network had only been open a couple of years.
There were other proposed systems being put forward, including Edinburgh, which did finally get completed, and a “revamped trolleybus scheme” for Liverpool and Merseyside – the “Mersey Tram” – another pie in the sky scheme. The new generation of light rail and tramway schemes were being scattered around the UK a bit like confetti 20 years ago, and included Hull, Bath and East Lancashire – at least that was what the Transport Secretary was reported as saying in Parliament in 2001.
The major projects actively operating or under construction, with a couple of exceptions, including those that were cancelled by the Department of Transport, included these:
Back in 2001 there were plans for expansion of the existing systems, with Manchester (3 new lines) and Birmingham (2 new lines) at the head of the list. It was clearly essential for the expanding connurbations of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, and they had already proved their value in passengers carried, and the associated revenue – the Midland Metro had seen a 25% increase in passengers carried in its first fully operational year.
Before looking back at where we were in 2001, it is worth noting that all of these networks were essentially built around a new concept of street running trams, and the UK was following the lead set in other European cities. With the exception perhaps of the Tyne & Wear Metro, the technology being used was new, and whilst the UK’s first new light rail system in Manchester was not exactly the low floor design seen elsewhere, it was a pioneer. The Tyne & Wear had been up and running since the late 1970s, and piggy backed on the readily available ‘heavy rail’ technology, including a 1500V d.c. overhead contact system, and conventional railway station platforms.
The other ‘metro systems’ that could be included would be the underground networks of London and Glasgow, and Blackpool’s century old tramway system. But, Light Rail was evolving down a different path, and in 1989, the industry was first fully showcased in the UK at Bristol, at the “Light Rail 89” exhibition and conference, opened by Mchael Portillo, who was then Transport Secretary. The industry was ambitious, and the outlook was poistive, and by the turn of the century, those 6 new systems were up and running – including the highly successful and automatic Docklands Light Railway.
Where are we today? These are the current Light Rail (LRT) systems in operation in the UK:
Only two new systems have been built and opened in the past 20 years – Edinburgh and Nottingham – so now we have 8 light rail systems, with the older networks continuing to expand.
Click on the image below to read about the systems and technology that was in place back in 2001.
A report in the news today (Sunday 17th October) describes the failure of yet another Train Operating Company (TOC) as tie Government withdraws its franchise.
This system has never been a success in the UK, as the numerous and repeated TOC failures demonstrate. The fragmentation of a key national infrastructure in the manner it was sliced up in the 1990s was doomed to failure. Too much bureaucracy, red tape and subsidies to failing business models.
Is this latest failure of South Eastern the death knell for the “British model”? When will we see the whole infrastructure nationalised – or as some might suggest “owned in common”.
There is no future in the franchising model, the UK cannot keep sticking a plaster / band aid over this key transport mode. It is also perhaps behind the piecemeal – unsuccessful – approach to the inertia seen, or maybe not seen, fir the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.
Meanwhile public funding, technology, and innovation seem to be thrown at the HS2 line from London to Birmingham. No doubt that too will eventually be admitted into public ownership.
There was a report in “The Guardian” on 22nd September the Rail Delivery Group announced its plan to use the old British Rail double arrow logo in a new advertising campaign to encourage people to take the train. But it stirred some controversy – in a similar way to what happened in 1948, 56 and when the familiar double-arrow symbol appeared.
The Rail Delivery Group announced this on what was deemed “World Car Free Day”, in a perhaps laudable attempt to highlight the environmental benefits of rail transport.
As we know, the Rail Delivery Group was set up in 2011, and is effectively the equivalent of a trade body for the private train operating companies, together with state owned Network Rail, and it is a bit ironic that they are continuing to make use of the British Rail logo – a nationalised body. But, it is sad that the creator of the iconic logo thinks that its latest application is a step too far.
I have to agree, this change to 5 shades of green is far too complex, and largely misses the point of the logo – to provide a clearly recognisable brand for the railway. This is how the change was announced by the RDG:
A single train removes up to 500 cars off our roads
Every freight train removes on average 76 lorries from our roads
Leaving your car at home and taking the train cuts carbon emissions by two thirds
An interesting observation from their press release stated:
“In a report published earlier this month, the Rail Delivery Group estimated that a 20% shift from rail to road would lead to an extra one million tonnes of CO2 emissions and 300 million hours stuck in traffic jams per year.”
If we take that as a positive outlook, is the problem “Crossrail” and the “HS2” project, neither of which will help the UK achieve its Government stated aim of “Zero Carbon emissions” by 2050 unless the plans to accelerate projects are delivered. HS2 for instance – according to the Public Accounts Committee report (HS2 Summer 2021) this summer suggested the section from London to Birmingham would be completed by 2025, but services would only be started around 2033.
Then of course there have been enormous cost overruns for both of these – neither of which will support a significant move from road to rail for freight services. Perhaps it would be better to provide improvements to existing rail route – freight does not demand such high speeds – in order to connect major goods distribution hubs and make better use of intermodal trains.
It is interesting that the Rail Delivery Group chose such a complex arrangement of various shades of green to emphasise rail transport’s green credentials – I’m not sure it’s going to cut any ice without more actions. It must have been a little embarrassing when the creator – Gerry Barney – of the original British Rail double arrow symbol was reported as making this observation:
“I think that’s rubbish,” he said. “I could understand it if they had just swapped red for green. But why on earth have they got that many colours? It’s a load of old bollocks. It’s just a mess.”
Of course, some of the earlier logos used by British Railways, and the later double-arrow symobol came in for their fair share of criticism.
I’m not sure that the use of green in this current guise actually does the job – it’s a bit like those social media posts that the younger generation use, adding dog or rabbit ears to a friend’s face.
Preserved MR Compound No. 1000 piloting “Jubilee” “Leander” on a Cumbrian coast special to Sellafield, on the May Day Bank Holiday in 1980, passing Dalton Junction, to use the Barrow-in-Furness avoiding line. Photo: Rodger Bradley
In 1948, there were still 40 of the original Midland Railway 3-cylinder compound locomotive design in service, but only one in the Northwest No. 41005 at Lancaster, with the reminder on the London Midland Region’s Midland lines. Of the LMS built engines, there were 69 at Northwest depots in 1950, and out of the total of 223 compounds in B.R. service, 161, or 72% were in London Midland stock. 62 locos. were at work in the Scottish Region, mostly in and around Carstairs, Ayr and Corkerhill, along with Carlisle Kingmoor.
Compound locomotives have not had a particularly happy history on Britain’s railways, but the design based on the Johnson-Smith-Deeley system were more successful than most. the first five locomotives were outshopped with only Saturated boilers from Derby Works in 1902/3, and even following Richard Deeley’s appointment in 1903, as CMEM of the Midland Rly., the compounds continued to be built in unsuperheated form. The original Midland engines were numbered 1000 – 1044, and from 1924 – 1927, and in 1932 (with some modifications), a further 195 were built as the standard express passenger power for the LMS. These locos were numbered 900 – 939, and 1045 – 1199.
Although all 235 locos. were classed as 4P, there were significant mechanical differences that might logically have provided two classes. The basic layout involved two 21″ diameter low pressure cylinders, outside the frames, and a single 19″ diameter high pressure cylinder between, operated by Stephenson valve gear. The boiler was pressed to 200lbs/sq in, and in later Fowler built engines, a Schmidt type superheater was fitted. The original MR locomotives had 7’0″ coupled wheels, whilst the majority, and later LMS standard engines, were only 6’9″ diameter. This in turn, caused an increase in tractive effort from 21,840 lbs to 22,630 lbs, calculated at 80% of boiler pressure in the low-pressure cylinders.
Amongst the characteristic detail features of the compounds, more especially the LMS built locos perhaps, and rebuilds of the first Midland engines, included the straight sided Belpaire topped firebox, and cylindrical smokebox, with door fastened by six clamping dogs. The steam brakes operating cylinders were placed between the coupled wheels, and acted directly on the inner shoes, with a mechanical linkage to the outer shoes, giving a clasp type application of braking force. This was feature of the original series retained in later builds, with the operating arrangement of clasp type rigging used on most modern diesel and electric types.
The most obvious feature was of course the outside cylinders, with a long piston tail rod passing through the front end cover, over the leading bogie wheels. A curious feature of the cylinder layout, perhaps, was the use of slide valves to admit steam from the low pressure receiver to the low pressure cylinders, with a piston valve controlling the admission of high pressure steam to the high pressure cylinder steam chest. A feature of the early locos. which was not continued, was the use of bogie brakes, and the rigging was removed from the engines it was originally attached to; an unnecessary complication tried on several loco. designs in the early years of the 20th Century.
Apart from the style of the chimney, dome and double buffer beam at the front end, typical Midland design was adopted in the construction of the cab, and straight sided six-wheeled tender. This was a Fowler design, based on Midland practice, carrying 3,500 gallons of water, 6 tons of coal, and provided with water pick-up gear.
A major difference between the LMS and Midland engines being that the original locos. were right hand drive GWR style! – the changeover to more conventional left hand drive was made on the 1924 series built by the LMS. With the exception of the coupled wheel diameter, all major external dimensions between the two versions were identical.
In British Railways days, the largest allocation of compounds in the Northwest was at Chester, where, in 1950, 13 were stabled, whilst Llandudno Jct. with 10 engines, was a close second. No less than 15 Northwest depots shared these 70 compounds, with the majority on the Manchester to Crewe, and Chester to Holyhead lines. The only representative of the original Midland Railway design was stabled at Lancaster, as B.R. No. 41005, and has some interesting points in its operational history. It was the first of the batch built by Richard Deeley, which covered locos. 41005 – 41044 and was rebuilt by Henry Fowler in 1932 with a superheated boiler, Ross ‘pop’ safety valves, and a typical Fowler steam dome which had a slightly flattened top.
By the mid 1950s, withdrawals had reduced the number of compounds in service to 56 (1954), out of a total on the London Midland Region of 131, just less than 43% of the total operating stock. However, by the end of the 50s, they had almost completely disappeared, with only 18 left at the beginning of 1959, and none of these was from the original Midland Railway build. Of course, by that time 41000 had been preserved at the Clapham Museum as No.1000, in fully lined LMS crimson lake livery.
Speaking of this, it remains a curious fact that although classified as a passenger type, they never appeared in British Railways lined green, which could have been an attractive scheme.
Instead, like some of the passenger tanks, and the ‘Black Fives’, they appeared in mixed traffic lined black colours, with the early British Railways lion and wheel emblem/totem in the middle of the tender sides. As far as I know, none of the compounds received the later style of crest, which appeared from 1956 onwards.
No allocations for 1964, since no compounds were then in service. Of the 75 remaining on the London Midland Region in 1954, almost one third were at work in the Birmingham area, with the remainder on the St Pancras to Manchester line, and a few in and around Leeds.
If there was such an animal as a typical Midland locomotive, then surely Henry Fowler’s class 4 passenger tanks were in that category. First built at Derby Works from1927, many of the class came to the northwest, in BR days particularly, although it was not until the early 1960s that there were ever more than half the total allocated to this area.
NB: The heading image shows Banks Station, with the 17.59 from Preston, headed by LMS Fowler 2-6-4T No. 42369. This is a classic Fowler working on this Preston – Southport train, looking eastwards, towards Preston. The line and station was closed on 7/9/64 – less than two weeks after this photograph.
They were intended for heavy suburban and intermediate passenger work, and classified 4P, with steam pipes inside the smokebox on the original 1927 build. Modifications introduced in 1930 included outside steam pipes, side windows in the cab, and an altered smokebox saddle, with a solid bottom to the cylindrical wrapper.
This latter, with outside steam pipes, was essentially adopted to eliminate a. corrosion problem, where the steam pipes had passed through the bottom of the smokebox and saddle.
In general, the modified locos. were the same as the earlier version and covered by diagram ED172C. The parallel boiler was retained, supplying two outside cylinders, operated by Walschaerts valve gear, with long travel inside admission piston valves. Other minor modifications included the provision of’ cast steel axleboxes, compared with the earlier, manganese bronze variety. The original cab and gangway door arrangement contributed to the draughty nature of the footplate, and the large gap behind was partially closed, and some locos. were fitted with folding doors. In early BR days, a number of engines we refitted with new, cast steel cylinders.
Operationally, the class was a success from the word go, and have been reported by some sources as “excellent performers”.They were more economic to run than the later Stanier designs, on faster, heavier and more demanding duties. On building they were allocated numbers previously carried by a variety of, pre-grouping types, including North Staffordshire and Midland Railway 0-6-0s. In the north west they were assigned to duties originally undertaken by the Hughes, ex L & Y, Baltic tanks, where they proved highly successful. There were though, some curious differences in mileages run between general repairs. The engines allocated to Scotland for instance, were able to work 240,774 miles between repairs, whilst in England the figure was only slightly more than half this.
In service with British Railways, the locos. were reclassified as mixed traffic, with just less than half allocated to northwest depots. Of these, the majority were stabled in South Lancashire, North Cheshire and Derbyshire. The engines sent to Oxenholme and Tebay were mainly for banking assistance on the climb to Shap, whilst the Furness line’s passenger duties were very largely powered by these class 4 tanks. By the mid 1950s, Buxton, Alsager and Tebay had lost their stock, though they could still be seen in some strength in the Potteries, North Cheshire and around Manchester. Macclesfield for example had maintained a stud of 11 Fowler class 4’s for many years, but by the early 1960s they had been withdrawn.
The class total too, was dramatically reduced at this time from 125 to a mere 16 in 1964, and were completely extinct soon after.
The livery carried in British Railways days was mixed traffic black, lined red, cream and grey, with at one time or another, both designs of lion and wheel symbol being applied to the side tanks. They were, in this guise, a very attractive engine – what a pity only the Stanier and Fairburn types are represented in preservation.
1950 = 125, with 62 or 49.6% at northwest depots.
1954 = 125, with 53 or 42.4%at northwest depots.
1964 = 16, with 12 or 75.0% at northwest depots.
Further reading & Useful Links
“LMS Locomotive Profiles No. 3: The Parallel Boiler 2-6-4 Tank Engines” – David Hunt, Bob Essery Fred James (2002) ISBN1-874103-72-0
“Engines of the LMS built 1923–51” – Rowledge, J.W.P. (1975). Oxford: Oxford Publishing Company. ISBN0–902888–59–5.
There was an advert on TV the other day, encouraging people to use the “National Railway Network”. Odd, I thought, especially since passenger and freight services are run by private train operators, and pay a fee to Network Rail to use the tracks and infrastructure. So, what is the purpose?
Well, blindingly obvious – it is to get people back on trains as their use has been drastically cut over the past 18 months by this awful Coronavirus Pandemic.
Great idea – but given that the advertisement is to underpin Network Rail – which does not operate trains – and uses the imagery of British Rail from the 1970s and 80s, and they also use the double arrow logo, that was so closely associated with British Rail.
Before anyone mentions it, yes I do know that Nationalrail.co.uk is an online national timetabling service, and it has been using the double arrow symbol for years:
Selling travelling by train with nostalgia seems to be the subliminal messaging going on here – well not that subliminal if I can spot it! This is what their ad campaign has been saying:
Anyway, I thought – indeed was told in no uncertain terms back when British Rail existed – that it was a failure, and privatising it was going to make everything so much better, and it would be profitable. Well that was a mistake, an error, and misleading wasn’t it. Since “privatisation” the public purse has been well and truly reduced by subsidising the loss making operators.
Still, the “Rail Delivery Group” – a bit like the old Railway Clearing House, or British Transport Commission of the 1940s and 1950s – appears to believe selling the idea on a “national” basis is the way forward, by going backwards with its message content.
Are they suggesting there is no other way forward than to relaunch British Rail? Their slogan: ‘Let‘s get back on track‘, was created for Network Rail, which, as we know, does not run trains. Or is it just that if the train operating companies were to come up with a marketing programme, it would need to involve 2 continents, 5 countries (excluding the UK), and 10 parent companies and more than 20 different operators! Then, in turn there are the companies that actually own the rolling stock – the ROSCOs – there are 9 of them, and they are owned in turn by groups of banks and financial institutions in Canada, China, Germany, France and Australia.
The table below is just the passenger train operating companies – I think it’s relatively accurate, but I’ve excluded the Channel Tunnel, and Eurostar – neither of which are involved with this exercise – well, so far!
Abellio ScotRail (SR), East Midlands Railway (EM), Greater Anglia (GA) (60%), Merseyrail (ME) (50%), West Midlands Trains (WM) (70%)
Arriva Rail London (LO), Chiltern Railways (CH), CrossCountry (XC), Grand Central (GC)
East Japan Railway Company
West Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
Department for Transport
London North Eastern Railway (GR), Northern Trains (NR)
Avanti West Coast (VT) (70%), Great Western Railway (GW), Hull Trains (HT), South Western Railway (SW) (70%), TransPennine Express (TP)
Greater Anglia (GA) (40%), West Midlands Trains (WM) (15%)
South Western Railway (SW) (30%), TfL Rail (XR)
Caledonian Sleeper (CS), Merseyrail (ME) (50%)
Transport for Wales (Welsh Government)
Transport for Wales Rail (AW)
c2c (CC), Avanti West Coast (VT) (30%)
In the 1980s, British Rail were promoting a range of operational, financial and technology improvements and innovations, and included some quite sophisticated marketing too – but it seems that the benefits of rail are only seen clearly during a time of crisis. Now, it seems transport is on a crisis of economic, financial and environmental proportions, and encouraging people to return to the train is highlighting the crises we are seeing today.
Back in the 1980s, it was “crowned” by the infamous “Serpell Report”, amongst whose chief proposals was the reduction of the national route mileage from 10,500 miles to an incredible 1,630 miles. Thankfully this ludicrous report was consigned to the dustbin, despite the political climate encouraging the tarmac lobby with wild and weird ideas about converting rail routes into new roads, with one supporter claiming that railways had been anachronism since the pneumatic tyre was born.
But, whilst that absurd plan did not go ahead, British Rail was left to “wither on the vine” in the 1980s, and a prophetic paragraph in the 1980 Rail Policy document indicated the options for the railway at the crossroads:
“A crucial decision has to be taken soon about the future of British Rail. BR must prepare to take either the path of progress by re-equipment and modernisation, or that of decline through a gradual but deliberate run-down of the system. We cannot continue as we have done in the past. We are reaching the dividing of the ways.”
It is easy to look back and say it couldn’t have been implemented, since the early 1980s – at the heart of BR’s “Corporate Plan 1981-85”, because of the dramatic effects of the economic recession. As we discovered it was a deliberate run down of the system, and the 1990s privatisation was a straw clutching exercise, which, at the same time, saw the national economy clinging on to old fashioned notions of growth and development.
BR was being marketed on a number of fronts: new technology in train control and signalling, fibre-optic communications, computerised systems, greater electrification, expansion of freight services such as “Speedlink”. For passengers there was the new High Speed Trains – InterCity 125 – and the prospect of the tilting Advanced Passenger Train (APT) – the latter ironically arriving 20 years later via Fiat in Italy, and Bombardier in Birmingham.
Plans for the Channel Tunnel were in hand in the Corporate Plan, and cost savings by replacing diesel traction with electrification were clearly identified, both for long distance and commuter services. Dedicated high-speed lines to airports like Gatwick and Stansted, where air traffic was rapidly growing were factored into the mix, and whilst the options for less densely populated rural areas were less successful, efforts were being made to change.
Sadly, none of this was achieving much positive media coverage – the focus, whether broadcast or newsprint relied heavily on promoting expansion of HGVs, and private cars for long and short journeys – oh yes, and the apocryphal on-board catering of the curly sandwich and pork pie. No thought whatsoever appeared to be given to the environmental impact – and yet less than a decade earlier, the oil crisis of 1974 – suggested there could be challenges ahead.
And yet, these ads seem to provide the same feel as the “Let’s Get Back on the Train” ideas:
The latest marketing idea to get people back onto the train is likely to fail – not because people don’t want to – it’s because the pandemic and climate emergency has changed the focus, and perhaps those hoardes of parcel delivery vans are not so sustainable for future generations.
Back in May 2019 the need to scrap those railbus units – the “Pacers” – resulted in the suggestions that they could be used to build garden sheds, or even as part of the garden / patio makeover. Some of us, might have thought that a bit of an extreme idea – but here’s the thing – an absolutely brilliant way of utilising a “Pacer” has been adopted by the Dales School at Blyth, Northumberland.
To be fair, I had suggested they had been unpopular and dangerously overcrowded for years, and could not be considered a success for the railway, but the government minister was perhaps more positive:
The arrival at the Dales School, Blyth, Northumberland of a Class 144 twin unit is an inspirational use for these redundant units. The intention is to use it as a learning centre and library, with a a special focus on railway safety and to inspire career aspirations, using a train driving simulator to make learning engaging and fun.
The unit was previously owned by Porterbrook and leased to Northern Rail, and following its donation by Porterbrook, work on re-purposing this Class 144 was undertaken by Railway Support Services (RSS), which included the removal of the engine and transmission.
RSS provided road transport for the Northern Rail-liveried unit at a discounted rate and the vehicles were delivered from Worksop on 19th July, where it was placed on a short section of track, donated and installed by Network Rail.
Based on two sites at Blyth and Ashington, The Dales is a specialist primary school providing education for children with a variety of additional needs that may not otherwise be met in a mainstream school setting. Dr Sue Fisher, headteacher at The Dales commented:
“This is a dream come true for our children. The train will provide children with engaging learning opportunities and offer those with additional needs a chance to learn new travel skills, develop career aspirations and a lifelong love of reading.”
Andrew Goodman, managing director of RSS said:
“Transport of the two-car Pacer unit was straightforward for us as we have delivered many railway vehicles and locomotives by road transport over recent years. However because of site constraints, the coaches were unloaded onto a temporary length of track and then slewed into their present position.
“We were thrilled to be involved with this imaginative project which sees redundant rail vehicles given a new lease of life, to help and inspire youngsters.
RSS have carried out similar work to enable these “much maligned” multiple units to be put to use elsewhere, including providing services on heritage railways.
So, it seems that the idea of re-using, or is it recycling, these “Pacers” has actually proved beneficial, and who knows maybe they could be adopted and adapted to provide accommodation to relieve the UK’s homeless crisis in some areas. Why not adapt them for use as accommodation for markets in rural areas, or workshops for small businesses and startups, or even holiday accommodation??
Memories of British Railways’ “Camping Coaches” spring to mind – but why not – better to re-use than simply throw them away.