Diamonds Were Forever

Standard

The Great Western Railway had, since its inception been the loner amongst the rai1ways of this country. Beginning with its adoption of Brunel’s broad gauge in the early nineteenth century, this tradition of individuality was carried on beyond the nationalisation of the railways in 1948 to the introduction on the Western Region ten years later of he first main-line diesel hydraulic locomotives. Ostensibly the idea was to assess the relative merits and demerits of the hydraulic transmission as compared with the electric variety. The diesel types with hydraulic transmission were restricted entirely to the Western Region; perhaps the ghost of Brunel and his advocates had something to do with this! Nevertheless, with the implementation of the National Traction Plan in 1967, the D600 class “Warships” days were numbered. But they deserve their place in the story of diesel traction on Britain’s railways, marking as they do, a milestone in the history of motive power development in this country.

D600 on test run - no number

Brand new, straight out of the box – an unnumbered “Warship” on a proving run from the North British Loco Co works.

Five locomotives of this type were ordered from the North British Locomotive Company in November 1955, eventually to become Western Region “Warships” numbers D600 to D604. These locomotives were built under the pilot scheme of the British Transport Commission’s Modernisation and Re-equipment programme for the rai1ways. It was proposed under this scheme to introduce specific types of diesel locomotives in four broad power groups, and to subject them to a period of intensive trials in order to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

This was, however, not to be, and shortly after the programme was launched a re-appraisal was carried out, following which, bulk orders were placed with contractors, in many cases hardly even before the first of the prototypes were outshopped. Some of these proved their worth, but not until after much re-work of major components, including for the many engines fitted to the Brush-Sulzer Type 4 locomotives was undertaken.

Back to the Pilot Scheme orders, the North British Company delivered the first locomotive of the D600 class in 1958.  These “Warship” class locomotives were powered by Anglo-German engines – two N.B.L./M.A.N. L12V 18/21S to be precise – each with a continuous output rating of 1000hp, at an engine speed of 1445 rpm. This placed the design in the category of locomotives with high-speed engines – another area for comparison and trials under the Pilot scheme – with many others sporting medium speed engines.

They were carried in a full width body over two three-axle bogies, and the central axle of each bogie was ‘free, with the engines driving the axles through a Voith/North British L306R hydraulic transmission. This was denoted as the A1A-A1A wheel arrangement, which could to a degree be seen as a disadvantage when it came to getting sufficient power to the wheels to start and haul a train.

When I first penned this article, I wrote:

“Contrary to popular opinion, diesel locomotives are not merely tin boxes on wheels, belching forth voluminous clouds of noxious fumes; these locomotives even had mainframes!”

The mainframe part of that comment was clearly true, but with the benefit of hindsight, the “clouds of noxious fumes” was a bit much. But this was at a time when you could see the pollution of steam trains, but we were yet to become more aware of the hidden dangers of the diesel exhaust.

D600 diagramStructural Details

The underframe was built up from mild steel plate and sections, covered with steel plate forming a continuous floor. The double plate frame 
bogies were fabricated from 7/16 in. thick plates, with cross-stretchers
and headstocks riveted to the side members. Double swing link bolsters provided support for the weight of the whole of the locomotive and
its contents. These were in turn fitted with four bearing pads on each bogie, with the final drive gear train, and wheels and axles fitted with “Timken” roller bearing axleboxes with a wheelbase of 15ft equally divided. The driven wheels were 3ft.7ins. in diameter, whilst the centre pair were 3ft. 3 ½ ins.

Dimensions

At least one item that stands out in the list of particulars given is the weight of the locomotive.

At over 117 tons, these were really heavy machines, especially when compared with designs that appeared less than a decade later, and typically delivered around 2800 h p, for less than 100 tons of locomotive. This power-weight challenge faced by the first “Warships” stands out even more when compared with the D800 series of Locomotives, which for the same power weighed a mere
 78 tons. Nearly 40 tons less! The D600’ s were certainly very solidly bui1t!

D600 NBL-MAN Engine

The NBL/MAN V12 engine on a stand, waiting to be installed in the locomotive. One of the earliest high-speed diesels, but it did prove to be less reliable in service than hoped, and BR had adopted medium speed designs for the majority of locomotives.

Theory has it (or possibly had it, theories may have changed!) that the less
 of its own weight a locomotive has to haul, the greater the weight of the train that can be hauled, for the same engine power. With a power/weight ratio of 17.1 hp/ton this certainly compares unfavourably with the D800 series, which for the same power had a power/weight ratio of slightly more than
 25.6 hp/ton. A further comparison with the most recent freight locomotives in use on Britain’s rail network – the Class 70 – shows that they have a power to weight ratio of over 29hp/ton.

The pressure charged NBL/MAN 12 cylinder ‘vee’ engines were flexibly mounted on fabricated steel section underframes, which was intended to mitigate stress placed on the engine from shock loading under accelerating and braking conditions. The engine crankcase and cylinder blocks were built up from steel plate, the former incorporating cast steel bulkheads carrying the main bearing housings, the crankshafts being hardened and ground alloy steel forgings.

D600 bogie

A bogie being assembled in the works of the North British Loco Co

The hydraulic transmission installed by Voith/NBL included three separate torque converters, each of which was designed to cover three separate speed ranges, with each one arranged to take over at the appropriate road speed automatically.  The final drive to the outer axles on each bogie was completed through a pair of Hardy Spicer cardan shafts.

Braking equipment was provided by Westinghouse air brakes for the locomotive, with four brake cylinders (10ins x 8ins) on each bogie operating clasp brakes to each wheel. A separate air brake handle was provided, which operated the locomotive brakes only, whilst a proportional valve ensured that application of the train vacuum brake gave a proportionate application of the locomotive’s air brake.

Also noted in the list of particulars is a water tank having a capacity for 1000 gallons of water. The reason for this was that since the locomotive were introduced at a time when only steam heating of locomotive hauled stock was available, all diesel Locomotives designed under the modernisation plan were provided with steam heating boilers. In this case they were “Spanner” boilers, operating at a pressure of 80lbs/sq.in. This latter item contributed a great deal to early diesel types weight, and occupied a not inconsiderable amount of space.

D600 Cab and nose

In an attempt to reduce the overall weight, the cab and nose of the “Warships” was constructed from lightweight aluminium sheet and sections.

Another feature that added greatly to the weight, particularly in this case, was the use of heavy steel fabricated construction techniques. The British Transport Commission’s insistence on using thicker plate than necessary was the principal reason for using these techniques, resulting in a sturdy but unnecessarily heavy structure. This was also the first product from the North British Loco. Co. for the home market, other than shunting types previously built. As such, no doubt there was some experimentation in the design of such a totally new locomotive type to the British railway scene.

External design was left to the manufacturer, and as a result the locomotive types produced under the ‘Pilot Scheme’ all differed in appearance, and unlike the range of ‘Standard’ steam locomotives there was no ‘family likeness’. The D600 series ‘Warships’ were perhaps one of the more attractive designs. The stressed skin framework of the bodysides was punctuated with a honeycomb of grilles, covering the various vents 
and air intake points.

NBL Advert

NBL’s advert in the 1958/59 railway official’s directory, with the D600 series shown in the top sketch.

In addition to the doors providing entry to the driving cabs at either end, windowed access doors were provided
adjacent to the engine compartments, and sections of the roof were made detachable for installation and removal of equipment. The cabs themselves were provided with two large flat windscreens, each having independently operated wipers.

It should be noted here that the majority of diesel types introduced at that time had three windscreens. In fact, apart from the ‘Deltics’, the twin windscreen arrangement was for a long time restricted entirely to the Western Region’s diesel-hydraulics. Another feature peculiar to the ‘Pilot Scheme’ types, was the provision in each nose end of a flexible bellows connection, for use when through passage was required between locomotives when worked in multiple.

Two fans mounted in the roof were arranged to draw cooling air through the twin bank ‘Serck’ radiators mounted just to the rear of each cab. A third grille, positioned mid-way along the roof, served as an engine room vent. The only other apertures were the exhaust outlets, and the output from the ‘Napier’ pressure charger.

Since the train classification headcode panels were not introduced until I962, these “Warships” were provided with train classification discs, and head/tail lamp brackets, as per the then standard steam traction practice. Twin air-operated warning horns were provided in each nose end. Standard side buffers and screw coupling draw-gear were also fitted at each end. Other nose connections were provided for vacuum brake and steam heating pipes, and jumper sockets for control connections when worked in multiple.

Numbering and livery

This series of locomotives, as already mentioned, was ordered from the North British Locomotive Co. at the time of introduction of the re-equipment programme, on I6th November I955. Delivery was due to take place fifteen months after the order was placed, which should have been completed by late I957. As often happened, delays in delivery caused their introduction to be put back to 1958.

A list of numbers, names and building dates is given below:

Numbers & Names

Livery styles for British Railways diesel locomotive Livery
prior to I956 followed basically that scheme applied to the former LMSR diesel-electric units 10000/10001 – black with aluminium lining and raised numerals. Bogie sideframes and sundry details were also picked out in aluminium. Commensurate perhaps with the new era about to begin, all new diesel locomotives were turned out in the new ‘standard’ green livery. This was applied to the nose, body side panels, and that section of the roof extending over each cab and the entrance doors. The roof was medium grey between cantrails. The bogie and underframe details were black, with buffer stocks and the beam itself in the vicinity of the coupling hook picked out in red.   Handrails and the aluminium beadings to the cab windows, windscreens and warning horn mountings were bright polished. Nameplates and the new style B.R. crests were carried on the lower and upper bodysides respectively, and on the same centreline between the engine room access doors on either side. The nameplates themselves were similar to ex GWR locomotive nameplates; cast in brass with raised lettering on a red background.

NRM_D601_Ark_Royal_nameplate

The nameplate of D601 Ark Royal on display at the National Railway Museum. This was the original style, but if a member of the class was painted ‘Rail Blue’, the background was changed to black.            Photo: Geof Sheppard – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9680512

The scheme of numbering diesel locomotives introduced at this time, including the use of the prefix ‘D’, was developed in order to avoid any confusion which might have arisen using six figure unit numbers. Also it was considered desirable to allocate a block of numbers to individual classes or types, and the problems were thus overcome by use of the ‘D’ prefix. The unit numbers for the D600 series were Gill San transfers applied to the cabsides, under each of the four droplights. Directly under each number, were the North British works plates, and the WR route restriction colour discs, which in this case were single red. They were of course already scrapped when British Rail introduced the TOPS renumbering, which had been first been considered by BR in 1968, following work done in the USA by IBM and the Southern Pacific Railroad. The system was purchased by BR – including the source code – together with an IBM System 360 mainframe computer, and its implementation was supported by Southern Pacific personnel.

Lens of Sutton D600 'Warship'

D600 “Active” on one of the class’s main roles, hauling expresses over the South Devon Banks. A key service for a short time was the “Cornish Riviera Express”.                           Photo: Lens of Sutton/RPBradley Collection

The oddest aspect for the North British Warships was perhaps that they were allocated the new classification – Class 41 – but which was never carried.

In later years, ½ and full height yellow warning panels were applied, which did nothing for their appearance, and the same might be said of the ubiquitous ‘Rail Blue’ livery, and the double arrow symbol seen on D600 whilst awaiting the breakers torch at Barry. Headcode boxes had also been fitted in their mid to late years, since in 1960, the train class, route and reporting number were combined into a single four character display. So, the old style discs were dispensed with and all new locos built after that were fitted with a roller-blind display that could display the full reporting number. Of course this meant for some – such as the North British “Warships” a pair of two character boxes were fitted to either side of the loco front.

Performance


These locomotives were the first 2000hp main line types to be placed in service on the Western Region, and were intended for express Passenger and other top link duties. A demonstration run on Monday I7th February I958 was made by No.D600, hauling a nine coach train from Paddington to Bristol and back. It is interesting to note, in connection with this run, that in order to demonstrate the locomotive’s ability, on the return journey from Bristol, soon after leaving, one of the engines
was shut down, and the remainder of the trip completed on a single engine.

The first regular top link passenger work for the class commenced in June I958, with the ‘Cornish Riviera’ express. Also during this month, a series of comparative tests was made, with the second of the class D60I, and various classes of 4-6-0 steam locomotives. The trials took place between Newton Abbot and Plymouth. It was thought that summer Saturday services in particular would need piloting over this route, and since there would not be enough diesel locomotives available double heading trials were carried out with steam locomotives in order to determine optimum loads and timings over this route. Unfortunately for the North British “Warships”, the D8XX series Swindon “Warships” was appearing in ever increasing numbers.

EPSON scanner image

‘Warship’ Diesel-hydraulic at Reading (General) on an Up express, looking west towards Reading West Junction, Swindon, Bristol, Taunton and the West; ex-Great Western main lines from Paddington. The train, running through on the Up Slow line, is the Summer 08.15 Perranporth – Paddington, headed by 2,000 hp Type 4 A1A-A1A ‘Warship’ No. D600 ‘Active’                                     Photo: Ben Brooksbank, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15149523

This fact, coupled with somewhat varied standards of engine performance, notwithstanding a lack of confidence by maintenance staff in their reliability, gradually forced this class out of the principal duties. The overall performance of the first two, D600-1 was rather better than D602-4. This difference has been attributed largely to the fact that the engines for the first two were actually built in Germany, whereas North British made those for D602-4 under licence. No doubt, there is more than an element of truth in that statement, but perhaps it could also explain the reason for the long gap between the delivery of D600/1, and D602-4.

North_British_Type_4_D601_(8392564224)

A sad end for this pioneering class of diesel locomotives – here D601 “Ark Royal”, and an unidentified sister, are seen at Woodham’s Barry scrapyard in October 1968. The second loco is in rail blue, complete with full yellow ends, and the double arrow symbol, whilst D601 still retains green livery and ½ height warning panels. Both have been transformed with the roller blind headcode boxes stuck to the nose.                                                                 Photo: Hugh Llewelyn – D601Uploaded by Oxyman, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24382933

All five were based for the most part, at Plymouth Laira
 depot, and in their latter years restricted entirely to Cornwall. In 1967 their demise was foreshadowed by the implementation of the National Traction Plan. With this scheme, it was proposed to ‘phase out’ classes of locomotive coming under one of the following three headings:

  1. Elimination of types that had given trouble
  2. Those having excessive maintenance cost
  3. Those classes of low numerical strength

Once again, unfortunately these “Warships” came under all three headings. In 1967 they were transferred to South Wales for a short time, working mineral trains, in place of English Electric type 3’s. This proved to be their final duty, since they were returned to Laira in December 1967 for withdrawal. In July 1968, after being stored for seven months, D600/1 were sold to Woodhams, of Barry and D602-4 to Cashmeres at Newport for scrap.

Sadly, despite its pioneering status, not one of this class of diesel-hydraulic locomotives was rescued for preservation – although the nameplate of D601 “Ark Royal” survives in the NRM at York. But, hydraulic transmission was not a complete failure for BR, since the second “Warship” class locomotives, the Class 42, were very successful, and in turn, they were followed by a final design, the Class 52 “Western” series. But by the time these appeared, the decision to use diesels engines with electric transmission had been made, and these too were to suffer a similar fate to the diesel-hydraulic pioneers.

Useful Links & References

  • “Diesel-Hydraulic Locomotives of the Western Region”;  Brian Reed, pub; David & Charles 1974; ISBN 0715367692
  • “Diesels Western Style”;  Keith Montague; Pub; Oxford Pub. Co. 1974; ISBN 0902888390
  • “Giants of Steam – Story of the North British Locomotive Co.”;  Rodger Bradley; Pub; Oxford Pub. Co., 1995; ISBN; 0860935051

 

-oOo-

Eurostar – From TMST to E320

Standard

Eurostar Nose at NRM_RPB pictureThe recent withdrawal and scrapping of the first generation of Eurostar trains comes 30 years since the contract for building them was awarded, and barely two years after the last refurbishing was completed. In fact, the international consortium’s tender was submitted in December 1988, with the contract awarded just a year later. The Channel Tunnel was a complicated project, and today, the UK has much less involvement in its operation and planning than ever before. Eurotunnel International Ltd., who run and manage the services and infrastructure, from London to Paris, on what we have termed HS1 is actually majority owned by France, Belgium and Canada. Though to be fair when HS1 was sold off, the UK Government retained freehold ownership of the land, and the infrastructure ownership was just a 30-year concession to a Canadian business and a pension fund.

The International Project Group (IPG) was set up by the three national railways of Britain, France and Belgium in 1988, and the year before, a grouping of some of the most famous names in the rail industry was set up to bid for the work of building the new trains. This joint venture was known as the Trans-Manche Super Train Group (TMSTG), and included:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 09.57.57However, in the late 1980s there was a lot of what we now describe as ‘churn’ in the rail industry, with numerous takeovers, and amalgamations, and British Rail Engineering Ltd left the consortium completely, as did Metro-Cammell. GEC merged with Alsthom and bought Metro-Cammell, and it was back in the consortium almost as soon as it left.

Building mapWhen the dust of all these changes had settled, the fixed formation trainsets were built at several locations in Belgium, Britain and France, between 1992 and 1993. Bombardier Eurorail, which had taken over the two Belgian companies built trailer cars, with Brush supplying traction motors, De Dietrich in France the powered trailer cars, and Faiveley Transport the pantographs and control systems. The newly merged GEC-Althom took on perhaps the lion’s share of the work in 13 different locations across France and England.

TMST No. 3002

The classic TMST, set number 3002 seen here in September 2013 on its way from London to Brussels, photographed at Enghien, Belgium.  Photo © Andy Engelen

They were perhaps the most complex machines introduced for what was seen as a challenging operation. They were essentially based on the TGV Atlantique series for SNCF, but with 18 coaches placed between two power cars – but they are a pair of 10-coach half-trains connected back to back. They were designed to operate on three different electrification systems, and the power systems included some of the most cutting edge technology at the time.   Design and manufacturing processes were also enhanced to take advantage of the then current ‘Lean Manufacturing’ techniques, in the UK, France and Belgium.

TMST in build_1

Attaching a TMST power car to its bogie at Alsthom’s factory in France, alongside its predecessor – the TGV Atlantique set on the adjacent track.

The GEC-Alsthom built TMSTs have an installed power on 25kV AC of 12.2 MW, and a complete train weighs in at 750 tonnes, and an overall length of 294 metres, carrying 750 passengers, and noted as Class 373 in Britain.

The new 16-coach e320 trainsets are derived from the Siemens ICE3 trains for Germany, from which Siemens developed the “Velaro” range, which has been used in a number of other countries, including Russia and Spain. The new Eurotunnel trains – noted as Class 374 in Britain – require a less complex power equipment and contact system, compared to the TMSTs, although much of the power technology is a development of that used previously.  Although no longer needing to operate on 750v DC 3rd rail lines in Britain, they are still required to operate on 25kV AC and 1.5kV / 3kV DC voltage systems between London, Paris, Brussels and beyond. A key development in the power train has been the placing of the traction equipment beneath the vehicle floors, where on the original TMSTs the hardware was installed in the leading and trailing power cars, with the trains being essentially a ‘push-pull’ format.

Velaro-Hochgeschwindigkeitszüge: Eurostar e320 / Velaro Eurostar e320 high-speed trains

The new kid on the block – an e320 on test at the Siemens Mobility test site in Wegberg-Wildenrath – a classic in the making, and based on years of development from ICE to the Velaro platform.   Photo: “www.siemens.com/press”

These new cross channel trains are actually much more powerful than their predecessors, with a maximum rating of 16MW, delivered through 32 of the 64 axles, and carrying 900 passengers, with each car or coach being part of the power train and drive. The reason for the ability to increase passenger numbers is simply because the new trains have power converters carried below the vehicle floors, together with other changes in bogie and running gear design. Overall appearance is changed too, with styling – internal as well as the exterior – provided by the Italian design house ‘Pininfarina’, whilst the combination of aluminium and GRP mouldings are standard for coach bodies.

One of the main challenges faced by Eurostar occurred when the contract was placed with the builders. In 2009, Alstom launched a series of complaints and legal actions, claiming that the new Siemens design would breach Eurotunnel safety rules, but the courts rejected this. Alstom then lodged a complaint with the European Commission in 2010 over the tendering process, and in 2011, a last ditch claim was made through the UK High Court, where the company’s claim of “ineffective tendering process” was rejected. By 2012, Alstom called off all legal action against Eurostar, perhaps helped by SNCF taking up a contract option to buy another 40 of the high-speed double-deck trains. Then finally, the first of the new e320 series was unveiled in November 2014, and entered passenger service in 2015. On November 20th, one of the 16-car sets formed the 10.24 from London St Pancras to Paris Nord, and they have now been operational for almost 4 years.

Although these new Eurostar trains have had a difficult birth, with the parent operating company’s indication to extend its cross-channel services to Amsterdam and into Germany, their future looks promising. In fact, just over two years after the first e320 began operating, a new service from London to Amsterdam was started, with a further expansion of train numbers on the route in 2019.

Technical Comparisons

TMST Dimensions

e320 No 4016

New e320 train 4016 from London to Brussels, photographed at Enghien, Belgium in July 2017.        Photo © Andy Engelen

Power equipment – state of the art technology

A key component of both designs of train has been the power conversion equipment. The TMST adopted high-power GTO thyristors for this key component, which was at that time the ‘state of the art’ in traction power technology, all of which were included in the ‘Common Bloc’ sub-assemblies.   These were the heart of the TMST, and assembled at GEC-Alsthom’s Preston works, with the Trafford Park (Manchester) factory supplying the ‘plug-in’ semiconductor modules, with other components coming from GEC ALSTHOM factories at Belfort, Tarbes and Villeurbanne in France, and Charleroi in Belgium.

Eurostar Cab under construction

Eurostar Power Car under construction

TMST Power car under construction – the upper view is of the the steel and aluminium body after painting, and shows the steel framing of the bodysides. The lower view is the one-piece GRP moulding for the power car nose.        Photo RPBradley Collection / GEC-Alsthom

TMST Common Bloc Assembly

The heart of the TMST Powercar is the ‘Common Bloc’, here seen assembled at the Preston Works of GEC-Alsthom in 1992.         Photo RPBradley Collection / GEC-Alsthom

Naturally, the technology has moved on, and the new e320 trains use IGBT technology, together with the now commonplace asynchronous traction motors on multiple axles. The original TMST trains included the GEC-Alsthom designed units mounted – ‘Common Bloc’ and MPC’s – in the leading and trailing power cars. In contrast the new Siemens design has the equipment distributed under the floors of the 16 cars, allowing the extra passenger space. With a traction power of 16MW, Eurostar e320 can reach a maximum operating speed of 320km/h (200mph). It is provided with eight identical and independent traction converter units designed to operate on 25kV AC and 1.5kV / 3kV DC voltage systems, and delivering power to the 32 driven axles. On the roof, each train carries eight pantographs for the different power systems and contact line types in Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK.

3rd rail contact shoe

The appendage that is no longer needed on the e320 Eurostar trains is the 3rd rail contact shoe seen in this view.

One item missing from the new Eurostar trains is of course the need to collect power from the old Southern Region third rail contact system – no more 750V dc contact equipment, and no embarrassing chugging along from the Channel Tunnel to London. In the original build this was of course the only way to get from Waterloo to the Tunnel, but after HS1 was completed, the need was no longer there. The e320s do still have to cope with different voltages – 1.5kV/3kV dc, in Belgium and the Netherlands – alongside the almost universal 25kV a.c., but all contact systems are overhead.

Control and signalling

Back when the GEC-Alsthom TMST trains were being built, the use of on-board computers was still in the early days – much was often made in the press of the novelty of microprocessor control of traction motors, wheelslip and slide, which are now commonplace. The control systems now all encompass software and computer control of every aspect of the train’s operating functions, alongside the essential interactions with legacy lineside signalling adding to the complexity of the latest designs. The drive towards implementing ERTMS/ETCS across the principal main line and high-speed routes has been happening in a piecemeal manner – obviously perhaps – but it’s not in place everywhere. Different national systems have evolved and implemented systems that meet their own operating criteria and specifications, and the new Eurostar trains still have to have and meet these different requirements.

The train’s signalling, control and train protection systems include a Transmission Voie-Machine (TVM) signalling system, Contrôle de Vitesse par Balises (KVB) train protection system, Transmission Beacon Locomotive (TBL) train protection system, Runback Protection System (RPS), European Train Control System (ETCS), Automatic train protection (ATP) system, Reactor Protection System (RPS) and Sibas 32 train control system.

TMST Drivers' desk

The driving position of the original TMST – still looks like an aircraft cockpit, and we’ve moved on again since this was built. Photo: RPBradley Collection

All of this technology is plugged into the control panels and displays at the driver’s desk, whilst concurrently assessing, evaluating and storing information about each aspect of the train’s performance. Real time information is passed back to both the train operating and control centres, whether in Paris, Brussels or London, and a log of any and all messages about the condition of moving, and some non-moving components is logged on-board and transmitted to the maintenance centres.

Bogies and drives

Back in the 1990s, the original TMST sets were equipped with Jacobs bogies shared between adjacent carriages, as was the practice on the TGV sets from which they were derived. The coaches next to the power cars and the two central coaches (coaches 9 and 10 in a full-length set) were not articulated.

Trailer Bogie

TMST trailer car bogie – 4 brake discs per axle.                Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

The e320 (Class 374) bogies are essentially the SF 500 design, used on DB’s ICE3 trains, and adapted for either driven or non driven (trailer) bogie operation, with two bogies per coach. The bogie frame itself is an ‘H’ frame design with traction motors mounted laterally on motor bogies, driving the motored axles through a spiral toothed coupling. The now well-proven air suspension system has been adopted for secondary suspension.

Motor Bogie

TMST motor bogie.                Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

The axles, suspension and bearings are fitted with a range of sensors, all needing to be cabled up to the vehicle body. The cables on the bogie are initially routed to a form of terminal box in the centre of the bogie, and from there are routed up to the vehicle, suitably contained and protected from any environmental damage. Modern systems such as those used on these trains are able to provide diagnostic information, and to some degree early detection of impending operational problems.

Much more than a hi-tech equivalent of the old wheeltapper, using the back of his hand to detect a hot running axle bearing. For instance, the sensors on the e320 bogies are an integrated system to monitor wheelsets, bearings, suspension and damper performance, and the overall condition of the bogie. Both powered and trailing SF 500 bogies include mainly identical components, which makes for ease of replacement, maintenance and repair. All of the bogie design and successful operation is attributable to the ICE train project, and development through ICE1, ICE2, and the most recent ICE3 trains.

Velaro_E_bogie

An SF500 bogie fitted to the same Siemens ‘Velaro’ platform as the e320 Eurostar trains. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57593082 

The bogies also carry the rail level braking equipment, and the Eurostar e320 is equipped with three separate technologies – a regenerative braking system, a rheostatic brake system, and a pneumatic brake system.  In the original TMST sets (Class 373), the traction motors on the powered axles provide the rheostatic braking with conventional clasp brakes operating on the wheel tread.
 The non-powered axles have four ventilated disc brakes per axle.

There has been significant progress in the development of braking systems through a wide range of options, including the use of different materials in the brake discs, and magnetic track brakes, which were used on the DB ICE3 trains. But high-speed stopping demands a sophisticated, multi-layered braking system to ensure that passenger safety is maintained, and the technology used is another story.

Bodyshells, passenger facilities, and information systems

GEC’s TMST original trainsets were built in two forms: long and short. 31 trainsets were long, with 18 trailers between two power units, whilst the remaining 7 were short, with only 14 trailers. The short trainsets were intended for services north of London, to destinations such as Manchester and Glasgow, where platform lengths are insufficient to accommodate longer trains.

Eurostar Trailer Car under construction

TMST Class 373 trailer car under construction.                   Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

TMST coach bodies were made from a combination of traditional steel, aluminium, GRP and composite materials. The vehicle dynamics have changed dramatically, with higher speeds demanding changes in structure, greater strength, but lighter weight, to take the stresses demanded by modern train operations.   This was the case with the original TMST trains, and as can be seen from the images, the nose sections were particularly suitable for the use of GRP and composite materials. In terms of material, little has changed in the structures, although the e320 series makes much more use of aluminium, and the aerodynamics have changed significantly, as a result of the advances in technology.

TMST Power Car under construction

TMST Class 373 Power Car under construction.                   Photo: RPBradley Collection/GEC-Alsthom

Construction of the original TMST trains was carried out at GEC-Alsthom’s Washwood Heath plant in Britain, La Rochelle and Belfort in France, and at the Bruges works of Brugeoise et Nivelles BN (now Bombardier).

The new “Velaro” based e320 trains were built from 2011 at Siemens’ works at Krefeld, near Dusseldorf, followed by testing at the company’s Wildenrath location. Whilst the new trains were due to enter service in 2014, due to delays in gaining full TSI approval, the ‘rollout’ to operational service did not take place until 2015.

Overall, seating has increased from 794 to 902, with facilities at the seats that allow tarvellers to plug in to charge mobile phones, make use of USB ports, and of course on-board Wi-Fi systems. We tend to demand a little more these days than a newspaper (in 1st class) and a cup of earl grey, as we stay connected to business, family and friends, wherever we are, on the move or not. Passenger information systems have evolved to meet the changing needs of the travelling public too – less on-board passenger information displays perhaps, more “download the app” and check for yourself. That said, getting information to and from the moving train is a vastly different world of track to train communications compared to the original setup.

Operations

TMST Numbers

As noted previously, the original TMST trainsets came in two kinds: long and short. 31 trainsets are long, with 18 trailers between two power units. The remaining 7 are short, with only 14 trailers. The short trainsets intended for services north of London, other than a brief spell to help the newly privatised GNER train company out, were never fully used, and were later transferred to France for other duties. It had been suggested that a reason for not running the services beyond London was down to the ‘crude design’ of British Rail overhead contact lines, and routes across London. Another reason advanced was the growing numbers of budget airlines. The idea that the overhead contact system was less sophisticated is unlikely – especially in view of the operation of high-speed “Pendolino”, tilting trains on the main lines. The complexity of finding a route across or around London, along with the lack of investment was probably the most obvious reason.

The TMST’s primary operation was of course to run through the Channel Tunnel between London, Paris and Brussels. However, whilst in France and Belgium, high-speed electrified routes were well used, in Britain, between the Channel Tunnel and London, only the existing 3rd rail electrification was actually on the ground. A high-speed (HS1) was being planned, but as a temporary measure, the powerful new TMST sets simply trundled across the 60 or so miles to a temporary “International Station” at London’s Waterloo.

In contrast to the TMSTs, the new e320 series trains were planned to develop the core services from London St Pancras, to Paris Gare du Nord, and Brussels Midi. To meet anticipated competition from DB in particular, Eurostar’s new trains were also pencilled in to provide services to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Cologne, and other destinations in France. The original TMST sets were not capable of running under the wires into the Netherlands, and the new trains certainly give Eurostar that option, and even more flexibility.

Modifications and upgrades

In 2004/5, only 22 of the original TMST sets were in daily use, and the interiors were looking jaded, and so Eurostar decided to provide these ageing speed demons with a new interior look and colour scheme, but that was not the last change. As the original TMST sets were nearing the end of their working life, around the time that Eurostar was picking the supplier for its new generation trains, another refurbishment was planned.   This was a slightly more extensive update, beyond new colours and styling changes, upgrades to traction systems were proposed, to get the trains to work operate beyond 2020. These final upgrades were delayed, instead of 2012, the first revamped TMST did not appear until 2015.

Both of these upgrades could be construed as papering over the cracks, especially looking around at how traction drive technology, and indeed the whole technology of the train had developed since they were built, it was perhaps their last hurrah. The new e320 series are state of the art, both in technology, aerodynamics, construction and operation, and were quickly going to replace the pioneers on these international services.

End of the Line

In 2010, the replacement trains ordered by Eurostar of course led to the withdrawal of the original TMST sets. They have had almost 27 years of international service, since first taking to the rails in 1993, and 21 years before the new e320 series started operations in 2014.

In 2016, Eurostar sent the first of the TMST (Class 373) trains for scrap at Kingsbury, by European Metal Recycling (EMR), but by early 2017 the exact number of sets to be scrapped had not been confirmed. The working theory then was that between 17 and 22 of the TMST, Class 373 trains would be scrapped. That said, a small number of the original trains were set to be refurbished, complete with Eurostar’s new livery, and reclassified as e300. Amongst the reasons for this, one source noted that because the new e320 series trains are not fitted with the UK’s AWS magnets, they can’t work into Ashford, or apparently, Avignon in France. Ah, well, off to the scrapyard for the others.

In December 2016 the 3rd Class 373 had arrived at Kingsbury, to be scrapped by European Metal Recycling, and re-use was now out of the question, but at least some of the materials were being recovered and recycled. In fact 50 of the original 77 Class 373 TMST still operate Eurostar services, with 27 withdrawn between December 2014 and January 2018. Of these, 16 were scrapped by EMR, one had been sent to the National Railway Museum in York, and two retained in France at the Romilly Technical Centre, with two others being sent to the National College for High-Speed Rail at Doncaster and Birmingham in England. At least one of their number are still awaiting their fate in a siding as the vegetation starts to make inroads into the structure – along with a liberal amount of graffiti. A sad end for a ground breaking high-speed train design, though not as sad as at least one set, one of the refurbished sets, which was – and still is crumbling to dust at Valenciennes.

Abandoned Eurostar 3017:3018 near Valenciennes

One of the dying breed – a TMST Class 373 set awaiting its fate at Valenciennes in the Nord Region of North East France, close to the border with Belgium in 2016.             Photo © Andy Engelen

Here’s the next generation:

Velaro-Hochgeschwindigkeitszüge: Eurostar e320 / Velaro Eurostar e320 high-speed trains

The new generation does have a solid reputation to live up to – and it certainly looks the part.           Photo: “www.siemens.com/press”

Passiondutrain.com

A Eurostar Velaro E320 set 4023/24 on the 9031 Paris/London St Pancras service at Longueau , near Amiens    Photo:   By BB 22385 / Rame 4023-24 E320 détourné par la gare de Longueau / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57593082

Useful Links

 

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Rail Franchises Suspended By Covid-19

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Emergency measures introduced by the UK Government have been set out today, by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, which include suspending the normal rail franchises for a period of 6 months.  These are defined by the DfT (Department for Transport as Emergency Measures Agreements, and the train operating companies will be given the opportunity to “transition” to the new arrangements.  From the DfT:

“These agreements will suspend the normal financial mechanisms of franchise agreements, transferring all revenue and cost risk to the government. Operators will continue to run day-to-day services for a small, pre-determined management fee. Companies entering into these agreements will see a temporary suspension of their existing franchise agreement’s financial mechanisms for an initial period of 6 months, with options for further extension or earlier cancellation as agreed.”

Full details are here:

Rail emergency measures during the COVID-19 pandemic

Further coverage appeared in newspapers:

Screenshot 2020-03-23 at 11.55.34

 

www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/23/covid-19-government-suspends-rail-franchise-agreements

 

Screenshot 2020-03-23 at 11.54.46

 

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/coronavirus-uk-trains-rail-network-franchise-system-suspended-a9417476.html 

 

 

 

 

So, during the current crisis, it may, according to at least one report lead to a situation in the months to come where the old style franchising arrangements are no longer going to work.  As the Rail Delivery Group – the application and use of these Emergency Measures Agreements – are still being worked out.  Perhaps unsurprisngly this is likely to be a complex solution to manage, especially with so many different businesses involved.

This particular crisis has and will change the way we operate our society, and our business, and the way we interact with one another.

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BR Regional Magazines

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I was fortunate to have a Grandfather who drove steam engines, right through from pre-Grouping to British Railways days, and was the beneficiary of numerous copies of the BR London Midland Region magazine – avidly read when I was on holiday.  Obviously, many of the stories related to people, locations, and some new technology developments – locomotives, new stations, new lines, and a gardening section.

Each area, and region of course had their own sports teams, first aid teams, amateur dramatics sections, and individuals who had built models from matchsticks, or replicas of main line steam locomotives in miniature.  There were the retirements, and trbutes to the people who built and ran the railways in the past, and those who worked on the permanent way, maintaining its safety, and keeping the trains running.  The extent and variety of activities and events reported were enormous, with reflections on the past in equal measure to the changes then taking place.

One interesting series of items that appeared in the 1950s was John Drayton’s  “Illustrated Rules”, which took specific rules, and with the aid of a cartoon illustration provided a simplified explanation of how they were applied.  Sometimes they were very serious, and sometimes the cartoon might show some of those railwaymen who knew it was OK to hang off the footsteps on a moving loco – like this one:

Drayton0015

Rule 118 in the 1950 rule book does indeed state:

“Staff riding on engines or vehicles, or when on the ground alongside vehicles, at converging points in sidings, must take special care that there is sufficient clearance for their safety”

Or this one about the emission of smoke and steam from engines – Rule 126 (v):

“arrange the fire so as to avoid any unnecessary emission of smoke particularly whilst standing at or passing stations, and prevent blowing off steam at safety valves as far as possible”

Drayton0018

 

But not everything John Drayton sketched was about the rule book, he offered some interesting drawings about new technology too:

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Of course, the LM Region Magazine covered new loco builds – like this one – the Crosti boilered 9F 2-10-0s, which were very much a non-standard design of British Railways Standard steam locomotive designs.  This was the story the magazine carried in July 1955 of the Crewe built locomotives.

Franco-Crosti

I’ll post some more of John Drayton’s sketches, and others in future posts.

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Britain’s Train Hell

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Fascinating story emerging over the past 24 hours or so – about the storage of unused emu’s in places like Crewe, Worksop, Ely and Long Marston, all being covered by the national press, and Channel 4 are broadcasting  a “Dispatches” documentary on the TV today – 16th March.

The “Guardian”‘s take is here:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/mar/16/investigation-reveals-number-of-ghost-trains-lying-idle-in-britain 

I love the idea they are described as “Ghost Trains” – I’ve seen the Arnold Ridley classic film “The Ghost Train” with Arthur Askey.

No – I know if what the media are reporting isn’t funny, but whilst the idea that these old Class 319 units, and former London Undergound cars are being held in storage, and maybe could be used on ‘commuter routes’, these reports need context.  So, if we only have 40% of the network electrified, and major electrification projects have been cancelled, would refurbishing this stock be an important option towards solving the UK’s capacity problem.

Probably not – and in the current Coronavirus crisis this is perhaps less of an issue, but it should further identify problems that underfunding on rail infrastructure has created, and the disastrous approach to rail privatisation the UK has taken.

The storage of these trains and the waste created has been an inevitable outcome of the lack of a co-ordinated transport strategy – or “joined up thinking” as you might say, and the train operating ‘short termism’ of the industry’s approach.

Still looking forward to the Channel 4 documentary to see what Marcus Mayers from Manchester Metropolitan University has uncovered in his investigation.

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Rails from Cumbria To The World

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Railpower June 1989 CoverExactly 30 years ago, British Steel Corporation received a £12 million order from India, to supply Grade A wear- resistant rails for the modernisation of a number of high-density urban and high speed inter-urban routes.  The rails would account for around 20% of BSC’s Workington Rolling Mill’s output in a year.  The contract was won against international competition, particularly from companies in Western Europe, Japan and Canada.  In 1989 Workington was one of the world’s leading producers of high quality, wear-resistant rail products.

As part of the United Steel Companies of Sheffield – and later British Steel – Workington ceased making new steel, but operated primarily as a rolling mill, taking in steel ingots from other United Steel sites, and rolling into various sections. BSC Track Products coverFrom 1974, the Moss Bay site began to specialise in permanent way products – such as rails and fish-plates. Continued investment, together with their acquired know-how, ensured that they became the largest British producer of these products.  Whilst further south, in Barrow-in-Furness, the plant that had been the world’s pioneering supplier of steel railway rails, by volume, the works concentrated on even more innovative steelmaking ideas.

In fact, the Workington plant had taken over rail production after the end of World War II, from nearby Barrow-in-Furness, where the world’s largest integrated steel and iron works once stood.  Barrow was the major supplier of railway rails to the world, and only lost that position following the post war economic challenges, and steel industry restructuring in the UK.  Workington took on the mantle and remained one of the world’s leading suppliers until its final closure only 13 or so years ago.

Barrow Steelworks Rail bank

Barrow steelworks rail bank around 1900

Like Barrow, Workington was an innovator in steelmaking technology, and despite the dramatic decline of the industry in the 1980s, was deploying technological innovation, with new techniques and processes until its final demise. In British Steel days, the business had been successful in the world market for wear-resistant high-grade steels, and consolidated this lead with a £7 million investment programme at Workington in 1987, just a couple of years before landing the Indian order.

The modernization at Workington included the world’s first mill-hardened rail production unit at a cost of nearly £4 million, alongside this another £1 million was invested in the second stage of a computerised automated inspection system, to provide ever closer control of dimensional tolerances on finished rail products.

Workington rail bank

Workington rail bank – 1980s

In addition, in 1987, Track Products won a multi-million pound, three-year contract to meet all British Rail’s requirements for rails until 1990. Under the contract, Workington was committed to supplying some 150,000 tonnes of rail to BR.  At the time this was stated to be about ¼ of the capacity of the Workington plant, and with British Rail as the site’s biggest single customer. The collaboration in research effort between British Rail and BSC Track Products on developing rail steel technology maintained the northwest’s reputation for innovation, and was an important factor in generating export sales, from Southend to Singapore.

Workington’s rolling mills had been producing some 1/4 million tonnes of rail, fishplates, baseplates and steel sleepers annually during the mid to late 1980s, and from that total, Workington was actually exporting 50 to 60% of total output.  The West Cumbria (Cumberland) site produced rails from feedstock of 330 x 254mm cross section blooms supplied from other BSC Works, mostly the Lackenby Works on Teeside.  Barrow had also supplied Workington with steel until it took on, developed, and perfected the now commonplace continuous casting process.

Homg Kong MRT

Workington supplied rails for the Hong Kong and numerous other metro systems.

The role of the BSC Track Products mill in the overall manufacturing process was just that – the supplier – and (at least in the 1980s) British Steel had little part in the design, and virtually none at all with the installation.  The greater part of the output was for replacement and/or maintenance purposes, they had been supplying small quantities of the specialist ‘conductor rails’ at home and for some overseas metro systems.

Other exports to – for example – African countries were rare, and even countries such as Nigeria, with sufficient wealth to promote rail expansion proved to be slow to implement projects, leaving British Steel Track Products in a difficult position.  So, the order from India in 1989 was certainly a great, if brief success for the UK steel industry as a whole.

RIA Journal extract June 1989

BSC Track Products map

 

Today, there is nothing left of the steelworks or rolling mills in England’s North West, where it had once led the world, in both the quality and quantity of global rail exports.

 

 

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Further reading and useful links:

  1. Barrow Hematite Steel Co (Grace’s Guide)
  2. Barrow Hematite Steel Company (Wikipedia)
  3. Workington Steelworks 2003 shortly before closure – Showing Rail Rolling Process
  4. Steel Rail Rolling Line at Workington (Corus video)

 

 

Petrol Electric Railcars

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When researching material for my book on the history of GEC Traction, I came across a description of the “British Westinghouse” petrol-electric railcars, which were of course the design developed for the Great Central Railway, and which took to the rails in 1912. The British Westinghouse Co. became Metropolitan-Vickers, and ultimately part of the GEC Traction empire.

Britisah Westinghouse - cover imageThe development of an effective internal combustion engine had been going on for centuries, but the true petrol engine was ‘invented’ in the later 19th Century, developed from gas engines then in use, but the most successful was of course the engine designed by Nikolaus Otto. This ‘free piston’ design arrived in an 1864 patent, in England, and 12 years later, in 1876, in partnership with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, the 4-stroke, compressed charge engine. The 4-stroke arrangement has also been described as the “Otto Cycle”.

Leaving aside the patenting in England of the first 2-stroke internal combustion engine in 1881, the earliest recorded use of the word ‘petrol’ appeared in 1884, when Edward Butler designed and built the first engine to use spark plugs, magneto/ignition coil, and spray jet carburettor. Butler had invented these last essential components of the 4-stroke petrol engine.

Still waiting in the wings was Rudolf Diesel and the compression-ignition engine, but for the years between 1884 and the First World War, petrol-electric transmission was attracting the attention of the transport industry, and especially some railways.

Why petrol-electric, and why railcars?

In essence, the railcar idea had been around since before the turn of the 19th to 20th Century – commonly known as steam railmotors, and were set to work on the railway companies’ lightly loaded, and rural branch lines. The economics of self-propelled rolling stock was all well and good for urban and intra/inter-urban operations had been long proven before the start of the First World War, but of course, these were electrically powered, both overhead and by conductor rails. On top of this, urban and suburban tramways had seen considerable expansion, with the electrical technology and vehicles manufactured by the likes of Dick, Kerr & Co., another GEC Traction business as English Electric in later years.

Acsev14

Railcar n°. 14 of ACsEV (United Arad and Csanád Railway Comapny) in Hungary (since 1919 in Romania). One of the first petrol-electric railcars, which were built since 1903, serially since 1905/6, by Johann Weitzer Company (Arad). The internal combustion engine came from De Dion-Bouton, the electric equipment from Siemens-Schuckert        Photo: Original author unknown – http://villamosok.hu/bhev/jarmuvek/mavatvett/acsev14.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23108680  

 

Benzin-elektr_Weitzer(DeDion-Bouton)1906

Petrol-electric railcar of ACsEV (Arad & Csanád United Railways), built 1903/1906 ff. by Johann Weitzer AG in Arad with an internaml combustion engine from De Dion-Bouton and electric equipment from Siemens-Schuckert

Overseas railways were more enthusiastic to the development of non-steam motive power, and the British Westinghouse railcar design had been supplied to Hungary, where 16 such vehicles were in service on the Arad to Caanad Railway Co. On top of this another 18 were running on the Ooster Stoomtram Mattschappij in Holland, and smaller numbers of similar types at work in France, Germany and Sweden.

The North East Railway Autocar

Autocar_at_Filey_Station

NER 1903 Autocar at Filey Station Photo: Ken Hoole Study Centre – http://www.electricautocar.co.uk, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15891980

Back in the UK, the Great Central Railway railcar was not the first – although it was, at that time the biggest – in service in Britain. The honour of being the first non-steam railcar goes to the old North Eastern Railway company, when in 1903 it introduced a pair of what the company described as “autocars”. The idea to look at this form of traction for the NER was said to have been attributed to Vincent Raven, then the railway’s Assistant Chief
 Mechanical Engineer, who was drawn to the technology, and its advantages by expanding use on tramcars and tramways in the early 1900s.

The magazine “Automotor” (now “Commercial Motor”) published an article in 1909 that included this comment on those “autocars”:

“The North-Eastern Railway Company—one of the most progressive in this country—attempted such a solution a few years ago, and, largely owing to the persistence and the considerable genius of the district mechanical engineer, Mr. W. Murray, who had charge of the experiments, a couple of self-contained petrol-electric 50-ton coaches were successfully evolved and were running until quite recently in regular service with every satisfaction. That, however, was a fight against long odds. It was a mistake to attempt to convert heavy bogie passenger coaches of standard design.”

Whilst this was certainly the first such example in regular commercial service, other countries were making much more rapid progress, and by the time this story appeared in the press, Hungarian State Railways had no fewer than 150 petrol-electric railcars in operation. They were, like the NER design, lightweight vehicles, typically weighing a mere 19 tons, with 100hp deDion power technology.

The NER railcar (https://www.lner.info/locos/IC/ner_petrolelectric.php )was initially fitted with an 85hp Napier engine, but this was replaced in 1904 with engines from Wolseley Motors Ltd, initially of 100hp, in a flat four layout. In turn, the petrol engine was connected directly to the main generator from British Westinghouse, which supplied the electrical power to a pair of 64hp d.c. traction motors carried on the bogie under the ‘engine room’.

1904WolseleyFlat4Engine

The Wolseley Motors Flat 4 Engine for NER railcar

The fact that Westinghouse was involved is interesting, and demonstrates perhaps the enthusiasm that some engineers were pressing in the rail industry for non-steam traction, built on the considerable success that Westinghouse, Dick, Kerr and others had gained with tramways. However, it was the lack of enthusiasm and speed of the take-up of electric, or non-steam traction, by the railway companies, and equally in the slow progress of tramway growth in Britain that ultimately led to Westinghouse leaving the market before 1920.

The NER railcars survived in service in North East England, in particular on services to and from Scarborough, Harrogate and Selby until they were withdrawn in 1931. The body of No. 3170 was used as a holiday home at Kirbymoorside until it was rescued by an enthusiast in 2003, and is now fully restored and operational at the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Railway.

Whilst the NER can justly claim to have built the first petrol-electric railcar, with support from British Westinghouse, it wasn’t long before others became interested in the technology. Working with the Great Central Railway, the British Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Co., designed and built the company’s first petrol-electric railcar, which took to the rails in 1912. According to the makers, this was a straightforward attempt to overcome some of the drawbacks of steam rail motors in urban and branch line workings.

In their publication of 1912, the company made this florid assertion about the benefits of their new railcar for the Great Central:

“The solution of this problem, offered by the British Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., Ltd., is the petrol-electric car. All of the disadvantages peculiar to the steam auto-car are done away with, and, at the same time, a great number of the advantages, which result when suburban railway systems are electrified, are also secured. The principal among these advantages are smooth and rapid acceleration and the absence of smoke and dirt.”

It has been stated that Sam Fay, General Manager of the Great Central Railway (GCR), had been impressed by the performance of petrol-electric railcars in Hungary and the rest of Europe, which opened the door to another example of this emerging technology. In this new example, the vehicle was ordered from British Westinghouse, as prime contractor, with the car body built by the United Electric Car Co., in Preston.   The United Electric company’s workshops were just across the road from Dick, Kerr & Co., which later formed the core of English Electric, and the competition for rail traction equipment orders between the Preston and Manchester based companies continued until long after their absorption into GEC Traction.

The GCR – Westinghouse Railcar

This could have been described as the first petrol-electric railcar designed and built by a private company, and sold to a British railway – clearly both the Great Central and British Westinghouse wanted this to be a success that would generate sales. In general layout, this was a saloon coach, fitted with two bogies, one of which carried a pair of dc traction motors.

1912-great-central-railway-petrol-electric-railcarPlan and elevation of railcar

Main Dimensions

Main Dimensions Table

Westinghouse engineThe power unit itself was a six-cylinder 90hp unit, and included 140mm bore x 156mm stroke cylinders, cast as three pairs, and running at 1,150 rpm. The engine was, like any conventional petrol engine, water cooled, and directly coupled to a d.c. generator rated at 60 kW, through a flexible coupling. The whole assembly was then mounted on a ‘bent channel iron bedplate’, making it as compact and rigid as possible. Given that steel was also available, it is a wonder that, given this new technology, a new, stronger material was not used.

Exhaust and engine cooling made use of the car’s roof, where the engine silencer and radiator were mounted.

Westinghouse generator in GCR carThe engine and generator unit was fitted at the leading end of the coach, and as the manufacturer stated: “ … all parts are in easy view and readily accessible for inspection and adjustment.”.   The generator supplied power to a pair of 64hp axle-hung d.c. traction motors carried on the bogie in what became the classic arrangement for diesel electric traction for the following decades. The Westinghouse traction motors were totally to provide protection from dirt and moisture.

Control, unsurprisingly, made use of the company’s standard series-parallel controller, as used on tramcars, and light rail vehicles already in service. The single driver’s handle managed both the excitation of the generator field coils, and the petrol engine speed – and two control positions at either end of the vehicle were provided.   In an early adoption of the “dead man’s device”, if a driver released his hold on the handle, power to the traction motors was automatically cut.

Interior of Westinghouse GCR coachThe coach body was of course built in wood on a metal underframe, with the outside finish being “teak painted, lined with gold”, and the interior in a mixture of polished oak and American ash, all it was stated in accordance with GCR practice.

Operations

On completion, trials took place in and around Manchester, near the British Westinghouse (Metropolitan-Vickers) factory where the railcar was built, and followed by a press trip on 28th March 1912 between Marylebone and South Harrow.   A practice continued to this day, when new trains are delivered, or new technology is deployed.

Much the same as happens today, with new trains, over a century later.

The GCR-Westinghouse railcar has received little attention in the press, and in the first couple of years was likely operating some rush hour services out of Marylebone, as London’s suburban empoire grew. By the outbreak of the First World War it was based at Dinting and operated the Glossop branch. By all accounts it was unreliable too, and during severe winter weather, and periods of hard frosts, meant that the radiator had to be drained and emptied each night.

Following the end of the hostilities, the company introduced a new service from Macclesfield Central to Bollington, which later became known as the “Bollington Shuttle”.   This service was begun in August 1921, and the railcar earned the affectionate (?) nickname, the “Bollington Bug”. An interesting photo was published in ‘Cheshire Live” in May 2019, showing the “Bollington Bug” at Macclesfield Station in 1925 (see link below). The railcar continued to operate this service until its final withdrawal on 6th July 1935.

Westinghouse_Petrol-Electric_Railcar_1914_(10467965833) copy

The Westinghouse petrol-electric railcar as supplied to New Zealand in 1914, just a couple of years after the GCR prototype in England.       Photo: Archives New Zealand from New Zealand – Westinghouse Petrol-Electric Railcar 1914, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51251174

Undeterred, Westinghouse made what it described as ‘tropical versions’ of this design, some of which ended up operating in Australia and New Zealand. In appearance they were the same as the Great Central Railway versions, but with a number of detail differences, as shown in the image below.

Ironically perhaps, the ex-GCR railcar on that service was replaced by a Sentinel steam railcar. Steam and coal were still king in the 1930s, 40s and 50s in the UK, but the inter-war years also saw one or two other diesel powered railcar developments, including on the GWR, and the LMS, where “Bluebird” appeared. But no other petrol-electric railcars appeared in passenger carrying service after these isolated examples.

Useful Links & Further Reading:

 

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