Rail Review – Root & Branch or a Fig Leaf?

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Back in September 2018, the DfT announced that the UK railway network would be the subject of a ‘root and branch’ review, led by a former executive of British Airways and John Lewis Partnership.   According to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, privatisation delivered:

“Privatisation has delivered huge benefits to passengers on Britain’s railways — doubling passenger journeys and bringing in billions of private investment.”

According to the DfT, the review will focus on these areas:

  • leveraging the commercial model to ensure improved services for passengers and taxpayers, and more effectively balance public and private sector involvement
  • the roles and structures of all parts of the industry, looking at how they can work together more effectively to reduce fragmentation, improve passenger services and increase accountability
  • how the railway can support a fares system that delivers value for money for passengers and taxpayers; and improved industrial relations to maintain performance for passengers

The appointed Chair of the review, Keith Williams said:

It’s clear that Britain’s railway has seen unprecedented growth and is carrying more passengers than it did a century ago on a network a fraction of the size. But it also clear it faces significant challenges.

A clear focus on the passenger side of the business then.  So what happens to freight, and is there an impact on the ‘Northern Powerhouse’?

Well, on 16th July, at a Northern Powerhouse event in Bradford, according to a report of the event in The Guardian: “UK railway needs revolution not evolution, says review chief”.  The event and his comments were also reported in the railway press too, including the observation that the Government should step back from a role in the management of the rail industry.  But, does that also only refer to passenger service operations, and whilst lauding the value of collaboration, and another new ‘arms length body’, he also indicated that there would be no option for Network Rail to control trains.  The observation he chose to make about Network Rail was –

“You don’t create a customer-focused railway by putting engineers in charge.” 

So – do you put sales and marketing people in charge?  Are both sides of this coin needed to ensure a railway that performs for all sectors of its operations, both passenger and freight?  What about integration with other transport modes – let’s say urban and rapid transit, and maybe even buses that key into regional and longer distance rail services?

To be fair though, in his comments at the Northern Powerhouse event in Bradford, he did actually suggest that both the culture and design of the railway must ‘prioritise its customers’ – both passengers AND freight.

Overall, Williams indicated that to achieve its goals, the rail sector needs to focus on 5 key areas:

  1.  A new passenger offer focussed on customer service and performance measures that drive “genuine behavioural and cultural change” with initiatives to give a stronger consumer voice, improved accessibility, and better passenger information.
  2. Simplified fares and ticketing: Williams notes that there have been no substantial structural reforms of the ticketing system since 1995 and this is “holding back innovation and customer-focussed improvements.”
  3. A new industry structure to reduce fragmentation, align track and train more closely, create clear accountability and reduce government influence in day-to-day operations. Williams says a wide range of organisations have expressed support for a new arm’s length body to act as a ‘guiding mind.’
  4. A new commercial model: Williams argues the current franchising model “has had its day” and is holding the sector back, stifling collaboration, preventing the railway from operating as a cohesive network and encouraging train operators to prioritise “narrow commercial interest” over passengers.
  5. Address people-related challenges: a range of proposals on leadership, skills and diversity are being drawn up to support reform and help involve the workforce in the long-term.

It will be interesting to see how this root and branch review delivers that revolution – but we will have to wait until 2020 and afterwards to see if this does deliver improvements.

Of course we will still be importing rolling stock, equipment, rails, signalling systems and ticketing technology from other countries.

I’m not suggesting that this review is not a good thing, and maybe the whole 2018 timetable fiasco, underwritten by a failing ‘privatisation’ of the rail network needs a kick up the …. it’s going to be interesting.  It’s taken almost a quarter of a century to get to the point where UK style rail franchising and fragmentation on such a small network has been chaotic.

If it’s taken this long to work out we need to do something about how ‘conventional’ railways need to work – imagine how long it will take to integrate the benefits – if any – when HS2/HS3 is completed.

-oOo-

 

 

From Preston to Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The locomotives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading Dimensions, Numbering & Withdrawal

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

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

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

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

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

The Petrol-Electric Locomotive

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

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

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

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

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

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

-oOo-

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Pandora and Her Sisters – EM2 Class Co-Co

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If there was ever a reason to refer to diesel and electric locos. as tin boxes on wheels, then surely this class was the ideal example. Mind you, the EM2s were only a development of’ their smaller, EM1 (Bo-Bo) brethren of 1950, which in turn were designed by the LNER even before nationalisation. This company had plans to electrify the former Great Central Railway route over the Pennines from Manchester to Sheffield, through the Woodhead Tunnel. But, delayed by WWII, amongst other things, the project was not completed untilthe1950s, under British Railways guidance.

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EM2 dimensions

EM1 No. 26054

The Bo-Bo predecessors of Pandora were based on a design from the LNER, before nationalisation. Here, 26054 “Pluto” is seen in BR days at Sheffield – complete with the early yellow warning panel. The original loco 26000, was built in 1941, and the remainder – 57 more – were intended for freight service over the electrified Wood Head route through the Pennines.      Photo” RPBradley Collection

The EM2’s were all built at Gorton in 1954, and were then the most powerful locomotives in operation anywhere on B.R. – I am ignoring the two gas turbine prototypes of course, since these were only experimental. The Class’ predecessors, the EM1s were 1868hp, and intended for mixed traffic duties, and although the Co-Co development could be seen on such workings, these seven locos. were primarily passenger types. Their ‘substantial’ construction was undoubtedly responsible for the low power/weight ratio, and this general heaviness in appearance is noticeable in any photograph.

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Construction of the mechanical parts was carried out at Gorton, with Metropolitan-Vickers supplying the electrical equipment. The first locomotive, No. 27000, entered service in February 1954, working instructional and test trips between Wath and Wombwell Exchange, and Trafford Park to Wath. The catenary was finally energized over the Woodhead route from Manchester to Sheffield, including the opening of the new Woodhead Tunnel, by mid 1954.

Construction, basically, with these early electric locos., involved a superstructure divided into three compartments, with driving cabs at either end, separated by a control compartment containing resistances and other H.T. equipment, such as motor generators, traction motor blowers etc. A pantograph was mounted in the roof well at each end of the locomotive. Since, of course, only steam heating was provided on the available rolling stock an oil-fired boiler was fitted. The corridor running along one side of the locomotive, not only gave access between the driving cabs but, also to the separate high tension, and resistance compartments, through an interlocking door. The body was not designed as a load bearing structure, and consequently, a hefty underframe was provided, built up with rolled steel sections, and extensively cross braced to support the body and equipment. Buffing and drawgear was mounted on the underframe – not following the trend set by the S.R. diesels, in having these items attached to the bogie.

EM2 BR Weight Diagram_2

BR Weight Diagram of Class EM2

The bogies themselves were also quite heavily built structures, fabricated from steel sections, with a double bolster carried on two cast steel cross stays. The weight of the body was carried through spherical bearers and leaf springs supported by swing links from the bogie cross stays. The equalising beams were fitted inside the bogie frames, on top of the axle boxes, and in addition, of course a 415hp traction motor was hung from each axle, driving the wheels through spur gearing.

Electro-pneumatic control equipment was fitted, and was more or less conventional for d.c. traction, and indeed, similar arrangements are still used on most modern locomotives, including the latest designs. On the EM2, and other d.c. rolling stock, the traction motors are first arranged in series for starting, an intermediate stage of two parallel groups of three motors in series, and finally, three parallel groups of three motors in series for normal running.

Under running conditions, the traction motors were designed to act as generators 
- regenerative braking – through the Westinghouse supplied straight air, and
 air controlled vacuum brake for engine and train. Compressed air for the brakes from the Westinghouse compressor also operated the electro-pneumatic controls, sanding gear, and the “Pneuphonic” horns.

Blerick_(ex-NS)_1501_-_Flickr_-_Rob_Dammers copy

On the weekend of 9 and 10 June 2018 in the Dutch town of Blerick, near Venlo, was a Multi Event where it was shown to the public.                                          Photo: By Rob Dammers – Blerick (ex-NS) 1501, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75589543

In operation, the locomotives were housed in the newly constructed depot at Reddish, and in company with the smaller EM1 Bo-Bo must have presented 
a considerable contrast to steam traction in the early days of the MSW electrification. The problem of declining cross country traffic, 25kV a.c., Beeching, et al, to say nothing of B.R.’s National Traction Plan, led to the sale of this small class to the Netherlands Railways (NS), in 1969.

Here, they remained in everyday use on inter-city services, as NS class ‘1500’. However, only six remained in use in the early 1980s, since 27005 was scrapped in 1969/70 to be used for spares, and due to traffic increases on the Dutch railways, many of the older loco. types, including the EM2’s had their working life extended. Overhauls and repairs put back their planned withdrawal until 1985/6, instead of 1981/ 2.

In BR days they were initially treated to a modified mixed traffic livery, as applied to steam locomotives. The modification in fact being the addition of a thin red line marking out the bodyside panels and cab front, with the lion and wheel emblem in the centre bodysides, and running numbers under each cab side window. Bogies and underframe were, naturally black. Later, steam loco. express passenger green was used, and the panelling was lined out in orange and black, with the 1956 style of lion and wheel crest, and nameplates attached to the bodysides. They were finally, before their sale, classified as ’77’ by the TOPS classification scheme, though of course, they did not last long enough to carry the TOPS running numbers, which first began to appear in 1972/3.

Allocations:

1954 (as new): 27000 – 27006, 9C Reddish
1964: 27000 – 27006, 9C Reddish

Class EM2 Co-Co – Names & Current Status:

EM2 status

Their healthy service life in the Netherlands, which, in the 1970s included passenger trains between Den Haag and Venlo, and freight services from Rotterdam Kijfhoek yard to Roosendaal, the arrival of new ‘1600’ class locos in the early 1980s brought that to a close. The first two of the six in service – ‘Pandora’ and ‘Aurora’ were scrapped in February 1985, and ‘Juno’ in October the following year.

No fewer than three of the class have been preserved as representatives of the early BR plans to electrify main lines on the 1,500V dc system. One of the class – ‘Diana’ – is preserved in the Netherlands, where it is still possible to run rail tours, whilst the other two are essentially static displays at the Midland Railway Centre and Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. That said, the EM2 Locomotive Society rescued ‘Electra’ and restored it to working order, and it had a number of successful tours in the Netherlands, before its return to the UK, to its present home in Butterley.

Ariadne - ex 27001 at MOSI copy

“Ariadne” seen in October 2018 at the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry, sporting her final colour scheme as used when in service with Netherlands Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen). Photo: Rodger Bradley

Links:

-oOo-

High Altitude Steam

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

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

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

Vitznaurhof & Rigi 1989-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rigi_vertical_boiler

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

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

Luzern -8

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

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

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

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

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

 

New 2-car sets

Planned new railcars for the VRB.

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

BRB 1

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

New BRB steam loco No12

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

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

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

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Coal Dust Powered Steam Engines

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In 1919, ‘The Engineer’ carried a short reference in its January 13th issue to experiments in using ‘coal dust’ in locomotive fireboxes, describing them as powdered fuel engines:

Of the Great Central powdered fuel engine we can at the moment say no mote than that we hope before long to place a complete description before our readers. We dealt in our issues of Aug. 23rd and 30th, with the device employed on American locomotives for coal-dust burning, and we may note now that, whilst the general principles followed by Mr. Robinson are naturally not very different, the arrangement of the parts has been worked out afresh. The Great Central experiments are being watched with interest, and in view of the present desire to economise fuel, and the now proved fact that coal-dust can be used satisfactorily in locomotive fire-box, we shall not be surprised to see other engineers following Mr Robinson’s lead.

Original entry:

GCR coal-dust extract

To be honest, I’d not considered the idea of pulverised fuel as a source for steam locomotives before, considering the availability of considerable quantities of black coal from mines in the UK. There were perhaps other countries where good steam coal was not so readily available – the USA, Italy, Germany, and Australia – at least in some areas can be considered in that category. Aside from the efficiency, the complexity or otherwise, of burning, handling and distributing pulverised fuel, the economic conditions might well have a part to play in its use.

EPSON scanner image

The GCR’s experiment with coal-dust firing started with this heavy freight design, seen here in later years in LNER days.  This Sunday line-up of heavy freight locomotives is seen at Whitemoor Depot, March cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Ben Brooksbank – geograph.org.uk/p/2333255

Take the Great Central example above, that was in the immediate post First World War era, so along with compounding, it was seen as a way of improving the efficiency of motive power through the use of a wider range of fuels. Primarily though, a combination of increased fuel cost and poorer quality coal led to J.G. Robinson’s experiments in using coal-dust, or pulverised fuel. In addition to economics, there was a belief that this would increase the level of combustion, and hence operating performance and efficiency.

The first trials took place with four 8K Class 2-8-0 freight locomotives (later Class O5 in LNER days), between 1917 and 1924. The 2-8-0s were fitted with a bogie tender, housing a container holding the coal-dust, which was then fed to the locomotive’s grate, through pipes. The conventional fire grate and ash pan had been replaced by firebricks, and the fuel blown into the front of the firebox, using a system of fans, driven initially by a petrol engine, and later by a small steam turbine. The coal-dust used in these trials was recovered from colliery screens, and then dried before use on the locomotive, where it was mixed with air for combustion. Amongst the downsides to the use of this arrangement was getting the air to coal-dust mixture right, and the design and layout of the firebox, and even mixing the coal dust with oil (colloidal fuel) proved equally problematic.

The following is an extract from a book entitled “Brown Coal”, published by Australia’s Victoria State Electricity Commission in 1952 gives some insight into Robinson’s experiments on the Great Central.

“The Great Central Railway Company had fitted two locomotives for burning, respectively, pulverised black coal and colloidal fuel, the latter a mixture of about 60 parts of pulverised coal and 40 parts of oil. The pulverised fuel locomotive was in regular service on one of the heaviest runs in England, between Gorton near Manchester and Dunford, a distance of nearly 18 miles; it had to take, its place with a 500-ton load among similar trains; half a dozen of these were following trains, all of which were likely to be held up if the pulverised fuel locomotive failed. All this indicated the confidence of the Railways officials in the reliability of the pulverised fuel locomotive under everyday working conditions. During August 1921 the author had a run on the footplate of the pulverised fuel locomotive on a day when the general traffic conditions were as described above. Running, tests had bees made previously with the two converted locomotives and with another using lump coal; for maintenance of steam pressure and rate of travel on the heaviest portions of the run, colloidal fuel showed best and pulverised coal next best. Two separate engines on the tender, which was specially built for this service, drove the feed screw for the coal and the blower fan. Technically these experiments appear to have been quite successful, but the official view of the company was that there would be no commercial gain in pulverising its high-grade black coal.”

These experiments with alternative fuels were not uncommon on a number of railways in the early years of the 20th Century, as William Holden’s oil-fired examples on the Great Eastern Railway testify. However, in the UK at least, the likelihood of more ‘coal-dust fired’ locomotives was unlikely to grow, and indeed it did not, and remains a curiosity.

It wasn’t just the Great Central that was experimenting with pulverised, the Southern Railway carried out some work in the 1920s, based on those developments in the USA. In 1916, The New York Central converted a 4-6-2 to burn pulverised coal, and although not leading to great numbers of similarly fuelled steam types, these experiments were important in looking in detail at the performance, and efficiency of a steam locomotive over a wider range of fuel types. Brown coal and lignites were relatively common in European countries, such as Italy and Germany, where perhaps they were more fully developed.

In Germany, six of the Prussian “G12” Class 2-10-0swere converted to ‘coal-dust burning’ in 1930, but because of the considerable deposits of lignite/brown coal, a much softer coal with a high water content, new ‘coal-dust burning’ locomotives were being built in the 1950s. In the former East Germany, the state railway Deutches Reichsbahn (DR), constructed a pair of 2-8-0s in 1954/5 – the DR Class 25.10. The second of these was designed and fitted for coal-dust firing, and intended for both heavy passenger and goods workings.

Dampflokomotive 58 1894, BR 58

The first coal dust locomotive for Deutsche Reichsbahn (DRG), the former East Germany, with fuel from lignite. The performance was claimed to be significantly higher than a conventionally fired locomotive. The image shows the machine with tender and bunker. Bild 102-11602 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5415387

The initiative started in the early 1920s in Germany, when the state railway organisation brought together the loco builders and the coal industry, and established a business to conduct research on the use of pulverised fuel for firing steam locomotives. This organisation – SLUG (Studiengesellschaft) – introduced the ‘Stug’ system, working with Henschel & Sohn, and at the same time a parallel development was being trialled by AEG. In both cases, the initial work was for stationary boilers. In later years, the system used in East Germany, was ascribed to the GDR’s Hans Wendler, and unsurprisingly known as the Wendler coal-dust firing system, which is the system used on the later DRG 2-10-0s.

Kohlenstaublok 25 1001 (BR 25)

One of the 20 Class 44 2-10-0 locomotives converted to coaldust firing in the 1950s, for work on lines in the Thuringian Forest region. Several of the class have been preserved, but sadly perhaps none of this particular variant.

During the 1950s, coal-dust fired steam locomotives continued to work in Germany, and in East Germany, the DRG converted 20 of the Class 44 2-10-0 heavy freight locomotives, of which almost 2,000 had been built since the 1920s. The system was ultimately replaced – largely due to the complexity of the fuelling system needed – by oil-fired locomotives, which were still in use in Germany in the mid to late 1970s, up until the end of steam traction.

The Southern Railway had built a new class of 2-6-0 locomotives, under its then CME, Richard Maunsell, for passenger duties, with two outside cylinders, weighing in at 110 tons, and developing some 23,000lbs of tractive effort. These new “U” Class moguls included number A629, built in 1928, and fitted with the German design of pulverized fuel system, supplied by AEG. The idea, unsurprisingly, given this was taking place during the great depression of the 1920s and 1930s, was to improve the operating efficiency of the steam engine. The trials took place on the London to Brighton line, and were used as a means of deciding whether it was more economical to convert to the poorer grade of fuels for steam traction, or implement widespread electrification. It was a short lived experiment, and brought to an end following a minor explosion that occurred when the coal dust came into contact with the hot sparks being ejected through the chimney. It was subsequently found that the blast of the steam engine in normal operation was drawing more coal dust/pulverised fuel through the boiler, without being burned.

31629

The experimental “U Class” 2-6-0 in later BR days as No. 31269

The locomotive itself was returned to normal coal burning in 1935, and renumbered 1629, and survived to BR days, and finally withdrawn from service in 1964, as BR No. 31629, and of course the Southern Railway embarked on major electrification schemes.

Another intriguing attempt at using ‘cheaper’ fuel, was to mix the coal dust/pulverised fuel with oil, and described as “colloidal fuel” in some quarters. In fact this too wasn’t a new idea, and had been used in ships during the First World War, when fuel supplies were becoming low. The idea seems to have been useful only where the mixture of oil and pulverised coal could be injected into boiler furnaces through an atomising burner, and the complexities of using such an arrangement on a steam locomotive footplate can only be imagined. Well on Britain’s railways in the 1920s and 1930s perhaps, since normal bituminous coal was readily available.

Curiously, the idea was raised again towards the end of the Second World War, in the UK’s parliament, when this observation was made in Hansard:

Locomotive Fuel - Pulverised Coal

But, in the end, even the UK’s experiments with oil-firing steam traction was not a success, and the increased march and takeover by diesel and electric traction was the death knell for this idea. But, elsewhere, trials and developments continued, including ‘down under’.

Australia – too little too late? As mentioned earlier, a study carried out on behalf of the State Electricity Authority of Victoria looked in great depths at the use of brown coal/lignites for boilers, and including steam locomotives. The work began in the immediate Post Second World War period, and was driven by industrial action on the New South Wales coalfields, and dwindling supplies of hard, black coal, and the coalfields in Victoria were exhausted. To combat this, for the railways, a large number of locomotives were converted to oil-firing, and the experiments with pulverised brown coal began by fitting the 2-8-2 freight locomotive X32 with the necessary ‘Stug’ equipment from Germany.

X32_dynamometer_car

X32, after conversion to PBC firing, on a test train with the VR and South Australian Railways joint stock Dynamometer car. Note plume of steam from the turbine motor on the tender, which drove a conveyor screw and blower to force coal dust into the firebox.          By Victorian Railways photograph – State Library of Victoria, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23956450

This experiment was a success, and in 1951, the remaining 28 members of the class were converted to coal-dust, or pulverised fuel firing, and even one of the prestigious ‘R Class’ 4-6-4 passenger types – No. R707 was converted. The “R Class” was built by the North British Locomotive Co. in Glasgow, and worked some of Victoria’s prestige, express passenger services.

Whilst the experiments – and indeed operational running with the “X Class” and R707 was a success, time was not on the side of this technology, since dieselisation of Victoria’s rail system was rapidly gaining ground, and in 1957, the decision to abandon ‘coal-dust fired’ steam locomotives was taken. R707 was returned to normal lump coal as fuel, and was rescued and fully restored to operations as a preserved example of a fine class of steam locomotive.

58_1261-5_1 copy

The last of a pair of the ex-Prussian Railways design of 2-10-0 that were rescued for preservation. 25.281 is seen here at Potsdam in 1993.         By MPW57 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3726331

 

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Electric Traction Revolution?

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

gec092

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

87034 - William Shakespeare at Carlisle

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

 

 

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

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

So this was Richard Marsh’s plan in 1978:

InterCity Route Miles Strategy


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

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

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

Table A1

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

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

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

Source of table: (Wikipedia) List_of_countries_by_rail_transport_network_size

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

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

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

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

Para 13 - 1981 DoT ReviewPara 14 - 1981 DoT Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Powerhouse Rail Map

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

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Azuma_and_HST_at_Leeds_station_(geograph_6187255)

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

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Hybrid on Snowdon

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Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, and home of the only rack railway in Britain is about to get some new motive power.  Although steam is popular on many of the world’s rack railways, diesel power has gradually been adopted over the past few decades, and now as diesel’s reputation as a pollutant has soarded, hybrids are coming to the rescue.

In its 123+ year history, the 800mm gauge railway to the summit of Snowdon, this line has operated with 8 steam locomotives, all built by SLM in Switzerland, 5 diesel locomotives and 3 diesel railcars.  All of the railcars have been scrapped, along with the diesel-mechanical loco bought secondhand in 1949 have been scrapped.

Two of the steam locomotives – Nos. 7 & 8. built in 1922 and 1923 have been withdrawn and dismantled, with one of the remaining locos – No. 4 “Snowdon”, currently being overhauled.  The remaining steam locomotives remain operational, and all bar one are more than 100 years old.

Snowdon_Mountain_Railways_No12_George_(8985026430)

Built in Leeds by Hunslet in 1992, No12 is named after George Thomas, 1st Viscount Tonypandy. All four diesels are powered by a turbo-charged six-cylinder Rolls-Royce engine giving 319hp. Llanberis Station. Snowdon Mountain Railway. Wales. 26-5-2013                                                         By Alan Wilson – , CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26899289 

Of the remaining 4 diesel-hydraulic locos, two (Nos 9 & 10) were delivered in 1986, with Nos. 11 and 12, delivered in 1991 and 1992.  These are the newest locomotives – now approaching 30 years of age – in service on the line.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR) began looking into replacement locomotives five years ago, and this year named Clayton Equipment Limited of Burton-upon-Trent has been chosen as the preferred supplier.

Clayton are a specialist supplier of locomotive for mining, tunnelling, shunting and many other specialist rail applications.  This specialism includes bespoke battery hybrid battery-diesel designs, and the SMR’s  two new locomotives will be commissioned and ready for service for the start of the railway’s 2020 season in spring next year.

Clayton have been involved as a manufacturer in the railway industry since the 1930s, and through various changes of structure and ownership, and now once again as an independent company.

The new locomotives will be driven by High Torque, maintenance free electric motors, powered by traction battery and diesel generator. The diesel generator will be switched off whilst the locomotive is descending, as service braking recharges the battery ready for the next ascent.  It is anticpated that this new design will save costs on both maintenance and fuel, and as lower powered units, complying fully with Euro Stage V emissions requirements, less environmental impact too.

The train configurations with the new locos will also allow an extra 12 passengers to be carried on each trip.

New technology for the 21st Century on the UK’s only Abt rack railway, and hopefully too, continued success for both the SMR and Clayton Equipment.  We look forward to 2020 with interest.

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-oOo-

 

The Premier Line

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The London & North Western Railway Co., or “Premier Line” as it ultimately became known, was undoubtedly one of this Country’s premier railway companies, 
The LNWR came into existence following the amalgamation in 1846,of three of the principal west coast companies; the London & Birmingham, Grand Junction and Manchester & Birmingham Railways. The latter however did not fully extend to the limits implied in its title, occupying roughly the same route as the present
 Styal Line into Manchester Piccadilly, with its connection to Birmingham made over Grand Junction metals from Crewe.

The LNWR as it existed in 1846 was divided into Northern and Southern Divisions, with separate Chief Mechanical Engineers (CMEs) for each, not to mention individual livery styles and a number of other things. Wolverton and the Southern Division was in the hands of Edward Bury, from London & Birmingham days, later followed by McConnell. The Northern Division based on Crewe began life under Alexander Allan and Richard Trevithick, and later John Ramsbottom. From 1857 onwards however, the two divisions of the LNWR were merged, with Ramsbottom assuming overall control of the C.M.E.’s side from Crewe.

Lady of the Lake 2-2-2 from BR Magazine

Described as a “Problem” Class loco, No. 531 “Lady of the Lake” was built at the LNWR’s Crewe Works in 1859. The 2-2-0 design was produced when John Ramsbottom was Loco Superintendent. These were not so successful in passenger service as his      2-4-0 ‘Newton’ and the later ‘Precent’ derivatives.

Crewe itself soon assumed considerable importance as major junction, with completion of Robert Stephenson’s Chester & Holyhead line – the “Irish Mail Route”.  The old Grand Junction Railway was also connected northwards from Crewe with the Liverpool & Manchester and Wigan & Preston Railway. The Potteries too, through the North Staffordshire Railway, also had an interest in Crewe and the flowering LNWR. Further north there was the Lancaster & Preston Junction and Lancaster & Carlisle Railways, which later became part of the LNWR empire, though not for some years after the merger of 1846.

To the south, the LNWR was anxious to improve its communication with the capital, avoiding the need for a circuitous route from the manufacturing centres of the north through Birmingham, the Trent Valley line was constructed, though not without some opposition. The opposition to this line came initially from the LNWR itself, since the Trent Valley line was projected originally as a separate company, the LNWR taking it over after the light had been seen, so to speak. At Rugby, connection was made with the fast growing empire of George Hudson’s Midland Railway. In fact, until the Midland opened its own route to London and St. Pancras, that company was obliged to rely on the LNWR for through carriage of its passengers and goods, from the manufacturing districts of the East Midlands, and of course coal from the South Yorkshire Coalfields. There was much antagonism between the two companies at one stage, the Midland threatening to send its traffic to London over the metals of the rival east coast route of the Great Northern Rly. The LNWR was to encounter the Midland again in later years, much further north, with the building of the Settle-Carlisle line.

Motive power in the early days was diminutive, both by modern standards and those of contemporary companies, particularly the broad gauge GWR, whose massive outside framed single wheelers were twice the size of Bury’s bar-framed 0-4-0 and 2-2-0 types. Coaching stock was small by comparison too, though despite this, tales are told of double, triple and even quadruple heading trains out of Euston. About this ti.me too, there appeared from Crewe, one of the Company’s famous and unique locomotive types – the now preserved “Cornwall”, a relatively small engine with massive single driving wheels. Trevithick’s original design though was rather different to the form in which it is preserved today, essentially, in order to lower the centre of gravity, its boiler was carried below the driving wheel axle!

RPBRLY-36

Originally built by Trevithick in 1847, with a boiler beneath the driving axle, “Cornwall” seen here at Crewe, was rebuilt by Ramsbottom to follow a conventional layout. The loco was withdrawn from service in 1927 – some 80 years after building!

A nightmarish proposition for those required to maintain it no doubt. However, not all LNWR motive power was quite so freakish, some solid designs were produced at Wolverton under McConnel, known for some obscure reason as ”Bloomers”. Although again, they were really quite s all designs. In fact the Company was to be beset for many years with motive power of both small size, and in many instances poor performance. Ramsbottom’s ”Newton” class 2-4-0’s though small, were the forerunner of perhaps the Campany’s most successful design of steam locomotive until the early years of the 20th Century. I refer of course to the ever famous “Precedent” class, or as they became popularly known – the “Jumbos”.

Hardwicke - large_NRM_CT_936889

Webb’s early designs for the LNWR were very successful – before he got hung up on coimpunding – and No. 790 in the national collection at the NRM is the most famous of the “Precedent” Class. Building began of 166 of these engines in 1874, but the last of the class was not withdrawn until 1934. Photo courtesy NRM. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence

Probably the LNWR’s most “colourful” period coincided with the. arrival of the autocratic F.W. Webb as Chief Mechanical Engineer, and also with those of Richard Moon as Chairman and Capt. Mark Huish as Company Secretary. This trio were, even by Victorian standards, extreme in their attitudes and formidable in the wielding of their power and influence over all who ca.ne into contact, or conflict, with them. Two interesting stories are related over the activities of two members of this trio, though the one concerning Capt. Huish serves to underline his management methods, which, it appears, were learned whilst pirating the South China Sea, in pursuit of the lucrative, but illegal, opium trade; F.W.Webb on the other hand was of a more religious upbringing, his father having been a vicar. Christianity left its mark on this man in an obscure sort of way, for on an occasion whilst paying a visit to one of the workshops at Crewe, upon entering a building which had shortly before seen some form of accident, the area being thick with smoke and fumes, a workman had been overcome by these same fumes. On witnessing this, Webb is reported to have instructed the foreman to take the hapless individual outside, revive him and sack him forthwith. Perhaps in relating this incident, all the reasons are explained for Webb’s dogmatic and obstinate pursuit of the compound locomotive.

Greater Britain 2-2-2-2 Compound

Classic Webb era design of another of the less than successful compounds. The LNWR “Greater Britain” 2-2-2-2 locomotive No. 2525 (LNWR Crewe Works 3292 / 1891) The class consisted of ten of these 2-2-2-2 compound locomotives designed for express passenger work by Francis Webb in 1891.             Photo (c) Historical Railway Images

During this period, between say 1860 and 1900, there occurred the steady expansion of the Euston empire, stretching to the Scottish border and beyond, with the lliance of the Caledonian Railway to across the Irish Sea and the Euston owned Dundalk, Newry & Greenore Railway. Its steamship services ere surpassed by few others, whilst its main line, forever known as the West Coast Route was amongst the busiest and hardest to work of any railway in the country. The LNWR even managed to gain a foothold in West Cumberland, over the Cockermout, Keswick & Penrith line, purchasing the Whitehaven Junction Railway, and having operating agreements and joint ownership with the Furness, of one or two others. By 1870, the LNWR had indeed established a fair sized and extremely profitable railway. In size, with around 1400 miles of track, even this was to more than double by the end of its independent life, it was second only to the GWR; although its 
income was very nearly double that of the company with the broad gauge. It had also, the two important arteries of the Chester & Holyhead, acquired in 1858, and the Lancaster & Carlisle, leased, optimistically perhaps, for 90 years.

Locomotives figure prominently in any account of the “Premier Line” at this time, not surprisingly in view of the almost bewildering number of designs produced by Webb during the period from 1870 to 1903. Webb, as is well known, was an ardent and staunch a supporter of compounding as a means of effecting economies in locomotive operation as any other. He was also ably backed in this respect by the company Chairman – Richard Moon. Moon too was constantly striving for economy, tempered with the desire to maintain the position of the LNWR, and his own naturally, as one of the world’s largest, wealthiest and most respected joint stock companies. This he undoubtedly achieved during his tenure of that office, between 1861 and 1891. But it was perhaps Webb’s brilliance as a mechanical engineer that is remembered most, many of the innovations on this country’s railways in the latter half of the century were the product of his inventive genius. As an example, Adam’s ”Radial Tanks” on the London & South Western Rly. possessed a design of trailing axlebox which owed much of its development to Webb’s own ideas on the LNWR, to say nothing of his patented electro-mechanical interlocking lever frames for signalling!

As a locomotive engineer, Webb was probably second to none. Although remembered most for his largely unsuccessful pursuit of compounding, in his simple expansion designs of
the “Precedent” class 2-4-0 and “Cauliflower” goods 0-6-0’s there appeared successful designs of locomotive unsurpassed by many, many others. A great number of the latter survived nearly a century, passing into the hands of British Railways. But it was in the direction of locomotive design that his genius really let him down for not being content with developing simple expansion types that would perform the work required, he became obsessed with his pursuit of the compound locomotive. It was this principle really that consisted in costing the LNWR far more than any equivalent saving in fuel consumption. His designs, such as the “Experiment”, “John Hick” and “Dreadnought” classes were almost total failures, being both heavy on fuel and difficult to operate. Moreover, he later attempted to dispense with the idea of coupling the driving wheels together, with the result that whereas often the leading wheel could be seen turning in one direction, the trailing wheel would revolve in the opposite direction!

Despite this handicap in the motive power department the LNWR’s train services provided a level of punctuality second to none, smoothness and comfort in travelling too were unmatched, for a time at least, by any other company. In appearance, the ”Blackberry Black” of its locomotives, with their complex lining in red, cream, pale blue and grey made a pleasant, and in some of the grimier industrial areas, outstanding contrast with the “Purple Brown” and white coaches.

LNWR Coach Montage

Train speeds of the late Victorian period were not, on the whole, high, but certainly comparable with those of other railways. The crack Anglo-Scotch express, was the 2-0 pm “Corridor” from Euston, even so, it took some eight hours to reach the Scottish border from the Capital. Indeed, just prior to the famed ”Race to the North” of the late 80’s and 90’s, Edinburgh was reached in around ten hours of travelling – an interesting comparison with the 4.5 to 5 hours of today’s “Pendolinos”. These timings are roughly comparable to the speeds achieved soon after the Euston to Glasgow electrification was completed in 1974.  For the LNWR’s premier services, around 120 years ago, “slow”, would not perhaps be the right word – sedate would fit the bill much mare precisely.

Lens of Sutton - LNWR 4-6-0

Classic LNWR – and one of George Whale’s first designs after taking over as CME. The “Experiment” class 4-6-0 were built between 1905 and 1910. This class 0f 105 locomotives was intended to carry the ‘Scotch Expresses’ over the formidable Lancaster to Carlisle route, with the ascent of Shap to contend with.                           Photo (c) Lens of Sutton / R.P. Bradley Collection

Following the turn of the century, the first two decades saw yet another interesting period in the LNWR’s history, and one of considerable change. This relatively short period saw three changes of C.M.E., taking the Company up to amalgamation with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1922, before finally merging into the LMSR on 1st January 1923. Train timings were improved somewhat after 1900, although by today’s standards, still sedate, with average speeds in the order of 55 mph for express trains. Passenger loadings were constantly increasing hence also the trailing tonnages hauled by the locomotives. It should be pointed out though, whilst we are now accustomed to reading accounts of performance with train weights cited in tons, in LNWR days it was customary for the guard to inform the driver that he had ”Eight equivalent to sixteen on”. This in effect was to say that there were eight bogie coaches behind the engine, each of which, by tradition was reckoned to be of equivalent weight to two standard four-wheelers.

The practice of quoting grain weights in terms of vehicle numbers continued for some time. Not so for the Webb compounds though, for no sooner had George Whale succeeded to the post of CME, than he embarked on a program of scrapping the three-cylinder passenger types, and modifying the 4-cylinder goods locomotives. The LNWR was desperately in need of efficient, powerful and simple, above all simple, locomotives. To this end, Whale saved the day, surprisingly quickly too, by all accounts the drawings for the ”Precursor” class 4-4-0 were prepared in March 1904 and quantity production was in full swing by September of that year. Whale also produced the “Experiment” class 4-6-0, a larger version of the “Precursor”. In fact, it has been said that both of these designs were developed from Webb’s own ”Precedent” class 2-4-0. Perhaps the last, and in some ways most outstanding LNWR locomotive type was produced under the guidance of C.J. Bowen-Cooke in 1913, the 4-cylinder 4-6-0’s of the “Claughton” class. This locomotive was the result of a series of comparative tests on the LNWR of a
 Great Western “Star” class 4-6-0, though in appearance, the “Claughton” was unequivocally a product of Crewe. The later products of the LNWR from Crewe, from various CME’s of the early Twentieth Century, were entirely successful in their work. The “Claughtons” particularly, for in fact it was on this design that the LMSR based its ”Baby Scot” or “Patriot” class 4-6-0s, some of which were “Claughton” chassis with LMS designed superstructures.

ClaughtonThe days following the 1914-18 war were something of a period of “marking time” for the LNWR, and Crewe Works, having been fully occupied with munitions work there was little prospect of recovery to pre-war levels of operation. In 1921,the Act of Parliament which sanctioned the formation of the four grouping companies, came into being, whilst the amalgamation in 1922 with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway was nothing more than a curtain raiser for the fun and games that beset the newly constituted LMSR in 1923. Having just emerged from a war, slightly the worse for wear; the LNWR was about to engage in another, with even greater consequences. But that, as they say, is another story.

A number of the LNWR locomotive designs lasted into the British Railways era, and even one of the “Claughton” 4-6-0s survived to be given BR No. 46004, and classed as 5XP – albeit with a new boiler fitted.  The smaller classes and freight designs from the Webb and Whale years lasted a very long time, and in 1955, the last of Webb’s 2-4-2 tank engines was withdrawn – and claimed a place in the BR London Midland Region magazine:

Last LNWR 2-4-2T - ex Precursor Dec 1955

At the time of the 150th anniversary of the ‘Rainhill Trials’ in 1980, the LNWR was represented by another Webb Stalwart – the “Coal” tank, the last of which had been withdrawn in 1958.  Still looking good in “Blackberry Black”.

RPB COLLECTION3-79 copy

Coal tank at the Rainhill 150 Celebrations in 1980. (c) R.P. Bradley

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Useful Links:

 

LNWR Society Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 11.38.37

Science Museum Group

Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 11.43.42

 

 

 

 

 

 

St Rollox – Gone But Not Forgotten

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This month saw the last of the once huge manufacturing railway workshops in Glasgow closed.  The facilities were established in the Springburn district of the city by the Caledonian Railway in 1854, brining to an end the 169 year history of building, repairing and maintaining railway locomotives and rolling stock on a 15 acre site.  The St Rollox site was just one of three major sites in the area – the others being the former North British Locomotive Co works, which closed in the 1960s, and of course the Cowlairs Works.

Screenshot 2019-07-31 at 17.22.23As a loco works for the Caledonian Railway, it produced many fine steam types, but the works’ status changed dramatically after the grouping of 1923, and under the ownership of the LMS, no new building was carried out there after 1927.  As a workshop responsible for maintenance and repair, this was the position of St Rollox for the next 40 years.

At the time of nationalisation the works employed 3,382 staff, whilst neighbouring Cowlairs employed a little over 1,200 in 1949, with work being transferred away to Horwich.  Interestingly, at the time the staffing of railway works came under scrutiny, in 1962, both Cowlairs and St Rollox employed just over 1,900 on each site.  Plans were laid to modernise and re-equip the works, and in order to do that, most of the work in St. Rollox was moved temporarily into Cowlairs.  Once re-equipped the plan was to transfer all work into St. Rollox, and close Cowlairs. The new St. Rollox was re-named the Glasgow Railway Works – at least on paper. In addition to repairs and maintenence of motive power and rolling stock, manufacture light alloy containers and the repair of all signal and telegraph equipment was to be set up. The total labour force by 1966 will be approximately 2,800 men.

St Rollox in Glasgow’s Springburn area was at the heart of railway and locomotive engineering in Glasgow, and Scotland, the work to modernise the works was expensive, costing more than £1 million, but the eventual outcome was closure of Cowlairs in 1968. All of the Scottish works of BR were discussed in great detail during the 1960s, and the social and economic consequences of decisions taken in London were not lost on local MPs.

The same seems to be happening again in 2019.

05.06.82_Glasgow_St_Rollox_Works_26028_(6159479398)

Inside one of the workshops of BREL Glasgow St Rollox Works on an organised visit with the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society. Seen closest to the camera is 26028.           By Phil Richards from London, UK – 05.06.82 Glasgow St Rollox Works 26028, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26695179 

St Rollox became part of BREL with the 1980s restructuring of BR workshops, and following the privatisation of BREL in 1988 was operated purely as a rail maintenance facility by British Rail Maintenance Limited (BRML).

In effect St Rollox was closed in 1988 with the loss of 1,200 jobs.  That said, in the seven years that followed, much of what was the St Rollox site was sold off to developers, and occupied by a Tesco supermarket, Costco, Lidl, and a new Springburn fire station.  The rump of what was left for rail maintenance was sold off after privatisation, in 1995, to a Babcock/Siemens consortium.  In 2007 it was sold on again to Alstom, and finally to Railcare Ltd., which went into administration in July 2013.  The following month, the remaining works was purchased by Knorr-Bremse, who created Knorr-Bremse RailServices (UK) Ltd as a new rolling stock maintenance and repair company.  Five years later it was sold on to Mutares, a German based group specialising in acquiring low income companies, with a view to turning them into growing, and profitable enterprises.

The Mutares acquisition, and operation under the Gemini Rail Group  took pl;ace in late 2018, and by December, the new owner announced it planned to close the Springburn works.

The annoucement was greeted with dismay, and in the early hours of 14th January 2019, the MP Paul Sweeney made this observation:

In 2018, it was sold to another German company, an industrial turnaround specialist called Mutares. In November 2018, just a few weeks after its acquisition, it was formed into a newco known ​as Gemini Rail, which was a wholly owned subsidiary company of Mutares but also associated with Knorr-Bremse—for instance, sharing the same company house number. It is clear this has been an exercise conveniently designed to quickly rationalise their operations in the UK.

As at December 2018, St Rollox continues to carry out component and rolling stock repairs and overhauls. Recent work has included overhauls of class 156s, class 158s and Class 320s for Abellio ScotRail. It is the largest rolling stock repair site in Scotland. Two smaller sites in Kilmarnock are operated by Brodie and Wabtec respectively, and are still operating at capacity.

In December last year, shortly after acquiring the site, the new owner announced very suddenly that it planned to close the works, stating that it was making losses of between £3 million and £4 million.

At the time, St Rollox had barely 200 staff, but they would be the last to work at this famous site, if the closure went ahead.  As a final point in the January 2019 debate, Paul Sweeney made the following point:

The Minister is making a number of pertinent points, but the fundamental crux of this issue is that while it is a private decision for a private company at this point, it is clear that the company, ScotRail and Network Rail could work collaboratively to restructure the site to put it on a sound commercial footing and allow it to win business competitively. This is not about bailing something out or state aid for a failing industry; this is a kernel of expertise and a centre of excellence that could thrive with a restructuring of ownership.

However, despite the perhaps good intentions, and warm words from the Government spokesperson, the closure has gone ahead, and St Rollox is no longer a railway works, be it construction, or maintenance.  The skillsets remain, but it seems the desire to maintain a rail industry has all but evaporated.

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Useful Links & Further Reading

  1. An Illustrated History of British Railways’ Workshops; Edgar Larkin; Pub Ian Allan 1998
  2. St Rollox Railway Works: Closure
  3. St Rollox Railway Works closure threatens hundreds of jobs
  4. Save the Caley in Springburn

Overcrowding on Trains – Nothing Changes

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30 years ago, the Central Transport Consultative Committee (CTCC) reported on the overcrowding on British Rail’s trains. The quality of service standards that described overcrowding were supported by agreed load factors, and as a measurement of the train capacity can be traced back to the 1980s. In the CTCC reports from 1986/87, and 1988/89 they looked at this in relation to BR’s Network Southeast Sector, and the load factors for sliding door stock was set at 135% and for the old slam door stock at 110%. On top of this it was agreed that no passengers would stand for journeys of more than 20 minutes, unless it was their choice.

Nothing has changed – and before anyone says passenger numbers have changed dramatically – proportionately that is not necessarily accurate. Interestingly, the 21st century standards for journeys comparable with BR’s Network Southeast commuters use something called Passengers in Excess of Capacity (PIXC), which in essence is a Load Factor. The measurement is the same today as it was in 1987-89 – i.e. 135% for modern sliding door stock. In 2006, this is what Passenger Focus reported:

“Capacity is deemed to be the number of standard class seats on the train for journeys of more than 20 minutes; for journeys of 20 minutes or less, an allowance for standing room is also made. The allowance for standing varies with the type of rolling stock but, for modern sliding door stock, is typically approximately 35% of the number of seats.”

But is that a wrong understanding? According to Transport Focus, the PIXC measures seems to vary by train operator, and is only carried out annually, on a weekday in the autumn. The current means of arriving at a PIXC value for the train service was considered to be of concern in respect of accuracy, and they made this observation:

“The PIXC measure for a Train Operating Company (TOC) as a whole is derived from the number of passengers travelling in excess of capacity on all services divided by the total number of people travelling, expressed as a percentage. PIXC counts are carried out once a year, on a typical weekday during the autumn. Passenger Focus has a number of concerns at the adequacy and accuracy of this measure.”

These methodologies and seat (smaller seats?) numbers may have changed, and the replacement of the CTCC and its regional variants by “Transport Focus” has diluted the way these statistics are reported. Since Transport Focus covers all forms of transport, it would be difficult for them to do anything but provide a broad brush approach, using the DfT’s figures to provide that we might describe as unrepresentative of the rail network as a whole.

But the latest Transport Focus Annual Report (2018-19) does not even mention overcrowding on trains at all. They do however record that in the previous year they had received no fewer than 6,525 complaints from passengers, and in the year 1990-91 – a record year for complaints about British Rail, 7,220 were received. In BR’s case, the massive under-investment, and delays ordering new rolling stock – especially the ‘Networker’ trains on the southern commuter routes was a major factor.

Of course you should not take data without any corroboration, and certainly not as many politicians seem willing to do – take them at face value. In the graph from an ATOC publication in 2008 – “Billion Passenger Railway” – it cannot be stated with any confidence that people are choosing to travel by rail in greater numbers as a result of privatisation.

The chart is neatly divided into particularly interesting time periods.

So, why the sustained increase in passengers depicted by this chart from 1995? There was not such a defined beginning to this uplift as might be inferred, especially considering the increased number of rail accidents, and indeed passenger and railway staff fatalities in the years up to the turn of the century. Of course, what was hailed as the ‘Big Bang’ took place in 1992. At that time, business markets were de-regulated, or opened up, and Europe wide travel and trade increased, following the decline of much of the UK’s traditional and manufacturing industry.

ATOC Chart 2008

Data source: ATOC’s 2008 publication Billion Passenger Railway for 1830 to 2001. Link to graph: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RTGBchart201823.pdf

Take the section between 1923 and 1947 – the so called “golden age of the train” – the peaks and troughs are easily comparable to the economic depressions after WW1 and the rapid uplift during the wartime period of WW2. Passenger numbers remained fairly static after nationalisation, in the immediate post war period, and even rose towards the end of the 1950s. The decline in numbers may be ascribed to at least two competing factors – i) the increased numbers of private cars and the massive road building programme, and ii) the dramatic decline in investment from the mid 1970s. In the 1970s too, there was a global shortfall in availability of fuel oils, and progressing into the 1980s, the increasing awareness of environmental factors.

But then – using current Government published stats for PIXC values, as in the chart below, it is not so easy to compare the periods of time as described in the first chart. It looks from this chart that overcrowding isn’t a problem – well below the 35% of passengers in excess of the number of standard class seats. But of course for the train capacity – including the actual number of seats – first class is excluded from these calculations, so what is the point of the PIXC measure? First class seats are also excluded from the overall capacity of the train – its load factor – irrespective of whether it is a 2, 4, 6 or 8-car unit.

PIXC_1

It is far too simplistic just to say people are using the railways more than ever before, and that is a problem.   Social and economic activity patterns have and are continuing to change, and the ‘problem’ is unlikely to reduce any time soon.

Even using the figures thought to be of concern by Transport Focus, it does appear that overcrowding has certainly gone up, especially after the 2008/9 financial crisis. Despite the uncertainty and questionable accuracy of simply measuring standard class capacity, overcrowding has more than doubled since the turn of the century.

10 Worst Trains_2
The Government have produced some interesting reports around overcrowding, but in one case, they referred to the data about the 10 most overcrowded peak train services with a warning:

Warning: These figures should be treated with caution

10 Worst TrainsThe document was published on 24th July 2018, with this title: “Top 10 overcrowded train services: England and Wales spring and autumn 2017”. Two years earlier, in October 2016 a report entitled “Rail Technology: Signalling and Traffic Management” was published by the Commons Select Committee on Transport, and on the “Background and Context” section, an “urgent need for greater capacity” was declared.

GB Rail Passenger Journeys 1950-2016Another factor in generating more overcrowded trains, and the need to grow capacity is likely to be that the ‘travel to work’ (TTW) has changed as work patterns have changed. People no longer live close to their fixed place of employment, and tend not to walk, or cycle, or use public transport as much as in earlier years, which could also be linked to the industrial decline in the UK.

But perhaps a further reason to account for increased passenger rail travel that ought to be considered is the rapidly increasing congestion on the UK’s roads, whether for private or commercial travel. Would it be true to say that the travelling public are fed up with long queues around accidents, with lorries shedding loads onto arterial routes, or upgraded roads to cope with the increased traffic.

At the turn of the century, ‘sustainability’ came to be used more and more in describing, and defining national, regional and local policies, in almost every sphere of activity involving business and people. In Britain, economic activity continued to be increasingly centred on London and South East England, and pressure for expansion – ‘improvements’ – to the travel to work modes of transport grew. Much of this appeared to be focussed on the ‘9 to 5’ office work activity – be it a fledgling digital business, or financial services – whilst there was little expansion in rail freight. Was it the closure of goods and marshalling yards that created the explosion of parcel delivery firms carrying goods from seaports to distribution centres to the customers’ doors?

In 2008 the Transport Studies Unit of Oxford University published an interesting paper about planning rail networks to meet 21st Century mobility needs – Reinventing the wheel – planning the rail network to meet mobility needs of the 21st century. This according to the authors – “places a key role on the railways, as this mode provides an efficient form of transport and it encourages a modal switch”. So more than a decade ago sustainable mobility was a major issue, and the role of rail was seen as key. There was also a prevailing view that ‘higher speeds’ would increase the railway’s capacity to carry passengers – but presumably only if you increased the frequency and reduced the headway. Each of these latter would need significant investment in technology through signalling systems, and of course high-speed trains. This also significantly needs greater investment. Ultimately, the use of trains has a positive bearing on our attempts to reduce transport impacts on the environment, and may well be more sustainable in the long term. However, a new high-speed railway, with in creased frequency and shorter gaps between trains will not solve the overcrowding problem that the UK faces today, or in the next 5 to 10 years.

Changes to the passenger services – whether from timetabling, additional trains, new technology, or the “digital railway” – seems to be making very little progress. The claims of considerable investment in new trains is weighing against the perceived improvements in capacity – especially considering the latest levels of complaints when compared to 30 years ago. Then, it could be argued – and was – that under-investment was at the heart of British Rail’s problems with train capacity and overcrowding – but is that true today?

Useful Links:

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