British Railways: Interchange Trials 1948

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Whilst it is the anniversary this year of the end of steam on BR, in 1968, just 20 years earlier, a series of comparative trials took place across the country, to analyses what was then the best in steam traction design, construction and operation.  Not surprisingly, these trials – which took place between April and August 1948, were latched on to by enthusiasts – as a form of competition to see which railway had the best steam types.

City of Glasgow on 1st Caledonian 17th June 1957

A classic shot of a classic pacific – although 46236 “City of Bradford” was used in the 1948 trials. Seen here is sister loco 46242 “City of Glasgow” on the inaugural run of The Caledonian in June 1957.                                                                                                                                                                    Photo: RPB Collection

RPB 220_Lens of Sutton

‘A4’ Class No. 60004 “William Whitelaw” at York on an enthusiasts’ special in the 1960s. As an express passenger type, it was natural to choose one of Gresley’s A4s, but 60022 “Mallard” did not acquit herself well, and was substituted by 60033/34 for the Interchanges.                                      Photo Courtesy: Lens of Sutton

70 years ago, a series of trials took place on the newly nationalised British railway network, to contrast and compare the best elements of the locomotive engineering design, and practice used by railways across Britain. Well, at least that was the plan.

The trials led, eventually to the new BR Standard steam locomotives, and covered espress passenger, mixed traffic and freight types, including a selection of some of the latest designs, WD ‘Austerity’ types, and some traditional designs.  The process was not particularly controversial, but new steam locomotives in the 1950s – especially as diesel and electric traction had already been established, and was developing rapidly.

Stanier 8F nearing Dalton in 2008

The LMS built this 2-8-0 in huge numbers – with over 600 in service by 1948. Many having been built by the other main line railway companies, Beyer Peacock and North British Loco. for war service at home and overseas. A natural choice perhaps for the 1948 trials.                                    Photo: RPB Collection

It may be that one of the main drivers was the ease of availability of coal as a fuel,where oil had to be imported, and the cost of electric traction’s infrastructure was expensive in the post-war economy of the UK.

Further reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed discussion of the trials:

Interchange Trials - cover

Useful Links:

National Archive – Report of the Locomotive Testing Committee

RM Web – The 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials – Discussions

1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials

BR’s First Year (The Spectator)

Loco Interchange Trials 1948 (Rly Mag)

A Postscript To Piggyback Freight

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The Piggyback Consortium proposal was tied to the ‘modernisation’ of the West Coast Main Line, and detailed in Railtrack’s proposal “A Railway for the Twenty First Century”, published in March 1995.

WCML Modernisation - cover

At the same time, the Government was busy preparing Railtrack for privatisation, and the Thrall Car Company were established in the old BR works at York – this is what they said in their brochure at the time:

Sadly, the BR works at York closed in 1996, but was re-opened in 1997, with Thrall Car Manufacturing Co.  The company had received an order from EWS for around £200 million to build 2,500 wagons, including steel coil carriers, coal hoppers, box and container flat wagons. Sadly, this was the only major order received at York, and Thrall’s successor – Trinity Industries – closed the plant in 2002, with the loss of 260 jobs.

Europspine 1?

In original guise, Thrall’s spine wagons were publicised like this.

Thrall and Babcock Rail’s lack of success with the spine wagon idea, was largely as a result of the lack of take up commercially of the piggyback innovation, for domestic and international services, along with unresolved national problems around transport policy, never fully resolved.

Babcock Rail Wagons

Built by Babcock Rail Rosyth, this image shows a standard road tanker mounted on one of the Babcock piggyback wagons. The lack of a national strategy for bulk transport of liquids, including foodstuffs dealt a mortal blow to this type of piggyback operation.

There was potential for this and other proposals, such as the pocket wagons, with successful trials run between Penrith and Cricklewood using the road tanker on a piggy back trailer, but the customer demand needed buy-in from more than one or two national organisations, and some “public monopolies” such as “Milk Marque” were fragmented, taking away those potentials.  Later still, other commercial interests died away, and despite the success of these ideas, from an engineering and operational trial perspective, it has simply melted away.

By 2017, a lot of changes had taken place, although investment in the routes has occurred in some places, it is by no means as comprehensive – or indeed integrated – as it was almost 20 years ago.   Network Rail published a “Freight Network Study”, in April 2017, though in short, for rail freight, we appear to be little further forward:

Freight Network Study Cover

The Thrall / Babcock Eurospine wagons were simply mothballed after 2002, and stored out of use at Carlisle, near the old Upperby Maintenance Depot, which itself was pulled down only a few years ago.

Eurospine - Phil Taylor Facebook Carlisle

The last days of Carlisle Upperby TMD shows the Eurospine wagons still hanging around – still a potential if only a commercial use could be found.                        Photo ©: Phil Taylor

 

 

Thrall Piggyback Wagon

Weeds growing over the bogie of a Thrall Eurospine wagon at what remained of Carlisle Upperby TMD back in 2012. Photo ©: Gordon Edgar

 

A Postscript to Piggyback_cover

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What Happened to Piggyback Freight?

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Almost 25 years ago I wrote a piece for a popular rail industry/enthusiast magazine about the exciting new developments in freight train technology, but sadly, the plan never came to fruition.

Here’s something of what I wrote back then:

“The past few years have seen some important changes in the way rail freight services are operated throughout Europe – changes which have not been implemented so rapidly or effectively in Britain. It is perhaps more than 30 years since radical changes were proposed and implemented on British Rail, in the aftermath of the Beeching Plan. In 1996, though, the introduction of the Babcock Rail/Thrall piggyback vehicles offers the scope to attract a wider range of freight traffics back to rail network.

Freight nowadays travels commonly in ISO containers, and despite Freightliner services, and fragmented developments of long haul freight, hundreds of articulated lorries are a common sight on Britain’s motorways, often carrying single containers. The more recent introduction of piggyback and swap body vehicles has improved the railway’s ability to attract traffic from the roads, but its adoption in the UK has been much slower than the rest of Europe. A particular example of the successful development of such intermodal services, are the trans-Alpine piggyback workings, where articulated lorries and their trailers have been a feature for some time. In the UK, a Piggyback Consortium was established a couple of years ago, largely inspired by Eurotunnel, and seeking ways to establish a corridor between the Channel Tunnel, Scotland and Ireland, using the West Coast Main Line.   A variety of other freight forwarders, joint ventures, and other business combinations have been set up in recent times, with a view to exploiting the through running offered following the completion of the tunnel.”

ewsBack in 1993, shortly after the privatisation of British Rail, the freight services operated by BR’s freight sectors were taken over by the American owned EWS Railway – or English, Welsh & Scottish if you prefer.  At that time, the physical infrastructure was owned by Railtrack, and neither of these “businesses” were a success, and yet the prospect of 1992’s “Big Bang” – the European single market appeared to open up possibilities.

Plans to implement the new, daily, piggyback rail service between London and Glasgow in the Spring of 1996 were advanced, and according to the “Piggyback Consortium”, with essential loading gauge changes over the route set to cost £70+ million.

The purpose of this innovation was to take much of the long haul “juggernaut” lorries off the UK roads, resulting in less environmental damage, to say nothing of the costs to repair and maintain motorways and trunk routes.   Road lorries were becoming heavier and heavier, from 38 tonnes, to 40 tonnes, and even 44 tonnes – but their use needed Government approval.

“The growth of intermodal activities throughout Europe was mirrored for a time in the UK, during the early 1990s, with such initiatives as ‘Charterail’, using Tiphook Rail’s “swing centre” vehicles, various swap body designs, and the the ‘Trailer Train’ projects. The demise of ‘Charterail’ in 1993 brought a premature pause, in the expansion of combined road and rail freight developments. Shortly after the demise of Charterail, Tiphook were keen to re-introduce their innovative vehicles, and attract road freight traffic, whilst Boalloy Industries resurrected the road-railer idea in 1993. The most recent development of this latter included the first use of ‘curtain sided’ trailers, with road and rail wheels, and variable design geometry of the body, to fit the British and European loading gauges.”

At the time, the UK Government seemed unable to come to a decision about permitting the use of lorries with these increased axle loads, and the delay in finalising a policy contributed to the demise of the piggyback proposal.

The cost of freight movement was also fairly high on the agenda at the time:

“In Britain, the cost of moving freight by road is enormous, and represents a cost (estimated in 1993, and published in the Financial Times in February) to the taxpayer of around £18 billion annually. Against this cost, the revenue from road freight for the Government is only £14 billion, representing an annual loss to UK, and cost to businesses of around £4 billion every year.”

That was 25 years ago – and whilst the DfT and ONS produce a pl;ethora of figures on goods moved, goods lifted, by mode and region, getting the same leve of detail on the cost of those movements is not as easy as it was a quarter of a century ago.  I’d love to publish both volumes carried and the cost today as a comparison, but the numbers are not readily available – just like train performance figures.

Unless of course you know different?

The rest of my original item is available below if you fancy a read:

Piggyback Feature Cover

Of course it’s different today isn’t it?

Interesting Links

The Independent

Railway Gazette

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InterCity Rail in Britain – A Landmark Paper – 25 Years On

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No, this is not about the integrated services across the UK today – since there is no InterCity Rail in 2018, but it is almost 25 years ago to the day, that Chris Green, Managing Director of BR’s InterCity sector gave a speech to the Royal Society on 23rd June 1993.

InterCity logoIn 1993 this was the sector of British Rail that received no subsidies from Government, but disappeared on the fragmentation of the rail industry that occurred following the implementation of the EU Directive for separation of operations from infrastructure. That the UK chose the worst possible way to achieve this, still causes repercussions today – and the apparent ‘infighting’ between Network Rail, Northern Rail, and Govia Thameslink, etc.

Chris green made an interesting statement in his early paragraphs in this speech:

“We should be clear from the beginning that it is now government policy to cease operating a national Intercity passenger network and to fragment the services into seven train companies from April 1994. A nationalised Railtrack organisation is being created to own and maintain railway infrastructure from 1994.”

That the plan was for 7 – yes, 7 – different train operators to run the services that were in the 1990 to 1994 period operated as a single entity seems in itself a rash policy.  Has it worked – either in terms of passenger receipts, economies driven through inter-company competition, providing new rolling stock and services?  Well the answer is mostly no, but it certainly added complexity to train travel on long distance services and connecting feeder/secondary lines.

Today there are actually 10, although some of these, such as West and East Midlands Trains, and Hull Trains operate more regional services, they do run over metals that were previously InterCity territory.  In 2018, 25 years after Chris Green’s Royal Society presentation, these are essentially where the services were divvied up between:

  1. Caledonian Sleeper
  2. Cross Country
  3. East Midlands Trains
  4. Great Western
  5. Hull Trains
  6. South Western Railway
  7. Transpennine Express
  8. Virgin Trains (East Coast)
  9. Virgin Trains (West Coast)
  10. West Midlands Trains

In that same paper, he (Chris Green) goes on to suggest that high-speed rail would have a good future, whoever the owner may be:

“This paper will argue that high speed rail services have a good future in the UK regardlessof ownership. This springs from the growing congestion in all other forms of transport and the benefits that rail offers for inter-urban journeys in the 150-300 mile zones.”

In 1993 when this speech and paper was delivered, the East Coast Main Line had only recently been completely electrified, the Channel Tunnel or HS1 was yet to appear, and the West Coast Main Line was scheduled for a major overhaul.  HSTs or InterCity 125s were running the principal services on the former GWR main line into South Wales and up to Birmingham, and locomotive hauled Mark III and IV stock was the order of the day.

gec076 copyAt the time, there was little by way of a concrete plan for future high-speed trains, but the paper presented highlighted some optimistic proposals for 250 km/hr running on major routes out of Kings Cross and Paddington.  This was alongside the belief that there would be through running between the Channel Tunnel and regional destinations like Manchester or Birmingham, whilst plans existed for an “InterCity 250” train.  This would operate on the straighter sections of existing main line out of Kings Cross and Paddington – alas it failed to materialise.

The recognition that it was possible to achieve performance improvements on existing tracks, brought back the tilting technoogy proposals from APT, which appeared almost a decade later in the shape of the “Pendolino”.   Was this just a watered down version of British Rail’s own “InterCity 225” train?

This idea of “faster on existing tracks” provided some interesting commentary too:

“It seems financially and environmentally unlikely that Britain will build a major new railway through its industrial heart. Were it to do so, it would undoubtedly connect Manchester, Birmingham, London and the Channel Tunnel with a 480km/h (300mph) high speed passenger link offering radical improvements in journey times such as Manchester-London in 1 1/2 hours. The London- Folkestone link is the only part which is likely to be built.”

Well that was an interesting prediction!  One of British Rail’s most senior personnel suggesting that a new railway through the industrial heart of England might not be built – 20+ years before the whole HS2 debates!  According to his understanding, it seems at that time at least, a new railway would need a minimum of 20 million passengers to justify its construction, using these examples of inter city journeys:

passengers

Elsewhere in the paper the number of cars and car journeys was addressed, alongside airport movements, with some interesting actual and estimated figures:

car ownership

From today’s figures from the ONS, cars on the road in 2000 was actually 24.4 million, and by 2010, had risen to 28.4 million, and last year 31.2 million.  So a couple of years to go, to achieve the estim,ates from 1991 – but not a bad effort.  As was recognised in this paper, the competition for passengers from road transport in particular was particularly strong.  The competition between the train operators in the 21st Century has made it much more difficult to achieve either economic, or environmentally sustainable transport.  Integration between the modes of land transport is unlikely to be achieved, whilst rail transport nationally, alongside regional bus services will continue to suffer without a much more radical approach in policy.

Chris Green’s conclusion in this paper/speech is published in full below.  It seems, especially considering the current rail chaos/crisis in the North, and recent franchising fiascos, let alone Heathrow, Britain is further from resolving these key rail transport issues than ever.

Conclusion

If you have access to this paper, it is well worth a read, if only to compare what might have been, with what we have today.

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BR’s Last Main Line Diesel Hydraulic Locomotives

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Just about 50 years ago, 43 of the 56 ill-fated diesel-hydraulic 0-6-0s built at Swindon Works were withdrawn, 3 more in February and March 1969, and the final 10 in May 1969.  These ‘Type 1’s were designated main line locomotives, intended primarily for shunting and trip freight work, initially in South and Mid-Wales, and later classified ’14’ in the TOPS renumbering scheme.

DimensionsAs the only B.R. Type 1 locomotives to have a hydraulic transmission, should they really have been built at all?

Preston_Riverside_-_D9537_and_D9539

Two class 14 diesel-hydraulics at Preston Riverside station in 2015. Green D9539 is based here on the Ribble Steam Railway by sand-coloured D9537 is making a visit from the East Lancashire Railway. (Photo Courtesy: Geof Sheppard) (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

They were intended to replace the 0-6-2 tank locomotives working the Welsh valleys lines, which from a freight traffic perspective served mainly the coal mines.  It was decided that these rigid frame Type 1 diesels would be better than the Type 2s, which were much more powerful.

Class 14 Running NUmbersSo, they were essentially BR Western Region’s answer to the ‘pick-up’ goods train, normally hauled by small tank engines.  Considering too that they were delivered after both Beeching 1 and around the time of Beeching 2 – for BR, this was clearly a mistake.

They survived to be taken over by the extensive industrial lines of the National Coal Board, and British Steel sites, which for the latter was mainly at Corby.  Here they went on for a fuurther 5 to 7 years or so, with a couple being sold abroad, and no less than 19 of the 56 being preserved at various locations.

They seem to have become the most common of preserved diesel locomotives – so ironic.

Preserved 14sFurther Reading

Clicking on the image below will take you to a more detailed review of the class.

Class 14 Cover shot

Further information and links

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The Northern Nightmare – An Insoluble Puzzle?

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Whatever you read in the media about railways in the north these days – whether it’s North West or North East, we see to have accepted that this was unforeseen, almost as if there was no plan.  Now it seems the timetable problems have created a political North West versus North East skirmish, between councillors in Newcastle and the Regional Director of Northern Rail.

6 months ago we heard very little about timetable problems, cancelled or massively delayed trains, nor did we hear too much about shortages of trained train crews, but at the same time Government was advertising the biggest investment since the 1800s.

Why?

Was it a lack of communication between train operating companies, the owners of the rolling stock, Network Rail’s project management of electrification schemes, and overly long contractor and supplier chains?

Mike Paterson, the regional director for Northern, admitted that some trains had been kept in the north-west to deal with the problems, which were worse in that region.

“Because of delays to the electrification of the Manchester to Preston (via Bolton) line, we had to re-plan those timetables at short notice and keep some diesel trains in the north-west to help deliver services to our customers on those lines affected by the delay,” he said.

Source: North West v. North East (Guardian)

In his statement above, Mr Paterson appears to suggest that the timetable re-plan was done at short notice – so was there no contingency plan to cope with a potential electrification delay?

Passengers in the North East have, like everyone else the right to complain when they are promised new trains in a great ‘modernisation plan’, and then get reconditioned trains instead.  A great many trains across the northern routes are more than 25 or 30 years old, with some – like the ‘Pacers’ – operating services for which they were never intended.  Are the reconditioned trains for the North East a ‘stop gap’ measure?  Still, they are ‘digitised’, as Northern Rail suggest:

“These will feature free wifi, plug sockets, automated customer information screens and new seating – and some will even have full climate control,” said a spokesperson. “Our refurbished trains will feel like new and customers will experience a level of comfort not seen before on Northern services in the region.”

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

I don’t believe – I guess like many others – that simply nationalising the services in the north will end the problem quickly.  Removing the franchise from Northern Rail and taking the routes and services into public ownership will still have those problems.  Let’s say there is a new Northwest Rail and Northeast Rail – they will still be hamstrung by the need to manage relationships with rolling stock operators, manufacturers and Network Rail.

The skills of timetable planning, arranging for assets to be in the right place at the right time to move people and goods, alongside upgrades to infrastructure, signalling and telecoms seem to be in short supply?  Or, is it a shortfall of project management skills, a lack of engineering skills and a reliance on short term contracts to do a job.

With so much of the franchised rail industry divided into so many different units, and in a small country like the UK, we have perhaps little hope of integrating land transport systems.  The idea that British Rail in the 1970s and 1980s was worse than this is laughable nowadays.

Ah well, HS2 will be here soon – or will it be cancelled or delayed!

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From Preston to Japan

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I watched a TV programme the other day about building nuclear submarines, and how the UK’s skills shortages had badly affected the availability of engineering skills in general.   It put me in mind of the reach of railway engineering skills and products from English Electric, and Preston in Lancashire.

Japan Electrified mapThis part of Britain was the birthplace and development of diesel and electric rail traction and a powerhouse of innovation and world leading development.  Against the background of the world’s economic depression in the late 1920s and 1930s, English Electric were successful in winning an order from Japan, for the Imperial Government Railways.

In fact, English Electric had supplied two sample locomotives in 1922, as Japan pressed ahead with electrification of suburban lines around Tokyo, and the main lines, which were electrified at 1500V d.c.  Japan had demonstrated a progressive attitude towards railway electrification, for both government and privately owned lines, which became national policy. In 1922,

These two locomotives were English Electric’s first orders from the far east.  The order was for two complete 1200hp Bo-Bo locomotives for the Tokyo Suburban lines, and were  dual voltage, for use on either 600V d.c, or 1200V d.c. systems. The order was placed by the Imperial Government Railways as work began on electrification of a stretch of the Tokaido Railway, covering some 590 kilometres, between Tokyo and Kobe.

gec061The dual voltage of 600V and 1200V d.c. was not the standard adopted for major electrification work, and Japan’s Railway Administration adopted 1500V d.c., as used on many railway main lines around the world. The plans for the Tokyo Railway included an overhead contact system, energised at 1500V d.c., and construction of the Tanna Tunnel, with which some difficulty was experienced. In 1923, progress with the project suffered a temporary setback in the Great Earthquake, which affected the whole area.

Following the successful trials of the ‘box cab’ Bo-Bo design, the company received an order for a further 26, box cab type locomotives, 9 for local passenger and 17 express freight locos. The only differences between the two types being the gear ratio of the final drive, and the brake gear.

Eight express passenger locomotives were also built by English Electric at Preston, of 1,836hp, and weighing 100 tons, sporting a 2-Co-Co-2 wheel arrangement, with leading and trailing bogies. Overall, the design was an extension of the Bo-Bo box cab types, but this time, equipped with six of the 305hp traction motors.

100 ton express passenger JapanGroup of express passenger locos JapanAn unusual incident befell these huge locomotives during their delivery in 1923. At the time of the Great Earthquake, in that year, the ship carrying the locomotives from Preston to Tokyo was in Tokyo Harbour, and unloading was in progress. Unfortunately the bogies (for the Bo-Bo locomotives) and the motors were on the wharf, with the superstructure and control gear on barges, which sank during the earthquake. The bogies and traction motors disappeared beneath the sea too, as the wharf on which they had been deposited also collapsed. Replacement locomotives were built, and subsequently shipped out successfully.

Tokyo depotThese early Japanese projects were very successful, and further orders were awarded to English Electric in the 1920s, in turn paving the way for ever more electrification work around the world, from Buenos Aires to Mumbai, and South Africa to Australia.  It is perhaps ironic that in 2017 and 2018, Japan is now exporting innovative electric traction back to Britain.

Japan is renowned for its high-speed “Shinkansen” trains, and Britain’s privatised train operating companies now operate trains built by Hitachi – equally as famous a name in engineering as English Electric.

Preston Works from EE Brochure

 

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