Last Days of the Big Four

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Back in the immediate post second world war period, the railways had been “nationalised’ for the duration of the war, and following the election of Clement Attlee’s Labour Government, they were keen to return to the pre 1939 arrangements.  The new government were clear that they were going to bring all of the LMS, LNER, GWR and Southern under a single umbrella, as a truly nationalised industry.  A national rail network and operating as a single entity.

The call for nationalisation went back to at least 30 years earlier, with the Geddes Report, and David Lloyd George – when Prime Minister in 1918 – told a TUC deputation at a Select Committee that he was “in complete sympathy” with the projects for railway and canal; nationalisation.  29 years later, one MP quoted the English philosopher John Stuart Mill in a debate:

Countries, which at a given moment are not masters of their transport, will be condemned to ruin in the economic struggles of the future.”

It seems the railway companies in the 1940s were not “in complete sympathy” with either Lloyd George or John Stuart Mill.  Mill’s maxim is as valid in 2022 as it was in 1947.

But …. Unsurprisingly, the shareholders and ‘investors’ in the previous separate businesses were going to publish an alternative view, where they would claim the ‘Big Four’ had plans for investment and development at all levels.  There are some examples that could rightly lay claim to being developed by the private companies – the early diesel, electric, and gas turbine locomotives.  At least in terms of main line locomotives these were more a case of the British companies playing catch up with railway systems elsewhere in the world.

Britain’s main source of fuel and energy was the huge coal resources that were still being mined, and the non-steam development was always going to be a difficult project, and even where oil burning was tried on steam traction, it was not a success.

The Big Four were clear about their opposition to nationalisation, and claimed in their publicity material, such as the booklet produced in 1946, that they had great plans, as well as laying claim to some dubious successes of the 1930s. 

Typical of their claims were these two statements:

The inter-war period was not an economic period they should have looked at to suggest some of their ‘developments’, characterised as it was by the ‘Great Depression’.  Many of the UK’s world-famous engineering companies were close to going bankrupt during this period, and examples such as the North British Loco Co survived by the skin of their teeth. 

The railway companies claimed that they had achieved this work during the period from 1928 to 1938 – it may be argued that some of it was achieved, but then the booklet was designed for marketing and a ploy to dissuade the supporters of nationalisation.

The world was changing rapidly, and the manufacturers and suppliers, as well as the railways were faced with major change.

These changes might not be so easily met by reverting to pre-war management and supply chain practices, and the haphazard developments in motive power and rolling stock.  The ‘Big Four’ were adamant that they were best placed to take the separate railway companies forward and provide the technological and operational developments needed.

They concluded the booklet with this statement:

But there were those in parliament who offered their different views, including those of railwaymen like Walter Monslow:

The full booklet can be downloaded here:

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Bavarian Pacifics & More

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Some years ago, whilst on holiday in Munich, we were walking through the Englischer Garten park in Munich – a huge open space in the city – and many years later I discovered that the area was the original home of the firm of J.A. Maffei, and built many 100s of steam locomotives.  From these works emerged a couple of well-known examples, such as the S 2/6 and S 3/6 designs for the Royal Bavarian State Railway.  The S 2/6 was the holder of the German speed record for steam traction – 154.5 km/h back in 1907, whilst a year later, the Class 3/6 arrived, two of which are preserved in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, and the Transport Museum in Nuremberg.

The unique Class 2/6 – a solitary example of a 4-4-4, and the predecessor of the Class 3/6 pacifics.
Alongside the S 3/6 pacifics, Maffei delivered a 4-6-0 version for passenger working between 1905 and 1907.

It was in 1908 that the firm of Maffei in Munich delivered its classic 4-cylinder compound pacific to the Royal Bavarian State Railways, with the class (S.3/6) numbering 145 in all by 1931.  These majestic locomotives were used on almost all of the principal services within and extending beyond Bavaria, they were indeed classic locomotives, undergoing a variety of minor design changes and mechanical improvements during their life.  In turn though they were the precursors of an equally successful simple expansion pacific, but with only two cylinders, one of which – No. 01 1104 was resident at “Steamtown”, Carnforth in England for a time, before returning to Germany.  This was originally DB Class “012″ 4-6-2 No. 012 104 which had been rebuilt with an all welded boiler and converted to oil burning.

Bavarian S 3/6 3634 in Munich’s Deutsches Museum – a classic early pacific, in the green livery of the Royal Bavarian Railways. Image: MPW57 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3618526

The design of their precursors, the S.3/6 compounds was developed by Anton Hammel, Maffei’s Chief designer and, in turn, their appearance owed a lot to the adoption/inclusion of aspects of North American design practices.  Amongst these newer features was the adoption of bar frames, with a long, wide firebox.  All four cylinders drove the second coupled axle, with the two inside, high-pressure cylinders, set at a slight inclination, with the two outside, low-pressure cylinders set horizontal.  The majority of these locomotives were equipped with 6ft 0ins coupled wheels, although 18 of their number, built in 1912-1913 were given 6ft 6ins coupled wheels.  Known as “die Hochbeingen” (the Longlegs), one of this class was rescued for preservation in the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  Maffei constructed 127 Class S.3/6, whilst Henschel of Kassel built 18 under licence.  They were both successful and long lived, with the last of the class being taken out of service in 1965 – 57 years after their arrival in July 1908.  This classic Central European style was built on by the following Class 01 pacifics, with another version, Class 03 built with a lighter axle loading constructed throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Captured on 11th September 1958, a Class 3/6 still hard at work. Image: Brooksbank – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38764145
A lovely shot of preserved S 3/6 No. 3673 on a steam special in May 2014. Image: HintenRum – Königlich Bayerische Staatseisenbahn (K.BAY.STS.B.), https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34211703

In 1920, some 11 years before construction of the S.3/6 4-cylinder compounds had ceased, Deutsche Reichsbahngesellschaft (DRG) was in need of a new express locomotive type, to meet the changing traffic demands.  It was in the position of needing to either continue building a proven design such as the Bavarian. S3/6 or the pr. S10 – or alternatively to decide on a new construction.

So, DRG decided to pursue a new approach, by adopting standardisation with the intention of reducing maintenance costs on passenger workings.  In essence this resulted in stocks of spares being held at various depots across the network, so that repairs could be undertaken swiftly, by swapping out the failed component, and the loco could then be put back into traffic.

One of the DRG’s Class 01, no. 01 118, captured at at the German Steam Locomotive Museum, Neuenmarkt, Bavaria, Germany in 2010. Image: Bermicourt – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10529575

This was essentially how the famous BR 01 and 02 Class of pacifics appeared – Germany’s first ‘standard’ design.  Initially 10 of the Class 01 were built, and 10 of the 02 series – the difference between the two was that the 01s were 2-cylinder simple expansion, whilst the 02s were 4-cylinder compounds.  The idea was then to compare the performances of each and decide which best suited DRG’s express passenger services going forward – controversially perhaps it was the simple expansion Class 01 design that proved the most effective overall.  The stated intention of standardisation was to reduce maintenance costs, and despite the fact that the 2-cylinder design was less powerful and less economical than the four-cylinder compounds, the 01 Class won the DRG’s support.

No fewer than 231 of these locomotives were built between 1926 and 1938, mainly by AEG and Borsig, but also from Henschel, Hohenzollern, Krupp and BMAG.   Although strictly speaking, after the initial order for 10, another 221 were ordered, and with the 10 Class 02 compounds converted to 2-cylinder simples between 1937 and 1942, a grand total of 241 of these express locomotives took to the rails. The first 01 to enter service was actually 01 008, and which is preserved today in the Bochum-Dahlhausen Railway Museum.

Their axle load of 20 tonnes (19.9 long tons) was slightly less than the later British Railways ‘Standard’ Class 7 “Britannia” Class pacifics built a quarter of a century later.  In Britain though the idea of standardisation was thought of in a different way and was driven by differences between the engineering designs and workshops of the former private railway companies.  In Britain the idea being to standardise on the optimum component design produced by the ‘Big Four’ companies, so that valve gear design was adapted from the former LNER, with the larger boiler designs from the LMS.

The Class 01’s axle load of 20 tonnes restricted its use on a number of routes, and this began in the 1930s, along tracks that had been upgraded to take this increased axle load, and in the area around Berlin this required bridge arch strengthening work.  Compared to the Bavarian Class 3/6, which had a 16.8 tonnes axle load, they were significantly heavier, and the first 90 engines were sent to home depots from Berlin in the Northeast, across to Essen in the West, Hamburg in the North, and to Nuremberg in the South.  Unsurprisingly perhaps, this initial deployment covered the industrial north, whilst later distributions took the class to Cologne, Frankfurt, and Dresden.

The 01s were also modified during the various batches of locomotives built, which included changes such as providing electric lighting for headlamps, instead of gas, increasing the bogie wheel diameter to 1,000mm to enable higher speed, and increasing the braking effort with additional brake shoes.  In addition, changes to boiler tubes, smoke deflector designs, and smokebox locking were included in the pre-war modifications.

This is a superb shot of a Class 01 on the turntable at Dresden’s Steam Loco Festival. The photo was taken from the Nossen Bridge overlooking the locomotive shed of the Dresden-Altstadt Railway Museum. Image: Bybbisch94-Christian Gebhardt – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39894093

The major changes, and rebuilding took place in the 1950s, which included such features as water pre-heating apparatus, yet another design of smoke deflector, and the inclusion of combustion chambers.  These were done as experiments on locos 01 042, 01 046, 01 112, 01 154 and 01 192.  Between 1957 and 1961, the then Deutsche Bundesbahn rebuilt 50 of the class with a new all-welded boiler, roller bearings, changes to the front end frames, cylinder blocks, amongst other modifications.  In the East, the Deutsche Reichsbahn in the workshops at Meiningen rebuilt another 35 of the class, also providing a new boiler, pitched higher, and fitted with a combustion chamber and preheater arrangement, along with a new cab and new smoke deflectors.

The class was retained in service in West Germany until 1973, and in East Germany until 1982, with numerous members of the class still operational as preserved examples, in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The 01s were a very successful design, and in 1988, the DB Transport Museum in Nuremburg obtained 01 150 for preservation in the national collection.  This locomotive was built by Henschel in 1935 and was still in service in the early 1970s, before being taken out of operation on November 13, 1973. 

It is beyond the scope of this brief look at a couple of classic German pacific types to provide more extensive detail – but we may return to the subject in a future post. 

https://www.dampflok.ch

https://dbmuseum.de/nuernberg/

https://www.oegeg.at

http://www.bayerisches-eisenbahnmuseum.de/index.php?lang=de

Videos Worth a Watch:

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English Electric – A Global Power

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English Electric was a world famous name in just about every aspect of electrical and many other areas of manufacturing industry – from power generation, to transport, aerospace and even computing. But in the railway industry they will forever be associated with the power equipment, and complete locomotives and multiple units running in just about every country on the planet.

It may or may not be true that “all roads lead to Rome” during the empire days, but the majority of ‘roads’ in electrical and especially railway engineering led to Preston and South Lancashire.

lf you want a locomotive for any track gauge, or you need a supersonic jet fighter, a washing machine or a fridge – the maker’s label could quite easily say “English Electric”.

During the 1920s and 1930s, there was considerable interest in the development of non-steam traction, and at the forefront of the latest electrification schemes, mostly it has to be said in former British colonies, and English Electric were out there designing, building, and supporting new technologies.

The company itself was formed in 1919, in the aftermath of the First World War, and the ‘home economy’ was in pretty poor shape, along with many other countries. In fact, Dick,Kerr & Co., Siemens Bros., Dynamo Works, and the Coventry Ordnance Works were merged with Willans & Robinson to form the English Electric Co. 

But, from their home base in Preston, the former Dick, Kerr works, the new English Electric Co. began delivering some world beating projects and deployed the latest technology. At the same time, they were focussed on developing that technology, whether for new lines, or new ideas – one of the the world’s unique railways – the Post Office Tube, an automated line was built in the 1920s. Numerous tramway and mass transit rolling stock, as well as equipments for the early electric locomotives came out of the Dick, Kerr shops. Later, the electrification works in Japan, Denmark, New Zealand and India all saw the arrival of the products of Preston, and its workshops.

Some images of early products of Dick, Kerr and English Electric for Venezuela, India and Morocco. Photos: RPB/GEC Traction Collection

Of course, these were early days, and neighbouring steam locomotive works – Vulcan Foundry – at Newton-le-Willows were busy diversifying too, with their partnership with A/S Frichs of Aarhus, Denmark as diesel traction began to attract the interest of railway companies. Vulcan Foundry would soon become part of the English Electric brand too, along with another steam locomotive builder – Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns, of Newcastle.

Steam railway technology may have begun in the North East, but the new technologies for non-steam power saw their genesis and power base in Lancashire – and soon English Electric builders’ plates would be everywhere from London and Liverpool to Tokyo.

The images above are linked to the original EE Co. material in PDF form, which I hope you enjoy.

The extent of English Electric’s engineering expertise and skills filled almost every aspect of engineering industry, from washing machines to computers and nuclear power stations, where Hinckley Point included turbines supplied by English Electric. Here are a few examples:

More to come, so watch this space.

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Class 58 – The Last Loco from Doncaster Works

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Perhaps not everyone’s favourite loco, but it was unique in a number of ways, and one of these was the fact that it was the last new locomotive type built at Doncaster Works, which in the early 1980s was part of the soon to be privatised BREL.  Its power unit built on the legacy of Ruston Paxman, English Electric and latterly GEC Diesels, which were built at the historic Vulcan Foundry in Newton-Le-Willows – that too was the victim of mass closures and the run-down of the railway industry in the 1980s.

The class 58 had a less than successful career in Britain, and was dispensed with in short order under EWS, and sadly for BREL no export orders were received. But …. It was exported on hire to the Netherlands, Spain and France, where in Spain and France it provided the motive power needed when the high-speed lines were being expanded in the early 2000s, before being returned to the UK, stored or scrapped.

The design and fabrication techniques employed were very much of the mass production line process and should perhaps have been more widely employed in the UK industry, but that was not to be, and it remains a final, and curious example of a good idea that was not fully exploited.  There are a number of the class in varying stages of restoration, and one is providing the base for the building of a replica of the first English Electric main line diesel, developed by the LMS and its CME H.G.Ivatt.  So the Class 58 legacy remains to be seen in service on specials, and in operation on heritage services.

This small offering is based on my invitation to the handover in December 1982 of the very first Class 58 at Doncaster, where I enjoyed a tour of the works, to see the processes in action, and the unveiling on a bright sunny day of 58001 outside the main office block.

Please click on the images below to read on –

Useful links:

http://www.c58lg.co.uk

Integrated Plan for Rail & Freight Capacity

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Much has been made in recent days over the cancellation of HS2, and the abandonment of Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the new Integrated Rail Plan has been greeted with considerable scepticism – in the north of England in particular. The CILT (Chartered Institute of Logistics) made some interesting observations about the impact, or affect it will have on the network’s freight capacity, and how that may change.

One intriguing observation about the ad-hoc upgrades outlined in this new plan drove me to look at some of the details. The CILT made this comment in their press release:

“CILT welcomes the creation of a new line from Warrington through Manchester to Marsden, with capacity for freight provided in the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade (TRU), but is seeking urgent confirmation that the freight element of TRU will include gauge clearance to the full ‘W12’ standard, not merely the much smaller ‘W8a’ gauge that has been proposed thus far.” 

This route follows the line on the Manchester side out from Piccadilly to Ardwick, then turns North-East towards Greenfield, Saddleworth and Diggle, and the Standedge Tunnels under the Pennines, before entering West Yorkshire and the once prosperous mill town of Marsden. According to the latest plan for improvements in the northern rail network this will replace the now cancelled eastern leg of a high-speed rail line. No mention of any extension from Marsden to Huddersfield, the nearby centre of this part of West Yorkshire.

Back in 2000, the plans now being outlined also appeared in the Railtrack Network Management Statement, so it seems this is not a new idea, and the plan was then to include the W10 loading gauge clearance across the route.

The upgrades proposed in the latest plan for a high-speed, increased capacity link across the Pennines on this route would run from Warrington to approximately where the B is on the top right of this extract from the route map in 2000.

Again, according to the CILT, the Trans Pennine Upgrade is vital from an environmental perspective:

“This is critical to reducing congestion on the M62 and M60 – for passenger traffic as well as freight – since up to 1000 HGV loads per day could be shifted onto rail, saving approximately 300,000 tonnes of C02 a year and freeing up the UK’s vital HGV driver resource for other journeys (the M62 is the third busiest road freight corridor in GB, with more than 7 million truck movements pa).”

Again – extracted from the 2000 Network Management Statement, and with planned completion target dates.

The map of routes on the rail network that were either being upgraded to meet the essential W10/12 gauge shows some interesting plans, but it seems that today’s “Integrated Plan for Rail” has a lot of work to be done on the details.

The routes in green had been completed, whilst the routes in blue were expected to be completed soon after 2014. The missing connections between east and west, from Manchester to Leeds and Sheffield are so obvious here.

One of the most telling comments made by the CILT is this:

Building a high-speed line to the East Midlands, upgrading of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and electrification of the Midland Main Line (MML) is welcome, but CILT believes inadequate provision for freight and logistics is made in the IRP and says urgent delivery of the following is needed:

    • Electrification of the key freight route from Peterborough to Doncaster via Lincoln, as this route provides the link from Felixstowe and London Gateway to businesses in Yorkshire and the North East, and there will very limited capacity for freight on the electrified 140mph ECML

    • Upgrading and electrification of the route from Northallerton to Teesside and Ferryhill (the Stillington route) to provide adequate capacity for freight to the North East and Scotland via the ECML

    • Electrification north from Corby to Doncaster and through the Hope Valley to complement electrification of the Midland Main Line from Kettering to Sheffield, which will enhance passenger services but do little or nothing for freight.

From the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, and for this particular route across the Pennines, this is what the Government say they will do:

“On Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), we will build a new high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire finishing east of the Standedge tunnels. In 2019, the Prime Minister promised to fund the Leeds-Manchester route of NPR. Of the three options for this section put forward by Transport for the North (TfN) at that time, we have chosen the first, a mix of newbuild line and upgrade via Huddersfield, and extended our commitment to Liverpool (giving 40 miles of new high speed line), and York. NPR trains will use fully electrified, expanded and upgraded conventional lines between Liverpool and Warrington, and from the east of Standedge tunnels to Leeds. Trains will run from Manchester to Leeds in 33 minutes, 22 minutes faster than now. We will also upgrade and electrify the line between Leeds and Bradford giving a non-stop journey time which could be as low as 12 minutes. We carefully examined the other options put forward by TfN, for full newbuild lines from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester and Bradford. They would have made Manchester- Leeds journeys only four minutes faster than the option we have chosen, and cost an extra £18 billion.”

On freight, as part of the TRU (Transpennine Route Upgrade), they are proposing upgrades to the section from Marsden into Huddersfield, after having built a new high-speed line from Warrington through the Standedge Tunnels to Marsden. So to suggest this is a major new proposal for this route is a misnomer, and only partially implements what was proposed 21 years ago. This is specifically what is written in the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands:

    • 40 miles of new build high speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Yorkshire (to the east of Standedge tunnels);

    • upgraded and electrified conventional line for the rest of the route;

    • significant improvements to the previous Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) plans between Manchester and Leeds, including electrification of the whole route, digital signalling throughout, significantly longer sections of three and four-tracking, and gauge upgrades to allow intermodal container freight services. This will now form the first phase of NPR;

Last but not least, the map below is worth comparing with the 2001 map and proposals, and shows that there are still gaps in the major freight artery across the Pennines. And, no amount of increased pathways, or digital jiggery pokery will resolve the problem if a freight service moves from high speed to conventional lines after leaving the Standedge Tunnels.

The rest of the detail in the Government’s plans is in the attached file – short on detail perhaps – just click on the image below:

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The UK’s Stations with the Most and Least Train Delays

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Back in the days of British Rail, train performance figures were routinely published by the central and regional transport committees, which included a range of voices on the panel, and was independent of the railway operator. The details provided in annual reports covered passenger operations, disabled passengers’ facilities, bus-rail interchanges, design of rolling stock, and major projects including electrification. Funding was also covered, and the gradual reduction in PSO grants to local authorities, which led to a further run down of services, was a key feature of the 1980s in particular.

From a press release provided by The Compensation Experts earlier this month (November), an interesting set of statistics was provided to illustrate which stations had the most delayed services – missed their arrival time, or beyond the 1 to 15 minute threshold, but not cancelled. In that release, they make this observation:

“Unsurprisingly, the worst UK station for delays and cancellations is in London. If you want a quick commute, you should aim to avoid using City Thameslink at all costs. On average, an absolutely staggering 67% of all trains that pass through City Thameslink are delayed between 4pm and 6pm, with 66% being delayed between 7am and 9am.”

To illustrate the point they include this table:

As I referred to in an earlier post, access to detailed information is difficult to come by, through “official” channels, and obvious sources such as Transport Focus, and the ORR web sites are long on rhetoric, but short on readily available data. On the Transport Focus home screen, you have to scroll to the very bottom of the page to find a link to the “Data Hub”, which then takes you to another page, strewn with icons and images of various transport modes – then you click on the “National Rail Passenger Survey” – which gets you this image:

Not much by way of useful information about train performance, and none about puncutality. Previously, reports would include charts about the percentage (%) of trains arriving on time, or within 5 minutes, and so on – but with this source you have to delve a further 3 or 4 pages into “Advanced Analysis”. Then you can generate a spreadsheet to provide details of punctuality.

BUT – it does not calculate that data, it simply describes whether passengers were satisfied or dissatisfied with their journey.

Not a very useful source then if you are looking for details about train arrivals on or behind time, as happened in British Rail days. So maybe I misunderstand what the purpose of “Transport Focus” is then? Seems to be measuring whether a passenger was happy or unhappy.

So, where to go next?

The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) perhaps.

This can be a useful source, and they publish a PDF file online at 3 monthly intervals, but an important point has to be how punctuality is defined and recorded. The ORR use a definition of on time as either arriving ahead of the booked time or less than one minute late, but there is another measure described as te Public Performance Measure (PPM), which is defined as trains arriving early or up to 10 minutes after the scheduled arrival time. This is also classed as a punctuality measure.

So, if you aggregate train services from all operating companies, and you measure their arrival as punctual, you could say that 98% of all trains were punctual if your definition was early or on time, and up to 15 minutes after timetabled arrival.

All the results aggregated by the ORR for on time, or 1 minute late arrivals are published as a chart, and the example below shows these punctuality figures for the past 8 years. If option (c) is selected – trains arriving up to 15 minutes late – unsurprisingly trains can be said to be 99% punctual.

Train punctuality was also measured as % of arriving right time, or up to 5 minutes late. These were also grouped as either express trains or other trains, and further subdivided by region (equivalent to train operator today. It is interesting to note that in 1981 BR Eastern, Scottish and Western Region express train punctuality was 81%, 82% and 74% respectively. For other trains (this would include commuter services), these same three regions recorded punctuality figures of 91%, 93%, and 92% arriving on time, or no more than 5 minutes late.

Before the pandemic, the same services, allowing for arrivals up to 3 minutes late, were roughly the same in 2018/19 as they were in 1981 – fascinating.

Train Performance – No Data Available

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Light Rail – 20 Year Look Back

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Back in 2001 I was compiling a status report of the Light Rail Projects and existing networks in operation, or under active construction around the UK. We had a busy programme, with 6 networks open and operational, and plans to build 3 more around Portsmouth, Leeds and Bristol being put forward, and the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) was being built. Of the existing systems, Croydon – or the London Tramlink as it is now called – and the Birmingham network had only been open a couple of years.

Nottingham Express Transit tram negotiating the esses past Shipstone Street playground, on its way to Shipstone Street tram stop Photo: Alan Murray-Rust, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67500108

There were other proposed systems being put forward, including Edinburgh, which did finally get completed, and a “revamped trolleybus scheme” for Liverpool and Merseyside – the “Mersey Tram” – another pie in the sky scheme. The new generation of light rail and tramway schemes were being scattered around the UK a bit like confetti 20 years ago, and included Hull, Bath and East Lancashire – at least that was what the Transport Secretary was reported as saying in Parliament in 2001.

The major projects actively operating or under construction, with a couple of exceptions, including those that were cancelled by the Department of Transport, included these:

Back in 2001 there were plans for expansion of the existing systems, with Manchester (3 new lines) and Birmingham (2 new lines) at the head of the list. It was clearly essential for the expanding connurbations of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, and they had already proved their value in passengers carried, and the associated revenue – the Midland Metro had seen a 25% increase in passengers carried in its first fully operational year.

Greater Manchester’s Metrolink tram number 3009A, in Salford Quays Photo: Tom Page – Flickr: IMG_0876.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16246122

Before looking back at where we were in 2001, it is worth noting that all of these networks were essentially built around a new concept of street running trams, and the UK was following the lead set in other European cities. With the exception perhaps of the Tyne & Wear Metro, the technology being used was new, and whilst the UK’s first new light rail system in Manchester was not exactly the low floor design seen elsewhere, it was a pioneer. The Tyne & Wear had been up and running since the late 1970s, and piggy backed on the readily available ‘heavy rail’ technology, including a 1500V d.c. overhead contact system, and conventional railway station platforms.

The other ‘metro systems’ that could be included would be the underground networks of London and Glasgow, and Blackpool’s century old tramway system. But, Light Rail was evolving down a different path, and in 1989, the industry was first fully showcased in the UK at Bristol, at the “Light Rail 89” exhibition and conference, opened by Mchael Portillo, who was then Transport Secretary. The industry was ambitious, and the outlook was poistive, and by the turn of the century, those 6 new systems were up and running – including the highly successful and automatic Docklands Light Railway.

Where are we today? These are the current Light Rail (LRT) systems in operation in the UK:

Only two new systems have been built and opened in the past 20 years – Edinburgh and Nottingham – so now we have 8 light rail systems, with the older networks continuing to expand.

Edinburgh Princes Street, with a backdrop of the Scott Monument and a glipmse of the outline of Edinburgh Castle in the background. Photo: Smiley.toerist – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47606320

Click on the image below to read about the systems and technology that was in place back in 2001.

Further reading …

South Eastern Nationalised

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NB: Heading image is class 375 at Ashford International in South Eastern livery on an empty stock working.  Photo: Joshua Brown https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18682620 

A report in the news today (Sunday 17th October) describes the failure of yet another Train Operating Company (TOC) as tie Government withdraws its franchise.

This system has never been a success in the UK, as the numerous and repeated TOC failures demonstrate. The fragmentation of a key national infrastructure in the manner it was sliced up in the 1990s was doomed to failure. Too much bureaucracy, red tape and subsidies to failing business models.

Is this latest failure of South Eastern the death knell for the “British model”? When will we see the whole infrastructure nationalised – or as some might suggest “owned in common”.

There is no future in the franchising model, the UK cannot keep sticking a plaster / band aid over this key transport mode. It is also perhaps behind the piecemeal – unsuccessful – approach to the inertia seen, or maybe not seen, fir the Northern Powerhouse Rail project.

Meanwhile public funding, technology, and innovation seem to be thrown at the HS2 line from London to Birmingham. No doubt that too will eventually be admitted into public ownership.

Related Posts:

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Logo Wars

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There was a report in “The Guardian” on 22nd September the Rail Delivery Group announced its plan to use the old British Rail double arrow logo in a new advertising campaign to encourage people to take the train. But it stirred some controversy – in a similar way to what happened in 1948, 56 and when the familiar double-arrow symbol appeared.

The Rail Delivery Group announced this on what was deemed “World Car Free Day”, in a perhaps laudable attempt to highlight the environmental benefits of rail transport.

As we know, the Rail Delivery Group was set up in 2011, and is effectively the equivalent of a trade body for the private train operating companies, together with state owned Network Rail, and it is a bit ironic that they are continuing to make use of the British Rail logo – a nationalised body. But, it is sad that the creator of the iconic logo thinks that its latest application is a step too far.

I have to agree, this change to 5 shades of green is far too complex, and largely misses the point of the logo – to provide a clearly recognisable brand for the railway. This is how the change was announced by the RDG:

National Rail ‘double arrow’ logo goes green in new campaign ahead of COP26

  • A single train removes up to 500 cars off our roads 
  • Every freight train removes on average 76 lorries from our roads 
  • Leaving your car at home and taking the train cuts carbon emissions by two thirds

An interesting observation from their press release stated:

“In a report published earlier this month, the Rail Delivery Group estimated that a 20% shift from rail to road would lead to an extra one million tonnes of CO2 emissions and 300 million hours stuck in traffic jams per year.”

If we take that as a positive outlook, is the problem “Crossrail” and the “HS2” project, neither of which will help the UK achieve its Government stated aim of “Zero Carbon emissions” by 2050 unless the plans to accelerate projects are delivered. HS2 for instance – according to the Public Accounts Committee report (HS2 Summer 2021) this summer suggested the section from London to Birmingham would be completed by 2025, but services would only be started around 2033.

Then of course there have been enormous cost overruns for both of these – neither of which will support a significant move from road to rail for freight services. Perhaps it would be better to provide improvements to existing rail route – freight does not demand such high speeds – in order to connect major goods distribution hubs and make better use of intermodal trains.

It is interesting that the Rail Delivery Group chose such a complex arrangement of various shades of green to emphasise rail transport’s green credentials – I’m not sure it’s going to cut any ice without more actions. It must have been a little embarrassing when the creator – Gerry Barney – of the original British Rail double arrow symbol was reported as making this observation:

“I think that’s rubbish,” he said. “I could understand it if they had just swapped red for green. But why on earth have they got that many colours? It’s a load of old bollocks. It’s just a mess.”

Of course, some of the earlier logos used by British Railways, and the later double-arrow symobol came in for their fair share of criticism.

The original British Rail logo created by Gerry Barney

I’m not sure that the use of green in this current guise actually does the job – it’s a bit like those social media posts that the younger generation use, adding dog or rabbit ears to a friend’s face.

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Northwest Steam Spot – The Crimson Ramblers

Standard

Preserved MR Compound No. 1000 piloting “Jubilee” “Leander” on a Cumbrian coast special to Sellafield, on the May Day Bank Holiday in 1980, passing Dalton Junction, to use the Barrow-in-Furness avoiding line.  Photo: Rodger Bradley

In 1948, there were still 40 of the original Midland Railway 3-cylinder compound locomotive design in service, but only one in the Northwest No. 41005 at Lancaster, with the reminder on the London Midland Region’s Midland lines. Of the LMS built engines, there were 69 at Northwest depots in 1950, and out of the total of 223 compounds in B.R. service, 161, or 72% were in London Midland stock. 62 locos. were at work in the Scottish Region, mostly in and around Carstairs, Ayr and Corkerhill, along with Carlisle Kingmoor.

One of the original Midland built compounds, seen here in early LMS livery, and by British Railways days, the engine was at Chester until its withdrawal.  Photo: Frank Dean/RPB Collection

Compound locomotives have not had a particularly happy history on Britain’s railways, but the design based on the Johnson-Smith-Deeley system were more successful than most. the first five locomotives were outshopped with only Saturated boilers from Derby Works in 1902/3, and even following Richard Deeley’s appointment in 1903, as CMEM of the Midland Rly., the compounds continued to be built in unsuperheated form. The original Midland engines were numbered 1000 – 1044, and from 1924 – 1927, and in 1932 (with some modifications), a further 195 were built as the standard express passenger power for the LMS.  These locos were numbered 900 – 939, and 1045 – 1199.

Although all 235 locos. were classed as 4P, there were significant mechanical differences that might logically have provided two classes. The basic layout involved two 21″ diameter low pressure cylinders, outside the frames, and a single 19″ diameter high pressure cylinder between, operated by Stephenson valve gear. The boiler was pressed to 200lbs/sq in, and in later Fowler built engines, a Schmidt type superheater was fitted. The original MR locomotives had 7’0″ coupled wheels, whilst the majority, and later LMS standard engines, were only 6’9″ diameter. This in turn, caused an increase in tractive effort from 21,840 lbs to 22,630 lbs, calculated at 80% of boiler pressure in the low-pressure cylinders.

Amongst the characteristic detail features of the compounds, more especially the LMS built locos perhaps, and rebuilds of the first Midland engines, included the straight sided Belpaire topped firebox, and cylindrical smokebox, with door fastened by six clamping dogs. The steam brakes operating cylinders were placed between the coupled wheels, and acted directly on the inner shoes, with a mechanical linkage to the outer shoes, giving a clasp type application of braking force. This was feature of the original series retained in later builds, with the operating arrangement of clasp type rigging used on most modern diesel and electric types.

The most obvious feature was of course the outside cylinders, with a long piston tail rod passing through the front end cover, over the leading bogie wheels. A curious feature of the cylinder layout, perhaps, was the use of slide valves to admit steam from the low pressure receiver to the low pressure cylinders, with a piston valve controlling the admission of high pressure steam to the high pressure cylinder steam chest.  A feature of the early locos. which was not continued, was the use of bogie brakes, and the rigging was removed from the engines it was originally attached to; an unnecessary complication tried on several loco. designs in the early years of the 20th Century.

Apart from the style of the chimney, dome and double buffer beam at the front end, typical Midland design was adopted in the construction of the cab, and straight sided six-wheeled tender. This was a Fowler design, based on Midland practice, carrying 3,500 gallons of water, 6 tons of coal, and provided with water pick-up gear.

A major difference between the LMS and Midland engines being that the original locos. were right hand drive GWR style! – the changeover to more conventional left hand drive was made on the 1924 series built by the LMS. With the exception of the coupled wheel diameter, all major external dimensions between the two versions were identical.

In British Railways days, the largest allocation of compounds in the Northwest was at Chester, where, in 1950, 13 were stabled, whilst Llandudno Jct. with 10 engines, was a close second. No less than 15 Northwest depots shared these 70 compounds, with the majority on the Manchester to Crewe, and Chester to Holyhead lines. The only representative of the original Midland Railway design was stabled at Lancaster, as B.R. No. 41005, and has some interesting points in its operational history. It was the first of the batch built by Richard Deeley, which covered locos. 41005 – 41044 and was rebuilt by Henry Fowler in 1932 with a superheated boiler, Ross ‘pop’ safety valves, and a typical Fowler steam dome which had a slightly flattened top.

One of Crewe North’s allocation seen here in early LMS days, was No. 1115, later renumbered 41115.  By 1954, the engine had been moved to Holyhead. 
Photo: Andy Dingley (scanner) – Scan from Allen, Cecil J. (1928) The Steel Highway, London: Longmans, Green & Co., pp. facing page. (II) 64, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10650082

By the mid 1950s, withdrawals had reduced the number of compounds in service to 56 (1954), out of a total on the London Midland Region of 131, just less than 43% of the total operating stock. However, by the end of the 50s, they had almost completely disappeared, with only 18 left at the beginning of 1959, and none of these was from the original Midland Railway build. Of course, by that time 41000 had been preserved at the Clapham Museum as No.1000, in fully lined LMS crimson lake livery.

Speaking of this, it remains a curious fact that although classified as a passenger type, they never appeared in British Railways lined green, which could have been an attractive scheme.

Instead, like some of the passenger tanks, and the ‘Black Fives’, they appeared in mixed traffic lined black colours, with the early British Railways lion and wheel emblem/totem in the middle of the tender sides.  As far as I know, none of the compounds received the later style of crest, which appeared from 1956 onwards.

Allocations

Notes

No allocations for 1964, since no compounds were then in service. Of the 75 remaining on the London Midland Region in 1954, almost one third were at work in the Birmingham area, with the remainder on the St Pancras to Manchester line, and a few in and around Leeds.

oOo-