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  • The North British Locomotive Company by Colin Alexander

    Urie's London & South Western Railway Class N15 express 4-6-0 was perpetuated by the Southern Railway after the Grouping. (Author's collection, The North British Locomotive Company, Amberley Publishing)

    In July 1980, aged 16, during a family holiday in the Cotswolds I made the pilgrimage to South Wales and the legendary Woodham’s scrapyard on Barry Island. As well as wishing to photograph the rusting hulks of over a hundred ex-British Railways steam locomotives which had languished there since the 1960s, there were two other items of interest that I was keen to see. They were the last two remaining ex-BR main line diesel locomotives built at the North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow.

    One was D601, once the pride of BR Western Region, and previously carrying the name ARK ROYAL. She was one of five 2000hp ‘Warship’ class diesel-hydraulics ordered as part of BR’s Pilot Scheme. Delivered in 1958 she and her sisters would last in service only until 1967, when withdrawn due to their non-standard status. They had never been the most reliable locomotives and after initial use on glamorous services like the ‘Cornish Riviera Express’ they were quickly demoted to secondary duties. Upon withdrawal, D602-D604, named BULLDOG, CONQUEST and COSSACK respectively, were quietly cut up at Cashmore’s scrapyard in Newport. D600 ACTIVE and D601 however made it to Barry.

    Of almost 300 BR locomotives consigned to the legendary Dai Woodham's scrapyard at Barry in South Wales, only one was an ex-LNER engine. Thompson Class BI 4-6-0 No. 61264 arrived there after departmental service and was fortunate enough to be one of the 213 locomotives to be rescued from Barry for preservation. (Author's collection, The North British Locomotive Company, Amberley Publishing)

    Dai Woodham famously tried to avoid cutting up locomotives, as he knew that the preservation movement would salvage most of them for posterity so as much as possible his workers concentrated on cutting up redundant mineral wagons and the like. Indeed all but two of the steam locomotives I saw that July 1980 day would escape to preservation, and many have since steamed.

    ACTIVE, proudly wearing the new BR Blue livery she wore in service for a few short months was dispatched after a few years in the open air of Barry Island but ARK ROYAL hung on until 1980.

    Meanwhile back in the 1950s, North British had also built a much more numerous class of fifty-eight diesel-electric locomotives numbered D6100 and D6157. They were of 1100hp and found work on the Eastern and Scottish Regions, although before long all were concentrated north of the border.

    They were just as unreliable as their illustrious named Warship cousins and despite twenty of them being re-engined to extend their lives, all were gone by 1972. All that is except for D6122. Following withdrawal in Scotland she found herself dumped at Hither Green in Kent and there she suffered the indignity of being used for re-railing practice. She ended up at Barry with D600 and D601 and like ARK ROYAL she lasted there until 1980.

    A rare NBL diesel success came with the 3 ft 6 in. gauge diesel-hydraulic 0-8-0 for East African Railways & Harbours. (Author's collection, The North British Locomotive Company, Amberley Publishing)

    Unfortunately for me, when I got there, the cutters had beaten me to it and all I could find was one solitary rusty NBL/MAN diesel engine on the ground. It could have been D6122’s or it could have been one of the pair of identical units from D601. I will never know. I had missed them by a matter of weeks. There ended the story of BR’s NBL main line diesels.

    NBL was formed in 1903 by the merger of three established Victorian Scottish locomotive manufacturers, and it became the largest such concern outside of the USA. It gained an excellent reputation through the export of countless dependable locomotives all over the world and for many domestic railway companies. That reputation was shattered when NBL’s BR diesels began to fail and the company closed down due to the cost of repairing its errant products under warranty.

    Many North British steam locomotives survive globally as a living testimony to the company’s success and influence, but the burgeoning diesel preservation movement in the UK came too late to save D601 and D6122, just as I arrived too late to take their photographs.

    Read more about the North British Locomotive Company story in my new book The North British Locomotive Company, published in May 2018. You can still purchase a copy of my other book The British Railways Pilot Scheme Diesel Locomotives. Proceeds from sales of this title contribute directly to two related heritage diesel projects. They are the restoration of a true diesel ‘dinosaur’, the unique surviving Metropolitan Vickers Co-Bo D5705 at the East Lancashire Railway; and the recreation of another extinct class, a Napier Deltic engined English Electric Type 2, being built by the Baby Deltic Project at Barrow Hill Roundhouse.

    Colin Alexander's new book The North British Locomotive Company is available for purchase now.

  • Merseyside Traction by Doug Birmingham

    On 15 March 2017, at a rarely photographed location, Rail Operations Group, Class 47, No 47815 arrives at Edge Hill Wapping with 5V67 12.17hrs Allerton Depot to Long Marston empty coach stock move. The train consisted of two Class 319 EMU’s No’s 319218 and 219 which were being returned to storage pending possible further use. This image was originally considered for the front cover of the book before the present cover was selected. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I think most people during their lives have wishes, some would call it a bucket list but more often than not they remain just dreams. Occasionally some dreams do happen which fortunately for me some on my bucket list have actually come true, mainly by good fortune rather than preplanned. One of my wishes, has been to publish a book with a selection of my railway images, but approaching any publisher with such a proposal has always been put on the back burner. Consequently, as the years go by, it has remained just a dream. By sheer coincidence and out of the blue on my birthday in 2017, Connor Stait on behalf of Amberley Publishing emailed me asking would I be interested in compiling a book, entitled ‘Merseyside Traction’. At first, I thought this may be a little wind up but in reality it was not, as Connor had viewed my 8A Rail Flickr photographic site and thought I would be the ideal person to compile such a book.

    Connor had agreed that it was up to myself what the contents would be as long it was related to Merseyside. In due course, the formalities were agreed upon, along with providing two previous published book examples to give myself an idea what the layout and format of the book should look like. On viewing these book examples, I knew that I could complete the project given a little time with the brief of a maximum of 180 images and 10,000 words, along with the front and back cover images too. I also had to consider that other authors had published books on a variety of rail related subjects linked to Merseyside, some whose knowledge and experience I would acknowledge well beyond my own.

    Now the hard work began with a completion date set for December 2017. I had to choose the images first and foremost. That was not an easy task, as I have been photographing trains in Merseyside since 1980 with a total of images taken running into five figures! This figure did not include other images I have taken around the UK, let alone the thousands I have taken of preserved steam too. Clearly I had to decide a time spam to cover, as realistically it would take more than one book to cover almost 40 years to give the locality some justice. Having decided to cover a 20 year period from 1998 to 2017 rather than say the last 10 years as example, I wanted to include the variety of motive power and liveries that had operated in Merseyside during that time, as well as the variety of photographic locations too.  Basically I needed to make the book as interesting as possible to attract wide attention as Merseyside is not exactly known as a mecca of railways within the United Kingdom. However, I knew different and maybe this was an opportunity to prove otherwise?

     

    Another image that did not quite make the final cut but still provides a good representation of the contents of the book is GBRf Class 59, No 59003 working 6F27 12.47hrs Liverpool Biomass Terminal to Tuebrook Sidings Biomass were the Class 59 will detach before heading to Drax AES Power Station behind a single Class 66 locomotive. It is seen here on a nice autumn day approaching Edge Lane Junction on the Bootle Branch line. 29 October 2015. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the hard work was only just about to begin with the process of selecting images for the book given the thousands of images to choose from! Why I selected the last 20 years was an easy decision as one of the images I wanted to show, was the last occasion a ‘Peak’ class locomotive hauled a Freightliner train in May 1999 and I was one of the few to record the working(s). I had also established early on, that over that period of time, numerous different locomotive classes had appeared in the area, not forgetting the variety of multiple units along with all the different liveries too. However, what I needed to avoid was the repetition of the ‘much loved’ EMD Class 66’s as that alone would be prevent people looking at the book let alone purchasing one! So a balance had to be met in order to make a fair representation of the motive power operated in Merseyside. Also during the 20 year period I had chosen, many locations and lines had changed, especially with regards to the railway infrastructure, basically out with the old, in with the new. Non-more so than the Liverpool & Manchester line with the introduction (and long over-due) of the overhead electrification. In consequence this allowed me the opportunity of one or two before and after images to be presented in the book.

    While compiling the images for the book, it was only then I realised the extent of the actual Merseyside county boundaries, where I thought a couple of locations were in Cheshire, were actually in Merseyside. However, I also then noted that the ‘Merseytravel’ transport boundary did actually go beyond the county boundary which gave me good reason to include, for example, Rainford which is in Lancashire. I had also noted at least twenty-six locomotive classes had been recorded as well as the appearance of twenty-two classes of multiple units most of which are regular visitors to the area. Merseyside is currently regularly served by seven Train Operating Companies, including Arriva Wales, Arriva North, East Midlands Trains, London Midland (now LNWr), Merseyrail, Trans Pennine Express and Virgin Trains with three Freight Operating Companies operating daily in and out of the area including DB Cargo, Freightliner and GBRF. However, Colas, Direct Rail Services, Network Rail, Rail Operations Group, and West Coast Railways do pass through the area too. So there is much variety to be recorded and that does not include the amount of liveries that have appeared too. It would also beg the question, how many areas around the UK actually provide such variety too? Not many I imagine!

    Passing the closed but now preserved Rainhill Signal Box on the Liverpool and Manchester line, Direct Rail Services Class 37, No 37194 with sister locomotive No 37667 on the rear hauling 1Q14 08.52hrs Derby RTC to Crewe 'Network Rail’ Measurement train. Since this image was taken, this line has now been fully electrified. 17 September 2012. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    In selecting the 185 images which took me 3 months to complete and no easy task either (not including the captions), I then realised how many images that were excluded rather those included, that gave me the feeling that this project had only just began. This is also not forgetting the numerous images taken from 1980 to 1998 which could produce another book or two also? However, I need to wait to see how ‘Merseyside Traction’ is received first and foremost, along with the sales too! Added to this is the thousands of other railway images I’ve taken around the UK including preserved steam, which makes me wonder are there other book projects could be in the offering especially as I enjoyed putting ‘Merseyside Traction’ (Part One??) together.

    Finally, I must thank Connor Stait, Commissioning Editor for considering me for this project and hopefully his faith is rewarded in due course. I also wish to sincerely thank various staff at Amberley Publishing for their time, patience and support. Also to Gordon Edgar whose words of wisdom and encouragement were much appreciated. Now it remains to see how the book is received and hopefully it becomes a popular book, but more importantly, I have done my local area proud? Fingers Cross.

    Doug Birmingham's new book Merseyside Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Anglo-Scottish Sleepers by David Meara

    The Northbound London-Fort William Sleeper approaching the Cruach Snowshed between Rannoch and Corrour stations on the morning of 7 January 2010, running an hour late due to iced points. (Norman McNab, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    Paul Theroux’s amusing quotation, from his book The Great Railway Bazaar, sums up the sense of anticipation that a long railway journey encourages. I remember very well that sense of excitement when as a twelve year old boy I boarded the Royal Highlander at Euston Station to travel north to Inverness at the beginning of our summer holidays. It is an excitement that I was keen to recapture when I began writing my book on the Anglo-Scottish sleeper trains about two years ago. I knew that Serco, the new operator of the Caledonian Sleeper, was committed to improving the service, and together with the Scottish Government were investing £100 million into an enhanced experience and brand new rolling stock, and it occurred to me that no attractive and accessible history of the sleeper service existed. Having spotted a gap in the market I decided to do some research and see what I could find.

     

     

    Sleeping cars waiting for their passengers on Platform 1 at Euston station. (Author's Collection, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    The National Railway Museum was my first port of call, as they hold a big archive of books, leaflets and posters, of all of which I made good use of. Much of the detailed history is to be found in specialist railway magazines and books on the rolling stock of the individual railway companies that existed before nationalisation. There are also a few preserved sleeper carriages, both at the National Railway Museum and elsewhere. I wanted to write a social, rather than a technical history, and the atmosphere and style of the heyday of sleeper travel is best captured in period photographs and the wonderful posters which the ‘Big Four’ companies commissioned, often from well-known artists, to advertise and promote their services. The National Railway Museum holds a comprehensive collection of railway posters, and thanks to the help of Philip I have made good use of these in my book.

    I also wanted to describe travelling on each of the Highland Sleeper routes, to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen. So I booked myself onto the sleeper and did a round trip, travelling north to Aberdeen, across by train to Inverness, and on by bus to Fort William, from where I took the southbound sleeper back to London Euston. There is nothing on our railway network quite like settling into the sleeper lounge car, with a glass of malt whisky beside you, haggis, neeps and tatties being prepared in the galley, and the glorious expanse of Rannoch Moor unfolding before you in the evening sunshine.

    The northbound London to Fort William Sleeper passing through the remote Gorton loop on 1 May 2015 at 8.28 a.m., pulled by a Class 67 locomotive, Cairn Gorm, in the new Serco Midnight Teal livery. (Norman McNab, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    But one element was missing, and that was a selection of stories from the many thousands of people who have used the sleeper over the years. Their experiences would bring a book like this to life as well as providing valuable insights into the experience of the sleeper operation.  Happily a letter to ‘The Times’ helped to solve that problem, and thanks to a friendly ‘Times’ columnist I was inundated with all kinds of stories and anecdotes, funny, saucy, romantic and peculiar, which brings the story of the Anglo-Scottish Sleeper service to life, and reveal the great affection people have for the service.  From being the exclusive preserve of the grouse shooting gentry it has evolved over the years into a wonderfully democratic community of travellers, from business people to backpackers, and just occasionally the sportsman off to his Highland estate to escape the rigours of City life. The lounge car remains the social centre of the train, and has been the setting for many convivial gatherings, late night conversations, even an impromptu ceilidh or two. Hopefully the impressive improvements which Serco are introducing will not spoil this special feeling of being both on a working train and on a journey with a real sense of occasion and excitement about it.

    David Meara's new book Anglo-Scottish Sleepers is available for purchase now.

  • East Anglian Traction by John Jackson

    Lowestoft has also enjoyed its fair share of locomotive-hauled passenger services in 2017. On 20 July, No. 68005 Defiant sits at the buffer stops having arrived with the 12.05 departure of Norwich. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    My wife, Jenny, and I have been privileged to have travelled to many far-flung corners of the world. Yet it was Amberley Publishing who coaxed me to come out of copy writing ‘retirement’ to produce a range of railway titles on subjects much closer to home. Nothing could evoke stronger memories of my lifelong love affair with this country’s railways than writing ‘East Anglian Traction’.

    Although I was born and brought up in Northampton, it was the trips back to my parental roots that sparked this railway enthusiasm that was to last a lifetime. You see, both my parents, and several generations before them, came from a little corner of Essex, close to the Suffolk border.

    For many years our family made use of the long-closed station at Haverhill in order to return to our family roots. The railway line may have closed half a century ago but the memories of family outings around East Anglia by train will remain with me forever. Sadly, I did not possess a camera in those days – and, hence, have no photos of steam hauled passenger trains on the area’s branch lines. Despite the traction change from steam to diesel multiple units, the axe fell on this Stour Valley line in March 1967.

    The Freightliner stabling point at Ipswich still receives its fuel by rail. The tanks are worked to Ipswich from Lindsey on Humberside. On 5 October 2015, No. 66556 is seen shunting a short rake of fuel tanks at the stabling point. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    It is ironic that it has taken half a century for the politicians and decision makers in this country to realise that there is a demand for connections that are east to west. Historically, those lines from north to south (i.e. to and from London) have seemed to be the priority. I say, bring on the East West Rail Link ASAP. This should see the reinstatement of direct services between our two major university cities of Cambridge and Oxford.

    Meanwhile, I have spent those intervening fifty years travelling the railway lines of East Anglia that have survived. What’s more, in recent years, my wife persuaded me to make sure that my camera is our constant companion. The photographic fruits of these extensive travels have been on display on the internet for many years now.

    That said, Amberley coaxing me to produce a modern record of East Anglian Traction has been one of my most enjoyable projects.

    At the opposite end of the traction spectrum can be found a small fleet of GA's one, two or three-car diesel multiple units. These can be found across the region's non-electrified lines. A typical East Anglian scene on 4 May 2014 sees a single-car unit, No. 153309, calling at Hoveton & Wroxham while working a Sheringham to Norwich local service. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

    You see, for me the region is an area of railway contrasts and setting foot on today’s platforms at many stations in East Anglia is like stepping back in time by a couple of generations. If those who run today’s railway are to be believed, much change is, however, in the offing. There is a promise by today’s passenger operator of the areas franchise that virtually all its rolling stock will be replaced in the next few years. We shall see.

    As I write this, the last remaining semaphore signals in the Yarmouth and Lowestoft areas are being replaced.

    Meantime, we have enjoyed our adventures in this lovely part of the world. Our aim was to compile a record of rail operations in the area in the second decade of the 21st century – before future changes are delivered and the railway we know today is consigned to history.

    It just remains for me to say thank you to Amberley for giving me the opportunity to once again re-visit my roots. I also hope that the reader gleans a sense of my enthusiasm and enjoys browsing the books pages.

    John Jackson's new book East Anglian Traction is available for purchase now.

  • The Early Railways of Leeds by Anthony Dawson

    Scale drawing of Salamanca - note the wooden silencer atop the boiler and the feed-water tank at the front end. (The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    The City of Leeds (and surrounding area) has a long and fascinating railway history, including the first public railway (the Lake Lock Rail Road of 1796 near Wakefield) and perhaps the earliest Railway viaduct, built near Flockton in 1758. Indeed, Leeds was once home to the highest concentration of locomotive builders in England; famous names such as Kitson, Manning Wardle, Fowler, Hunslet, Robert Hudson, Hudswell Clarke all had their works here. It was also in Leeds that Lion – aka Titfield Thunderbolt – was built in 1838, in the ground floor of a converted mill in Hunslet by Todd, Kitson & Laird.

    Leeds has three internationally important claims on railway history, thanks to the pioneering Middleton Railway.

    It was here that in 1758 that Charles Brandling obtained the first Act of Parliament for a railway. Brandling, owner of the Middleton Estate and its collieries, ordered to secure various wayleaves and legal agreements for his embryonic Middleton Railway which was to carry his coals from his pits to staithes on the River Aire near Leeds Bridge. This was the result of ‘cut throat’ competition between the three major colliery owners in Leeds: Brandling (Middleton), William Fenton (Rothwell) and Joshua Wilkes (Beeston), with each trying to undercut the other as to the price of coal in Leeds. Brandling’s Act of 1758 stated he would supply coal at 4¾d per corf (a corf being an old measure of coal, approximately 210lbs) for a period of sixty years – the best his rival Fenton could do was 6d per corf for a period seventy years. Under his Act, Brandling was to supply no less than 22,500 tons of coal per year and the first waggon load of coals was brought down the Middleton Railway in September 1758; the local Press referring to the railway as being ‘of such general Utility … beneficial to every Individual within this Town.’

    Leeds Hunslet Lane in LMS days. (David Joy Collection, The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    But the story of the Middleton ‘firsts’ does not end there: in 1808 the Brandlings appointed John Blenkinsop as their manager at Middleton, and around 1810 he experimented with a low-pressure condensing single-cylinder steam locomotive but it was not a conspicuous success. In 1811, believing plain iron wheels on iron rails would not have sufficient adhesion for a locomotive to be able to move itself he took out a patent for a rack-and-pinion system of railway and in the following year introduced the world’s first commercially successful steam locomotive. These two engines had been built by Matthew Murray of the Round Foundry in Leeds and were named Prince Regent and Salamanca. The pair started work in June 1812, one of them hauling the first train load of coals from Middleton pits to Leeds in twenty-three minutes. Two more locomotives were built for the Middleton Railway, attracting international interests with visitors from France (Monsieur Andrieux), Prussia (Dr S. H. Spiker, Librarian to the King of Prussia), and even the future Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who travelled to Leeds to carry out an inspection. Blenkinsop’s engines – despite two of them blowing up – remained in use for nearly twenty years.

    No. 2593, a Midland Railway Class 2 4-4-0, prepares to depart Leeds Wellington, c. 1910. (The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    Not only was the Middleton the first railway to be built under an Act of Parliament and the first to commercially use steam traction, it was also the first standard-gauge railway to be preserved. The Middleton had been nationalised in 1947 as part of the National Coal Board, but despite it being the railway’s bicentenary year, the NCB announced it would be going over to road haulage in February 1958. Although the future seemed bleak for the little railway, a special train was organised in June, carrying 300 passengers on a bicentenary trip in cleaned up coal wagons. But, by August 1959 coal was leaving the Middleton pits by road, and by 1967 the coal traffic over the line had all but dried up. This is where the enterprising students of the Leeds University Union Railway Society became involved. Under the leadership of Dr Fred Youell, the society had the idea of acquiring a short stretch of railway line as a museum on which to display preserved artefacts, and the Middleton Railway was suggested – but the Leeds University Union had other ideas and did not approve of one of its societies running a railway. Thus in December 1959 the LUURS formed the Middleton Railway Preservation Society, and entered into negotiations for the use of the line. During Rag Week 1960 it operated its first train, comprising of a Swansea & Mumbles tramcar hauled by a Hunslet Diesel and driven by Dr Youell wearing Leeds Academic Regalia. During the week over 7,000 passengers were carried, and what had started as a [temporary] passenger service gave rise to another, even more radical idea: why not run a goods service? And so it was that a group of volunteer railwaymen commenced running a commercial goods train in September 1960, carrying scrap metal, thus becoming the first standard-gauge railway in the world to be preserved and run by volunteers.

    Although mainline steam in Leeds ended in 1968 – Leeds Central and Leeds Wellington stations had closed 1966-1967 – and the last steam locomotive for industry was turned out from Hunslet’s Jack Lane works in 1971 for export to Indonesia, steam still survives in Leeds where it began in 1812. For over fifty years the preserved Middleton Railway has carried happy passengers from its Moor Road terminus to Middleton Park and is home to a flourishing collection of locomotives which once bore ‘Leeds’ on their works plates.

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Early Railways of Leeds is avialable for purchase now.

  • The Seventies Railway by Greg Morse

    A Class 46 on a 'parcels' in 1975, by which time Post Office traffic had dropped from its peak. (c. Colour-Rail, The Seventies Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    My earliest memory of the real railway is of the prototype High Speed Train plunging under a bridge near my Swindon home, but I got a much better look later in 1975 when a certain D1023 brought a long (long!) freight to a stand at the station while I was there with my Mum and Dad.

    I was completely rapt by the locomotive, which was long, blue and sleek, which seemed to block out the sky.  Though I was yet to start taking numbers, I did notice a long, black nameplate on the side. It said Western Fusilier.  I had no idea what a fusilier was, of course, but I knew I liked the word.

    All-too-soon the signal went green, the right of way was received and the big beast growled and moved forward. Before I knew it, the brake van's oil lamp was twinkling in the moonlight and it was gone.

    The end is nigh as Class 52s D1013 Western Ranger and D1023 Western Fusilier bring the 'Western Tribute' railtour into Bristol Temple Meads on 26 February 1977. (c. Rail Photoprints, The Seventies Railway, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    I only saw one more ‘Western’ – though I didn’t know it – for I was witnessing an end and not a beginning. Anyone older (and wiser) than me would probably have been chasing the class on railtours like the ‘Westerns South Western’, ‘Western Talisman’ or ‘Western China Clay’, or making pilgrimages to the Graveyard – the Graveyard of the Diesels at Swindon Works, where many withdrawn examples sat forlorn, their fading paintwork peeling slowly in the sun.

    The writing had been on the wall not long after they’d started entering traffic in 1961, BR deeming their hydraulic transmission systems non-standard just four years later. Though the ‘Westerns’ and some of their five counterparts had been largely successful, all British Rail’s other regions were equipped to maintain diesel-electrics, which were also cheaper to build and maintain. Withdrawals were such that by April 1975, the ‘Westerns’ were the only type left in service. As they lacked the room to house the electric train heating equipment required by BR’s newer carriages, and as more of their work was taken (first by Class 50s usurped from Anglo-Scottish services by electrification, then by brand-new HST), their numbers ebbed and ebbed to the point that by February 1977 it was almost all over.

    It's around 21.15 on 26 February 1977, and with the suitably adorned D1023 now leading, the 'Western Tribute' tour prepares to leave Taunton for the final run back to Paddington. (c. Rail Photoprints, The Seventies Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Imagine it’s Saturday 26 February, it’s half-eight, it’s sunny, it’s cold and you’re at Paddington for BR’s ‘Western Tribute’ tour. The action’s all on Platform 2, where a phalanx of spotters, rail fans and enthusiasts vie for a view of Westerns Ranger and Fusilier at the country end. Cameras click, microphones rise, rubbings are taken – you’d think the nameplates were seventeenth-century church brasses.

    Departure comes with an almighty roar, as the mighty duo draw the train over the points and on towards Westbourne Park. By the time they return – having taken in Swindon, Bristol, Bridgend, Swansea, Plymouth, Taunton and Reading – it will be twenty-to-midnight. Fusilier will return to its birthplace to be preserved for the nation; Ranger will make for Plymouth Laira, where it’ll shunt a few wagons on the Monday morning, before towing the ‘Tribute’s’ two understudies – Campaigner and Lady – to Newton Abbot. When the driver powers down, takes out the master key and climbs from the cab, that’ll be it…Ranger will range on BR no more.

    The End was covered on the local television news, it was covered in The Guardian too. No one had shed many tears when BR’s early diesel failures had been withdrawn, but those had died in the days of steam. The ‘Westerns’ might have seen off the Great Western’s mighty ‘Castles’ and ‘Kings’, but for younger believers, they were a favourite and their loss was much mourned. Of course it all made perfect sense if you were trying to run a railway, but still... thank goodness for memories. Thank goodness for preservation.

    Greg Morse's new book The Seventies Railway is aviable for purchase now.

  • Working on the Victorian Railway by Anthony Dawson

    A mid-Victorian photograph of an LNWR locomotive crew, giving a good impression of the clothing and working conditions of early loco crews. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Driving and firing, locomotives like Planet or Lion on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was not too dissimilar from a BR ‘Standard’ or even Flying Scotsman. In fact, ever since Richard Trevithick had invented the first self-propelled steam engine on rails in 1803 the basics haven’t changed.

    Firstly, the fireman is responsible for the safe management of the boiler: he has to make sure there is sufficient water in the boiler, and that there is always enough steam. Early locomotives were remarkable efficient, Planet only requiring 18lbs (about 8kg) of coke per mile; Lion uses about double the amount. Unlike Flying Scotsman which has something called an injector (invented by the Frenchman Henri Giffard in 1851) to put water back in the boiler, Planet and Lion had to rely on pumps which only worked when the engine was moving. This made it particularly important that the boiler was re-filled towards the end of the working day as there was no means of getting water back into the boiler when the engine had stopped working. As an aside, there is absolutely no primary evidence whatsoever that these early engines were run up to a buffer-stop, oil liberally poured over the rails and the engine set running in order to get the pumps to work. Whilst Lion still has two pumps, the 1992-built replica of Planet has both a pump and an injector. In order to ascertain how much water is in the boiler, a thick glass tube called a gauge class is fixed to the back of the firebox, straddling the water line. Valves at the top and bottom control admission of steam (top) and water (bottom) and there is also a drain so that the gauge might be ‘blown through’ to get rid of any blockages which could cause a dangerous false reading.

    Cross-section of a typical 1840s locomotive. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The boiler had to be kept full in order to keep the top of the firebox covered with water; early fireboxes were usually made from iron but from the mid-1830s onwards they were made from copper. Copper melts at about 1,000ºC, whilst the fire in the firebox can be as much as 1,500! The firebox must be surrounded with water – and free from any scale which acts as a good insulator – in order to stop it from overheating and melting. If it does overheat, the fusible plug (a bronze bush with a lead core screwed into the top of the firebox) melts: the lead running out, jetting hot water and steam into the firebox as an early warning system to tell the crew to put the pumps on (and take the fire out if safe to do so).

    The foorplate and controls of Planet. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    In order to drive Planet, there are a pair of polished steel levers on the left hand side of the footplate. These drive the valves which admit or exhaust steam from the cylinders. Because these handles are directly connected to the valves, it means the engine can be driven ‘on the levers’ with the driver setting the valve timing by hand to get the locomotive moving. But this would be very tiring for a thirty-mile trip to Liverpool. So to get the locomotive to run on its own, the valves are worked via an eccentric on the driving axle. An eccentric works like a crank, turning rotary motion (round and round) into reciprocating motion (backwards and forwards). On Planet, the eccentrics were sandwiched between a pair of collars and are free to move laterally (side to side) between a pair of ‘driving dogs’ clamped to the crank axle. These ‘driving dogs’ are set 90º apart, providing fore- and back-gear. Each dog corresponds with a slot in the collar, into which it engages as appropriate. A pedal on the footplate shifts the eccentrics to the left or right so that the driver can select the direction of travel. Fastened to the eccentrics are ‘eccentric rods’. These pass to the front of the engine and work a rocking shaft. The eccentric rods end in a drop-hook called a ‘gab’ which can be locked or unlocked from the rocking shat. With the hooks unlocked, the valves can be worked by hand; with them locked in place, the valves are worked by the eccentrics. It all sounds very complicated, but it is in fact quite simple – when you know how!

    A id-Victorian photograph of a Furness Railway Bury-type locomotive of the 1840s. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    If starting, and getting the engine moving was one problem, then stopping it was quite another. For a start, there were no brakes on the engine, merely a hand-brake on the tender (the parking brake) which could be used in emergencies. Guards, sitting on the roofs of the carriages each controlled a hand brake, and if the driver wanted the train brakes putting on, he blew his whistle three times in quick succession. If he wanted them off, three times in longer beats. In order to slow down and stop the engine, it has to be put into reverse.  This often conjures up images of Casey Jones, throwing his engine into reverse, the wheels spinning round backwards, sparks flying. But nothing could be further from reality – it’s really quite gentle. The driver closes the regulator, shutting off steam to the pistons and the locomotive slows down, still moving forward under its own momentum. At about 5mph he can release his foot pedal, shifting the eccentrics over, putting the engine into reverse. After a revolution of the wheel (so the ‘driving dog’ engages into its slot on the eccentric cheek) reverse is engaged and the regulator slowly opened, putting steam back into the cylinders, but in reverse. So instead of pushing the engine forward, the pressure of the steam in the cylinders – because the engine is still going forward – cushions the piston, acting as a brake, bringing the engine slowly to a halt, and, with practice and skill, can be used to keep the engine stationary. Even though the replica Planet is fitted with a modern air-brake system, many drivers prefer to stop her 1830s style.

    Planet with a mixed train (first- and second-class) standing in front of the 1830 Railway Warehouse at Liverpool Road Station, now part of the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. (Photo: Matthew Jackson, Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Enginemen of the 1830s were a hardy lot: neither Planet nor Lion have cabs, and only an ornamental railing to stop you falling over the side. On a bright summer’s day, chuffing along at about 20mph can be very pleasant indeed, but in the cold, wet, or wind it can be a harrowing experience.  Nor were the crews allowed to sit down to take a breather (at least officially); they were to stand up at all times and keep a sharp look-out. A billy can of hot tea could be kept warm by standing it close to the firebox and food kept in one of the lockers on the tender. Relief of another kind was a different matter entirely: there were no toilets at any of the stations so many enginemen must have, in emergencies relieved themselves onto their coal or over the side – in fact the Leeds & Selby Railway passed an order preventing enginemen ‘making water over the side of their engines’. They couldn’t even sit down and have a sandwich at the station: the Lancashire & Yorkshire prohibited loco crews from using any public bench or seat or refreshment room – presumably because they didn’t want dirty footprints all over.

    Drawing from practical experience of operating the replica Planet locomotive, Working on the Victorian Railway explores how drivers and firemen of the 1830s and 1840s were trained – or not! – their pay, working conditions and responsibilities and shows how there is very little difference between the first mainline express steam locomotive, Planet of 1830 and the most recent, Tornado (2008).

    Anthony Dawson's new book Working on the Victorian Railway is available for purchase now.

  • Scottish Traction by Colin J. Howat

    Class 37403 (ED) “Isle Of Mull” at Oban ready to depart with a service to Glasgow Queen Street. Taken April 1985 (Author's collection)

    Moving on from my earlier books, Ayrshire and Strathclyde Traction, I have now delved deeper and further into my archives. Scottish Traction as the title suggests covers Scotland from Thurso in the far north to Gretna Junction in the south. I have also included a couple of shots of trains just south of Gretna.

    A lot has changed with the Scottish Traction scene since these days. At one time there was an extensive internal sleeper service within Scotland out with the main Anglo-Scottish services. I can remember travelling overnight from Glasgow Queen Street to Inverness and back and also travelling from Ayr to Carlisle. I even remember turning out at Ayr station at 4:30 in the morning to capture the last Stranraer bound sleeper working from London Euston (May 1991). However, disaster struck as my 35MM Chinon camera jammed and I lost the shot – every photographers’ nightmare. I did however, capture the last south bound working. The advent of low cost budget airlines and other developments put an end to these trains and most were withdrawn by the early 1990s.

    47610 (ED) arrives at Edinburgh with a service from Birmingham. Taken May 1982 (Author's collection)

    Scotland has a diverse range of scenery from the rolling flat countryside of the Nith Valley north of Dumfries, through the fantastic West Highlands to the remote fields of the Far North line north of Inverness,  all offering their own unique characteristics. I have included 3 images for this blog that are not included in the book but hopefully will give a taste of the main ingredients contained within it.

    As time has passed, the Traction has also changed. The old class 303 electric units long associated with the Glasgow area are now gone. However their successors, Class 314s, are almost 40 years old and are also expected to be withdrawn by 2019. Class 318 and 320s along with Class 334 and 380 units now cover the electric scene. DMUs are long gone but again their replacements, Class 156 and 158 units are almost 30 years of age as well.

    Class 47 crosses the River Tay just outside Perth station on the single line to Barnhill with a London Euston to Aberdeen service. Taken August 1981 (Author's collection)

    With the impending electrification of the Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh via Falkirk High route expected to start at the end of 2017, this will trigger another cascade of traction with more Class 170 DMUs expected to be diagrammed onto the new Border Railway. The new electric Class 385 Hitachi units are expected to dominate the Central area for the next 30 plus years but are still to be tested out. Freight unfortunately has fallen to an all time low. Coal traffic is only a shadow of the past and container traffic looks like the future as in England it is increasing gradually. I would expect further lines around the Central belt to be electrified as the government wishes to cut emissions. As the old saying states “Nothing stays still” and I expect the changing rail scene to continue on.

    Colin J. Howat's new book Scottish Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Diesels at Doncaster by Andrew Walker

    Diesels at Doncaster 1 Numerous freight flows cross the East Coast Main Line at Doncaster, and prior to the contraction of the coal industry, a significant proportion of this traffic looked very much like this – a somewhat grubby No. 31321 grinds across from up fast to the Sheffield lines with a mixed consist of loaded 16- and 21-ton wagons in 1982. (Diesels at Doncaster, Amberley Publishing)

    How long is thirty-five years? Is it a long time or a short time? If you are a teenager then it probably seems like an age. You associate it with old people. If however you are an old person, or even a middle-aged person, it may not seem that long. I am a middle-aged person. I used to think thirty-five years was an enormous length of time, but now I don’t think like that. I accept that it is quite a long time, but I base my view on the perception that thirty-five years can seem to pass quite quickly. I think if you can vividly remember things that happened thirty-five years ago, then that, among other things, is what makes it seem to be a fairly short period.

    I am focusing on this particular passage of time here because as I write in 2017 it is thirty-five years since the Deltics were withdrawn from main line service in 1982. To we ‘fifty-somethings’ this seems absurd. How can it be so long ago? It’s half a lifetime, more or less.

    Let’s go back to 1982 and consider what thirty-five years felt like then. First and foremost, the Deltics themselves had not been around for anything like that length of time. Ignoring the prototype, ‘Deltic’, for a moment, the production locomotives had clocked up a mere twenty-one years in service.

    I think these days we’d probably consider a twenty-one year old locomotive to have many years of work ahead of it. Standing on the platform at Doncaster on New Year’s Eve 1981 though, as I did when photographing the Deltics at the very end of their careers, I distinctly recall thinking, ‘well, it’s all over, but after all, they are old and worn out’. They seemed like old machines then. I was only 19 myself. They were older than me, so they seemed legitimate candidates for retirement.

    Diesels at Doncaster 2 This was the penultimate train that would be hauled by Deltic No. 55021 Argyll & Sutherland Highlander. Here it pauses at platform 1 with a mail service from Edinburgh in the early hours of 31 December 1981. After a turnround at King’s Cross, No. 55021 worked a service back to York on New Year’s Day 1982 and was then withdrawn. (Diesels at Doncaster, Amberley Publishing)

    The era in which they had carried two-tone green livery and numbers prefixed with a ‘D’ was a mere sixteen or so years previously, but to me it might as well have been ancient history…and as for the days when the pale blue prototype was in service, well, that was too far back to compute.

    If one had turned back the clock thirty-five years from 1982, one would arrive at 1947, just two years after the end of the Second World War. As Van Morrison might say, ‘in the days before rock and roll’… and in fact not only that, but ‘in the days before British Rail’. I guess that kind of puts the time span in perspective. The years that have now passed since the retirement of the Deltics – those three and a half decades – would safely contain the post-war steam era, the BR Modernisation Plan, the careers of a panoply of pilot scheme diesels, and the entire duration of the Woodhead electrification, the latter only twenty-seven years or so (at least counting from the opening of the ‘new’ tunnel in 1954). Thirty-five years is perhaps a long time after all. But those years since 1982 have flown by. Memories of the Deltics at Doncaster are still fresh.

    In my book ‘Diesels at Doncaster’ there is an image of Deltic No. 55021 ‘Argyll & Sutherland Highlander’ on a freezing platform 8 on the night of 31st December 1981. When I look at that picture, taken three and a half decades ago, I can still feel the chill, hear the hum of the Napier engines and smell the exhaust fumes. It seems like yesterday.

    9781445667942

    Andrew Walker and John Walker's book Diesels at Doncaster is available for purchase now.

  • Planet Locomotive - A Fireman’s Life for me by Anthony Dawson

    Planet Locomotive 1 The 1992-built replica Planet coupled to the original ‘Manchester & Birmingham’ first-class coach, 5 January 2016. (c. The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The life and day-to-day tasks of a locomotive fireman has not changed since Richard Trevithick invented his self-propelled kettle in 1803. As a Railway Volunteer at the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester – on part of the site of the Liverpool Road terminus of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, opened in 1830 –  I have the privilege to work with the replica Planet locomotive. The replica was built by the Friends of the Museum between 1986 and 1992. The original Planet, built by Robert Stephenson & Co. in Newcastle was delivered only thirteen months after Stephenson and Booth’s prize-winning Rainhill Trials entry, Rocket. Planet incorporates all the features of a ‘mature’ steam locomotive, features which would not really change for the next 140 years: a multi-tubular boiler (adopted by Henry Booth from a French design by Marc Séguin) with a smokebox at one end containing the blast pipe (invention of Mr Trevithick) with a separate firebox within the boiler shell at the opposite end. Over forty Planet locomotives – or the 0-4-0 Samson derivatives – were built by Stephenson & Co for use at home and abroad: the first locomotives to run in Germany and Austria were Planets. The titular member of the class was the first locomotive to run between Liverpool and Manchester in an hour and also hauled the first load of American cotton into ‘Cottonopolis.’

    In order to prepare Planet, driver and fireman will probably have been up since 06.00 and get to the Museum in order to sign in at 08.00. They don’t leave until around 17.00. Before the fire is lit, the most important task is to ensure the boiler is full. The gauge glasses are de-isolated by moving the top and bottom levers to a vertical position and the water level should rise in the glass. If it doesn’t there’s a blockage. The drain is briefly opened to wash out any detritus. Satisfied that the boiler is full, with ¾ of a glass showing, any leaks have to be checked. The fireman has to check if wash-out plugs and mud-hole doors are leaking; then inspects the interior of the firebox to make sure that the tubes (which run the length of the boiler and carry the hot gasses) are not leaking, and nor are the stays which support the inner firebox or any of the seams. The firebars should be clean and free from clinker. Satisfied that it is safe to light up, welsh steam coal (the original Planets burned coke in the 1830s) is scattered across the grate. Next broken pieces of dry timber are built up on top of this bed, and finally a bucket of oily rags is doused with diesel; a handful of rags is placed on the shovel and set alight - matches or a cigarette lighter  (or tinder box and flint in the 1830s) are essential tools of the trade for a fireman. Young visitors to the Museum are often confused about coal and also because to them, a fireman is someone who puts a fire out rather than being a travelling pyromaniac with a shovel who starts the fire.

    Planet Locomotive 2 Old meets new: the 1992-built replica of Planet side by side with the sole surviving original Liverpool & Manchester Railway locomotive, Lion of 1838. They are photographed near Water Street Bridge. (Paul Dore, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Planet can now be shunted over the inspection pit, so that the driver (the only person trusted to do so) can inspect the motion underneath and lubricate it. Whilst this is going on, the fireman sporadically checks his fire, and when the wood is starting to burn through, rounds of coal can be put on. Whilst steam is being raised – full pressure usually takes two and a half hours – the engine is cleaned. When sufficient pressure is raised, the fireman can test the injector –a vital piece of equipment, which injects water back into the boiler to replace that which as been boiled into steam. It was invented in 1852 by a Frenchman, Hénri Giffard, for his steam-powered Zeppelin. Before the invention of the injector, water could only be pumped into the boiler when the engine was moving using an axle-driven force pump. Satisfied that everything is OK, one by one the train crew take it in shifts to wash and brush up and put on their ‘whites.’ We are frequently asked by the public ‘Would they have worn white then?’ or ‘I bet that’s hard to keep clean.’ The answer is ‘yes’, the enginemen of the 1830s did wear white, or at least unbleached, un-dyed cloth. Why? Because it was cheap and easily boil-washed.

    Before Planet can pull her first service train, a test run is made to ensure that the locomotive and train are in full working order. Throughout the day the fireman has one essential job: the safe management of the boiler. He has to regularly check that there is sufficient water in the boiler, so that the tubes and the top of the firebox (called the crown) are to kept covered with water. If the crown is uncovered, then the firebox might start to collapse. A special lead plug called a ‘fusible plug’ will melt (lead has a lower melting point than the steel firebox) and this lets steam and water into the firebox, alerting the crew to the dangerously low water level. Putting coal on the fire is done ‘little and often’ to keep the steam pressure just below ‘blowing off point’ so that the safety valves do not lift. ‘Blowing off’ can waste two to three gallons of water a minute, yet back in the 1830s a fireman was thought not to be doing his job properly if the engine wasn’t blowing off all the time! The fireman has to check the colour of the smoke from the chimney to make sure there is enough air for the coal to burn properly. No smoke suggests there is too much air; black not enough; light grey just enough. Planet has no cab or any protection whatsoever from the elements: on a nice summer’s day it can be very pleasant indeed, but when it’s cold, or wet, it can be a truly horrible, miserable experience.

    Planet Locomotive 3 Robert Stephenson’s patent locomotive of 1834; the carrying-wheels behind the firebox made the locomotive more stable at high speed (around 30 mph) than the Planet type. (Author’s Collection, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    At the end of the day, the fire is allowed to gradually burn down, but not too much as there needs to be sufficient boiler pressure to go forward to disposal and to operate the injectors to refill the boiler until the injector knocks off. In the 1830s there had to be enough pressure to shunt the engine up down, working the axle-driven water pump to get water into the boiler. At disposal, the fireman and trainee rake out the fire: one in the cab, using the fire irons to riddle the fire through the firebars into the ash-pan, whilst the other rakes out the ash pan on the ballast. Engines in the 1830 had no ash pan, which was often the cause of line-side fires. A hose pipe is used to dampen down the hot ashes and to reduce the dust. With the fire out and boiler full,  Planet can be shunted back into the shed ready for her next turn of duty. It’s probably around 16.30. Now its time to complete the running log, note any faults, get washed, do any washing up, sign out and head to the pub.

    9781445661889

    Anthony Dawson's book The Liverpool & Manchester Railway is available for purchase now.

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