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  • SMJ Railway by John Evans

    To call the dear old SMJ railway ‘enigmatic’ would be rather excelling its virtues. It was created in 1908 from a jumble of lines that linked Olney, a small market town in Buckinghamshire, with Stratford-upon-Avon, a total length of just 79 miles. Its full name was the Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway, a word you’ll notice, for every ten miles of its track. To say it ran from nowhere to nowhere might be stretching things a little, but you can get the measure of the operation by knowing that one of the components of this amalgamation in 1908 was called the Northampton and Banbury Junction Railway, whose rails somehow failed to reach either of these towns. Ambitiously, much of the SMJ was engineered for double track, but the huge twin-arched bridges were destined to see just one line, and a rather rusty one at that, pass beneath them.

    Last Rites 1 The huge bridge built to carry the M1 motorway over the SMJ near Roade. It was a waste of money as trains never ran beneath it. 29 April 1966. (c. Last Rites: From the Track to the Scrapyard, Amberley Publishing)

    Primarily it was built as part of a series of lines to transport high quality iron ore from the East Midlands to South Wales for smelting. But it was only ever a bit player in this business and the line’s historian, J.M. Dunn, once described the SMJ as a ‘poor and struggling railway' with ‘an unprosperous history.’ He added, with a nice turn of phrase, that it was a case of ‘the survival of the unfit.’

    To locals, it was known as the ‘Slow and Muddle Junction’ and regarded with some affection. After it became part of the mighty London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923, things carried on as normal. One coach trains rumbled through delightful countryside with a handful of passengers. But the line was much more important for freight, some of them using the route to make a rather circuitous journey from Bristol to London. Of course, it couldn’t last. When British Railways was created as a new nationalised industry in 1948, someone clearly found a piece of paper at the bottom of a filing cabinet saying a bizarre little network of lines through Northamptonshire and Warwickshire existed, and decided to take a look.

    Last Rites 2 Blisworth SMJ station on 5 April 1966, with some very nice looking Northamptonshire ironstone from Blisworth quarry awaiting movement. (c. Last Rites: From the Track to the Scrapyard, Amberley Publishing)

    No doubt he was impressed by the relaxed way of life on the line (trains sometimes stopped so the engine crew could shoot rabbits to take home for dinner); but the fact that there were hardly any passengers may not have been quite so comforting. In 1951 and 1952 all passenger trains were withdrawn, years before Dr Beeching wielded his axe. This could have been the beginning of the end, but it was then agreed to divert some heavy freight trains along the western section of the route, and the SMJ enjoyed something of an Indian summer. Alas, it was not to last. The freight trains were sent elsewhere, the little ironstone quarries that provided business for the route closed and by the end of the sixties, the SMJ was but a fast-fading memory.

    Today you see its scar across the countryside, but as bridges are removed, farmers get to work ploughing and towns and villages undergo development the trail of the SMJ is looking very thin indeed. Just old goods shed here and there – an odd bridge appearing to stand in a field and some neat little houses in Blisworth labelled ‘SMJ’ (built for local employees) are among the more significant remains.

    Last Rites 3 Kineton Ministry of Defence depot on 23 June 1966, scene of our arrest while walking the SMJ. Who said being a railway enthusiast was boring? A small mishap is being cleared up. (c. Last Rites: From the Track to the Scrapyard, Amberley Publishing)

    Its memory is treasured, however, in lots of ways. For a start there is a society devoted to it. There are also lots of photographs. A friend, Bryan Jeyes, and myself, added to the stock of pictures in the mid-1960s when we walked the whole of the route, taking colour photos. (We also managed to get arrested at Kineton Ministry of Defence camp, which backs on to the railway, a story related in my Amberley book, Last Rites).  But apart from this bit of fun, we can proudly claim to be the last people to travel over the whole of the SMJ, even if it was on foot and not as the line’s founders intended.

    Much more exciting is the news that Towcester Museum, situated in a Northamptonshire town that was a major junction on the route, is to hold an exhibition for six months starting in late August. They have gathered together old signs, artefacts, photos, memorabilia and other reminders of the line, to mark 150 years since the first section, from Blisworth to Towcester, opened. There are many new folk living in the town whom will no doubt discover for the first time that their community once boasted a rather impressive railway station, right where Tesco now have a supermarket.

    To those of us who are old enough to recall the SMJ in action, the most significant – and apposite – survivor is the old station at Stoke Bruerne. True to form, this is nowhere near the village it purported to serve. It was opened in December 1892, one of two massively-built stations on the section from Towcester to Olney. Business wasn’t good, however, and just four months later the passenger service was withdrawn, never to be restored. Some trains had no passengers at all.

    Still, it has made a very fine house for many years and no doubt will continue to do so.

    9781445655024 9781445654980

    John Evans books Workhorses of the Big Four and Last Rites: From the Track to the Scrapyard and available for purchase now.

  • Class 55 Deltics by Colin Alexander

    When first approached by Amberley in December 2015, I could scarcely have believed that nine months later I would have two books in print and on sale, with another two almost ready to go.  Amberley had spotted my Flickr photostream account and I was flattered when they asked me if I would fancy putting together a book on my favourite subject, namely the British Rail Class 55 ‘Deltics’.  How did this all begin?

    PHOTO 1 Here is a photo of Harry, after retirement, beside his last ‘box’, Howdon-on-Tyne, about 1970.

    My Dad had always been interested in railways and used to visit his uncle, my Great Uncle Harry, at work as a signalman at places like Heaton Junction, Newcastle.

    When I was only about two or three, Dad had built for me my first model railway, including a Triang Freightmaster set. I can clearly remember aged between about four to six years old, being taken up to the top of Newcastle’s Castle Keep, and to the old cattle market, both of which were great vantage points over Newcastle Central station, to see steam specials hauled by “Flying Scotsman”, “Sir Nigel Gresley” and “Clun Castle”.  There were also some interesting diesels such as the big yellow HS4000 “Kestrel” prototype, Clayton Class 17s with their centre cabs, and of course, the ‘Deltics’.

    Every summer holiday, always in Britain, would just happen to be near a preserved steam railway, and my mother was very tolerant, being dragged around corrugated iron sheds full of muck and rust to see a locomotive being restored from scrapyard condition to its former glory.

    PHOTO 3 My brother wasn’t as keen, but here he is posing with me at Plymouth with D1054 “Western Governor”.

    Some holidays revolved around the railway entirely, such as when we had two weeks in Cornwall in 1976, the long hot summer, and travelled from Tyneside to St. Ives by train and were able to enjoy the last summer of the ‘Western’ diesel-hydraulics, travelling to Newquay, St. Austell, Plymouth and Penzance.

    We attended the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Stockton and Darlington Railway at Shildon in 1975, even talking my 79 year old grandmother along.  A twice-weekly fixture for Dad and I was the Newcastle and District Model Railway Society where many friends were made and great fun was had every November setting up and taking down the annual model railway exhibition.

    By 1978, aged 14, I was deemed old enough to venture out on the railway on my own and quickly developed friendships on the platforms of Newcastle Central that have lasted to this day.  For the princely sum of £2.60 a Northumbrian Ranger ticket could be bought which gave a week of unlimited travel between York and Berwick, and across to Carlisle.

    My only regret from these days was that I did not possess a decent camera.  I made do with a Kodak Instamatic until 1981 when I inherited my Dad’s ancient Agfa 35mm camera.  Its fastest shutter speed was 1/200th of a second, which meant it was only good for static objects in bright daylight.  Needless to say about 95% of my early railway photographs were either too dark, too bright, too blurred or off target due to parallax error.  The other 5% were simply unusable.

    PHOTO 4 In lunch hours I could race across to the footbridge on Leeman Road and watch ‘Deltics’ in their last months of service.

    While Dad was an engineering draughtsman on the Tyne & Wear Metro, when I left school I managed to get myself a trainee position in a similar line of work in BR’s Signalling and Telecommunications Dept at Forth Banks, Newcastle, starting July 1981.  This was an interesting time as there was still a lot of mechanical signalling about, and a lot of freight-only branch lines.  I was involved in the replacing of giant 1950s relays in the control room above the ‘wallside’ sidings at Newcastle Central, and also worked at Pelaw, Blaydon, Morpeth and Hendon in Sunderland.  Trainee induction was at Hudson House, York, on the site of the original York station.

    The second half of 1981 was notable for the number of ‘Deltic’ hauled railtours that were run, and I was able to travel behind these machines to Whitby, Hull, Bradford, Harrogate, Liverpool, Carnforth, Inverkeithing, over the Settle to Carlisle line, Aberdeen, Portsmouth and Bournemouth among other places.

    Class 55 pic 1 No. 55013 The Black Watch erupts into life in the centre road at York on 17 April 1981 (c. Class 55 Deltics, Amberley Publishing)

    By then I had become an active member of the Deltic Preservation Society which aimed to raise funds to save one of the locomotives from scrap.  I organised local events and delivered newsletters, and for my efforts was rewarded with an invitation to Doncaster Works in August 1982 to attend the ceremony when two Deltics were handed over from BR to the DPS.  The following day I was travelling behind them on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

    By then I had left my job on BR, realising that a life of dodging high-speed trains was not for me.  I was not too concerned because I had begun a love-affair with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the DPS’s two Deltics that were based there.  A few of my mates and I found ourselves volunteering both for the DPS and the NYMR.  We were signed up trainee firemen and as such would be rostered to a steam locomotive, which we had to clean and light-up to raise steam, at about 5am, in preparation for the driver and fireman arriving later.  We then got to spend the day riding on the footplate, learning how everything worked; and even shovelling coal in the firebox from time to time.

    By the time I had got myself a decent 35mm SLR camera in the mid-80s, I had gone off to Cornwall College to be a student of Graphic Design, and so my interest in railways took a bit of a back seat.

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    Colin Alexander's book Class 55 Deltics is available for purchase now.

  • Tyneside Railways: The 1970s and 1980s by Colin Alexander

    I was six years old when the 1960s gave way to the 70s.  Man had landed on the Moon the year before, an event I remember watching on our old grainy black and white television.  Although steam had ended on British Railways in 1968, my Dad would take me to see any steam ‘special’ that visited Newcastle, and many of the local industrial railways still relied on steam power.

    Tyneside Railways 1 HS4000 Kestrel was a 4,000 hp prototype built by Hawker-Siddeley and is seen here leaving for King's Cross on 20 October 1969. (c. Tyneside Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1970, most of Tyneside was black.  Buildings were black, the river was black.  There was industry of all kinds lining both banks of the river, stretching from the west of Newcastle and Gateshead almost to the river mouth.  Shipyards, power stations, coal staithes, docks, chemical works, warehouses and coking plants competed for river frontage, and in the hinterlands, there were colliery headstocks as far as the eye could see.

    By 1990, a complete transformation had taken place.  Virtually all traces of all those industries were gone and the smoke-blackened buildings were cleaned up.  The steam-age railway with its semi-derelict stations had given way to an electrified main line and a smart new underground Metro.

    Tyneside Railways 2 Fenwick pit, east of Backworth, also in 1973 with NCB No. 16, built by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn as late as 1957. (c. Tyneside Railways, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

     

    Anyone who’d left Tyneside in the 1960s and returned for the first time in the 1990s would scarcely have recognised the place; such was the magnitude of the change.

    Tyneside Railways: the 1970s and 1980s is intended to illustrate the many changes that took place on the railways and in the North East in general during a tumultuous twenty years both for me, and for Tyneside.

    Tyneside was widely acknowledged as being at the epicentre of the birth of the railway.  Long before railway mania gripped the rest of Victorian Britain, pioneering engineers on both sides of the Tyne were connecting collieries to the river by primitive wagonways to facilitate the export of coal.  Prior to this, it was only economic to extract coal close to navigable water, but the wooden wagonways of the 1700s allowed much more of the coalfield to be exploited.  While other areas of industrial Britain were digging canals, the wagonways of Northumberland and Durham would evolve into the ‘iron road’.  North-East men like William Hedley, William Chapman, Timothy Hackworth and of course George and Robert Stephenson were instrumental in replacing horse power through the steam revolution that would shrink nations and continents across the world.

    Tyneside Railways 3 On 19 August 1977, a Metro Cammell DMU is on its way around the North Tyne loop from Newcastle via Wallsend and Benton back to Newcastle again. (c. Tyneside Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    While the region always had its glamorous Anglo-Scottish express passenger trains, the railways in the North-East were dominated by freight services, and the North Eastern Railway had a virtual monopoly from the Humber to the Scottish Border on the transport of vast amounts of coal, iron ore, steel, fish and other goods traffic for decades.  This traffic continued after 1923 under the London & North Eastern Railway and into the early days of post-war nationalisation in British Railways’ North Eastern Region.  That freight traffic was to go into terminal decline through the 1970s and 80s as industries disappeared.

    The book includes many locations beyond the obvious Newcastle and Gateshead, visiting the suburbs to the east, the beautiful Tyne Valley to the west, as well as going slightly further afield to locations in the South-East Northumberland coalfield and almost to Wearside.

     

     

     

    Tyneside Railways 4 Along the River Tyne at Blaydon on 7 April 1984, pioneer Class 40 No. 40122/D200 with green livery restored is in charge of IZ69 the Knotty Circular Rambler that has travelled from Stafford to Carlisle and will return via Newcastle and Leeds. (c. Tyneside Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    I have tried to show a wide variety of motive power in the book, including preserved steam and BR diesel traction; steam, diesel and electric-powered industrial locomotives; Tyne & Wear Metro stock and even the ill-fated Advanced Passenger Train makes an unlikely appearance.

    Recently, much of the North-East's rich railway heritage has seen a renaissance with some beautifully restored stations and bridges, and the region can boast some of the preservation movement's most precious relics.

    9781445662305

    Colin Alexander's new book Tyneside Railways: The 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase now.

  • Steam railways and a new generation by Stuart Hylton

    Not long ago, I was on the platform at Oxford station when an express train, drawn by a steam locomotive, came through at speed. For a moment, all activity on the platform stopped – it was as if we had all been transported back in time. Another moment and it was gone, and all that was left were wisps of steam and the happy smiles on the faces of the travelling public. Surely no piece of our industrial heritage has a warmer place in the nation’s affections than the steam railway engine.

    For no other piece of machinery comes closer to having the attributes of a living, sentient creature. One of the first people to witness a primitive prototype of a railway locomotive was Thomas Grey in 1812, and he certainly saw the kinship between these early ‘walking horses’ and their flesh and blood counterparts:

    The superabundant steam is emitted at each stroke with a noise something similar to the hard breathing or snorting of a horse – the escaping steam representing the breath of his nostrils and the deception altogether aided by the regular motion of the beam.

    Steam Engines and Steam Railways pic 1 A safety valve, doing its job. (c. Steam Engines and Steam Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    Small wonder too that another pioneer, Richard Trevithick, the unacknowledged father of the steam locomotive, found the best advertisement for his engine Catch me who can was to offer a speed trial against the finest race horse Newmarket had to offer.

    I belong to a generation whose childhood memories include a railway that was almost entirely driven by steam. The sights, sounds and smells of it are still fresh in my mind and for me a steam engine evokes a whole host of memories. From standing on another platform and enjoying a little childhood frisson of fear, as a Great Western express thundered through on its way to the West Country or Wales, to being my own master of the universe as I created my own little railway world on the sitting room carpet, courtesy of Messrs Hornby and Triang.

    But my generation is growing old and those that follow will not have the same store of memories, on which an attachment to steam can be built. How will they view steam locomotion? Will it just be another historical curiosity, as far removed from their direct experience as the stagecoach or the penny-farthing bicycle? Will they even be remotely interested? Perhaps more to the point, how many of them will be interested enough to put themselves through the lengthy and demanding process of learning to drive or fire a steam locomotive?

     

    Steam Engines and Steam Railways pic 2 No. 31806. This U class locomotive started life as something rather different - a K Class tank engine. (c. Steam Engines and Steam Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    Since retiring from my day job I have devoted part of my time to being part of the education team at the Didcot Railway Centre, home of the Great Western Society. Our main activity is introducing parties of up to a hundred or more school children to the world that the steam railways helped to create. One of the things this brings home to myself and my fellow guides is how far the world has changed in our own lifetimes. We find ourselves having to explain what coal is and, for many of our car-centred young visitors, the very idea of travelling anywhere by rail is a novelty.

    Steam Engines and Steam Railways pic 3 Gladstone, the first in a class of thirty-six locomotives built for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway from 1882. (c. Steam Engines and Steam Railways, Amberley Publishing)

    But one thing I have learned from my experience is that heritage railways offer a rich potential for engaging young people’s interest and a way into a variety of areas of the school curriculum. For history, there is the story of the industrial revolution, which could not have happened in the way it did without the railways. It gives an insight into the lives of all classes of the Victorians, from the Royal family to the poorest travellers, enduring the harsh conditions of early third-class journeys. For all of them, the railways changed their lives in a way that no other development, before or since, has done. For more modern history, a staged ‘evacuation’, with the children being assigned to new ‘foster carers’ at the end of the journey, can provide the basis for a wide range of teaching about the home front during the Second World War.

    For the sciences, we have the physics and mechanics of how steam engines work and the dramatic development of that technology, which meant that the main operating principles of the steam locomotive for the next hundred years had been worked out within about a decade of the opening of the first modern railway, in 1830. Then there are the engineering feats of the giants of railway building such as Brunel and the Stephenson’s, which redefined the boundaries of the possible in railway building.

    For those of us who care about the future of steam locomotion, one of our priorities must surely be to help educators to make the most of this rich history, and use it to fire the enthusiasm of a new generation of steam railwaymen.

    9781445656687

    Stuart Hylton's book Steam Engines and Steam Railways: A Young Person's Guide is available for purchase now.

  • Strathclyde Traction by Colin J. Howat

    In preparing Strathclyde Traction, I must admit that one of the main problems was the selection process. Going through my collection, I initially narrowed the amount of photographs to approximately 2000, which ultimately had to be narrowed down many times before getting to the required 180 for the book. I would like to have used more but that is for the future.

    Strathclyde Traction pic 3 320321 (GW) at Partick with a Dalmuir-Cumbernauld Service. (Strathclyde Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Fortunately, my whole railway photographic collection has now been saved on computer. Which was completed over a couple of years by scanning all my old black and white and colour slides and negatives.

    Moving on from my earlier book Ayrshire Traction the opportunity was taken to scroll through the archives and as Strathclyde is quite a large area itself, a varied selection of shots were available. There have been many boundary changes within Scotland over the last forty years but it has not really changed the railways. Scotland’s railways overall have expanded and although some line closures have taken place, on the whole there has been a refreshing outlook by both Strathclyde PTE and later Transport Scotland.

    In a wider context compared to other European countries, the UK has been incredibly slow in the electrification process. In Switzerland for example, 90% of their railways are electrified whereas in Scotland only approximately 40% has been done.

    Strathclyde Traction pic 1 Orange livery 314201 (GW) at Glasgow Central with a Glasgow Central-Neilston Service. (Strathclyde Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    The Orange livery that came out in the early 1980s was not only applied to the trains but also to the buses and the underground system. The underground trains were affectionately known as the “Clockwork Orange Trains” which was a reference to the film A Clockwork Orange made in 1971 by Warner Brothers and directed by Stanley Kubrick starring Malcolm McDowell.

    Railway photography like most photography has its own special delights and drawbacks. I have been out in all sorts of weather to get the rare shot. I think heavy rain is the railway photographer’s worst nightmare although I have also endured temperatures as low as -20 degrees. I have also encountered some alarming moments. I was once chased by a bull at Mossgiel farm near Mauchline. I have also walked a number of disused railway lines and have had interesting encounters with various animals! I have also met many members of the public some good, some not so good. Most people in my experience usually enter into good banter but there are a few who are not so accommodating. On the whole most people are pleasant but since the 07/07 bombings in London, understandably there has been a distinct downturn in trust from rail staff who are now much more vigilant at all stations with rail enthusiasts and visitors.

    Strathclyde Traction pic 4 380113 (GW0 at Western Gailes with a Glasgow Central-Ayr Service (Strathclyde Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I have included in this blog some of the photographs that were not used in Strathclyde Traction but may be used in the future. As well as railway photography, I enjoy many other interests including walking with my two German Shepherds. When I started getting interested in the railway in the 1970s, I used to visit Bogside and Irvine signal boxes. I can remember being welcomed in, the smell of the coal fire and some chat always passed the time of day. Aye those were the days!

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

  • The Liverpool & Manchester Railway by Anthony Dawson

    the-l-m-r-1 A first-class coach, as depicted by Isaac Shaw in 1831. (Author's collection, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Friday, 17 September 1830. James Scott, Station Superintendent, resplendent in top hat, dark blue frock coat (with gilt ‘company buttons’) and white trousers checks his pocket watch.  Ten minutes to seven o’clock. All was bustle around him as passengers - all of them of the first class – clambered up into the primrose-yellow coaches, which sat waiting for them. Glancing along the train of four coaches; resplendent with the exciting names of Experience, Traveller, Despatch, and Victory. Fussing around are the porters, heaving heavy trunks and portmanteaus onto the roofs of the carriage. Seated on top, wrapped up from the elements in their watch coats are Johns and Hargreaves, the guards. It is their job to keep a good look-out for any dangers and to apply the brakes on the coaches upon which they are sat. Hargeaves, more senior of the pair, takes his place on the rearmost carriage facing forward and puts on his special wire-mesh spectacles to guard against any soot getting in his eyes. Johns takes his seat on the front carriage, but facing backward so as to be in visual communication with Hargreaves. In case of danger they each have a red, a green and a white flag.

    Some of the more curious gentlemen are dallying around North Star, the iron horse at the head of the string of coaches. Painted olive green with black lining-out she presents a compact, purposeful, look with her pair of large five-foot diameter driving wheels and powerful cylinders, set nearly horizontally, alongside the firebox. On her footplate are Thomas George and his mate John Wakefield. Suddenly the safety valve lifts with a whoosh, scattering inquisitive pigeons and passengers alike.

    the-l-m-r-2 Interior of the replica first-class coach, which sat six persons almost knee to knee: 'upholstered in French grey cloth with buttons and lace to match ... the upholstery is carried to a considerable height above the seats, padded head rests being included'. (Lauren Jaye Gradwell, 2016, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    At five minutes to seven, Scott instructs the large brass bell on the platform to be rung, to inform passengers still dawdling in the waiting room to hurry up, that their train will be leaving at seven o’clock sharp and there would be only a 50% refund on the cost of their 7s (about £10 in 2016) tickets. If any passengers had a complaint, they could write it in the ‘Passenger’s Diary’ found below in the booking hall. The tickets themselves are oblong slips of bright pink paper and had to be purchased the day before, and included the name, address, details of any next of kin, and the reason for travelling. Once booked, a passenger was assigned a numbered seat in a named coach. Each of the coaches sat eighteen in three sumptuous compartments, lined with French grey cloth; the seats stuffed with horse-hair and provided with arm - and head - rests; carpeted throughout and as plush as any drawing room of the best sort. It was a tiny padded cell of luxury.

    One minute to seven. Scott nods to the bugler stood to attention at the head of the train. All the train doors are closed. The luggage is secure. The guards are in their seats. With a twitch of his gloved hand, Scott signals to the bugler; he puts his instrument to his lips and sends off the train with the opening strains of ‘I’d be a butterfly’. Wakefield responds with a brief toot on his own bugle; Thomas George eases open the regulator and for a few moments North Star is lost in a cloud of steam from her open drain cocks. With a barely perceptible whoof, she begins to slowly move away, the polished steel valve levers beginning their hypnotic dance as she clatters over the Water Street Bridge and on to Liverpool, where they would arrive 90 minutes later.

    the-l-m-r-3 The precarious position of the guard, perched on the coach roof, is readily demonstrated: it is easy to see how they could freeze to death on a cold winter's night. (Matthew Jackson, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Such, perhaps, was the scene at Liverpool Road Station, Manchester on the first day of operation of what was the world’s first inter-city railway 186 years ago. Whilst not the first public railway (that was the Lake Lock Railroad in Yorkshire (opened in 1796)) nor the first to exclusively use steam traction (that was the Middleton Railway, Leeds, in 1812) it was the first double-track mainline inter-city railway; the first to have a working timetable; a written set of rules and regulations; and the first to develop a code of signalling and safety instructions. The Liverpool & Manchester, despite various false starts and the tragedy of the formal opening (15 September 1830) changed the world, not only in how people travel, but in what they wore, and what they ate.

    Henry Booth, the Secretary and Treasurer wrote:

    The most striking result produced by the completion of this Railway, is the sudden and marvellous change which has been effected in our ideas of time and space. What was quick is now slow; what was distant is now near.

    9781445661889

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

  • Automating the Northern Line by Owen Smithers

    This book begins with a potted history of the construction of the Northern Line and its various stages of expansion I hope you will find as absorbing as I did.

    The book features thirty-two years of signalling experience from boy to man, experiences like so many others who I was later to befriend, and eventually worked with so many in the last twenty or so years until the author's departure. Whilst each signal box operated in the same fashion, all had their own peculiarities – no two were the same. This is what made the work interesting.

    Automating the Northern Line 1 Morden Signal Box, 1955. The furthest drum sets up a train's platform number, the other the train's destination. (Automating the Northern Line)

    It was unfortunate that the general public in the period of 1958 to 1970 had to suffer mainly due to unforeseen circumstances. Unknown to them control staff suffered even more in their attempts to correct situations they were not responsible for.

    The attempts to relate the operating experiences of twenty-six signal boxes do not include the two on the Northern & City line, which operated between Moorgate and Finsbury Park. Learning and retaining the working knowledge of the whole of the Northern Line and its variety of operations was interesting. It will give the reader some idea of how, first as a signalman, then as relief signalman, it was all taken in. Now having retained all this knowledge, it was put to use when experiencing the break up of individual controlled areas a piece at a time which were transferred into a new control area, with restricted working conditions for eleven years. Whilst the first attempts of automation were making an appearance over the whole line none of us had ever experienced this type of push button operation, but we learnt with the help of our background knowledge. The complications were unimaginable since work was begun piece meal here and there along the line making the operation of passing information on to those signal boxes still manned stressful. As the work continued it was to create vast gaps between control areas that taxed operators to the limit. In 1969 the whole control operation was moved once more overnight into a new building that was just as stressful and complicated. It was made even more difficult since it was to be a while until the northern end of both branches were completed and added to our control. The room was also shared with the Victoria Line that also became our responsibility as the line was being constructed.

    Automating the Northern Line 2 Colindale during an early shift, with myself at the controls, 1956. (Automating the Northern Line)

    Working with long standing friends who were either formal signalmen from closed signal boxes or the lines relief signalmen, was to create a great team of work mates. Over the years we were joined by others from other Lines who moulded in making up what I always felt was a great family. You realise what a bond it was to become when the line was experiencing difficulties. It was during these moments when everyone banded together completing tasks to help as though they were thoughts already in your own head – it was uncanny.

    Obtaining an invitation to visit the very new control centre in 2015 was an eye opener that caused all the memories of what we all went through previously flooding my head and now to discover complete silence in the whole room. With all signals as we knew it having all been removed, a feat beyond our imagination during the 50's and 60's. The whole line now really is very automatic in its operations. The technicalities are all in the book relating as to how everything is now set up.

    Automating the Northern Line 3 Camden Town Kennington desk, 1970. (Automating the Northern Line)

    The hundred or so photographs taken should clearly illustrate to the reader what it was like operating areas during a very busy service, plus those many infrequent moments when things were not as they should be.

    This work is dedicated to all the men involved in working during the complete and final automation on the Northern Line and those unnamed who followed.

    9781445654829

    Owen Smithers new book Automating the Northern Line is available for purchase now.

  • Class 52 Westerns: The Twilight Years by Stephen Dowle

    The British Railways Modernisation Plan of 1955 brought many innovations, but most visible to the layman or ordinary rail passenger was the replacement of steam by diesel locomotives. It should have been a time for clear vision, decisiveness and a firm hand on the tiller. Instead, screeching and clattering over the points went the bizarre twenty-strong Metro-Vick Co-Bo class and the ten 'Baby Deltics', which proved too heavy for the lines they were intended to operate. There were others.

    Class 52 2 IC63, the 13.15 Paddington-Cardiff (Class 52 Westerns, Amberley Publishing)

    The B. R. regions, legatees of the pre-Nationalisation 'Big Four' companies, retained considerable autonomy in the management of their affairs. Three of the four regions adopted the diesel-electric locomotive. This, properly understood, was an electric locomotive that carried a diesel engine to generate its own current ... more flexible and cheaper in infrastructure costs than a pure electric locomotive, which uses current generated at a power station. The Western Region, descendant of the Great Western Railway and noted, like its predecessor, for unorthodoxy ...not to say bloody-mindedness... decided to build diesel-hydraulic locomotives. The application of diesel-hydraulic technology to railways had been pioneered in Germany. The engines and transmissions for the W. R.'s locomotives were of German origin, though built, for political reasons, by British licensees. The first five locomotives, of A1A-A1A axle configuration and wished upon the W. R. by the British Transport Commission, were constructed on heavyweight principles appropriate to diesel-electrics, thereby squandering one of the main advantages of the diesel-hydraulic system, a high power-to-weight ratio. After this false start came three main types, known as the Warships, the Hymeks and, finally, in 1961, the Westerns.

    Class 52 3 DI047 Western Lord (Class 52 Westerns, Amberley Publishing)

    Considered as part of the whole B. R. fleet the locomotives were decidedly non-standard, but they were unlike the numerically small, dead-loss designs that had appeared elsewhere on the system. The Hymeks were perhaps the most successful and enjoyed a good record of reliability and performance throughout their short working lives. The other two classes, like all thoroughbreds, were given to episodes of temperament, but once early problems had been remedied they settled, in their mature years, to a record as good as any contemporary diesel-electric. The Westerns, so called because all were given two-word names beginning with 'Western', were the Region's flagships ... it’s most powerful line-service locomotives and successors to the Great Western's King class steam engines. They were a handsome, clean design that made the diesel-electrics look like their ugly sisters. Much of their appeal derived from the impressive acoustics of their paired, fast-idling Maybach engines. These were a turbocharged and intercooled version of the Warships' engines, crammed, with difficulty, into a body reduced from German dimensions to fit the smaller clearances of British loading-gauge. Unlike the diesel-electric system, which requires power to be applied in gradual increments, hydraulic transmission demands a vigorous application of power at the start. Because of this characteristic, riding behind a Western, especially if running late, could be an exhilaratingly noisy experience.

    I first came to railways in the last days of steam, but lost interest when steam disappeared. I had not kept abreast of developments and it came as a surprise when, one day in 1973, I overheard someone say that the Westerns were being withdrawn and scrapped. As long ago as 1967, I learned, a decision had been taken to rectify the problem of the Modernisation Plan's small and too numerous locomotive types. The diesel-hydraulics, though performing well by this time, amounted to little more than 10% of the BR fleet. Inevitably, they had to go. Even back in my steam days I had admired the Westerns and had assumed they would see out a normal service lifetime, perhaps lasting into the 21st century. A plan formed in my mind and I bought a new camera. It was already too late for the Warships, which had all been withdrawn by 1972; the Hymeks were down to a handful of survivors; but the Westerns were still almost intact and I could assemble a collection of photographs. The intention to eliminate the Westerns (by now officially 'Class 52') by the end of 1974 proved too ambitious and they battled on, increasingly dilapidated but extremely tenacious of life, until the last were withdrawn in February 1977.

    Class 52 1 DI003 Western Pioneer (Class 52 Westerns, Amberley Publishing)

    My collection of photographs now meets its destiny, forty years on, in this Amberley publication. It is very much a 'one man's view' sort of book, giving an account in pictures, accompanied by a chatty text, of the events as I experienced them. However deplorable the early proliferation of non-standard types may have been from the point of view of operational efficiency, it was an interesting time for enthusiasts. Alas, railways are not operated for the entertainment of railway enthusiasts. Looking back and comparing, one is impressed by how packaged, sanitised and generally joyless railway travel has become. Today's traveller, eyes down to his smart phone for relief from the sterility of his surroundings, is packed into high density seating in a sealed, soundproofed, air-conditioned, fiberglass-infested multiple unit of gimcrack appearance, humming along on continuously-welded rails.

    So climb aboard and let the years fall away. Take care, as the heavy door slams with a solid double snap behind you, not to spill your scalding plastic cup of B. R. chicory substitute. Settle your hindquarters, with a jangle of springs, into the deep cushions of the veneer-lined compartment. Lower the upholstered arm rest and turn the heating control knob above your head. With faint ticking sounds, little zephyrs of warmth begin to circulate around your lower legs. Reach for your Lyon's individual fruit pie and sit back for a swaying, lurching trip into the rusty, overgrown sidings of a forgotten railway epoch.

    9781445648989

    Stephen Dowle's Class 52 Westerns: The Twilight Years is available for purchase now.

  • What the Railways Did for Us: The Making of Modern Britain, by Stuart Hylton

     

    Railways - St Pancras Station

    When the first locomotives made their lumbering appearance at the start of the nineteenth century, few people could have guessed at the differences they and their successors would make to our lives. First, our whole notions of time and distance were transformed. Until then, our boundaries had been limited to the speed at which a horse could gallop and the duration of that gallop. Suddenly we had machines that were four or more times faster than any horse and with ten times the stamina. New, wider choices about where we lived, worked and took our leisure suddenly presented themselves.

    This in turn changed how we perceived time. The old system, based on the rising and setting of the sun – God’s time – no longer worked, since the sun rose twenty minutes sooner in London than it did in Plymouth. Someone relying on a watch set to Plymouth time to travel from a London station would miss their train. Uniformity was needed, and (after some battles) the railways gave us Greenwich Mean Time.

    The railways helped to give us the Victorian equivalent of e-mail. The newly-invented telegraph needed unbroken corridors of land, along which to erect their telegraph lines, and the railways were ideal for the purpose. The railways housed most of the telegraph network and suddenly one end of the land could talk to the other almost instantly. Provincial newspapers found themselves on a level playing field with their London counterparts, and the railways ensured that a national press could develop, and be distributed to the furthest corners of the nation while the news was still fresh.

    RailwaysAs fresh as the food that was now available in our cities. The railways could quickly and cheaply deliver perishable foods like fish, fruit and milk to distant cities, vastly improving the diets of most urban dwellers.

    The railways changed how the authorities maintained the peace and waged war. The Government could now summon help and move troops to the seat of any civil unrest within hours, rather than days or weeks. In the event of war, vast numbers of troops could be moved swiftly to wherever they were required and, equally important, could be supplied with all they needed to remain there. This also made it easier for defending troops to hold their positions than it was for the opposing armies to advance, generally across a no-man’s-land without working railways to support them. This helps to explain the years of stalemate in the trench warfare of the First World War’s western front.

    There is also the geography of our towns and cities. Before the railways, the elite lived much more cheek by jowl with the ordinary working people. The railways helped them to move out to suburbs and countryside, for better or worse denuding the inner cities of those who had traditionally been the communities’ leaders. Sometimes the railways themselves were the active agents in developing these new suburbs – London’s Metroland being a prime example.

    There are many other ways in which the railways made the world a very different – and for the most part better - place. These are just a few of the things the railways did for us.

    What the Railways Did for Us: The Making of Modern BritainStuart Hylton's book What the Railways Did for Us: The Making of Modern Britain is out now!

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