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Tag Archives: Trains

  • Holiday Trains by Greg Morse

    I’m on a train, a train heading in the wrong direction. It’s heading in the wrong direction because it’s taking me to work. I got on at Swindon with the same faces I see every day – plus a few new ones (who, as all commuters know, have no right to be there – at least not in ‘your’ seat) – and now I’m trying to write to you. I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, and my pen is bouncing all over the page as the wheels bounce over points and joints and goodness knows what. My fellow travellers tuck in to muffins and pastries, sip their lattes, read their papers and prod their phones. It’s February, and it’s quieter this morning as many are joining their children on their half-term holidays. Their absences mean the cloud of yoghurt-breath, BO and flatulence is smaller than on some days, the chances of being trampled or tripped up just a little bit less. These peccadillos matter far more than they should, but it is alas the way of things when using trains to facilitate the daily grind.

    GWR families wait in line at Swindon to board the trains for Trip Week, c. 1910. Destinations included Weymouth, Weston-Super-Mare and Cornwall. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    As my train powers on to Paddington, I start to think about my return this evening, but muse more on the prospect of heading the ‘right way’ in the mornings too. Not to Bath or Bristol, but a little bit further to Weston-Super-Mare – a seaside town, and well known and loved by me since childhood. During that wonderful Whitsun week, there would be endless ice creams on the Grand Pier, endless sandcastles, countless visits to the old Model Railway. There would often be a train ride too – a day trip to Bristol behind a chugging diesel (a Class 33, for those – like me – who like to know such things). How wonderful it all was! But how wonderful too it must have been to have gone to Weston in the days of steam, waiting on the platform with raincoats over suitcases, buckets, spades and all the paraphernalia of the traditional British holiday. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way: when Swindon had a railway works, Weston – along with Tenby, Torquay, St Ives, Weymouth – was a favourite choice during ‘trip week’, during which thousands would down tools and leave the town virtually empty as trains took them away from it all for a short precious while.

    The prized destination for many once the railways had come: Anchor Head, in Weston-Super-Mare, c. 1910. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    Weston’s origins can be traced back to the Neolithic period, but it was the fashion for sea bathing – sampled by George III at Weymouth in 1789 – that set it on a course away from farming and fishing. Many of the first visitors came by coach from Bath and Bristol in numbers soon sufficient to warrant a hotel, Weston’s first opening in 1810.

    As with Brighton, at first there were objections, local landowners being somewhat wary of this still-new technology; so much so, that when Parliament granted the Bristol & Exeter Railway powers to build a line between those two cities on 19 May 1836, Brunel – the company’s engineer – was obliged to bypass the town some 1½ miles to the south. As work progressed on this important broad gauge route, however, there was a change of heart (although fears about ‘noisy’, ‘smelly’ steam engines were such that when the first train arrived in the town on 14 June 1841, it was hauled by a team of horses).

    Brunel’s original station was a small affair in Regent Street, but when the branch was doubled in 1866, a new facility was opened on the other side of the road – conveniently doing away with a decidedly inconvenient level crossing. Though modified for mixed-gauge working in 1875, it was also in this year that powers were acquired to lay a four-mile standard-gauge loop into the town, allowing a Weston stop to be added to certain through services. By the time it opened on 1 March 1884, branches had been built to serve 14 more seaside resorts, including Blackpool (1846), Southport (1848), Eastbourne (1849) and Torquay (1859). The railways were starting to become a key part of the nation’s holiday-making. Holiday Trains explains how that situation developed.

    Greg Morse's new book Holiday Trains is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Traction by Hugh Llewelyn

    English Electric Class 37/6 No.37 685, later named Loch Arkaig, and No.37 676 Loch Rannoch of West Coast Railway Co. approach Abbey Wood on the Weston super Mare - Manchester Victoria ‘Holy Oakes’ on 26 March 2011. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Growing up in South Wales, I first began to visit Bristol in the very early 60’s because family relations lived there. Later, as a teenager, I travelled ‘over the channel’ to open days at Bristol Bath Road diesel depot or simply to ‘trainspot’ at the end of the platforms of Bristol Temple Meads. Even then, with my very limited knowledge of railway architecture, Temple Meads did indeed strike me as a temple – far more impressive than Neath General, my local main line station! However, I never spotted any meads.

    I moved to Sussex and then London in the early 1970’s, but in 1976 my career resulted in a move to Bristol and I have lived in or around the city ever since. Fortunately near stations on the main line, namely Nailsea and Backwell, Stapleton Road and now Keynsham. Although a busy career and raising a family resulted in quite long periods where the chances to photograph trains were limited, nevertheless I took the opportunity to get out and follow my hobby when I could.

    Preserved but main line registered BR (Swindon) Class 52 ‘Western’ diesel-hydraulic No.D1015 Western Champion running as classmate No.D1005 Western Adventurer pulls away from Temple Meads in a typical cloud of Maybach smoke on the Bristol - Kingswear ‘Dartmouth Arrow’ on 30 August 2008. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Although not presenting the huge choice of traction that London had, nonetheless Bristol offered a good variety of diesel locomotives and multiple units with, of course, the spectacular architecture of Temple Meads as a backdrop. My book is perhaps tilted towards photographs taken there, but in pursuing my hobby I had no thought that my pictures would ever appear in a book and often that was the most convenient place to visit.

    My earliest photographs in this book were taken with a Halina 35X Super (though it wasn’t very ‘super’) but eventually I graduated to various SLR’s and DLSR’s. What I have found most astonishing, however, is that a relatively inexpensive mobile phone can now take photographs of surprising quality and enables snatched photographs at times I do not have my DLSR with me. So there are even one or two photographs in this book taken with my phone – something that would have been unimaginable to me just a few years ago.

    When Cross Country refurbished their Class 43’s they chose the MTU engine and the Class 43/2 nomenclature. Approaching a public footpath crossing between Nailsea & Backwell and Yatton is Class 43/2 No.43 357 (formerly No.43 157 HMS Penzance and originally Yorkshire Evening Post) in Cross Country’s distinctive livery on a Plymouth-bound service, 18 April 2014. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I moved to Bristol just too late for the diesel-hydraulic era but variety of ‘classic’ diesel-electrics there was aplenty – Class 20, 25, 33, 37, 45, 46, 47, 50 and 56 locomotives and various classes DMU’s. But the era of the HST soon dawned and displaced the Type 4’s on passenger duties whilst second generation DMU’s. Displaced not just the older DMU’s but the loco-hauled cross-country and local passenger services. Freights, on the other hand, fell to the last British-built diesel locomotives – the Class 60’s – and imported Class 59’s, 66’s and 70’s from North America and Class 68’s from Spain. Nonetheless, ‘classic’ diesel locomotives can still be seen on excursions and specials, most notably Class 47’s and the re-engined Class 57 version.

    The Class 159’s were built as BR Regional Railways Class 158’s but converted to the specification of Network South East for Waterloo – Exeter services, replacing coaches hauled by Class 50’s which were becoming increasingly unreliable and unsuited to the service. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Now even the era of the HST is rapidly drawing to a close as the Hitachi Class 800’s are being introduced on more and more services. Although I mourned the loss of loco-hauled expresses to HST’s, now I am mourning the loss of the iconic HST’s to the sleek but rather bland Hitachi’s.

    My book illustrates this changing traction in Bristol and the former county of Avon over the decades and, unfortunately, the loss in variety that has resulted. Luckily, the Avon Valley Railway adds interest to the local scene and a few photographs of diesels on this heritage railway are included.

    Hugh Llewelyn's new book Bristol Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Steam in the British Coalfields by Mick Pope

    Trainspotter, a description that has somehow become a term of ridicule, conjuring up an image of some bespectacled nerd who is unable to function in normal society and definitely won’t have any dress sense, wife or girlfriend. Funny how this has come about as an interest in railways in general as the second most popular hobby among men in the United Kingdom after angling. I did wear glasses as a young lad and so I was part way there already!

    Joseph climbs away from the screens at Bold Colliery with loaded 21-ton hopper wagons, probably destined for Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. August 1981. (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    I must admit that my father was the first to encourage me to take an interest in the model variety of trains, having himself grown up as a collector of the old fashioned clockwork, tinplate Hornby ‘O’ gauge ones. I suspect his encouragement was merely to give legitimacy to him continuing his own passion as I had only a passing interest at that time. Then one day I was rebuffed by a school friend when I asked him what we would do over the coming weekend. After a hushed conversation with another friend he declared that he was going to Chester station to collect train numbers. It seemed a bit pointless to me but I tagged along anyway out of curiosity. I was advised to buy a ‘locoshed book’ published by the Ian Allen company as this contained the number of every locomotive working for British Railways, as it was then, plus the place where they normally were based. I was told that I also needed a notebook and that I should write down the number of every locomotive seen and then underline that number in the locoshed book when I got home. It all seemed a bit boring although it had an element of acquisitiveness that is present in most kids. One day and I was hooked! There was just something about the big powerful machines that seemed alive. I didn’t know what I was looking at in any detail but noted that some locomotives had names, that some were green, most were black and some very special ones were a kind of red and these got a special cheer from the assembled spotters. I needed more information and so bought more detailed pocket sized books with photographs and technical details. I learned fast.

    Warrior with a rake of 16-ton mineral wagons. The snow manages to cover what was normally a very muddy environment! (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    With my friends we travelled further afield. Holidays on the south coast, and with relatives in Somerset, introduced me to new kinds of locomotives. We revived a moribund railway society at our grammar school, really just an excuse to obtain permits from British Railways to visit their locomotive depots, although we frequently ‘bunked’ these places, i.e. sneaked in without permission. Being well over six feet tall at age sixteen I could pass as an adult and, telling that little white lie, was allowed to obtain the required permits.

    Eventually, as with many childhood fads or hobbies, many of my friends gradually dropped out. By this stage I had also developed an interest in photography and, again encouraged by my father, owned a reasonably effective camera rather than the Kodak ‘Instamatic’ used by most of my fellow enthusiasts. By this time British Railways was rapidly disposing of its steam locomotives and collecting their numbers had become a bit pointless, you could never see them all which had been the original aim, and so taking photographs of what was disappearing seemed a sensible thing to do.

    Around this time I got a place at Nottingham University and, as bad luck would have it, this was an area where steam power had already been eliminated. Studies in Nottingham and a girlfriend back home took up most of my time and money. One day in 1968, the year steam locomotives were eliminated on British Railways, I was sat in the Social Science library at the university pondering a life without steam locomotives when I spotted a column of steam moving about in the distance. This puzzled me as it was unlikely that anything had strayed from the last stronghold in the North West. Studying an Ordnance Survey map that evening I guessed that the steam was coming from Clifton Colliery. I checked this out and sure enough they had a small steam locomotive. I knew from my GCE ‘O’ level Geography that there were lots of coal mines around Nottingham and therefore there might be other places with steam power. Further research discovered that there was actually a national society for those interested in industrial locomotives and that they published books recording every location and what could be found there. My studies took a downward turn and I was out and about, ironically photographing not the coalmining locations, few had steam power working by then, but the ironstone quarries in Lincolnshire, Rutland as was, and Northamptonshire.

    Descending from the colliery, a loaded train passes the mangled remains of a recent load that ran away on the steep gradient and derailed. (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    Returning home to Liverpool once I graduated – with a very moderate degree – I found that the coal mines of Lancashire were still home to many steam locomotives as were those a little further afield in Cumbria. By the early 1970s my younger brother had also become something of an industrial steam nerd by this time, being handy for the last strongholds in North Wales, and so we went on expeditions together.

    Sadly even this means of satisfying our appetite was diminishing and in 1975 I made my first trip abroad to photograph steam locomotives in East Germany, Poland and, with my wife to be in tow, Spain and Portugal. By the end of the 1980s I had added, with several visits, India, China, South Africa, Turkey and Zimbabwe to the list, photographing both steam trains on the national lines of those countries but also industrial sites. When asked if I had seen the ‘Terracotta Army’ on a trip to China I had to answer ‘No but I did go to the steelworks at Anshan and the forestry line at Langxiang’ [where we taught the local workers how to play musical chairs at a social evening]!

    I had many adventures on these trips, some printable, some not! I also have a cupboard full of negatives and colour slides that I need to transfer into digital format before they fade away. So call me a nerd if you must but I have seen far more of the world than most and don’t regret it one bit. See my photos and judge for yourself!

    Mick Pope's new book Steam in the British Coalfields is available for purchase now.

  • Locomotives of the Eastern United States by Christopher Esposito

    When I was asked to put together this book for Amberley, I knew it was going to be a challenge. After all, how does one comb through over 10,000 photos of trains and select the best images to present to readers? What lines to pick? What engine models?

    NS ES44DC 7716 leads 13R over the Potomac River as it crosses from Maryland into West Virginia on the H Line. Shepherdstown, WV. Taken on 26 October 2018. (Locomotives of the Eastern United States, Amberley Publishing)

    In this blog post, I’m going to give a behind-the-scenes look at how I arrived at the selection process for the images used in this book.

    The first thing I looked at was variety. Since the topic of the book is locomotives, I wanted to include as many different locomotive types as possible. With the monotony of modern diesel power in the form of EMD SD70 variants and GE GEVO models, this was no easy task. While I did not include EVERY type of engine currently in use, I feel the book presents a realistic look at what is currently used by the major railroads.

    The second criteria I used was scenery. The Eastern region of the United States can range from vast mountain regions around Pennsylvania and Virginia to virtually flat plains of red clay in the Carolinas. In my selections, I used shots I felt captured the flavor of each region:  the quaint countryside dotted with family farms in eastern Pennsylvania, the mountainous and gritty coal country of West Virginia, the dense and populated commuter towns in New Jersey, the urban setting of downtown Atlanta. It was key for me to not just show you, the reader an image of an EMD SD70ACe for instance, but to show it as part of the bigger picture. Too often, rail photographers will focus on the train and ignore the greater surrounding scenery.  By doing that, you tend to lose the feeling of the area in which you are shooting.

    Union Pacific GE AC44CW No. 6588 leads eastbound intermodal No. 234 through Waburn, VA on the ex-N&W main line as a light dusting of snow covers the ground. Taken on 13 March 2018. (Locomotives of the Eastern United States, Amberley Publishing)

    The third condition on my list was consistency. While I did make a few exceptions by including older photographs, I made a conscious decision to use only photographs taken with my current model of camera – the Nikon D4S. The quality of the image produced by the D4S really jumps out at you, and I wanted to use the best quality shots for this publication.

    My final point was to try and include an assortment of railroads that run on the east coast. Due to traffic density, line proximity and fitting in trackside time, the photos used in the book tend to favor the Norfolk Southern railroad. While the black and white scheme used on the NS diesels is nothing to write home about, I feel the settings in which the trains operate make up for the lack of color on the engines.

    I hope as you page through the photos in this book, it gives you a sense of not only the engines in use on today’s railroads, but also a glimpse into the regions of America these trains traverse and the industries they serve.

    Christopher Esposito's new book Locomotives of the Eastern United States is available for purchase now.

  • Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s by Colin Alexander

    When my mate David, now exiled in France, made me custodian of his collection of railway photos from the early 1980s it sparked the idea of compiling a book recalling our teenage years, misspent bunking BR diesel depots.

    Unidentified Class 31/1 on 31 July 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Wishing to include as much variety as possible I decided the book would encompass two decades, from 1970 to 1989. In 1970 I was six years old and my Dad was taking me to ‘watch the trains’. On these trips I can clearly remember seeing Clayton Type 1s dumped at the back of Tyne Yard.

    It wasn’t until 1978, aged fourteen, that I was allowed to go independently to Newcastle Central station. The cost of a return from Tynemouth and a platform ticket was less than 10p.  I quickly made friends with other ‘platform-enders’, forming lifelong friendships. Forty years later, we still go on rail-tours and to preserved diesel galas together.

    The west end of Central station provided a tantalising glimpse across the Tyne to Gateshead depot. A walk across Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge led us via the old NER Greenesfield Works to the shed foreman's office door where we made the mistake of knocking and asking permission to look around. Having been chased off, next time we knew better and just sneaked in up the bank beside the King Edward VII Bridge and through a hole in the fence, to the sidings known as the ‘ash-heaps’.

    We soon progressed to travelling, usually with the excellent £2.60 weekly Northumbrian Ranger ticket. We mostly ‘bashed’ Deltics between Berwick and York but always made time to visit Carlisle’s Kingmoor shed. On all but one occasion we were flatly refused entry by the ‘gadgie’ in the office so we’d trudge back over the bridge, forced to view the locos across the main line from rusty sidings which often contained withdrawn locomotives awaiting disposal. They led to one of our favourite vantage points, the Waverley route bridge and its view of the secondary shed in the marshalling yard.

    The exterior of Inverness shed featured these bodly striped doors, outside which No. 27203 is stabled on 27 March 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    We began to travel further afield in our quest for diesel exotica, and found Scottish shed foremen far more amenable to scruffy youths wandering about than their Gateshead and Kingmoor counterparts.

    The Ian Allan Locoshed books became indispensable, providing directions through the dodgiest parts of Britain's towns and cities to depots. My friend Tim and I, then aged 12 and 14 respectively, had been taken by his parents to Glasgow for the day. The grown-ups set off shopping, leaving us kids to visit Eastfield shed. Like many depots it was surrounded by run-down estates and we soon became aware we were being followed. Turning, I saw a boy about our age, but looking much ‘harder’ than us (not difficult), accompanied by a much older lad who looked even scarier. What caught our eye was that one wielded a half-brick while the other carried a bike chain. We ran as fast as we could but Tim’s legs could not carry him fast enough. I made it to the security gates of The Metal Box factory and got the guards there to rescue Tim. Our assailants scarpered but not before robbing Tim of what little cash he was carrying.

    One of the less numerous first-generation DMU types was the Class 100, built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    The police were called and soon we found ourselves in a scene from “Rab C Nesbitt”, riding the tenement streets in a ‘jam sandwich’ squad car on the lookout for the baddies. Our description of the older of the two matched that of one of their most wanted, and soon enough we spotted them. He and his younger sidekick were hauled into the back seat and the former was literally sat on by the arresting officer for the journey to the ‘nick’, six of us jammed into a five-seater car! Their pockets were emptied, the contents given to us and we were sent on our way. A tidy profit was made and nothing was said to my friend’s parents.

    On another occasion, having used Merseyrail under the river to get to the sheds in Birkenhead, I lost my ticket and had no cash, and had no means of boarding a train back to Liverpool. Imagine the look on the ticket vendor’s face when I asked where the nearest bridge was, thinking I could simply walk back over the river. I now know that it is approximately a 25-mile walk to the bridge at Runcorn. Fortunately he took pity and let me fare-dodge back under the Mersey.

    With her headcode panel intact in 1982, Class 81 electric locomotive No. 81007 is captured at the buffer-stops outside Kingmoor. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Whole weekends would be planned around shed-bunks. Just after my sixteenth birthday six of us travelled overnight from Newcastle to London. Three of us travelled in style behind Deltic 55012 CREPELLO to York then 55009 ALYCIDON the rest of the way to the capital, arriving in the early hours of Saturday morning. The other three lads were not so well-off so they met us at Victoria off the overnight National Express coach.

    We visited Clapham Junction, Selhurst and Hither Green with their Class 73 electro-diesels.  Then followed the trainspotters’ mecca of Stratford to see the last remaining Class 31/0s. The North London line took us to Willesden where AC electrics awaited, then trudged down the road to Old Oak Common to see Class 50s. Our trip was concluded with more Deltic haulage behind 55014 THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON’S REGIMENT overnight from King’s Cross, with diversions via Lincoln and the Leamside line, while our mates suffered another night on the M1 and A1. We all got home early next morning, tired, filthy and happy.

    If the varied contents of BR’s sheds were not interesting enough, it was even more exciting to visit the workshops of British Railways Engineering Ltd, normally accessible only on open days. Dad came up trumps, taking me to open days at Doncaster in 1978 and Crewe in 1979.  These events introduced me to the unforgettable smell of the paint-shops and the fascinating sight of locomotives being built, overhauled or scrapped.

    My only visit to Laira was on an open day, on 25 April 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    The most memorable open day was the “Deltic D-Day” at Doncaster, in February 1982. Thousands of enthusiasts converged on the town to pay their last respects to the survivors of the class, all having been withdrawn from service and several having already been cut up.

    Open days were fine but their very legitimacy meant they weren’t a patch on blagging our way into a location where we shouldn't be!

    Perils associated with shed visits were unlit inspection pits, oily puddles, tripping hazards and moving trains. Southern Region depots offered a 750vDC third rail as an additional danger, but we are all still here. It is difficult to imagine in today’s era of health and safety that enthusiasts were ever allowed to access such facilities!

    In this book I have assembled a collection of photographs that show the widest possible variety of traction in the principal depots and works all over the network, along with many of the lesser installations.

    Colin Alexander's new book Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase.

  • Survivors of Beeching by John Jackson

    It seems like only yesterday that I was lying on the carpet at my best friend’s house. Dave lived ‘seven doors down’ and had the superior Hornby double 0 gauge model railway layout. As school chums, we spent many a happy hour playing trains there.

    The view from the train as it approaches St. Ives. (Survivors of Beeching, Amberley Publishing)

    On more than one occasion I distinctly remember our two dads having the audacity to invade our space and enter our playroom. I recall their conversations on how this man Beeching would have a lasting effect on their lives, not to mention ours.

    My Dad was explaining that the railway lines east of Northampton would soon be no more. These were the very lines that I had taken for granted were there to take us home to see my Nan who lived not far from Haverhill on the Essex and Suffolk county border.

    David’s Dad had responded in a ‘tit for tat’ sort of way by explaining that this would also ruin their family holidays to Hunstanton in particular.

    In those days, when car ownership was not a given, I didn’t appreciate that there would have been similar discussions going on across the land as the country came to terms with the Beeching Act or the Beeching ‘Axe’, as it would become known in the annals of twentieth century history.

    How could I be expected to understand the economic necessities of a radical review of our railways?

    Fast forward a quarter of a century and adulthood had made me realise just what the ‘before’ and ‘after’ railway map looked like once the substantial cull of lines, stations and services had been fully implemented.

    The remote outpost of Altnabreac on Scotland’s Far North Line. (Survivors of Beeching, Amberley Publishing)

    Most childhood weekends had been spent watching the variety of steam locomotives heading up and down the West Coast Main Line. These steam locos were ousted by the rapid introduction of diesel engines followed by the northward march of the line’s electrification. Worse, Roade station, ‘our’ station had become just one of the station closure casualties. There would be no more spotting from the platforms at this strategic point where the Northampton loop split from the main line.

    In time I would, of course, get things in perspective and come to terms with the post Beeching railway map. My goal to travel on all the passenger lines in the country would be that much easier to achieve and there would be considerably less stations to visit.

    But there would still be challenges. The remote station of Rannoch may be on the West Highland Railway Line but, oddly, its road access is from much further east. The B846, a no through road, runs for about fifteen miles from the isolated village of Kinloch Rannoch, itself a similar distance from the main A9. This makes Rannoch around thirty four miles from the comparative civilisation of the Central Highlands. Yes, Rannoch is most certainly ‘a survivor’.

    My seventh title for Amberley, ‘Survivors of Beeching’, is a recognition that many lines were saved for today’s rail travellers to enjoy. The line from Cambridge to Sudbury is gone and Haverhill station has been consigned to railway history. That said, my wife and I continue to enjoy travelling on the lines that have survived. From the branch from St. Erth to St. Ives in Cornwall to Scotland’s Far North line to Wick and Thurso, the lines featured in my book are examples of what today’s railway network still has to offer.

    John Jackson's new book Survivors of Beeching is available for purchase now.

  • DB Cargo Locomotives and Stock in the UK by John Jackson

    Railways have been around in this country for nearly two hundred years, and there have been many significant milestones when documenting their place in British Social History. In the early days, they were the only way to travel as they pre-dated both motor car and aeroplane. They were also instrumental in giving the UK a standardised time for us all. Often taken for granted, they helped deliver day to day necessities such as the milk, the mail and fresh meat, fish, fruit and veg to our towns, if not directly to our doors.

    On a more sombre note, they played an extremely important part too in the country’s efforts during not one, but two, World Wars.

    66001 at Toton in August 1998. (DB Cargo Locomotives and Stock in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    Times change of course, and our railways have seen many changes since those early days of the iron road from Stockton to Darlington. Steam locos have been replaced by diesel ones, and these diesels have in turn given way to electric power. For many, though, the railways’ usefulness has been superseded by private car and commercial lorry. Some of us opt to fly between the UK’s towns and cities.

    Our railways have been nationalised, and subsequently privatised, with a drastic streamlining under the Beeching Axe carried out between the two.

    One significant outcome of privatisation was the 1990’s creation of the company that was to handle much of the country’s rail freight movement. English, Welsh & Scottish Railways (EWS) inherited much of British Rail’s freight related assets and that company, in turn, evolved into DB Cargo today.

    In 1998, the company proudly displayed their first few examples of their Class 66 locos. This unveiling was a hint of what lay ahead. Older locos were deemed life expired or unsuitable to meet the company’s future plans. They were to be replaced by this new order. It was an order that would see two hundred and fifty Class 66 locos delivered in a little over two years. This display, at the company’s new home at Toton on the Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire border, was held over the weekend of August 29th & 30th 1998. It was seen by many, myself included, as an endorsement of promising times ahead in the rail freight sector.

    Old and new corporate colours on 90018 & 90028 at Nuneaton. (DB Cargo Locomotives and Stock in the UK, Amberley Publishing)

    That promise may not have been totally fulfilled but the DB Cargo owned examples of this class, together with a mixed bag of loco survivors from a previous era, have earned their place in the annals of railway history.

    My sixth title for Amberley, ‘DB Cargo Locomotives & Stock in the UK’, takes a look at the workings of the company in the 21st century. Like them or hate them, these Class 66 locos, or ‘sheds’ as they quickly became known, form the basis of our hobby for the many enthusiasts who rise to the challenge of trying to see the whole of this UK class during each calendar year.

    Many of the 250 class members on DB’s books have since found permanent work aboard, leaving around half on them based in the UK. Before those loco despatches to mainland Europe, I recall the red-letter day when I saw loco number 66222 pass through the high level platforms at Tamworth station, meaning I had seen all 250 EWS locomotive examples (as they were then) through the Staffordshire town.

    A mix of diesel and electric locomotives meet today’s DB Cargo needs. The book’s pages take a look at the variety of workings on which they are found.

    Whatever the level of interest of today’s rail enthusiast, the place of DB Cargo in the freight sector in particular can’t be ignored. A browse through the pages of this book gives an indication as to why.

    John Jackson's new book DB Cargo Locomotives and Stock in the UK is available for purchase now.

  • Rail Rover: Western Ranger by Stephen Heginbotham

    The 27th January 1986 was an awful day in Salisbury, but an undeterred 50021 ‘RODNEY’ pulls into Platform 3 in charge of the 1220 Exeter – Waterloo. 50021 was built as D421 in May 1968 by English Electric at the Vulcan Foundry. After withdrawal in April 1990 it was stored at Laira Depot before being saved for preservation. (c. Nigel Rowe, Rail Rover: Western Ranger, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, after nearly forty years of getting up at 04:50, or sometimes earlier, and arriving home at any time around midnight off late shift and being called out in the middle of the night, I thought retirement might bring some rest and leisurely days, but alas dear reader, that appears to not be the case. Compiling and writing a book of any size or layout, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is not something that throws itself together overnight.

    However, when the subject is close to my heart and beliefs, the task at hand becomes so much easier.

    I have a lifelong interest in all things transport, including many years studying railway accidents and incidents that have led to the signalling systems and rules we use today.

    I have also been very fortunate to work in an industry which is both my hobby and my career. For the most part it has been an absolute pleasure to go to work every day, even though that meant thirty-eight years of unsociable shifts, early starts and late finishes, working in Derbyshire, Cornwall and Devon as both Signalman and Supervisor was a privilege.

    I do feel though that changes in recent years within the industry have fragmented the ‘big family’ that was once BR.

    (Rail Rover: Western Ranger, Amberley Publishing)

    Born in an age of steam, I well remember the transition from steam to diesel and electric and was fortunate enough to see steam to its demise in August 1968, Stockport Edgeley (9B) being one of the very last steam sheds. As a child I watched named trains, with named locos, thunder past my school, and at weekends or school holidays I watched the Woodhead Electrics at Reddish, the trolleybuses in Manchester, or Pacific’s on the West Coast or Crewe, making the journey there by either steam train or pre-war bus.

    Ironically, travel seemed easier in those distant days from our past, several decades ago. Aside from there being more trains to locations, the lack of restriction of travelling alone in one’s younger days did not impinge on the more adventurous of us that struck out to locations that could only be dreamed of now by anyone of a similar age. I say ironically, because unlike today, with our modern communications, when one left home for an adventure in the 1960s, even as a twelve or thirteen-year-old, you had little chance of contacting your parents unless you used a public phone box, and assuming home actually possessed a telephone.

    This collection of photographs depicts journeys similar to those I undertook as a teenager, but made by friends of mine setting out to explore the railways and trains of the erstwhile Western Region of British Railways during the latter years of the previous century. With a wider choice of routes and trains available just a few decades ago, it was easier then to achieve the desired locations and in this case return home the same day. There were of course many traction types to be seen in and around the West Country during the 1970s and 1980s and of course, at the time, they were common traction types and not thought of as anything unusual, but, like all things in everyday life, complacency creeps in and one just never thinks that this status quo of things is one day not going to be there. A fitting reminder of halcyon days, as the current railway stumbles around trying to get it right, and frequently failing!

    In being invited to produce some more books on my favourite subject of public transport I asked some of my many like-minded friends if they wished to contribute to this particular book, and of course, they said they would like to.

    Crossing Hayle Viaduct with the Hayle Wharves trip working is 7575 on 20 September 1972. Not many pictures exist of freight to/from and on Hayle Wharves. (c. D. Letcher, Rail Rover: Western Ranger, Amberley Publishing)

    As I have mentioned previously, compiling and writing books on any subject, including fiction and subject specific titles, is not as easy as one might presume. It involves countless hours of research, photographic reproduction, digital cleaning and correcting of old and sometimes damaged negatives, slides and prints.

    This all has to be set out to a strict and precise format as demanded by the publisher.  The final product, its presentation, publicity and promotion are all done by the publishers of course, but is usually with agreement of the author on such things as the covers.

    Showcasing a friends or former colleagues’ photographs to display them to best advantage is therefore no easy task and that is why the publishers and biographical authors put their name on the front, even though the content or most of the content was not produced by them originally.

    The photos in this book are not arranged in any particular order, so dates and locations are randomly arranged to try and keep the reader interested.

    So, having said all that, here is my fourth book on Railways. After much tapping of keys, extensive research, photo preparation and hundreds of hours writing and compiling the book, I hope you find it enjoyable, and that there aren’t too many mistakes.

    Stephen Heginbotham's new book Rail Rover: Western Ranger is available for purchase now.

  • The Rainhill Trials by Anthony Dawson

    Unravelling the myths

    Rocket, Sans Pareil and Novelty as depicted (to the same scale) by the Mechanics' Magazine in October 1829. (The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    As Anthony Coulls has written in the foreword, the story of the Rainhill Trials is rather like the story of Genesis in the Bible. A familiar tale, one that has often been told, but perhaps never as well understood as it should be. So why write a book on Rainhill if the story is so well known? The impetus to write about Rainhill was several fold: the building in 2010 of a more faithful replica of Robert Stephenson’s and Henry Booth’s Rocket (the 1979 replica had many features which were not present on the original locomotive of 1829) and the lessons learned from that; the results of a full-scale re-enactment of the Ranihill Trials in 2002; a gathering of all three replica locomotives at SIM, Manchester in 2005; and continued frustration with the many myths which had accrued around Rainhill. That George Stephenson had built Rocket (and that it was the first railway locomotive) and had conducted industrial sabotage against his former colleague Timothy Hackworth. Walking past the 1928 replica of Novelty (which incorporates the original wheels, parts of the valve gear and one cylinder) on a daily basis aroused interest in Braithwaithe and Ericsson. The return of Rocket to the Newcastle for the first time since the 1850s and Manchester since 1836 gave further incentive to start researching and writing.

    The original Sans Pareil as preserved at Locomotion, the NRM out-station at Shildon, a stone's throw from where she was built in 1829. (c. Lauren Jaye Gradwell, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Unravelling many of the myths surrounding Rainhill was akin to jumping down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, not knowing where it would take me. The first port of call were the notebooks of two of the Judges, John Urpeth Rastrick and Nicholas Wood, as well as the minutes of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which organised the Rainhill Trials. Analysis of the notebooks provided similar times for each of the runs by Rocket, Novelty and Sans Pareil as well as showing that Rocket – despite the later claim of Nicholas Wood – didn’t achieve a speed of 29mph. Wood simply got his maths wrong. Whilst it is well-known that both Sans Pareil and Novelty suffered from technical problems, the actual details of these failures was both sketchy and contradictory. Contemporary press reportage, especially by the likes of the oft-quoted Mechanics’ Magazine, was biased against the Stephensons, and a vocal champion of the ‘London Engine’ of Braithwaite and Ericsson.  The Stephensons (père et fil) and Hackworth were simply ‘not the right sort of people’ for the editor, and readers, of the London-based Mechanics’ Magazine. They were the same London experts who derided George Stephensons safety lamp and that he would never cross Chat Moss. Thus, reports from pro- and anti-Stephenson sources were needed to create a balanced picture; so too accounts of Rainhill from France and the USA.  In presenting each locomotive, I endeavoured to remain as neutral as possible, and let the data speak for itself.

    Neither Sans Pareil or Novelty has had much in the way of a detailed study, usually being dismissed as ‘also rans’, with the victory of Rocket being a foregone conclusion. In fact, I could have written this book twice over with the amount of data, and human interest, the research gathered about each of the engines and their builders. Analysis by two of the leading experts on early railway locomotives, Peter Davidson and Dr. John Glithero, showed that of the three contenders Novelty was theoretically brilliant, but hamstrung through never having had running-in trials, hence several mechanical problems only being discovered at Rainhill. Furthermore, the bellows needed to provide the draught for the fire used more energy than the cylinders could deliver!

    The replica certainly confirms John Dixon's observation that Novelty had a 'parlour-like appearance', all polished copper and bress like a new tea-kettle. (c. David Boydell, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Sans Pareil was even more controversial: since the 1850s, largely thanks to the bitter writing of Timothy Hackworth’s son, John Wesley Hackworth, who claimed that the Stephensons had deliberately sabotaged his father’s entry. Going through Timothy’s letters at the National Railway Museum showed that Timothy and George were on good terms (far from the bitter enemies the myth would have us believe), but also confirmed the observation that Sans Pareil had a cracked cylinder. Experience from casting cylinders for the replicas of Rocket and Sans Pareil 1979-1980 showed that the cylinder design was poor, using ‘floating cores’ which could shift during casting, leading to a flaw which could not be detected. Sans Pareil’s boiler also leaked, again something traditionally blamed on the Stephensons and their Ally, Michael Longridge, who made it. Discussing the matter with an experienced boilersmith suggests that the boiler was damaged either on the road or more likely during its testing to three times it working pressure (Rocket’s boiler underwent the same test and also showed signs of leaking, requiring the addition of stays).  Furthermore, Timothy Hackworth’s frantic efforts to seal up leaky joints in the boiler probably made matters worse. Local pride in Darlington and Shildon would suggest that ‘Hackworth was robbed’ of victory at Rainhill, and that Sans Pareil was as good as Rocket. Once again, analysis by Davidson and Glithero show that Sans Pareil was really the last-gasp of old technology and of the three contenders it was only Rocket – thanks to her revolutionary multi-tubular boiler designed by Henry Booth – that not only stayed the course but was the only locomotive which would have been able to work a regular, time-tabled passenger service between Liverpool and Manchester.

    The 2010 replica of Rocket standing at the historic Liverpool Road Station during her visit to mark the 180th anniversary of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. (c. Matthew Jackson, The Rainhill Trials, Amberley Publishing)

    Such was the rate of technological development (like phones and other personal devices), Rocket was obsolete within six months; first by further Rocket-type locomotives which sported several improvements from the Rainhill design, but culminating in the delivery of Planet in October 1830: the first mainline express passenger locomotive.

    Rocket only had a brief working life of about two years before being laid up; she was used as the test-bed of a rotary steam engine invented by Lord Dundonald in 1833, and then stored until being sold in 1836 to work on a colliery railway. Out of service again by 1840, Rocket was thankfully preserved, and although missing many of her non-ferrous fittings, was eventually presented to what is now the Science Museum in 1862.

    Sans Pareil, after a far longer working life on the Bolton & Leigh Railway ended her days as a stationary engine in a colliery before she too was given to what is now the Science Museum. You can see her, and the 1979 replica, on display at Locomotion, Shildon. Novelty languished unused until 1833 when she was rebuilt with a multi-tubular boiler and set to work on the St Helens & Runcorn Gap Railway; her original wheels and cylinders passed to John Melling, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Locomotive Superintendent. Four wheels and a cylinder were incorporated in a static replica now on display at SIM, Manchester, and the second cylinder is on display at Rainhill library. With the 190th Anniversary of Rainhill coming next year, it would be fantastic to see all three original contestants reunited.

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Rainhill Trials is available for purchase now.

  • The Stephenson Railway Legacy by Colin Alexander

    In the words of Captain J. M. Laws, speaking before the Gauge Commission in 1845 “We owe all our railways to the collieries in the North; and the difficulties which their industry overcame taught us to make railways and to make locomotives to work them”. Many of the difficulties of which he spoke were overcome by that legendary son of Northumberland, George Stephenson, and subsequently by his son, Robert.

    The Stephenson Railway Museum, in the former Metro Test Track depot in North Shields, has a unique collection. Its most important exhibit is Billy, used at Killingworth and one of five surviving locomotives that predate Rocket. (c. Colin Alexander, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Growing up as I did on the banks of the Tyne, it was impossible to escape the influence of the Stephensons. I share my birthplace with Robert. My mother went to the Stephenson Memorial School and I completed my main teaching practice at George Stephenson High School. Stephenson Streets abound on Tyneside, as well as the Stephenson Railway Museum (where visitors can admire the oldest surviving Stephenson locomotive, Billy of 1816), the cottage where George was born and another where they lived during their most formative time.

    While Robert Stephenson himself acknowledged that “the locomotive is not the invention of one man but of a nation of mechanical engineers”, the Stephensons’ biographer Smiles wrote “in no quarter of England have greater changes been wrought by the successive advances made in the practical science of engineering than in the extensive colliery districts of the North, of which Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the centre and the capital”. Among the many pioneers to emanate from that region, George and Robert Stephenson deservedly achieved a worldwide fame beyond all others.

    As early as 1798, George was put in charge of steam power for the first time in the form of a pumping engine at a pit west of Newcastle. This event would change not only George’s life, but would ultimately change the whole world. The first locomotives, by Trevithick, Blenkinsopp and Hedley and others were not entirely successful but in the words of Smiles, through “application, industry and perseverance, (George Stephenson) carried into effect one of the most remarkable but peaceful revolutions”.

    His first locomotive Blucher was financed by colliery owner Lord Ravensworth, who had been impressed by Stephenson’s improvements to his stationary engines. Blucher steamed in 1814, a steady 5mph plodder of a coal-hauler. Although she boasted some refinements compared to earlier engines she shared their vertical motion with its hammer-blow effect on brittle rails. Within fifteen years, the father-and-son team of George and Robert Stephenson would produce the fastest machine yet built, with smooth motion, mechanical efficiency and economy, capable of well over 30mph! Her name was, of course, the Rocket.

    Robert Stephenson's Newcastle factory turned out several 7 foot 1/4 inch gauge locomotives for Brunel's Great Western Railway. Among them was 2-2-2 North Star, a full-sized replica of which is at Swindon's Steam Museum. (c. Alon Siton collection, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    George Stephenson’s fame derived from his willingness to experiment, along with confidence, perseverance and ingenuity that took the world into an exciting new Railway Age. His experiments saved lives too, for he famously invented the Stephenson miners’ safety lamp, predating the more widely-known Davy lamp.

    His greatest achievements were arguably his victories in Parliament, where the uneducated Northumbrian was repeatedly and unfairly abused and ridiculed for his assertions. He faced opposition from powerful land-owners and canal operators who hired hard-hitting advocates to argue against the building of new railways. These vocal adversaries made ludicrous, unfounded assertions, including that in gale force winds it would be impossible for a steam train to move!

    Stephenson’s common sense and determination saw him through, resulting in the building of the world’s first successful steam railway, the Stockton and Darlington, with rails laid at a gauge of 4’8½”. This would of course be adopted as ‘Standard Gauge’ across much of the world. The S&D’s first locomotives were built at the world’s first locomotive factory, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne under the name of Robert Stephenson & Company.

    Back in Egypt, one of Stephenson's more unusual orders was this 1859 contraption for the Pasha of Egypt. (c. Alon Siton collection, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Then followed the building of the world’s first ‘Inter-City’ line, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, which would bring George and Robert lasting fame.

    They would also go on to engineer much of Europe’s early railway network, including unprecedented individual feats of engineering in the form of tunnels and bridges.

    George Stephenson died in 1848, aged 67, at his mansion near Chesterfield, a far cry from the family’s one room by the wagonway at Wylam.

    His friend Nicholas Wood described him as “the most extraordinary man of the age, or indeed of any age”.

    Statues were erected in Liverpool, Newcastle, London, Chesterfield and Budapest, demonstrating that his influence extended well beyond these shores.

    Robert Stephenson died in 1859 aged only 56, as the world’s first engineering millionaire.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey and was described as “the greatest engineer of the present century”.

    During his lifetime, Robert Stephenson received many more honours than his father ever did, such was the esteem in which the profession of railway engineering came to be held. These included the Swedish Cross of the Order of St Olaf, the French Legion D’Honneur and like his father before him, Knight of the Order of Leopold for his locomotive improvements that had revolutionised Belgium’s railways. Incidentally, both George and Robert had been offered knighthoods, and both declined.

    RSH No.8136 of 1960 was one of twenty English Electric Type 4s built at Darlington for BR, the rest coming from Vulcan Foundry. Originally numbered D306, No.40106 became a celebrity as the last to retain green livery, taking part in the Rainhill 150th anniversary cavalcade of 1980. (c. Colin Alexander, The Stephenson Railway Legacy, Amberley Publishing)

    Although there was a great sense of loss over the death of Robert, the company that carried his name went from strength to strength exporting locomotives all over the world.

    The original Stephenson works in Newcastle closed its doors in 1960 after 137 years of production. The name lived on a while longer in the later Stephenson Works in Darlington, which manufactured main-line diesel locomotives for British Railways, but the last one left the works in 1964, marking the end of the most famous name in railway manufacturing history.

    Meanwhile, there is much to be seen of the Stephensons’ legacy today. There are complete railways still in regular use that were engineered by the indomitable father and son. High-speed electric trains hurtle through Kilsby Tunnel daily. Every day, trains cross the High Level, Royal Border, Sankey and Britannia bridges.

    On a broader scale though, surely the Stephensons’ greatest legacy is the railway network that they made practical and popular against all the odds. What was subsequently achieved all over the world in industry and commerce by the coming of the railways is immeasurable.

    At the cutting of the first sod for the construction of the Eden Valley Railway in 1858, Lord Brougham said “To the public at large, to the community, the introduction of the railway has been of the greatest possible advantage, the prime blessing of the time. I take George Stephenson as the main cause of that success”.

    Colin Alexander and Alon Siton's new book The Stephenson Railway Legacy is available for purchase now.

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