Windsor and Maidenhead

Meeting Reports

Monday 27th March 2017
American Wanderings - Heading East
Steve Ollive, Branch Chairman

We were all sorry that ill health prevented Society chairman Gordon Davies from speaking at our March meeting, and sent him best wishes for a speedy recovery. Readers will, perhaps, not be surprised to hear that our own branch chairman, Steve Ollive, once again stepped into the breach.

“American Wanderings Heading East” had been the intended topic, and so it remained. Steve’s plentiful illustrations, dating from the late 1990s onwards, started in Canada, with views of trains around Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa, taking in a trip on the “Canadian” and several heritage lines. We also visited the tram museum in Toronto.

Over the border into the USA, we entered Pennsylvania and the splendid Strasburg Railroad Museum, with its wide variety of exhibits. On the day of Steve was there, the running lines were packed with sideshows and visitors, thanks to the presence of who else but Thomas the Tank Engine. Next it was on to Philadelphia, with more trams, and then the single-car emu known on the “Princeton Jet”. The short line to Princeton Junction is one of the few genuine branch lines left in the States.

We finished by moving up the Jersey Shore, through Hoboken to New York City. There was the subway to see, of course, and the magnificent Grand Central and Pennsylvania stations. A most enjoyable evening, with some great pictures.

Monday 27th February 2017
The Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway
Roger Fagg

At our February meeting we welcomed Roger Fagg, to speak to us about the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway. No-one could be better qualified than Roger to talk on this subject, having worked on the line for a long time, and served as its Chairman for 10 years. In that time, Roger was heavily involved with negotiations for access to Princes Risborough station.

The branch to Watlington was independently sponsored by local businessmen, obtained parliamentary approval in 1867, and opened in 1872. As was often the case, the line lost money from the start; the GWR was initially resistant, but eventually took the company over in 1883. For the entire rolling stock – locos, coaches, wagons – the valuation was £1,714!

Passenger numbers were always low, the provision of halts, some in bizarre locations, with low-level platforms for rail-motors, made no difference, and closure to passengers came in 1957. From 1961 only coal traffic to the cement works at Chinnor remained. The Society was formed in 1989, and the first train ran five years later.

The cement works has gone, with housing springing up around the rebuilt station at Chinnor. Roger illustrated the high standard of the Society’s restoration of buildings and coaches, and explained that steam engines have to be hired in, due to the lack of servicing facilities. This enterprising and attractive railway deserves the success it has achieved, and we all hope trains will soon run into Princes Risborough.

Monday 23rd January 2017
Loco Hauled Passenger Trains in the Privatisation Era
Geoff Brockett

Geoff Brockett made a welcome return visit from South Essex branch to talk to our first meeting of 2017, taking as his subject loco-hauled passenger trains in the privatisation era. He didn’t claim to cover every one, but few in the audience could have compiled a list as comprehensive as Geoff’s, all brilliantly illustrated by his considerable photographic skills.

The first franchise we looked at was our local one, the Great Western lines in all their various guises. Class 47s were to be found on services to the West Country when HSTs were in short supply, and of course Penzance sleepers are hauled by class 57s to this day. Scotland also saw some 47s in action, while the North Berwick line was for a while operated by class 90 electrics, and classes 67 and 68 have been used on the Fife Circle. The Scotrail, now Caledonian guises sleeper trains to Scotland have enjoyed electric haulage at the Southern end – 90s and 92s – and diesels to the far North, including 37s, 47s, 67s, and now 73/9s.

Virgin Cross Country, Grand Central, Hull Trains, Wessex Trains, Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways and the successive franchisees in East Anglia all featured, with diesel and electric power. Such a long list, and all on regular service trains; specials and charters would require another evening! Thanks Geoff, and congratulations on a great evening.

Monday 19th December 2016
Branch AGM followed by Member's Presentations

Following the decision to change our branch’s year-end to coincide with the Society, our December gathering at Cox Green was the first re-timed AGM, this time covering little more than six months. Under the continued leadership of chairman Steve Ollive, things had continued in the same successful vein as before, with enjoyable and well-attended meetings, and a successful visit to Amberley Museum in West Sussex.

The committee were thanked for their efforts, and were re-elected unopposed. The good wishes of all were expressed to David and Sally Goddard for the continued progress of baby Beatrice.

The formal proceedings were followed by coffee, mince pies, and members’ presentations, starting with Mike Walker, who told in pictures the story of Western Region diesel-hydraulics. Mike Gamble’s annual quiz covered a range of topics, and was as difficult as ever, then Peter Meyer showed some very interesting images of motive power across Britain and Europe; being our branch’s oldest attender does not appear to restrict his travelling with a camera!

We closed with Steve Ollive’s presentation of one afternoon at Hamburg Harberg station, with a seemingly unending steam of freight trains, hauled by a truly international collection of motive power. A most enjoyable evening, leaving everyone looking forward to another good year in 2017.

Monday 28th November 2016
Signals, Stations and Structures
Robert Warburton, Peterborough Branch

Our November meeting brought Robert Warburton of Peterborough branch to Cox Green, where the room was well filled for his talk on “Stations, Signals and Structures”. Robert’s visit had been eagerly anticipated, and we were certainly not disappointed!

We looked at signals first, starting with some wooden post, lower quadrant survivors which lasted well into BR days. Then it was gantries, at locations such as Barnetby, Barrow and Scarborough, followed by signal boxes and level crossings, taking in Clapham Junction, Chathill and Chester among many others. The range of stations Robert showed us and talked about was exhaustive, taking in places which different audience members knew and loved; from Bristol Temple Meads to Cleobury Mortimer, from Exeter St David’s to Thurso, and from Market Rasen to Llanfair PG, they were all there, concluding with York, arguably the most elegant of all.

The structures element encompassed viaducts, bridges, signs, cuttings, water troughs, the lot. Many iconic locations were covered, including Ribblehead viaduct, the Forth bridge, and a superb view of the Britannia bridge over the Menai straits from the top of the Marquis of Anglesey’s column.

Robert’s commentary was informative, entertaining and brilliantly illustrated. Although trains were not the focus of his talk, they featured in the vast majority of the images, with plenty of unusual workings and favourite motive power. All in all this was a memorable evening, with something for everyone, which was appreciated by all.

Monday 31st October 2016
The GWS Steam Railmotor, Its Restoration and Operation
Peter Jennings

For our October meeting, we welcomed Peter Jennings from Didcot Railway Centre to talk about the Great Western Societys unique Steam Rail Motor. Peter, who by coincidence was born in Maidenhead, has been a member of the GWS since 1979, and began his presentation with one or two projects from his early days, such as the re-tubing of Evening Star, and taking Earl Bathurst/ Drysllwyn Castle to Bold Colliery, for the Rainhill Rocket 150 celebrations.

But no. 93, the GWR steam rail motor, was the main topic of the evening. One of the first considerations when the restoration project started was that there were no other vertical-boilered examples extant in the UK, so Peter was part of the team that went to Switzerland, where they received excellent training in the finer points. Such units differ from the conventional in many ways. For example, the safety valve is in the cab, contributing to a very noisy environment, and the absence of a brick arch and deflector plate renders firing the loco while on the move under its own steam impossible.

Once the problem of leaking tubes had been resolved, and the intricacies of Deans pivotless bogie clarified, no. 93 was ready for the road, and the final part of Peters presentation was his tales of main line trips on the Liskeard to Looe branch in 2012, and Southall to Brentford in 2014. These were both excellently illustrated, especially an unforgettable video from the cab on the climb up to Liskeard from Coombe Junction. A great evening enjoyed by another full house.

Monday 26th September 2016
40 Years at BR
Terence Jenner

The meeting room at Cox Green was full for our first meeting of the season, when we were delighted to welcome Terence Jenner from Northampton branch. He took as his subject 40 Years with BR, and as this was his first such presentation, explained that it was very much a work-in-progress, although there was little to suggest this.

Having grown up watching trains in South Norwood, London, later moving to Bishops Stortford, Terence joined British Railways in their Head Office Legal Department in 1974. He was an articled clerk, and in due course became a qualified solicitor dealing with litigation. This was a period when BR was typified by Rule Book attitudes, powerful regions, and cost cutting.

Gradually the railway became more of a social one, and was rigidly hierarchical. Terence, by now living in Northampton, became a commercial solicitor based at Paddington. Private sector involvement soon entered the equation, with the sell-off of non-railway businesses, then a significant move towards a safety culture after the Clapham disaster.

Soon, the privatisation process was under way. Terence, by now leading his department, was awarded the OBE for his part in creating the new set-up and its 56 companies. And so, from 2001 to 2013, he was the Chairman of British Rail (the residual body after privatisation), the longest-serving holder of that office. There had been enormous changes over those 40 years, not least in finance no more budget cuts! and the relationship between the railway and the government. A most interesting and thought-provoking address.

Thursday 16th June 2016
The InterCity Story
Chris Green

This year our June joint meeting at Bourne End with the Marlow and District Railway Society was treated to a talk from Chris Green on The Inter City Story. This was our third visit from Chris, and it goes without saying that the room was well filled.

The name Inter-City, with a hyphen at this stage, was first used to name a BR Western Region service from Wolverhampton Low Level and Birmingham Snow Hill to Paddington. Without the hyphen, Inter City was the brand applied to the BR sector between 1982 and 1994. Of the routes it inherited, the shortest, Gatwick Express, was the only one in profit, with all the others in need of greater speed to compete with the airlines.

Things did speed up, only to level out, following the APT being scrapped, West Coast introducing push-pull stock, East Coast improving the route, and Great Western using HSTs. Advertising, catering and customer service were all seen as priorities. By the time the sector was broken up, the WCML was stagnant awaiting its upgrade, ECML was at last electrified, and Cross Country was still using class 47s!

Chris then took us through all the companies that have run privatised services on the various routes, during a period when rail expenditure, and usage, has reached levels previously undreamt of. He regards the lack of a national brand as missed marketing opportunity, and, perhaps not surprisingly, sees capacity as the big issue going forward.

One is never disappointed when Chris Green is speaking, adding clarity and good humour to his immense expertise. The question and answer session on a range of rail topics was excellent.

Monday 23rd May 2016
Branch AGM

When we came together for our May meeting, it was hard to believe that another 12 months had gone by, and it was once again time for the Annual General Meeting, the branchs ninth. In time-honoured fashion, chairman Steve Ollive took the meeting through what has been another enjoyable year, and each committee member in turn spoke of their role. The general opinion was, indeed, that Windsor and Maidenhead branch is in good shape, and John Fitzgeralds vote of thanks to the officers was carried with acclaim.

A proposal to change the branchs year-end to 31 October, with future AGMs in December, was carried unanimously, and is to be implemented forthwith.

This year, rather than the traditional presentations from members, we were delighted to welcome local celebrity railwayman Norman Topsom MBE. Having joined British railways Western Region in 1962, Norman retired in 2015 after 20 years as chargeman at Twyford station. So outstanding was his service to customers and the community that he was honoured by HM the Queen in 2005, and later had a GWR turbo named after him.

Norman spoke in entertaining fashion about his long career, starting at Henley when the station had a staff of 40. A long spell in the parcels office at Reading followed, dealing with every kind of item imaginable, until his posting to Twyford. His recollections of dealing with suicides, and attempted ones, was most moving.

It was a real pleasure to hear from such a modest and dedicated servant of the railway.

Monday 25th April 2016
Railways of Switzerland
Steve Ollive, Branch Chairman

The speaker booked for our April was, unfortunately, taken ill the day he was due to visit, and had to withdraw. However, when your branch has a chairman who, as well as being exceptionally well travelled, is a highly accomplished speaker, the solution to such challenges is simple; get Steve Ollive to deputise.

The Railways of Switzerland was Steves subject. We have seen scenes of that countrys railways before, including some from him, but there is no denying that the magnificent scenery, picturesque routes and interesting train services make for brilliant viewing, and no-one was complaining about another evenings worth.

This session was a 21st century view, featuring images from four trips. We started in Geneva, and took in Lausanne, Montreux, and Berne, with views of main line and metro services, in both standard and narrow (mostly metre) gauge. Then it was off to the mountains, including Zermatt with views of the towering Matterhorn, the amazing line up the Jungfrau, and a whole host of adhesion and rack railways in the Swiss Alps.

We also saw Lugano and the Italian border at Chiasso, Lucerne with its Transport Museum, and paddle steamers on the countrys many lakes. All this came with glorious pictures, often reminding us that Switzerland is a country not afraid to operate heritage vehicles and motive power alongside brand new rolling stock. Thanks Mr Chairman.

last updated: 10/04/17