Milton Keynes

Meeting Reports

Thursday 4th May 2017
'Half a Century of Railway Signalling Engineering - The Middle Years'
Charles Weightman - former BR/NR Signalling Project Manager

On 4th May Charles Weightman returned to the Branch to give a presentation on “Half A Century of Railway Signalling Engineering – The Middle Years.”
On his previous visit Charles had given an overview of his career both with BR, Railtrack and NR so this time was concentrating on some of the locations he had been involved with over the years from the early 60s which took him from the Nottingham area where we saw places on the former GC main line which had been previously very busy locations and by then had been completely closed, despite development work that had been taking place just beforehand to modernise a particular mechanical signal by starting to install a replacement colour light example! On a more positive note, we were shown examples of the modern PSBs such as Derby and Sandbach which have led to the opening of a ROC at Derby which covers the area of three previous PSBs.
Charles went on to illustrate a lot of the changes that had taken place, both due to Beeching and subsequent closures, which also reflected industrial developments with collieries, which were served by no less than 3 different pre-grouping companies, to country areas where, for example, the East Lincolnshire line from Spalding to Grimsby was almost closed completely, but had examples of some fine pieces of signalling equipment such as GNR somersault signals.

   Derby South Junction Down First Home signal   Charles Weightman
Other now rare items were shown such as NER slotted post signals, and at Stowe Park, two single level crossing gates operated by a gate wheel from the adjacent Box.
It was not all doom and gloom however, as Charles had developed the operation of a remote tokenless block system on the Whitby Branch which helped to reduce costs and keep the line open where his involvement at the Whitby end had led to help the NYMR to reach that Terminus from Grosmont with the restoration of a second platform and loco release line.
His involvement with the EROS resignalling scheme in the early 2000s saw a number of Box closures around the Railtrack Eastern Zone, with locations such as Castleford and Barnsley seeing one location taking over from 5 mechanical Boxes, as well as the abolition of a number of individual boxes at such diverse locations as Grimsby and Howden.
A number of incidents had led to interesting interruptions of services, such as at Goole, a ship colliding with the swing bridge located there over the River Ouse which occurred not once but twice(!!), and the flooding at Malton with pictures taken from a helicopter to show the devastation caused not only to the railway but also to adjoining properties.
The evening ended with a number of interesting developments such as the replacement of the GN main line bridge over the River Trent at Newark to changes at Newcastle Central Station and finally the recent changes to the original York Station terminus which sympathetically suits the surrounding original buildings.

An evening of a collection of most interesting subjects, professionally presented, together with some amusing incidents.

Thursday 6th April 2017
'A Life Working in the Railway Industryl'
Stephen Barker - Senior Chiltern Railways Executive

We welcomed back Stephen Barker of Chiltern Railways to present at our April meeting about his career so far on the railway. Stephen had been with us last April with his colleague Graham Cross updating us on the reopening of the railway to Oxford Parkway and East West Rail. There was more on East West Rail to come on a fascinating journey through the railways of the 1990s and 2000s.
This was a fascinating evening with a committed and passionate railway professional and it was interesting to hear how Stephen’s career had taken him to many various parts of the railway and across many different disciplines. Whether the same breadth and variety of career remains in the fragmented and privatised railway is another matter. It was an enjoyable evening richly illustrated with Stephen’s photographs from the last 25 years.
Upon joining British Rail Research, Stephen could continue with his University studies thus combining academic learning with hands on work. One of his earliest jobs was involved in the team that developed the stoneblower on-track machine. Later he became involved in concrete and building materials research and developed expertise in bridge structures. Perhaps the most impressive bridge of all – the Forth Bridge in Scotland – was the subject of what was clearly for Stephen a very enjoyable away day although your reviewer would baulk at clambering to such great heights!
Later work involved OLE structures and undertaking a corrosion survey on the gantries at Fenchurch Street ahead of remodelling. Staying on the Great Eastern, Stephen was also involved with track relaying and renewals based at Stratford. Testing was not just carried out on structures and bridges and Stephen spoke about work involving testing the stresses on axles from emergency brake applications for which a Class 313 was specially wired up. There was a fascinating Sunday morning photograph of the unit sat under the trainshed at an almost deserted King’s Cross, a scene unimaginable today with the constantly busy railway.
Upon privatisation Stephen moved to Railtrack Southern at Waterloo as a Bridge Engineer and his work here took him to some of the more remote parts of the network. Seeking new challenges, he applied to work for the new Chiltern franchise and despite not being successful at interview he persisted with his desire to work there eventually persuading Adrian Shooter to give him a job. However, this was initially on an abortive bid for the Wessex franchise. Starting work with Chiltern proper, Stephen was involved in the successive Evergreen projects, which started with the redoubling of the line between Bicester North and Aynho Jn.

   188219 at Bicester, showing the first driver training train to use the new curve from Bicester South Jct-Gavaray Jct after it had been opened.in November last year.   Stephen Barker
Further Evergreen work saw the reopening of the disused bay platforms at Birmingham Moor Street and the returning of the station to its former glory, new platforms 5 and 6 at Marylebone and the opening of Aylesbury Vale Parkway in 2008. The final stage of Evergreen saw works to improve line speeds raising it to 100mph for significant sections, the remodelling of Neasden Jn and the reopening of the railway via Bicester Village to Oxford. Stephen’s most recent work has been involved in writing a report for the Secretary of State for Transport recommending means by which the East West Rail project can be delivered more quickly. At the time of writing a decision is awaited on how this much-needed infrastructure enhancement will proceed. This was a fascinating evening with a committed and passionate railway professional and it was interesting to hear how Stephen’s career had taken him to many various parts of the railway and across many different disciplines. Whether the same breadth and variety of career remains in the fragmented and privatised railway is another matter. It was an enjoyable evening richly illustrated with Stephen’s photographs from the last 25 years.

Monday 27th March 2017
Stuart Cheshire - Passenger Services Director, Govia Thames Railway

The first of the 2017 two regular joint meetings between Milton Keynes and Northampton Branches took place on 27th March when we welcomed Stuart Cheshire, Passenger Service Director, Thameslink/Great Northern to talk on Metroisation, the development of Thameslink around the introduction of the new Cl.700 class of units, and all the infrastructure changes taking place especially around London Bridge, and the introduction of ATO signalling through the Core in London to enable a service of 24 trains per hour to travel over the line at peak times.

   700101 The first of the new Siemens Class 700 to be delivered to GTR to provide the services from Bedford for Thameslink and Cambridge for Great Northern. They consist of fixed unit configuration, 55 being 12-car and 60 being 8-car  
Stuart then showed his audience through a series of digital images of how GTR were working towards this goal, not only with motive power but changes to the timetable, which eventually will lead to 4 trains per hour coming into the Core from Peterborough and Cambridge using the new link from the ECML at Belle Isle outside Kings Cross. It was very interesting to see that Thameslink in the future will also cover services as far out as places such as Littlehampton and East Grinstead, with some of their trains going into London Victoria, taking over from services currently run by sister company Southern.
The introduction of the new Cl.700 units has not been without its troubles, as this is the first class to adopt the fly by wire operation, which has encountered a few problems which had not been anticipated by the manufacturer Siemans, and has resulted in a casualty figure of currently only 4,100 miles per fault. Stuart is confident that when both drivers and maintenance staff get more used to using this new type of unit, things will improve.
With the infrastucture changes at London Bridge coming to a conclusion at the end of 2017, it is hoped then to work towards the target of getting 24 trains per hour in 2019.

Thursday 2nd March 2017
'Ten Years with Iarnrod Eireann/Irish Rail'
Dick Fearn - Top BR Manager who took charge of railways in the Irish Republic

Our 2017 indoor season started in great style with Dick Fearn as our guest speaker who gave an engaging presentation on his time with Iarnrod Eireann. This was a talk peppered with lively anecdotes, some of which are unrepeatable in print, but are worth hearing first hand, in Mr Fearn’s own inimitable manner. Through the evening there was much to fascinate and interest about the changing Irish rail scene and how it has evolved over recent years.

Dick Fearn started the evening with an introduction to his background on the railway. Born in Matlock, Derbyshire, the family moved to Crewe from where Dick joined the operating department of BR straight from school. Dick’s career saw him working in both freight and Provincial sectors before being appointed by Chris Green to the role of Director of the Thames & Chiltern sector of Network South East. Deciding that he needed a bigger challenge, Dick moved to head up South Eastern and on privatisation led an unsuccessful management bid to run the franchise; there was clearly regret that this had not worked out as hoped. The franchise was won by Connex, who were in difficulties of their own by 2002 and subsequently lost the franchise the following year.

Dick joined Railtrack first in the North West and later the Midlands as zone director. In 2003 he was headhunted by Iarnrod Eireann to become Chief Operating Officer. Agreeing to take the job he moved to Dublin in 2003 and spent a decade with Irish Railways, becoming Chief Executive in 2006.

The history of Irish Railways bears some similarities to the UK, with the first line between Dublin and Kingstown being built to standard gauge in 1834. It was subsequently converted to Irish gauge of 5ft 3in in 1854. The railways of Ireland reached their peak in 1906 with the opening of the Rosslare to Waterford line with an extensive network that reached all corners of the country. Like the UK, the railways of Ireland went through a period of contraction and closure post-World War II. Between 1958 and 1962 significant sections of line were closed under the chairmanship of Todd Andrews, whose campaign of closures were compared to the Beeching Axe. In 1945 the Irish railways had been nationalised, some years ahead of the UK. The move away from steam locomotion was also accelerated in Ireland, largely driven by the fact that there are very limited coal deposits in the country. The first diesel railcars arrived as early as 1951.

Dick Fearn was pleased to report that under his tenure at Iarnrod Eireann he was able to open three new lines, whilst it was regretted that the Waterford to Rosslare route could not be saved and was closed in 2010. By the time of closure, it had been reduced to one train service in each direction with poor connections into other services.

In the 2000s Irish Rail saw expansion of services, delivery of new rolling stock which has predominantly been diesel railcars and upgrading and expansion of the DART network. DART – Dublin Area Rapid Transit – Dick described as being like the Merseyrail network although without the density of operation. Serving 31 stations, it links Connolly station with other city centre stations and the coastline.

Nearly all the railway in Ireland is now signalled from the Central Traffic Control which is located at Dublin’s Connolly station. There remain some smaller signal boxes in the more remote sections of the country.

   Irish Rail intercity DMU 22.204. These units have been built for Ireland in Japan/South Korea since 2007 and are assembled as 3, 4 or 5 car units. They are capable of travelling at100 Km/hour.   Dick Fearn
There has been the introduction of impressive new rolling stock, which Dick was keen to highlight, including the Hyundai Rotem intercity railcars. These it was refreshing to hear were designed with passenger comfort in mind with all seats lining up with windows and seats being arranged around tables rather than airline style. Locomotive hauled services do continue to operate albeit mainly confined to the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise service which is operated 50/50 with Northern Ireland railways.

Infrastructure improvement has seen new lines open and new stations built, some have been more successful than others.

Dick finally reflected on rail freight, which contrary to common misconception, does still exist in Ireland, although not to the quantities or varieties that we might see in the UK. The predominant traffic is intermodal and along with the passenger services, is operated entirely by Iarnrod Eireann.

Since returning to the UK, Dick has become chairman of the Bluebell Railway. The railway is of course home to examples of locomotives built by R E Maunsell and O V S Bulleid, both pioneers in the Irish railways! Maunsell served his apprenticeship at Inchicore whilst Bulleid spent the end of his career as CME of CIE, the Irish state railways and pioneered peat burning locomotives, a design that proved ultimately to be unsuccessful.

The evening was a fascinating and often amusing journey along Irish railways and their history during the 2000s. There is certainly a lot to discover about Iarnrod Eireann and it was pleasing to hear that the railways of Ireland continue to flourish.

Thursday 3rd November 2016
'Discontinued! Gaps in Britain's Rail Policy'
Chris Austin, former Senior Manager with BR & SRA

We welcomed Chris Austin OBE MA FCILT to the penultimate meeting of our 2016 season with a fascinating talk about the legacy of the Beeching Report and subsequent governments railway policy. Chris, jointly with Lord Faulkner of Worcester, has written two books Holding The Line: How Britains Railways Were Saved and the second the subject and title of this meeting.
Chris had a thirty-year career with British Rail, 10 of which was spent as the BR Boards parliamentary affairs manager, followed by twelve years with ATOC. Thus, he has a unique insiders view on railway policy from nationalisation through to privatisation in 1994 and beyond. Perhaps controversially, he does not believe that all the closures post-Beeching were wrong and as he explained, the book explores what closures were necessary and those that should never have happened and the opportunities now available to reinstate lost links.

   Bicester London Road station was on thge original Oxford to Cambrige line via Bletchley and Bedford. It was closed as a through station in 1965 but had occasional trains from Oxford until final closure in 2005. It is proposed that it may become a station on the revised Oxford to Cambridge when this is sufficientlt progressed.   Bob Ballard
Chris believes that many of the railway closures prior to the publication of the Beeching report in 1963 offer the weakest justification whilst generally post-1969 the closures implemented were necessary, pruning back a costly and under-utilised network. However, BR well into the 1980s was very much focused on managing decline and actively campaigned for the introduction of bus replacement services even where the train service was profitable. Chris highlighted the Clevedon branch, which ran for 3 miles from a junction at Yatton. It was a very economical operation, with a single train shuttling back and forth, requiring minimal infrastructure and signalling. In fact, the cost of the replacement bus service that BR advocated was more than the savings that would be made from closing the line. Nevertheless, the closure went ahead as BR wanted to realise the scrap value of the track and from the redevelopment of the station in Clevedon.
At the greatest extreme, a 1984 proposal by the National Bus Company would have seen London Marylebone converted into a bus and coach station with the first ten miles of the railway out of London becoming a busway, arguing that the railway had outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, such draconian ideas did not come to fruition and it was one of many examples of disjointed anti-railway policy making that has dogged the industry since Beeching.
Another, was an infamous 1972 blue paper Railway Policy Review, which proposed drastic cuts to the railway network. Reg Dawson who was a senior civil servant in the Department for Transport at the time leaked a copy of the report to the editor of the Railway Gazette International, Richard Hope. It was then passed to The Sunday Times who published the story. The surrounding public furore forced the government to back-track on its proposals and the closures were abandoned. Reg Dawsons actions which very nearly led to him being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, was a welcome victory but as we know many lines were still closed.
   Bicester Village is a new station opened in 2015 on the Marylebone to Oxford, Chiltern Railways line to serve the modern shopping centre location. It is also served by a shuttle service from Bicester North station on the Marylebone to Birmingham Chiltern main line.   Bob Ballard
One of the most short-sighted closures under BR was that of the Great Central Railway, which as Chris described in his talk would, if it had survived, been an ideal route today for freight and high speed passenger services. The line would have been capable of carrying 8ft 6in containers and with a ruling gradient of 1 in 176 and no level crossings would have enable high speed running. Similarly, the closure of the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway during the 1960s led to the loss of what would have been a very useful route for freight and avoided the need for the expensive redevelopment of Reading station.
There have however been signs of a more positive attitude towards railways emerging. The 1982 Speller Act for example has seen more than 100 stations reopen across the network. Chris highlighted the Borders Railway in Scotland, which is the most significant railway reopening to date and has been a considerable success. Locally, the development of the Oxford to London Marylebone service, due to launch fully in December 2016, is but the first stage in the reopening the railway from Oxford to Bletchley and possibly from Bedford to Cambridge.

The second half of our meeting was an opportunity for the audience to put questions to Chris Austin and this provided some lively debate about future openings and the mistakes of the past. It is to be hoped that the future will see rather more railway opened than closed and a realisation that some of the broken links reinstated.

Monday 24th October 2016
The LNWR and GWR at Oxford

Originally, Laurence Waters visit to Roade for the joint meeting with Northampton Branch was postponed due to hospitalisation, but now well on the road to recovery, he made his belated appearance on 24th October to present the GWR and LNWR at Oxford.

   Oxford GWR broad gauge station about1846 from an original print.  
The GWR broad gauge was the first to reach (East) Oxford in 1844 with a wooden built station structure at Grandpont at the end of a ten mile branch line from its London-Bristol mainline at Didcot. In 1850 the line was extended northwards towards the city itself, Banbury and eventually Birmingham (allowing the GWR foothold in the Midlands), which resulted in a new station being built at Botley Road and brought into use in 1852. The current station remains on this site today despite substantial rebuilding by BR in the early 1970s, and further development of this busy station (nearly 7 million passengers pa.) is scheduled to take place in the near future.
The GWR station of 1852 was adjacent to the LNWR (Rewley Road) terminus station, which had been built a year earlier in 1851.

   LNWR 4-4-0 1777 at Oxford depot in about1920  
The original idea of the Buckinghamshire Railway Company, which was worked and later absorbed by the LNWR, was to build a line from Bletchley to Oxford and access the GWR station, but this was rejected. This resulted in the LNWR station being limited in size by the Sheepwash Channel, a navigable link between the River Thames and the Oxford Canal, and an unique two track swing bridge being built to allow access to the station. Just making a century of operation, closure came to passengers in 1951, but remarkably the station building has survived and been relocated to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton Road.

Thursday 6th October 2016
'Marylebone Out & Back'
Ken Grainger, Society member from Sheffield

We welcomed back Sheffield Society member Ken Grainger on 6th October to present his illustrated talk Marylebone Out and Back where we started by seeing the London Terminal in its early days, as well as more recent shots, which showed, although it has changed over the years, its original features such as GCR lettering on its front gates and railings still remain in good condition today.

   Marylebone Station, London as it was in the eary 1960s.   Ken Grainger
From its late Victorian beginnings, we were reminded of the times in the mid-20th Century when closure loomed, but how it has survived and increased in size since Chiltern Railways has operated from it.
On leaving the station we proceeded out to Neasden, to be reminded of the large motive power depot that existed until the early 60s, before continuing out to Ruislip and the GC/GW Joint line. Ken had got together scenes at the majority of the stations along the lines, as well as at lineside venues, which memorably showed the viaduct near Denham, where now the M25 sweeps underneath, but then with a steam hauled train passing over a verdant valley. It was interesting to note that the layout of the majority of stations on this line had been designed with platform loops and through main lines.
As expected, there was a mix of passenger motive power to see along this stretch, which ranged from Kings to A3s, and at the other end of the scale both GW and LNER smaller locos such as A5 and L1 tanks, to later replacement LMS 2-6-4 examples. Freight workings were not forgotten, with a mix of GW examples to the sight of WD 2-8-0 and BR 9Fs.
After reaching Ashendon Jct. we turned off to Grendon Underwood to get to our furthest northern point before returning south over the GC/Met Joint lines via Quainton Road/Aylesbury/Amersham/Harrow-on-the-Hill. As we all know, Quainton Road, in its current guise as the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, was of most interest to see it as it was when the line was fully open, with even the erstwhile Brill Branch track still in place and then Aylesbury with the steam shed still in use.
On reaching Rickmansworth we then encountered the Met electric locos where they took over from BR steam power on the trains going forward to Baker St.
Our tour then returned to Marylebone, but on the way Ken reminded us of examples of all the former GC loco fleet, many of which did not last into BR days, and a wonderful painting that had been done from a photo taken of a GC express leaving Marylebone in the early 20th century, with a fine example of a Robinson designed loco ending the evening in fine style.

Thursday 1st September 2016
'That Was The Year That Was - 1966'
Geoff Plumb

   75009 and 76040 at Dovey Junction in 1966   Geoff Plumb
A change in the advertised Branch programme saw Geoff Plumb of Watford Branch show his presentation That Was The Year That Was 1966 which brought back many memories and which concentrated on the end of steam on various routes including the GC and Cambrian, but reminded us how much steam haulage was still going on in the North West, with visits to Chester, Birkenhead, as well as the WCML around Oxenholme and Shap.
Southern views were not forgotten with a number of rail tours from Waterloo visiting the S&D and Longmoor Military Railway as well as trips behind the last examples of various steam classes.
Other shots included a Bournemouth trolley bus, early days on the Bluebell & K&ES along with narrow gauge lines, both active and closed, in North Wales.
What brought it home to Geoff`s audience was the amount of freight traffic that was present at this time and which was brought vividly into focus, when a view of Heysham Harbour was shown with sidings full of wagons, whereas now there is just a single line to the adjacent station to connect with the ferry services.
A very good reminder of what there was to be seen then in addition to the football!!

Thursday 4th August 2016
'Something Old, Something New'
Brian Stephenson, well-known photographer & Society member

Brian Stephenson was the speaker at our August meeting with a talk encompassing the photographs from the collection of the late W J Verden Anderson and some of Brians own recent photos at home and abroad, hence something old, something new. Our journey started with a look at steam in Scotland from the Anderson collection.

   67475 4-4-2T ex NBR Class M, LNER Class C15, built 1911 by Reid on passenger duty in Scotland in about 1950   WJV Anderson
Brian started with a brief biography of our subject, who was born in Edinburgh in 1929 and whose early interest in railways was nurtured by outdoor holidays camping by the Highland Main Line. Bill Anderson became well known for the technical accomplishment of his photographs as well as their stunning backdrops of the landscape of Scotland. However, we started at Rugby testing station and it was in the Warwickshire town that a young Anderson took some of his earliest photographs whilst a pupil of Rugby School. His interest in railways was no doubt helped by having a sympathetically inclined house master! Unfortunately dates of photographs were not recorded and much of what is known of the dates is gleaned from when they were published. As well as featuring the familiar setting of the West Coast Main Line, both the Old and New Northampton lines and the well-known landmark of the radio station, the photographs around Rugby briefly alighted on a B1 starting a York to Bournemouth express from the long closed Rugby Central station.
Moving north of the border, Brians selection of photos, showed off the technical skill of Bills photography and the drama and beauty of the landscape in which they were taken. The quality of the images was enhanced by them almost without exception being taken in fine weather with the sunlight being used to good effect to illuminate the subject.
As well as stunning vistas and equally impressive views of steam locomotives plying their trade, a quaint addition to many of the images was Verden Andersons well-travelled bicycle, often leaning against a fence post in the background! Later photographs featured some of the cars he subsequently owned and that would have taken him to some far flung and remote spots. A4 60009 appeared to be a particular favourite also or perhaps it just happened to always be in the right place because it featured numerous times throughout the evening. Another notable locomotive to feature more than once was A1 60162 Saint Johnstoun, long scrapped sister of 60163 Tornado.
Striking, despite their age, is the clarity and sharpness of the images and the careful composition, lighting and choice of subject, provided one eye opening scene after another. The harsh winters of 1953 and 1963 provided particularly dramatic settings.
The majority of the images were in black and white but this did nothing to diminish their quality or interest. Some of the later images in colour were equally vivid and sharp.
Bill Anderson experimented with flash photography which perhaps produced mixed effects and would certainly be difficult to undertake now especially with moving trains.

Our evening finished with a look through some of Brian Stephensons recent photographs on both sides of the Channel. This started in Kent with views of the High Speed line as well as local Southeastern services. A stark contrast, although equally colourful, railways of the continent took us into Germany and Switzerland.

Thursday 7th July 2016
'The Regional Railways Story'
Chris Green, former top BR Manager

It was a great pleasure to welcome back Chris Green to our July meeting, who was presenting in place of Gordon Pettitt who was unable to be with us due to ill health. The theme of the talk was The Regional Railways Story written by Gordon Pettitt and Nicholas Comfort and presented in three parts: Provincial Railways 1982-1990; Regional Railways 1990-1994; and Privatisation 1994 to date. This was very much a story of fall and rise from a railway with the biggest subsidy of the BR sectors and the largest deficit to a thriving, expanding railway but still facing challenges as to how deliver a profitable railway whilst serving rural and lightly used lines.

Chris started by giving some context to the environment Provincial Railways found itself in and the undoubted challenges it faced from the start. In 1950 for example there were less than 2 million cars on Britains roads, by 2010 there were nearly 25 million. Rails market share in 1982 was just 6%. All this was reflected in a railway that was in decline with significant closures made before the Beeching Report was published in 1963 including the loss of some major stations including Liverpool Central, Nottingham Victoria and Birmingham Snow Hill. Post-Beeching closures continued and there followed many years of limited investment, a decline in freight carried and reducing capacity. 1982 was a low point with income falling and costs increasing and saw BR create five business units including Provincial Railways.

However, whilst fares at this time only covered 25% of the costs, loss making services had some protection under the 1968 Transport Act which introduced the public service obligation. The 1980 Speller Act also allowed BR to introduce experimental services, which led to 90 stations being opened. The advance of technology led to economies which undoubtedly secured the future of some lines. The Far North Line in Scotland saw the introduction of Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) signalling which meant the whole line could be controlled from a signalling centre at Inverness.

The Provincial Railways plans for the early 1980s were a bold attempt at cutting costs and driving efficiencies. This would lead to a reduction from 4,000 to 2,500 coaches and the ending of costly and inefficient loco haulage. The now much maligned Pacer was a product of this new era it was 5-6 times cheaper to run than a loco hauled service and in all 338 vehicles were built.

A much better investment was the Class 150, introduced from 1985 and totalling a fleet of 274 vehicles. These offered a step-change in quality and 90% availability which was welcomed at the time. The Super Sprinter, Class 156 came in 1988 which was intended to bring an end to loco haulage of passenger trains on the Provincial network. The Class 158 Express Sprinters arrived from 1989 to provide high-quality units for inter-urban services such as Cardiff to Portsmouth.

   37429 in Regional Railways livery at Kirkham   Martyn Hlibert
Provincial was succeeded by Regional Railways in 1991, which inherited a staff of 36,000 and 53% of the total route miles but only 38% of the passenger train miles. The new livery and branding was a marker for what was intended to come with immediate success showing a 6% reduction in costs and 4% increase in revenue. However, recession killed off the good progress that was being made with arbitrary service cuts to save costs, loss of investment and the end to passenger growth.

As Chris Green reflected, despite the difficult economic climate and uncertainties that it had brought to railway investment, overall the position at the end of Regional Railways in 1994 was vastly improved on the start of Provincial in 1982. Income overall had increased by 43%, costs were down 25% and the sector had seen 1,400 new vehicles delivered bringing 88% of the fleet under 8 years old. The sector had also opened 7 new lines, saw 123 miles of track electrified and opened an impressive 157 stations.

The era post-privatisation had, on the whole, been good for the former Regional Railways. It was expected by BR that it would either be privatised as a whole or the business sectors would be sold individually. Therefore, it was a great shock when the government announced that it would sell off the BR business in much smaller train operating companies. Chris took us through the developments of the privatised era including the delivery of new rolling stock, opening of new lines such as the Robin Hood Line in England, Ebbw Vale in Wales and the Borders Railway in Scotland. In summary there has been 7 new lines opened, 86 new stations and 1,220 new coaches.

There is a word of caution to this background of success. Privatisation has led to a stifling of innovation and whilst the urban parts of the Regional Railways network are growth businesses, this is not true of rural lines. The costs of operating these services overall remains high, taking 61% of the subsidy but only accounting for 19% of the passenger miles. Political changes, productivity challenges and keeping costs under control are all tests the former Regional Railways businesses must face. The future presents many exciting opportunities such as the Northern Hub, further electrification, new rolling stock and new services but it must be delivered more efficiently and whilst keeping costs under control.

A thoroughly absorbing evening was ended by Chris taking questions from the audience, which included a lively debate about the relative merits of the redesigned Birmingham New Street station. An excellent conclusion to what was a detailed and interesting presentation.

last updated: 08/05/17