Meeting Reports

Meeting Reports

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Speaker: Gordon Pettitt

Title: An Evening with Gordon Pettitt preceded by the Branch AGM

The meeting held on 17 December 2019 comprised the Branch AGM and ‘An evening with Gordon Pettitt’ separated by an interval for socialising and enjoying some excellent refreshments provided by our Treasurer Irene Rabbitts and Indoor Fixtures Secretary Tom Kolisch. Fifty six members and visitors were present.

The Branch prepares and circulates to members a written report so that the AGM can be conducted quickly and thoroughly and this was achieved without having to curtail the opportunity for members to raise any matters of concern.

The refreshments were excellent, and our thanks go to Irene and Tom for their preparation.

Surrey Branch is fortunate in having Gordon Pettitt living locally and attending some of our meetings. He told us about his career on the railway which started in 1950 and finished 42 years later, when he retired as Managing Director, Regional Railways, ‘fifteen different jobs on the railway – a wonderful career’. He started work at the Eastern Region (LNER wartime) headquarters at Knebworth, with a good view of the activity on the East Coast Main Line, dealing with Guards Journals but learning, by listening and observing, what everyone did to run the railway.

He was called up to do his National Service and posted to Germany where he was responsible for monitoring the Military trains run by German Railways (DB) for the British Army. With the help of a footplate pass there were many interesting journeys watching the DB in action. Comparisons with home were inevitable, for example ‘all German wagons had continuous brakes’ (how did we cope without them?).

On demob from the Army he returned to Knebworth, in Control, before passing the examination to become a Management Trainee. This three year course provided a deep insight into the workings of the Eastern Region and gave opportunities for visiting the distant parts of the system and riding on the footplate, learning the road and timing the train. There was a setback when Gordon was discovered to be colour blind which pushed his career more to the commercial aspects of management and for the next 10 years he worked in various posts at Sheffield, York and London. Then followed 18 months at Paddington where things were ‘quite different’. The HSTs were being brought into service and a recast timetable was introduced to improve their utilization. He was also involved in breaking the steam ban.

In 1979 he became Divisional Manager at Liverpool Street in charge of 6000 people and 150 route miles of railway. With industrial relations and recruitment problems, a very busy railway and the rebuilding of Liverpool Street station to get through, this was a big job. At this point our time ran out, and we had to finish, in the strong hope there will be more to come.

Gordon discussed and answered the many points and questions brought up by the audience during his talk. We were delighted to welcome him and his wife, Ursula, at our Christmas meeting. A very enjoyable evening.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Part I Andrew Haines – Chief Executive Officer, Network Rail

Network Rail - Putting Passengers First

Andrew Haines was appointed as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Board member of Network Rail (NR) in August 2018.Prior to this he served as CEO of the Civil Aviation Authority following a wide-ranging career at senior level in the rail industry.Unfortunately, his time was limited to 45 minutes in the end but he kept his word and gave us a very interesting presentation although as a public servant there were limitations on what could be discussed in the run up to the general election. He is the first CEO of NR with prior railway experience, having started as a traffic trainee with very strong memories of the leadership of people like Gordon Pettitt (in the audience).So why return to railways? He is a passionate believer in railways delivering growth and benefit and from the way he spoke there are few who would challenge this statement.

The first element was the statement ‘Putting Passengers First’ with the right people, right structure, and right mindset. A lot of time was spent talking and listening and this uncovered some less than complimentary comments about NR which have been used to look at reshaping the regional structure and the vision - going from being confusing, unaccountable, inefficient, arrogant and not user friendly towards: on the side of passengers and freight users, efficient, dependable and easy to do business with, a place people are proud to work, instinctively recognised as leading the industry.

Some time was spent on issues specific to the Wessex area with performance showing a downward trend although this is slowing.It is not inevitable as there are clear improvements in other areas. Andrew explained some of the problems. However, it is not all bad as there has been a lot of investment, progress and activity. He then showed a graph illustrating the contrast between primary and reactionary delay on South Western Railway (SWR) noting that the discrepancy between the two is increasing. Why? The dense service plan works on paper but limits the ability to react. The point of divergence on the graph between primary and reactionary delays lines up with losing the Waterloo Integrated Control Centre so the capability of working closely together with SWR needs to be brought back.

Currently the industry structure needs: simplification, a clear profit and loss account, reducing the contractual complexities, a long term industry plan, to focus on growth for the benefit of all, and the need to decarbonise the business because of climate change both from necessity and because today’s youth will not tolerate no action.

Questions and answers were constrained by the limited time available but were equally interesting although some could not be answered for political reasons. Andrew clearly showed his determination to ‘get things done’ and the importance of looking at the evidence to take NR forward. An excellent evening, very informative and with an interesting perspective on the industry and its future.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Part II

Speaker: Alan Nichols, Train Driver retired

Title: From Bank Manager to Train Driver

Alan kindly stepped in at short notice when Andrew Haines advised that he would have to leave early because of his work commitments. He confirmed that he was the bank manager mentioned by Andrew Haines with one of the strangest letters of application he had ever received. Alan highlighted the importance of communication. So much seems to have broken down and the days of ‘can do’ seem to have gone, so listening to Andrew was a ‘breath of fresh air’. Alan talked about his career as a train driver and gave examples of some of the ways that good communication can get trains moving again when things do not go according to plan and gave examples to show how it can be done; and how, as a driver, he kept communication open by making announcements to passengers himself if he was unable to contact the guard on his train, with a little humour sometimes being well received.

Alan described Andrew as a very accomplished manager but not all managers have the necessary passion and, again, he showed how this can make communications less effective. Another example is the promise of lots of extra trains which looks good on paper but cannot be done. Railways run to time if there are no problems anywhere and if passengers do not cause a delay eg by holding doors open, but a few seconds can soon have a knock-on effect and this needs to be taken into consideration.Andrew Haines clearly understood this when he was MD of South West Trains, but others do not seem to understand this so clearly.

Then came rostering and the importance of local knowledge. It is important to listen, hear what is going on and to understand.Touching very briefly on the strike on South Western Railways, it was mentioned that the unions do not always see the bigger picture. Alan is very much for retaining guards on trains and gave good reasons for this but again highlighted the importance of good communication. RAIB reports cite examples of poor or mis-managed incidents where communications have gone wrong because people make mistakes before going on to outline a number of other problems involving communication with passengers, issues with new rolling stock, First’s attitude towards the 700s - are now proving very reliable, and availability issues. It appears that SWR is now understaffed with little thought for having sufficient train crew available when train crew have to go for training on new rolling stock and new safety and operating systems for example.

There was a short video of a SPAD (signal passed at danger) at Fareham complete with interviews with those involved. Weather conditions were poor but the driver and signalman did everything correctly which meant that a possible disaster was averted. It is not funny when this happens and perhaps the media should joke less about ‘leaves on the line’.

Questions and answers included diagrams, the importance of driver route knowledge; the need to know the rule book; drivers making announcements; managers not getting out and about enough to learn their railways properly; and known distractions along the route appearing in train crew bulletins as a warning to prevent SPADs.

The vote of thanks to Alan was given by indoor fixtures officer Tom Kolisch.

Date: Tuesday 22 October 2019

Speaker: Paul Seller, Commercial Director, Infrastructure Directorate, HS2

Title: High Speed 2

Please note that this did not go ahead for reasons which will be apparent when reading the report

Our booked speaker Paul Seller duly arrived in good time to enjoy supper before the meeting. However, he was suddenly taken ill and ended up at the nearest A&E accompanied by a naturally very concerned fixtures officer. An above average audience who had come especially to hear him talk about HS2 (High Speed 2) were kept informed before the due start time of the meeting and given the option of having their donations returned and departing. Two people left and no-one asked for their donations back.

So how to fill the evening? As soon as it became apparent that there was to be no quick recovery, volunteers came forward and a programme for the evening was hastily put together taking the opportunities on offer.

The evening started with a short presentation from RCTS member Alan Hayward – a civil and structural engineer, who luckily happened to have a memory stick handy with some slides – mainly maps, showing possible alternative routes for HS2 in central London. The broad costings would result in a substantial saving on the current proposals under development, sometimes using existing infrastructure, with modifications where necessary, with the lines going straight through to connect with HS1 at St Pancras. Old Oak Common might be a possible interchange and the proposals as a whole could also help in avoiding most of the very costly tunnelling for the last stretch of railway lines into Euston under the present HS2 programme. The other benefit of the ideas was the possibility of a much better connection with HS1 avoiding the disconnection and subsequent need to get from HS2 at Euston to HS1 at St Pancras under the present plans. While some short sections might not be fully HS, the benefits of an unbroken journey could outweigh this possible downside.

The ideas may not individually be completely original but are a fresh way of looking at the possibilities and would produce a substantial saving on the current programme. There would be practical issues to overcome, there would be costs, and the ideas have been set out based on publicly available information so it is important to note that there may be relevant information that is not currently in the public domain. Alan has put the ideas forward to the review set up in August 2019 under Douglas Oakervee and has received an acknowledgment. Questions and answers followed and were equally interesting including useful links with the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail); could some of the original infrastructure set up for Eurostar be used – unlikely; does Euston have sufficient capacity; journey times and viability; could trains be routed via Ebbsfleet and/or Stratford International.

This was followed by branch member Adrian Palmer with an illustrated talk on a recent LCGB visit to Ethiopia and Djibouti using a selection of his images via Flickr – the benefits of having a laptop and access to the internet enabled this presentation to go ahead at such short notice. There was a mixture of older metre gauge and newer standard gauge plus metro and trams and it was interesting that there is only one railway line in the country going through Addis Ababa to the tiny coastal city state of Djibouti providing a link to the sea for landlocked Ethiopia. There has been a great deal of Chinese investment in the new standard gauge railway to Djibouti and there is also joint Chinese and Turkish investment to develop further railway lines in Ethiopia. There are currently two metro lines in the Addis Ababa area and Adrian described the set up using maps as illustration. There has been Chinese investment here as well with shiny new vehicles and frequent services. There is only one stretch of the now mainly redundant metre gauge line still in operation so the group hired a train for the day to travel along it. Apart from research before travelling out, the group looked around on arrival to see what else was left of what are now mainly redundant locomotives and infrastructure on the old metre gauge and it seems sad that much has just been abandoned. High security around Addis Ababa on the metro was highlighted with frequent bag searches and photographic permits required. There are not many stations along the railway from Addis to Djibouti and no refreshment facilities for what is quite a long journey so it is advisable to take your own. It is hoped that not only will the new rail link to the coast boost imports/exports, but that it will also encourage development along the line, although some of this is contentious with regards to the land required for both this and the new railway.

The journey through the country was clearly illustrated with photographs and maps and provided an interesting story of past and present railways, metro and trams taking in recent and current foreign investment. Questions included rail connections to other countries – there are none currently, tram loading gauges and track elevation amongst other subjects.

After the break we were treated to a short presentation by branch chair Andy Davies on a visit to China and Tibet in 2007 and originally presented as “Lanzhou to Lhasa” in May 2010.Having been one of the four on the journey it brought back memories of the difficulties with getting visas – what comes first, the visa or the train ticket and how this was resolved – basically by stamping a foot and threatening a poor report on Chinese railways if this was not sorted out. It worked. A considerable length of the line is built on permafrost and it was interesting to see the lineside equipment in place to monitor and ensure that this remains frozen and thus the railway remains stable. There was also evidence of the criss-cross stonework on the land adjacent to the line in places which is part of the scheme of environmental protection of lineside plants to help reduce risks of erosion on a wide and open landscape. Travelling in winter meant a lot of ice and snow especially in the wilder and largely unpopulated areas with the occasional herds of yak in the distance. A profile diagram showed the altitude along the line and we were treated to a few words on the special diesel locomotives used for the higher altitude sections of the line. There was plenty of evidence of massive infrastructure development but no nearby dwellings or other visible reason for its existence. There were photographs of the locomotives, train, train staff, individual oxygen masks by every bunk in the sleeping compartments as well as the wild and open countryside. The photograph of a packet of dried peas could not be forgotten as it perfectly illustrates what happens to packets sealed at lower altitude when they are then taken to high altitude with lower atmospheric pressure. The final photograph showed the magnificent Potala Palace in Lhasa itself.

There were questions on altitude problems – not too bad generally as you acclimatise to some extent on the journey; could anyone in the group of four speak Mandarin – yes, but as many Chinese learn English in school, language is not generally a barrier; what about other passenger traffic – none was seen on this journey and there were no other westerners on the train.

Thanks were given to those who stepped up to produce what turned out to be an excellent if unplanned evening, and you will be pleased to know that our speaker has fully recovered and should be back again next season instead.

Date: Thursday 10 October 2019 pm meeting

Speaker: Mike Corbett, ex Project Manager, Flying Scotsman

Title: Flying Scotsman - Steam, Sweat and Tears

Mike’s recent involvement with Flying Scotsman (FS) began when First Class Partnerships (FCP) were contracted to manage the project in 2012 after a certain amount of work had already been undertaken on the locomotive. He quoted 2 basic rules of locomotive restoration – everything takes longer than you plan, and when it is 75% complete, you still have 75% to go!

When FCP took on the project, the first task was to look at current reports on FS’s condition and the sequence of events to date. It appeared to have be a rather piecemeal approach with no clear plan to achieve mainline standard, and there had been some criticism of the work already carried out. This is partly because of the circumstances at the museum – a large publicly funded organisation with its associated difficulties, and personnel, policy changes and other circumstances producing some discontinuities.

After reviewing FS’s current position, a programme of what to do now, had to be established together with expected costs based on the knowledge available. In 2013 a series of packages were put out to contract with the National Railway Museum (NRM) keen to be involved with some of the works, and bearing in mind that there are only a limited number of companies qualified to carry out the tasks required. Riley & Son Ltd had already done some work on FS and made a successful bid for the majority, with some work packages being retained by the museum.

Over and above the engineering works required, there was quite a complex list of stakeholders and companies who would be involved with testing, specialist electronics, gauging, safety systems installation and testing. FCP provided project management and expert engineering experience and knowledge.

The project management was split into 6 main areas:

Programme of works;

Risk log (approximately 40 items initially);

Issues log (around 60 identified);

Change log – to deal with variations (approximately 50 of these);

Finance log – to deal with forecasts and changes;

Resources – those of the museum and Riley’s.

Mike went through all the various stages of managing the project and the monitoring of progress, meetings, reports, and financial controls before detailing the work to be done from initial inspections, through works required – some major, to the final achievement of FS being fit for mainline running again. There were a number of challenges to be resolved along the way and some really interesting engineering details to help explain the problems and solutions found, as well as the sequence of inspections, certification and acceptances and the various uniquely qualified individuals and companies who contributed along the way. One of the first major problems identified involved elongation of the fitted bolt holes that fixed the middle cylinder casting to the frames. New front end sections of the frames were made and welded to the original rear end frames. Not an easy job, matching new steel plate to that manufactured 75 years earlier.

Detailing the AWS and TPWS, Mike highlighted the difficulties of installing modern electronic systems on steam locomotives, finding a suitable location where the equipment could be installed that was dirt proof, steam proof, heat proof etc! At this time the museum had been laying off some of their staff but one electrician in particular had been kept on. This proved to be very fortunate as he had kept detailed notes of the TPWS system which was a great help in getting the system accepted.

Another aspect of the project was the essential commissioning involving testing of many of the systems such as brakes, safety devices, weight, height and gauging, snagging, static and running trials. The pressure was on to complete the project as the NRM, in its enthusiasm had given a launch date. After commissioning came certification and acceptance that had to be done in a set sequence. This was all completed in time for the previously announced launch date thanks to the efforts of all involved.

Lessons learned along the way included recognising the need for management knowledge and experience in bringing a steam locomotive up to mainline standards; the risks of the unknown with incomplete evaluation; the importance of effective maintenance records; do not book a launch date without knowing if you can reasonably meet it.

Mike ended with a few photographs of the launch one of them showing the foresight of a small company like Riley’s as two of their young apprentices were included. Teaching apprentices ensures that the skills required are continued on into the future.

The vote of thanks was given by Peter Bosomworth who said what a privilege it was to thank Mike for his presentation and his involvement with the rejuvenation of Flying Scotsman, his enjoyment of the engineering details, and the enormous range of skills required to complete the task. It is the most famous steam locomotive in the world – a wonderful machine that will be with us for many years to come.

Date: Tuesday 24 September 2019

Speaker: David Wilby, Regional Development Manager, South Western Railway

Title: South Western Railway - an Update

A relative newcomer to railways, David’s background is in planning, including transport planning in his previous job at Wokingham Borough Council. He outlined what he would cover and explained that it was with some trepidation that he had agreed to talk to Surrey Branch having been in the audience for two years running, when his immediate boss Phil Dominey spoke about South Western Railway (SWR) two years ago, and then when SWR MD Andy Mellor gave a presentation last September. Illustrations included PowerPoint slides as well as some short videos, the first of which showed the change on a Class 450 from South West Trains (SWT) to SWR livery. The livery design has since been modified slightly, without the prominent stripes, as it has been rolled out across the fleet.

Part of the franchise conditions included having a small team to look at development and to find ways to bring third party money into the railways which is where David comes in. The franchise area has been split into three for this purpose with all three posts being written into the franchise. The posts cover Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, David’s area (which is the suburban network), and the Western area.

The franchise has five main objectives:

Customers – providing a great customer experience;

Colleagues – trying to ensure that SWR is a great company to work for;

Commercial – making it a sustainable business;

Safety – exactly what it says;

Performance – improving performance with better reliability, punctuality and all the other aspects that would be expected from a good business.

Progress after 24 months of the franchise followed and there have been some successes with objectives achieved such as automatic delay/repay now becoming expected throughout the railway network, rolling out new trains and refurbishing older units, an improved timetable, better real time information, wifi on trains and the introduction of new gatelines amongst them. There was some research on the best places to install gatelines and the benefits of this can be shown by the example of Wokingham where there was a 40% increase in fares paid in the first week of gateline operation.

David was fully aware that performance is not where it should be and that further improvement is required. Part of the problem is the ageing assets of the railway network with insufficient investment and enhancement in the past although work is on-going to remedy this. SWR is not blameless but they are looking at particularly congested spots where problems with just one service can have a ‘knock on’ effect on many others, and how best to make improvements.

SWR are also looking at other business opportunities as there is little or no capacity for peak time growth and one answer has been to put on extra services at weekends to grow the business that way. One of the less successful issues has been the use of refurbished Class 442s and the difficulties with the effects on the signalling systems, and issues with door sensors. The units are currently back in the workshop undergoing modification to solve the problems. Industrial relations were only covered briefly as this is not David’s field but he is hopeful that talks between SWR and the unions at ACAS will lead to a resolution as everyone would like to see it sorted out as soon as possible.

Other schemes either completed, in development or under consideration include the installation of accessible ramps at Chessington South and David commented on how expensive this is on the railways when compared to his previous experience with highways. Another important area involves working with Local Authorities (LAs) such as the expansion of the Sky offices in Isleworth where enhancements to the railway station were agreed as part of the planning consent with the LA – in this instance the London Borough of Hounslow. It is part of David’s job to push for this sort of investment in the railways, as well as encouraging community rail partnerships for which there is some funding set aside within the franchise. This can lead to a wide range of benefits depending on what has been agreed locally and all improvements - whether carefully tended flowerbeds or additional services, will help to promote the destinations served by SWR. Volunteer community ambassadors have been taken on to encourage those who would not normally consider using railways to do so, showing them how any difficulty they may have can be overcome and taking the fear out of trying something different – another way to grow the business.

At this point David showed another short video of making the advertisement “Great Days Out” which was created to encourage more leisure travel using SWR services, highlighting some of the great places that can be visited by train and the good memories that go with great days out.

Another area badly in need of investment is the Island Line on the Isle of Wight and David was pleased to confirm that a substantial investment package has now been agreed in conjunction with substantial refurbishment work to be done by Network Rail (NR) on Ryde Pier. With rebuilt Viva Rail ex London Transport D Stock (Class 484) - almost the only part retained is the body shell, trains and services should be much better, and the addition of a passing loop will also enable better service patterns. The final piece is a new hybrid ferry that it is planned will connect up properly with the railway.

Then came what David described as the best bit of the evening – the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This lays out details of mitigation in respect of new developments and the mechanism for doing so is detailed within the Act. While some developments would not need new road connections, they might require enhancements to the local railway station – for example around Woking, and this might go as far as contributions towards the long discussed grade separation and works to Victoria Arch to reduce the road bottleneck. Money is needed to make improvements so it is not unreasonable to request developers to contribute to the local infrastructure if they wish to develop. LAs can work together as one, as in the Battersea Opportunity Area around the former Battersea Power Station where the Northern Line extension is an integral part of the development. There were other examples too. David also mentioned a few where opportunities had been missed, and the need to be aware of what partnerships of this sort can do for the benefit of all concerned.

David summed up some of the ways to bring money in to help with enhancements on the railways to improve communities, accessibility and many other areas. But he also pointed out that for ‘big ticket’ items, it would be necessary to look to the government because of the vast costs of big projects.

Questions and answers followed after the refreshment break and covered more trains on Sunday stopping at Brookwood; targets for passenger comfort with a comparison between BR Mark 1 third class coaches compared with some modern rolling stock; Farnham to Guildford services – any progress? Where there were questions that David was unable to answer, he gave information on the best person to ask. Disabled seats and the unavailability of disabled toilets were raised; specific service issues where there have been changes and possibilities for improvement and a possible grade separation at Basingstoke. There were also queries about delays – the reasons given for the delays and better information for passengers. Longcross on the Reading line was raised as there is planning for substantial residential development with part of the planning consent bringing in investment to improve the station, local services, highways etc in and around the development. There is a long list of improvements that will go ahead as part of this package which is just the sort of thing that David raised in his presentation.

The vote of thanks was given by branch committee member Richard Whitehead who recognised that David had perhaps entered the field at a difficult time for railways, highlighted the local proposals for improvements in the Woking area, as well as providing an excellent broader picture of SWR.

It was refreshing to have a speaker who was not afraid to say when he could not answer a question, was happy to advise where to find the answers or who to ask, and who used plain English rather than corporate language in his presentation. An excellent presentation and it will be interesting to see his progress with SWR.

Speaker: John Cartledge – former Head of Policy and Research at London TravelWatch

Title: Elstree & Borehamwood – the first 150 years

Our booked speaker was unable to attend so John stepped in to tell us about his home station of Elstree & Borehamwood (E&B) from its inception until the present day and beyond. Having introduced himself he briefly outlined his own railway experience starting with training at the BR staff college in Woking over 40 years ago. John explained that as a student his speciality had been geography, an interest he still retains. The presentation was based on material put together for an exhibition covering the history of E&B station rather than rolling stock, timetabling or any other of the many aspects of the railways.

With a selected history of both the Midland Railway and its rival GNR, John explained briefly how the line through E&B came to be. The routes into London were proving lucrative for the railway companies and as the Midland did not have its own route into London initially, it had to use the GNR lines. This became more of a problem as GNR would prioritise their own business which led to the Midland building its own route to London passing through Elstree and Borehamwood along the way. What is in a name? Elstree can trace its history back to being a settlement in Saxon times while Borehamwood largely grew with the advent of the railway line passing through between the two. The name of the station itself has had a number of versions being named after one or both settlements at different times and is currently known as Elstree & Borehamwood to acknowledge the importance of both.

When the station first opened to traffic in July 1868 there were 6 trains a day and John used some interesting sections of the 1868 OS map to show the very limited extent of the settlement and how the railway was placed in the landscape. There was little more than a handful of cottages with open fields around. A large scale map of 1872 showed the original lines with two tracks, the layout of the station, the station master’s house. The goods station shows up on the Eastern side with a passing loop to the West. There was plenty of allowance for goods traffic with two sidings to the North, a coal yard, and cattle pens amongst other facilities. The nearby Tilehouse Farm still exists but at the start of construction the company had to build a bridge as part of the development because the railway line bisected the farmland. The Midland also built one of the first mixed developments consisting of a row of shops with flats above – it was speculative then but it worked. They had the foresight too to build an extra span on the bridge to allow for future expansion. Clay materials excavated from tunnelling etc were used together with a local spring water supply to produce bricks for the railway building works leading to the set-up of a brickworks in an area that quickly became known as Brick Field.

A later map dated 1896 showed further development with more buildings and additional housing including six tied railway cottages, a school, a Baptist chapel and a gas works with its own sidings. On the railway itself extra lines can be seen including a relief line, and by this time an additional bore to the tunnel had been added and there is now a signal box. A 1912 map shows more houses, more railway cottages, a second signal box, a church, and an extension to the brickworks. There was also another railway track going up and over the mainline to facilitate access to the goods yard which continued in operation for nearly 100 years before finally closing.

The first of the Elstree film studios was built in 1914 on part of the area originally occupied by the goods yard. As the town grew and the nascent film industry thrived, other things were changing and the brickworks was closed down in 1915. Moving nearer to the present day, by 1960 the large post war housing estates were largely complete and the town had reached approximately its current footprint. The goods station closed in 1967, other businesses moved in and the brickworks site became an informal open space. The loading dock next to the station master’s house survived until the 1980s while the original tied railway cottages were not demolished until the 1990s to make way for new development. By now the goods sidings had been lifted, the old coal yard had become a car park and there was a new footbridge replacing the long gone Victorian one. Today the town has a population of around 40,000, approximately one eighth of whom commute to work by train now served by 6 trains an hour rather than the original 6 a day. Quite a contrast with the original small settlement surrounded by open fields, and rail traffic that was largely freight now almost exclusively passenger services.

John’s carefully researched maps and before and after photographs illustrated the enormous changes over time from a small cluster of cottages to a fair-sized town, the original wooden station buildings to later more substantial ones, removal of the main station buildings in the 1960s, changes to the platform numbering and a photograph from the 1980s showing overhead electric wiring – strangely enough with a diesel running through. Facilities for passengers, and transport access to the station were pretty poor but local lobbying prevailed to clear the old yard and put in a purpose built transport hub with good bus links. Soon after this a new prefabricated station building was erected - currently undergoing enlargement to improve passenger facilities including a café and some retail. The official 2011 opening of the remodelled forecourt and interchange was attended by a number of film characters including Darth Vader of Star Wars fame, with some memorable artwork on display as a more permanent celebration of local heritage. At least part of the success of the recent changes has to be attributed to the collaboration between rail operators, local authorities, film heritage and local people. With a fully accessible footbridge, extended platforms, enlarged and improved station facilities for passengers and staff alike, Elstree & Borehamwood station should be fit for the 21st century once all the current building works are complete.

It is nearly 100 years since the Midland Railway was subsumed by grouping and there is not much of the original left although the sharp eyed observer may still find a few original items in situ in forgotten and hidden corners. A fascinating illustrated history and It will be interesting to see what the next 150 years brings.

Tuesday 30 April 2019

Speaker: Steve Ollive

Title: The Anniversary Tour

Steve introduced himself and explained what the talk was about – a railway tour in Europe to celebrate three sixtieth birthdays and a silver wedding anniversary with five of the six participants present at the meeting. The presentation was divided into parts for the different sections of the journey. Part 1 took in the British Pullman from London Victoria; picking up the Venice Simplon Orient Express - with its beautiful interiors, superb service and great luxury, at Calais for the onward journey to Venice Santa Lucia. It was a good reason to dress up in fitting attire for such a setting. When asking for a more detailed itinerary for the VSOE, the answer was: depart London Victoria 10.45am on Sunday 24 June, arrive Venice St Lucia at 17.25 on Monday 25 June 2018! It was worth completing the questionnaire before travelling asking if there was any special reason for taking the VSOE as the Mâitre D came along just before dinner with a complimentary bottle of champagne to toast the birthdays and anniversary. This was followed by a superb dinner prepared by the on-board Michelin starred chef as we made a leisurely way across northern France to Paris Est and a change of locomotives from Sybic 26163 to another Sybic 26161 – neither matching the grandeur of the coaches. Each coach is different and has a history which is discretely on display. After leaving Paris it was off to the bar car for a night cap. This was the only communal vehicle on the train apart from the restaurant cars so it was really crowded but, along with the night cap, there was the pleasure of listening to the excellent on-board pianist.Early the following morning saw a locomotive change at Basel detaching the SNCF locomotive and changing it for SBB RE4/4 locomotives 11181 and 11199, before continuing on through Switzerland following the old Gottard Pass route to the Italian border at Chiasso having passed by the famous church at Vassen at least three times at different heights as the route climbs up through the mountainous Swiss scenery.

Part 2 covered three full days in Venice and the lagoon islands using the local transport which is mainly water buses with a three day vaporetto ticket proving to be an excellent idea. Most of the group spent the morning of the second day taking an early tram back to the mainland at Mestre to photograph trains and the VSOE as it prepared to return to Calais. The trams are interesting in that they operate on one rail with two pneumatics. Having discussed train times with the train manager on the way out to Venice, he greeted the group with the comment “I thought I would see you lot here”. Venice was a magical place with some wonderful sights and stunning views particularly from the top of the campanile (bell tower) of San Giorgio Maggiore, as well as visits to some of the islands including Murano - famous for its glass, and Torcello – slightly less touristy but well worth visiting with its old church, ancient remains and small lizards, and the heron perched on a post in the middle of a canal totally ignoring the tourists. Back on the main islands, some of the usual tourist attractions were visited – St Mark’s Cathedral, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs amongst them, and nothing disappointed. Lunch was taken at a café in St Mark’s Square where there was a surcharge of 6 euros – for the privilege of listening to what turned out to be a superb group of musicians playing gentle classical music. More exploring during the stay took in a waterbus to Tronchetto and the delights of taking the people mover back to the main island.

Part 3 covered the details of the rail journey from Venice to Vienna starting with a high speed Frecciarossa set 22 to Verona where there was 90 minutes of train watching while waiting for the OBB Euro City connection to Innsbruck via the Brenner Pass. At Innsbruck there was just enough time to catch the Railjet to Vienna with time to enjoy a meal onboard before arriving at the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) which is a remarkable building, and a short walk to the hotel. Vienna gave the perfect excuse to stop outside the railway station – a bus pulled up, without disembarking the driver got out his flask, poured a ‘cuppa’ and put up the sign on the front destination display of a cup of steaming tea/coffee and the text PAUSE (German for break). This was the prompt for the refreshment break during the presentation.

Three days in Vienna took in trams, the tram museum and the technical museum, as well as a day out using the ‘spare’ day on the Interrail Pass to travel over the Semmering Pass to Payerbach-Reichenau and the Höllentalbahn where there was access to the works at the top and the power plant on the way back down – available only on the first run of the day. On the round trip that day, there was also a visit to Műrzzuschlag and the Sűdbahnmuseum (southern railway museum) with its incredible display of works vehicles. Other visits in Vienna included the Donau (Danube) Park with its 15” narrow gauge railway, and magnificent views over the city and its environs from the top of the tower. From here it was on to Prater Park with another 15” narrow gauge railway operated by the same company as at Donau Park.Unfortunately, it was not possible to see the hydrogen powered locomotive as it was well hidden in the engine shed. It was a must to try all forms of transport including the famous Ferris Wheel so this too was enjoyed.

After an excellent stay in Vienna it was time to continue on to Prague leaving on RJ72 propelled by OBB 1216-240.With tram lines running directly outside the hotel in the Old Town, it was well placed for exploring the city, visiting the Charles Bridge, Castle and Cathedral as well as a specially privileged private guided tour of the Jewish Museum. There was a wealth of interest for transport enthusiasts with regards to trams (including vintage vehicles on some regular routes), railways and the technical museum. Delights included City Elephants – double deck EMUs, at the smaller Mazarykovo railway station just a short walk from the hotel. Also of interest were the huge numbers of Harley Davidsons, due to there being an international convention celebrating the 90th anniversary of the local chapter. The bikers were very friendly, were everywhere in the city and they used the tram system too.

All too soon it was time to return from Prague to London leaving one member of the group behind to visit with family there. The first train for this part of the journey was 193 290 from Prague to Dresden and here there was time to watch a plentiful supply of freight trains from various companies going through the station while waiting for the ICE Class 411 connection to Frankfurt. It was a short walk to the hotel for the night before catching a Class 406 ICE to Brussels the following morning. At Brussels it was an E320 Siemens Eurostar back to St Pancras and then UK suburban railways back home.

Questions and answers included distances travelled; any issues with taking photographs – answer: none; questions about the VSOE rolling stock; food on board the VSOE – sumptuous is the best answer here with the onboard chef holding 2 Michelin stars; comments about David Suchet and his research before filming on board the VSOE, as well as discussion about how to distinguish between various types of rolling stock seen during the journey.

There was a lot more detail during the presentation on the railway rolling stock seen, places visited and stories too, that added colour but there is not enough space to include everything in the report. As one of those who enjoyed being on the tour itself, all I can say is what a superb way to celebrate!

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Clan Line

Speaker: Chris Meredith

Chris gave a brief outline of his early contact with the Merchant Navy class of steam locomotives as a child living in Broadstairs, before providing an outline of the Merchant Navy Locomotive Preservation Society (MNLPS) formed at the end of 1965 by Tony Clare and brothers Maurice and Gerry Walker.35028 Clan Line was selected as being the most recent in the class to have undergone a major overhaul in 1959 and because it was regarded as being in the best condition.Initially BR quoted a price of £2500 with a number of conditions attached to the purchase but eventually Clan Line was bought in August 1967 for £2200 just over a month after being withdrawn from service in July 1967.It first entered service in December 1948 in malachite green livery and its working history ranged from the start at Bournemouth in 1948, through a colour change to BR blue, before ending up at Nine Elms for its last three months of operation.By this time it had done 794,391 miles in total, 393,386 of these since being rebuilt in 1959.The MNLPS initially housed it at the Longmoor Military Railway before that closed and after a number of other moves it is now based at Stewarts Lane where it was based in 1950.The prime objective was to keep the locomotive well maintained, and running on the national rail network.The secondary objective has always been for the Society to be self-financing and this has been achieved.

Chris moved very swiftly over his own railway history working for 41 years on the railways first with BR and later as Charter Timings Manager for Network Rail.He joined the Mid Hants Railway Preservation Society around 1998, is a working member of the MNLPS and is also currently chair of RCTS Croydon Branch.

Next came some excellent photographs to illustrate how Clan Line is now used, for example with the nameplate and regalia for The Golden Arrow and the British Pullman, working to recreate as far as possible both of these historic services.It is quite an impressive sight to see it at the head of an equally well maintained rake of historic coaches.There may be safety requirements such as having the back up of a diesel locomotive on the rear as ‘insurance’ although experienced drivers ensure that this is very rarely required.

The MNLPS usually work out timings for the charters themselves including allowances for watering stops, inspecting the facilities etc and some of the photographs showed exactly what this involves in preparatory planning.Where there is less time available in a schedule, then it is possible to double pump as the locomotive has two filling pipes and both can be used at the same time, and again Chris had an excellent photograph to illustrate this in practice.Where the locomotive has to be turned, these facilities too have to be inspected and checked in advance and Chris showed an instance where very careful measurements had to be taken because of a fence erected rather close to the turntable – just enough room on this occasion.Every detail has to be carefully worked out in advance.

Chris then moved on to preparation and disposal which means exactly what it says.There is much work to be done to prepare Clan Line every time before going out and the crew are there to make sure that the correct set of nameplates and matching regalia are in place – generally reproductions as the originals are quite valuable and have to be kept securely.There are the final touches to ensure that it is in pristine condition, that the coaling has been done properly – the original tender held about 5 tons but this has been extended to take approximately 7.5 to 8 tons with the extended section flat which means that the last of the coal needs to be shovelled forward.Then there are all the other tasks that need to be completed before it is ready for the next run out – the fitness to run checks, checking the support coach and checking that all systems are working properly.At the end of the journey, there is another set of tasks with the boiler having to be blown down to clear all the sludge before entering back into the shed for cleaning, servicing and any maintenance that is required. Chris provided information on the sort of work that might need to be done as routine and what is needed as more major levels of work are required, with photographs showing the attention to detail with regards to the engineering.He took great delight in describing the 6 monthly boiler wash out where the water comes out decidedly ‘yucky’ initially but eventually runs clear.There were details about protecting the bodywork, the water treatment used to prevent or at least reduce limescale internally in the boiler, plus the myriad of other jobs required to keep the locomotive in top condition and ready to work.

After the break Chris went on to talk about some of the charters – Clan Line will do approximately 20 in a good year and the experience can be quite magical in the right conditions.Some scenes today are very different from the past with skylines almost unrecognisable in places and a few older photographs as well as current ones were shown as illustration of some of the changes over Clan Line’s lifetime.He also gave an outline of the maintenance programme and the ingenuity required at times.Some of the final photographs showed Clan Line together with a 7¼” gauge working model with the correctly modelled non-standard oil box, together with an OO gauge model too – Clan Line in three sizes at once!

Questions and answers included how long would it be possible to keep Clan Line running: answer - as long as possible with efforts to earn enough for the next overhaul before it becomes due each time; there was discussion about younger people coming on to take over the work of keeping both locomotive and organisation going; the importance of volunteers and what job opportunities there are; did Clan Line ever have a Southern number: answer no, as it was built in 1948, so it only ever had a BR number.

The vote of thanks highlighted the excellent photographs, the interesting presentation including history and the work involved in running a steam locomotive and keeping it in top condition.Clan Line is credit to all who work on it whether directly or indirectly, and to Chris for his part in it all.

Thursday 14th March 2109

40 Years of Preserving the Legendary Deltics

Murray Brown - Deltic Preservation Society

Murray began with a brief resumé of his background in railways mentioning that his father used to work for ICI and knew Dr Beeching before he was asked to produce a report on UK railways. It was in childhood that Murray caught what he described as ‘the railway disease’ before going on to talk about his first encounter with a Deltic - D1093, in 1962 while travelling from Leeds to Kings Cross – his first really fast train journey. After leaving school he started his working life with BR initially in a position within the signalling and technical department, but his heart was set on working with Deltics. So when he saw an opportunity to work directly with them he took it. He worked his way up via experimental work, trialling new parts etc until there was a vacancy for the position he really wanted. Using some slightly unorthodox methods to make sure that he was noticed, he reached the interview stage for that post and achieved success. However, it was not long before the HSTs came into service, and Murray made a good argument for considering that the Deltics were in many ways a precursor for the HSTs that were now to displace them. The withdrawal programme and the Deltic Preservation Society (DPS) started at about the same time in 1977 although there was disbelief in some BR minds that the DPS would be able to run even one of these locomotives. Gerard Fiennes – BR manager and author of “I tried to run a railway”, was one who saw potential in the idea.

After the official withdrawal programme there were still 14 surviving Deltic locomotives and BR held an open day for them in February 1982 with around 8000 people turning up. DPS had a presence there producing an excellent boost to their fundraising and publicity and it also showed the popularity of this class of locomotives. They were popular with the staff too who had continued to maintain them well and taken good care of the spares available which eventually proved to be a real benefit for the DPS when it came to buying locomotives and sourcing the spare parts to keep them operating. By August 1982 they had two locomotives with an arrangement that the NYMR would house them. This wasn’t perfect because it was not possible to run them at anything other than the relatively low speed limits applying on heritage railways, and they were kept outside rather than under cover. The preservation era had truly begun by this time and the NYMR were the first heritage line to stage a proper diesel gala so having the Deltics there was a good opportunity. There were concerns about pollution and environmental issues with running diesel locomotives, but with experience and knowledge these were minimised although there were some funny stories about the learning process not least when the fire brigade was called out. Luckily on that occasion knowledge prevailed, the engine was not flooded with water that would have resulted in major damage, and they learned how to make sure that the same problem did not happen again. The DPS had access to an excellent workshop for bodywork restoration but they still did not have covered storage space which was an on-going issue for them.

The aim was to have the Deltics running on the national network rather than being confined to heritage lines but this had not been achieved under BR. However, the advent of privatisation changed this and opened up the opportunity for both of the DPS locomotives to run initially on the East Coast Main Line.This was taken up although they became acutely aware of the delay attribution penalties if one of their locomotives should cause a problem – it can be very expensive. The DPS moved their base from the NYMR to the GCR and then on to the East Lancashire Railway. It was during this period that a request came through for 2 Deltics to haul a luxury train. Initially they thought it was a joke but no, it was for real and provided real work that would pay. The DPS really wanted their own depot facility and once enough money had been raised they started searching for a suitable base. They are now based at Barrow Hill where the Deltics are housed under cover and can be looked after properly. They own the new depot but not the land so fundraising is on-going to buy the land that is currently leased. The depot will eventually have room for 6 locomotives on 3 roads with some limited space for displays in addition, and renting out ‘spare’ space in the meantime helps to provide funds for further improvements to the facility. It has been nicknamed “Finsbury Park” but that is another story.

The DPS has progressed and developed over time and now they “rent out” locomotives with the drivers being provided by the relevant TOC (train operating company).This works very well with the DB Cargo drivers mainly used now as they seem to take good care of the locomotives in use. The DPS strategy is very clear – to keep the Deltics going for as long as possible with proposals to do another Deltic hauled special around Scotland amongst other things, before they are ‘stuffed and mounted’. As with any project like this the key to on-going success is sufficient money and volunteers. Currently the Deltics are running well and have done more hours between intervals than was managed under BR! There are a number of future possibilities under consideration and the DPS would dearly like to get the prototype up and running again. This is owned by the NRM and based at Shildon but with no engines inside. However, the DPS have two possibly suitable Napier engines although there are a number of technical issues to be overcome before the prototype could be run on the national network, and it is unlikely that the NRM would sanction the idea. The DPS have some good working relationships both within railways and outside such as the link with the Green Howards – one of the Deltics carries that name, and there are many other proposals in the pipeline although not everyone who would like to hire the DPS working locomotives understands the cost of doing so.

With some really good photographs, Murray gave an excellent and well illustrated presentation on the Deltics from the prototype, English Electric engines and Napier engines, to the current state of preservation showing clearly the interest and fondness for this class of locomotives. Question time was all too short as Murray had to catch his train home but included discussion of the original English Electric engines being ‘swapped’ for Napiers, and had they tried the Coca Cola trick with a seized engine.

The vote of thanks highlighted the extent of enthusiasm for this classic locomotive and a mention of the ‘fabulous’ and atmospheric closing photograph of the Deltics in action in Scotland.

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Last updated: 29th January 2020