Meeting Reports

Monday 15th February 2021

Upgrading Signalling and Using the Wareham Link of the Swanage Railway

Michael Walshaw

Meeting Held via Zoom

Michael described the enterprising project which involved close co-operation between a heritage railway and Network Rail (NR), as well as private contractors. A window of opportunity had arisen when NR announced their decision to modernise the part of the network through Worgret Junction, the junction with the heritage Swanage Railway. This involved Basingstoke Signalling Control Centre, where the new Dorset Coast Panel would control the line from Poole to Wool, replacing four signal boxes on the mainline. The preserved railway took on this challenge with alacrity and no little skill and this provides a good template for other such schemes. The task of connecting a heritage railway to the national network is not to be underestimated and those involved deserve our congratulations.

While we are at it, they reasoned, we will do some necessary upgrading. So eroded embankments were strengthened and rebuilt; CWR was installed; a new road-rail interchange was built; a new token-block system was produced; and a new level crossing was created at Norden. This was achieved by a wonderful collaboration between the Swanage Railway members and contractors. All of this had to be tested of course and then certified.

The reasons for doing all this work were the declared aspirations to: –
1) To operate a passenger service between Wareham and Swanage on a regular basis, and
2) To offer attractive destinations for trains off the national network.

This preservation line has achieved its objectives and has future-proofed its infrastructure by being ambitious and working methodically to professional standards although Michael and his colleagues were volunteers and amateurs in the best sense of the word. For example, Michael, an electrical engineer by training now works as a volunteer Swanage Railway Signalman. Since the enhancements special trains have been run from several points of origin, such as Salisbury and Ealing Broadway onto the branch and the hope is that such through working will resume after the COVID lockdown with a regular Wareham – Swanage service. This will be in addition to the heritage trains within the branch.

Monday 18th January 2021

Exotic rail travels in 2019 to North Borneo, Taiwan, South Korea, Ethiopia and Djibouti

by Iain Scotchman

Meeting Held via Zoom

Iain was able to entertain 66 members and guests from Europe as well as the UK, in this two-parter; the first was set in SE Asia, the second in the Horn of Africa.

The first trip, PTG Tours Taiwan tour was organised and led by Ray Schofield, the second to Ethiopia led by Colin Meill for the LCGB, and pleasingly several people who accompanied Iain were with us on Monday evening.  The mixture of locomotives and rolling stock was in deed exotic, having their origins in the UK, USA, France, Japan and China among other places.  In North Borneo for example a Vulcan Foundry 2-6-2 was to be found and a converted Wickham DMU.  We saw a Hitachi loco on a works train and the Chinese turntable used to turn the steam loco off North Borneo Railway luxury train.  In Taiwan there is a mixture of gauges and the locals are well served by standard gauge high speed trains as well as metre gauge trains.  As with many ex-colonial countries there are contrasts, with for example, a massive multi-level station in Taipei to a forest railway of narrow gauge in Alishan, featuring extensive spirals to lift the line to around 5 000 feet. 

The itinerary in S. Korea included a visit to the DMZ, where it transpired the N. Koreans had surreptitiously tunnelled into the South, now a tourist attraction! 

In Ethiopia and Djibouti there was also much of interest, including the remaining section of the metre gauge line and Chinese built high-speed line that suffers both from the wrath of the local tribesmen whose livestock is killed by trains on the amazingly unfenced line,  and from a lack of passengers as the most communities served by the old line are now by-passed.

Monday 21st December 2020

AGM and Members’ Slide Evening

Meeting Held via Zoom

Our first AGM (and hopefully the last) by Zoom went well, although not very well attended. Four motions required voting for and these were slickly performed by our “Zoom Master” David Cope, giving rapid and accurate results in a very transparent way. All were carried unanimously including votes submitted by post. The branch committee was enlarged to include three co-opted members in an attempt to increase our organisational resilience. Before the members’ slide evening we experimented with some short video images. On show were: – Steam at Speed; Manchester – Sheffield electrics; the Midland Pullman; and 1967-8 steam at Preston. The idea was to “test the water” to see if the membership was receptive to viewing video clips as a group and then discussing them. The idea seemed to find favour, so we will carry on with this experiment in some form. We then viewed slides from Rodger Green’s collection and finished with images from Iain Scotchman’s extensive and eclectic portfolio – a fascinating range of modern traction and rolling stock, entitled A 2020 Retrospective – was served-up for our enjoyment. There were many interesting shots from around Europe, and closer to home on the GE and LTS. Fortunately Iain’s show will continue at our next meeting. As with many other branches, we adapted to the new prevailing circumstances and after a slight stutter, concluded a successful year, making new friends along the way. We look forward to a full programme in 2021, necessarily delivered flexibly, and welcoming attendance from around the UK and beyond.

Monday 16th November 2020

The Rail Freight Group

Maggie Simpson OBE

Meeting Held via Zoom

A virtual packed house of members and guests from the UK and beyond greeted our speaker who is Director General of the RFG. In a very enlightening presentation she covered the history and aims of the organisation and the challenges and opportunities facing its members who operate rail freight in this country. It is a representative body with some 120 member companies. The aim is to increase the volume of goods conveyed by rail in the UK and they seek to influence policy to support growth. Therefore the group promotes and communicates. To this end it publishes RFG News (freely available via the website) and runs member events as well as networking.

Maggie ran through some statistics regarding market share and economic benefits to the country derived be sending things by train. She went on to detail the market share by commodity. It was apparent that in some areas demand had been quite buoyant, whereas of course coal traffic has declined virtually to zero. She feels that the future is promising although there are many challenges, such as the lack of capacity in some parts of the rail network. The RFG therefore lobbies for greater investment whilst working very hard to improve efficiency and productivity by utilising technological advances in signalling, control and rolling stock design. The evening concluded with a quite comprehensive Q and A session.

Further information is available on the RFG website

Monday 19th October 2020

Battery Trains and Decarbonisation

Alice Gillman of Viva-Rail

Meeting Held via Zoom

This is an exciting project and Alice (Head of Marketing) delivered her presentation enthusiastically. The 53 of us participating found it very stimulating. The project is to build a suite of emission-free / low emission trains. The opportunity has been taken to utilise redundant LUL D78 stock and rebuild them into Class 230s. A major contribution to the green agenda is the utilisation of rolling stock that has years of life left – the body shells and bogies for instance, so these vehicles are not unnecessarily scrapped and much new building is avoided, thus saving money and carbon. But the main benefit should come from the use of low-carbon energy for running.

Apart from the trains built for the Isle of Wight all units will be battery powered. Most units are 3-car. The strategy is very flexible, utilising a modular approach so that various options are available. The one favoured at the moment has two driving motor cars that also carry the batteries, sandwiching a middle car that has diesel ‘gen-sets’ slung below, the purpose of which are to charge the batteries. Other options include a pure battery train that can re-charge in 10 minutes utilising the firm’s patented automatic rapid charge system. Alternatively various hybrid versions are envisaged to include a 25kV overhead or third rail DC input, so that the train can run as a pure electric and then switch to battery operation on un-electrified routes. So, for example such a train could run down the GW mainline under the wires, to say Twyford, and then proceed under its own power to Henley. Possibilities range from fairly short runs, e.g. branches in Cornwall, to longer routes such as the West Highland line.

Runs of 100 miles between charges are regarded as feasible, but this will depend on the gradients, number of stops, etc. Performance in terms of acceleration at least as good as that of current DMUs is claimed, although maximum speeds are limited to 60 mph. There may seem to be endless possibilities in this country – rebuilding some of the 3 000 older DMUs for example. But abroad prospects are even more exciting. In the USA, Henry Posner, a major shareholder, envisages “pop-up metros”. In this innovative scheme under-utilised freight lines in urban areas (of which there are hundreds) could be utilised at very low cost to run battery or hybrid trains. Planning for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is in-hand. This first trial will run for a year.

All this has been made possible by developments in battery technology. The packs of ‘pouch-cells’ developed in Germany from those used on submarines, make available 100 kWh of energy to each motor car and are self-cooling. They are easily exchanged on the flat using a forklift truck.

Adrian Shorter and his team are to be congratulated on their enterprise, so we wish them every success. Perhaps the only worry is the availability of lithium in the future.

Monday 21st September 2020

Elizabeth Line Developments

Steve Murphy

Meeting Held via Zoom

As a BR graduate trainee 29 years ago, our speaker had been told, by an older hand, to keep his opinions to himself, until he had sufficient experience to utter them. On this occasion we benefited from Steve’s great knowledge of his subject. He had with him two of his assistants (Andy Bottom and Dave Hepper) who contributed from time to time during a lively discussion. Steve is now CEO of mtr Elizabeth Line, having been MD for the last 6 years of this part of the Hong Kong based international organisation. His company has a “concession” not a franchise and this equates to a management contract.

Organisational issues featured greatly in this talk. The set-up is on the face of it very complex – 4 infrastructure companies, 5 TOCs and 3 rolling stock groups. All of these have to work collaboratively to provide the Elizabeth Line. Steve spoke of “challenges”; one can only imagine what some of these might have been! The role of his company is operations. It is an ‘asset-light’ organisation with a principal function of providing and training drivers – over 400; and so his presentation focused mainly on these aspects, although he touched upon construction, signalling and rolling stock.

The vision of Steve’s company is as follows “We will set a new transport standard in the UK”. To deliver this to TfL, their client, the emphasis has been and will be on recruiting, retaining and training drivers to a very high standard. We were told that the aim was for a diverse workforce and recruits were mainly taken “off the street” rather than from existing companies. Steve stressed the very close working relationship with ASLEF and TSSA and the family-friendly employment policies, which may allow, for instance, the employment of working mothers. Great use is made of simulators to provide the necessary experience and all drivers have to have a route-knowledge of the whole system. The delay in delivering the train service has been treated as an opportunity for providing enhanced training. This is impressive.

Perhaps inevitably, the questions Steve fielded (with his aides) were mainly about the timescales for the introduction of the service. This is planned to occur in phases and it is hoped that some passenger services will start in September 2021. Also inevitable were the references to the well-documented delays. One questioner wondered if the baked-in complexity of the whole scheme worked against the securing of resilience and therefore reliability and punctuality. Marrying three main sections of railway, each with its own signalling hardware and software in addition to coping with freight in order to provide a state-of-the-art urban passenger system is a tall order. It was noted that freight from Felixstowe to the North and Midlands was still coming via Stratford (there being no electrified route via Bury St Edmunds yet) and no additional infrastructure (e.g. loops) had been provided. Also some amongst us forecast an overloading of the already very busy Stratford interchange station. Steve however remained sanguine and upbeat whilst acknowledging the numerous “challenges”.

Monday 17th August 2020

Pictures from the Online Archive (OTA)

Charles Roberts

A virtual meeting via Zoom

We enjoyed a very informative presentation. Charles introduced the session with a history of the organisation and an explanation of its function, which is a charity preserving for posterity photographs and other images of transport. He has been involved in the OTA since its inception just over 20 years ago (28 February 1999). Ian Allan gave great support in the early stages, providing accommodation among other things. OTA is now based in its own premises in Shrewsbury.

The drive to set this up was the realisation that irreplaceable historical material on transport matters, in many formats was being dumped.  Often this occurred after the generator and collector of the images had died and their relatives did not appreciate their value, or perhaps didn’t care. The Railway Magazine highlighted this kind of thing in May 2005 “Don’t let your slides end in a bin”.

The project to preserve a vast number of images has been, and continues to be, a great challenge; however, the volunteers who carry out this work beaver away with great fortitude. Some collections are not received in the best condition, so work has to be carried out to enhance the image quality – Photoshopping, etc. Collections are not always well catalogued.  Frequently research is
necessary to identify or confirm dates and places. OTA sets great store on accurately crediting

Examples of what has been saved were showcased during the evening. We saw three collections, those
of: – John McCann, featuring Rugby testing plant; Phil Tattt, green diesels and Harry Luff, LT steam.

Those who wish to learn more may find the following links useful:

OTA website:

OTA Facebook:

OTA image/DVD sales:

It costs a lot of money to keep this essential activity going. Personal donations are always welcome:

Monday  20th July 2020

Mangapps Railway Museum – history, recent updates and future plans

John Jolly 

A virtual meeting via Zoom

Our group is getting accustomed to virtual meetings and they work well, apart from one or two glitches.  Our speaker confessed to this being his first time with this medium.  However, no one would have guessed, as he spoke for2 ½ hours off the cuff – a natural storyteller.   During the first half John spoke without visual aids about the history of this railway museum, about his childhood and youth and his life as a farmer in Essex and Suffolk and how he developed an interest in railways.  The museum owes its existence partly to the need for farmers to diversify away from food production into something more economical.  This evidently suited John and his son James, who is his co-conspiratorin the venture.  Starting very small the collection has grown into a very wide-ranging collection of “Railwayana”.   John spoke engagingly about his collection and how the many artefacts came into his hands and the help he had received along the way in locating items,setting-up and in transporting some of the larger exhibits.  The museum opened in 1989, coinciding with the centenary celebrations of the GE routes to Southend and the Dengie peninsular.

During the second half John used some excellent photographs to illustrate the collection and we gained some idea of the range.  It should be pointed out that many of our members are no strangers to the museum and our branch has visited every July for the last few years.  But there is always something new to see, including visiting steam locos.  Much of the collection is now housed in new buildings, purpose-built to protect them. Among the locomotives that can be run along the ¾ mile track are two Class 31s and three 03s.  A 47 is currently out on loan. Rolling-stock also includes a caboose. Static exhibits range from old station buildings and signal boxes to a fine collection of ground signals.  There are many other items, including BR totem signs, too much to mention here; so why not visit when it re-opens on 1st August.

Monday 15th June 2020

Railway Holidays in South-East Asia and Recent Travels

Iain Scotchman

A Virtual Meeting via Zoom

This was our second go at virtual meetings by Zoom. The technology worked quite well, with only minor glitches, thanks to our host David Cope. 28 members attended, several from other groups, who were of course very welcome.

Iain treated us to two rather different presentations. The first portrayed his recent holiday in South-East Asia. Starting in Kuala Lumpur there was much to see – meter gauge metros, a monorail and a standard gauge line to the airport. The station architecture was of interest, colonial style with modern extensions. An outing to Batu Caves followed. Later, in Bangkok we saw a massive new station under construction at Bang Sue, with many new and some planned metro lines. A Chinese high speed line will serve the new complex. The old station, in contrast to the one at Kuala Lumpur, was Italianate. On the line from Bangkok to Nam Tok the famous bridge over the River Kwai was crossed and photographed. Iain and his wife finished their tour in Singapore, travelling there by luxury train, the ‘Belmond Eastern Orient Express’.

The second presentation focused on recent developments on the Great Eastern. The new stock was depicted together with the ‘Thunderbird’ locos found necessary to rescue the spate of failures. Iain made the point that the Covid-19 emergency, which has dramatically reduced traffic, has enabled a smoother changeover. It’s an ill wind, etc. Iain managed to get shots of the new stock stored temporarily on the Mid Norfolk Railway. We also saw the movements of the stock that is being replaced, some to scrap in Newport and others for redeployment elsewhere. Class 86 and 90 locos were shown on Freightliner duties and various diesels – including 37s and 66s. There is much of interest in the changing scene in this part of the world.

Monday 18th May 2020

Special Virtual Meeting

Geoff Brockett and Jeremy Harrison

In view of the current situation one of our members suggested that we ran a virtual meeting via Zoom.  We have not done this before, but courtesy of our host David Cope and another of our members Geoff Brockett, plus a guest speaker from Croydon Jeremy Harrison, we produced a presentation in a matter of days.  This included a rehearsal.  We used PowerPoint.  The attendance was just over half of what we get for a real meeting (19 attendees plus five panellists).  Two attendees were from outside of our branch area – the event having been advertised on the website.

Geoff kicked-off with some slides from the Isle of Man.  With his usual ability to spot and locate a special working his slides of modern traction on the mainland were varied and interesting with good picture quality and thoroughly watchable.

Jeremy took over, with a rather different emphasis – steams specials and charters, and preserved railways.  We saw pictures of the highest quality as might be expected from a keen photographer who often has his efforts in the RO (as does Geoff of course).  The slides depicted trains in the landscape; Jeremy is very keen on gaining good vantage points and ‘framing’.  There were also some interesting lighting effects.   The show was wide-ranging and included material from the: – Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog, Vale of Rheidol, Welshpool & Llanfair, Pontypool &Blaenavon , Worth Valley, East Somerset, North Norfolk, Churnet Valley, Swanage, the Isle of Wight, Severn Valley, Mid Hants, Kent & E. Sussex, Bluebell and the GC.

Secretary David Couzens-Howard announced the death of our member Jim Walker, who was cremated earlier in the day, and two other friends in the wider railway community, but was able to bring good news of others who were recovering.

Feedback for this experiment was positive and encouraging.  We hope to do this again.


Last updated: 17th February