Meeting Reports

Date:  15 April 2021 

Speaker: Dave Coxon

Title:    Taking trains abroad before the Tunnel

Everyone was welcomed, before a minute’s silence for HRH Prince Philip whilst photographs of the late Prince were shown.

Dave introduced himself with a brief outline of his railway career working for British Rail (BR) and its successors for over 50 years starting in the loco works at Derby as an apprentice, then at the Technical Centre testing trains, before going on to research and later becoming involved in commissioning both in the UK and abroad.

In the 1980s BR sent various items of rolling stock to destinations in Europe and Dave was designated to organise the visits and to accompany the stock en route.  Three trips would be covered – to Hamburg in May 1988, the second to Utrecht in June 1989 and the third to Vienna in September 1989.

The main company for shifting rail borne freight in the days before the Tunnel was Railfreight International, using the new SNCF cross channel train ferry built in 1987 and named ‘Nord Pas de Calais’ (NPDC).  Dave described the previous lock system for getting trains on and off train ferries and showed a number of photographs as illustration.  The new ferry did not need any special dock but used an adjustable ‘drawbridge’ instead, known as the Linkspan with a double deck arrangement enabling the loading of trains (lower level) and lorries (upper level) at the same time, and there were a number of interesting photographs showing the process.  The Linkspan was designed for vehicles that could be loaded whatever the state of the tide but loading and unloading was best done at mid-tide for electric locomotives and coaching stock.  The NPDC was used on all three trips.

BR was invited to the IVA88 (Internationale Verkehrsaustelling) exhibition in Hamburg in 1988 and sent a Class 89 (89001), Class 90 (90008), Class 91 (91003) together with a Class 150/2 2-car Sprinter DMU (150263), two BREL International coaches (99523 and 99520) and two match wagons.  David explained the issues that had to be resolved and the testing required before they could couple up the train and go.  There were some excellent photographs of the outgoing journey, the vehicles and the exhibition, as well as the BR exhibits information, followed by the return journey.  The match wagons were used for several more years before ending up at the South Devon Railway where they were restored.  A photograph of one of the wagons showed it resplendent in its original livery at the SDR in 2008.  Accommodation en route was less than satisfactory but the hotel in Hamburg was excellent.

The second trip was part of Dutch Railway’s NS150 celebrations and BR was invited to send an example of their most modern rolling stock to Utrecht.  Eventually it was decided to take a Strathclyde Class 156 to the exhibition.  Again they went via Dover using the same ferry although this time the unit (156502) was driven under its own power from Derby, across Europe and then back again afterwards, generating quite a bit of interest en route.  There were excellent photographs from Utrecht of some of the wide range of rolling stock from steam to the latest TGV with much else in between including some splendid vintage vehicles, and the Class 156 making a favourable impression on visitors.  There was a later photograph of 156502 taken at Glasgow in 2007 – in a very different livery this time, but still showing the NL sticker from the exhibition on the secondman’s visor.

Trip 3 to Vienna to the Arsenal Climatic Testing Station was part of the Acceptance Testing programme for the IC225, with a Mk4 coach and DVT.  Again using the NPDC ferry to cross the channel where Dave was privileged to spend some time on the bridge, they were loco-hauled across Europe with an SNCF couchette coach as accommodation en route passing through France, Luxembourg, and Switzerland before reaching Austria.  Having the couchette coach made the journey that much more pleasant than some of the earlier trips.  The former Arsenal is an historic building that had found a new use in 1961 to carry out climatic testing covering, amongst other things, the effects of temperatures between -25?C and +40?C.  It was a surprise to see gas turbine 18000 outside the very ordinary looking building housing the climate chamber.  This locomotive has since been returned to the UK as a heritage vehicle.  The photographs of the DVT in the climate chamber coated in snow were quite impressive.  The test facility was moved to a new location, still in Vienna, in 2002.  Other British trains have been tested there since the Channel Tunnel opened but most have been transported by road.  We were shown photographs of some of these undergoing the same testing regime including a Class 345 Aventra Crossrail unit and a Siemens Thameslink Class 700.

The NPDC continued to be used mainly for dangerous goods after the Channel Tunnel was opened.  After changing ownership and conversion to a freight ferry, it has been renamed the Al Andalus Express and is currently operating in the Canary Islands.

With an array of interesting and probably historic photographs as illustration throughout, Dave highlighted both difficulties and successes experienced, and the lessons learned in how to solve the problems along the way.  Questions and answers included how the different vehicles were linked together; why was there no test chamber at Derby (financial reasons); did the vehicles taken to Vienna pass the tests – answer yes although they struggled a bit at +40?C.

The vote of thanks was given by Andy Davies who highlighted the opportunities of the time that would not be allowed now, and the great experiences that Dave had shared with us.

Date:               18 March 2021

Speaker:         Andrew McLean – Assistant Director and Chief Archivist, National Railway Museum

Title:                The High Speed Train’s impact on the Railways

RCTS Surrey Branch organised the evening as a joint meeting with the Southern Friends of the National Railway Museum (NRM) and their chair James Baldwin introduced Andrew McLean our speaker for the evening.  Born in Edinburgh, he was introduced to trains from day 2 and remembered visiting the NRM when it first opened in 1975 to celebrate 150 years of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.  The first photograph showed Prince Philip at the official opening of the NRM with locomotive Boxhill in the background.

In the 1960s rail was still suffering the after effects of WWII, struggling to compete with road, and there were doubts about the future.  However, a high speed train could help rail to compete.  Freight and wagon development had not kept up so BR began research, design and testing of high speed freight wagons.  The next question was, if freight, why not high speed passenger services too, and this led to the development of the Advanced Passenger Train (APT) – an early model of a high speed train with many exciting innovations that could provide competition for both air and road travel using revolutionary new ideas and technology.

Terry Miller, with his background and experience, become Chief Engineer for Traction and Rolling Stock for BR at just the right time to take this forward.  However, the APT was facing technological problems, and BR needed something in the meantime, hence the development of the conventional high speed train (HST) which became the InterCity 125 (IC125).  Andrew provided background historical detail to the production of the IC125 that first came into service in 1976, and its versatile designer Sir Kenneth Grange after whom power car 43002 is named, and which is now on display in the main hall at the NRM.  Sir Kenneth used a wind tunnel to test models to help design the front end of the prototype APT and APT-E and also the IC125.  Design principles were applied to the carriages as well as the power cars with the striking design and livery giving an illusion of speed.

Diagrams and technical drawings provided further detail of the development work including Mk III carriage construction with its excellent and well-deserved reputation for comfort.  Production got underway at Derby and Crewe and the train not only looked good, it also performed well and could go faster than the specified 125 mph.  There was muted media coverage for the official introduction into service partly, it seems, because some only wanted to report disaster rather than to celebrate success!  BR celebrated the success story of IC125, showing the shape of things to come with fantastic design and branding at a time when railways were struggling with their profile.  The effective marketing campaign was well illustrated using photographs of the facilities on board and some of the original advertising from the NRM collection.  The IC125 was re-liveried in the 1980s with the advertising and marketing campaigns clearly aimed at the business market.  They also had some success in selling the concept abroad, most notably in Australia.

It seems that British innovation and success are often downplayed but at the time the IC125 was introduced in 1976, the only high speed train that could beat it was the Japanese Shinkansen running on special tracks whereas the IC125 ran on the existing network.  The pre-production APT-P made its first foray into regular use in 1981 but was withdrawn after a relatively short period because of technical problems.  The situation with regards to high speed rail services has changed in recent years but, as Andrew showed, we were not always behind in developing high speed trains – consider too the earlier high speed Deltic diesel locomotives and the record breaking steam locomotive Mallard.

The subsequent 225 adapted much of the technology and provides something that the modern Azuma has to live up to.  Although the HST has now been withdrawn from much of the UK rail network after more than 40 years of good and reliable service, some remain in use and we were treated to a really interesting mix of various liveries and operators including the ‘Flying Banana’ test train used by Network Rail, some EMR and Cross Country services, and a recent photograph of a ScotRail example with livery representing a face-mask on the front – appropriate for the pandemic!

The national collection continues to expand and, with help, the NRM has located an original buffet car with the original seats.  They have also acquired the Terry Miller nameplates from a power car.  Andrew said that it is hard to do justice to this wonderful train that was value for money, provided great service and that proved to be very popular with both staff and passengers.

As a bonus, Andrew was invited to provide an outline of current developments at the NRM so he gave a quick rundown for both York and Shildon.  The current programme is the biggest change in the museum’s history although the pandemic has now made both the work and the fundraising more difficult.  There is a lot going on with restoration and repurposing of unused historic buildings as well as rebuilding and new build.  There are plans to increase visitor numbers and encourage children to become much more engaged with engineering.  There will also be improvements in accessibility as the whole area around the York site is being redeveloped and Leeman Road is being re-routed.  New gallery spaces will take the story into the future as well as the past and present, and there will be opportunities to display parts of the collection where there was previously no space to put them on show.  Railways are not just about the technology but also the impact on society and many small artefacts will be displayed to tell the stories.  At Shildon too, there are new developments with an improved layout as well as a large new building to enable the display of more locomotives and other items in the collection.  This will enable the museum to include a lot more of the history of railways in the Shildon area and the associated industrial heritage.

An informal straw poll was taken to see if the audience would appreciate Andrew returning for a full evening talking about the NRM – the vote was resoundingly in favour.

Guest ‘question master’ for the evening was Dr Melvyn Draper of the Southern Friends of the NRM who mentioned very briefly what they are about.  Questions included the design of trains and locomotives over time and how this could be exhibited; the availability of skills and spares; other trains/locomotives with an equally long lifetime; HST charters; how do you select which power cars and carriages to collect; railway infrastructure more generally eg catenary samples etc; coal supplies; and finally what about getting rid of things no longer considered useful.  All questions were answered with the same knowledge and enthusiasm as the presentation itself.

The vote of thanks highlighted the excellent presentation both on the main subject and the impromptu update on the NRM.  The HSTs are rightly a part of the history of railways and it is good to see them being covered in the NRM collections.

Date:           18 February 2021

Speaker:     Cliff Perry, Railwayman

Title:            Railway Safety – Lessons from Privatisation

All were welcomed especially our speaker Cliff Perry, who would be talking about railway safety and providing an update since his previous visit to the branch in 2018.  There was much ‘doom and gloom’ at privatisation which has been proved wrong on all counts, so this presentation would be about data and not dogma.

Safety is a number one priority affected by many factors and Cliff began, as before, with a short quiz on railway accidents adding the context and explanations, including how accidents reflect the railway situation at the time and, perhaps more importantly, lessons learned – resulting in improvements in many areas.  At this point Cliff provided a brief outline of his background growing up in a railway family, and his own career and experience as a senior railwayman.

He noted that we cannot be complacent about improvements in rail safety to date, and in addition to improved planning and sustained investment, highlighted three key areas: digital revolution; competence management; interface management.  The addition of the importance of communication came from the audience via the chat facility.  The railways are not risk free but the situation has been improving not least because this makes good business sense.  Cliff used a number of graphs and diagrams as illustration and of particular interest with current discussions on climate change, how this can affect railway earthworks with more severe stormy weather causing failures in infrastructure for example.  He also showed how a number of risk factors that individually might not seem too serious, can result in an accident when they all line up at once.

Details were provided of modern digital technology helping to make improvements in track safety, for example the Vampire system with improved modelling to enable better pinpointing of track wear issues so that these can be dealt with before they fail.  Modern digital technology can also be key to working out why an accident occurred so that it can be prevented in future and some interesting examples were provided as illustration.  Another technological advance included at this point was the Network Rail track measurement train and its major value as an investment in improving safety on the railways – again making good business sense.

Rolling stock too is important and there have been major advances with regards to crashworthiness, doors, secondary safety measures (eg laminated windows etc) and sanding – which sounds simple but can make a considerable difference.

The next subject was people and competence management, taking in the most common causes and areas of accidents on the railway network.  Concentrating on staff, the culture is important instilling safety and good practice and ensuring that proper training is provided, for example using simulators.  Improvements can also be made by studying near misses – an important tool to learn from in helping to prevent accidents.  At this point we were shown some short video clips of near misses and what lessons were taken from them.

Organisational processes are important to ensure that everyone is clear about who is responsible for what eg the ORR, RAIB, ensuring that all parties work on risk-based mitigation.  There has been a great deal more cooperation since privatisation with the obligatory sharing of incident reports so that ALL operators can benefit from lessons learned.  The compensation regime too encourages operators and infrastructure to avoid being responsible for incidents, resulting in improvements to their individual operations and safety measures.  Further case studies showed what can go wrong when operations are run on a shoestring with a poor safety culture resulting in an outcome far more costly than sorting out the original problem.

There are some things to keep such as ‘good safety is good business’, everyone trying to improve the railways, investment, small is beautiful, compensation regime to improve performance, cooperation that can be enforced, and the best quality staff.  Which led Cliff back to summarise what has made the difference ie that the UK model is safer than comparable state railways; improved planning; the three key areas already mentioned (digital revolution, competence management, interface management); and sustained investment.  He ended by noting that ‘tomorrow will be different’.

Rather than the usual Q&A session, there was a discussion between Cliff and recently retired train driver Alan Nichols on many aspects of rail safety in practice, what works and lessons learned using a number of examples of accidents, disasters and near misses.  While human frailty can let the system down, much has been done to mitigate this which, together with the right technology and other safety measures, has led to a very safe system overall with well trained staff very much a part of getting it right.  Alan showed the importance of communication and described how he had visited every signal box he used on the routes he worked to make personal contact with the signalling staff, greatly enhancing working together.  Both were impressed by Andrew Haines at Network Rail who has clearly put safety at the heart, followed closely by passenger service.  And reading RAIB reports was recommended to help gain an insight into rail safety today.

The vote of thanks highlighted both information and perceptions on safety, that the railways are a success and that we all hope the safety culture continues.

An excellent and informative evening.



Date:               21 January 2021

Speaker:         Paul Seller – Interim PMO Director, HS2

Title:                HS2 – An Overview

Paul was originally scheduled to talk to the branch in October 2019 but was taken ill at the very last minute so we were particularly pleased to welcome him, together with his two colleagues Ben Rule (Infrastructure Management Director) and Matt Rigley (Commercial Operations Director) who would be taking on specific parts of the presentation.  The record attendance at this virtual meeting shows that the subject was clearly of interest and that efforts to advertise more widely than usual were certainly worthwhile.

The presentation started with the introductions of our speakers each one of whom has a very interesting background from various Consultancy roles to the Olympic Delivery Authority; from senior Railway Executive to Inspector with the RAIB (Rail Accident Investigation Branch) – a particularly interesting background for someone who will lead the team operating and managing HS2 infrastructure once construction has been completed; from Graduate Trainee with London Underground to Management Consultant to Commercial Analysis.  Paul covered the project objectives and an overview taking in why Britain needs HS2, going into more detail on the capacity issues on the railway (temporarily disregarding the pandemic), economic benefits, the environmental agenda (reducing carbon emissions) and improved connectivity within the UK.  He covered the three Cs – capacity, carbon and connectivity.

As well as making a sound business case and ensuring regularly updated and tight financial controls, it might be surprising to some just how much research has gone into all aspects of the project from working with stakeholders and neighbours, to working out the optimum designs for stations and trains to allow easy and quick boarding and alighting for example.  Passenger behaviours and requirements will change into the future so flexibility has to be built in to allow for this.  Capital costs, operational costs and whole life costs were covered as was having respect for those who have concerns about the project.  With this last in mind, all staff are expected to take a turn on the helplines so that they are fully aware of the issues, engaging with the local communities and individuals affected.  The project is already providing jobs and skills training, creation of a green corridor and being a good neighbour as they are aware that the project will take several years before it is fully completed and that there will be disruption for some years before HS2 is fully operational.  There has been environmental disruption but the aim is to provide 30% more wildlife habitat once the project has been completed than was there originally.  Individually named tunnel boring machines are being used where the line goes underground to protect areas of special interest on the surface, and a vast archaeological investigation programme has already generated significant new knowledge both at the London end of the construction and with regards to the original Curzon Street Roundhouse in Birmingham.  While most of the details covered Phase 1 which is already under construction, there was also quite a lot of information about Phases 2a and 2b plus a little about the possibilities with regards to future and onward connections once Phases 1, 2a and 2b have been completed.

Then it was time for Matt to talk about commercial operations in more detail, and Ben to talk about operations planning and infrastructure management.  They covered what HS2 will be like when it is fully up and running, such as timetabling and the huge operational challenge this will present, managing 18 trains an hour at high speed with the necessity of ensuring that people board and alight quickly whilst maintaining safety.  Much of the train operation will be automated but there will always be a driver in the cab to oversee.  The service has to be exceptionally reliable as there is little leeway for less than full efficiency, and it has to be noted that connections with the conventional railway have to be made as smooth as possible too.

There was informal discussion and questions during the break before the evening continued with more on the increased use of modern technology both for running the service and for the benefit of passengers so that the best and most useful information is available as well as explaining how all this is going to work in practice.  Managing both trains and infrastructure will come under one integrated system covering maintenance, trackwork, and managing the train operators, using technology to anticipate and fix problems before any part of the system fails.

A lot of interesting details were provided and questions and answers were wide-ranging covering everything from seating design, finance, seat reservations, future plans to extend, and why is the London terminus not at St Pancras.  Questions and answers continued with how much of HS2 will be in tunnels, where will the rolling stock be built and are there any plans for allowing freight onto the lines.

The vote of thanks was given by branch chair Tom Kolisch who expressed the appreciation of all those present and invited them to return with an update in 2 to 3 years’ time.


Date:               15 December 2020

Branch AGM followed by:

Speaker:         Andy Davies

Title:                Leatherhead Station: The Stationmaster’s House (and the RCTS Archive & Library)

The business of the Branch AGM went smoothly with the agenda, minutes of the previous AGM, reports and accounts all having been circulated in advance.  They were accepted unanimously.  Members present were reminded that the committee is seeking an additional volunteer(s) to provide some fresh ideas.  The current members of the branch committee, having indicated a willingness to stand again, were unanimously re-elected.  There was a short break after the AGM before the meeting continued with Andy Davies’ presentation.

The Stationmaster’s House at Leatherhead is a very pretty Grade II listed building and Andy highlighted the striking feature of the tower as a landmark.  The first station was opened in 1859 by the Epsom & Leatherhead Railway Company and was worked jointly with the LBSCR (London, Brighton & South Coast Railway) from August 1859 but was later closed and replaced by two separate stations in March 1867 – one for the LSWR (London & South Western Railway) and the other for the LBSCR.  The oldest photograph showed the very first Station House situated about half a mile further north of the present day location, with the photograph apparently dated to 1856, which matches the date of the first Railway Act pertaining to Leatherhead although there is some doubt about the date of the photograph.  The original engine shed was demolished in 1874 having served as a church and a school when no longer required for its original purpose.  The complicated history of rival railway companies and subsequent amalgamations was detailed with dates and a note of the relevant Acts of Parliament to provide a context and timeline, and maps and photographs showed the line layouts with changes over time; the two later stations, where the tower of the current building can clearly be seen in some of the photographs – helping to set the geographical context and linking it to the present day.  The LSWR station closed on 10 July 1927 but the track remained in situ until the 1980s being used for a while as sidings.  That site is now occupied by a business park, leaving only the current station.  There have been a lot of changes over the years including electrification of the line through Leatherhead in July 1925.  One of the images from 1968 showed that the ornate original platform canopies had been replaced with an austere 1960s design, which were themselves replaced later with something more in keeping with a listed station building.  Also of interest were a number of photographs of the station interior from 1963 providing quite a contrast with the present day.

The current station is Grade II listed which limits what can be done to the building.  Floor plans of both the station and the Stationmaster’s House clearly show the accommodation as it is now, which rooms are used for what purpose, and which part the RCTS now leases for its Archive & Library facility since March 2018.  We were given a history of the RCTS Library from its origins in 1935 where it had a cupboard in the Railway Clearing House, moving to Eversholt House at Euston, before moving to Uxbridge in 1979.  Health and Safety concerns led to the closure of the Uxbridge facility and the search commenced for bigger and more suitable premises.  The Stationmaster’s House was disused and had become semi-derelict but listing meant that suitable plans were required for bringing it back into use.  The RCTS had been looking for somewhere more suitable for the Society’s Archive and Library, found out about Leatherhead and became involved in discussions over the Stationmaster’s House.  When the change of use for the building was agreed, it included that one room would become a waiting room for the up platform, there would be some alterations to windows and doors to the booking hall, with the remainder specified as the archive and library for the RCTS.  The exterior of the building was refurbished first, including complete refurbishment of the roof using the original unusual tiled finish and ridge tiles, and cast iron decoration.  Photographs of the interior showed the poor condition before renovation.

Subsequent photographs showed the fully refurbished interior with the library shelving and furniture installed and we were provided with a timeline of taking over the building right up until everything from the four stores at Stockport, Stevenage, Uxbridge and Northampton had arrived.  An army of volunteers helped to sort and tidy everything and the facility was officially opened by Paul Atterbury of Antiques Roadshow fame on 6 October 2018.  There is an excellent photograph of Society President Canon Brian Arman with former Society Librarian Terry Silcock at the naming of ‘The Silcock Room’ in recognition of all the decades of service that he had given running the facility.  Up to date photographs show a very different situation from its original use, through its subsequent dereliction to the present day.  Covid-19 has currently closed the facility which has meant that on-going plans have been put on hold but where it is safe to do so, some of the volunteers have continued with cataloguing the vast photographic collections and making regular checks on the building to ensure that all is well.  As well as research by RCTS volunteers, the local history society has also been very supportive providing some additional local information to add to the history.  A lot of people have put a lot of work into locating the place, negotiations for it to become what it is now, and the army of volunteers who have put in and continue to contribute many hours of effort.

All those watching the presentation were encouraged to let everyone know about Leatherhead, where to find more information, how to find out about visiting and helping.  This was an interesting history from the very first relevant railway Act in 1856 right through to the present day, and more information continues to come to light to update the story.

Questions and answers brought some humour as well as raising subjects including publicity, the lease, plans for the future, and the practicalities of parking nearby for those not coming by train.


Date:                24 November 2020

Speaker:         David Brown

Title:                Classic Southern Electrics in Colour

After being introduced, David went straight into his presentation.  A number of railway companies were experimenting with electrification by the early 20th century and David explained how this progressed in the south after WWI and the subsequent grouping resulting from the 1921 Railways Act.  The Southern inherited stock and systems from all of the companies in the area including completion of the AC overhead electrification of part of the former LBSCR.  However, the Southern decided to electrify almost all of its area using the DC third rail system mainly for economic reasons.  The last overhead AC electric services ran in 1929 before being converted to third rail DC.  Early in this period most services ran with non-corridor stock and with very limited WC provision.

The first photographs showed first generation new stock introduced for third rail services from 1931 to 1939 describing the internal layouts, the seating – better for first class, whether there were individual compartments, corridor vehicles or other alternatives, and whether or not WCs were provided.  There was an acute shortage of rolling stock with not enough EMUs available by the end of the 1930s including the new LAVs (lavatory) – the first EMUs built for the electrification, so more were built in the early 1940s including a number of 2HALs (half lavatory) which remained in service until 1968/1969 when they were broken up.  The third rail electrification was a phased programme as was the building of new EMUs such as the 2 BILs (bi lavatory – one in each coach) built with a lavatory in each of the two coaches.  There was a photograph showing a combination of a 2BIL motorcoach couple with a 2HAL trailer – known in this combination, apparently, as a 2BAL.  With the further development of the third rail network and the new EMUs, it was clear that there was regular use of particular types matching them as appropriate to specific routes and services – some for the suburban network and others for longer distances.  One photograph showed a 7 car hauled set of mixed coaches which helped to highlight the on-going need for more new stock; some of this as a result of wartime damage.  So more 2HALs were produced.  Another item of interest was the extension of the Bognor Service to Victoria that could perhaps be considered an early forerunner of the Gatwick Express with its large brake van with an excellent capacity for passenger luggage.  A need for business class on the Brighton line had been highlighted and an example of one solution used included a Pullman coach set into a train of mixed 1st and 3rd class (6PUL).  This was not a great success as it (the Pullman coach) was all steel and very heavy which was not good for the rails and provided a poor quality ride because of the type of bogies fitted.  These services originally had kitchens and progressed to using 6PANs (pantry) but the kitchens were eventually all closed.

By the 1960s much old stock was being disposed of with other stock reformed such as the 6PULs – reused without the inclusion of the Pullman car.  The 6PANs and 6PULs were withdrawn with the best vehicles retained for spares, except for very occasional use and only when desperately needed as they were unpopular with both staff and passengers.  There were pros and cons to the different types and formations and there was a considerable amount of ‘swapping’ around.  The ongoing provision of refreshments was maintained using 4BUFs (with buffet cars) and 4RESs (restaurant) with one example shown later converted to a self-service café car.  Three of the 4RESs were converted to griddle cars using the Maunsell body on standard BR bogies – very similar to the example now at the Mid Hants Railway with the only difference being that the internal layout is a mirror image.

We were treated to a number of photographs of later 4SUBs (suburban) showing their background and usage.  By the late 1960s there was a shortage of these so 2HAL motor coaches were coupled with other spare coaches as an interim measure before being scrapped.  Other old stock continued in use for a while repurposed for training, de-icing or keeping the lines clear etc, but all were eventually scrapped as no longer fit for purpose.

Further developments included the 4EPBs (electro pneumatic brakes) which were similar to earlier stock but with much better performance.  The use of electro pneumatic brakes was eventually rolled out throughout the Southern as being safer and more effective.  Other units of note were the MLVs (motor luggage van) able to run independently on batteries to enable use on relatively short sections of non-electrified lines.  With their large capacity, these proved to be particularly useful on the boat train services and postal services in areas such as the docks.  Part of the reason for their discontinuing in use was a dispute with the unions but there were other problems too.  Also of note and more usually associated with the continent was the trialling of a form of double deck stock in an attempt to increase passenger seating capacity and reduce standing without having longer trains.  This is a more difficult issue on the UK rail network because of a smaller loading gauge than that of continental Europe.  The trial was not that successful in that it made standing that much more unpleasant and cramped for everyone on the service and there were other problems too regarding safety, security and poor ventilation for example.  These units were very unpopular with passengers and never really got beyond the experimental stage.

There were not many Southern locomotives but of particular note were the Class 20 co-co electric locomotives mainly used for freight but sometimes for passenger services and examples shown included one hauling the Newhaven Boat Train, one in blue livery for Derby Day, one on the royal Derby Day special, and finally hauling the Bulleid Commemorative Rail Tour in 1969.  There were some disadvantages to the Class 20s and later E5000s so a decision was made to build a new class of locomotives to resolve these difficulties.  This resulted in 6 new electro-diesels being built at Eastleigh entering service between January and November 1962 – the E6000s.  These proved to be very successful and versatile and another 43 were built, contracted out to English Electric.  The last 13 were ordered in connection with the Bournemouth electrification and some of the class are still in use today – which says something about their success.

There was a clear history of the development of the Southern Electrics from the early days of third rail electrification right up until the late 1970s showing some of the technical and safety developments and making sense of the codes used to designate the various individual and combined types of units.  This was a coherent, well-illustrated and interesting presentation using excellent photographs carefully selected from a number of credited sources and the whole evening proved very enlightening.

(Post Script – there is plenty of reference material available and the author of this report has researched a little more as a result of enjoying the presentation.  Further reading included two books by David Brown on Southern Electric – Volumes 1 and 2, as well as a smaller one published by the Southern Electric Group, plus a comprehensive list showing what all the codes represent.  There is also an explanation of the most likely reasons as to why the codes were set up as they are in Chapter 3 of Volume 1 of David Brown’s book.)


Report for the Website – 27 October 2020

Speaker:         Gordon Rushton

Title:                Bringing Back the Brighton Belle

The presentation started with a question – why restore a 1930s train for 21st century mainline use as this is ‘insanely difficult’?  It was said that it could not done.  Doing it properly meant restoration to full mainline standards otherwise it would have to be loco-hauled on a heritage railway or remain static in a museum – both these options limiting its attraction and use, and meaning something less than the original.  It is expensive and time consuming to go for the high standards pertaining to doing it properly but this decision has helped win over the doubters.

The original Brighton Belle dates back to 1934 and was built for third rail mainline electrification between London and Brighton comprising 3 five-car Pullman multiple units built in Birmingham that ran until 1972, with services only interrupted by WWII.  When they were built, they were beautiful, modern and art deco – by the time they were taken out of service, the standards had deteriorated and all the vehicles being restored today were ready for scrapping when the 5 BEL Trust took them on.  Gordon provided some interesting information about how the current vehicles were bought or acquired from a variety of sources.

Profit margins are small for today’s Pullman operators so flexibility is essential even though fine dining by rail was becoming increasingly popular before the current Covid-19 restrictions were put in place.  There were discussions on the internal seating configuration – too tightly packed (2+2) and it does not work, too spacious throughout (1+1) and it is probably financially unviable.  The final layout is a compromise with part 1+1 and part 2+1.  It is being restored to operate anywhere on the network although plans are to start small on the third rail network initially.  So the Brighton Belle is flexible which will be key to its future success.

Although it had been a popular service in its day, the ride had a poor reputation so the original bogies were replaced with much more modern running gear from bought in second-hand CIG and VEP stock.  Current standards on the railway are very different from those of the 1930s so a lot of engineering upgrades were required to meet modern standards including, for example, strengthening the driving cab for crash-worthiness and upgrading the instrumentation, plus extensive electrical wiring and pipework for all the services.  Other requirements included upgraded toilets, wheelchair accessibility, making the vehicles ‘sound right’ as well as functioning properly to a high standard.  A lot of work was required to produce brand new replacement Pullman seating that matched the original standards and materials, both in carpentry skills and in finding a source of the right moquette fabric for the upholstery amongst other things.  Then there was restoration of the marquetry, replacing parts that were missing or damaged beyond repair, and replating the interior metalwork with nickel as per the original – all highly skilled work.  It is not just engineering and seating that needs to be considered either as there is a whole new kitchen, with large tanks to be installed underneath some of the vehicles to provide an adequate water supply for both kitchen and toilets – the tanks lagged and heated to prevent freezing in winter.  Attention to detail has been important throughout even though this has proved to be expensive with new fixtures and fittings to replace all those that had disappeared or been damaged beyond repair – for example table lamps and wall light shades (hiding modern LED bulbs for energy efficiency).  New crockery and cutlery have also been commissioned emblazoned with the new logo.

It was interesting to see the vehicles arriving, being stripped out to a bare shell, with no running gear underneath, gradually progressing to being rebuilt, redecorated and brought up to a superb standard for when they go into service.  We were taken through an incredible restoration of the interior using as much original material as possible, as well as the engineering upgrades to bring the Belle up to modern safety standards with diagrams and photographs providing excellent illustration throughout.  An enormous amount of work has gone into this project with the last slide including information on the 5 BEL Trust website and how to make much needed donations.  The Trust has been lucky with some generous funding help from Jeremy Hosking but more is always needed for an on-going project like this.  It may have cost more and taken longer than expected with the difficulties and successes along the way but the good news is that it is now nearing completion.

Questions and answers included what sort of loco would be used for loco-hauled services; retractable shoes (for third rail operation); old fashioned compressors providing one of the most reassuring sounds a driver can hear and feel; power to weight ratios; speed; lack of press releases; are the motor bogies Mark 6 with greyhound resistors; is it easier to run on the mainline than a steam locomotive; who will provide the train crew; are there any grandfather rights; which TOC will be used; ownership and use of the Pullman name; and the door locking and public address systems amongst others.  Each question was well answered and engendered some additional very informative discussion.

The vote of thanks highlighted what an interesting and inspirational evening we had enjoyed, leaving many of us eager for services to start.

Date: 22 September 2020

Speaker: Mark Hopwood, Managing Director (MD), South Western Railway (SWR)

Title: South Western Railway

We welcomed Mark as the speaker at our first virtual branch meeting. He explained that he was only supposed to have been acting Managing Director at SWR for three months but he has enjoyed his extended time here. He has had a personal interest in railways since childhood which has continued throughout his career on the railways.

Covid-19 was easily introduced as this was a virtual meeting with all those attending gathered round their screens! Everyone has had to deal with the situation and SWR have kept services running throughout although statistics showed clearly how passenger numbers have been affected. So what has SWR done? The first efforts were to keep key workers moving while engaging with the NHS and working with local authorities to meet the needs of key workers, as well as helping to promote government health advice and offering spare PPE to the Emergency services in the SWR area. There has been a massive impact on the business but fortunately, SWR has not lost any staff through the illness although some have faced a challenging recovery.

Before Covid-19 performance was improving but the significant reduction in passenger numbers does affect the business. However, Network Rail (NR) took the opportunity to carry out engineering works and other improvement measures while services were reduced. The work includes reducing the number of speed restrictions that can cause journey delays in the SWR area.

Covid-19 Recovery has been very much a partnership working together with local authorities, schools and colleges amongst others, using both website and social media posts and contributing to town and city centre recovery plans. Commercial recovery followed, highlighting the need for flexible planning due to current uncertainties about the future, such as efforts to spread the peak demand, managing social distancing, supporting local business and working with others for example. He was asked to come over to SWR because change was needed to produce significant improvements and find a way to resolve the industrial action. The graphs shown here made it clear that there have already been some significant improvements.

There are always plans for new rolling stock so the Arterio fleet was introduced which is aimed at shorter suburban services rather than longer distances; Mark outlined which routes these are intended for and the difficulties in trying to design a train to meet every need. Class 442s were covered with a detailed description of their origins, the changes, difficulties to overcome, as well as highlighting that bringing these back was part of the original First/MTR bid for the SWR franchise. Other classes mentioned included the 444s and 450s, the class 47 locomotives replacing the class 50s, and the diesel class 158/159s. However, with decarbonisation on the agenda, these units will have to be reconsidered.

There was an update on the outgoing 1938 underground stock on the Isle of Wight, and Mark’s comments that he never expected to be managing any of these. Replacing these will be five Class 484 units coming from Viva Rail which will be a conversion of former D-stock units. There are also programmed improvements of the infrastructure in partnership with NR, the DfT (Department for Transport), Solent Local Enterprise Partnership and the Isle of Wight Council enabling a new 30 minute timetable to be introduced in May 2021.

SWR are also providing Class 423 heritage support with refurbishment work being carried out at Strawberry Hill depot where they are hoping to fit basic safety systems to enable use on the main line. Other community achievements include Access for All, work on community rail partnerships and station adoptions – a great success story encouraging local involvement. In addition there have been special events to encourage those who would not normally do so to use the train, as well as working to bring unused station spaces back into community use.

So what happens next? It is difficult and these have been horrible times but perhaps it is an opportunity too, so the plans for the next twelve months were outlined listing what SWR plans to achieve including developing business cases for ‘Restoring your Railway’ – a complex process with a big name. In addition SWR are working together with NR on proposals for investment as well as expanding working with other stakeholders. There is awareness that the government is struggling financially but in spite of CrossRail 1 issues, Mark made the case for CrossRail 2 which led on to the proposed schemes to connect the SWR lines to serve Heathrow and provide a through service that would help encourage more sustainable travel and reduce road traffic congestion. Other aspects involve looking at the case for re-opening disused railway lines where possible. The principle has already been proven with work on a joint project with Hampshire County Council, NR and others, looking at the line down to the Fawley Refinery where there has been no passenger service for over 50 years and where freight services ended in 2016.

The decarbonisation agenda was covered with details including buying more electricity from sustainable sources to consideration of bi-modes and battery trains.

As this was a virtual meeting, questions and answers were handled differently with the audience being invited to email their questions to the meeting host so that they could be presented one at a time to the speaker. This worked well. Questions ranged from the long tabled proposals for a Woking ‘flyover’ and the widening of the road passing under Victoria Arch in Woking, to new fare deals and government involvement – easy to criticise, not so easy to resolve! The final question was about franchising and where will this go. Mark speculated that the new system is more likely to be vertically integrated and that there will be much closer working between TOCs (train operating companies) and Network Rail.

At the end of an excellent presentation the vote of thanks was given by Tom Kolisch.

Thursday 12 March 2020

Speaker:  Chris Nettleton, honorary editor of the Gresley Magazine, membership secretary of The Gresley Society 

Title: Sir Nigel Gresley – his work and times

Chris briefly introduced himself before going straight into the presentation.  Herbert Nigel Gresley was born 19 June 1876 as the fifth and last child of the Reverend Nigel Gresley and his wife Joanna of Neatherseale, Derbyshire.  The best obstetrician of the day was based in Edinburgh so his mother was taken there to give birth which is why Nigel was born in Edinburgh.  He was sent away to prep school aged 7, later attending Marlborough College, before taking up a premium apprenticeship under Francis Webb in October 1893 for which his father paid the then princely sum of £50.00 per annum.  This meant fast progression and he gained a good report on completion.  In March 1898 he joined the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway as a pupil of John Aspinall, the highest possible starting point there.  By 1900 he had done so well that he was appointed running shed foreman at Blackpool, a great responsibility for someone so young.  There he met his future wife Ethel whose father refused permission for them to marry, which resulted in Ethel turning up at Nigel’s lodgings saying that she was moving in with him.  As this would have been quite scandalous then, Nigel went to Aspinall and it was agreed that Ethel should stay with the Aspinall’s for the time being.  They married in October 1901 and had their first child, a son, in March 1903.  A year later Gresley (Nigel) was promoted to the position of assistant carriage and wagon supervisor based at Newton Heath, Manchester with an annual salary of £450.00.  After Aspinall retired and seeing no prospect of further promotion there, Gresley moved to Doncaster in January 1905 with a salary of £750.00.  While there, he was elected a member of both the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1907, and produced a form of articulation for carriages which he patented in 1908.

He succeeded H A Ivatt as locomotive engineer for the Great Northern Railway in 1911 at the young age of 35 with a salary of £1800.00.  This was good pay but came with a great deal of responsibility.  Here he started to produce his own locomotive designs working with the drawing office staff, for example redesigning the Class J6 making it easier for the crew to operate.  By the following year he had designed and produced his first 2-6-0 locomotives, and his first 2-8-0 the year after that.  The Great War intervened and the works was largely turned over to the production of armaments but he continued with new locomotives designs, not all of which were realised.  He produced his first three cylinder 2-8-0 locomotive using conjugated valve gear in 1918, was elected a member of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, and appointed CBE in 1920 for his wartime work.

Gresley progressed well producing new designs to better serve the needs of the railways, for example when a more powerful locomotive was required to work out of Kings Cross, he designed a new 4-6-2 Pacific for that purpose.  At railway grouping into the ‘Big Four’ in 1923, he became Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) at the still young age of 46 on a salary of £4500.00.

He was known as an affable man, regularly visiting the works and talking to the men, clearly taking his role seriously and appearing at events and open days.  By 1925 coal trains were getting longer so he designed a new Class P1 2-8-2 three cylinder locomotive with extra power and a different wheel arrangement to improve adhesion when required.  However, this resulted in a signalling problem with the longer trains overlapping into two sections.  Another experiment involved working with Beyer Peacock building a Garrett articulated locomotive.  Powerful, unusual and very useful in some circumstances, it was not the easiest locomotive to use and was eventually broken up in 1955.  Gresley worked with the Great Western Railway on locomotive exchange trials showing the advantages of particular locomotives in different situations.  At the end of this period, the LNER converted to long-travel valve gear and Gresley learned not just about modern engines, but also the associated mechanics giving him a better overall understanding of what was required.

May 1928 was a significant date with the progressive LNER looking to run fast trains from Kings Cross to Edinburgh via Newcastle either non-stop or nearly so, hence the experiment of including a corridor in the tender to allow the crew to get a break during the journey instead of working the whole route.  It worked well.  With the new express services came new sets of coaches including hairdressing and dining coaches, providing not only fast but also luxurious rail travel.  Further innovations followed such as the 4-6-4 four cylinder streamlined compound high pressure locomotive, using high pressure boiler technology borrowed from the Yarrow shipyards.  A unique locomotive based on the 4-6-2 Pacific with an additional axle to take the extra length, this quiet experimentation led to the locomotive being known as the ‘hush hush’.  Development continued during the 1930s including the A4 4-6-2, a larger locomotive designed to avoid the need for double heading, which was then streamlined, the model being tested in the wind tunnel at Farnborough.  The new train with its streamlined design and striking livery achieved the speed of 112.5 mph on the run from Kings Cross.  Apparently the speedometer in the cab had stuck so the driver and crew were not fully aware of what speed they had achieved until afterwards.  This was really the start of express luxury rail travel aimed at business, the surcharge for which did not seem to deter.

He became president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from February 1936 to February 1937.  He was also awarded an honorary DSc and was created a Knight Bachelor in recognition of his work in 1936; the same year that the Class V2 was introduced, a three cylinder 2-6-2 locomotive of which 184 were built with the last completed in 1944.

Although not everything from this period was totally successful, Sir Nigel continued producing new designs and innovations as well as attending events both at home and abroad, and looking after the workshops and people that he was responsible for.  Work on prestige trains was on-going including the record breaking speed run with Mallard when 126 mph was recorded – this run doubling as a test run for the new Westinghouse braking system that considerably reduced the braking distance required, thus making higher speed running that much safer.  He never claimed the 126 mph record himself as it had only been recorded for 200 yards.  He only claimed 125 mph.  Another of his streamlined locomotives, Silver Fox, also achieved 113 mph on a regular run.  Sir Nigel was a ‘workaholic’ continuing until his death in April 1941 at the age of 64 not long before he was due to retire.  There are memorial plaques at various places around the country notably at Kings Cross and Edinburgh as well as a bronze statue at Kings Cross unveiled in April 2016.

The presentation finished with a quick mention of the Gresley Society.  The whole afternoon provided an excellent chronological history of Sir Nigel Gresley, well-illustrated with photographs and short film clips showing some of his designs in action.  An interesting and well-presented subject.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Speaker: Adrian Shooter – CEO Vivarail

Title:        Vivarail

Long-time career railwayman Adrian Shooter described how he had retired about 8 years ago but quickly became bored after only two weeks of retirement.  Feeling that the rail industry was very conservative and needed something of a shake-up, with his background in mechanical engineering he decided to do something about it.

So why did the rolling stock market need shaking up?  With his part in the management buyout at Chiltern Railways came the realisation that with increasing passenger numbers there was a need for more trains, and the knowledge that something better by way of rolling stock was required.  It was these experiences that showed him that the cost of designing a completely new train can be prohibitively expensive and he wanted the opportunity to power trains in different ways.  A few years ago there was far less concern about environmental matters, but today there are great opportunities to look at more environmentally friendly solutions when powering trains.

Vivarail had settled on buying D78 stock from London Underground as these were being replaced – prematurely, despite them being the best available at the time they were built, and the bogies had been replaced only about 10 years ago.  However, Adrian really only wanted the aluminium bodies and eventually bought 228 cars.  Along with this he managed to obtain copies of the original notes from the original designer – who is now involved in alterations to the body shells and any technology to be attached to or hung off them.

The idea is to build a variety of trains with zero emissions at the point of use with either three or five car formations and a prototype diesel/battery hybrid is currently running for the Welsh government using the same electrical and mechanical basics as production models will have.  With less money for development, the idea is to use modular design and Adrian explained how this works and the testing that is required eg that the brakes give the required performance with both forms of braking in use – dynamic and friction.  All of this is built around modern high performance battery technology that will power a unit a sensible distance between recharges.  The original test train has 4 generators to keep the batteries charged but the intention is to do away with any need for generators using a modular design so that whatever power unit is in use, it can be easily removed and replaced with an alternative power source eg ‘swapping’ diesel for battery, with the specification that the power unit should be replaceable in ten minutes.  All production power modules are designed to fit under the main body to save space.

There was quite a lot of detail about the battery technology, how the initial prototypes were adapted and the results of 3 years of work to improve this to a commercially acceptable standard.  One of the aspects highlighted was the lack of information on standards for battery powered trains to work on the mainline, which led to discussions with the ORR on understanding and managing the risks to keep any such risks to a minimal level.  After work to manage and mitigate risks and using some pre-existing standards from the marine industry, Vivarail were able to show that they met the required criteria.

Much progress has been made with battery technology with regards to cooling systems to avoid dangerous overheating, and with fast recharge, to make the application in powering trains practical and economically viable.  This last means that the units must be as quick to turnaround as conventional units.  New external charging units have been developed with pouch batteries and an integral cooling system with a fast recharge time of ten minutes together with technology to prevent ‘any smart 12 year old’ from being able to turn the charge off at static recharging points.  It was interesting to note the details provided on the internal design including the use of aviation spirit as coolant in the closed cooling system.  This requires careful control and monitoring measuring current, voltage, temperature etc with the facility to cut power automatically if necessary.

A short question and answer session followed the first part of the talk with questions including: physical dimensions of the recharge units; Sheffield trams; cost comparisons with more conventionally powered units; trade-offs in energy usage for heavy batteries when compared with 3rd rail or overhead power supply – it compares well as much work has been done on refining the design.  The decision to use aviation spirit as the coolant is to do with heat transfer in the closed circuit which can be used both to cool overheating, and to warm for cold starts, and comes complete with essential integral safety features.  Other questions involved the business case for Vivarail’s work and the benefits of what they are doing when it comes to climate change mitigation.

The second part of the presentation provided more information on progress with the new battery units and further planned demonstrations on how well the technology works in practice.  There are benefits with re-cycling older bodies (in this case D78 bodies).  Adrian also showed comparisons with hydrogen fuel cell technology or combinations of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, with demonstrations on how these two technologies could be used together.  One thing that he made clear is that the hydrogen fuel cells do not power the train but are there to keep the batteries charged when the two are used together.  The overall idea is to provide energy efficient trains and trams with comparable or better performance than conventional units, emission free at the point of use and cost effective.  He provided some interesting statistics comparing both efficiency and cost between hydrogen powered and battery powered units with an explanation of the figures.  Overall the battery technology appears to have a number of advantages over hydrogen fuel cells not least the space required for the fuel cells and the hydrogen fuel, the fuel cost and the additional maintenance required.  Vivarail has taken out a number of patents on the technology as a preliminary to franchising it out much more widely, at the same time providing a new standard for the industry.  Future developments being investigated are overseas markets; the fast charge system with potential for this to become the UK standard system; and supplying re-tractioning packages amongst other things.

The final question and answer session included the range of battery powered units; the modular technology being developed; pouch cell lithium ion batteries; the ease of replacing modular units with the advantages this can bring when replacements or updates are required; recycling of batteries when they reach the end of their useful life – yes they will be recycled by the manufacturers and the appropriate facilities are already in place; how do the hydrogen fuel cells work; the future; freight as well as passenger transport.

The vote of thanks highlighted the development of a new company with multiple options and the progress made to date.  An interesting presentation.


Tuesday 21 January 2020

Speaker:  Anthony Coulls – Senior Curator, National Railway Museum

Title:         National Railway Museum

Our original speaker from the National Railway Museum (NRM) was unable to attend so we welcomed Anthony Coulls, Senior Curator instead.  He explained about the branding exercise that the NRM has undertaken and how this has considerably boosted visitor numbers with an increase of around 14% since the start of the initiative.  Only about 5% of visitors to the museum are railway enthusiasts, while the majority are mainly families and tourists who like seeing a locomotive in steam and here they can begin to understand what railways mean to the UK.  The museum’s remit is to collect, preserve and/or restore all things railway – supported by the National Heritage Act 1983.

Part of the management of the collection means that what is on display can change from time to time with some items being displayed away from the museum on loan where this is appropriate.  Other items may be undergoing restoration elsewhere as the museum cannot do everything on site whether this is at Shildon or at York.  Opening Locomotion at Shildon has enabled the museum to protect far more of the collection under cover than previously and in spite of dire predictions that visitors would be few, it has proven to be very successful, with good progress on plans to build another shed ready for 2025.  This is also about recognising the importance of maintaining the skills to restore, repair and run vehicles in the collection.  With this in mind, there are 20 apprentice places and so far all those completing apprenticeships have gone into employment either with modern railways, on heritage railways or in other engineering fields.  It is not just about the large and spectacular eg Flying Scotsman, but also about wagons; one example shown was an old 3ft gauge side tipping wooden wagon from the ironstone industry – another and very early part of the railway story.  It is about moving things, engineering, people, industry – as well as looking at past, present and future.  There is the issue of what to do when new items come into the collection, what should be preserved from more recent years, and what can be learned from restoration and conservation.  One example given was the museum’s ability to rebuild the boiler for the replica Rocket as per the original – in large part thanks to John Rastrick’s notebook from the original trials complete with his diagrams and notes.

Consideration has to be given to whether it is better to run something or preserve and ‘mount’ it and a balance has to be struck as it is not possible to do everything.  Where there is more than one of a class of locomotives in existence, then it can be better to keep one running well and the others conserved, rather than keeping all of them running badly.  It is clear that visitors to the museum like to get a close look at items in the collection as well as seeing them running.  There were many stories about acquisitions and the work required to bring them into good order either for display or running, and how decisions are made for items to be displayed away – perhaps where there is a local connection.  The museum has the very first and the very last merry-go-round hopper wagon restored by the apprentices at Shildon.  It was on display shortly after restoration when an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair told them that he had made it – just another of the stories tied to the collection.

There is a huge database of the collection and Anthony’s job includes managing it – location, condition etc and recording additional stories and histories wherever possible.  Information can come from some surprising sources such as Prince Charles with reminiscences of his experiences with the Royal Train.  There are good links between the two sites at Shildon and York as well as relationships with other museums and heritage railways, both in the UK and abroad.

When the museum was asked if they would like a Eurostar powercar, they had not considered that this would be available so soon as it was only 19 years old.  It was, of course, accepted and it has been restored for the NRM by Eurostar apprentices, promoting engineering skills for the future.  Was Flying Scotsman a waste of taxpayers’ money?  Love it or hate it, it appeals.  The actual cost to each taxpayer is very small as much was raised by donations, and even now it still appeals to the wider public.  Although not such a spectacular sight, the 2ft gauge WWII Simplex locomotive is equally important.  Then there are diesels and electrics too – all important and justifying a place in the collection, not just for the outer appearance but to preserve the power equipment inside.

Many people said that Shildon would not last but it will be 16 years old this year with plans for the future.  The two sites at York and Shildon work very well together with some exhibits moving between the two.  Railways have changed the world and the museum curates an important part of that story.

There was no time for the usual questions and answers as this excellent presentation filled the evening without effort, with the interest of the audience held the whole time.

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.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

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 Murzzuschlag and the Sudbahnmuseum (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

Title: 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 2019

Title: 40 Years of Preserving the Legendary Deltics

Speaker: 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: 16th May