Meeting Reports

17 June 2021 – Southern Locomotives Limited 

At the June joint meeting with the Marlow and District Railway Society our speaker was Nick Thompson of Southern Locomotives Limited who talked to us about their activities and locomotives. Nick introduced the company as a not for profit organisation that currently owns eight locomotives and uses Herston Works and an open air site at Sellindge in Kent for their restoration and overhaul activities. SLL has over 700 shareholders who help to invest in the locomotives, and the locomotives earn money by being hired out to Heritage Railways. SLL’s business model works for them as they have become a well organised outfit, with about 70% of their income coming from locomotive hiring and 30% from their shareholders. Nick also noted that they have not had any of their locomotives certified for mainline running, and does not see that happening in the near future. The first locomotive that became part of SLL was ‘Port Line’ in 1982 followed by 34072 ‘257 Squadron’. They were initially based in the old Swindon Works for restoration, but were relocated when Tarmac started to repurpose the site. They also agreed to help finance the restoration of 34072 with a loan, which SLL were able to pay back. SLL currently own six Southern Pacifics, one BR Standard Tank and one Austerity tank. The latest acquisition being 35025 ‘Brocklebank Line’ in 2020. SLL do a lot of the restoration / overhaul work themselves, but outsource larger items, such as boilers to companies with the necessary equipment. Nick then detailed the histories of each of the locomotives and showed us their current status. Finally, Nick showed us some of the activities undertaken in Herston works looking at the restoration of such items as wheelsets, valves boiler casings and frames. One important point is that all insulation is now a Foil / Fibreglass sandwich, with all asbestos removed. He also noted that several tenders have had to be built from scratch, as few of the locomotives had tenders when rescued from Woodhams yard. Nick finished by saying that the business model required 3 or 4 locomotives to be operating at any one time to provide income for the overhaul / restoration of others, and that since the 2020 Covid-19 situation, income has been dramatically reduced but is optimistic for the future. All in all, a very interesting presentation and we wish SLL a healthy future when we can all get back to normal.

Steve Ollive

22 March 2021 – Western Enterprise

Colin Brading, our speaker was a lifelong railwayman who had received his training in the original Temple Meads building in Bristol. As such he was more than qualified to talk about the GWR. HE showed the audience of 99 via a selection of excellent images of the many facets of a railway that was in existence for more than 100 years.

The early years were dominated by the big personalities of Gooch and Brunel who between forged a railway that was bigger than most of the rest and unique in many ways. Colin pointed out that some of the early decisions, like using a track gauge of 7ft ¼in now seen as technical blind alleys were made as there was no technical precedent to act as a guide on how to build a railway.

Colin went on to describe the technical innovations introduced by the GWR as well as the initiatives to improve the lot of the workforce. It was always that little bit different which ultimately led to the adoption of diesel hydraulics locos introduced in the 1950s and 60s.

Everyone went away afterwards knowing more about the GWR and why it is different, but not necessarily better.

Alan Cooke

22 February 2021 – Creating a Railway Timetable

For our February meeting we were joined by Gawain Nicholson, Assistant Permanent Diagramming Manager for Great Western Railway, to present “Creating a Railway Timetable”.

Gawain went through the aspects to be considered when compiling the timetable, starting with timings, rolling stock and traincrew diagrams, to deliver a right time railway. Timetable planners have to work with other planners often in other departments, including possession strategy, rolling stock maintenance, traincrew rostering, resourcing and linking.

The general process begins with the franchise document, which specifies the services the operator is contracted to operate. The TOC staff then have to implement the timetable and “bid” to Network Rail nine months before it is due to commence. Once validated, it is returned to the operator six months prior, with the completed timetable published around twelve weeks in advance of launch. Once the timetable is agreed, the stock and train crew diagrammers start on their work, reflecting changing needs and stock availability, and then this has to be agreed with the trade unions.

Timings are governed by timetable planning rules and timing loads, which set out running and dwell times for each type of stock between and at each station. There is then input from stock and crew diagrammers from their own rules and resource availability, such as turnaround times at termini.

The finished timetable has to then be workable for purposes of stock diagramming and fleet management, which needs to be able to provide the appropriate train type and capacity for each service, and so that diagrams start and end at appropriate locations for stabling and maintenance.

Gawain also spoke about the challenges of short term plans, which the diverse GWR network sees more than its share of with additional services for major events like Glastonbury, racing at Cheltenham and rugby at Cardiff; and strengthening summer trains to Newquay and St Ives.

We thank Gawain for a fascinating presentation on all of the work that goes into creating a timetable that delivers good service for the operator and the customer.

David Goddard

25 January 2021 – The Restoration of 34081 92 Squadron 

Our first Zoom meeting of 2021 saw Dr Steve Lacey, Chairman of Hitchin Branch, talk to us about 34081 “92 Squadron”.  Steve started by giving us the history of the Battle of Britain Locomotive Society from its founding to the current day and its purchase of 34081 in 1973.  There followed a brief outline of the work of OVS Bulleid and his designs – locomotives, carriages (including a tavern car!), carriage heating vehicles, the Double Deck EMUs and finally his work in Ireland including the Turf Burner.

The history of the locomotive started in 1948 and it was first allocated to Ramsgate.  34081 was transferred to Exmouth Junction in September 1957 where it remained until withdrawal when it was taken to Woodham’s yard at Barry.  The locomotive was purchased by the Society in 1973 and taken to Peterborough, although this was nearly scuppered by the sudden introduction of 10% VAT.

Restoration took until 1997 and was almost completed when the site suffered from the theft of various non-ferrous items, but with help from others and the insurance, the work was finally completed and 34081 took its first run in March 1998.  It moved to the North Norfolk in 1994 and also visited Llangollen and Swanage in 2007, before failing at Weybourne in 2008.  It was moved back to Wansford for a second restoration starting in 2010, and this is when Steve got involved.

Steve talked to us with great enthusiasm of the “mucky” jobs that the team gave him to do and the things he learned along the way, including rivet preparation for hot riveting.  Steve finished this excellent and informative presentation with a series of short videos of some of the restoration activities before completion in 2017.

34081 was rededicated later that year with replica nameplates and squadron badges, the original nameplate and badge that the society own can now be seen on display at the Battle of Britain memorial at Capel Le Ferne.

Steve Ollive

21 December 2020 – Branch AGM followed by “A-Z of Swiss Railways” final part

Our AGM was held on 21st December and was opened by our chairman Steve Ollive who welcomed everybody to the Zoom call.  As with all aspects of the Society, Zoom has now become the norm for all meetings and the delayed Society AGM was no different.  The Branch had held some test meetings during the summer and started a full program of meetings from September.  This has enabled members from many branches and too remote to attend physical meetings to join us, and this has included a member from Canada at some of our meetings.  Steve also detailed other important elements for the Society that have been reported elsewhere in the RO over recent months.  Our branch membership is down slightly on last year.  The original meeting plans for the 2020 – 2021 season have had to have some modification as not all speakers are willing to present on Zoom. With the absence of physical meetings, book sales have dropped to nothing since our last meeting in February, but despite this the branch still made a surplus for the financial year to the end of October.

For the second half of the meeting, Steve presented the final part of his story of an A to Z of Swiss Railways.  In our summer meetings, Steve had covered all of the private railways and explained the vehicle classification systems and the four different types of rack system in use in the country, as well as giving a potted history of each company and showing us views of current rolling stock.  For the final part Steve gave us a brief introduction to the primary infrastructure companies and their locomotives before giving us a brief history and covering the current rolling stock types of the three primary operators- the BLS, the Sud Ost Bahn and the SBB.  Whilst there are many standard types which many European companies operate, there are still examples of Swiss built rolling stock in operation.  Many of the new freight locomotives of BLS and SBB are able to operate in multiple countries, which removes the need for locomotive changes at borders.  Both also lease locomotives, and Steve showed an example of an SBB Cargo International locomotive in Germany, that is not authorised to operate in Switzerland!

Steve Ollive

23 November 2020 – That Was The Year that Was – 1966

No fewer than 82 people signed in on Zoom to join our November virtual meeting, including one from Canada! They were rewarded with a wide-ranging collection of images from the skilled camera of Geoff Plumb, who took as his topic for the evening “That Was the Year That Was – 1966”. What a year indeed, with plenty of steam still be seen, mainly on the Southern Region route to Bournemouth and Weymouth, and the north-west of the country around Manchester and Liverpool.

And these were the days, don’t forget, when the RCTS could organize special trains, not only visiting lines which were closed to passengers, or about to be, but also with steam haulage of choice. Add to that Geoff’s membership of working parties at the Festiniog Railway, family holidays in North Wales, and you have the ideal setting for his expert photographic skills.

We were treated to a wonderful variety of scenes and occasions, among the most notable of which were the dying days of the Somerset and Dorset; an RCTS special to the Longmoor Military Railway, so popular it had to be run twice; remnants of the Great Central; North Wales narrow gauge early in preservation; shed visits ranging from Nine Elms to Skipton, with enthusiasts enjoying the pre-Health and Safety regime; and steam over Shap.

There truly was something for everyone here, whether you remember those days (I do!) or not. Thanks Geoff, that was brilliant.

Jim Tucker

26 October 2020 – The Beauty of Transport

For our virtual meeting in October we welcomed Daniel Wright, whose talk was entitled “The Beauty of Transport”. By profession Daniel is a transport planner, and he works closely with Community Rail Partnerships. He has a lifetime interest in the architecture and design of railway stations, and has for some time run a blog about them, and other aspects of travel, which has the same name as his talk.

If there is such a subject as railway architecture, said Daniel, it is definitely under-studied. He then took us on a marvellous tour of stations through the years, in the UK and overseas. It is fortunate that the world’s first inter-city station, Manchester Liverpool Road, and the first long-distance inter-city station, Birmingham Curzon Street, both have significant structures standing, even though long since closed to passengers.

It was interesting to reflect on whether these looked like what we think of as railway stations, seeing as there had not been any before they were built! The same could be said for Croydon Aerodrome, which was similarly a building without precedent. We next saw a succession of stations, tracing the styles fashionable in turn; gothic, Tudor, Jacobean, Cottage Orne, classical, French, Italianate and so on. We have stations extant today in all these, and others. Daniel turned to Europe and the USA for examples of such as Art Nouveau, Beaux Arts and Mission Revival, which did not really catch on here.

This excellent and intriguing talk concluded with a look at current British practice, which compares favourably with other countries. We looked at the new Reading, of course, Blackfriars, Glasgow Queen Street, and the western concourse at Kings Cross among others. With their use of modern materials to reduce weight where appropriate, or make for better shelter, cleaning, and passenger movement, the UK is doing pretty well. A number of other countries are producing elaborate and expensive stations; but we know that HS2 will present significant challenges.

Jim Tucker