Locomotion An Essay on Sustainability !

Locomotion An Essay on Sustainability !

Don't think for one minute that I am suggesting a return to Steam Locomotives, they were evil bloody things at times and only to be trusted with highly skilled men' but the video outlines the type of Engineering Ideology we need to aspire towards to reduce out negative impact on the environment.  Imagine what we could achieve with modern CNC machining and Metalurgy, a car you could buy in your 20s and hand on to your kids when they passed their driving test, or donate to the Third World. likewise trucks & buses !

I could go back to the turn of the 20th century and the impact of the First World War to trace railway history from an engineering aspect. However, perhaps a convenient point to start would be Nationalization ( first proposed at the grouping in 1923) which had nothing to do with politics. The simple fact was that the railway companies owed a fortune on government sponsored low interest loans. Said loans had been taken out in the 1920’s and 30’s It was just like Railtrack 2000, in 1927 a local train derailed just outside my local station, the track simply disintegrated under the locomotive. Money was spent on new track and rolling stock ( of which my particular interest is locomotives ) and by 1939 the UK had probably the best railway in the world.

The railways contracted to provide war transport at a fixed price, when the government had to pay up the country was totally bankrupt. The thing was that the railway companies owed the government a similar amount and as neither could afford to pay each other nationalisation was the only sensible answer.

By the 1950’s things were looking up, ( non stop Kings Cross to Edinburgh in six hours and a half ) Riddles the BR Chief Mechanical Engineer had introduced his excellent low maintenance standard steam locomotives and had plans to electrify all the more busy lines as money allowed. Steam locomotives were cheap to build, a Black Five cost about 16k, the equivalent electric cost 37k, but the equivalent 1600 hp LMS diesel electric cost 87k.

Riddles warned the now Tory politicians that dieselization would cost so much that the railways would never be able to afford mass electrification. Of course the politicians took no notice and started ordering diesel multiple units ASAP, Riddles resigned in 1951, HG Ivatt former CME of the LMS and the man behind the design of the LMS diesels having gone in 1950. The SR also built a diesel electric which was later to form the basis for the very successful English Electric Type 4 BR Class 40, one of which is still fit for mainline running but many are preserved.

An interesting development was the 4-8-4 Fell Locomotive, which had four engines driving though differentials to achieve automatic gear change. Although teething troubles left it running as a 4-4-4-4 it ran in regular service until 1957 when its train heat boiler set on fire. Apparently it was quite good, running express trains through the Derbyshire peak district with long gradients either side of the summit. An old friend of mine was actually on one train hauled by it, he said it performed just as well as any good steam locomotive. No comparative costings survive to my knowledge, the politics pointed to diesel electric traction and wanted no obvious competitors.

With 1955 came the ” modernization plan “, perhaps more focused on winning the general election with the promise of jobs in marginal constituencies. It set off quite sensible, about 200 ” pilot scheme ” locomotives were ordered but the Western Region wanted German inspired diesel hydraulics ( to avoid having an electrical department despite the fact that electronics are required to control the system ). Manufacturers included English Electric, BR itself and Brush where Ivatt was a consultant engineer.

North British built the Hydraulics with the equipment built under license from Germany. The engines were particularly unreliable, apparently NB had not been supplied with the ” limits and fits ” so just made them up perhaps down to the accuracy of their ancient worn out machine tools. They were all scrapped in the early 1960s, a diesel electric version of the Type 2 was also an early withdrawal.

The point was the brakes were taken off the ” pilot scheme ” and mass orders placed perhaps again to swing marginal seats like Loughborough ( Brush ). The original Brush Type 2 had Mirlees engines which started fracturing their crankcases, a slightly more powerful English Electric engine was fitted to the whole 250+ class in the 1960s, yet more unnecessary expense.

The thing was that that by 1962 they had cumatively ordered enough motive power to run the entire pre Beechin network. The Class 14 0-6-0 600 hp diesel hydraulic intended for great western branch lines had a very short life prior to purchase by private industry.

On the DMU order front the older low power units had been replaced with a half decent Rolls-Royce power unit. Even then they were probably no better than a Class 4 steam engine in overall performance. If my experience with road transport engines is anything to go by the AEC and Leyland powered units of the earlier DMU’s would have been less than reliable.

The advent of the diesel locomotive had negative effects on the then built up track. I am informed that in steam days the Stainforth ganger would walk to Ribblehead and be finished any work by lunch time. When the diesels appeared on the scene he was working endless overtime to keep the track safe for express speeds.

By the 1970s all the hydraulics and other ” non standard ” diesel electrics had been withdrawn, what remained were Class 20, 24, 25, 26, 27, 31, 33, 37, 40, 45, 47 and 55 Deltic. I deliberately omit class 50 because they were introduced in 1967 as a stop gap to Crewe-Glasgow electrification in 1974. I believe that there advanced electronics were troublesome, but that was English Electric problem as they were leased to BR. They were eventually rebuilt with conventional control gear, replacing the ” Western ” Class 52 diesel hydraulics.

Is it any wonder that despite selling millions of pounds worth of equipment for scrap the railways consistently failed to even break even due to servicing the 1bn LOAN taken out to fund the alleged money saving ” modernization plan ” The HST was a revolution, but is it worth the extra cost to get there that bit quicker. However the HST is a continuing success but one has to question the latest air operated doors for alleged easy disabled access. The safety fascists were paranoid about people opening the door and falling out, but to make the doors open inwards like the NSWGR XPT in Aussie was surely the cheaper option.

n summer 1981 a friend and I spent the entire week on BR doing an all line rail rover for £80, only coming home for a bath on Tuesday. Slept on the overnight trains, often Mk1 corridor stock where you could lie flat across three seats. The whole week went like clockwork, never missed a train until we read the time table wrong, yet managed to substitute the agenda easily. The railways looked in good fettle, even freight was doing relatively OK. Things were little changed in 1985 when I did a Freedom of Scotland pass, which was to prove the template for a three month Austrail Pass Nov 1987-feb 1988. The suburban system around Sydney was excellent, only £10 a week for an area the size of Lancashire. I can’t help speculating that the fact that they were still using 1925 designed electric stock on some services, the bulk of trains were 1960’s double deck EMU stock allowed the low fares.

Three foot six guage rush hour suburban trains at Perth used 1920’s mainline stock during the rush hour hauled by 1950 English Electric loco’s. Likewise Brisbane, but 1960s steel stock, the five foot threeAdelaide system was fairly run down 1950 DMU’s only but dirt cheap, ( not included in Austrail pass ) Melbourne suburban was pretty impressive. It was a pain having to book long distance journeys in advance.

In the 1980s they introduced the four wheel Pacer DMU’s based on the Leyland National Bus, yet four wheel coaching stock was abandoned by the late Victorians. Their ” bucking bronco ” ride could be described as exciting if not frightening. The Sprinter’s are under-powered, only the same engine as a typical late 1980’s 38 ton semi trailer yet weigh almost 50 tons, furthermore the drivers let the automatic gears change up far too early for optimum performance and ultimate reliability.

With hindsight the sensible thing to have done would have been to convert and refurbish redundant Mk1 and Mk2 coaching stock for push-pull working and use refurbished withdrawn freight locos as motive power. They do it in the United States, and even Network Rail now have push pull test train sets hauled by class 31 and 37 locomotives. Once again the politically correct disabled access argument comes in to muddy the waters and still now obviously paid activists are bleating when as with buses the true answer is a free 24/7/365 dial up taxi service and take a couple of able bodied mates or carer with you.

By the 1990s neglect of the track infrastructure made privatisation the easy political option, but was done in the most inefficient of ways, everybody had to expensively lease everything from the Banks and their stock market parasites. It would appear that the whole object of the exercise was once again false economic growth and we all know what happened with Railtrack.  Also Record Producer Pete Waterman stole many of our BR Mk2 coaches and sold them to New Zealand, likewise Wisconsin Central stole the freight sector and replaced the better Traction Control Brush Class 60 ( in a Settle & Carlisle freight train drivers opinion ) with General Motors Class 66.

New Zealand


And still using the old 1960s British Loco's on Nuclear Flask Trains !


It would appear that at least someone is listening to me now !




The future needs to be targeted investment, make do and mend, only then can fares come down in real terms. Perhaps a far less damaging to the track modern equivalent of the Fell Locomotive needs to be investigated, no expensive copper and heavy duty electronics. Railways need to forward to the first principle of a simple locomotive hauling cheap to build rolling stock. At least Network Rail are doing a good job replacing the worn out track, but all their debts need to be written off, with the track sorted expanding freight could help subsidise passenger services like it did pre WW2

Edited and amended from my 2011 article Why Train Fares are so Expensive plus music to conclude .


Gordon Pye Sep 29, 2016 · #2

If only Green Pinocchio’s nose had been cut for timber, then perhaps we could have built ” Jerusalem ” in England’s green and pleasant land, not the virtual ” West Bank ” separation in a nation divided by financial apartheid we would appear to be heading for if current UK government policy is not changed entirely.