Class 33 Hatfield, 1961

50 Years Ago

Railway round up from March and April 1961

London underground

The Victoria Line was being built and several tunneling techniques were being trialed. The secret was in how the tunnels were lined with one using cast iron segments and the other concrete segments. The former was reported to have progressed at just over a metre an hour, thought to be a world record!

Eastern Region News

Trains on the East Coast Route had been speeded up by around 10 minutes due to the postponement of engineering works at Peterborough. So some departure times were altered to five minutes after advertised while other trains arrived 10 minutes early at a few destinations where the train had run non-stop to!

A few trains were accelerated such as the 730pm ‘Aberdonian’ sleeper from Kings Cross which was rescheduled to arrive in Aberdeen 52 minutes earlier than previously at 627am. The ‘Queen of Scots’ from Kings Cross was speeded up by 17 minutes to Newcastle and Edinburgh. The return service to London had 11 minutes taken from its schedule giving few trains between Newcastle and Darlington average speed of 60mph.

‘The Hadrian Bar’, a luxurious Pullman bar car was introduced on the Tees-Tyne Pullman between Kings Cross and the northeast. If the train was busy, this coach was replaced with a conventional Pullman seating car.

Southern Region News

The Southern region accelerated its ‘Atlantic Coast Express’ to an average of 60mph for the 84 miles between Waterloo and Salisbury. The Southern’s connections to The Channel islands were also speeded up via Weymouth Quay, (officially closed just this year) and the boat train departed Waterloo at 810am connecting with the 1230pm sailing to Guernsey, arriving at 430pm and Jersey at 6.45pm. The return service left Jersey at 9am, Guernsey at 1115am arriving back at Waterloo at 735pm.

A relief high season overnight service was run on Fridays and Saturdays departing waterloo at 915pm getting passengers to Jersey at 6am.

The frequency of car carrying services was to be increased between Surbiton and Okehampton for the summer of 1961. These trains were introduced in 1960 and were very successful, hence the increased services on offer.

The Bluebell Railway preserved a vintage Metropolitan Railway coach which had been used on the Chesham underground branch until it was electrified. The coach is still used today on the same preserved railway.

The same railway purchased steam engine No. 31027 which steamed itself from Brighton via Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes to be renumbered to No. 27 and named ‘Primrose’ into its preservation career.

British Transport Museum opens

The BTC Museum of Transport at Clapham (London) opened on March 29 with many railway relics to be seen. Admission was 1/- for adults and 6d for children to see the display housed inside a former London bus garage in Clapham Park Road.

Testing Times

Glasgow electric trains were being tested after being modified following their less than satisfactory introduction in 1961. Tests were being carried out on the Manchester to Crewe route.

Also under test on the same section of track was electric locomotive No. E3303, the first English electric locomotive to be delivered to BR for the west coast main line.

Other electric train tests were being carried out on the Southern region between Victoria and Dover, carrying officials and also put to work on a few commuter services. Southern commuters liked these new trains, unlike their western counterparts.

On the East Coast main Line, a Deltic was under test on a round trip between London and Doncaster using a dynamometer car to measure actual performance against the design forecasts.

Similar tests were being undertaken on the Cambridge main line using new Type 3 and 4 diesels on coal trains. These also used a diesel tender, added to provide better braking for the train.

Unusual workings

The FA Cup semi final between Burnley and Spurs in Birmingham attracted seven football specials, five steam hauled and just two diesel powered. A women’s hockey international at Wembley brought three Southern ‘West County’ locomotives to Wembley and on to Watford for servicing and Croxley for turning on March 11.

In contrast, The Grand National in March attracted just 12 special trains, the lowest amount ever.

The Broad Street to Tring commuter service was hauled by a ‘Royal Scot’ No. 46120 on March 16 - an unprecedented type of engine to be used on such a service. Another unusual use of an express engine was on the 5.48pm Kings Cross to Welwyn Garden City articulated stock commuter train when a new class 40 diesel No. D208 was used.

The Northern Rubber Company were advertising its annual steam excursion from Retford to Blackpool using an LNER A4 engine. The Northern Rubber Special was organised by Alan Peglar, who purchased the Flying Scotsman locomotive from BR and celebrated his 90th birthday last year.

West Coast engineering works at Roade, about 60 miles north of Euston, caused all services to be diverted via Nuneaton and into St Pancras. More works at Weaver Junction meant services were diverted between Crewe and Warrington running via Chester or Manchester.

New Fuel Transporter Wagons

New petrol and oil carrying tankers were introduced built by Charles Roberts at Horbury, a location that still has a wagon works today. These carried up to 30 tons of fuel or 7500 gallons and had four wheels. Meanwhile in America, they introduced a huge 23,400 gallon version!

More and more diesels were replacing steam locomotives on freight services. One premium service, ‘The Condor’ was increased to 25 wagons from the 18 allowed with steam power.

Continental Perishable Goods services from Spain

Through wagons from Spain brought fresh produce to the UK and Europe, grapes, oranges, lemons and onions. These wagons had interchangeable axles because the track gauge was wider in Spain. Refrigerator wagons were used to keep produce fresh. This service started in 1951 and by 1960 carried was 388,000 tons annually, of which 68,000 tons was destined for the UK.

The axles could be changed in 10 minutes by a good crew, thus not delaying the train too much at the border. It was boasted that oranges, for example could leave Valencia reached London’s Hither Green depot on the fourth day travelling via Hendaye and the Dover to Dunkirk train ferry.

Freight services

Long distance daily express freight services were being introduced such as the 9.20pm Edinburgh to Bristol, arriving at 6.55pm the next day. Another was from Glasgow to Cardiff departing at 5.30pm arriving at 9.53am the next morning.

Revenue details

The 1960 passenger figures had just been released. Passenger fares totaled £150,542,000 against the 1959 figure of £139,644,000 but ominously journeys decreased by 3%. The Western Region reported the greatest drop (7%) while the Scottish region reduced by 1.3%. Full fare tickets rose by 27.7% and early morning tickets almost halved. First class travel dropped by 7%, presumed to be due to increased car ownership and longer distances now being driven. Freight revenue decreased for no apparent reason despite the economic growth at the time.

Closure proposals

Staff were being consulted on the proposals to withdraw local passenger services north of Aylesbury on the Great Central line from Leicester to Marylebone via Rugby. Ironically, it is likely that this route will be the basis for the route of HS2, the proposed high speed line from London to Birmingham and beyond from 2024!

The Southern Region was issuing closure notices for various branch lines such as the Hawkhurst branch to be implemented from June 1961. This section is now open again as a preserved railway, The Kent and East Sussex line.

The original route from Bedford to London, via Henlow and Hitchin was officially doomed as was the Leicester to Rugby line. The 17 intermediate stations between Peterborough North and Grimsby were also to be closed at this time and the Long Melford to Bury St. Edmunds branch was closed from April 10th.

The end of passenger services on the Western Region between Cirencester West, Swindon Town and Marlborough was also decreed at this time.

New freight yards were announced to increase the efficiency of freight services. A new modern yard at Stourton near Leeds was supposed to be able to handle up to 4000 wagons a day by 1964. Today, it is a Freightliner depot! Not far away near Wakefield, Healy Mills yard was also being constructed at this time.

Stafford station’s modernisation was approved by the Government in financial terms with five new platforms and associated buildings. This had been put in abeyance for a little while but was once again given the green light.

The track layout at Shrewsbury station was remodelled to ease congestion which led to the removal of the footbridge at the south end of the station and the provision of a new one in the middle of the station. Work was not to start until 1962 though to avoid conflict with other works underway at the station at that time, such as the renewal of the 100 year old castle walls.

The London Tilbury and Southend lines were being electrified and passengers on this line were treated to the view of plastic lineside signalling relay rooms being used for the first time.


On the passenger services front, BR announced the introduction later in the year of a diesel shuttle service between Amersham and Aylesbury to replace the end of the London transport services. Marylebone was being prepared for the introduction of a new diesel multiple unit service to High Wycombe to be introduced when new facilities like depots had been built.

The Beeching Debate

The news covered the size of Dr. Beeching’s salary which had recently debated in Parliament as well as his ability to run the railways. The point was made that non railway people had been recruited to executive positions before the war and that they were also well paid and quick to learn. For example, the Chairman of The LMS, Lord Stamp was, like Beeching, recruited from ICI and at a similar salary.

The 1994 railway privatisation was designed to do exactly the same.

The superb railwayman Richard Hardy wrote a book called, Beeching, Champion of The Railways? It is worth reading as Mr. Hardy was in a senior position when the modernisation plan was being implemented and still enthralls people with talks today.

What was being advertised half a century ago?

In May 1961, you could buy a Coronet Camera at a mere 52/8p or invest in a 12” LP which played at 33.3rpm would fill your room with steam engine recordings from the UK and America and it was stated that on proper equipment, these records were so good, that it would reproduce the sounds of a train and not appear to be a recording!

The British Transport Commission (who was in overall control of the railways) published performance and efficiency reports for their various locomotives for 10/-. Today, these statistics are a closely guarded commercial secret! They were available from the BR publicity division based at 222 Marylebone Road, now the Marylebone Hotel!

Diesel services take over from Steam

Derby works completed its 700th diesel, Class 45 No. D21 in March while Swindon Works’ latest diesel was a ‘Warship’ No. D866 and named Zebra. Bizarrely, Swindon was still turning out modified and overhauled steam engines at the same time!

Oxford commuters were not amused when their services were converted to diesel units from being steam hauled. The 829am to Paddington was ‘dieselised’ and many regular travellers switched to the still steam hauled 907am service claiming it was far more comfortable! Reading depot was also being dieselised with these diesel units being used more and more.

The Royal Train still used steam power on the Western Region. The Duke of Edinburgh travelled from Edinburgh on March 24/5 to Shrewsbury and on to Windsor behind steam traction.

The Liverpool Street - Ipswich - Norwich services were now starting to use regular diesel power on several trains a day. Cross-country trains from Birmingham to York were also now using diesels for the first time. It was also decided that Gateshead Depot would be allocated a number of Deltic locomotives for the expresses to and from London and Edinburgh.


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