Published 16th April 2012
There was a national coal strike underway in early 1912 which appeared to have been resolved by the end of March or early April. But despite this, the railways at the time had been frightened of what a coal shortage on a more permanent basis would mean to their business.
They decided to make use of advances in technology, as with the creation of the unsinkable Ocean Liners of the day. Several railways developed petrol and oil powered carriages and locomotives introduced to service in Spring that year.
Many trains were cancelled and the majority of railway companies reduced their services to an absolute minimum and for example, the Great Northern Railway cancelled 600 services a day.
Only the Great Eastern, London, Tilbury & Southend and Furness Railways ran a normal service.
The Midland Railway quickly converted many of their steam engines to liquid fuel combustion methods rather than use coal. The Great Eastern and Caledonian Railways also converted some of their steam locomotives to oil burners.
The North London Line fuelled their shunting engines with sawn up railway sleepers. The Great Central Railway closed the Lancashire & Derbyshire line and Wrexham to Brymbo route while curtailing most Sunday services.
The South Eastern Railway was in chaos with 14 stations closed in the London area and their Moorgate service was completely suspended. The LNWR pulled all Dining Cars from trains with the exception of the 2pm service from Kings Cross to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Most planned Easter Excursion trains were cancelled as well!
The Great Western and Great Central Railways experimented with petrol-electric driven motor coaches, as they were called. The GWR ran their trials on the Windsor branch line and it was powered by a 40hp Maudslay built petrol engine linked to a dynamo which literally in turn developed electricity fed to two electric powered axles. The ‘train’ carried 46 passengers and had a range of 250 miles but weighed only half of its steam equivalent. The top speed was 35mph and it was designed by British Thomson Houston Ltd who carried on for another 50 years building diesels.
The GCR version worked between Marylebone and South Harrow and was built by the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company in Preston. The interior was finished in fine grained oak and ash wood. The outside was teak and lined out in gold. The engine was a 90HP six cylindered petrol driving a 55 kilowatt multi-polar dynamo fitted with communicator poles.
The train could carry 50 passengers who enjoyed 25 volt lighting and was powered by one axle using the electricity generated and had a range of 150 miles without refuelling.
The GER put into service No. 1500, a 4-4-0 express steam locomotive designed by Holden, their Locomotive Superintendent based at Stratford Works. This engine had been on trial at the start of 1912 and by April was starting to run in normal service with two classmates.
The British Vacuum Cleaner Company introduced a mobile device for cleaning carriages. This was mounted inside a coach and was in use on the LSWR and used a petrol engine to provide power to create a vacuum thereby sucking the dust and detritus from carriages in 1912.
The Metropolitan Railway experimented with what was called ‘Limited Season Tickets’ for wives of season ticket holders. The reasons have been lost in the mists of time!
The early part of 1912 was a busy time for Theatrical Trains which carried all the scenery and actors between engagements. One journey between St. Albans and Colchester took 12 hours and travelled via Watford, Bletchley, Cambridge where a four hour wait was endured with another hour at Ipswich. Companies such as Moody Manners Opera Company and Trees Touring Company used these trains.
The Watford Junction to Croxley Green line was being commissioned for services. This line is now due to be re-opened by linking the Metropolitan Underground line into the national system after services were ended 25 years ago.
The now famous preserved Welsh Narrow Gauge railways such as The Talyllyn Railway were well used at this time, albeit using slightly primitive stock!
What today is still the largest railway network inside a docks area, Immingham on Humberside was about to be opened 100 years ago.
There was a railway exhibition in Turin where manufacturers exhibited their products in the hope of generating sales. One unusual visitor was from Russia in the shape of a tunnel inspection vehicle with outside lighting supplied with electricity by equipment built by the German Electric Company of Berlin.
It contained three sections and three axles, one of which was powered to move it on the track at speeds between 4 and 40 kph. It used 65 batteries were carried to provide power for 80 elements surrounded by reflectors.
The King went on a tour in India by rail and a laundry car was provided for his use. This was built by Russian Railways and contained a steam boiler feeding tubs, mangles and ironing boards! It was built for use with troop trains rather than Regal use.