Railways 100 Years Ago in April 1912: A Titanic View

Published 16th April 2012

As the Titanic was sailed in April 1912, we looks at the world of railways at that time

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.

Effects of the Coal Strike

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!

Petrol-Electric driven carriages

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.

Great Eastern Railway Superheated Express Steam Locomotive

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.

Vacuuming Trains

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.

Season Tickets for…. wives!

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!

Pure theatre

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.

Watford to Croxley line opens

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.

Narrow Gauge Railways….

The now famous preserved Welsh Narrow Gauge railways such as The Talyllyn Railway were well used at this time, albeit using slightly primitive stock!

Immingham Docks

What today is still the largest railway network inside a docks area, Immingham on Humberside was about to be opened 100 years ago.

In Europe….

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.

In Asia…

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.


Have your say...

Please note: you have to be logged into the site before you can leave a comment

Liverpool street station in the UK at rush hour

Help and advice with train travel in the UK

Train travel in the UK should be a pleasure, not a headache. So if you’re taking a train on the UK railway, start your journey here. We’ve lots of hints, tips and advice to help you find your way around, travel smoothly and arrive in style by train.

Read more

eurostars passing at 375mph from the drivers seat in france


Welcome to our #railchat page. Our #railchat discussions take place over on Twitter, with our resident expert Phil Marsh. If you would like to get involved, please do join us, and use the dedicated hashtag #railchat. See our previous discussions below:

Read more

Old steam train in Shanty Town Museum

Locomotives & Engines

Our rail network would be nothing without them. From Stephenson's Rocket to British Rail Class 92 and beyond, explore the facts, information and anecdotes behind the steam, diesel and electric locomotives that built the age of the train.

Read more


Latest Tweets


Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh to London Kings Cross by Train

Book in advance with redspottedhanky.com and save 85% advanced bookings.

From £21.00

Buy now

Millenium Dome, London

Birmingham New Street to London Euston by Train

Book in advance with redspottedhanky.com and save 92% on advance bookings.

From £6

Buy now

You may also like...



Follow us on Twitter and become part of our rail community!



redspottedhanky.com is the easy way to buy cheap train tickets online.



Control your business fuel costs with a supermarket fuel card – free to apply, no ongoing account charges and no monthly minimum spend.