1 Loyal greetings from the railway industry Phil Marsh collection

Faster trains and a hint of modernisation at the start of the second Elizabethan era

Published: 8th September 2015

Diesels and on-train radios introduced as The Queen takes the Throne

HRH The Queen as we know has become the longest serving Monarch and rail.co.uk has taken a look at what the railways were doing the time she ascended the Throne in mid-1953.

Steam developments

The railway was still 99% dominated by steam traction and this was why the railways designed a new water column which was easier to use for footplate crews. The water carrying arm was on a universal joint making swinging it round easier and when the water was flowing along the pipe, its weight held the arm down. When the arm was raised, the water drained out which meant that it became an ice-free in the winter and the actual column base was provided with a stopcock also offering protection against ice.

A new method of repairing steam locomotives was introduced called ‘metalock’. This involved cold-working metal fractures by keying in repairs across the fracture. This took the place of carrying out welding repairs. Similar systems named ‘metalace’ were introduced for cylinder work and these are still used today.

Lighting for locomotive pits was being introduced at this time allowing easier inspection of locomotives from underneath.

Faster summer trains

The summer timetable ran between June 8th and September 20th featuring faster services operating at weekends across the UK. The West Coast Main Line increased its line speed to 90mph over most of its route allowing a 30 minute time-saving between Euston and Glasgow now run in 450 minutes for 401 miles by The Royal Scot. Euston to Birmingham was covered in 120 minutes for the 115 miles.

‘The Elizabethan’ was introduced on the East Coast Main Line, also offering a 90mph speed limit for 120 miles, running from Kings Cross to Edinburgh in 405 minutes for 393 miles.

These were possible after track improvements and in East Anglia combined with the introduction of the new BR Standard locomotive classes such as the ‘Britannias’. They were estimated to save £60,000 a year running between London, Cambridge and Norwich while reducing journey-times by up to 20 minutes to the latter city.

On the Great Western Main Line, summer expresses were accelerated such as ‘The Merchant Venturer’ which took 106 minutes to run the 107 miles between Paddington and Bath. South Wales services were also speeded up. The Southern Region restored pre-war timings of 80 minutes on some routes such as ‘The Man of Kent’ running between Folkestone and Charing Cross.

The ‘Atlantic Coast Express’ ran from Waterloo to Cornwall and ran 36 minutes faster to Padstow and Bude was reached 21 minutes faster. The ‘Green Arrow’ freight service had just been re-introduced and allowed a fast premium tracked export service to traders. This should have started two years earlier but the coal crisis prevented it happening.

The first diesels

The very first diesel locomotives were appearing on the railways, mainly prototypes produced by locomotive manufacturers keen to exploit the post-war modernisation of the railways. One company was British Thomson-Houston (BTH) based in Rugby, a member of the AEI group.

BTH built a diesel electric locomotive and their trade press adverts proclaimed that a diesel-electric locomotive was available for work round the clock offering a far greater efficiency over steam engines. BTH manufactured the traction package for diesel locomotives and they said that their name was guarantee enough of a good reliable product under all conditions. History says that their products were not a success and their locomotives were early casualties of the modernisation plan introduced two years later.

An English Electric main line express pair of diesels were on test on Southern Region services between Waterloo and Exeter and Bournemouth. These built at Ashford Works, numbered 10201 and 10202 and rated at 1750HP. They operated around 15000 miles each month. English Electric also built later built the Class 37 fleet, many of which remain in service today.

A six-wheeled 350hp diesel shunter was introduced numbered as a Class 13 and some of these are still in use today by main line operators. Their 585 main and 83 gallon service fuel tanks meant that these engines could work for 10 to 14 days without refuelling. They also had a small platform on them where a human shunter could ride safely as the engine went along.

A new fleet of 24 ton wagons was also introduced along with a wagon tippler for fast unloading of these and was controlled by push-buttons.

Radio controlled shunting fleet

In the Abbey Steelworks in Wales, a new radio communication system was also installed on shunting diesels allowing the driver to talk to the shunter saving time.

This was provided by the General Electric Company and the delicate radio kit was encased in an anti-shock case on the locomotive and tested under rigorous conditions. The traincrew handset was encased in heavy rubber for protection.

Today, there are still problems in fitting digital equipment on locomotives which is a harsh environment with plenty of vibration.

A fleet of locomotives were fitted with this kit and each locomotive was allocated a unique radio number which was selected by a switch on the controllers office.

The system could be used by up to 70 locomotives on one site. The financial savings also came from the saving of transit time for hot ingots going to the Rolling Mill.

Modernisation was on the horizon, but that is another story!

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