Published: 28th March 2016
April 1966 was both an exciting and depressing time on the railways for employees and enthusiasts alike. Lines were being closed every month but new 100mph express services were being introduced to fight the growing airline domestic competition.
The East Coast Main Line (ECML) hosted a huge Public Relations exercise on April 4 1966 when a train, allocated headcode 1Z10, ran between Kings Cross and Doncaster in each direction. The locomotive selected to haul the eight coach demonstration train weighing 286 tons was the huge 3300HP ‘Deltic’ No. D9012 Crepello. It was booked to depart Kings Cross Platform 4 at 0956hrs and arriving at Doncaster, 156 miles away just 124 minutes later at 12 noon averaging 75mph start to stop.
The overall timings held some secrets though, the average speed on several sections was in the 90s, the highest at 97.6mph between Sandy and Huntingdon with another 96mph average in the Grantham and Newark areas. The highest booked average speed was 98.14mph for 10 miles including descending Stoke Bank where Mallard set the world steam record 28 years earlier. The journey to Kings Cross was booked to take two minutes longer than the outward trip. The schedule included 4.5 minutes recovery time in each direction.
The train was the PR run for the new Kings Cross to Leeds ‘Flyer’ services to be introduced on April 18 that year and were designed to show the public what the new era of the railways was bringing.
The official notes of the run proclaimed that the run was 11.5 minutes faster than the ‘Flying Scotsman’ train at that time between Kings Cross and Doncaster. That train was timed between Kings Cross and Newcastle in three hours 50 minutes averaging 69 mph over the 268 miles.
It was proudly proclaimed that these trains ran to the regular fastest point to point timings in Europe and were only exceeded by the Japanese Tokaido Line. The introduction of the ‘Deltic’ hauled 100mph inter-city trains commenced in April 1965 and had grown passenger numbers by 5% in the first year.
Guests on the train were told to expect further expansion of these 100mph flagship business services from April 1967 between Kings Cross, Darlington and Newcastle which it was hoped would stem the defection of passengers to air travel on this route. Services were also to be enhanced between Kings Cross and Hull in 1967.
Guests on the train were segregated into smoking and non-smoking sections and divided into operating staff and the media. The more influential guests were allocated a compartment and others seated on open stock.
Travelling staff included Signalmen, ticket and station inspectors, traction inspectors and guards. Representatives of ‘Deltic’ manufacturers English Electric mixed with such luminaries at C J Allen and G Freeman Allen plus the national press, the BBC and the government Central Office of Information. The Technical Assistant to the Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer, Mr Edwards was tasked with riding on the locomotive.
The train was crewed by Kings Cross men who were relieved at Doncaster for the turning move via the Hexthorpe triangle. Perhaps the most important section of the official notice was the instruction that ‘every attention be given to the running of these special trains to ensure they are not signal checked or delayed.
While the Kings Cross crew took their lunch break, guests on the train were treated to a luxury lunch.
While the ECML was introducing 100mph ‘Deltic’ services in April 1966, the West Coast Main Line (WCML) commenced the operation of scheduled 100mph long distance electric hauled trains from Euston.
The official PR brochure was introduced by Henry Johnson, the London Midland region General Manager who called his route the fast modern highway for passengers and freight. Electric trains ran between London Euston, Birmingham, Crewe, Manchester and Liverpool and the aim was to reclaim passengers that had transferred to other transport modes.
The £175million electrification of 412 route miles (1500 track miles) had taken eight years bringing disruption to services, pretty much the same period as the 125mph WCML upgrade 40 years later! The investment in electric traction was made because although running costs of new diesels and electrics were similar, more rolling stock and depots would be needed for diesels (and more staff employed) so in the long run, electrification was preferred.
Part of the calculation was that five of the new Beeching proposed fast freightliner services ran on the route and could also be electrically hauled.
Studies demonstrated that the French 25,000 volt AC operating system was 5% cheaper to install and 8% cheaper to run than the 1500 volt DC system already in use in the UK.
The upgrade meant that electrification clearances had to be created for 649 bridges, 27 tunnels with 12 electrical feeder stations, 58 track section cabins and 109 relay rooms built. Euston and Manchester Piccadilly stations were ‘remodelled’ (or demolished along with the Euston Arch) and 88 other stations also modernized.
Away from the 100mph main lines, the sweeping cuts proposed by the 1963 Beeching report were being implemented. These included the proposal for the complete closure of the Isle of Wight railway network but the line between Ryde and Shanklin was reprieved.
The line between Cowes and Smallbrook Junction was closed on February 20 1966 and between Shanklin and Ventnor on April 17. This left just 8.5 miles of railway (between Ryde and Shanklin) out of a network that was over 50 miles at one stage.
That section of line remained steam hauled until the end of 1966 when it was closed for three months while third rail electrification was installed. But it did spell the end of the famous railway viaduct over Newport and its high level station.
The closure meant that the long narrow deep tunnel cut through the 798 feet high St. Boniface Down was closed and it is still used 50 years later as a conduit for water and other services serving Ventnor.