Archive Section

The Locomotive & Carriage Institution
Home Centenary 2011 Continental Visits Lectures Newsletters History Visits Pictorial Visits Narrative Seminars
The Human Revolution - Part 3

by Richard Hardy.

The modernisation of British Rail - from one man ‘s viewpoint - and the effect it had on the staff involved.

This articles have been split into four page sections to make them manageable, this is the third section of four:

To navigate direct to the other sections, click below.

Human Revolution 1 Human Revolution 2 Human Revolution 4

What grieved men more, when single manned, was the need to stop in section to deal with a tripped switch, overload or earth fault.  They had no option but provided they kept cool, the delay would be slight.  But I wonder if the young driver of today realises what it must have meant to a sixty-year old man.  Reared in steam, to be trained, to work trouble free for weeks and then, all of a sudden, that telltale red light on his driving desk and silence behind him in the engine room.  Now it is up to him.  He has nothing except his faultfinding chart and his nerve to fall back on.  No latent power in the boiler, no mate, no real experience, and the moment he has dreaded has arrived.  He takes it easy, keeping calm and with luck, he will get on the road again and now he has something to talk about, an experience of which to be proud.  In a year or two, he will be silencing errant fire alarms with paper, but, for the present, he has not reached that degree of sophistication.

During our human revolution, I had no responsibility for electric train maintenance or overhead line equipment.  Our elder statesmen of the steam suburbans had opted for llford, Shenfield and Gidea Park and, as Motormen, that classic word going back to the turn of the century, ran the 1,500v DC service and the Electric Traction Engineer did the rest.  As lost time and failures were unknown, the Shenfield electrics were akin to a private club without need of outside influence.  But 25kv was on the way and, by 1959, power had been switched on in NE London.  Despite warnings and personal booklets of instruction, men still hopped up, by force of habit, onto bunkers and tank tops to do their work.  Twice, those evil and oh so innocent looking wires grabbed and killed them and these men were my responsibility.  I had seen what the French had done to save lives and campaigned unceasingly for the warning signs and grills that were commonplace in France.

In August 1959, my wife and I were on holiday not far from Clacton when I learned that Fireman Reg Rowe lay badly burned in Clacton Hospital.  Next day, I went to see him and I shall never forget his smiling face, nor his subsequent amazing recovery.  Driver Bob Nichols with a B17 left Clacton shed and young Reg sprang onto the tender to fix the fireirons.  A blinding flash, a bang and he was knocked back unconscious onto the coal.  He was mauled unmercifully but he was fit and wiry and he lived.  But, next month, it was the turn of poor Hugh Read of Colchester who, as a most conscientious engineman, had done so much to propagate his views on safety.  He was present when the Daily Herald Industrial Award for Bravery, “The Worker’s VC”, had been presented to Driver Charlie Hayward for saving the life of Fitter George Staff, who lay severely burned on the roof of a railcar under the wires at Colchester.  Hugh Read had prepared a N7 to go light to Walton-on-Naze.  Stopped by a signal near Hythe, his mate, on the telephone, could neither see nor hear that his driver had climbed onto the tank top to clean the front cab windows.  As he straightened, he touched the wire and was killed instantly.  Mercifully, he was the last man to lose his life, in this way, in my time at Liverpool Street and the precautions, as we know them today, for which I and others had striven so hard, were introduced nation-wide and with great rapidity.

By late January 1958, the “Toffee Apples” had settled down, though not without incident, to the easier 7MT services. D5501 worked the 10.30 Norwich on the 20th.   D5503 the 08.30 next day, D5501 the 10.30 and D5500 the 08.30 on the 24th and 25th respectively and D5502 on the 08.30 and 16.45 up on the 23rd when she ran into trouble just after leaving Norwich.  The blue fault light on the driver’s desk came on and Los Thorn, who was riding with the locomotive, went back to the engine room cubicle, which was indicating low fuel oil.  As he had doubts about reaching Ipswich, he asked the driver to take it easy.  He had come to the conclusion that there was an airlock in the fuel transfer pump and tried bleeding the fuel line without success.  Meanwhile, D5502 managed to make Ipswich and came off its train, to be replaced by a steam locomotive.

Ipswich found that the non-return valve above the fuel transfer pump was held open by dirt.  There were several more similar failures and Brush quickly modified the pipe work and the non-return valves, as well as fitting more powerful transfer pumps.  But, on the whole, the Brush did the job tidily and economically.  It had little or no reserve but it was clear that we had a useful locomotive, given time to resolve the various troubles that beset us in that difficult year, not only with the Brush Type 2 but also the English Electric 2000 hp that began to arrive in April.  And let me say, before you remind me, that teething troubles were not unknown with steam and the best we ever had on the GE Line, the Britannias, had more than enough.

So D200 rolled upon April 11th, accompanied by a Service Engineer who will be remembered with affection, not only for his practical knowledge and experience, but for his abrasive manner which suited us, as it enabled our folk to reply in kind.  This was Bob Bradley of English Electric (and later of British Railways, Derby).  Tall and astute, of the basilisk eye and sardonic tongue.  Bob served EE well, but did not neglect us. D200 made its first journey to Norwich with a special train on April 18th and then got down to work and driver training.  It was a grand machine for the Norwich jobs, keeping time with ease and getting away from stations very quickly.  But we still had our Brits and they shared the fastest work with good reason.  It was rare for all five 200’s to be in revenue earning service at the same time, nor did we use the Type 2’s regularly on the fast trains.  Our men were happy and fit on their Brits and when all 7MT maintenance was transferred to Norwich early in 1959, the 09.30 “Norfolkman” down and the difficult 13.45 up made a useful changeover diagram.  An inspector frequently rode with the Stratford men on this turn to maintain the highest standards of performance, for we regarded punctuality as a vital cornerstone.  Not every Britannia was fitted with a speedometer, which was helpful, and this brings us to that merry trial of strength in April 1958.

Cecil J Allen, the legendary author and high priest of locomotive performance had prevailed on the GE authorities to run a Crusader excursion to Norwich and back with non-stop schedules faster than anything in the timetable and the nine-coach train was to be hauled by a Britannia. The job fell to Sam Elgram and Norman Hockley with their own 70039 and they were good men. With them went Inspector Percy Howard and he was good too when it came to hard running.  He was well on the way to mastering the new diesels but my goodness; his heart was still in steam.  Now the GE Motive Power Officer, Terry Miller, was a great advocate of diesel traction but he had a soul and a sense of humour and he had been at Stratford with the Britannias.  Quietly then, almost behind his hand: “Richard, see that Howard uses his discretion about speed”.  He did and the rip-roaring result is history.

That was not all. Two days later, on the 18th April, D200 worked a slightly heavier Press special of 324 tons on similar schedules, but with a difference. 70039, working hard, was faster on most banks than D200 on full power.  We expected this, but we also knew that Chief Inspector Theobald would be riding with Driver Marler, as well as Lea Thorn and the HQ diesel engineer, Dick Stockings.  Len Theobald, without the benefit of a nod from TCBM, rightly insisted on line speeds being observed.  As he had a certain way with him, there was no record breaking with a speedometer a few inches away on the driver’s desk.  But, around Shenfield on the return journey, Len went back to check the steam heating boiler was being shut down and by some means best left to the imagination, found himself locked in the engine room.  Not for long, of course, but long enough for those naughty boys to take advantage, to swoop down Brentwood bank as 70039 had done and then to have the cheek to opine that the door must have jammed!   English Electric were not displeased, but hoped that CJ, who was timing the train, would not draw too severe a comparison in his next “Trains Illustrated” article.  As ever, he was scrupulously fair!

Right from the start, we were required by the CM&EE to take routine oil samples from engine sumps, to be sent to the BR Chemist in Strafford Works for analysis.  In the very early days D5505 was found to have dilution, together with green particles and traces of copper in the sample.  The chemist did not tell us and, being a CM&EE man, reported straight to Doncaster HQ. We were instructed to stop D5505, pending inspection by Messers Mirrlees and the CM&EE people.  Fitter Harry Elliott, never a man to under club himself in the matter of words, removed the crankcase doors.  He then removed the big end bearings for inspection, meanwhile offering humorous and gratuitous advice on fuel dilution checks to the experts, who were nodding wisely in a portentously technical huddle.  Naturally, nothing was found wrong.  The engineers appeared to be baffled.  Harry, grinning hugely, boxed up and D5505 went back to work.

Now we knew perfectly well what was wrong, but did not feel disposed to say so. The CM&EE stopped D5505 and the opinions of mere steam men were not treated too seriously.  When the Brush locomotives first came, we fond the engines were prone to oil dilution.  The sampling was stepped up but, as there were no cocks fitted, this had to be done with a syringe through the crank case door.  Our syringes were good old jobs that had stood the test of time and were of a type used to siphon off water from the top of axle boxes.  It consisted of a brass tube with a copper pipe welded to the end, whilst the plunger was made of wood with green worsted bound round the end to make a seal.  QED.  Nothing was said, but Mirrlees twigged and quickly fitted oil sampling cocks to their engines!

When the Type 4’s first came to Stratford, they were prone to Ices of power and “no amps” appeared rather too frequently on repair cards and Control logs.  One evening, the 16.30 Liverpool St. to Norwich crawled over lngrave and came to a stand at Shenfield.  D202 was taken off and dumped in the down yard on a falling gradient with both hand and air brakes applied.  A Stratford fitter, with an electrician from the works, was sent to Shenfield and, as he was going home to Wickford, Lea Thorn went with them.  All three climbed up and disappeared into the engine room where they remained for some minutes, until they realised that D202 was moving slowly but inexorably down the yard.  Emerging after the manner of Keystone Cops, they cast about for wood, old sleepers, anything to arrest the stately progress of that 138-ton machine.   It was eventually brought to a halt after covering three engine lengths and running through a set of points.  Left to its own devices, it would have finished up in the street at the east end of the station.  The so-called parking brake was useless and the air brake leaked off.  Les Thorn recommended that wooden scotches should be carried, but it took a similar incident on the GN to get such an old-fashioned but sensible practice to be accepted universally.

As the 1365HP locomotives began to arrive in 1959, the earlier machines were transferred to the LT&S section, which, at that time, was a separate line under the direction of its own Line Manager, John Willie Dedman.  They were serviced at Ripple Lane, but returned fortnightly to Stratford for maintenance.  By 1959, we bad begun to achieve a high standard of cleanliness, but not a cloth was laid on our ‘Toffee Apples” whilst they were on foreign territory.  I remember taking this up with the LT&S, but they had reduced their cleaners to a minimum.  I tried JWD in person, but I might as well have stood on my head for all the good that did.  He watched his costs, we cleaned his power and I don’t doubt that, had the position been reversed, we should have done the same!

The 1959 locomotives were virtually the same design, but with the up-rated engine. Electro-Pneumatic control equipment took the place of the Electro-Magnetic system used on the first twenty and the orthodox controller handle, moving horizontally, replaced the “Toffee Apple”.  D5507 had been up-rated to 1400HP during 1958 for trial purposes.  D5545 was successfully up-rated to 1600HP, paving the way for several more of this horsepower and the tragedy of the bedplate fractures in the Mirrlees engines lay in the future.  Nevertheless, from the earliest days, we had that trouble with the fuel dilution of the lubricating oil, due to the design of the high-pressure fuel pipes. There were three unions in each pipeline, from which any leaks found their way into the Bump.  Particularly vulnerable was the swaged end of the pipe at the injector, which frequently broke against the nut.  Our maintenance staff learned by bitter experience that the pipelines had to be checked each fortnightly examination and whenever injectors received attention.

Many of the other problems were minor in themselves, but they could lead to delay in the shed and on the road - or total failure and, as such, they had to be tackled.  One must remember that Brush and Mirrlees had had comparatively little experience of the working of their own products in service, being relative newcomers to the business of running railways and that they had as much to learn as we had.  For example, the Automatic Voltage Regulator was mounted on the bulkhead behind the driver and relied on natural air for ventilation.  It shared a cubicle with the blower motor and compressor and it hadn’t a chance.  We ducted air from the blower motor to the AVR, a modification quickly taken up by Brush.

Another small point and yet so important.  The engine low water switch only indicated low water and did not shut the engine down.  This suited drivers who were brought up on steam, who were expected to get home in the event of trouble.  But it did not suit the engine and there were several cases of scored and fused pistons through overheating.  Reluctantly, but facing reality, the Mirrlees people set the switch to shut the engine down. And then there were the two contactors, serving four traction motors, in a cubicle in the engine room.  These were air operated and very fierce in action, frequently breaking on engagement.  This usually happened in the depot, but could occur in service when the locomotive was reversed.  The breakage would damage the contactor and it’s wiring, and the motor contactor interlocks would make the start contactor circuit.  If the driver, oblivious to this electrical confrontation in the engine room, tried to start the engine, he could move the locomotive on the battery and if he then applied power, would get a spectacular burnout in the cubicle.  Our cure was simple, a choke in the air supply line to the contactor.  This was adopted by Brush, who were always keen to improve things, once the Service Engineers were in agreement.

Mulrex was an oil-based coolant additive used with a measure of success, but it had its side effect.   In 1959, a 1365 hp had been attached at Parkeston Quay to help the Up Day Continental, on which Danish Royalty were travelling.   The engine was idling gently, a brake had been created and the Royal party had joined the train, which was due away shortly.  Lea Thorne had a quick look around the engine room and was alarmed to see a flexible pipe swollen to goitrous proportions and showing every sign of bursting.  The Shedmaster dashed to the shed (quite a distance) to get some Jubilee clips, which Los fitted in the dying minutes before departure, to strengthen the pipe to get them home.  We never had a diesel failure with a Stratford locomotive on a Royal job, but this was a close call and only Los’s vigilance and practical experience saved the day.

To complete my story of the Brush Type 2 on the GE section, I need to move ahead to the time in 1963 when I was acting as the Locomotive Engineer of the E.R.  I chaired a meeting with the Brush and Mirrlees engineers after serious fractures had been found, which ultimately led to the Mirrlees engines being replaced by EE power units of 1470HP.  It saddened me to hold this meeting, because the engineers of both firms had been steadfast in their determination to improve their product and were nearly always keen to learn and to modify in the light of our experience.  I remember particularly the Mirrlees spokesman, a Mr. Barnard, and his calm manner in the face of great adversity although, at that stage, all that was envisaged was the shopping and stripping down of all 263 engines, rather than their replacement.  The Mirrlees engine was of all-welded construction and an internal fracture was spotted by a sharp-eyed Stratford fitter in the cylinder housing, whilst doing a routine examination of big end split pins.  Shortly afterwards, the bedplate fractures began to develop and this was the beginning of the end.  But how pleased I was to read recently that the Mirrlees name is still carried by the Class 60 locomotives.  Whenever I see a present day Class 31, I think of the salad days when they were new, of the condition in which they were kept, their well-appointed engine room, spotlessly clean, and the cab, with everything to hand and literally an armchair ride, a good and respected machine.

To continue to next section:

Human Revolution 4

Part 4 of the Human Revolution