1001 DE



Following the Universal Works tribute at the Cheltenham GWR Modeller's Exhibition earlier in the month, Saturday 24 April 2010 saw a little bit more of English Electric come to Gloucestershire when Hastings Diesels Limited's Severn Explorer reached the Severn Valley Railway via Kemble and Churchdown.

Its timed pass for Cheltenham was 12.32 and as the return journey was routed via Birmingham Snow Hill and Oxford I decided to record the progress of preserved Hastings set 1001 at speed through Churchdown on digital video, also including a more familiar Class 170 in the final YouTube presentation for contrast.

The green liveried railtour train comprised Driving Motor Brake Second 60116 "Mountfield", Trailer Second Lavatory 60529, ex 4-CEP ( Class 411/5) Trailer Second Lavatory 70262, ex 4-BIG (Class 422) Trailer Second Restaurant Buffet 69337, TSL 60501 and DMBS 60118 "Tunbridge Wells", and it was in the noticeable fact that 70262 and 69337 were built to a more generous loading gauge that lies the appeal of this diesel electric visitor from East Sussex.

In 1845 Tunbridge Wells was linked to Tonbridge by a branch of the South Eastern Railway's Redhill-Tonbridge-Dover route of 1844 and the first railway to reach Hastings was the London, Brighton and South Coast line from Eastbourne in 1846.

As every schoolboy knows, Hastings saw William of Normandy vanquish the forces of Saxon King Harold in 1066.  However, for many centuries after this the Weald of Sussex was, like Gloucestershire's own Forest of Dean, an underpopulated wooded area known for its iron working.  However, in 1765 - 103 years before Robert Forester Mushet invented high-speed self-hardening steel - the last iron founders left the Weald of Sussex leaving the fashionable spa town of Tunbridge Wells as the only major centre of population.

In 1845 Tunbridge Wells was linked to Tonbridge by a branch of the South Eastern Railway's Redhill-Tonbridge-Dover route of 1844 and the first railway to reach Hastings was the London, Brighton and South Coast line from Eastbourne in 1846.

The South Eastern Railway would become part of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Companies Joint Management Committee on 1 August 1899 but back in the heady days of “Railway Mania” the South Eastern Railway (SER) sought its own connection to Hastings and in 1845 obtained Parliamentary powers to build a line from Ashford in the east across the Romney Marsh via Ham Street, Appledore and Doleham along a route which would be near-level and easy for all but the last few miles.

Their bitter rivals the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR), had already seen the commercial attraction of promoting a direct route London to Hastings route by extending the Tunbridge Wells branch across the Weald, and it obtained the necessary powers in 1846. However, the SER were so keen for the business that would be opened up by such a plan that they offered to build the line across the Weald themselves.

Unfortunately for the SER,  Parliament - viewing an unstable Europe across the English Channel -believed the line across the Romney Marsh to be of strategic significance, and obliged the SER to complete that before beginning work on the new line southwards from Tunbridge Wells. Construction of the Marsh line actually required a large amount of heavy earthwork and four sizeable tunnels near Hastings (to Bopeep Junction and West Marina station), and so by the time the company came to build across the Weald its resources were depleted.

The Tunbridge Wells – Hastings route had therefore to be constructed as cheaply as possible through difficult terrain. Some tunnelling was inevitable at Tunbridge Wells, Wadhurst and Mountfield but when the line to Bopeep Junction finally opened in 1853 it was discovered that the tunnels had been bored to the minimum possible dimensions and lined so poorly that there was danger of collapse.

The only practical solution was to add several extra layers of brick lining, which kept the line open at the price of making the tunnels too narrow to accept standard-size stock. From then on, the Hastings line had to be worked with specially-built stock of restricted dimensions.

Hastings DEMU 1001, in its 3-carriage formation, arrives at Rye station with the 1024 Hastings to Ashford service on Tuesday 31 May 2005 .Photo taken  by Chris Nevard

Hastings DEMU 1001, in its 3-carriage formation, arrives at Rye station with the 1024 Hastings to Ashford service on Tuesday 31 May 2005 .Photo taken  by Chris Nevard 
Although third rail DC electrification from Eastbourne to Hastings had been announced by the Southern Railway during the 1930s the 1955 Modernisation Plan still found the Tunbridge Wells-Hastings line being worked by narrow bodied Maunsell "8 foot" stock hauled by Schools Class 4-4-0s.  These carriages were close to the end of their useful lives and replacement with new standard width vehicles would effectively mean singling the line.

Electrifying the line with such specific rolling stock was also considered too costly but Southern Region Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer W.J.Arnold Sykes and in his deputy Hugh Smyth hit on the idea of building diesel electric multiple units - based on current Southern EMU practice but not collecting power from an outside source - that could last ten years until the electrification option could be reviewed again.

Twenty-three narrow-bodied 6-coach DEMUs each with a motor-coach at either end of a rake of four trailers, were thus  introduced between January 1957 and June 1958 and based at a new purpose-built depot at St. Leonards-on-Sea. The first revenue service was on 6 May 1957 and operation to Charing Cross began on 17 June 1957.

As it turned out, the Hastings DEMUs were amongst the most intensively-used stock on British Railways yet they survived three times as long as intended and gave no serious technical trouble in all of that time!

Part of that reliable durability can be attributed to the installation behind the driver's cabs of the English Electric 4SRKT engine which had been already proved on Egyptian State Railways.  Coupled to an English Electric Type 834 generator, this prime mover could be found on all the diesel electric multiple units found on British Railways Southern Region ( including the Class 205  "Thumpers" used in Hampshire, Berkshire and indeed on the Hastings-Ashford line) as well as in diesel electric multiple units on Northern Irish Railways.

Indeed, the English Electric 4SRKT can be counted amongst the most successful single-entity power units ever designed for mainline rail use and makes an interesting comparison to the MAN prime movers fitted behind the cabs of the contemporary Blue Pullman DEMUs and the Voyager/ Meridian DEMUs of the 21st Century with their underfloor Cummins engines and bodies narrowed from the waist up with possible tilting in mind.

In terms of other equipment the Hastings DEMUs ( numbered in the 10xx series like the individual numbers of Western Region "Western" diesel hydraulic locomotives ) were not outshopped with two tone horns but with a compressed air whistle mounted above the driver's cab, a feature which has been reinstated in preservation.  What the Hastings DEMUs were unique among Southern region slam-door units in lacking however were inverted triangles on the front ends of Driving Motor Brake vehicles.  These were applied to identify guard's accommodation for the assistance of station porters.

Once the value of the Hastings line DEMUs was appreciated they were used on special workings to places as far afield as Lowestoft, Gunnislake and Carlisle as well as a regular Saturdays-only Brighton–Exeter diagram in the years 1972–1977, using a 12-car train in summer and a 6-car in winter, but always incorporating a buffet-car.

Similarly there were various unit reformations including three-car “Tadpole” units ( wide bodied head and narrow tail )  which worked the Reading – Tonbridge service for a long period in the 1960s and 1970s, and hybrid formations involving Hastings vehicles with the closely-related “Hampshire” and “Oxted” units. Most sets were refurbished internally during the mid-1960s with their sycamore-veneer internal panelling was covered with laminate and the open saloon seating retrimmed in the classic Trojan moquette.

Like many seaside trains however - especially those stored next to a beach as was the case with St Leonards depot - the Hastings line DEMU fleet were to suffer from corrosion of the bodies due to salt laden air.

Seven sets were originally built with buffet cars, of which five survived all but the last few years of operation. Of the other two cars, one became the Southern Region General Manager's Saloon and - among other duties - conveyed Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales to their honeymoon and  Pope John Paul II from Gatwick to London on his visit in 1982.  This General Manager's Saloon also formed part of the first-ever standard-gauge passenger train to enter the Channel Tunnel and is still in use today.

The other remaining car was moved to Derby and converted to vehicle "Lab 4".  As such the former Hastings buffet pushed back the frontiers of  tilting-bogie technology and made a valuable contribution to the development of the Class 91 locomotives.  Lab 4 was eventually returned to St Leonards Depot where it was stored until sale for further use in 2003.

 In 1983 the 23M electrification and resignalling of the Hastings line was announced including single-tracking of the substandard tunnels with remotely-operated turnouts - a technology unavailable in the mid 1950s.

In the spring of 1986 standard loading gauge EMUs took over the London – Hastings service and a carefully-managed programme of narrow bodied DEMU reformations took place as the fleet was gradually run down.

The final “slimline” Hastings DEMU ran on Sunday 11 May 1986 as the concluding leg of the “farewell” railtour, which left Charing Cross with much ceremony at 22:45, carrying a large number of devotees. The entire surviving fleet was withdrawn that night, apart from two units which were briefly reprieved and shortened for use on the Ashford – Hastings and Oxted – Uckfield/East Grinstead routes. Used carriages were left to await their fate at various localities including Ashford, Sevenoaks, Ore, and Mountfield sidings.

The 120 year era of tailor-made carriages had apparently reached its end, but in July 1986 the Hastings Diesel Group was formed with the aim of preserving one or more “Hastings” DEMU coaches.

In 1987 a limited company - Hastings Diesel Preservation Limited - (HDPL) was set up by the HDG to buy vehicles from British Rail . The aim was now to buy a whole 6-car train but by March 1989 HDPL had bought not one but two entire 6-car units - numbers 1001 and 1013 - within a total of 15 Hastings DEMU vehicles  including five motor-coaches and three of the beautiful corridor firsts. They were housed at their then-disused home depot at St. Leonards, to which access was already granted by BR to HDG members gathering spare parts from condemned stock.

In 1990 matters were formalised when a separate but closely-affiliated company St Leonards Railway Engineering Limited (SLREL) was set up to hold a lease and operate the depot. HDG was wound up, and HDPL became Hastings Diesels Limited (HDL).

Through the skill, enthusiasm and financial support of its members - and an enormous amount of very hard work from its small core of assistants- HDL was able to make a three-coach unit formed of 60016-60527-60018 available for use on the Swanage Railway  from June 1990 until January 1993.  Of the two 20.35 metre long DMBS built to Lot 30395 at Eastleigh in 1957 60016 was named "Mountfield" by Ian Allan in a ceremony at Swanage on 30 June 1990.

Back at St Leonards, restoration work continued on TS 60529, and 18.40 metre long DMBS 60000 ( Eastleigh Lot 30329 of 1957) which was named "Hastings" by the Mayoress of Hastings on 28 September 1991. It also won the Association of Railway Preservation Societies ‘Best Restored Coach’ award in 1992.

The Kent and East Sussex Railway - a neighbour of the Tonbridge-Hastings line promoted by Colonel Holman F. Stephens - hired a three car set from HDL for the period of April 1993 until early 1996 comprising 60000-60529-60016, initially without the trailer while restoration work continued on TS 60501.  DMBS 60018 was named "Tunbridge Wells" by the Mayor of the eponymous town on 12 May 1995

By the mid 1990s, HDL was also aiming to restore a Hastings DEMU set to main line operating standards and to this end DMBS 60000 "Hasting" and 60118 "Tunbridge Wells" and TSLs 60501 and 60529 were taken back to their Eastleigh birthplace where their axles and running gear were checked and overhauled as necessary, door locks were changed, Automatic Warning System fitted, and many other tasks completed to ready the train for inspection. This duly passed, the four-coach restored train numbered 1001 was certified for use on the main line railway.

1001 operated its first railtour on Saturday 11 May 1996, exactly ten years after the original withdrawal of the fleet, covering a number of routes around Kent, including the Folkestone Harbour Branch, before running up to London for a re-enactment of the final non-stop run from Charing Cross to Hastings.

To help meet demand for seating after this initial sell-out centre-trailer 70262 from an Eastleigh built 4-CEP electric unit and 1970 York-built buffet car 69337 from a 4-BIG set underwent considerable alteration to be made compatible with the main line certified Hastings DEMU and have been been part of the train since June 2000. In October 2002 DMBS 60116 Mountfield also gained its certification for main-line running, and has been used to replace either of, or complement, the other two motor-coaches in the train.

In a second career nearing the half a million miles mark, the Hastings main line set ( numbered 201 001 under TOPS) has seen such highlights as hire to Anglia Railways for Norwich to Yarmouth and Lowestoft local services from July 1998 to September 1999, a nearly 24 hour long railtour to Devon to witness the total eclipse of the Sun on 11 August 1999, several spells on hire to Wales and West for use between Cardiff and Portsmouth on rugby match and Glastonbury Festival traffic,  four years almost daily service between Ashford, Hastings and Eastbourne and finally over six weeks work for Connex between Charing Cross and Hastings.

Not bad for a ten year stop-gap train!