|If you lived in Gloucestershire
between 1990 and 1992 you might remember a weekly
newspaper called The Gloucester Journal. In The
Gloucester Journal was a feature called Railspot, which I
wrote. Each week, Railspot would include a picture, 500
words describing it, and often some pub quiz type
questions about railways.
People have often asked me what happened to Railspot, and the good news is that it is - slowly - coming back. Even better news is that as I am no longer restrained by the limitations of a newspaper on the Internet, I can revisit some favourite topics, update them and add new pictures and web links. I can even do my own proof reading!
|The steam locomotive has been
described as poetry in motion but here its rhythmic flow
has been punctuated by a coal-on.
Until the arrival of diesel and electric power, coal was the fuel that made trains run. It was also the reason for the first railways being built. Even with crude chauldron wagons running on flanged rails, colliery railways were an improvement on pack horses carrying coal from mines to canals or sea ports. Then, early in the 19th Century, the spread of modern "edge" railways and the development of the steam locomotive bound coal and the iron road firmly together.
Locomotives burned coal (or coke) directly and, like rails and other railway components, they were made of iron which in turn was made with coal. The more demand there was for coal, the more railways had to expand to move the fuel - which itself increased demand yet further.
In addition, railways could reach parts of Britain that were beyond the range of canals and could move goods more quickly than the waterways. This led to new sources of coal being mined ( such as those at Merthyr Tydfil in the South Wales valleys ) and to the spread of new coal-reliant industry, like the iron shipyards on the Tyne.
Indeed, the rise of Britain as a World maritime power was also based on the easy distribution of good coal; so it is fitting that the locomotive pictured above was the last tank engine to work in Devonport Dockyard. Numbered 19 by the Navy, the Bagnall built 0-4-0ST is now preserved on the Bodmin Steam Railway - where its bunkers are filled by a fork-lift truck.
|This is a far cry from the main line railways at the height of the age of steam when each major depot would have its own coaling plant. The GWR favoured an inclined plane to shunt loco coal wagons up to tender top level. Gloucester Horton Road had one of these until the 1960s and one remains at Didcot. In the 1982 scene above Ivatt Mogul 43106 is on the coaling road with the wagon entry arch just to the right of its chimney. The coaling point itself is above the tender.|
|During the final decades of steam working, tall concrete coaling towers were built in many places. These discharged coal straight downwards rather than allowing it to be tipped in from the side and were filled by hoists. Loaded wagons would be lifted up and physically rotated at the top of the tower, as this model on Alan Postlethwaite's Brockley Acres layout demonstrates. Sadly all these concrete coaling towers have been demolished apart from the one at Carnforth ( formerly part of the Steamtown museum ) which was built by Italian prisoners of war in 1943.|
|Once on board the locomotive
however, coal was only as useful as the heat that could
be released from it during combustion. Similarly, a
locomotive being worked hard - up a long incline with a
heavy load for instance - would be limited by the
fireman's ability to shovel solid fuel into the firebox
to form the most efficient pattern to raise the most
steam. Obviously good design and manufacture of the
components forming the steam circuit - such as boiler,
valves, cylinder and pistons - was also important in
getting the most from the locomotive: but the type and
amount of available coal could still make or break even
the last and most modern of British steam locomotives.
As discussed in the Reloaded Railspot on British Standard Steam, British Railways final pacific - 71000 "Duke of Gloucester" - was born out of disaster. On 8 October 1952 "Princess Royal" pacific 46202 "Princess Anne" collided with "Jubilee" 4-6-0 45637 "Windward Islands" in fog at Harrow station, causing Britain's worst railway accident. Many lives were lost and London Midland region was deprived of a valuable 8P pacific. British Railways Chief Mechanical Engineer Robert Riddles and his deputy E.S. Cox were called upon to design a replacement.
This was to be developed from his successful 7MT Britannia pacifics, although to generate the extra power needed within the London Midland loading gauge three cylinders rather than two were used. Another departure from BR Standard practice was the installation of Caprotti rotary cam poppet valve gear - previously to be found on only 20 of Stanier's "Black Five" LMS 4-6-0s.
71000 was built at Crewe in May 1954. The cylinder efficientcy was as near perfect as anyone at the time considered possible and the boiler proportions were theoretically correct to produce more than enough steam to feed them. Indeed, on test, 71000 produced the highest indicated horse power (IHP) per pound of steam produced ever recorded. However, it has been argued that as well as an incorrectly fabricated ashpan - impeding the airflow through the firebox - a lack of fine tuning within the Kylchap blast pipe arrangement gave the locomotive an unwarranted reputation as a coal guzzler in its working life. More to the point however, 71000 spent its first years of British Railways service on demanding duties where best quality coal was at a premium.
On receiving the newly name "Duke of Gloucester" from display at Willesden in 1954, Crewe North Motive Power Depot ( now the site of The Railway Age museum ) pitched 71000 straight into its Number 2 and 3 links that had normally employed Stanier designed Princess Coronation pacifics for the previous 15 years. Number 2 link included the two-each-way night sleeping car and postal trains between Crewe and Perth while Number 3 covered Crewe-Glasgow day and night duties.
|The Perth jobs were among the
hardest footplate duties ever regularly assigned to
British crews, yet Perth based crews never ventured
further south than Carlisle. Crewe North men had worked
the night trains to Perth on a "double home"
basis since 1930, originally with Royal Scot 4-6-0s and
then Princess Royal 4-6-2s before the Princess
Coronations arrived, and by the mid 1950s these trains
were regularly loaded to excess of 600 tons for at least
part of the journey. The Perth trains comprised 17 or
more vehicles - many of them 12 wheeled sleeping cars
with the increased rolling resistance which such vehicles
offered in the quest to give sleeping passengers a better
These trains left Crewe each evening at around 10.30pm and 11.10pm and were generally allowed around six and a half hours for the 296 mile journey. This might sound generous, but there were numerous stops for postal duties as well as for vehicles to be attached or detatched. In fact, point to point timings were tight. Vehicles would be added up to and including Preston and detached at Mossend but the maximum tonnage would be behind the tender over Shap and Beattock inclines.
There were eight sets of men in an eight week link, working three return trips two weeks out of the eight, two return trips for five weeks and two trips with the Up and Down "Mid-Day Scot" between Crewe and Glasgow for the remaining week. The latter was the only day train they worked as part of their normal cycle and in winter it was the only train they worked in daylight.
It was not unusual for a firemen on Numbers 2 and 3 links to shovel upwards of 10 tons of coal between Crewe and Perth - a hard job that brought out the utmost professionalism in drivers too. Almost to a man, the crews on the Perth links would book on duty an hour before departure to make a final lubricant check and top up with Crewe's limited supplies of high calorific value Welsh coal. At Perth only soft Scottish grades of coal were available, yielding even fewer British Thermal Units per shovelful than the North Staffordshire and Lancashire coal normally supplied to Crewe North's coaling tower. Thus by piling on as much as three tons on the fire - until the inferno almost touched the brick arch at the top of the firebox - the tender could be filled with several more tons: enough to make only minimal refilling necessary at Perth. There was also great pressure on the Scottish Region authorities to keep the Princess Coronations off fill-in turns while laid over at Perth to conserve the Welsh fuel. However, when severe weather or unexpected delays affected the southbound working of Number 2 link trains it was not unknown for them to run out of coal and have to be piloted back to Crewe North by lesser engines from as far north as Wigan or Warrington.
On a Stanier pacific, provided that the fireman mastered the art of keeping the back corners of the grate covered, the remainder of the coal could be shovelled almost anywhere and the boiler would steam magnificently. This is why they could get away with putting so much on the fire before leaving Crewe and that intial fire would take them as far north as preston and sometimes beyond. The locomotives did not need to be pushed to their limits until the train was well north of Carnforth, by which time the fire would be well burned through and enough steam raised to meet any challenge.
All the considerable time and effort that went into the design of the BR Standard range of locomotives was thus wasted on the Crewe North men if the end result could not equal -let alone out perform - their existing equipment. 71000 "Duke of Gloucester", with its de facto inferior combustion cycle, could not cope with the Crewe North MPD Perth-or-bust style of firing and it is said that some Crewe men would book off sick rather than take an engine they did not trust over the Border for 296 miles.
In either case, 71000 gained a reputation for coal guzzling and soon migrated to faster, lighter trains on Number 1 link Euston-Crewe duties. it became regarded as a good Class 7 engine - the equal of the two cylinder "Britannias" - but definitely not on a par with a Class 8 Princess Coronation.
Sadly though, within a few months of its construction this final flowering of British express passenger steam design was declared obsolete in the Modernisation Plan of 1955. As industry rushed to build diesels, 71000 worked its final years south from Crewe North depot over less steeply graded routes until withdrawal in November 1962.
OTHER RELOADED RAILSPOTS
|British Standard Steam|
|English Electric Type 3 Co-Cos|
|Industrial Narrow Gauge Railways|
|The Midland & South Western Junction Railway|
|Southern Railway Class N15 "King Arthur" 4-6-0s|
|Warship Class Diesel Hydraulic Locomotives|