Reviews Of Recent Meetings

22 May 2019

Twenty Years of Cuba with Richard Coghlan.

It was a pleasure to welcome Society member Richard Coghlan to bring us an illustrated talk about his numerous visits to Cuba since 1996 and the changes that he has seen especially with regard to its railways and the massive impact of the decline in sugar cane production. Richard began with a brief history of the island - its rum, its cigars, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, its sugar and its railways. In 1996 he had visited as part of a group from the Warwickshire Railway Society, hiring a car and experiencing a completely different way of life, one that he grew to love such that the temptation to visit again was too strong. 

Most of the locos working at the sugar mills at the time were already between 80 and 100 years old, mainly American with plenty of Baldwin’s but just a smattering of European built Henschels. There were also American built 1950s diesels on the island’s network. 

There was plenty of interest - different gauges, different builders and some interesting/odd designs, a variety of wheel arrangements and, in the late 1990s, a good number of mills processing sugar cane, many of which Richard had had the opportunity to photograph with locos on shed at the mills, on the mills’ branch lines and on the main lines. By 2001, however, sugar was in decline, mirrored by the withdrawal of many locomotives, several plinthed but many just left to rot. Elsewhere, ‘new’ passenger trains tended to be second hand such as 30 year old former Barcelona emus  on the Hershey lines. 

In 2003 Richard's group hired their own steam train and the first steps were being taken to establish a railway museum in Havana. Tourism was beginning make an impact. Several of the closed mills followed suit and it was not long before steam hauled tours began to feature. By 2006 new diesel locos were bought from China and second hand locos from Mexico for main line work. Mill lines were being lifted and several mills were closing, many just left to rust away. Others promoting tourist trains and museums,  however, had found a new lease of life whilst, on more recent visits, Richard had found plenty of evidence of new Chinese and Russian influence.

What a change of fortune for Cuba’s  sugar mills and their steam locomotives. In the space of just over twenty years these old workhorses had been decimated as the demand for sugar fell but the popularity of the island as a tourist destination had saved a good number from the the cutter’s torch or a lingering death rusting away at a dilapidated, closed sugar mill. As we saw on several occasions, however, one constant has been the number of old cars on Cuba’s roads, mostly American but an old Triumph Herald and a 1960s Ford Anglia raised a smile as did Richard’s relaxed, humourous but very informative  commentary throughout the evening. Just don’t mention Fidel should you visit.

David Hinxman


8 May 2019

Railways around World War II:1937-1945 with Robin Mathams. 

 The Sutton Coldfield Railway Society (SCRS) was the fortunate beneficiary when the Moseley family wanted Percy Moseley’s extensive collection of railway photographs to go to a good home. The complete collection of 1900 photographs of British railways stretches from 1913 to the 1970s and tonight Robin Mathams, joint curator of the SCRS' collection, treated us to a fine selection from 1937 to 1945. Robin explained how the collection was being converted into digital form with images being enhanced where necessary. It was an eye-opener to see the difference in some ‘before and after’ shots. Percy had made copious notes when photographing his subjects and this too was being recorded in order to maintain as complete a record as possible both for historic reasons and to assist with making meaningful presentations for audiences to enjoy. Whilst there was plenty of railway history on show there were also elements of social history on occasions, particularly from advertising hoardings with Bovril, Sketchleys Cleaners and Jeyes Fluid on show.

Looking at the images from the late 30s/early 40s today it was easy to overlook the fact that many of the locomotives that we saw were new or nearly new when photographed with some carrying names which would later be replaced by those with which many in our audience would be more familiar, such as LMS Patriot Class no. 5500 ‘Croxteth’ before becoming ‘Patriot’ and Jubilee ‘ Trans Jordan’ before becoming ‘Aden’. Equally, many of the classes withdrawn in the 1950s were in their prime in the period covered  tonight.

Among the locations visited were Luton, St. Albans, Tring, Watford, St.Pancras, Kings Cross, Waterloo, Paddington, Welwyn, Folkestone, Crewe, Pontefract, Conwy, Llandudno, Lutterworth and Rugby and,despite the passage of the years, a number were still identifiable now. There were plenty of others, however, that are now inaccessible - what were once open, grassy embankments are now heavily overgrown and development has taken its toll.

By 1944 and 1945 Riddles Austerity locos and American S160s were on the scene and many of the new classes we had seen were now ten years old. In another 20 years most would be gone but examples of can still be enjoyed some 80 years after these photographs were taken thanks to the preservation movement, a point not overlooked by Robin. 

The SCRS clearly has a big job on its hands managing the Moseley Collection but from what we saw   tonight they are making good progress. There is plenty more to be done, I am sure, and from the enthusiastic applause that Robin received tonight I hope he will feel that the SCRS’ efforts are most worthwhile. We all thought so.

David Hinxman


24 April 2019

I Moved it my Way with Andrew Goodman

What started as a childhood interest in trains had, arguably, got out of hand, Andrew now being the owner of some 270 railway wagons and responsible, over the years, for moving innumerable heavy loads of which locomotives, coaches and wagons had formed a considerable part. We saw an enlightening cross-section of loads this evening also including tall trams, a jet plane, Grade 2 listed grain stores and enormous bridge sections and we learned about the challenges such manoeuvres can bring, especially when the jobs entail travel in Europe.

Andrew had been an early member of the Gloucester and Warwickshire Railway. He and two friends had bought a Bagnall 0-6-0 industrial tank loco and moving that to Toddington had been his first venture into heavy haulage and was the beginning of Alleyley's Heavy Haulage, now possibly the best known in heritage railway circles. His next job was to move GWR 2-8-0 tank no 4277 from Woodham's at Barry, again to Toddington and then moving a J94 0-6-0 from Burton on Trent and being taken to a weighbridge by the police and having to transfer the loco from one trailer to another when simply shifting the loco a few inches on the trailer was all that was needed - the subsequent court case was thrown out! This was one of a stream of interesting and often amusing anecdotes which Andrew related as his presentation progressed, including tales of narrow scrapes (not literally I hasten to add) to get under bridges, avoid property damage and achieve solutions to seemingly stubborn problems. The trams from Honk Kong had to travel up the A34 dual carriageway in the wrong lane, for example, to get under a bridge which was too low only on the lane north; Polish 0-6-0 tank engines had been brought to the UK one of which still had full water tanks - no wonder it was unexpectedly heavy. The National Railway Museum was a regular customer as was the Science Museum and National Rail. He was a key player when the railway was damaged near Inverness some years ago when, to keep services running, locomotives and DMUs needed to be relocated from their stranded positions. We also heard about the challenges faced on occasions when jobs in Europe came up particularly arising from European rules concerning travel whilst, at home, the Docklands Light Railway and the Waterloo and City Line's needs for assistance had presented their own particular challenges.

There were several ooohs and aaahs tonight as members had their breath taken away by the sheer size and scale of many of the items which Andrew had moved during his career and there was much engagement when he had finished as members fired their queries at him, all responded to without hesitation. Andrew had certainly given us all something to talk about and the next time we see a loaded Alleyley's Heavy Haulage lorry on the road we will have a better understanding of the issues the company and the driver has faced and will be facing in both getting the load on board to start with and then travelling to its destination -  Campbell Road bridge at Eastleigh with its right angled corners being a prime example.

David Hinxman


10 April 2019

The National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS)

Tonight’s session was all about passenger satisfaction, how to record it and how to use the resulting data and we had the right person to explain it all to us, David Greeno, Senior Insight Adviser at Transport Focus. The National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) and associated research is a key element of the   organisation's work. It is the largest published rail passenger satisfaction survey in the world. The NRPS   covers road users too but tonight rail travel was the focus. Only Eurostar and Heritage Railways were  excluded.

Passenger surveys are undertaken twice a year with forms being handed out at stations or on trains with an option to fill them in on-line. The data was then input by agency staff and collated for use by a  multitude of interested parties - the DfT, TOCs, Network Rail, local user groups and so on. It was available to anyone who requested it. Fieldwork was carried out at over 700 stations with each survey form being   specific for record purposes to the particular station or service being used and covered your journey, timekeeping, ticket prices, information about your station of origin and your destination station such as cleanliness, helpfulness, accessibility and so on. It also asked for information about you, the    traveller.

In Autumn 2018, Heathrow Express topped the charts for satisfaction with 96% user satisfaction whilst Northern and Great Northern were at the bottom, the frequent strikes over train manning no doubt being a key reason and also a feature in SWT’s rating falling since they took over from South West Trains. Interestingly, greater dissatisfaction was more evident for SWR’s metro and outer-urban services. How David kept on top of all the statistics I do not know but at the end of Part One, having assessed the data before him concerning stations in the wider Basingstoke area, he was able to report that Wokingham topped the list.

In Part Two David focussed on on the work of the NRPS in connection with the major works at Waterloo Station in August 2017 and how their involvement helped passengers, contractors and operators through the potential chaos caused for 1,600 trains a day and half a million or so passengers by the closure of platforms, with a derailment in the Station throat and the handover of SWT to SWR thrown in. Nightmare, I am sure you would agree but, in a relatively short time, passenger awareness grew from almost nil to 97%. More recently at Derby similar work was done to assist all interested parties both before and during the major improvement works undertaken there. The success of the Waterloo and Derby engagements has also helped inform the approach to other major schemes in the pipeline which are likely to cause  disruption to the travelling public.

David’s was an intriguing presentation prompting a number of contributions from the floor. What, on the face of it, had the potential to be a dryish session dominated by number crunching was. In fact, anything but. Plenty of data yes, but presented with a light touch and interspersed with humour whilst getting the message home for our own enjoyment and to play its part in helping all parties involved in Transport and Travel to up their game.

David Hinxman


27 March 2019

Dresden Delights with Richard Green

How time flies! This evening we welcomed back Richard, our West of England correspondent, just a week or so short of the anniversary of the Society’s trip to Dresden in early April 2018. As usual, we also welcomed his fan club of former work associates who regularly attend when Richard presents his assessment of the previous year's European jaunt.

The journey to Dresden from London City Airport was by an indirect route - via Prague and the cheapest but still most enjoyable meal on a train ever likely to be encountered as the group journeyed behind Czech Vectron 289 298 alongside the River Elbe virtually all the way to Dresden Hauptbahnhof. The hotel was across the road with a clear view of the intensive tram services whilst the lines into the station were obscured by trees coming into leaf. The main focus of the long weekend was the annual steam spectacle at the Dresden railway museum with its roundhouses and an operating turntable. It must have been difficult for Richard to select images to show because all the participants were clicking away in the bright and warm sunshine. Several sizeable tender locos were in steam and brought out to the turntable in succession. Impressive stuff. After their fill of the historic collection, the group made their way to two hillside railways: one a funicular and the other a suspended railway. Each was sampled by everyone in the party and advantage was taken of group ticketing. An enjoyable distraction.

On the Saturday two narrow gauge railways beckoned: first the Döllnitzbahn  between Oschatz and Glossen via Mügeln and return behind a smartly turned out 1-Bo-1 750mm gauge diesel electric loco. 

Running appeared to reflect arrangements under the former industrial line’s steam operations with a lengthy lay over at Mügeln. The break allowed those with that inclination to make a quick visit to the works, where a couple of steam locos were lurking. The remainder of the day was spent travelling on the now fully reopened and 100% steam operated Weisseritztalbahn between Freital Hainsburg on the outskirts of Dresden and Kurort Kipsdorf, a round trip of some 30 miles following the river, running along the roadside and passing through attractive open countryside in places. 

For many, if not all, the party, Sunday was the Special Day - parallel steam running only slightly tarnished by an earlier than expected start from the Hauptbahnhof. Those still waking up were soon alive and alert, however, fighting the hoards on board for the best shot of the freight train coming alongside and overtaking our top and tailed steam special up the Tharandter Ramp only to drop back as we surged forward again. This was some spectacle. The early start meant that there was some unexpected free time before the group split between more narrow gauge steam on the Lossnitzgrundbahn between Radebeul Ost and Radeburg and a cruise on the Elbe from Königstein to Dresden, including a visit to the old town before everyone reconvened for dinner.

On Monday 9 April, more narrow gauge steam was planned, the Fichtelbergbahn between Cranzahl and Kurort Oberwiesenthal and return including 13 km of bustitution because of engineering works between Zschopau and Wolkenstein on both the outward and the return journeys. For many the day’s highlight was the opportunity to travel in an open carriage immediately behind the loco outwards which became the last carriage on the return. The absence of any facilities at Oberwiesenthal was a disappointment, however, as it had been at Radeburg the previous day. A missed opportunity but maybe coffee and cake has yet to catch on in the EU. So to Tuesday 10th and a retracing of steps along the Elbe to Prague, some more photography at the main station, the bus to the airport and the flight home to Heathrow. 

As expected, tonight was an entertaining and amusing summary of what members got up to when BDRS went on tour in 2018. Everyone who went contributed photographs although this year there seemed to be  barely any designed to cause embarrassment. Something to think about for those soon off to Poland for the 2019 trip perhaps? So many thanks to all the contributors but especially to Richard for his canny keyboard work and well considered photograph selection to bring us, again, a thoroughly enjoyable  evening. 

David Hinxman


13 March 2019:

Six Decades chasing Trains with the Rev. Alistair Wood

A latecomer to the priesthood  perhaps but a lover of trains since early childhood, before his father gave him a camera at the age of four. It was not a surprise to learn, therefore, that he has amassed a vast collection and wide ranging selection of photographs over the years, mostly his own but also including those of his father and other close associates who were happy for them to be shown. 

Born in Marple and growing up there, Alistair began with a selection on mid-60s originals of steam through Marple Station before its buildings were removed in 1971/72, Marple Hill and nearby Romiley, Tiviot Dale, and Guide Bridge and then Stockport Edgerley sheds simmering away. We saw some early Class 304 emus and then more steam at New Mills and Chinley, now a shadow of its former self,  west of Marple  before visiting Manchester Victoria for a ‘then and now’ moment. Thereafter I thought Alistair’s presentation lost its shape a bit making life for me as the reviewer quite difficult.It became a quick succession of    mainly wonderfully nostalgic images with a smattering of steam rail tours countrywide, black and white shots mingling with colour, lovely shots taken on 30742 charters all brought together with wit and humour and some irreverent anecdotes which brought smiles to everybody’s faces. Alistair rounded off part one of his presentation with a couple of songs accompanying himself on guitar for one and a ukulele for the other, both the with a railway theme: the Coalport Dodger and the last train to Much Wenlock.

Part two followed in similar vein but with an emphasis on more recent photographic exploits well as some older images such as the experimental Railcar at Droxford in 1968 and another black and white selection. He started with a Pendolino through Milton Keynes, 61306 on a rail tour and 34072 with a 30472 charter on the Swanage Railway. Coming towards the end of the evening Alistair homed in on his local area and we saw 33s, 47s, Hampshire Demus and HSTs around Warminster, Westbury and Fairwood Junction and steam specials through Trowbridge and a few more ‘then and nows’ before getting back to where it all started around New Mills, Woodhead and Manchester. Not yet done the WCML was next to feature along with Rugby and Class 91s at Doncaster. Unfortunately I had to leave at this point in order to avoid 'bustitution' to Winchester but I have been reassured that when his presentation finished with one or two more railway themed folk songs the Rev'd Wood was given a rousing round of applause and an enthusiastic vote of thanks by the Chairman. As Alistair hinted several times during his presentation, there is plenty more where this came from. I am sure he will be visiting us again.

David Hinxman


27th February 2019

The First Fifty Four Years of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland with Leslie McAllister. 

Before starting his talk, this evening’s guest speaker handed out an annotated map of the Irish railway system  A wise move as it was soon established that although the Irish are our next door neighbours in the west, our knowledge of their geography and their railways left much to be desired. A presentation of the best part of 200 images meant a full length evening lay ahead to at least improve our knowledge of Irish railway preservation!

Leslie started with a brief reference to the fact that that no less than 3 different track gauges featured in the early history of Irish railways. The first railway built in Ireland, the Dublin and Kingstown was built to 4ft 8 ½ gauge in 1834. Two years later, in 1836, the Ulster Railway (UR) from Belfast to Portadown was   sanctioned at a gauge of 6ft 2 ins on the advice of the Irish Railway Commission (and I K Brunel!). The next line, the Dublin & Drogheda Railway, was proposed to be built to a gauge of 5ft 2 ins on the grounds of lower cost but the UR complained about the lack of commonality of track gauge and the Board of Trade  (BoT) decided to investigate. As a result in 1843  the BoT decreed that the standard gauge for Ireland would be 5ft 3ins  and this was given legal status by the “Regulating the Gauges Act” of 1846.

After the Second World War, Irish railways suffered a similar decline as those in Great Britain with line closures and modernisation of locomotives and rolling stock.  It became clear that, if historically significant and interesting examples were to be saved for posterity,an organisation would need to be created to carry this out. This realisation led to the formation of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) in 1964, the aim being to preserve and restore examples of Irish steam locomotives and rolling stock to a condition where they could be operated on the Irish railway network for all to travel on and appreciate. It started with humble beginnings. The first locomotive, an 0-4-0ST No 3 “Guinness”, was donated to the RPSI by the Arthur Guinness brewery of Dublin. It is worthy of note, that in an island that has been divided on so many issues, in railway preservation there is a history of shared and common interest between both communities, the first locomotive being donated from within the Irish state and the RPSI being established at Whitehead in Northern Ireland. The now extensive collection of locomotives, carriages and other rolling stock contains examples from both north and south of the border in Ireland.

The RPSI boasts a membership of over 1000 with members in many countries around the world. Since 1964 RPSI has collected many locos, carriages, and rolling stock some of which are operational while others are currently only suitable for display and it was clear that, to be able to keep them under cover and accessible to enthusiasts, a museum was needed. A museum has now been constructed which opened at Whitehead in 2017. This has quickly established a reputation not only for its displays but also for the quality of its restaurant which is well worth a visit in its own right. Of the locomotives that are currently   operational, J15  0-6-0  No 186 built by Sharp Stewart in 1879 is the oldest steam loco in Ireland that is still in steam and featured in many of the slides the speaker showed. The delightful “laissez faire” attitude that Ireland is renowned for was very apparent in pictures of RPSI excursion trains attended by many sightseers some of whom could be seen standing in the permanent way! Enough to give a modern day Health & Safety Officer instant apoplexy.

All in all an interesting evening when many of us came to realise how little we knew about Ireland and Irish railways.

Peter Wells


13 February 2019

From Gresley to Tornado with Alan Hayward

At the end of tonight’s talk by Society member Alan Hayward we should all have been able to tell the difference between an A1, an A1/1, an A2, an A3 and an A4 and which CME was responsible for what. This was an evening devoted mainly to matters LNER and how three successive CMEs, Gresley, Thompson and Peppercorn, made their own mark on the design and performance of LNER locomotives. Both Thompson and Peppercorn had worked under Gresley. Alan believed that each respected the other professionally but their characters were quite disparate.

Whilst remembered by many for his proliferation of new designs including the P2, the V2 and the Hush  Hush 4-6-4 no. 1000, Gresley’s A1 Class no. 1470/4470/60113, Great Northern, the first loco with the 4-6-2 pacific wheel arrangement and forerunner of Flying Scotsman, is perhaps the most important, not forgetting his conjugated valve gear on the middle driving wheel. Flying Scotsman, of course, was the first locomotive to travel at 100 mph on 30 October 1934 whilst Gresley’s A4 Mallard subsequently achieved the world speed record for steam.  His sudden passing in 1941 caught the LNER by surprise and Thompson, the next in line, took the helm. Maybe indicative of his temperament or character it seems that only his secretary had a good word for him. Be that as it may, he remained in office until his retirement in 1946.Thompson’s target on taking office was to standardise on ten classes. By his retirement, however, many of his plans remained unfulfilled. His undoubtable success was the building of 410 B1s and he also did away with conjugated valve gear. 04s rebuilt as 01s were also well received. The P2 2-8-2s we’re rebuilt as A2/2 4-6-2s numbered 60501 to 60506 and gained a reputation for high speed running Peppercorn succeeded Thompson. He was a more genial character with a more conventional approach and   remained in office until  retiring in 1949. Perhaps best remembered for a run of new build A2s, 60526 to 60539, he also was responsible for the A1s, basically a Thompson loco and fine engines. Under his watch, former top link A3s were transferred away from the ECML to the Great Central.

The sole surviving A3, Flying Scotsman, was, at first, privately owned on its withdrawal from BR service. Over the years, it changed hands several times  before coming into public ownership. It’s travails when privately and publicly owned are well known but it is back this year.

In the absence of an A1 on the preservation scene a new build gained momentum in the early 1990s and by 2008 an improved example had been built at Darlington and soon entered service, since heading numerous main line runs and visiting plenty of heritage railways. The new loco has been well received everywhere but during a planned 90mph run on 14 April 2018 the combination lever to the middle cylinder failed and the loco was out of service until recently. Meanwhile a now clearly recognisable new build P2 has emerged causing much excitement and anticipation. Completion is still some way away but, as Alan clearly illustrated and explained, the Gresley/Thompson/Peppercorn triumvirate’s influence remains as strong as ever.

Alan kept to his word for which I, as a non-technical person, was extremely grateful. The subject matter clearly had the potential for complication (conjugated valve gear for a start) but Alan’s drawings and diagrams were very helpful and he painted very clear pictures of the three key figures and their personalities. Alan was rewarded with a very good turnout and members were similarly rewarded with an interesting and clear analysis of the LNER’s wartime and post-war challenges and their contribution to modern steam traction development and performance.

David Hinxman

9 January 2019

London Underground by Design with Paul Joyce

The trouble with the Underground is that you seldom take the trouble to notice station design above ground because you are in the throes of travelling from A to B. Paul’s approach was to encourage us to stop and enjoy the architecture and design of the Underground’s built estate in the streets of London. This he demonstrated with a series of photographs of tube stations on a few select parts of the Underground Network. There were too many to detail here but I will endeavour to give you a flavour.

Starting with some images of building work on the first Tube station at Praed Street, Paddington and the disruption which that had caused to everyday life, we were soon heading south on the District Line towards Wimbledon. West Brompton was of particular interest with its Italiante style. LSWR influence was also evident en route but Wimbledon Station  is pure Southern Region. Variety was going to be the cornerstone this evening.

Paul then looked at Barons Court to Gloucester Road to reveal further architectural gems. The station building at Barons Court was constructed to a design by Harry Ford in a style similar to that used at Earl's Court and Hammersmith. It is an example of early system building, the fundamental elements of the design also featuring at other District Line locations. It retains many of its original features, including art nouveau lettering. Gloucester Road has two station buildings adjacent to one another: the first built by the Metropolitan Railway in the 1868 in its then house style; the second, now serving the Piccadilly Line, a new surface building of 1906 designed by Leslie Green with his distinctive ox-blood red glazed terracotta façade. Nearby Down Street Station was closed before WW2 and played a significant role as a shelter and government hub. At Leicester Square, Chalk Farm and South Kensington art nouveau features strongly.

Next up was the City and South London Railway of 1890 from Morden to Bank, the latter location suffering serious bomb damage in WW2 including a bus falling into the bomb crater. Holden’s design influence was widely in evidence here. He had also designed the London Transport HQ building at Broadway. Other interesting design features which Paul highlighted included the almost Dali-like clockface at Gants Hill, the blue station name signage, the variations on a theme of the roundel attached to a white vertical of differing shapes and sizes, the possibility that the early London General Omnibus roundel was the basis for the London Underground’s own version, of which we saw plenty of colour variations during the evening. What an icon that is. Not finished yet, Paul, in bringing his talk to a close, introduced European influences on station design - Swedish curves at Chiswick Park, German influence at Wapping and Hangar Lane  before a flurry of mosaics at Leytonstone illustrating Alfred Hitchcock films. 

Clearly this is a topic almost without limitation and I, for one, was quite taken in by the history which Paul's talk revealed and the plethora of historic features to be seen above ground. Paul promised more at some point in the future .

David Hinxman

23 January 2019

AGM followed by MEMBERS’ QUIZ

The Society's Annual General Meeting occupied the first part of the evening. John Clark was re - elected Chairman with yours truly continuing as Vice - Chairman and Newsletter Editor. Tony Wright was re-elected as Secretary and Wally Stamper as Treasurer. Below is the Committee for 2019 but if you would like to contribute to the running of the Society by joining the Committee then please do not hesitate to contact any of us:

                                                Membership Secretary - Graham Lambert

                                                Programme Organiser - Roger Smith

                                                Programme Support - Jeff Proudley

                                                Publicity - George Porter                    

                                                Overseas Trip Organiser - David Brace

                                                Raffle - Richard Stumpf 

                                                Information Technology - Iain Henshaw

                                                Website Coordinator - Andy Fewster 

After the break members formed themselves into groups ready for David Brace's quiz of four rounds with ten questions in each round. The four categories were bendy locomotives, place names, photo connections and stations viewed from the air. There may have been fewer railway images than some might have expected but with John Clark asking the questions, Wally Stamper projecting the images and keeping time and yours truly keeping the score we finished just in time. We would have finished a little sooner had I not concluded, after totting up, that there was a tie between two teams for first place. This was something that we had not anticipated so I thought of something as did Wally but our suggestions were lost amid the banter and general melee.  We, therefore, called it a day and the joint winners visited the book table to select their prize. Whether the Committee decide to do something similar after the 2020 AGM we shall have to wait and see. I certainly felt that all those taking part enjoyed it and that it was generally well received. Some of the questions which looked for connections would have been well suited to the BBC's Only Connect quiz programme - there were certainly a few obscurities and heads were scratched followed by groans of 'of course' or something similar when the answers were given.

Many thanks to David Brace for compiling the quiz and to all those members who, win or lose, heartily engaged in the event.

David Hinxman

19 December 2018

Minder on the Orient Express

49 members attended for this year's film and buffet. More a comedy than thriller, it was a television film made in 1985 as a spin-off from the successful television series Minder starring Dennis Waterman and George Cole. It had first been broadcast on Christmas Day 1985 as the highlight of that year's ITV Christmas schedule.

In a nutshell, when Nikki South inherits the contents of a bank strongbox left by her former gangland boss father shortly before his death, she realises that the contents form a clue to the number of a Swiss bank account used to stash her father's ill-gotten gains. She is waylaid on her way to her birthday party but is rescued by Terry (Dennis Waterman), who is working as a temporary doorman at the club where the party is to be held. She later thanks him by presenting him with two return tickets for the Orient Express to Venice. Terry doesn't realise that Nikki has an ulterior motive for inviting him. She plans to travel to Switzerland with her boyfriend Mark on the same train to claim the contents of the bank account but plenty of other former associates of her father have their eyes on the potential windfall. Meanwhile, Arthur (George Cole) is on the run to evade a subpoena and tricks his way onto the train. The clue to the details of the Swiss bank account number is in an envelope and everyone is after it. Consequently mayhem follows on the train as its Inter City liveried Class 73 (rail blue large logo by the time it got to Folkestone!) makes its way from London Victoria to the coast. As the train travels through night-time France, matters eventually come to a head and a free-for-all scrap ensues. After quietly pulling of the emergency cord,  Arthur, Terry and Nikki get off the train and make their way to a wayside station where Terry and Nicky crack the code whilst Arthur sobers up. Later a local dmu arrives and following a fight with two of the villains who had followed them off the Orient Express, the partial Swiss Bank account number is lost. So there's no pot of gold for anyone and the protagonists return to Fulham Broadway. 

The film raised plenty of laughs, many arising from its occasionally un-PC script, and it was a pleasure to see everyone enjoying themselves. Many thanks to Membership Secretary Graham Lambert for coming up with title and to Iain Henshaw and Wally Stamper for making it happen. Thanks also are due to The Wote Street Club who, as usual, provided the half time buffet and seamlessly met our timetabling requests given that the film took us past our usual finish time.

David Hinxman

6 December 2018

American Steam Part 2 - The West with Chris Ardy

It was a welcome return to the Society for Chris Ardy who, a year or two ago, had given us an excellent presentation on steam in the eastern USA and where to find it. Tonight he concentrated on central and western states including Alaska as well as Squamish, Jasper and Calgary in Canada, all of which he had visited in recent years.

Our clockwise journey began at Los Angeles at the Pomona Fairground where Big Boy       4-8-8-4 no. 4014 was among the static exhibits. This locomotive is now in Cheyenne undergoing restoration to working order as we saw later in Chris’ travels. Among others, we also saw an ALCO with an unusual 4-12-2 wheel arrangement. Then onwards to Sacramento in 2016 for its new build museum containing Chris’ highlight, an enormous Southern Pacific Forward Cab 4-8-8-2 no. 4284. We then travelled down to Squamish in Canada to see Canadian Pacific 2860 and at Jasper, also plinthed, we saw 4-8-2 no. 6015.  After Skagway in Alaska in 2014 and some video footage highlighting the wonderful scenery, it was back to Canada for the Calgary Heritage Park which held both operational and plinthed steam locos. Back in the USA in 2016 Chris had visited Sheridan in Wyoming and the Black Hills Central Railroad and, in particular, the sole surviving 2-6-6-2 Mallett no.110 which we saw in operation on video. Passing through Cheyenne we saw Big Boy no. 4004 plinthed where its classmate no. 4014 is hopefully getting back to working order. Moving south to Colorado, Chris visited the Colorado Railroad Museum at Golden and then the Forney Museum of Transport at Denver and a third Big Boy in no. 4005. Next was the Georgetown Loop and video footage of its operations before a quick visit to Alamosa where Chris had come across a loco being prepared for the following day’s run which, unbeknown to those lighting the fire, had been cancelled!

Colorado’s Cumbres and Toltec and Durango and Silverton operations were a ‘must’ and we enjoyed extended videoclips of their operations with the former climbing to just over 10,000 feet at Cumbres from Antonio and the latter clinging to the edge of the rock face in places as it wound its way up to Silverton. Not far away, of course, relatively speaking, is the Grand Canyon Railway at Williams where, given one of its locos is fuelled by waste vegetable oil, the homely aroma of fish and chips is often in the air. Bringing us right up to date Chris finished with a shot at Fort Worth where he had visited earlier this year.

Chris' format closely reflected his approach to his previous USA talk here. His banter, the wide variety of images and his video footage made for another engaging evening. Several times he expressed his disappointment that plinthed locos were fenced thus not allowing real photographic opportunities and that many of the museum locations that he had visited took little account of the needs of those who wished to make decent photographic records. As one member said, the US has a tendency to take a 'theme park' approach rather than promoting and protecting railway heritage. To manipulate the words of Captain Kirk, 'its preservation Jim but not as we know it'.

David Hinxman

21 November 2018

Home and Away with Ian Francis

Tonight we welcomed long standing Society member Ian Francis for a picture packed session covering his travels over the last couple of years. First up was a trip to Ireland in 2016 which involved plenty of steam haulage on the Emerald Isle Explorer using the Dublin & South Eastern Railway Mogul Class K2 No. 461, 2-6-4t Jeep no 4 and RPSI 4-4-0 no. 85 ’Merlin’ with time to snap Irish diesel locos and multiple units. Also in 2016 Ian had joined the Society’s visit to Northern Germany for the delightful narrow gauge Mollibahn with street  running through Bad Doberan and more narrow gauge steam on Rugen Island, including a   visit to the sheds at Putbus where, among the locos present was, unusually, a narrow gauge tender engine. In 2017 after the Society’s Mulhouse trip Ian, John and Andy had spent some time  visiting well known Swiss hotspots - Art Goldau, Erstfeld,  Bellinzona, Brig, Spiez and Montreau which had generated many and varied photo opportunities and, in particular, plenty of freight movements. Ian also showed images from the Society’s visit to Dresden this year including the steam festival and exhilarating video coverage of parallel steam   running on the main line which drew gasps from the floor as first the train edged a head and then the heavy freight loco would creep up on the adjacent line and pull slowly past the open windows as everyone on board tried to record a piece of the action.. Also this year Ian had made a further visit to Germany with Society member John Howie with visits to Cologne West, Bremen, Hamburg Harburg and Bad Bentheim among others to add to his colourful   European picture collection.

For his ‘home’ selection, it was clear that Ian has his ear to the ground and his finger on the pulse as we saw new trains in service, unusual workings, liveries and locations galore, steam specials, trains on test, visits to heritage railways and more. You could not have asked for a more comprehensive and complete selection. Add to that the consistent high quality of the images Ian presented and a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining session was guaranteed. Ian’s shows never disappoint.

David Hinxman

7 November 2018


Annual Photographic Competition


With over 150 entries overall there was plenty of choice at tonight's meeting when members were selecting their favourites and yet only one shared place, the joint second place taken by three entries in the Metros and Light Rail category. Many thanks to David Brace for collating all the images and managing a successful evening.


Overall winner of the Steve Sachse Trophy 2018: Tony Wright



1st: Tony Wright; 

2nd: Andy Fewster; 

3rd: Richard Stumpf


Infrastructure and Miscellaneous

1st: Wally Stamper; 

2nd: Sandra Brace; 

3rd: Howard Ray



1st: Andy Fewster; 

2nd: David Brace; 

3rd: David Hinxman


Metros and Light Rail

1st: Wally Stamper; 

2nd=: Sandra Brace, Howard Ray, Roger Smith; 

3rd: Alison Bown

David Hinxman

24th October  2018

A Tour de France By Narrow Gauge with Mike Bunn 

Mike opened this, his third presentation to BDRS, with a map that reminded us of the size of France and the enormous number of railways that existed there at the zenith of the age of the train. Of particular interest was the line drawn from North East France down to the South West. To the West of that line the terrain is mainly gentle rolling country with principal railways being of standard gauge and secondary routes, in thinly populated areas ,being laid in metre gauge. Metre gauge was used to connect towns on the main lines to market towns in rural areas or sea-side towns.To the East of that line drawn on the map the terrain is much more mountainous and most lines were constructed in metre or 60cm gauge. By 1870 the capability of 60cms to carry freight and passengers had been established by the narrow gauge railways in Wales, the Tal-y-Llyn and Festiniog Railways  being the pioneers in narrow gauge railway construction and operation.

Mike then moved on to a description of the products of the Decauville company who specialised in track, locomotives, and stock for the narrow gauge. Their name came into prominence in Paris in 1889 when the Eiffel Tower was opened and Decauville built a narrow gauge railway that ran along the bank of the Seine and round by the Eiffel Tower along the Champ de Mars during the 1889 Paris World Fair. This line carried over 6 million passengers and established Decauville as the most successful manufacturer and operator of 60cm railway equipment.This was of greatest significance during the first world war when temporary track was laid and 60cm gauge locos and tractors hauled armaments and ammunition right up to the front lines of the conflict. At the end of the war there was a vast quantity of surplus equipment, a lot of which found its way onto  narrow gauge railways elsewhere. After the first world war ended the railway system declined in France much as it did in the UK and by 1950 most steam traction on the smaller  gauges had been replaced by diesel railcars and many lines had been closed .

Most of the first half of the evening was devoted to the smaller gauges but after the interval Mike shifted his attention to the metre gauge lines  The best known metre gauge line is probably Le Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme, popular with British enthusiasts as it is only just across the English Channel. By 2016 only 5 lines of metre gauge were still open and these are essentially operated as “heritage” lines rather than running to fulfil their original purpose. It was interesting to learn that local authorities are sometimes keen to keep their heritage lines open as an attraction to their district and are even known to invest money in them to this end.

This was a very wide subject to cover in a single evening and it was, therefore, inevitable that there would be only the briefest glimpses of the many lines featured. Mike has a wide knowledge of his subject and it is to be hoped that he will return to give us an in-depth presentation on one of the several lines that members have been out to visit in France.

Peter Wells


10th October 2018

Steaming through Sussex with Bill Gage

A first timer at the Society, Bill Gage, former Deputy County Archivist at West Sussex County Council, was welcomed with a very good turn out by members. We had been given advance notice of his need to finish at 9.30pm for a train home but he still got in all the topics he had promised. His train, however, failed to appear as he joined me and others from the Society heading south close to 10.00pm. He was going to be home much later than he had anticipated.

His presentation centred largely on railways in West Sussex and, given his career, he had had access to much of historic interest by way of photographs, articles and other publications: the replacement of the bridge over the River Arun in 1953 for example, Drayton Station being used by King Edward VII for getting to Goodwood races, the original overhead roof at Chichester Station and, in Hampshire, works at The Hard in Porstmouth, Portsea viaduct and more. In similar cross-border vein Bill treated us to video of the Hayling Island branch and AIX terrier no. 32661 in action. The film was scheduled for inclusion in the next West Sussex County Council railways DVD series but this remains to be progressed. Bill then touched on Brighton sheds, a boiler explosion at Lewes in 1879, a runaway at Petworth in 1859,the two stations originally at Midhurst, the Royal Train at Singleton, a photograph of a throng of onlookers at an accident at Cocking in 1904 - the photograph revealing that the wearing of a hat seemed essential! Then there was Queen Victoria's funeral train, hauled fom Fareham to Victoria by LB&SCR Class B4 no. 55 Empress, this being the first and only time that she travelled on the LB&SCR apparently. In conclusion Bill talked about the Selsey tramway and showed rare footage of one of the tramway's railcars entering Chichester in the 1930s. What foresight by the person holding the camera and now secured for posterity along with much of the other material to which Bill had access in the West Sussex County Record Office.

It became apparent that he has other rail related presentations up his sleeve and, from the applause he received at the end of this talk, it seems highly likely that we shall see him again at some time in the future. Quite a character full of facts and many amusing anecdotes. It soon became apparent that his generalist approach meant that technical questions were not the order of the day.

David Hinxman


26 September 2018

GWR Camp Coaches with MIke Fenton

Mike had had his book on GWR Camp Coaches published in 1998, more a social history of the 1930s than a railway book. Starting with a blank canvas, Mike had worked hard to compile information on his subject including placing advertisements for people who had taken part in camp coach holidays to contact him with their stories and photographs. This approach had met with a mixed response from area to area within the GWR but from among the replies there had been a number of very detailed and informative contributions.

Mike’s talk was well illustrated with copies of promotional and advertising material and an abundance of snaps from families whose family holidays in the 1930s centred around a week on a GWR camp coach: nannies, cooks and the children in the camp coach whilst mummy and daddy found peace in their tent a short distance away; groups of teenagers enjoying a holiday by the sea before entering the world of work: three generations formally posed outside their coach for a photographic record; station staff doing their utmost to keep their tenants happy, all facilitated by some forty camp coach locations around the GWR. As the Second World War approached, however, demand for camp coach holidays declined. The threat of war caused many prospective holidaymakers to cancel bookings as the level of uncertainty increased and as time went on all the coaches were requisitioned by the Government. Post war, holiday patterns changed and, despite promotional publicity shoots, camp coach holidays never really recovered. Some sites stayed in use, such as Dawlish Warren, but most closed whilst some accommodation can still be found on heritage railways for volunteer use.

David Hinxman


12 September 2018

That was the Year that was -1966

It was a pleasure to welcome back Geoff Plum who, in December 2016, had delighted us with his impressive pictorial record of our railways in 1967. We were anticipating more of the same tonight as he took us through the highlights of his pictorial record of 1966 and were not disappointed. Holding down several paper rounds in the 1960s, he had been able to save enough money for a good camera. Film was not cheap either. Here was a man on a mission.

Geoff started his year on the Great Central and Metropolitan joint line at Chorley Wood and Bourne End, close to home. At the time he was also volunteering on the Ffestiniog Railway and, in February 1966, we saw how primitive the railway’s operations were. We then spent time at Crewe works where Geoff’s father was working replacing ancient, life expired boilers and pipe work. How times have changed. Rail tours featured heavily given that the end of steam was quickly approaching with trips to the Longmoor Military Railway (so popular the tour was rerun a couple of weeks later) and the Somerset and Dorset whose days came to an end on 6 March 1966. A visit there later in the year presented a picture of emptiness and desolation. With WCML electrification came promotional cheap fares out of Euston, an opportunity not to be missed. Photographs of the dying embers of steam at Crewe, Chester and Birkenhead were the result.We visited the fledgling Bluebell Railway, called in at Robertsbridge and saw A1X 32650 at Rolvendon followed by trips to London Waterloo for an LCGB tour with Green Arrow from the LNER which failed, a return volunteering session at the Ffestiniog, the Pennines, Skipton shed, the Settle and Carlisle, Oxenholme, Tebay, Carnforth, Blackpool trams and the Great Little Trains of Wales before finishing where had begun, back on the Great Central and Metropolitan Joint lines and an unfashionable de-icing unit at Rickmansworth.

What a night of nostalgia and a brilliant selection of images to whet our appetites for another session in the future. Geoff did admit to doing a presentation on 1965 so we must wait and see. Personally the only paper round I ever did was one week as cover for my brother. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I have to rely on my memory rather than any photographs of my own from that time.

David Hinxman


22 August 2018

The Royal Arsenal Railway with Ian Bull

Ian mentioned at the outset that he had researched the Royal Arsenal and its railways over many years and, as the evening progressed, his depth of knowledge became very apparent. In a talk laden with history both home and abroad, He was fluent, lucid and very listenable with a wide selection of images for illustration. 

Located in south east London and stretching for some three and a half miles along the banks of the River Thames, the Royal Arsenal would have been 500 years old this year, 500 years and 34 days to the day of our meeting to be precise such was Ian’s grasp of his subject. It was, naturally, a highly secret location given that it was the headquarters of the UK's  ammunition production. Towards the eastern boundary   individual magazines were located a safe distance from one another with several close to the waterside. A risky situation given that much of the site here was 6 to 12 feet below sea level! To the west lay the heavily built-up part of the site where plenty of hazardous work went on handling explosives, making     ammunition and so on. Buildings and walkways had been carefully constructed to avoid sparks. At its height around WW1 the Arsenal comprised 1,100 buildings and employed 75,000 workers excluding military  personnel.

In 1824 the first railway serving the Arsenal appeared but these early plateways soon floundered. It was not until 1859 that the South Eastern Railway built a standard gauge branch into the Arsenal and so began the multi-gauge system that would serve the Arsenal until its closure, 18" gauge track being laid extensively after narrow gauge systems had proved so beneficial for the movement of armaments, goods and personnel in the Crimean War and other military campaigns. Some 1ft 111/2"  narrow gauge track also existed at the site. The first narrow gauge loco to arrive was a Manning Wardle, the number increasing soon afterwards from that source and Hunslet who together  formed a cartel. More locos were supplied by Vulcan Foundry and Hudswell Clarke. There was also a considerable number of standard gauge industrials. By 1880 the system extended to 30 miles. In response to the failed Sudan campaign more powerful locos were built and by WW1 petrol locos appeared, a significant safety improvement, together with more efficient telephone signalling. Given the heavy loads carried by the railway the narrow gauge track was heavy duty. Although at its zenith during WW1, post war the railway soon fell into decline and locomotives and rolling stock began to be sold. Somehow the site escaped damage during WW2 despite its proximity to the capital. The decline continued, however, and steam motive power disappeared in 1954 replaced by diesel traction but this did not delay the inevitable: the remaining narrow gauge lines  closed in 1966 and the standard gauge system closed when munitions manufacture at Woolwich ceased in 1967.

Is anything left? Well the site has largely been redeveloped but parts of it can be accessed. On the rolling stock front, work is proceeding with the aim of Avonside 0-4-0T 1748 of 1916 'Woolwich' returning to steam. Ian could give no timescale for this but was clearly heavily committed to literally getting the loco back on track. Someone afterwards used the word ‘inspirational’ for Ian's excellent presentation and I would not disagree.

David Hinxman


8 August 2018

An African Adventure with David Brace

In March and April 2017 David and wife Sandra had enjoyed a varied and colourful holiday in Southern Africa run by Geoff's Trains. Some might remember that the said Geoff had talked to us about his operations a year or two previously. David and Sandra chose 'African Adventure' which featured a mix of railways, cultural and countryside visits and several wildlife safaris in different countries.

The trip started  with a leg from Johannesburg to Kimberley where time was found to visit the “Big Hole” where 2700 kg of diamonds had been dug out between 1871 and 1914 and the local museum which contained the steam locomotive that pulled the coffin of Cecil Rhodes to his final resting place in then Rhodesia. Next it was Beaconsfield and Steamnet 2000, where a number of large steam locomotives - Garratts, Class 25 4-8-4s and the like - were being restored  before Bloemfontein for some siteseeing followed by a visit to the Sandstone Heritage Trust's locomotive restoration and maintenance facility which was shared with the national freight operator Transnet. The following day in isolated and very poor Lesotho was sobering. After that, David and Sandra visited Sandstone to enjoy the large collection of trains, planes, old agricultural and military equipment and a children's railway  together with a journey along the entire 25km of 2' gauge track. An ox cart ride in true Boer fashion was essential but not to be repeated!

The next destination was Pretoria and Rovos Rail which operates high quality tours from Cape Town to Victoria Falls and other destinations. There was a conducted tour around their works and a visit to their museum here before heading off for Pilanesburg and then over the border into Botswana and a game  reserve for a two night stay. The reserve is located close to Sun City, the Las Vegas of South Africa. Never were such opposites so near to one another.

After a stop in Francistown they continued northwards to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe where they were free to roam around the vast depot, now a shadow of its former self. Despite the dereliction, however, loco no. 611, destined to be the loco at the head of their charter train to Victoria Falls, was operational a couple of days later and Garrett 414 Ubhe Jane was able to take them out and back from Thomson Junction for an afternoon’s photography. Later David was to have a cab ride in this loco. The afternoon trip along the    colliery branch to Hwange, however, did not go to plan as Ubhe Jane derailed during the lunchtime and a coach deputised. The next day no. 611 arrived and took the charter to its destination, Victoria Falls where the train was stopped on the bridge for photographs. Later they were taken by coach over the bridge and into Zambia to the Livingstone Railway Museum from where a finely restored train and a Zambian locomotive took them onto the main line and backed up a few miles so that photographs could be taken of the train on the bridge and the majestic waterfall. Not done yet, David and Sandra wound up their African Adventure with three days at a luxury game lodge on the Chobi River in Botswana, all courtesy of Geoff's Trains, to hone their wildlife photography skills as demonstrated by the wide range of colourful images which David presented to bring his presentation to a close.

They clearly had enjoyed themselves as did we as we joined them on this re-run of their African  Adventure in the Spring of 2017.

David Hinxman


25 July 2018

CROSSRAIL 2 with Richard Joslin and Stuart Bugg

There was a change of Presenter for this evening, Gavin Cambridge being replaced by Richard Joslin and Stuart Bugg, (Project Development Manager). The opening slides showed the London area and how transportation requirements were being met by the existing railway network and the nearly completed Crossrail 1 project. These have left an unfulfilled corridor running  from North East to South West London and the provision of a new rail link, Crossrail 2, from the Enfield area to  Wimbledon form the basis of a plan to meet the transport needs of this part of the metropolis. Planning has started but problems are many. For example, a budget cost price has been calculated but this price is based on the assumption that the price will be accepted without delay. However history records that all  previous projects have been the subject of  considerable delays before budgets have been agreed. The current budget price (£31bn), even if accepted, will be in competition for the  current demand for funds to complete HS 2 and funds to build the 3rd runway at Heathrow.  Delays are inevitable and increasing budget costs may even prejudice the likelihood of the project being approved at all.

Like Thameslink, a lot of the cross London track will have to be in tunnel and at a deeper level  to avoid the raft of tunnels already in place for existing lines. This is another factor which will drive up costs of construction. Even deciding where tunnels will come up to the surface is difficult and objectors to plans can be very vociferous.  Public enquiries  to settle matters are very expensive and time consuming. Add to all this the current political pressures to secure funding from private sources rather than funding projects from central government, (and the political uncertainties associated with “Brexit”), and it is clear that progressing from concept to project completion is very uncertain.

The business case in favour of the project is ambitious , it is calculated that the project would provide a £150bn bonus to the economy with an increase of 200,000 new jobs  with the possibility of building 50,000 new homes per year. Questions and comments from the floor questioned the wisdom of such an expensive project in the metropolis at a time of financial stringency and the perceived need to increase funding for projects distant from London. It was claimed that Crossrail 2 would enable a more frequent and greater capacity service to run but again comment from the floor of the meeting  was that although commuters might well benefit  with more trains and more seats history showed that improved services led to more expensive housing. However it was counter-claimed that without a major improvement to our urban train services  by 2041 in London, 17 tube stations will have to close for a period every morning and evening because of overcrowding dangers.

This was a meeting that looked at railway development from a different perspective. It was a thought provoking presentation given by speakers close to the heart of the concept. Richard Joslin remarked that at the projected completion date in the 2030's he would be retiring. This remark was made with great feeling and it was plain to see that this was going to be a very difficult project for the planners who  were assured of a bumpy ride!

David Hinxman


11 July 2018



27 June 2018

The Bridge over the River Kwai - The True Story and the Darjeeling  Himalayan Railway Society with Paul Whittle 

Two talks for the price of one this evening. First, Paul outlined the events in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula which led to Japanese forces overrunning the area early in 1942 and inflicting the heaviest of defeats on the British and Allied forces leading to their surrender on 15 February 1942. Japan then turned its attention to Burma and the construction of 250 miles of metre gauge railway across the country to shorten supply lines. They had a significant but unwilling workforce by way of 16,000 POWs and some 180,000 Asian Romusha working with 13,000 Japanese troops trained in building railways. Thousands perished building the railway because of accidents, disease or the strict Japanese regime. But the railway did not achieve what had been expected of it. It was single track limiting capacity; the infrastructure was hastily built and the British and Allied POWs would find ways of hindering progress. Meanwhile our forces had reassembled and begun to make inroads into Burma such that, by June 1945, key bridges over the River Kwai had been seriously damaged so as to disrupt supply lines. The Japanese forces were soon to become Japanese POWs and then came surrender after Hiroshima. The railway was subsequently sold to Thai Railways and remains open between Bangkok Central and Ram Tok. There is little evidence of the railway beyond Ram Tok.

But how true to life was the 1957 film? It was filmed in then Ceylon rather than Burma and 2’ 6’’ gauge smaller Celanese locomotives and rolling stock were used rather than metre gauge. A bridge, coincidentally looking like the Forth Bridge, was built to be blown up but no bridges met their end in the book although they did in reality and in the film. A diesel shunter, out of sight, shuffled the train onto the bridge ready for the explosion scene. Regardless, the film was a major box office success but the Japanese felt insulted by it because it suggested that they could not build railways and there was concern at home because the film suggested through the role played by Alec Guinness  as the POWs’ commanding officer that the British and Allied POWs collaborated with the Japanese in the building of the railway. The reality was that the real life commander of the POWs was obdurate and unhelpful doing whatever could be done to impede progress. It was a very expensive film to make and nearly did not reach the cinema, the tapes having been lost but eventually recovered at Cairo airport!

Fascinating stuff and very entertaining too. Paul was definitely on top of his subject as the facts and fallacies flowed. And there I had been as a naive and innocent 10 year old sat in the cinema with my grandmother believing every word I heard! 

To complete the evening, Paul gave a half hour presentation about the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) and the work of the DHR Society of which he is vice chairman. Some Society members had  travelled on the DHR and a good number had enjoyed a day at The Beeches Light Railway in Oxfordshire where Adrian Shooter, Chairman of VivaRail, had recreated a little of the DHR’s atmosphere in his garden including an original DHR locomotive. The DHR Society has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Indian Railways to enhance cooperation and is twinned with the Indian Steam Railway Society. Membership now spreads to some 20 countries and its influence extends to work in the community in India.

The line had opened in 1881 primarily for freight. It is 55 miles long and rises to over 7,000 feet above sea level at Darjeeling. There are 14 steam and 16 diesel locomotives. The line has become a significant  tourism destination over the years and, for aficionados, ran a first freight charter in November 2016. The line is fragile, however, with many a land slip disrupting services. There were major incidents in 2010 and 2012 and for 6 months up to December 2017 much of the line was closed. Well illustrated and well informed, Paul did a good job selling the railway and is rightly proud of what the DHRS has achieved.

David Hinxman


13 June 2018

The Severn Railway Bridge Disaster 1960 with Alan Hayward 

It is tempting to start with a question that Alan asked towards the end of his fascinating presentation describing the fateful events of 26 October 1960 when two vessels heavily laden with fuel and oil collided in the foggy darkness of the River Severn and caught fire and then, out of control, hit pier 17 of the single track Severn Railway Bridge - was this an accident waiting to happen? 

Sharpness Docks, close to the site of the accident, are still operating today. In 1876 when work building the bridge commenced, the docks played an important role moving coal from the Forest of Dean and it was the intention that the bridge would bring the coal to the docks much more quickly. Built at the rate of about one span a week, the bridge opened on 17 October 1879 with a 15mph speed restriction but traffic was slow to materialise, largely because of the opening of the Severn Tunnel. After its completion the bridge was struck on many occasions sometimes causing the loss of life. Among these was a collision in 1943 with pier 17, the very one which collapsed on impact in the 1960 disaster. Unperturbed it would seem, in 1950 the Western Region of British Railways were in charge and they chose to ease the axle load to allow the passage of 2-6-0 locomotives. Later, 4-6-0 Castles were also considered but before this could be achieved, the bridge needed strengthening. Started in April 1960, the work was expected to take a year. By the time of the accident that October the fourth span had been reached. There was still a long way to go. Fortunately no workers were on the bridge when the collision occurred but 5 ships crew perished. The collision  ignited the cargo and not all the respective crews could swim. Meanwhile the crew of a coal train hauled by 2-6-0 no 6341 on the Sharpness side had seen the fire through the fog but, not sensing any danger, set off across the bridge thankfully reaching safety before pier 17 was struck by the blazing, entangled, drifting boats. It took time for BR to decide whether to rebuild the bridge and so, somewhat bizarrely, the strengthening work continued! There was also still time for another collision with the bridge, pier 20 being struck before the decision was taken to demolish the bridge.This was not completed until early 1970 given issues with demolition contractors.

And so the bridge was no more. BR pressed their case in court and were awarded a mere £5,000. At low tide Alan said that you can still see remnants of the bridge and the two vessels in question. So, was the bridge an accident waiting to happen? The significant number of collisions caused by the unforgiving tidal surges would suggest it was. but, to me, there also seems to have been no awareness of the likely impact of the pending opening of the Severn Tunnel. Perhaps if there had been, the fated bridge would never have been built. I was totally engrossed by Alan’s comprehensive analysis of the events and was very grateful that he glossed over the technical detail in favour of bringing the sad story to life.

David Hinxman