Reviews Of Recent Meetings
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.
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.
23 May 2018
25 years on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway with Ian Foot
Ian opened his presentation by inviting a show of hands of those who had visited the NYMR and it was clear that a majority of those present had been to the railway even though from Basingstoke it is one of the more distant heritage lines. The first half of the evening was an illustrated potted history of the Whitby and Pickering Railway from its opening as a horse drawn line in 1830 to its rebuilding as a standard gauge railway by George Hudson in 1845. Its heyday came in the early years of the 20th century followed by its decline in the 50's and 60's and its closure to passengers in 1965 and closure to all traffic a year later between Pickering and Grosmont. With no centres of population in the moors closure was inevitable. Moves to re-open the line began in 1967 in the belief that a line operated by volunteers could be financially successful. Like many heritage lines the first years were very difficult and the line struggled to survive. The granting of running powers over the Esk Valley line from the junction at Grosmont to Whitby made a very significant difference, more people now arrive in Whitby off trains from Pickering than passengers from the Esk Valley line and the opening of a second platform at Whitby in 2014 has enabled the Pickering to Whitby service to expand to 5 trains a day.
The line is run by a not-for-profit charity and Ian Foot, who now lives in the district (in retirement!) drives and fires steam engines and, when required, also drives diesel locomotives. Truly a “hands on” railwayman. The evening concluded with a showing of 80 slides, many in the spectacular scenery of Newton Dale through which the line passes. The line, which has some fearsome gradients, some as steep as 1 in 49, climbs up from the Esk Valley at Grosmont to Goathland and a summit just beyond there before the line descends to Levisham and Newton Dale valley. In BR days loads in excess of “5 on” were required to be double headed but Ian took great pride in showing that in NYMR hands “8 on” was possible and with the most powerful locos, even”10 on” was sometimes possible. The second half of the evening was a slide show featuring many of the different locos that worked the line at numerous locations. The majestic Larpole Viaduct, still standing, where the coast line to Scarborough crossed over the NYMR featured in several of the photographs of this very photogenic part of the country.
Like many heritage lines the NYMR is faced with projects requiring considerable capital expenditure such as bridge replacements and they are currently working to raise a further £2.5M finance to meet a target of £9.2M. A very entertaining evening from an enthusiastic railwayman who clearly knew his subject well.
Peter Wells / Roy Palmer
9th May 2018
Running a Modern Railway - A Personal Viewpoint with Dave Penney, Managing Director, Chiltern Railways (ED.)
This was an absorbing, interesting, entertaining and, at times, amusing session with Dave Penney, the Managing Director of Chiltern Railways, a railway enthusiast with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, 20 years a volunteer with the Cadeby Light Railway, 6 years on the Bakerloo Line, then running Eastcroft Depot at Nottingham before moving to Chiltern Railways as Engineering Director and then stepping up to Managing Director.
Dave is a very interesting man, confident but not overly so, no airs or graces, intimately familiar with every aspect of his business, driven yet extremely personable and more than happy to engage with members both at half time and over questions at the end of the evening. In a nutshell he gave us the Chiltern Railways story from the threatened closure of Marylebone to the thriving innovative franchise of today. From the veteran emus in the early days, their replacement by Class 165s and 166s, struggling on with the ever popular Class 121 single diesel railcards until relatively recently, renewing and redeveloping Birmingham Moor Street Station, reinstating double track to increase flexibility, building new stations and owning some of them, introducing and reclassifying cascaded Class 170 and 171 emus as Class 168s, the short-lived Wrexham and Shropshire open access operation, the leasing of Class 68s for an improved Marylebone-Moor Street service and, most recently, opening of the Bicester Chord to facilitate an alternative direct route to London from Oxford with new stations at Oxford Parkway with parking at £2.00 a day, and Bicester Village with direct access to the outlet shopping there.
Dave also included some interesting and unusual features in his presentation. There were plenty of photographs to help tell the story but the use of time lapse photography, for me, emphasised the scale of some of the building work involved. Watching a Class 68 take shape from nothing was novel and a cab ride over new Bicester chord was fun. An excellent evening from an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, funny and down to earth railway man.
25 April 2018
The British Transport Police since 1948 - Company Servant to Queen’s Officers with Steve Beamon of the BTP History Group
The BTP is a national special police force that polices railways and light-rail systems in England, Scotland and Wales. Seventy five percent of the Force's funding comes from Britain's privatised train companies. Before the establishment of the BTP in 1949 railway policing could be traced back to 1824 and the Stockton and Darlington Railway. In the earliest days the railway policeman’s duties included signalling, issuing tickets and law enforcement there being no formal local authority based police forces until 1856. The many railway companies employed their own staff. In 1922, a myriad of railway companies, canal companies and road haulage firms had been brought under the auspices of the BTP and, later, the London Passenger Transport Board also came under their jurisdiction. Then along came the British Transport Commission Act 1949, the cornerstone of the BTP now.
Steve gave us pen pictures of the BTP Commission's first four chiefs of police and had worked the current postholder, Paul Crowther. He explained how the first training college at St. Cross, Tadworth had developed and operated from 1948 until 2010 and that the first HQ for the force had been established in Coronation Road, Park Royal in 1959 until 1983 before moving to Tavistock Place from 1981 until 2005. It is currently in Camden. In 1962 the British Transport Commission was disbanded and the word 'Commission' was dropped from the name of the force, which became the British Transport Police. British Road Services and Inland Waterways were no longer within the BTP’s jurisdiction and in 1984 Associated British Ports decided it longer required the BTP’s services. As the years passed the needs and demands of modern society would have a significant impact. Trams in the Midlands and Croydon in 1999/2000 placed new demands upon the force; in December 2001 jurisdiction includes anti-terrorism; Police Community Liaison Officers with power to arrest arrive in 2004, and, from 2012, jurisdiction was extended to include the setting up of firearms units
Interspersed with plenty of anecdotes and concluding with a lively question and answer session, tonight's meeting came at railways from a different angle and prompted points from the floor. Steve had his own experiences to refer to bringing a personal touch and, the service being what it is, humorous situations abounded tempered very much by the impact of responding to crime and accidents. Pretty sobering at times but a different and enjoyable evening nevertheless.
11 April 2018
A Rambling Railwayman’s Recollections with Geoff Burch
Tonight was Geoff’s third visit to the Society in recent times, returning to enlighten and entertain us with more tales from his long and varied and mainly railway career spanning from 1961 to 2009. With the later years of his career spent delivering training, Geoff was very much at ease in front of his audience tonight.
His previous session with us ended with him about to transfer to Woking as a second man. He was 21 years of age and impatiently waiting for his 23rd birthday when he would qualify as a driver. In the meantime he worked with Class 33s, 73s and 74s before passing as a driver in 1969 and working on 4 SUBs, 2 HAPs, 2 BILs and 4 COR Nelsons. Driver training on Cromptons and Electro-Diesels followed soon after. His first appointment as a driver was at Effingham Junction for a year before returning to Woking to drive spoil and stone trains, then REPs and Cross Country 47s. He had driven the very last Class 33 push/pull from Waterloo to Salisbury.
In 1987 Waterloo Training School beckoned and it was not long before he was appointed senior instructor there training drivers on Class 319s, the Gatwick Express and Class 456 emus and, at Salisbury, Class 158s and 159s. Privatisation in 1994 brought a period of significant change and saw Geoff take voluntary redundancy after 33 years service to British Rail. Soon afterwards he began an 11 year IT training career with Surrey Police and 10 different job titles but in 2005 he took he opportunity to join Southwest Trains as part of their training team in Basingstoke where he stayed until retiring in 2009.
It was clear that Geoff had thoroughly enjoyed his railway and Surrey Police careers as evidenced by the numerous tales he had to tell. Many of his stories were very amusing and made us chuckle but, given his time on the railways, it was inevitable that others would bring home the impact on drivers, their families and colleagues and the public at large of railway accidents, large and small. This was a down-to-earth session from a man with railways in his blood and I sensed that he hasn’t finished yet.
28 March 2018
Mulhouse Meanderings with Richard Green
It was a pleasure to welcome Honorary Member Richard Green back for his annual visit to relate the comings and goings of the Society’s trip to Europe at the end of May 2017, by Eurostar via Paris to Mulhouse from where there was ready access also to Germany and Switzerland. Richard’s technical wizardry was again on show bringing together a wide selection of photographs submitted by those taking part to make for an interesting and informative evening for all. As usual several friends and former work colleagues of Richard were in the audience to enjoy his singular sense of humour.
Despite Bank Holiday chaos at St. Pancras and some associated delay, onward travel on the first day went to plan and the party duly arrived at Mulhouse in good time to check in at the hotel and walk the short distance back towards the town centre to eat. The first full day involved tram/trains from Mulhouse to Thann St. Jacques and return to France’s national railway museum, the Cite du Train on the outskirts of Mulhouse to view the impressive selection of locomotives and related railway artefacts there. Mid afternoon, the party set off for the attractive town of Colmar where a canal boat trip felt obligatory. It was a step down to the canal boat but no one got their feet wet. The canals were not extensive so the trip was soon over leaving time to explore before the day was brought to a close at a local restaurant in the bustling town centre for a very enjoyable evening meal.
On the Sunday, the party headed for Haltingen for a one-way trip on the Kandertalbahn where steam was running in glorious sunshine behind an Austrian 2-8-2 tank loco built in 1927. There was barely time for a photo of the loco before departure but several were taken at Kandern before the bus arrived for the journey back to Basel Bad Station and a group ticket was settled with the driver. Then a minor hiccup: on arrival from Basel Bad Station the departure platform at Basel main station was empty; the scheduled train had been cancelled. With Swiss efficiency, a replacement soon arrived and within half an hour the group was at Olten, a busy railway location. After just over an hour there everyone reconvened and headed for Biel/Bienne to take a bus to the local funicular, a quick trip up and down as our intrepid travellers were now running a little late, and a bus back to the station to start the journey back to Mulhouse.
Now it’s Monday already! Just one more day left before the party heads back to Basingstoke. The challenge today was too see the impressive waterfalls at Schaffhausen and then, by way of several tight changes, get to railway hot-spots at Pratteln and Liestal in Switzerland with the option of a trip on the threatened 750mm gauge Waldenburgerbahn from Liestal out to Waldenburg and back. Getting to the falls involved a trip via Zurich to Schaffhausen and then a short 5 minute train journey to Schloss Laufen where a boat was taken across the water in front of the falls to the other side and back. There was some uncertainty here, however, as to how to get to Neuhausen Reinfall, the planned departure station, and most did not attempt it, returning to Schaffhausen the way they had come. Schaffhausen to Pratteln was achieved in six moves and they went like clockwork despite an unscheduled platform change. At worst there was some breathlessness but everyone had recovered by arrival at Pratteln where there was plenty of action to record for some whilst others headed for Liestal and roadside running up to Waldenburg and back. Then, back at Mulhouse, a first - an Indian meal in a private downstairs room at a restaurant called Mantra. No Chinese meal in 2017.
On the final day, Tuesday, the Bown's headed off for their French residence and and Andy, Ian and John headed off for Swiss Railway hot-spots. The remainder of the group left Mulhouse on the 09.16 for Strasbourg. On arrival soon after 10.00, there were 5 hours for exploration before the 15.10 from Strasbourg to Lille Europe. The priority was to take a tram across the very new bridge taking the newly extended tram line from the outskirts of Strasbourg across the border canal to Kehl in Germany. Mission accomplished, the party then split up to follow their own preferences, some to the European Parliament building, some to follow railway interest and others to the attractive town centre, including a trek to the cathedral's high viewing point. Gathered all together, the party were back at St. Pancras soon after 8.00pm and at Basingstoke by 9.30pm - another European trip successfully completed.
And so 2017’s European trip was put to bed and, as usual, I left with the impression that everyone at the meeting had very much enjoyed Richard's recollections of it, his humour, his story telling and the contributions made by his fellow travellers either by way of supplying photographs or, perhaps a little embarrassingly at times, appearing in them. Everything was taken in good heart and there were plenty of laughs as well as recognition of the hard work put in by David Brace in pulling the whole trip together
14 March 2018
Operation Dynamo - Railways to the Rescue with Peter Tatlow
Making a return visit to the Society, Peter told the story of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of some 300,000 troops from Dunkirk and its environs over a period of ten days, an average of 30,000 each day, including a significant number French, and the significant part played by the Southern, the Great Western, the London Midland and Scottish, and the London and North Eastern Regions as well as the London Transport Passenger Board in dispersing the often tired, battle worn and exhausted soldiers from the South Coast on their arrival after their hazardous journey back to England from Northern France. Peter’s father had been among those brought safely home on 2 June 1941.
Peter briefly outlined the key moments leading up to he Declaration of War and went on to explain how the need to evacuate had come about: after progressing through Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands the German army was making a rapid approach through France towards the English Channel and Allied Forces were under serious threat. At home, children were evacuated away from London and the South and buses and coaches were requisitioned for use as ambulances and ambulance trains were formed in readiness for the arrival of the wounded among the evacuees.
On the evacuees’ arrival on these shores trains were loaded up with their human cargo and sent on their way largely to the country inland away from danger. A small number were taken north. In all 620 special trains were run. Peter showed an interesting selection of images of trains crammed with soldiers at Dover Marine and elsewhere, changing trains at Ashford, Redhill and Guildford for more distant locations, trains returning to the South Coast for their next mission, constant turn rounds to keep services running and, in true British spirit in difficult times, housewives serving meals on station platforms and, in some cases, when trains had to stop in loop lines, reaching up with sandwiches to soldiers leaning from open coach windows.
It would not be long before fighting units would be reformed as the troops recovered from their ordeal and they would be heading back across the Channel. In this context, Peter ended on a sombre note by reading a poem his father had written about his wartime experience and the withdrawal from France in particular. Many of those evacuated did not return to the Front, including Peter’s father, who had been declared unfit for further service and accordingly returned to his work. The evening concluded with a question and answer session during which several members related their own stories of events in the Basingstoke area handed down to them from family.
Not as long a presentation as we may be used to and a little short on specific railway interest perhaps but, from my perspective, nonetheless an interesting session covering a topic which many of us may have taken for granted without a true appreciation of the scale of the task and of the many logistical obstacles that somehow were overcome to allow our troops to rest and reassemble.
28 February 2018
The Settle - Carlisle Railway: A Perspective on England’s most spectacular Railway with John Harrison
If you had been expecting an evening full of images of steam hauled passenger and freight trains slogging uphill from Settle Junction or diesels on local stoppers and through trains after the end of steam you would probably have been disappointed tonight. John Harrison, our speaker this evening and a longtime Friend of the Settle and Carlisle, showed several train pictures most of which he had taken himself but the primary emphasis of his presentation was on its history and construction, its near closure in the 1980s and its resurgence since - particularly from a tourism point of view, the drop in coal and gypsum traffic having had an adverse impact on the level of freight traffic.
After a brief résumé of the local topography and geology and the challenges soft and hard rock would create for railway construction, John explained how the Midland Railway eventually came to build the line despite having sought to abandon the Bill they had proposed for it because the LNWR had eventually made concessions to accommodate MR traffic. Parliament , however, would have none of it and so work had to start, 1:100 between Settle Junction northwards to the Eden Valley to suit the MR’s locomotives which were less powerful than those operated by their competitors. The line is engineered to follow the natural pathways through the hills of the Pennines because it was also designed for high-speed running to compete for Anglo-Scottish passengers. As a result, the local population was perhaps not as well served as they might have been. The line opened on 1 May 1876.
John then went on to describe the major obstacles to be overcome, the most significant being due to the lie of the land: 20 viaducts would be constructed; 14 tunnels as well as stations and signal boxes along the 72 miles of the railway. The viaducts required significant ground works to ensure that pier foundations were secure. Moorcock viaduct, also known as Dandry Mire viaduct had begun its life as an embankment but, after wagon loads of material – some ¾ million cubic feet of earth - disappeared into the Mire, there was a change of plan and the viaduct was built. Blea Moor tunnel was dug outwards evidenced still by mounds of spoil above the finished article. There are a number of tell-tale signs along the route of the shanty towns lived in by the navvies and the routes used to transport materials and machinery about such that the Friends give guided tours nowadays.
There was heavy use of the line during wartime but by the 1960s rumblings about closure began and during the 1970s and 80s these grew to a crescendo as the ploys used to close the Great Central became more and more apparent: the stopping of through trains, station closures, unattractive services and so on. However, there was huge opposition to its proposed closure including a petition with 40,000 signatures. John had spoken against the closure at the Inquiry and many of us will remember the national prominence given to the matter and the remedial action taken to improve the line after the decision was taken to keep it open. It’s current significance was reiterated in 2017 when millions of pounds were spent at Eden Brows to future proofing the line following a land slip and a lengthy line closure.
The Friends are now part of a four way partnership with responsibilities for promoting and protecting the line for commuters’, holidaymakers’ and business’ benefit. Long may that continue. Not many trains on show tonight but plenty to enjoy and marvel at: the amazing scenery, the many monuments to those who built the railway particularly in the form of viaducts and tunnels, the isolation of many stations from their communities, the loneliness of the Blea Moor signalman and, occasionally, the appalling weather.
14 February 2018
Railways and the Raj with Christian Wolmar
From the very beginning of his presentation, Christian Wolmar declared his love of India and of the country's railways. That shone through in tonight's talk, based on his latest book (Railways and the Raj: How the Age of Steam Transformed India), the seventh that he has written on the origins and impact of railways across the world.
The origins of India's railway system lie in Britain and with Britain's imperial role on the Indian sub-continent. In the mid-19th century, some 20 years after the commercial viability of railways had been demonstrated in Britain, Lord Dalhousie pressed for the creation of a network of railways across India and prepared a plan for the whole country. British engineers and engineering skills led the construction process and much of the early network was financed by British investors.
The investment was, of course, not philanthropic – investors were guaranteed a 5% return on their capital to be paid by the Indian Government and funded from local taxation.
Whilst initially there were uncertainties about the potential of the railways to succeed, the doubts were very quickly dispelled. Christian rattled through significant features of the railways' history, including the realisation after the Indian Mutiny of 1857 that the railways provided the means for the rapid deployment of troops necessary to quell unrest. Much of the planned network was complete by the 1890s, but its very existence reinforced the role of the colonial power: Indians were not allowed to drive the locomotives even if they had been firemen for 30 years and they were excluded from other senior jobs; whilst first class services were very comfortable, travelling conditions for local people remained basic; and the railways were required to use locomotives built in Britain, thereby thwarting the development of a locomotive construction industry in India.
These factors contributed to the railways becoming a focus of protest for the independence movement in the 20th century and when that came in 1947, Indian Railways was created although many railways had been nationalised earlier.
Christian's talk was a little brief and he padded out the second half with some of his own recent pictures, but he is an entertaining speaker and packed in many interesting details and anecdotes. If you want to know more you will have to get hold of the book! When asked, however, why the somewhat unusual main track gauges of one metre (on a British-built railway?) and 5'6” were adopted, Christian had to admit that he hadn't been able to find the reasons.
24 January 2018
AGM followed by Chasing China Steam 2 with Andy Fewster
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 2018 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 AGM, Society member Andy Fewster took up where he had left off at our meeting on 7June 2016 to tell us more of his travels chasing steam in China between 2004 and 2014. Our first stop was at the Jingpeng Railway operated by state railway China Rail, the Ji-Tong-Line in Inner Mongolia, and he concluded with a visit to the Jixi coal system, an industrial operation based on the city of Jixi with a population of nearly 2 million in southeastern Heilongjiang Province.
The lengthy Jingpeng line took in the very rural Jingpeng Pass and, in 2004, was where to find the impressive QJ Class 2-10-2 locomotives built between 1964 and 1988. All were gone by December 2005 save for two examples kept for special occasions. The locos, very often double headed, were habitually seen hauling long and heavy coal or oil trains often with a smattering of box cars and Andy spoilt us with an impressive selection of images of them straining every sinew over viaducts and winding up circuitous spirals to gain height in this desolate and unwelcoming terrain. The line had only opened in 1995.
The bitter cold and widespread snow made the photographer’s life an uncomfortable one but what wonderful results our intrepid traveller had achieved. The Jixi coal system was the preserve of SY Class 2-8-2 tender locomotives of Japanese heritage. The line linked coal mines in and around Jixi to China Rail's line from Jiamusi to Mudanjiang. Visiting during winter, Andy had again been able to record industrial steam at work in conditions which were challenging because of the cold and snow but very rewarding from the images he showed, especially his evening selection oozing atmosphere as locomotives belched smoke and steam in the snowy dark against the backdrop of bright yard lights. The environment could not have been more different from the QJs as tips of waste attracted large numbers of people scavenging for lumps of coal taking their lives into their own hands as they scrambled around on unstable and steeply inclined tips.
What memories Andy’s photographs must hold for him including, no doubt, the bitter cold and extreme conditions. Where once were the magnificent QJs there are now modern powerful diesel locomotives. Steam finished in Jixi in 2012 to be replaced by refurbished dc electric locomotives, and the locals continue their struggle to sustain themselves. A sobering thought so let’s get back to tonight. A wonderful show and many breathtaking photographs as well as plenty of humorous anecdotes to add to our enjoyment. Chasing China Steam Part 2 was well worth the wait.
10 JANUARY 2018
THE PRINCE OF WALES - BRITAIN’S MOST POWERFUL STEAM LOCOMOTIVE with CHRIS ARDY
We were all probably aware of the work being done by the P2 Steam Locomotive Company to build a new locomotive in the form of its original construction in the 1930s and tonight we had the opportunity to hear all about the project and it’s progress on behalf of the Company through Chris Ardy.
Chris began with a resume of the six original P2s’ construction as 2-8-2s, the distinctive design of the first two, the A4 look of the last four and the subsequent rebuilding of all of the Class by Thompson as Pacifics. Their arrival had generated much publicity and media attention as evidenced by busy scenes at Kings Cross among other venues. The new build P2 will be numbered 2007, following on from 2001 - 2006, and named Prince of Wales. Plans for the entire locomotive had been drawn using 3D Computer Aided Design and, from the drawings we saw, it was clear how much the building of Tornado would benefit the P2 project by using similar parts. Performance would be improved too. The boiler will be interchangeable with Tornado's. There was a short video of TV personality James May making the smokebox dart which gave the project welcome publicity whilst work pressed on towards the completion target of 2021. On that score, the wheels have been made and their tyres delivered but the axles had had to be returned to South Africa to be remade having been machined incorrectly. The cab and smokebox had been assembled. All electricals will be high specification with LED lights. The Company's current thinking is to ‘keep it simple’. This will make wiring the engine much easier and upgrades will be simpler too.
The major design tasks for the next 12 months are completion of the modified pony truck design and manufacturing drawings, conversion of outside motion brackets from castings to fabrications, production of manufacturing drawings for brake and spring gear, refinement of the cylinder design and production of manufacturing drawings for and completion of the design of the valve gear. The Company is working with Darlington Borough Council to expand its facilities but all this requires money and Chris outlined all the various opportunities available for financial contributions to be made.
This was an absorbing session full of interest and detail and demonstrating vision and commitment. When Tornado entered service someone said 'what are we going to do now?' The new P2 is the answer and we wish them well in their endeavours. Progress is steady and, from Chris Ardy's presentation tonight, there is every expectation that the new P2, representing an icon of 1930s streamlining and enhanced to meet modern technical demands and standards, will grace our tracks once more in the not too distant future.
20 December 2017
The Great St. Trinian’s Train RobberyStarring Frankie Howerd, George Cole and Dora Bryan and featuring Reg Varney, Richard Wattis and Terry Scott, this 1966 colour film in which the all-girls school foil an attempt by train robbers to recover two and a half million pounds hidden in their school, was enjoyed by all with laughs a-plenty. Two Ministry of Supply Austerity 0-6-0ST Tank Engines featured, one mocked up to resemble a J50 and temporarily renumbered 68961, but in reality was WD157 Constantine. The other was WD196 Errol Lonsdale, which was at the Watercress Line when the line was in its infancy. A green Hampshire DEMU, no. 1102, also appeared carrying the police contingent as they charged back and forth chasing the robbers. Good old-fashioned fun this evening with a very enjoyable buffet courtesy of the Wote Street Club.
6 December 2017
A View from the Window … A Look at Sweden's Railways with Alan Norris
The window in question was in the house of Society member Alan's son who has lived in Gnesta, about 40 miles outside Stockholm, with a view of the main line south west to Malmo and Goteborg, for the last 15 years. Alan's visits to see the family have given him an intimate knowledge of Sweden, its rail network and its trains.
Alan's presentation was enhanced by the inclusion of many maps of the rail network past and present which gave those of us without a knowledge of the country a good understanding of what we were seeing in his pictures and where they were. To set the railways in context, we learned that Sweden is a country of only 9.8 million people, that Stockholm is a relatively small capital city of 1.35 million and the second city, Goteborg, some 282 miles distant, has a population of 540,000.
Whilst the rail network, begun in 1856, extends north over 900 miles to Narvik (in Norway) much of the 7,967 mile network is in the south of the country. Only 1,250 miles of the network is double track but 4,920 miles are overhead electrified at 15kV. There are 171 miles of an unusual 891mm narrow gauge suburban network. Having suffered significant closures in the 1950 – 1980 period, the railways have more recently seen a resurgence with investment in speed enhancement, easing of bottlenecks and new rolling stock.
Long distance services run at up to 200 km/hr, many with X2000 push-pull tilting trains or with X55 4-coach EMUs. Alan showed us these trains and local services using 3-coach double-deck EMUs (also capable of 200km/hr) and 2-coach EMUs, often articulated, and rural lines operated by a variety of DMUs, some single-coach. We also saw smart stations, historic and modern. In rural areas the railways run connecting bus services, some using large vehicles accommodating luggage, mail and even palleted cargo.
Public transport in Stockholm is provided by a single operator, coordinating heavy-rail trains, underground trains, trams, the narrow gauge network, buses and ferries. A new link in the city has an underwater bridge. Work that one out!
Train travel has increased by 80% in the last 25 years, with a commensurate increase in the frequency of services on the main routes. To increase capacity and flexibility, double-track sections are bi-directionally signalled and new 'bypass' lines have been constructed. However, lest we think that all things Scandinavian are successful and efficient, Alan showed us two recent embarrassing projects – a 5-mile tunnel on the Goteborg to Malmo line begun in 1993, abandoned in 1997, recommenced in 2003 and finally finished in 2015 at a cost 10-times the original estimate and the trains on the new airport line at Stockholm with door openings well above the standard Swedish platform height which precludes their use on any other lines.
Alan's absorbing talk was packed with interesting details and accompanied by excellent and varied photographs of his subject matter.
22 November 2017
Gosling’s Gallivants Again with Paul Gosling
As was to be expected, Paul put on an interesting and varied show tonight as he romped through his Gallivants in 2016 and, as usual, there was plenty of amusement and laughter as he shared his experiences with us, beginning with an RCTS visit to Arlington Services in the former Eastleigh Railway Works. Space here was rented out to all sorts of activities by the owner, many railway related but not all. Locomotives and multiple units were maintained and repaired there and repainted but it at was also home to taxi services, bus services and acted as a depot for Eastleigh Borough Council vehicles. Work came from all over the UK.
Next up as a trip to Croydon’s trams followed by visits to Reading for some imaginative railway photography making the most of the new station’s soaring lines and self-cleaning windows and Didcot before crossing The Solent for the naming of the new Red Jet 6 by the Princess Royal and associated special events. Another visit to the island centred on the Isle of Wight Railway at Haven Street and the new maintenance facilities and museum there.
At Kensington Olympia Paul had joined the Weybourne Wanderer to the North Norfolk Railway and return with Hastings demu 1001. Crowds had gathered at the Sheringham level crossing as the special made its way across and we saw 9F 92203 Black Prince and 8572 in pristine condition. Despite its title, the train passed straight through Weybourne Station on both the outward and return journeys!
Nearer home, 2016 had seen the 150th anniversary of the opening of Netley Station with its associated celebrations and also the 40th anniversary of Southampton FC winning the FA Cup. Both events had involved Paul’s bus group and he had been on hand to record proceedings. We also saw the results of photographic opportunities Paul had taken whilst doing survey work at Millbrook Station: double headed Class 50s from Derby to Swanage, Network Rail’s all yellow HST banana train and steam specials featuring Jubilee Galatea and Royal Scot Scots Guardsman among the highlights. Paul rounded the evening off with a visit to Salisbury recording plenty of varied activity there with 6201’s manoeuvring catching the eye.
Paul’s fondness for all things transport shone throughout his presentation and his enthusiasm never diminishes. An enjoyable evening for one and all.
8th November 2017
The Railways of Southampton with Gordon Adams of the Reading Transport Group
Railways in and around Southampton had been in Gordon’s family for 120 years and, this evening, his family connection was to serve him well. Gordon crammed plenty of information into his presentation covering the Docks, Southampton to Redbridge, Southampton to Netley and, via Northam, to Southampton Terminus.
Gordon's admirable and extensive collection of prints, photographs and postcards showing changes over the years provided invaluable pictorial evidence of the subject matter. It is hard to believe that The Solent up the 1920s lapped so close to the walls of the Central station and towards Millbrook and that so much land has been reclaimed from the sea but it will still be fresh in the memories of some just how extensive the railway system within the docks became and the interesting variety of locomotives and rolling stock which could be found there: the USA tanks, Class 07 diesel shunters, Ocean Liner Expresses and, still now, the Class 66s which cross Canute Road on a regular basis.
Gordon's presentation was well received and generated much interest and comment. You could tell his affection for his home town and its railways and I know that I have not mentioned every aspect here. However, his last two images were telling: Britannia Class 70004 William Shakespeare, an exceptional visitor to the area in the 1960s, leaving the docks with a banana train and passing an area known as Chapel which had changed beyond all recognition since. These were his favourite ever photographs and clearly their local significance resonated with him very strongly.
27th September 2017
Society Photographic Competition
Here are this year’s results:
Steam: 1. Sandra Brace
2. Ian Francis
3= John Clark; Tony Wright; David Brace
Non-steam: 1.Ian Francis
Metros and Light Rail Systems:
Infrastructure & Miscellaneous:
1= David Brace; Ian Francis
2 .David Hinxman
3= Wally Stamper; Andy Fewster
The overall winner was Ian Francis’ non-steam entry, a Class 59 on an up stone train passing Crofton.All of these photographs can be seen on the Society’s website. I plan to have the winning shot on the cover of the December newsletter with the category winners’ shots on the inside page, all in colour. Well done to everyone who entered.
13th September 2017
150 Years of the London Underground with Barry LeJeune
Tonight Barry LeJeune brought us a history of London Underground from 1850 to 2000. He was well qualified to do so - Barry's entire working life had been with London Underground, from leaving school in 1963 until taking retirement in 2000 from the post of Head of Customer Relations. He currently continues his association with 'The Tube' through his Chairmanship of the Friends of the London Transport Museum.
His story began with the growing influx of people to London in the middle of the 19th Century, a situation exacerbated by the Great Exhibition in 1851 which attracted even greater numbers and rendered journeys across London very difficult. A solution had to be found and it was from this situation that the first sub-surface railway emerged: the beginnings of the Metropolitan in 1863 between Paddington and Farringdon Street. The largely 'cut and cover' excavations created havoc in the capital for some years. By 1886 the Circle Line was in place and in 1890 the Prince of Wales opened the Central London Railway from Shepherd's Bush to Bank (the 'Twopenny Tube'). This is now part of the Central line. In 1905 the first electric services were operated, steam locomotives having hauled trains until then from the 1860s: loco numbers were reused so Metropolitan No. 1 which many of us may have seen operating on preserved lines is not the original No1. That is in the London Transport Museum.
In the 1920s and 1930s architect Charles Holden created a range of iconic station designs reflecting his simple modernist style, many of which survive today and have been listed as being of considerable historic interest. As London grew during this period so routes expanded and existing lines were extended. Growth continued at such a pace that in 1933 all underground services were unified and became part of the London Passenger Transport Board. The Board took control of all the Capital's railway, bus, tram, trolleybus and coach services. Also in 1933 Harry Beck's diagrammatic Underground map first appeared.
During WWII many tube station platforms were used as air raid shelters whilst some were closed to store British Museum treasures and to provide accommodation for Government. Some 5 years later the first aluminium train entered service on the District line. Demand continued to rise and in 1969 the Victoria Line opened followed in 1970 by the GLC taking over the Underground; in 1971 steam motive power was eliminated; in 1977, H.M. The Queen opened Heathrow Central station (Terminals 1, 2 and 3) on the Piccadilly line and in 1979, the Prince of Wales opened the Jubilee line which itself would be opened further in 1999. Meanwhile in 1986 the Piccadilly Line had been extended to Heathrow Terminal 4. Operational requirements also saw quite a number of station closures over the years as well as the Central Line branch from Epping to Ongar but continued passenger growth and technological change demanded ongoing development alongside the introduction of new rolling stock, signalling and infrastructure. By 2000, when Barry retired, the Docklands Light Railway had been introduced and the Canary Wharf development provided new opportunities for further expansion of the London Underground. Barry experienced phenomenal change in his time with the Underground. What would those digging tunnels with picks and shovels in the early days make of modern tunnel boring machines I wonder?
But tonight it did not all stop there. As an additional part of his talk Barry went on to tell us about the reintroduction of Steam on the Met and the part that the Friends of the Museum had played to bring it about. It seemed that being offered coach 353 from a private garden in Sussex in 1974 had played a major part. This turned out to be an original Metropolitan Jubilee vehicle built in 1892. It was accepted gladly by the Friends in return for a garden seat! It was restored to immaculate condition at the Ffestiniog Railway and in 2013 it ran in passenger service as part of the Underground 150 steam train programme behind Metropolitan No.1. As well as shots recording this and other similar London Underground events we also saw 'behind the scenes' images of trial runs and testing, sometimes behind LSWR Beattie well tank no.30587. In conclusion and bringing us up to date, we also saw Met. No. 1 and coach 353 at other locations, Class 20s in London Transport liveries and the Museum's 4TC stock which recently had been at the Swanage Railway.Apologies for this review being a tad longer than usual but I found it difficult to decide what to leave out and still present a comprehensive picture. For me the chronology was an important part of the story of how and why the Underground has developed as it has. Barry's talk was very well received as clearly shown by the enthusiastic response when he brought it to a close and he will, hopefully, have caught his train home feeling that he had done a good job. Don't forget that you only need hop over to the Isle of Wight to see examples of the 1938 stock still in operation.
23 August 2017
South Africa with Norman Hogg
Society member Norman gave us a striking video presentation this evening of three tours of which he had been a part starting with The Golden Thread in August 1997 from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn and back, The Cape Namibian in 2004, and finally, starting just two weeks after the first tour, The Zambezi from Cape Town to Victoria Falls.
Although just 20 years ago, the two 1997 tours, and for that matter the 2004 trip, illustrated just how different things were then although footage of steam locomotives looking the worse for wear dumped in yards and at sheds was indicative of the direction in which things were going. That said, there was still heavyweight steam in operation sharing freight and passenger work with diesel traction. There were too many different classes of each for me to keep up with but there was plenty of impressive footage of powerful Garretts shunting in yards as locals wandered across the tracks or double heading with other locos and creating explosive scenes. Run pasts were part of all of the tours and many impressive locations featured allowing loco crews to put on a good show. The curvature of the 3' 6'' track added to the impact as the long trains and a telephoto lens emphasised the visual effect.
Each of the three tours had a different attraction but comfort and good food seemed to be pre-eminent. The Golden Thread, headed by North British built 4-8-4 Class xx no. 3417, set off for an area well known for its grapes and wine. The Zambezi's objective, again starting with 3417 in charge, was a stop on the famous bridge over the Victoria Falls, footage of which Norman had enjoyed from the air during what he described as a precarious helicopter trip. During this tour, Kimberley and Mafikeng were names to conjure with from a historic perspective as the special ventured into Botswana whilst Bulawayo teemed with steam and railway activity.
Our appreciation of the third tour, The Namibian in 2004, was aided by Norman's brief history lesson explaining how, over the last 150 years or so, the country had gone from being part of the German empire before falling under British control and finally gaining its independence in 1990. The railway had developed over this period with different gauges before setting on the South African norm of 3'6''. En route across the desert we stopped at De Aar which Norman described as the Namibian equivalent of Crewe. The capital, Windhoek, housed the national railway museum and was also a very busy railway centre.
For those who love their steam locomotion this evening was a treat and there were plenty of diesels operating too for those with a more modern bent but there was also plenty of social, economic and cultural interest.
For Norman it must have brought back some wonderful memories whilst for the audience I suspect there were some who said to themselves that they would have loved to have been there savouring the sounds and smell of steam (tinged with oil vapour at times).
9th August 2017
An (incomplete) A-Z of Pre-Grouping Railway Picture Postcards with John Hollands
This evening John presented an amazing selection of railway picture postcards from the pre-grouping era. He reminded us that, in its day, the picture postcard was used like present day text messages and emails. In the early days, the address of the receiver was put on one side and the message and sender on the other leaving only a small space for a picture. Senders got around this by putting the message on the same side as the address and soon Royal Mail specified splitting one side in two so that the address and message were on one side and a full picture could be put on the other. The golden era of postcards was between 1902 and 1914. The pictures also improved when the UK adopted the Continental size of 5½ by 3½ in. Not many people owned cameras so postcards were a good alternative.
Main publishers numbered only a handful and some railway companies also published details of their trains and the areas they served. The most prolific publisher was the Locomotive Publishing Company, set up by two former employees of the GER. In order to supply colour postcards, they used a technique of black and white photographs overpainted in oils. Of the railway companies, the most prolific producer of postcards was the London & North Western who sold at least 10 million cards.
John worked his way through the alphabet, each letter being illustrated with cards covering subjects such as locomotives from companies or locations. The Great Central included Woodhead. The Great Eastern had the Decapod, the Great Northern an 0-8-2T and the Great Western the Great Bear. The LNWR selection was fairly extensive and included Bushey Troughs, Shap, flooding at Walsall and the accident at Shrewsbury in 1907. Q was neatly dealt with – the worst railway accident in the UK – Quintishill in 1915 – for which a number of postcards were produced showing different scenes from the multiple crash.
We also had examples of overseas railways such as Austria, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France and Germany. The Canadian cards were of particular interest being part of a set of 8 showing the spiral tunnels on the Canadian Pacific route through the tunnels at a time when expensive works were carried out to ease the gradients. A French locomotive from the PLM company was also interesting – a Windcutter – streamlined to cope with the Mistral wind in southern France. Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA all provided examples.
More eccentric or unusual postcards included Invicta in a museum in Whitstable, flooding at Lewes and the Volks electric railway in Brighton and, towards the end, John showed us postcards connected with WW1 which included enlisting posters and the LBSCR 4-6-4T Remembrance.This was a very entertaining evening made possible by John’s extensive postcard collection and his equally extensive knowledge of the subject
26th July 2017
Headlamps and Headboards with Peter Simmonds
At the outset Peter outlined the nature of this evening's presentation. It was to be an informal exploration of the variety of ways in which railway companies used headcodes, headlamps and headboards to convey information at the head of a train to staff and passengers. Whilst scanning black and white images he had come to the conclusion that this was an area worthy of further investigation and consideration and something which groups with an interest in railways, such as the Society, might enjoy and be able to contribute towards. As his talk progressed it became apparent that there were plenty of situations that he had uncovered where he had yet to find an answer. As a result, therefore, I felt that this was more a work in progress but, equally, in terms of engagement, Peter gave the membership plenty of opportunities to chip in
His methodology was thorough, taking us through all the various standard headcodes and headlamp positions and illustrating them with black and white images of trains carrying them. He drew attention to exceptions operated by the Midland Railway and the Somerset and Dorset and he explained the Southern's own arrangements. Headcodes by way of train numbering had, over the years, also operated different arrangements using one, two, three and four digit systems, early diesel locomotives having headcode boxes built-in. Again their use was demonstrated by showing examples of each. Peter spent little time on the use of headboards, however, and showed just five from across the regions. Unfortunately he had found very few examples in his collection of photographs. On that basis I felt that perhaps he might have been better off concentrating on headlamps and headcodes where there seemed to be plenty of scope for further investigation and analysis.This was not a lively meeting and, for me had a 'monochrome' feel about it but it was one of interest just the same and many engaged in dialogue with Peter in 'question and answer' mode at the end. Am I alone in thinking that a little colour would have given it a bit of a lift?