Railways At War

Over 70 Years Since War Was Declared But What Part Did Our Railways Play?

By far the largest part of the burden of war production fell on the railways.
The materials to build the new war factories, the raw materials to make the munitions of war, the men and women who fashion them as well as the finished products, had all to be carried on the railways.
Loads ranging from the heaviest naval guns and tanks to the lightest rifles and pieces of equipment rolled along the railways. Aircraft, petrol and fuels; ammunition, bombs, mines, shells and foodstuffs, the list is endless.
Heavy consignments were continually being carried to British shipyards, helping them to achieve new records in building and repairing merchantmen and warships.
Vast tonnages of high explosives were handled through the railways’ freight services, thousands upon thousands of tons of dangerous goods were safely conveyed.
In addition to railway equipment sent abroad at the beginning of the war, one hundred and forty-three powerful British railway freight locomotives, specially equipped for service overseas, with tenders and the necessary spare parts were despatched. 1,600 steel-framed 12-ton wagons were built and sent overseas in double-quick time. By working day and night shifts, the 1,800 parts required to complete each wagon were fitted together at the railway assembling works so that a new wagon was turned out every 37 minutes!

Railways assisted in the construction of the new factories. Bricks and building supplies were conveyed as fast as they could be absorbed. Sidings were laid into fields, signal boxes built, new factory stations erected and services arranged both inside and outside the factory areas. Some of the factories were served by main lines, others, some miles from the nearest towns, were linked by specially built spur lines. The breaking-up of industry into dispersed units for strategic reasons meant that instead of carrying materials, goods, and workers in bulk into large centres, the railways had to cater for smaller consignments to many additional destinations. Often the raw materials required by the factories were heavy while the products are light. This meant that the wagons which bring the raw materials to the factories were not suitable to distribute the finished product, so that the demand on transport was a double one.
Seven thousand additional trains were run every week to convey workers to and from Government factories. At one factory alone nearly a quarter of a million train journeys were made by workers in over 400 trains every week. At another factory 200,000 people travelled by over 350 trains.
Millions of people also worked at privately-owned factories on war work. These were carried by the railways’ ordinary train services, augmented as necessary. During 1942, 400 million passenger journeys were made by the holders of Workmen’s Tickets.

Amongst the heaviest freight trains were “block” coal trains worked by the L.M.S. from Midland collieries to the South. These were hauled by Garratt locomotives with 86 13-ton wagons which, together with the brake van, exceed 1,400 tons. Iron ore trains weighing as much as 1,700 tons were hauled by two L.N.E.R. locomotives of medium size. G.W.R. locomotives of the 2-8-0 type also hauled heavy loads such as 49 20-ton wagons of coal between Swindon and London, the gross weights including the brake van being 1,490 tons.
Locomotives of the British railways attained huge mileages, 100,000 miles being frequently run between general repairs. On the G.W.R. freight engines recorded 1,500 miles between Mondays and Fridays, and L.M.S. diesel locomotives work 144 hours continuously every week. Express passenger locomotives which prior to the war worked exclusively on passenger trains were being used for the haulage of war goods trains. The stock of locomotives became more of a standard design and engines were being used over much wider areas, resulting in a much smaller variety of spare parts, less time required for fitting them, and less manufacture. Strenuous efforts were made to speed up repairs to railway locomotives and to keep as many in traffic as long as possible without overhaul.

Spread throughout Britain there were 544,715 railwaymen and 105,703 railway women. They were without 102,984 of their colleagues released to join H.M. Forces; 90,000 trained as Home Guards and 170,000 fully trained in Civil Defence. The Railways were among the first to form their own L.D.V. (Home Guard) units; hundreds of thousands of railwaymen volunteered.
Amongst the units of the Army almost exclusively manned by trained personnel drawn from the railways were the Docks Groups, Movement Control units, and Railway Construction Companies of the Royal Engineers.
Before the war the railways employed 26,000 women, mainly in the clerical grades, as shorthand typists, machine telegraph and telephone operators, and in smaller numbers as carriage cleaners, waiting-room attendants, cooks and mess-room attendants, crossing keepers and office cleaners.
Since the outbreak of the war women were trained and employed in many other trades as men were released to the Forces. Their employment was under a national scheme, and, by agreement with the trade unions, women employed on manual work formerly done by a man were, after an agreed period, paid the standard rate of the man replaced.
At passenger and goods stations women handled parcels and merchandise. They checked and weighed goods and acted as porters, signalmen and lampmen and “man” the horses and delivery vans and acted as stablemen. Women also did the work of booing and enquiry clerks and announce, by loud speaker, the arrival and departure of trains and other notices to passengers. Women also acted as ticket collectors and cleaners on the London tubes.
In the engine sheds and docks the work is usually heavy. Women were employed as loaders and porters and on engines as oilers, greasers and firelighters. They assisted in the maintenance of the permanent way, and in the workshops they did useful work in most trades and were able to undertake skilled work as core-makers, coppersmiths, concrete mixers, turners, welders, etc.

The British railway woman adapted herself quickly to new surroundings and work which was very different from her pre-war occupation, and she took her share of night work. In many cases her husband was in the Forces, and she showed a marked devotion to duty, sometimes in difficult circumstances during and after enemy air activity. She did her turn of duty and went home to the cares of a house and children. She made a vitally important contribution to the war effort.
The zoning of supplies, district by district, to make each area of the country as self-supporting as possible, meant the re-arrangement of hundreds of freight services. The increase of home-grown foodstuffs, with millions of acres of land under cultivation, resulted in increasing demands for railway transport. Fertilisers, seed potatoes, sugar beet, tractors and farming equipment, as well as land workers, were catered for, frequently by special trains.
Meanwhile, owing to the shortage of cups and glasses for refreshments at stations, amounting to 5,000,000 cups, passengers were advised to carry their own drinking utensils!!!

Compiled By Chris Mills with extracts from ‘Facts About British Railways In Wartime’ : British Railways Press Office, 1943

Steam Spotting Memories

There are now so many preserved railways  and rebuilt and lovingly restored locomotives that for an enthusiast  they are always  within fairly easy access. Not quite so easily reached down Nostalgia Lane are the memories of  locations and  experiences from days when Diesel  and Electric engines were still in the future. Those times of  first long trousers, bikes  and summer holidays when it never rained.
My first recall of  an interest in Railway  is of in about 1955/56 being given a friend’s cast-off  Ian Allen Spotters Book when I was aged about  14 years old. At the same time I was introduced to the ‘Glass Bridge’ which provided entry to the South end of Preston Station. From West Cliff a short track led down to a large, stone mullioned out-door room that overlooked the Railway. As we approached we could go left through a Wicket Gate, onto the Railway Embankment. The opposite direction was through a wood and glass built enclosed bridge, over lines 6 & 7, to stairs which led to the end of  No.6 Platform (Now No.4). A Ticket Collector, in his little wooden Office, guarded the entry at Platform level. From these vantage points we had perfect views of all traffic that passed. The area was always well attended  and someone always knew what was on the 5  o’ clock , or if an unusual Loco. Was in the area. Standing on the bridge we looked down the chimneys of all the large passenger expresses awaiting the ‘Clear Away’ to the South. On occasions when the short stop caused the Safety Valve to lift the noise was deafening. I can still smell the steam and smoke!
We were free from school on Wednesday afternoons and could usually be found on the embankment at Skew Bridge where we had an unrestricted view of a mile of straight track to the bridge over the River Ribble and Preston Station beyond.
Traffic was controlled by a fine Gantry of Semaphore Signals across virtually the whole pathway with the ‘Up Fast and Slow’ in the opposite direction. Signals then were positive, unlike today, and caused immediate interest as they were raised or lowered ,to indicate an imminent train. We could see the Southport line  passing under the main line, and glimpses of the East Lancs through the trees. Locos leaving Preston presented a fine sight as they powered over the upgrade, and those headed North freewheeled the approach to Preston. The Oak bushes which once were so much part of the scene, are now well grown and almost completely obscure the views.

As Train Spotting was part of our young lives, so our ‘bikes’ were basic to our spotting. We relied on them, and only by them, could we travel to the locations we loved. On Sunday Mornings Preston Shed -10B- was a must. As far as I can remember we were never refused entry, but then  I don’t remember ever asking.
This was our Patch – a Patch that is long gone. What I still think of as the ‘New Power Box’ has stood in it’s place for at least 20 years. Entry to Lostock Hall Shed (24C) was easy and we visited often. It was usually filled with Austerity 2-10-0s – large, powerful freight engines which strangely, we saw little of in our day to day spotting. Wigan Springs and Lower Darwen were more of a challenge but distance meant little to us in those far-off days. A visit to Horwich Works was special, with permits in advance and the journey by train to Blackrod Station so much a part of it. We were always amazed to see different parts of the same Loco scattered throughout the departments.
A favourite place on Saturday afternoons during Autumn was Farrington. Here, the line from Blackburn and East Lancs crosses above the Main Line heading West before a sharp right turn to drop down to join the Main Line North into Preston. We were here to see visitors from the LNER that ran excursions from Yorkshire and the Northeast  to Blackpool illuminations. They were always in the charge of a B 1 or ‘Antelope Class ‘which could handle all but the heaviest passenger trains, and were hailed with delight by us. Ourebi, Topi, Wildebeeste, Hartebeeste and the exception ‘William Henton Carver ‘were regulars. The first of that Class, No. 61000 – Springbok  crossed the Pennines often. They would appear without prior warning, steaming slowly and silently, crossing the bridge to the downward curve to Preston.
Soon, work and other pursuits pushed my interest in Railway into the background. I didn’t even notice that Steam was being replaced. It was to be some 20 years  later that on passing The Railway Station I suggested that my young son may like to see the trains. We left that day each carrying new Ian Allen’s – but that’s another story.
(Gerry Wareing)

The Preston Train Crash 

Some of you might be a bit worried about the title of this piece. Did you miss something in the news? The answer is no as the accident in question happened over a 100 years ago, the 15th August 1896 to be precise.  It involved the 8pm express from London Euston to Scotland which derailed as it passed through Preston Station in the middle of the night. Fortunately it was lightly loaded and only one of it’s 16 passengers was killed. However the circumstances of the crash would, some historians claim have an effect on rail travel that would last almost 40 years.

As most of you will know the West Coast Main Line through Preston was operated at the time by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) the self styled “premier line” of British railways and in purely financial terms the largest railway company in the country. The route was permanently in competition with the East Coast Main Line for the lucrative traffic from London to Scotland and in 1888 there had been the first of what history would call the “race to the north”. Over a period of weeks the two routes had slashed journey times in the race to get trains to Aberdeen first. Ultimately the East Coast was declared the victor. Seven years later in 1895 the races would resume with again locomotives and their crews pressed to the limits. This time there was a reverse of fortune and it was the LNWR and it’s Scottish counterpart the Caledonian Railway which prevailed. One of the stars of that event the locomotive “Hardwicke” survives in the National Railway Museum.

The effect of the 1895 race was that overall train speeds of some express services had increased markedly to bring down journey times. The express train subject of this article was expected to maintain an average speed of 60mph for 105 miles of it’s journey. This obviously required enormous skill from the loco drivers not just because of the rapid change from previous practice but particularly at night bearing in mind how poor lighting of landmarks was compared to today (including of signals) and of course engines had no speedometers or any kind of on board warning system. Most importantly it required good judgement on sections of line with tight bends and points.

On the night in question the 8pm “Down Highland Express” was running with two locomotives called “Shark” and “Vulcan” well capable of pulling the 200 ton load. The railway companies had in fact that June already negotiated a minimum journey time for the Anglo-Scottish trains to reduce the possibility of excessive speeds. However that only applied to daytime services not those which ran overnight. As it happened neither driver on the 15th August 1896 had driven this particular express before and in addition neither had ever driven a train non-stop through Preston Station. At Preston due to a sharp curve at the north end of the station by the goods yard there was a speed restriction of just 10mph which applied to all trains. The accident investigator Colonel York determined that in fact on the night in question the “Highland Express” was travelling around 40-45mph through the station with the result that when it hit the speed restricted curve instead of going round it the train effectively carried on in a straight line ploughing through the goods yard coming to rest just short of a bridge wall. Perhaps surprisingly both locomotives stayed upright but the coaches were scattered across the mangled tracks and one of their occupants was fatally injured. For anyone interested there are photographs of the results on the internet.

Colonel York conducted his investigation for the Board of Trade and concluded as follows:
“The cause of the accident is clear. A reverse curve without any intervening tangent, without a check rail, with superelevation suitable only for very low speeds, and badly distributed and with a radius at one point of only seven chains; a train drawn by two engines each having a rigid wheelbase of 15ft 8in; and lastly a speed of 40mph or more form a combination of circumstances which were almost certain to lead to disaster”.

The crash immediately attracted the attention of politicians and Mr Herbert Roberts the MP for Denbighshire West raised it in Parliament.
“ I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the serious accident which occurred to what is known as the London and North Western “Racer” at Preston, at midnight on Sunday night on it’s journey from Euston to Aberdeen, a train which held the record this year for travelling 105 miles in 105 minutes; and whether , in view of the great risks to the travelling public connected with this practice of rival railway companies racing to Scotland, the Board of Trade will make strong representations to the said companies on the subject?”
The President of the Board of Trade was the minister responsible for safety on the railways at the time and replied “I have received a return of the accident referred to and have directed an inspecting officer of the Department to hold an inquiry. Until I receive the report of his inquiry I am unable to say what representation if any I shall make to the railway company”.
That didn’t satisfy another MP Sir Wilfred Lawson who then asked “Whether there had been a single accident due to the high speed of those trains”. The President replied “I cannot answer that question without notice, but I am not prepared to admit that high speed means danger”

There was to be no ban by the Government on high speed trains (hardly a surprise) However the result of the crash was arguably that train speeds for the rival Anglo-Scottish expresses would remain lower for many years than experience had shown was possible and there would be no repeat until the late 1930’s of anything remotely like the races of 1888/95. Journey times of 8 hours or more from London to Scotland would now remain the norm until 1932. Although the results of the Preston crash in terms of lives lost had not been that great no doubt some in management and, based on the above in government feared what the consequences could have been at Preston had it involved a heavily loaded train. 10 years later the nation would find out when over a period of months overnight express trains derailed at speed at Salisbury, Grantham and Shrewsbury with a combined loss of more than 60 lives, none of those accidents ever being fully explained. A decade on and the intervention of the First World War meant the railways would anyway suffer from a period of neglect and shortage of investment. Nevertheless despite newer much bigger and more powerful locomotives being built from the 1890’s onwards it was not until the 1930’s in the face of competition from cars, coaches and even planes combined with an international financial crisis that the successors to the LNWR and their rivals would engage again in pushing high speed running to the limits both to gain publicity for their crack services and rake in badly needed revenue.

(Mike Bailey)

‘The Duchess’ On Preston Dock

This locomotive entered service during July 1932 and was fitted with the same equipment that went into the three heavyweight railcars – a 250hp 6LV22 engine & GEC electrical equipment, the locomotive did not immediately have a buyer, and spent much of 1932-1933 working several LNER goods yards in the Newcastle area. Initial service was in the Forth marshalling yard, spending most of its time there apart from a short stint at Blaydon. Loads at the Forth Yard were up to forty wagons totalling 600 tons, whilst the Blaydon Yard with its gradients permitted a maximum load of 750 tons. After a month at Blaydon it moved to Heaton Yard. Here it was challenged by taking 800 ton loads up the 1 in 150 Benton Bank. Fuel consumption with this type of working was about 2.5 gallons per hour. This locomotive also spent a brief period under trial on the Southern Region. This machine would soon be bought by the Preston Corporation for use in the Ribble Docks. Its works number was D8, it later gained the name ‘Duchess’ and was still in operation during 1960, and was noted withdrawn as late as the winter of 1968.
A second machine similar to D8 was built during 1933, to be tested along with a number of other shunters by the LMSR authorities. This machine carried the numbers 7408 & 7058 on the LMSR and was allocated the British Railways number 13000 in the post nationalisation re-numbering scheme, although it was broken up prior to carrying this number.
Allocated Works number D20 of 1933 it was fitted with a Armstrong Sulzer 6LV22 diesel engine, powering a Laurence Scott & Electromotors generator and single traction motor. With the engine rated at 250hp @ 775rpm with a maximum tractive effort of 24,000lb and a maximum speed of 30mph, this shunting locomotive clearly had the best characteristics that the LMSR was seeking when compared to the other locomotives tested. Most significant were its electric transmission, its heavier weight and a fuel capacity that would allow a week of shunting prior to refuelling.

Preston Dock Remembered

It is early on a Tuesday afternoon in the summertime. The year is 1950. My mother is at the loom at Horrockses on Salmon Street, Dad is working at Dick Kerrs on Strand Road and I and my siblings are being looked after by Grandma Wareing at her home on Maudland Road. Through the window, across the street, I can see the Star cinema. I have checked the Weather Forecast several times. This I do by looking at St.Walburgh’s steeple. If it is grey it will rain. Today it shines gleaming white and our afternoon of adventure can begin. Down Leighton Street, collecting ice creams sold from the door of a private house, past the end of the canal and down Marsh Lane. We enter the Dock Estate at Strand Road passing old bonded warehouses and the gatehouse. Grandma’s kindly eye ensured that we were never turned away.
We usually followed the left hand path along the river catching glimpses of long dead ships being broken up at Wards. Stacked, curing timber and blackberries characterised this area. About this time the Geest operation came to Preston sited on this side of the dock, with climatised storage for bananas and other tropical fruits, brought across the Atlantic from the Caribbean in the good ships Windward Islands and Leeward Islands.
Continuing, we reached the lock gates at the seaward entrance to the dock and looked out over ‘Little Blackpool’ and the remains of a concrete ship which we were told had been used for war training. If our timing was right, and the tide was less than full, we could now cross the closed gates, over the water, by the outer basin to where coastal tankers loaded and unloaded at Petrofina. Our own Tanker Trains are a result of this earlier trade.
Down the North side of the Dock we watched as coal was lifted in Railway wagons to be tipped into chutes which loaded directly into the holds of coastal tramps. Our own dredgers and tugs lived on the Eastern wall and names like Bibby -an old dredger and John Herbert come easily to mind.
But although Liverpool seeks the credit Preston’s great claim was to be the worlds first Roll-on Roll-off port, which brought containers from Larne and Belfast to the Northwest. I well remember when the first container ferry came through the long narrow approach and entered the Albert Edward Dock. Empire Cedric, a converted wartime landing craft was the largest craft to enter up to that time. This passage became commonplace with Empire Doric, Empire Gaelic and Bardic Ferry becoming regular visitors.
But even at my tender years the highlight at the dock was to see the many shunting engines as they fussed around the yard or steamed quietly awaiting their next duty. Loco names come easily across the years. Courageous,Perseverance,Indomitable,Impregnable,Energy,Progress,Prince,Princess and Duchess. I have a vague memory also of ‘Queen’. Of course the fireless Duke has a special significance for me now after my close association with Heysham No2 at RSR.
The work of these engines either started or finished with the workings of Super D Class 49s. These, braking hard down the underground Fishergate incline on the way to the dock loaded with coal, exploded in great eruptions of smoke, steam and noise with massive tractive effort on their way back up the hill to emerge at the Southwest end of Preston Station
These afternoons ended back at Grandma’s for three tired but happy kids carrying jam jars of blackberries and already looking forwards to the next day.
Years have passed, and so much has changed, but in my mind’s eye for a short while I see it all again.
(Gerry Wareing)

BARDIC FERRY built in 1957 by Wm. Denny & Bros, Dumbarton for the Atlantic Steam Navigation. She entered service on their Transport Ferry Service route between Preston-Larne, transferring to the Tilbury-Antwerpen route between 1958-61. Bardic Ferry then reverted to Preston-Larne, with some sailings to Belfast from 1967. In 1971 ASN operations were combined with Townsend-Thoresen, and Bardic Ferry  received their orange livery. In 1974, Bardic Ferry transferred to the Cairnryan-Larne route. She was sold in 1976 to Fratelli Cosulich, Genoa, and renamed Nasim II.

Wonderful views of Preston Docks in the late 1970’s

Photos courtesy of Ted Crosby