Robert Riddles and the BR Standards

The discussion on RMWeb has moved on from Modernisation Plan diesels to the legacy of the first Chief Mechanical Engineer of the newly-nationalised British Railways, Robert Riddles.

Riddles is best known for his BR standard steam locomotives, 999 locomotives of 12 different classes built between 1952 and 1960. With the benefit of hindsight, these new designs should never have been introduced; short-term needs for steam power could have been met with additional builds of “best of breed” big four designs. But Riddles wanted to go down in history alongside Stanier and Gresley, so there had to be a fleet of locomotives associated with his name. Even if they had such short working lives that many saw less than a decade in traffic.

Riddles was an opponent of diesel traction, hence his successful advocacy of large-scale steam construction so late in the day. He reportedly even tried to halt the ultimately very successful early 50s introduction of diesel multiple units in Cumbria, West Yorkshire and East Anglia in favour of a new build of push-pull steam trains.

As for the locomotives themselves, there’s little dispute that the best of them were fine locomotives. The Britannia pacifics, the 9F 2-10-0, the “Standard Five” 4-6-0 and the “Standard Four Tank” 2-6-4T all acquitted themselves well in service, though the last two were merely updated versions of tried-and-tested LMS designs. But some others were only built in penny numbers, just thirty class 3 2-6-0s and a mere ten “Clan” light pacifics, and it raises questions over whether so many different types should have been built at all. Was there really a need for three different sizes of 2-6-0? Or so many of the smaller locomotives at all?

I do like the suggestion by one commenter that Riddles should have designed a “one size fits all” heavy mixed-traffic 2-8-2 and built them in quantity in place of the Standard Fives and the 9Fs. That would have been an impressive locomotive and makes a very interesting might-have-been.

Thanks to Dai Woodham, the Welsh scrap dealer who bought hundreds of redundant steam locomotives for scrap only to store them for years rather than break them up, many of the actual locomotives have survived. They’ve become workhorses on the steam tourist railways up and down the country, and some of the bigger ones get taken out for the occasional spin on the main line. Most of them spent two or three times as long rusting away in that Welsh scrapyard as they did in main line service, so in terms or wear-and-tear they are almost new.

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2 Responses to Robert Riddles and the BR Standards

  1. PaulE says:

    Much the same reasons as for similar waste in companies now. For the sake of appearances. The brave new dawn of BR could not just build old designs. Another option might have been to choose from the old designs, but they would never have agreed. Old loyalties would have prevented that.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Only BR did build a lot of locomotives to pre-nationalisation designs; something like 1500 compared with 999 “Standards”. Admittedly the vast majority were from the first few years and many of those had been ordered or were already under construction by the time of nationalisation. But there were odd batches of things like GWR pannier tanks built well into the 1950s.