Tag Archives: Diesel-Hydraulic

The British Railway Modernisation Plan

Preserved class 14 "Teddybear" on the Forest of Dean Railway

One of the most short-lived classes in BR service, the diesel-hydraulic class 14, seen preserved on the Forest of Dean Railway

There is a very interesting discussion (for given values of interesting) on the RMWeb forum about BR Modernisation Plan diesels.

As any student of British motive power knows, the early years of the nationalised British Railways saw large-scale building of new steam locomotives, including a whole range of new standard designs. Then in the late 1950s there was a crash programme of dieselisation in an attempt to stem increasing financial losses, followed by a drastic rationalisation of the size of the network in the shape of the Beeching cuts. Both those newly-built stream locomotives and many of the early diesels were scrapped after ridiculously short lives. The epitome of this was D601 “Active” spending years sitting in Woodham’s scrapyard in Wales surrounded by the rusting steam locomotives it was built to replace. What a waste of resources.

What was to stop British Railways adopting the policy of West Germany? They had a far earlier end to steam locomotive building, accompanied by a rolling programme of electrification and what was initially a partial dieselisation. The first diesels replaced the oldest life-expired steam power, with the surviving newer steam engines concentrated on those routes eventually scheduled for electrification. West Germany saw thus a slower and more gradual elimination of steam over a period of 25 years rather than a decade. The last steam ran into the mid-1970s by which time the locomotives had reached the end of their economic lives.

Class 24 at Grosmont

Tbe Derby/Sulzer class 24s were built in significant numbers yet withdrawn after less than 20 years.

The original 1955 modernisation plan envisaged a pilot scheme, whereby small numbers of locomotives would be ordered of a variety of different designs from different manufacturers, to be evaluated in traffic before placing large-scale repeat orders. That never happened. Such was the rush, perhaps motivated by a belief that government money must be spent now or it might not be available later, that BR placed repeat orders before they had time to complete any meaningful evaluation.

The least bad consequence was bulk orders of lumbering and obsolescent designs like the English Electric class 40, which at least had the advantage of working reliably. The worst was the ordering of more than a hundred Paxman-engined Clayton class 17s straight off the drawing board, which proved to be not fit for purpose.

The whole Type One saga is illuminating. The specification was for a single-cabbed locomotive with a power range of around 800hp to replace small tank locomotives on local freight working. The most mechanically reliable of the pilot scheme designs proved to be the English Electric class 20. But it was deemed unsuitable due to poor driver visibility when running hood-forward. What they wanted was a centre-cabbed locomotive in the vein of the German V100, but the combination of low hood and high cab proved impossible within the restrictive British loading gauge.

So they came up with centre-cabbed twin-engine design using railcar-style engines which became the ill-fated class 17. The reliability was so poor the whole lot went for scrap after a very short period and BR placed a repeat order for more class 20s. By the time those locomotives arrived, changing traffic patterns and Beeching’s branch line closures meant the original need for these low-power machines had evaporated. The 20s eventually found another niche working in pairs on coal traffic in the East Midlands, quite different work from that for which they were originally designed.

A lot of what went wrong was down to politics, both interference by government and internal within British Rail. There is the distinct impression that some business went to firms purely because they were based in areas with high unemployment. At the time each of British Rail’s regions had a lot of autonomy and all did their own thing. The Western Region famously chose diesel-hydraulic power rather than the electric transmissions preferred by everyone else, and got its own Pilot Scheme designs. The Southern Region rejected the Pilot Scheme altogether, came up with its own specification and ordered the class 33s from BRCW, which proved to be highly successful. One mystery was why there were no further orders of 33s for other regions, while Derby works were content to churn out vast numbers of underpowered class 25s.

It was the Type Two specification, double-cabbed locomotives in the 1100-1300 power range for secondary passenger and freight work which saw some of the real turkeys. You could even argue that the BRCW class 26 and 27s were the only unquestionably successful designs. The Metrovick Co-Bo class 28 suffered from the shockingly unreliable Crossley engines which had proved equally useless in the very similar A-class locomotives in Ireland. The class 21s demonstrated that North British, despite being one of the most successful steam locomotive builders, were nowhere near as adept at building diesels, a parallel with America’s Baldwin Locomotive Company. The class 23 “Baby Deltics” were English Electric’s one failure, needing complete rebuilds very early on. Even the numerous and eventually very long-lived Brush class 31s needed re-engining early in their lives after problems with the original Mirrlees power units.

Western at the NRM

One of the most iconic “non standard” designs withdrawn before their time, Swindon’s magnificent Western.

At the end of the 1960s British Rail found themselves with a surplus of motive power following Beeching’s heavy pruning of the network, and made the sensible decision to reduce the number of types in service by eliminating the unsuccessful and unreliable designs. The decision to phase out the Western Region’s entire fleet of diesel hydraulics as non-standard remains controversial to this day, since some of the locomotives such as the Hymeks and Westerns acquitted themselves well in service and were built in significant numbers. But few would question the cull of Type One and Type Two designs; even when teething troubles had been eliminated and the locomotives could be made to work reliably, classes like the Baby Deltics were too few in number to make economic sense to keep.

We’re lucky some of those unsuccessful early designs survived to make it into preservation. One of the Metrovick Co-Bos, now under restoration in Bury, spent many years as a carriage heating unit, while one Clayton class 17 has a lengthy post-BR career as a works shunter at Ribble Cement. There were sadly a couple that frustratingly got away despite surviving into the diesel preservation era. Pioneer diesel-hydraulic D601 languished at Barry only to be scrapped as late as 1980, and Baby Deltic D5901 lingered in departmental use and was only scrapped in 1976.

But despite the obvious waste of resources, it does mean British railway modellers have a far wider array of different locomotives to model.

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Dapol and CJM Westerns

Dapol’s blue N gauge “Westerns” have arrived! Just like the limited edition Desert Sand “Western Enterprise” it’s an excellent model of an iconic locomotive. Along with the earlier Dapol class 22s and Hymeks, and the Farish Warship, all the major BR Western Region diesel-hydraulics are now available in N gauge, which ought to spawn a few 60s/70s WR layouts. The only missing loco is the short-lived D600 class, and I’m not sure a five-strong class that spend much of their short lives confined to Cornwall would be popular enough to warrant a ready-to-run model.

The Dapol loco is the one in the foreground. The locomotive behind hauling the milk tankers is an old CJM respray of a Poole-era Farish model. It actually stands up remarkably well considering how old it is. It’s nowhere near as detailed, and with innacurate bogies due to re-use of the class 50 chassis, but I think it’s still good enough to run on the same layout as the new Dapol model. A tribute to Chris Marchant’s skill as a modeller.

Given how many of my older Farish locos have died due to split years, it’s a pleasant surprise to find it still runs.

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Dapol Hydraulics

Dapol class 22

The layout has some new motive power in the shape of a couple of newly-released Dapol diesel-hydraulics. The little class 22 is the first of these.

The class 22s were one of those unsuccessful Modernisation Plan designs. Introduced in 1958 for secondary services, they were victims of the mass cull of non-standard designs at the end of the 1960s. The last was withdrawn in 1972, and despite an unsuccessful preservation attempt none of the locomotives have survived. British N has reached the stage where all the more popular and iconic classes of locomotives have been “done”, so manufacturers are looking at some of the more obscure prototypes.

Dapol Western Enterprise

The “Western” is altogether more iconic, making the national news when the last ones were withdrawn in 1977, and several survive in preservation. Graham Farish introduced the first N-gauge model back in the 1980s, and although it’s still in the catalogue their model is increasingly long in the tooth, so a modern state-of-the-art model is more than welcome.

“Western Enterprise” in its unique Desert Sand livery is a special commision for Osborns Models, a bit of a coup for them since these models were the first Westerns delivered from the factory, some weeks in advance of the more regular blue and maroon versions.

Dapol have come up with an interesting way of coping with the lower valance on the “Western” with regards to fitting a coupler while still allowing the locomotive to negotiate the sort of curves many modellers are forced to use. The model comes with a complete spare bogie, so you have the option of either having a coupler at both ends, or a coupler at one end only with a more realistic-looking front-end at the other. Both bogie and valance are push-fit meaning it takes just a few seconds to switch the locomotive between single and double-ended mode.

Both are very welcome models for anyone with an interest in 1960s Western Region in N, and it’s good to see the mundane in the shape of the 22 alongside the iconic.

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Book Review: David Cable – Hydraulics in the West

The early years of the diesel hydraulics in the west of England weren’t covered that well by photographers. With steam banished west of Exeter as early as 1962. most railway photographers spent the next six year chasing the remaining “kettles” in other parts of the country, leaving the early years of fully dieselised areas under-recorded. A pity, because this was a fascinating era, with much of the old steam-era railway surviving with little change other than the presence of diesel locomotives at the front of the trains. Which is why a book like this is very welcome indeed.

All the diesel-hydraulic classes feature quite extensively with the exception of the class 14s, with Warships and D6300s featuring particularly heavily. A few of the photos leave something to be desired on a purely technical level. With quite a few grainy photos, faded negatives and shadow-side shots this is not a book to blow many people away with stunning photography. But it more than makes up for this with the historical interest, which is surely why those less-than-perfect images were included. This isn’t to say all the pictures are poor; I love the atmospheric shot of a Warship on china clay coming round the curve from St.Blazey at Par. There are one or two howlers in the captions too; at one point, what’s described as a parcels train looks remarkably like a couple of breakdown train tool vans to me.

The vast majority of photos date from the 1960s, showing not just the express passenger workings on the West of England Main Line, but a lot of freight and branch-line workings that far too many photographers ignored. There are plenty of photos showing all or most of the train formation rather than the standard three-quarters views of the loco. This sort of thing is very useful for modellers; in the early 60s many second-string passenger workings used a real mix of pre-nationalisation coaching stock rather than uniform Mk1s. There’s even the odd pre-grouping vehicle in one photo of a SR Plymouth to Exeter working! There’s some real oddballs here too. How about a six-car “Silver Pullman” piloted over the south Devon banks with a Western? In the snow, as well. Or a rake of 1960s Metro-Cammell Pullmans in umber and cream at Truro behind a maroon Warship?

Some very interesting shots on the branches. Not only have we got D600s on china clay workings, but D6300s on the Kingsbridge and Helston branches during that brief period between the end of steam and complete closure. One that gets me is double-headed D6300s on the St Ives branch, looking for all the world as if it’s the West Highland line in Scotland until you look closely and realise the two North British locomotives aren’t class 21s but their diesel-hydraulic equivalents.

If you want a book filled entirely of technically stunning photos, you may well have reservations about this volume. But if you’re interested in a rather neglected period of British railway history, especially if you’re modelling that era, this book is for you.

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Hydraulic vs. Electric – The Battle for the BR Diesel Fleet

There are two prevailing myths about the Western Region’s diesel hydraulics locomotives. The first, propagated by partisan anti-Swindon types is that the whole project was a disastrous failure motivated by ex-GWR types wanting to be different purely for the sake of it. The second, propagated by Swindon’s own fans, is that the decision to phase out the diesel-hydraulics was a purely political one, intended to curb the Western Region’s independent spirit.

Written with the assistance of senior engineers from both BR’s Western Region, and from Voith, in this book David Clough attempts to reveal the some of the truth behind the myths. The story that emerges turns out to be a lot more complex.

David Clough starts with the early history of diesel traction in the UK, going back to the days of the Big Four and covering technological dead-ends such as the GWR gas turbines and infamous Fell diesel-mechanical No 10100, which gets an entire chapter all to itself. We then get an overview of the experience of diesel-hydraulics in Germany, which gives us the background to the choices faced by British Railways in 1955 when they decided to embark on a crash course of dieselisation.

The meat of the book covers the design and service lives of the locomotives themselves, comparing the Western Region’s hydraulic fleet with the equivalent diesel-electrics delivered to other regions, and later to the Western Region itself. A major conclusion is that, despite what’s often been written, there’s little evidence of any inherent superiority for either diesel-electrics or diesel-hydraulics transmissions, and there was a much greater difference between successful and unsuccessful designs with the same type of transmission. Of the diesel-hydraulic designs, the Westerns come in for a lot of criticism over design flaws that dogged them throughout their lives, and it’s suggested that this is a major cause of the diesel-hydraulic’s poor reputation in some quarters. In contrast, the Hymeks in particular emerge as successful and reliable locomotives, bettered in their power class only by English Electric’s class 37s.

Some of the less successful diesel-electric classes get off lightly. The ill-fated North British class 21s do get a mention, along with the fact that some got rebuilt at great cost with Paxman engines only to be outlived by their hydraulic equivalents equipped with troublesome original MANs right to the end. But the failure of classes like the Metrovick Co-Bos and the Baby Deltics is rather glossed over, and the fiasco of the Clayton class 17s, which numbered over 100 yet had shorter lives than any hydraulic classes doesn’t even get a mention. The class 24s/25s, numbering over four hundred yet withdrawn after working lives of under 20 years, little more than the longer-lived hydraulics, only get mentioned in passing.

In the end, the real reason for the premature withdrawal of the Western Region’s diesel hydraulics turns out to be a matter of economics rather than politics. The Beeching closures of the mid-60s left the railway with far more locomotives than were needed, and it made economic sense to rationalise both the number of types, and close some works, including Swindon. Had things panned out differently, it’s not inconceivable that some classes, most notably the Hymeks, might have had considerably longer working lives. Some of their German equivalents are still in traffic today.

The book recognises that the story doesn’t end with the withdrawal of the last of the “Westerns” in 1977, but continues into the following decades with the widespread adoption of hydraulic transmissions for the second generation of multiple units. Indeed, the author notes how experiences with the “Westerns” influenced the design of the 125mph class 180 “Adelantes” a generation later. It closes with the fact that diesel-hydraulic locomotives are still being built in Germany, and the age of the hydraulic is far from over.

As is typical in large-format books from this publisher, it’s extensively illustrated, with something like 150 black and white photos, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s.

Available from the Ian Allen website.

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