Anthony Burton's On the Rails

Burton, Anthony. On the rails: two centuries of railways. London: Aurum Press, 2004. 208pp.

This is book is in coffee-table format and is a by-product of a television series made for the Discovery Channel. Both text and illustrations are attractively reproduced and are well-balanced on the page or pages (the two page spreads are sometimes stunning). On the lower half of pages 78 and 79 there is a reproduction of Welwn Viaduct painted shortly after it was opened which is visually stunning. This magnificent structure was seen on every working day for nearly twenty years and yet this picture was still able to shock by demonstrating the shear scale of the structure. The caption fails to indicate whether the structure was viewed from the east or the west, but the great bank of chalk on the right of the picture indicates that the view is towards the west: the chalk would have come from the tunnelling north of the viaduct.

The reproductions of the eraly by Bourne and others is excellent. There are some stunning pictures of locomotives, including some the great American Mallets, but there are some where the historical balance is lost. A huge two page spread of preserved Ivatt 4-2-2 No. 1 hauling typical "preserved" Mark 1 stock (pages 172/3) wrecks the balance of the book where the beauty of the locomotive is wrecked by its tawdry train which only lacks a "Thomas" headboard. On page 124 there is an excellent black and white illustration of Snow Hill Station in Birmingham, but why does the motive power visible have to include an unrebuilt West Country pacific and an 8F piloting a rebuilt West Country with only a hint of a Great Western tank engine on a freight? The picture may have been a gem for loco-spotters but it fails to capture the Great Western character of the station.


to footplate crew: it had a big cab, with side windows and a previously unimaginable my - not just a seat for the driver, but a padded seat.

The new locomotive went through its tests with ease, proving itself capable of handling vy trains at high speeds. The Pacifics had arrived, and Gresley was soon busy making )fOVements. In the 1930s, a new class of Al Pacifics appeared, including the famous ng Scotsman, and the succession culminated with the A4s. Never has a more mundane ae been applied to a more romantic set of locomotives, but most passengers were not ~rested in letters and numbers. The very first which went into service in September 1935 l more than just a name, it had a name to fire the imagination. This was Silver Link, and as a sensation. In essence this was a development of earlier Gresley Pacifics, though with " number of technical improvements, such as the use of a double blast pipe and double I mney, all adding together to create a more efficient engine. But it looked entirely new.

over a hundred years, locomotives had appeared with everything on show, so that the 'sical reality of a vast boiler providing steam through pipes and gears to cylinders was easapparent. Not any more: now everything was encased in a sleek, metallic shell, carefully ,ped to reduce air resistance. It looked startlingly modern, yet the idea was not entirely ginal. Gresley had visited France and seen a sleek new diesel rail car designed by a man I ter known for cars on the road than for cars on rails, Ettore Bugatti. In fact, Bugatti had en out his first patent for a rail car as early as 1911, but the design for French railways was tched out in 1931. It inspired Gresley and the result was to be seen on his new engine.

ler Link was streamlined. The engine was not merely capable of high speeds, but even re importantly it proved capable of maintaining high speeds over long distances. Speeds ,ver 100mph were recorded not just on downhill runs, but over several miles ofundulattrack. This was particularly notable on the big experimental run of 27 September 1935, en Silver Link maintained an average speed of almost 108mph on the far from level track

A busy scene at Derby locomotive shed in 1929. Originally this was the heart of the Midland Railway empire, but by that time it had been absorbed into the LMS.





The Crompton-style locomotive Pfalz, with big single drive wheels set right at the back of the frame, was built for the Bavarian Palatine Railway in 1853.

The Great Northern Railway was engaged in fierce competition with the London & North Western Railway for the profitable passenger trade between London and Scotland.

The GNR's trains ran out of King's Cross up the east coast and the L&NWR ran up the west coast from Euston. The Stirling Singles were involved in 1895 in arecord-breaking run, the first covering the leg from London to Grantham, the second taking over to continue the next leg to York. The average speed for the whole 188-milejourneywas a remarkable 64mph.

But the finest run in what became known as the Races to the North went to the other side, in a gallop to Aberdeen on 22 August 1895, when the entire 540-milejourneytookjust 512 minutes, or eight and a half hours. The fastest leg of all, from Crewe to Carlisle, which included the ascent of the notorious Shap bank, went to a train headed by another star of the York collection, Hardwicke. With driver Robinson's hand on the regulator, the engine charged along at a good speed, never dropping below 65mph before Shap slowed progress down to a speed of 58mph at the summit. That was more than matched by the times on the other side where the leg from Penrith to Carlisle was recorded at nearly 75mph. Hardwicke is more conventional, with the familiar 2-4-0 arrangement, but although it is heavy it gives little away in elegance to the Single. Edward Fletcher, the designer, could claim a long and excellent railway pedigree. He actually worked with the Stephensons on the construction of Rocket, and at the age of 23 he had the honour of driving another famous, and preserved, locomotive, Invicta, at the opening of the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway in 1830.

The English engineer Thomas Russell Crampton did a great deal of his work for French and German railways. His express singles could scarcely be less like those of Stirling as far as appearance was concerned, but proved their worth both in terms of speed and durability, though the early versions look alarmingly flimsy. Die Pfalz, built for the Palatinate Railway, is a 4-2-0, with the driving wheels set right alongside the cab. Cylinders, cranks and gear are al] outside the frame, which makes for very easy access, even if the engine does not have tht




These remain the main features of the line, but it is very far from an exhaustive list.

And the GWR did not end with the construction of the first mainline: it spread throughout the West Country and into Wales. There were to be other great structures, including the last great engineering work designed by BruneI, the Royal Albert Bridge across the Tamar at Saltash. He borrowed an idea from Robert Stephenson, but adapted it to produce something altogether more graceful and, as time has proved, more durable. He took advantage of the structural strength of wrought-iron tubes, but used them in a quite different way.

Here the tubes have an oval cross-section and form arches across the river, and from these the plates carrying the track are suspended. It is as if he had looked at the work of two great engineers at the Menai Straits, Telford 'and Stephenson, and taken ideas from the best of both to create his own unique solution to the problem of building a long, high-level bridge. The bridge is still in use today, but forms a bottleneck, being only single track.

Nevertheless, with its two arched spans, each 461ft long, it is as impressive as it was when it was opened by Prince Albert in 1859. BruneI was then too ill to come to the ceremony, but was later taken across on a bed mounted on a flat cart. By the end of the year he was dead, and in recognition of his great works his name was inscribed on the portals of the arch.

Brunel was a great individualist, and it showed in everything that he did. He recruited young men who nominally owed their allegiance to the Great Western Railway, but first and foremost they were Brunel men. Where others were prepared to delegate, Brunel was always


BruneI's last engineering masterpiece, the Royal Albert Bridge, crossing the Tamar at Saltash. It is an extraordinary construction with the girders that carry the tracks suspended from immense hollow, wrought-iron tubes.