Henry Eoghan O'Brien
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A new book by Gerald Beesley may modify this page in due course (so far it has removed doubt from the date of his death. Born in August 1876 at Killiney near Dublin into the Irish aristocracy and died in 9 September 1967, aged 91 (Marshall). He was educated at Eton (Cox Locomotive panorama (V. 1 p. 15) notes that in this respect he was a rara avis amongst locomotive engineers) and Leeds University. Trained as engineer at Kitson & Co, Leeds; on the Dublin & South Eastern Railway, and at Horwich Works, under Aspinall . In 1903 he was appointed electrical engineer in charge of the LYR Liverpool - Southport electrification. In 1909 he succeeded J.P. Crouch as Works Manager at Newton Heath Carriage & Wagon Works and in 1910 he was appointed Works Manager, Horwich, and chief assistant to George Hughes. In WW1 he served with the Royal Engineers. On 1 January 1922 he became Chief Electrical Engineer on the LNWR, and following the amalgamation that of the LMS. On 27 March 1924 he read a paper to the Institution of Electrical Engineers on railway electrification which led to friction with the LMS management, and he resigned. Hennessey is illuminating on this. He moved to Dublin where for 20 years he lectured on transport at Trinity College.

Marshall, John, The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. Vol. 2

Own papers

Application of the electric locomotive to main line traction on railways', J. Instn Electrical Engrs, 1920, 58, 858-69. Commentary in vol. 59, pp. 339-42.
The future of mainline electrification on British railways. J. Instn Electrical Engrs, 1924, 62, 729-81.
See R.A.S. Hennessey Backtrack, 2012, 26, 455 for damaging criticism of this paper from senior electrical engineers like F. Carter, Sir Philip Dawson and Frank Gill (a Manx engineer who had a good War in munitions supply),

there is also a paper on springs mentioned in Bulleid's biography of Aspinall

Contributions to other's papers: note claim made in Communication on Warder's Paper

Discussion on Andrews, H.I.  The measurement of train resistance. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1954, 44, 153-4. (Paper No. 531)
noted that he was an observer at Aspinall's experiments

Warder. S.B. Electric traction prospects for British Railways. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1951, 41, 39. (Paper 498)
O'Brien wrote that in 1924 he read a paper on this subject; of which, he believed extensive use was made in compiling the Weir report of 1931. He was particularly interested in 1920-24 in the possibility of electrifying the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The investigations made showed that whereas the density of traffic (the L. & Y. probably had the densest traffic in the world, 1,600 locomotives working on a route mileage of under 600 miles) on the main lines would have amply justified electrification, the difficulty and expense of electrifying the many branch lines with low density of traffic and the very large mileage of sidings went so far as to make the scheme impracticable. Conditions have since changed. Automatic and rectifier substations, Diesel locomotives and improvements in the material and design of motors, control apparatus, rails and overhead gear may now make a practicable proposition of what was then impossible. The operation of the Liverpool and Southport electrification of which the writer had charge from 1903-1909 impressed him with the disadvantages of the weight and low centre of gravity of the motor bogies of multiple-unit trains: the wear on the rails was excessive particularly on curves. After examination of many types of main line locomotives with high c. of gs. the types used on the Swiss Railways and later on the G. I. P. and elsewhere seemed to offer great advantages both as regards ease of inspection and damage to track. The Swiss Railways very kindly let the writer examine exhaustively the wear on one of these locomotives after 100,000 miles leading to the same conclusion reached by the Author of this paper, viz., that tyre wear would be the controlling factor in overhauls and that given a D.C. motor with armature and field coils so secured as to reduce movement to a minimum, maintenance would be very low. The fate in wartime of electrically operated railways with overhead collection was not a question that could be answered in 1924 and it would be of great interest to know what happened in this last war. The Author is to be heartily congratulated on his paper, particularly on his indication of the lines on which progress should be made in future. It is suggested that after reading his paper members might find it of interest to read the writer’s paper of 1924 Journal of I.E.E. Vol. 62, No. 333, September 1924 and also his paper on the Management of a Locomotive Repair Shop, Inst. Loco. Engrs., Paper No. 86, October 1920.


19,363. Applied 23 August 1909, Accepted 12 August 1910.  Improvements in buffering devices for use on railways. (Buffers with rubber springs).
with Gatwood, W.
6,136. Applied 11 March 1911, Accepted 8 February 1912 
Improvements in self-contained spring buffers for railway vehicles and the like. (Buffers (with rubber springs)).

Rutherford states that one of Horwich's most important souls was H. Eoghan O'Brien an Irishman from a family with means. He was educated at Eton and served an apprenticeship with Kitson & Co. of Leeds, also attending the University in that city. Eventually he found his way to Horwich under John Aspinall and in 1903 was appointed electrical engineer in charge of the Liverpool to Southport electrification. After various other posts he became Works Manager, Horwich, and chief assistant to Hughes in 1910. Service in the First World War with the Royal Engineers saw him ranked Lieutenant-Colonel and awarded the DSO. He became Chief Electrical Engineer of the 'greater LNWR' in 1922 and of the LMSR from 1st January 1923. He set up an enlarged department at Horwich and took on extra staff.

Some very heavy trains were operated with the dynamometer car, using two Hughes 4-6-0s, to gain figures for resistance, fuel consumption and costs, etc, and these were incorporated in a monumental paper read to the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1924. The paper included masses of facts and figures and proposals for electrifying the Crewe-Carlisle section of the LNWR main line (a scenario envisaged by Frank Webb when Victoria was still on the throne).

It was read on Merseyside and in Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne before being read in London and it appears that no one at Euston knew much about it — until it was too late.

O'Brien wrote: "I was for many years a sceptic as to both the desirability and the possibilities of financial success of main-line electrification; my conversion to other views has been brought about entirely by the new facts which have emerged during the last five years. The extraordinary progress made in electric locomotive design, as witnessed by locomotives recently constructed by British, American and Swiss manufacturers; the data showing the reduction in the cost of repairs and shed maintenance when compared with steam locomotives as communicated by Sir Vincent Raven and others and confirmed by the results obtained on suburban railways: the multiplication of highly economical power stations in the congested areas most suitable for electrification; and the definite indication of very high traffic densities on main-line routes given by British railway statistics are all factors which have only recently become applicable on a sound basis to the solution of the problem. If one-man operation of the locomotives and the cheap electrification of sidings can be put in in the next few years, on an equally sound basis, the case for the electrification of a considerable proportion of the main lines of this country will be irresistible.

"It is scarcely to be expected that these new data, which have as yet but lightly impressed themselves on the minds of the technical staffs of the railways, will have penetrated to the traffic officers, accountants and directorates but fortunately there will be in Europe within a year or less and within easy reach of this country, working examples of the new conditions produced by electrifica tion on railways more analogous to British Railways than the electrified railways of the United States have been".

Not only did it appear that O'Brien was laying down a long-term traction policy (not that Euston had one to speak of) but he was showing in no uncertain manner that he had masses of evidence to back up his ideas and proposals. It would also seem that the paper was read with Hughes' knowledge and tacit approval.

There was an outbreak of mass apoplexy at Euston and O'Brien was called to Euston to 'discuss' the matter. It is not known what was said but O'Brien 'resigned' and went back to the family seat in Ireland and spent the next twenty years lecturing on transport at Trinity College, Dublin. He lived on until October 1967 when he died, aged 91.

If O'Brien's ideas had been accepted then Chapter 17 of Barnes' Locomotives that never were might have come to be.

There is also an article in BackTrack 13, 76 by R.M. Tufnell which should be read in association with the correspondence, especially that by T. Wray (13-277) as it apears to contain serious errors. The article includes a portrait.