Robert (Robin) Arthur Riddles
Riddles was appointed to the Railway Executive as the member responsible for mechanical and electrical engineering. Two other personalities played a major part in locomotive design as E.S. Cox has stated in his British Railways standard steam locomotives "... the B.R. series was primarily the product of a triumvirateRiddles, Bond and Cox ...". All three were former employees of the LMS, but Riddles had been seconded to the Ministry of Supply during the Second World War. During this period Riddles designed the Austerity 2-8-0 and 2-10-0 locomotives. This latter work and the L.M.S. background had a profound influence on British Railways designs. Rutherford (Backtrack, 12, 445) is highly critical of this triumvirate's activities, especially their utter failure to maximize on the best then currently available (building more K1 2-6-0s would have been cheaper than producing the 4F and 2F 2-6-0s, for instance) and to exploit Beyer Garratts which were capable of burning inferior coal and reduce double-heading which persisted in spite of its obvious low productivitty, and their failure to implement modern traction, especially DMUs, and to extend the Manchester Sheffield Wath electrification. Rutherford even argues that the successful use of the Britannia class on the Great Eastern section would not have lasted for an extended period. This produced a signifacant response from someone called Tayler (reproduced in full below) who been sent by the Southern Railway to study diesel traction at the English Electric Company.
It seems quite extraordinary to KPJ that Missenden, whose views on the undesirable nature of steam traction stated clearly in The Times newspaper on 22 November 1949 and who was Riddles's "superior" should have had his views treated in such a cavalier manner by Riddles and that Missenden could not intervene to call a halt to the standard locomotive programme. It is also worth noting that Riddles when placed in the limelight, as when the two Ivatt disels ran non-stop from Euston to Glasgow on 1 June 1949 could not resist claiming that the journey could have been accomplished even faster when speaking to the press on the arrival of the train from London!
Whatever Riddles' virtues as an engineer he is an absurd absentee from the arty Oxford Dictionary of Biography (a sort of Crockford's valhalla), but George W. Carpenter produced an excellent biography in Jack Simmons in the Oxford Comapnion. H.C.B. Rogers wrote a biography entitled The last steam locomotive engineer (published in 1970) which clearly enjoyed Riddles' cooperation. It is especially good on Riddles period at the Ministry of Supply and his relationship with Stanier (see extract on Stanier page). Pages 79-80 describe how Rogers met Riddles through the naming of Patriot No. 5504 Royal Signals. Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia.
Riddles presented several technical papers. Two of these survey
administrative practices especially standardization, but another ("Coronation
Scot") is a vivid description of the LMS 114 mile/h test run of 1937 (The
Times obituarist considers that this adventure dented Riddles' prospects
on the LMS: KPJ presumably only for a time) and the subsequent trip to the
USA with the locomotive.
"Coronation Scot"a railway development. J. Rec. Trans. jr Instn
Engrs, 1947/48, 58, 98-104.
This is a vivid, informal description of the test run of No. 6220 Coronation in 1937. During this run a speed of 114 mile/h was attained immediately south of Crewe and this resulted in a very fast approach to the station. Crockery was broken in the dining car and there was some damage to the points, but Riddles treats the subject as one of adventure. The subsequent American trip is also described with gusto.
Development of the engineer in railway practice. Proc. Instn mech. Engrs, 1953, 167, 141-5 + 6 plates. 24 illus., 3 diagrs., table.
Mechanical and electrical engineering in Railway Executive. Unification of British Railways: administrative principles and practice. London: Modern Transport. 1951.
Contains the notorious table comparing steam (£16,000), diesel-electric (£78,200), gas-turbine (£138,700) and electric locomotive (£37,400) costs.
Nationalisetion and the mechanical engineer.
J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1950,
40, 675-92. diagr., table. (Presidential Address).
The main theme is standardization. A case for the retention of steam traction is also made.
Foreword to M. Evans' Pacific steam the British Pacific
Riddles showed his enthusiasm for steam in this short foreword. It also outlines the advantages of the 4-8-0 type.
Comment on other's papers
Bond, R.C. Organisation and control of locomotive repairs on British
Railways. J. Instn Loco Engrs., 1953,
43, pages 217-18. (Paper No. 520)
criticised the 85% availability target and considered that it should be much higher. Noted Bond's contribution to workshop efficiency in Scotland
Graff-Baker, W.S. Considerations on bogie design with particular reference to electric railways. J. Instn Loco Engrs., 1952, 42, 349-50. (Paper 513)
Riddles made one of his rare contributions in which he observed that the Authors survey of bogie design indicated that any generally accepted alternative to the conventional bogie was a long way off. The paper emphasised, with particular reference to electric traction, that whatever form a perfect bogie might eventually take, engineers and the travelling public alike had been convinced for a long time that better riding was overdue.
He had travelled on the London-Brighton line in a Pullman car in which the riding was very good, and on looking to see what type of bogie was fitted, he had found that it was the British Railways standard bogie, which had been fitted under a Pullman car to see how it would work. In view of the large amount of experimental bogie design recorded In different parts of the world, little of which so far pointed to conclusive results, it was obvious that any improvement could be only a long-term matter, and since both vehicle and track were equally concerned, there could be no short-cut by using a bogie, designed to run under different track conditions, on British railways. The work was therefore naturally divided into two parts-short-term and long-term policies.
The obvious solution to the short-term policy was to discover the best bogie available, and that had been done very simply by running comparative trials with all existing bogies and with such instrumentation a? was available, and then, by taking the best out of each, producing a bogie that gave the best possible results with existing knowledge. That had occupied a long time, and had consisted in trying out the bogies under standardised conditions, with records, with both new and well-worn tyres. The results of the tests was the present British Railways standard bogie. He was glad that the Author approved of it. It gave a reasonable ride, although they were not finally satisfied with it, and such improvement as had been obtained had entailed increased weight and cost.
The long-term policy was therefore more important, but it would be some time before all the answers were known. Recognising that it was not only a matter of the bogie itself, a committee had been formed to study the interaction between the track and the vehicle, with representatives from the mechanical and civil engineering departments, under the chairmanship of the director of recearch.
The first objective of the committee was to decide how to measure scientifically that elusive quality riding, and to break it down into its different elements. The long-established method in use was not sufficiently analytical for the purpose. There would then be selected a limited number of variations from the conventional designs, and prototypes would be built which could be fully tested against the existing designs, with such improved measuring technique as might be developed.
Research of a more fundamental nature was proceeding, and the universities were assisting the British Railways research department with laboratory work on small-scale models. Motor bogies would be considered equally with trailer bogies; the worn condition was of more importance than the new, and the mileage which could be run before riding conditions became uncomfortable was of the greatest economic importance.
In spite of the most.comprehensive work which had been carried out in the United States, France, and elsewhere, there was no short-cut which could be an alternative to dealing with the problems under British conditions. The factor at present missing, and which was absolutely essential, was the means of accurate measurement; that subject was of most absorbing interest and had great possibilities. Much had been said about the flexible wheel. Only that week he had turned down a project of a fully designed and developed flexible wheel because the cost was practically 50 per cent of the total cost of the coach itself. After hearing the discussion,. he was inclined, in spite of that, to have a set of bogies fitted with such wheels purely for development and experimentation, from which something was certain to be learnt. He was completey satisfied, as were the technical officers of the manufacturers, that a flexible wheel was possible; the design was ready to go into manufacture.
Jarvis, R.G. The railways and coal. J. Instn Loco Engrs., 1952, 42, page 404. (Paper No. 515).
Noted that a fireman had only to use 11 shovelfuls (1 cwt) more than necessary between Euston and Birmingham to increase coal consumptiion by one pound per mile. Noted that spent much on training enginemen.
Cook records that Riddles
was born on 23 May 1892. His place of birth and initial education are not
mentioned by either Marshall or by Rogers.
Marshall gives a good concise biography
and notes The Times obituary (22 July 1983, page 12). .
Reed: noted that Riddles can be accounted one of the greatest Crewe-trained men. Though he never held the highest executive position at Crewe, he went on to become a vice-president of the LMSR and was the first and only Member for Mechanical & Electrical Engineering of the original British Railways Executive
He was a premium apprentice at Crewe works from 1909 to 1913, and while attending the Mechanics Institute classes he took a course in electrical engineering, feeling there would be a future for electric traction. After service in the Royal Engineers through the 1914-19 war, in the course of which he was severely wounded, he returned to Crewe and was put in charge of the Park Place 'city'. In 1920 he became 'bricks and mortar assistant' at Crewe with special charge of the new large erecting shop (Rogers: No 10 Erecting Shop, later known as Erecting Shop South) then underway, but also with oversight of engine shed and other locomotive department structures. When work on the erecting shop was stopped, Riddles was put in charge of the small progress department, and was sent to Horwich for a month to study LYR methods of engine shopping. The progress (really production) department then began to develop, particularly when the support of Beames was gained after Riddles had proved a case for economy, more authority being granted to Riddles to plan work through the shops and see that it was done. Along these lines he came to have much say in the details of the big Crewe re-organisation of 1925-27 which, through his ideas supplementing Beames's introduction of 'the belt', was taken much further than the proposals for which Hughes had got board sanction in 1924.
On the completion of this scheme Riddles was sent to Derby to initiate a similar system, in this case with the advantage that he could begin on the base of the Midland's good methods of engine shopping and the active support of the then Derby works manager, H. G. Ivatt. When this work was done he returned to Crewe as principal assistant to Arnold Lemon when I. V. Denning was sent off to Bow works. In 1933 Riddles was transferred to Euston as Locomotive Assistant to Stanier, and in 1935 was promoted to Principal Aassistant to the chief mechanical engineer. Westwood alleges that Riddles was responsible for the design of the Duchess Pacifics (certainly Stanier was in India at the time of their construction). but there is no suggestion of this in Rogers' study of Riddles. Certainly, Riddles' description of the Duchess trial run into Crewe is one of the most colourful pieces of writing on engineering, although it masks a deplorable lack of foresight and liaison which Gresley would never have tolerated.
Riddles accompanied "Coronation" to the USA in 1939 and due to the illness of Driver Fred Bishop he ended up driving the train on most of its tour. On page 41 of Rogers' Last steam locomotive engineer he shows how Riddles responded to volunteer during thre 1926 General Strike when Riddles was given Edith Cavell, a Prince of Wales class engine built in 1915, to drive. He says:
'After a 30-hour standstill on the line, I took the first train from Crewe into Manchester, and did two round trips a day for the next two days. On the second day I set up a record from Manchester to Crewe; stopping at every station (thirteen of them) and doing the journey of thirty-one miles in under the houra feat which was noted by the Press. On the third day I was given a George the Fifth and I could not obtain anything like the acceleration and had difficulty in stopping the engine from slipping. But of course, once under way, it ran like a hare. On the fourth day I asked for Edith again, and was booked to run from Crewe to Carlisle with the Scotch Express!'
He had some difficulty in climbing Grayrigg, a longer pull than Shap though not so steep. He thought Shap would be more than difficult, particularly with a 'green' fireman, and so refused to start from Tebay until he had a full head of steam in the boiler. When they did get going he had to take a turn with the shovel himself, because the Princes and Experiments, with their long and level grates, were not the easiest to fire. As it was, he made a very fast ascent of Shap and arrived at Carlisle with no steam left at all. The lesson of the extra adhesion given by additional coupled wheels was one which he never forgot and which was to influence considerably his own subsequent designs-culminating in a 2-10-0 which could, and did, run at 90 mph for British Railways. Though many Chief Mechanical Engineers never drove a locomotive [KPJ this is probably an over-statement], Riddles maintains that the practical knowledge so acquired is an invaluable aid to anyone responsible for design. (The greatest compliment to his own driving ability came from Fred Bishop, the top link driver who was sent to America with the 'Coronation Scot'. Riddles overheard him say, 'If he comes on my engine I'll hand the corner over to him at any time'.)
In 1937 he was moved to Glasgow as Mechanical & Electrical
Engineer he was the first to have the double title Scotland
(Rogers makes it very clear that this a great disappointment to Riddles as
Fairburn was brought in as Stanier's Deputy and
eventual successor). During this time he was seconded to take the Coronation
Scot train and streamlined locomotive to the USA on exhibition,
WW2 came to Riddles' aid as in 1939 he was seconded to the Ministry of Supply as Director of Transportation Equipment. In 1941 he became Deputy Director General, Royal Engineer Equipment at the Ministry and was responsible for acquiring locomotives for war service by requisitioning from the railways, by ordering new Stanier 2-8-0s, and eventually by the design of the WD 2-8-0 and 2-10-0, which were his particular achievement, some of them worked for 20 years on British Railways, and were only displaced at the general elimination of steam..
Rogers is especially good on this period and extracts are available on the page relating to the 2-8-0 and 2-10-0 designs, but he also covers the order of Stanier 8Fs for military service, as well as Riddles involvement in Bailey bridges and the large scale production of jerrycans. Rogers captures his subject's genius for organization at this stage extremely well. He was even involved in the development of the Mulberry Harbour system. Although these were designed for maximum economy in the use of materials and labour of construction
In 1943 the post of Chief Stores Superintendent of the LMS became vacant, and the LMS requested Riddles' release from Government service to fill the post (he himself was anxious to get back into railway service lest he be passed over for promotion in his absence). As a Chief Officer he was thus senior to Ivatt, and on Fairburn's sudden death he expected to succeed him as CME. Instead he was made Vice-President responsible for all engineering matters. In this post he was the senior locomotive engineer in any of the Groups.
Thus when appointments were made to the embryo Railway Executive in 1947 in readiness for Nationalisation, according to Rogers he was the obvious candidate for the member responsible for all mechanical and electrical engineering. In this post he was responsible for the policy of continuing the construction of steam locomotives, on the basis that it was not worth changing to diesel traction when the ultimate aim was electrification. The strongest criticism which can be levelled against Riddles' management skills is that he appointed two ex-LMS colleagues (R.C. Bond and E.S. Cox) to design his standard lcomotives: a greater man might have selected men from Swindon and either Eastleigh or Doncaster. It is not surprising that the Standards were viewed with suspicion on the Western Region. On BR Riddles was responsible for the initiation of the well-known 'interchange trials' of 1948.
The BR range of standard steam locomotives was designed under Riddles' direction with the aid of Bond and Cox and the work shared between the existing former company drawing ofices. The first were the Britannia 4-6-2s (the name reflected his first love of the LNWR). His two/three types of Pacific, two types of 4-6-0, three types of 2-6-0, two types of 2-6-2T, and his 2-6-4T and 2-10-0 were claimed to incorporate the best practices of the former railway companies, although they resembled LMSR two-cylinder types. Designed for simplicity, ease of maintenance, and to burn poor coal, they incorporated Chapelon principles (according to Westwood) and were generally successful (there is an increasing literature which shows that the exercise was wasteful); the 2-10-0s were outstanding, being capable of 90 mile/h as well as slow freight work. The single heavy Pacific prototype, (designed by Harrison) fitted with Caprotti valve gear, was exceptionally economical.
He also had full charge of electric traction, with an electrical engineer (first Cock and then Warder) under him. At the end of his railway career his was the suggestion that initiated the trials of 50-cycle traction on the Heysham-Morecambe line, a suggestion prompted by the feeling that this was the real means for the future rather than further efforts on existing dc systems and diesel traction, and this was a fitting finale to his early studies at Crewe.
Riddles was forced to retire in 1953 (according to Gourvish) on the abolition of the Railway Executive, and became a director of Stothert & Pitt of Bath, the crane makers. He died on 18 June 1983, aged 92. There is now a considerable literature which condemns Riddles' locomotive policy as utter folly and it is believed that Ivatt would have favoured preserving existing types until replaced by other forms of motive power (this was the essence of Thompson's policy). Gourvish made it very clear that Riddles' arrogance shown towrds the British Transport Commission and its quest to develop other forms of motive power was a contributory factor in the chaotic switch from steam to diesel traction in the following decade. Obviously, Rogers was unaware of the full impact of his subject's tardiness when writing his biography..
Cox (Locomotive panorama v. 2 (p. 19) wrote "Riddles had an extraordinary capacity for getting people at all levels to work together, and he made a point of meeting and becoming known personally to most of the middle and junior rank people who were engaged on the massive fact finding and design work on which we were engaged. As part of this process he engendered a family atmosphere at headquarters in which even our wives participated from time to time. For example when the full size wooden mock-up of the cab and tender of No. 70000 was brought down from Derby to Marylebone for inspection by the Executive, the regional officers and the Unions, a little party was arranged one evening at which our wives could climb over it and successively sit in the driver's seat. They delivered themselves of respectful or ribald comments according to the manner in which they normally treated their husbands, and I think gazed in some awe at the kind of thing which occupied the business and even the waking hours of their other halves."
On the other hand Cox Locomotive panorama 2 p. 111 wrote that "When Colin Inglis came to B.T.C. in 1952 as Chief Research Officer, two men were set to work together in the same department who by background, temperament and inclination, were poles apart, and things did not become any easier so far as we were concerned. All Riddles' hackles rose in contemplation of the pomt that increased status for the Research Department might necessarily invade his own prerogatives, and his relationship with Inglis in turn became brittle. This is, I think, a classic case where managerial lack of perception of the realities of a situation and unwillingness to define has led to internal frictions over a very long period. In such a battlefield the scoring of points by one side or the other has been a recurrent feature, and we all savoured the situation when Sam Ell at Swindon in the course of setting up a new and separate office for himself and his men, began to work under a legend painted above his door in prominent characters-' Research and Development Office '-thus boldly carrying the war into the enemy's camp." This is rather different from the collaboration between Gresley and T. Henry Turner (KPJ)
Atkins, Philip Dear Mr Stanier,
you don't know me but...Steam Wld. 1999.(144), 21-4.
In 1965 the author wrote from his home address to several of the retired CMEs to ask them fairly specific questions about their design policy: Atkins was successful and some of his replies are reproduced as received. Typed reply from Riddles reproduced. Riddles noted that he had contemplated a 4-8-0 with a shallow firebox for use in Scotland.
Noble, Keith A.W. Norman: a railway career. J. Rly Canl Hist. Soc., 2006, 35, 346-7.
Norman ended his career as Chief Stores Superintendent of the LMS, but had been passed over for this post twice, latterly by R.A. Riddles in 1943. He regarded Riddles as a philanderer who requested subordinates to post postcards to Mrs Riddles giving false information about her husbands's whereabouts.
Bonavia, Michael R. British Rail: the first twenty five years.
The LMS scored heavily in mechanical and electrical engineering, the Member for which was Robert A. ('Robin') Riddles, who had risen to be a Vice-President of the LMS. Handsome and well-dressed, and a first-rate technical officer, he was first and foremost a steam locomotive man; he had no use for main line diesel traction as a half-way house to electrification, which he saw as the ultimate solution, though for the time being it must be postponed. It was a strongly LMS-dominated department that RAR set up and almost at once set to work on the task of designing BR standard steam locomotives, probably the most criticised action that the Executive undertook during its lifetime. He could exercise considerable charm, and expounded his arguments forcefully. However he had too lively a temperament to be able completely to conceal his irritation at meetings between the Executive and the British Transport Commission, when he was asked to explain or defend his policies by men whose professional knowledge fell short of his own. He was always at odds with Oliver Bulleid, the brilliant but unconventional CME of the Southern.
Bonavia, Michael R. The birth of British Rail. London: Allen & Unwin, 1979,
E.S. Cox has written: 'It says much for human adaptability that they [the former Company's CME's staff] cooperated as well as they did, only shadowed by an often wooden demeanour when they faced us across the table at the monthly M and EE Committee meetings, and punctuated by occasional outbreaks of sheer naughtiness.' There is of course something fundamentally wrong about any organisation in which headquarters complains about 'sheer naughtiness' in those who are supposed to execute its policies. There has been a failure to communicate and establish any sense of common purpose.
Riddles and his team were meanwhile proceeding with gusto to develop the new 'standard' designs for BR locomotives. I have put 'standard' in inverted commas, because so-called standardisation schemes often act in reverse they merely add to the total number of types in service for which spares have to be kept and knowhow acquired unless certain conditions are fulfilled. First, the inspirer of standardisation must be reasonably certain of a long period in office, and that his successor will not prematurely discard his policies. This, for instance, was not the case when Edward Thompson formulated his 'standardisation' plan for the LNER as he had only a short expectation of years in office. Next, a continuing demand for the type of motive power involved must be predictable for at least a quarter of a century, preferably longer. Lastly, there must be the financial resources clearly in sight for large-scale scrap-and-build, quickly replacing non-standard by standard products as when Stanier took office on the LMS.
None of these prerequisites was present when the Riddles team plunged
into their task. Of course, for some time the only locomotives that could
emerge from the erecting shop would have to be existing Company types. It
was in fact not until 1951 that the first BR 'standard' locomotives appeared
89 compared with 208 of Company designs in that year, although in
the following year the 'standard' types began to predominate.
Duffy, M.C. Technomorphology and the Stephenson traction system. Trans. Newcomen Soc., 54, 55-74. Disc.: 74-8.
The author both confirms George Stephenson's original brilliance and soundly condemns "late" steam locomotive engineering (especially that of Riddles and Bulleid) to the dustbin of history. "Riddles' greatest error was to make no systematic exploration of main-line diesel traction, despite the recommendation of the 1948 Hurcomb report." "Riddles grossly overquoted the diesel to steam capital cost ratio". "he failed to build on the pioneer diesel-electric work of Bulleid, Fairbairn [sic] and Ivatt".
Gourvish, Terry British Railways, 1948-73: a business history. 1986.
This official history both notes the competence of Riddles as a manager and condemns him for the folly of his steam locomotive policy. As early as page 10:
On the other hand, it is clear that the railway companies, although inhibited by the coming of nationalisation, might have achieved more with a centralised, unified approach to the problems of shortages and restrictions. That there was scope for this, even in the climate of 1945-7, was demonstrated in the latter months of 1947 when, with the new organisational structure for nationalised railways in its embryonic form, successful steps were taken to improve the conduct of freight traffic. Signs of economic recovery, and expectations of a rise in coal output in 1947-8, provided the necessary stimulus. First, a special Wagon Repairs Committee, set up in October under the guidance of R.A. 'Robin' Riddles, one of the newly appointed members of the Railway Executive, was able to create extra repair capacity. As a result, the number of vehicles under or awaiting repair was reduced from 203,000 in September to 159,000 in December 1947 a reduction of 20 per cent in under three months. Second, an intensive publicity drive was organised by Riddles's colleague David Blee with the aim of cutting wagon turnround time and freeing idle stock. A wagon discharge campaign, which started in November, cut the average daily 'leave-over' of loaded wagons by a third, releasing about 35,000 wagons by the end of the year; and average terminal-user time for all vehicles, loaded and empty, was reduced from 2.13 days at the beginning of the campaign to 1.96 days only four weeks later. These examples, by showing what could be done with more determined management, suggest that the companies had failed to seize earlier opportunities for lessening the effects of austerity restrictions.
On page 38 Gourvish notes what would now be termed cronyism
The concern to balance company representation certainly resulted in a division of the principal honours among the main-line railways, but lower down, this was less in evidence. Riddles, for example, chose four of his officers from the L.M.S., his old company, while Train appointed two of his staff of four from the L.N.E.R.
On page 49 it is noted
Here, it is sufficient to observe that Missenden was deliberately slow in responding to the Commission's call of April 1948 for the creation of a committee to report on the economic advantages of alternative forms of motive power. When a committee was eventually established in December 1948 the Executive ignored the B.T.Co's request to participate, and did not report until January 1952. Hurcomb's demand that diesel traction be examined more closely met a blank wall. Missenden, replying in December 1950 to the commission's anxiety over the locomotive building programme for 1952, informed them, tongue-in-cheek, that 'Without any knowledge of the conclusions which the Committee. . . may reach and without in any way wishing to anticipate .their findings, experience on British Railways points clearly to the fact that. .. the most likely alternative to steam traction, on a long term basis, is electtic traction.' Meanwhile, Riddles was given very much a free hand to develop a building programme for standard steam locomotives.
On pages 86 et seq Gourvish is extremely critical of Railway Executive policy as misguided by Riddles:
Any consideration of the Executive's investment in locomotives is necessarily associated with the controversial decision of Riddles and his team to embark on a programme of constructing 12 types of standard steam locomotive. In the period 1948-53, 1,487 new units were built to old company designs. However, the acquisition of alternative forms of traction - electric, diesel and the experimental gas turbine (265 locomotives in all, 1948-53) -was more than offset by the building in 1951-3 of 309 standard steam locomotives, the beginning of a programme which supplied 999 units to British Railways before construction ended in 1960,77 The arguments for and against the Executive's motive power policy have been rehearsed several times, most recently by Johnson and Long. In such discussions the broader environment in which technical decisions were made has rarely been outlined. Riddles, whose undoubted qualities as a manager have been underestimated as a result of the controversy, claimed that although diesel traction was ideal for shunting purposes, electrification was the natural inheritor of steam for main-line services. Impressed by the French railway's work with a 50-cycle a.c. system, he initiated an experimental conversion of the Lancaster-Morecambe-Heysham line on the same basis in 1953. But as long as this option was blocked by the restrictions on capital investment, he argued, the use of steam locomotives, which were thermally inefficient but had a low first cost, was fully justified
It should be stressed that in the years immediately preceding nationalisation the general policy of both the Treasury and the relevant ministries (Transport, Fuel and Power) had been similar to that of Riddles. The wartime reports of such transport officials as Hurcomb and Mount did not envisage a large role for diesels, Mount pointing out in 1943 that 'for a country which produces excellent steam coal, but has to import oil, the advantages of imported fuel must be overwhelming before its general use can be justified'. 80 And when Crompton Parkinson raised the possibility of an agreement with General Motors to supply diesel-electric locomotives in 1945, the Treasury made it quite clear 'that they would oppose any proposal for the substantial changeover of main line railways in this country to oil-fired [sic] engines'. The safeguarding of employment in the coal industry was apparently as much a consideration as the saving of imports.81 After the war, the government exhibited more inconsistency. Coal shortages in 1946 caused the Ministry of Transport to order the railways to convert 1,200 steam locomotives to oil-firing. In fact, only 93 were converted, but the railways were well on their way to spending £3 million of government money on fixed plant before the scheme was suspended following doubts about oil supplies in September 1947. This uneconomic exercise the R.E. claimed that oil-fired locomotives cost 2½ times more to operate than coal-fired ones - was eventually abandoned in May 1948. Episodes such as this undoubtedly reinforced the general climate of uncertainty which helped Riddles to ignore the Commission and press forward with his steam locomotive policy.
It is quite clear that Riddles carried his enthusiasm for steam much too far. First, his decision not only to persist with this form of traction but to embark on a series of completely new designs made little sense when the locomotive exchanges of 1948 had demonstrated the flexibility of many of the existing company types. Second, it seemed illogical to allow the Western Region to continue its acquisition of steam shunting locomotives when the case for diesels was universally accepted. No less than 293 were added to stock in the years 1948-53, and a further 50 were introduced in 1954-6. Finally, the decision not to proceed with a full-scale trial of diesel traction may be questioned. Almost immediately after taking office the Executive abandoned the L.N.E.R.'s plan to introduce 25 1,600 H.P. units for trials on the King's Cross to Edinburgh service, an idea which was taken up subsequently by the Executive's own committee on alternative forms of motive power in 1951, and endorsed by Hurcomb and the Commission.84 The Executive was quicker to investigate the feasibility of using light-weight diesel units on branch lines and cross-country services. With the encouragement of Pope and Elliot a special committee was appointed in August 1951, but the combination of a lack of enthusiasm in railway circles and a disagreement with the Commission over the selection of test areas delayed the project. Riddles's attitude was demonstrated by his request for a concurrent experiment with steam push-pull units. It was not until the last months of the Executive's life that firm plans were established for the introduction of diesel units in specified areas. Undoubtedly, the effect of the general procrastination was to shift most of the costs of technical transition into the years of the Modernisation Plan
Because incentive for prompt decision-making and major forward planning on the part of the Executive was lacking in the depressing environment of the austerity years, the restrictions on investment acted to restrain the introduction of modern technology. It was at best a shortsighted policy to build steam locomotives in the knowledge that alternative forms of power specifically electrification had traffic-stimulating properties, and that full employment was making it harder for the railways to attract men into locomotive maintenance work. However, there was a case to be argued for retaining the low first-cost option already in use, and investment restrictions made it easier for Riddles and his team to justify the view that steam should be used until electrification was made available. Certainly, this position was widely accepted in the industry. For example, in the Executive's 'swansong', its hastily prepared Development Programme of April 1953, a third of the proposed expenditure of £500 million was to be for major electrification schemes; moreover, enthusiasm for this form of motive power persisted in the regions well after the publication of the Modernisation Plan
It is debatable whether a higher rate of investment in the period 1948-53 would have led automatically to substantial changes of policy, but it seems likely that Riddles would have found it much harder to resist a more enthusiastic experiment with both main-line and branch-line diesels as an alternative to electrification. Certainly, the opportunity to invest more freely in motive power resources might have prevented some of the less desirable aspects of the Executive's steam programme. For example, it is doubtful whether the Executive would have purchased in December 1948 558 second-hand, 'austerities', basic freight locomotives designed by Riddles in 1943 for the Ministry of Supply, given the initial hostility of Barrington-Ward and others to the move on the grounds that they were surplus to estimated requirements. These locomotives, which Riddles had once declared could be 'thrown into the sea' after the war, were expensive to maintain and lacked the operational flexibility of other types. But an undertaking to buy in principle had been made by the Commission as part of its arrangement with the government to effect a quick settlement of the financial legacies of war-time control. In the end, the Executive held out for an advantageous purchase price. The locomotives were bought for £1.5 million, at a unit price which was about haIf that paid by the L.N.E.R. for 200 of the same locomotives in 1946. This compensated the Executive for rehabilitation and higher maintenance costs, but the episode took the railways further away from their avowed policy of standardisation.
Whatever resources had been available it seems highly probable that the legacy of conservatism in the railways' forward planning and the Executive's natural concern to secure the unification of the four separate companies before taking important decisions about future investment would have left their mark. Nevertheless, it is unquestionable that the restrictive environment in which the railways were forced to work was damaging in several ways. It built up a large backlog of schemes planned as early as the 1930s; helped to strengthen traditional attitudes to motive power; and encouraged resentment at both central and regional level about the difficulty of introducing new ideas, of which there was no shortage. Despite the restrictive environment, Oliver Bulleid, the chief mechanical engineer of the S.R., introduced an ambitious prototype steam locomotive with the double-ended properties of a diesel the 'Leader' Class and tried double-deck electric trains in an attempt to relieve rushhour overcrowding on the S.R. without recourse to longer trains and platforms. He also put into service eight 'tavern cars', restaurant/buffet cars built to resemble mock-Elizabethan inns. All these new developments were controversial. The 'Leader' Class locomotive was a miserable failure. The other two encountered consumer resistance (not to mention in relation to the mock-Tudor taverns the stuffy opposition of the Royal Fine Art Commission) and were eventually abandoned. Nevertheless, these experiments do show that there was a creative response in the industry, one which was inhibited by the lack of investible funds. But most important of all, the failure to spend more money before the mid-fifties had a long-term impact in influencing the attitude of railway managers once the investment brakes were released with the acceptance of the Modernisation Plan in 1955.
Finally on page 54 Gourvish noted a conversation he had with with Riddles in 1980:
As Riddles has observed, 'fortunately for me those other boys were so engaged on their own jobs that I could simply say to the Executive, "I'm going to do this" and I did it . . . I think we were left a lot to our own devices'.
Joy, Stewart. The train
that ran away: a business history of British Railways. London: Ian Allan,
The many photographs in locomotive books of dust-coated or overalled senior engineers in steam locomotive cabs testifies to their continuing involvement with the basic mechanical details of their profession. The way in which the biographer of R.A.Riddles, the designer of the last BR steam locomotives, described his sensations on having a last drive of a locomotive before retirement suggests an almost orgiastic relationship between man and machine (page 32)
Whatever were the machinations between the BTC and the RE, Hurcomb had not counted on the strength of the personal ambitions of the successor to Stephenson, Webb, Churchward, Gresley and Stainer, who wished to design his own fleet of steam locomotives. (page 37)
In addition Joy is extremely critical of the total failure to invest any effort into developing diesel traction, especially in the form of multiple units.
Langridge, Eric. Under ten CMEs, V. 2. Chap. 3
Sharp introductory portrait (p. 68: "an engineer of wide expertience and of the right age. He was to my mind a true Crewe man; he could be courteous, determined or a driver, all according to circumstances"), but reader should not expect too much, for Langridge was relatively remote from the action. There is a later chapter on problems with the Britannias, but that is a separate issue..
Pearson, A.J. Man of the rail. 1967
Riddles was a tall,handsome man, not unlike Anthony Eden in appearance. As a functional member of the Executive he was all-powerful in his field. It is easy, of course, with hindsight to see that the policy adopted was wrong; there was no point in deciding on 12 new classes of steam locomotive if steam traction was about to be abolished. But Riddles and his team could not know that. Steam had always been the principal means of traction and it was reliable, so it would continue. Had an electrical or oil engineer been the member, the policy might have been different; some certainly consider it would and that diesel traction would then have been substituted for steam as the policy. Riddles himself undoubtedly considered diesel traction, but there were grave doubts about its reliability compared with steam, and with its much higher initial cost the cost per mile would rise. Riddles would have preferred electric traction to diesel, but there was no prospect of the huge capital investment required for electrification being available [page 112].
H.C.B. Rogers, The Last Steam
Locomotive Engineer (1970).
Fifty years on. A.T.H. Tayler Backtrack, 1998, 12, 688.
Refers to feature by Rutherford on early British Railways motive power policy and some of the apparent reasons behind the decisions that were taken (page 445 et seq). At the time of nationalisation writer had just completed a one-year exchange of 'Junior Technical Staff' between the former Southern Railway and the former English Electric Company he had been with the former Southern Railway's Chief Electrical Engineer's Department since June 1942, obtaining his theoretical experience at week-ends and in evening classes.
As the exchange course included some five months on diesel engines, he found himself on his return in charge of contract work on diesel-electric shunters (Nos.15211-36) and three l,750hp main line diesel-electric locomotives (Nos.10201-3) as well as the third of the Southern Railway Co-Co electric locomotives. For the next sixteen years the 'New Works' aspects of all electric locomotives, diesel-electric locomotives and multiple-units of 'Southern' origin were his direct responsibility. Between 1950 and 1954 he had direct responsibility for all six of the 'prototype' diesel-electrics.
He agrees with most of Rutherford's statements, but Rutherford does not mention that in addition to the 999 so-called Standard locomotives there were another 1,538 locomotives built to existing pre-nationalisation designs largely to meet Rudgard's needs, or in other words of the total of 2,537 new steam locomotives built after nationalisation, only 999 were the so-called Standards, which makes their design and production even more unforgivable.
Tayler would not call the two gas-turbines and six main line diesel electrics a "great deal of varied hardware" initiated by the former private companies, only one of which actually turned a wheel before 1st January 1948, but he does agree that there "appeared to be no plans to even collect any information together". In fact, by 1953 he was required to make a weekly return to Headquarters of miles run, ton-miles hauled and the reasons for any failures. The only use, as far as he could see, made of this information was to instruct English Electric, when they received the order for their ten type 'C' locomotives, to depart as little as possible from the 10203 equipment.
The former LNER proposals for the introduction of 23 main line diesels was resuscitated in 1953 (Geoffrey Hughes takes issue with this statemen: see letter on page 221 of Vol. 13) and he recalled accompanying the Eastern Region Motive Power Officer, E.D. Trask together with his Southern Region opposite number, G. A. Weeden, both pretty well dyed-in-the-wool steam men, on No.10203 from Waterloo one day in the summer of 1954 on the down 'Atlantic Coast Express'. The plans were immediately sat on once more!
Incidentally, another trip Riddles made on a diesel-electric was when No.10202 was engaged in dynamometer car tests (another waste of time and money serving only to show the steam men that diesel and electric performance could be accurately predicted) between Waterloo and Exeter as far as Salisbury. He made little comment about its performance which, in fact, was excellent with an overall fuel efficiency of around 23% compared to around 7% with steam!
It is true to say that so many of these "eminent" steam engineers engaged to a very great extent in childlike romanticism as did the "recorders" of locomotive performance and wonders, too, how many of them ever really knew the real cost of their steam locomotives compared with electric and diesel which had a large 'outside' content (the true costs of British Railways workshops were not revealed until the time of privatisation). Also, of course, the triumvirate had a vested interest in building and repairing its own locomotives and claimed that contractors' products, like Vulcan Foundry and North British, were always more expensive like-for-like (even if the workmanship was 'superior).
He would agree with the caption to the photograph on page 449. No.10800 was ill-conceived and underpowered. It was supposed to be the equivalent of a Class 4 steam locomotive but in writer's experience this was never the case. The Paxman RPH engine was the only quick-running engine with even a vestige of traction experience and this was previously only on shunting-type work. The later engines on the BR locomotives of Clayton and North British origin were not much better while the twin horizontal engines on the Clayton Class 17 were a disaster as originally built.
With railcars again a fundamental mistake was perpetrated in using bus engines and mechanical transmissions on a railway duty. The earlier GWR cars had been a reasonable success, with AEC always in the background, and the diesel-mechanical cars in Ireland where anything had to be better than what was originally there! But the fact that AEC stated in their brochure the design "was based on experience gained since 1934" tells one enough. By Continental standards they were years out of date. It was with railcars in mind that Paxman developed their horizontal engine and in fact two of them were given a trial by the London Midland Region but by then the die was cast and Cox and Pugson insisted the diesel-mechanical cars must be perpetuated.
Incidentally, it was never intended that the 10000-type bogies should be used on the Southern 'E5000' series locomotives but on the 2,500hp Co Co proposal which Headquarters were trying to foist on the Southern Region. The Region stood firm and insisted such a heavy and expensive monster was not required and the smaller, lighter Bo-Bo design, with bogies based on the Swiss SLM principles, was eventually produced. Also it is a little misleading to say that the MSW Co-Cos' output and performance were as good as many of the early ac classes - the latter were all 80-ton Bo-Bos and built to a BR specification.
The remark concerning English Electric diesels in the fourth paragraph on page 453 is not understood. From the end of World War II, except for the handful of slow speed marine and power generating engines, English Electric H, K and RK diesel engines were manufactured in Preston until around 1956 when production was transferred to the Vulcan Works at Newton-le-Willows. Willans works at Rugby was the old Headquarters of the Diesel Engine Department and was where the Research and Development shop was originally situated, but when the RK engines became the dominant sector design it was transferred to Vulcan.
Summers, L.A. British Railways steam. Stroud: Amberley, 2014.
The book is in effect a tirade against Riddles and his "standard" locomotives written from an absurdly pro-Great Western stance and is not helped by several wild statements, such as the Peppercorn A2 class could have operated into Liverpool Street and obviate the one situation where the Britannia class filled a need. He also uses the extraordinary order for J72 class 0-6-0Ts to mask the huge orders for pannier tanks. He also fails to appreciate the many excellent qualities in the Austerity 2-8-0s which were perfectly adequate for declining short-haul mineral traffic. The Stanier 8F class were much too good for a rapidly disposable role.
Jenkins, Terry. Sir Ernest Lemon
Nothing fresh emerges in this book: Riddles contacts with Lemon appear to have been limited to the Stanier Pacific test runs when either Lemon or Riddles was on the footplate.
Notes criticism by Bond of Riddles' proposed class 5 4-6-2 design and suggested increasing dimension to produce a class 6 4-6-2 which was really a Britannia class with a smaller boiler. Intended for Highland line but Atkins suggests that not sent there as required tablet catchers to be fitted which seems odd as some of the illustrations show locomotives fitted with brackets for working over Dumfries to Stranraer road (but do not show apparatus fitted). Article mentions proposed rebuilding of Patriot with 2A boilers at low cost and at reduced pressure in exchange for not building more Clans. Notes movement of coupled wheels on axles (a fault also evident on Britannia class), attempts to improve steaming, their sluggishness when sent to Haymarket and their appreciation on the "Port road". The class was clearly Riddles' P2 class. The enigma of the BR 'Clans'. Philip Atkins. 6-10.
David Jenkinson published a lengthy letter in
British Railway Journal No. 17
page 350. Perhaps, the final comments relating to the three hour tape
(especially remembering the friable nature of tape) are of the greatest
significance). Mea culpa I am afraid; it was indeed misleading in
my analysis of LMS Lake to use the words 'colour did not matter' in respect
of the early BR locomotive liveries unless, like many, one does not
regard black as a colour! The comment arose because I was privileged in their
twilight years to meet and converse on many occasions with both Roland Bond
and Robert Riddles and they told me much of those early BR days. If you think
your readers can stand it, then maybe the following further remarks will
be of interest.
Mr. Romans is quite right in most of his observations save that Roland Bond, one of the ex-LMS 'Big Three' and Riddles' deputy, was ex-Derby and quite liked red he told me so; but Robert Riddles was a Crewe man, he was in charge and took Henry Ford's view of the advantages of using 'any colour you like as long as it is black'. It was in this sense that I meant that colour did not matter, for Riddles was determined to have all the engines black if he could and not just the goods types. It was, of course, pretty well inevitable that the latter would be plain black. The story, as told by Riddles to me, and I believe it is confirmed in his biography, is roughly as follows:
Shortly after nationalisation, a bevy of repainted engines was paraded at Marylebone in front of the Chalrman of the British Transport Commission in order to select a new passenger livery. Most of them were green, in one shade or another; none, as far as I know, were black and they were lined in a variety of ways (as an aside, does any reader know exact detalls of both the engines and their liveries in this parade?). By all accounts, this had all been done rather quickly and most of the engines were not in the best of 'exhibition' finish. At the end of the parade, the Chairman asked Riddles if that was the end and the latter replied that he had prepared another engine if the Chairman would be interested, but it was not green, nor had this particular scheme even been considered at the planning stages. The Chairman agreed to inspect the 'maverick'.
Riddles thereupon summoned, from out of sight, an LMS Class 5 4-6-0 on which, to use his own words 'I had told Crewe to do a real job!' It was, by all accounts, a quite spectacularly well-prepared engine compared with all those which had gone before and as it slowly steamed past the VIP audience it was seen to be painted in gleaming LNWR lined 'blackberry' black with all motion highly polished. Where upon the Chairman turned to his locomotive engineer saying: 'Riddles, you b..d!', as a result of which, again to use R.A.R.'s own words: 'I got more than 19,000 out of 20,000 locomotives painted black, which was what I had wanted all along!'
Riddles was a wonderful man and possessed of great charm and modesty. He did, however, have an impish sense of humour and there is no doubt at all that the LNWR livery was quite intentional. The interesting thing is, however, that of all the various schemes used by BR in the steam period, the lined black was, risking a personal view, the only lined out livery which 'sat' universally well on aim oat everything to which it was applied including ex-MR 4-4-0s! Blue 'Kings' and GWR green 'Jubilees', 'Duchesses' and 'A4s' all looked universally ghastly, blue 'Duchesses' and 'A4s' looked a bit better, but the lined black engines were almost always acceptable. Black is always a dignified engine colour and I reckon Riddles got it right, even though I did personally regret the passing of the red livery.
One day, perhaps, the editor may allow me to reminisce a little longer about the wisdom of Riddles I have a three hour conversation with him on tape but for the moment I will leave it there, save for one final question. Have you ever wondered why the first BR standard locomotive, Class 7 4-6-2 No. 70000, was called Britannia? Think about it! Further letter from David Jenkinson in BRJ No. 20 page 39 giving further credence to link with the Premier Line.
Rogers' book contains some excellent photographs: my favourite is facing page 113 lower where Railroad Engineer wearing American railroad gloves is portrayed at the controls of "Coronation" during its tour of the USA in 1939. His stature is evident in many of the pictures, but especially facing page 24 where he is shown with J.L. Francis when an apprentice at Crewe. See also with Duke of Gloucester and its design team..
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