British Railways engineering: 1948–80

John Johnson and Robert A. Long: Editor in Chief Roland C. Bond

Mechanical Engineering Puiblications, 1981. 636 pages. Ottley 15537: "A definitive history".

Unusually the title implies rather less than the actual period covered by the book: thus there is a considerable amount of material relevant to the Grouping period, and even to the twentieth century in general. The authors were professional railwaymen, but were not engineers. Much of the preliminary material is reproduced below. There are some strange inconsistencies in refering to future events: thus the Chapter on steam (5) refers to the future construction of locomotives..




Authors' Preface




ONE End of an Era 1923 to 1947


TWO Nationalization: The British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive 1948 to 1953


THREE The Abolition of the Railway Executive and Subsequent Patterns of Organization


FOUR The Plan for the Modernization of British Railways


FIVE The Final Years of Steam Traction


SIX Diesel Traction


SEVEN The Impact of Electrification


EIGHT Passenger and Freight Services


NINE Civil Engineering


TEN Signal and Telecommunications Engineering


ELEVEN The Contribution of Technological Research and Development


TWELVE The Pursuit of Safety


THIRTEEN The Locomotive and Carriage and Wagon Workshops


FOURTEEN International Relationships


FIFTEEN Past, Present, and Future




APPENDIX Headquarters and Regional Chief Engineers, 1948-80


Index of Engineers


General Index


Foreword by SIR PETER PARKER MVO Chairman, British Railways Board

This is a remarkable book. Written by two retired railway officers, who have been guided by Roland Bond, that doyen of retired railway engineers, and a distinguished advisory panel, helped by the serving Chief Engineers and their staff, it was originally intended to be the story of the Engineer, but with the spirit of compromise so necessary in engineering, it has become the definitive and factual history of the Engineer's work, of railway engineering, from Nationalization in 1948 to the present day. With accuracy and readable ease and simplicity, it tells the story of an engineering revolution, of a period where the whole basis of railway engineering, in all its forms, was changed with its inevitable effect on the lives of men and women at every level throughout the business.

The story has been told before that, when the first production diesel main-line locomotives entered service in 1958 there was no new diesel locomotive maintenance depot, there were no electricians, and there was no artisan training school. On the other hand, there were plenty of boilermakers and steam fitters and stearn drivers and firemen and there were engineers in charge. Men rose to the occasion to learn, to train, to organize as never before, to master a technological change so quick and unique to their experience and above all to handle the associated human problems which, if not thoroughly and fairly faced, could have checked progress and success. Within five years, the task had been completed, the total abolition of steam traction in this particular area. While this was going on, electrification at 25 kV was being introduced in part of the NE London Suburban area, affecting many of the same staff and managers. To electrify at high voltage posed many problems but the decision to do so  was well taken. It was not immediately successful but within a matter of months, it was the effective precursor of the system of overhead electrification which, without doubt, will be extended in the hard driving years to come. Bridges will be altered or renewed, tunnel clearances increased, track relaid, modernized, and simplified, new signalling systems introduced of great sophistication and reliability. A challenge as great as faced the railway engineers all over the country in the period covered by the authors.
It is sometimes forgotten that we have been — indeed are — dependent on the expert knowledge of private industry, in many branches of railway engineering. And, of course, the converse must apply. There have been techniques of which our engineers had but little initial knowledge and experience but it is also fair to say the Manufacturers have gained their practical experience through this association with British Railways. Some of the service engineers who worked so closely with us in the early days, made their career with us; others, more senior, joined and enriched us with their particular knowledge of engineering and business in the private sector.

The High Speed Train has revolutionized the passenger business to the North East and the West and the electrically driven APT will do so under the wires to the north. I am dedicated, indeed committed to the policy of high-voltage, high-speed, high-efficiency electrification to replace diesel traction on main lines. It is the only way to run a first-rate railway: I intend to overcome the obstacles standing in our way and proceed, neither slowly nor with hesitation, but with vigour, determination, and speed to set the seal on the great work that our engineers have accomplished in recent years.
The task fills me with enthusiasm: it drives us on and we are building for the future, not only of the railway industry, but of mass high-speed transport. In every engineering department, we are creating, training, and developing engineering talent as never before. Some may say that they are a different breed, more academic, less practical but they are good and they will have to be good to accept the challenge to create, to develop, and then to extend the lifework of those who engineered 'the revolution' covered in the pages of this book.

Authors' Preface

The title of this book needs some explanation. It relates to engineering in British Railways (sometimes abbreviated to BR) and no attempt has been made to consider the notable contributions to the development of railways by the engineers of London Transport. Furthermore, although some attention is paid to the manufacturing activities of British Railways itself, it has been impracticable to deal at any length with the vast contribution made by the railway manufacturing industry generally, without which the modernization and re-equipment of the railways would inevitably have been a much slower process.
Neither does the story confine itself to the years from 1948 to 1980. We have had good reason to discuss many aspects of engineering develop- ment which occurred before the creation of British Railways as a single entity. Not only did many of the engineers who have made their contri- bution to more recent railway technology gain their experience with the privately owned companies, but the engineering initiatives of those com- panies helped to shape today's railways. Indeed, such is the technical longevity of railway equipment that the engineer of 1980 is involved not only with modern technology but also with the maintenance of fixed works dating back to the middle of the nineteenth century, signalling installations more than a hundred years old and rolling stock built before nationalization in 1948.
We have not set out to write an engineering textbook or to capture the romance of railway engineering, which is closely associated with the design and performance of the steam locomotive. Our aim has been to record in as non-technical language as possible, and in the space available to us, the main railway engineering developments during years which were unique in the nature of the challenges which were presented, and in the opportunities offered. The story unfolds within the wider framework of transport policy in Britain, as external factors have influenced - and continue to influence - the shape of railway engineering development. Without an appreciation of this wider background it is not possible to understand why certain engineering decisions were taken at critical periods in the history of British Railways.[KPJ: clearly at this point a line of type was left out]
made by the officers of the British Railways Board must be the first to be acknowledged. It is not only the engineering departments which have assisted our work, as we have had considerable help from several of the Board's departments and subsidiaries. The Director of Public Affairs has been particularly helpful in the provision of photographs. The engineers have, however, borne the main weight of our inquiries at both Head- quarters and Regional levels. We would particularly acknowledge, therefore, the assistance received from M. C. Purbrick, Chief Civil Engineer, K. Taylor, Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer, A. A. Cardani, Chief Signal and Telecommunications Engineer, and Dr K. H. Spring, followed by Dr A. H. Wickens, Director of Research. They and their officers, in particular F. G. Clements, N. Howard, and C. M. S. Maguire, have answered many questions and provided much information. Our thanks are also due to I. M. Campbell, Member of the Board responsible for Engineering and Research, who became Chief Executive (Railways) and then Vice-Chairman.
A number of officers who have retired from British Railways have also helped us to. reconstruct earlier situations and we are most grateful to Dr M. R. Bonavia, E. Claxton, C. W. Edwards, A. H. Emerson, G. F. Fiennes, Dr Sydney Jones, John Ratter, E. C. Lyon, H. Wilcock, and the late Sir Allan Quartermaine.
Finally, we are grateful to R. C. Bond, A. H. Cantrell, E. G. Brentnall, A. H. Emerson, and T. C. B. Miller who, as fellow members of the Advisory Panel on the preparation of this book under the Chairmanship of E. L. Dellow of MEP Ltd. have been so helpful in many ways.


It was with deep regret that we heard shortly before this book was published, of the sudden death of Roland Bond. During the first twenty years of the penod under review he held a succession of very senior engmeenng posts – Chief Officer (Locomotive Construction and Maintenance), Chief Mechanical Engineer, Technical Adviser, and General Manager, Workshops – at Railway Executive, BTC and BRB Headquarters. In doing so, he made a very significant contribution towards the modernization and re-equipment of British Railways and the o.rgamzatIonal developments which were necessary to meet the changing CIrcumstances.
He was a dedicated railwayman and his Presidency of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1963 and his election as a Fellow of Engmeenng are a measure of his stature as an engineer. Over the past four years he has given us the benefit of his wide experience, as Editor in Chief. We are grateful to him and are sad that he did not live to see the publication of the results of his guidance.

Introduction by Roland C. Bond

The purpose of this book is to record, and comment as objectively as possible, upon the achievements of the engineering and research departments of British Railways during the first thirty years since they were brought under national ownership on January 1 1948. The period covered by this review has seen changes and innovations in rail- way technology more fundamental and far reaching in character than any previous similar span of years, even in the early days of railways.
For nearly 150 years the railways developed steam locomotives to a high degree of perfection; tracks became stronger and signalling very much more sophisticated with the use of electric track circuits. The reader will find that with the introduction of diesel and electric traction many developments in all fields of railway technology appeared, and any account of the work undertaken by the Engineering Departments would be incomplete without some explanation and comment on the broad political and organizational backgrounds against which it was carried out. This the authors have provided with penetrating insight.
Most of the members of the Railway Executive were not unfamiliar with the. problems involved in welding four proud companies into one organization, as they were enjoined to do by the 1947 Transport Act. They could remember, may even have taken part in, the inter-company rivalries arismg from the 1923 amalgamations. Thus, they were well prepared to resolve and settle the conflicting interests which would inevitably arise.
Clearly the work ahead demanded firm central direction. It was indeed fortunate that the Railway Executive was organized on functional lines. The two engineering Members were, in effect, chief departmental officers to whom certain corporate responsibilities were added. They exercised unchallenged authority from top to bottom over their departments at Headquarters and in the Railway Regions. Without this, progress to the deSIred objectives would inevitably have been slower and less certain.
To a greater extent than in many other branches of the profession raIlw.ay engineers are required to live, day in, day out, with their own creatIons. They specify, design, and often manufacture and build the structures and moving and fixed equipment which together constitute a raIlway system, for the operation and maintenance of which they are held responsible. One hears criticisms from time to time that railway engineers tend to be unduly conservative in their outlook, but let it never be forgotten that they are the custodians of the safety of the travelling public and all who use and work upon the railways. There is no one to whom they can pass the buck if things go wrong.
The original proposal that this book should be written arose from discussions among members of the Railway Division Committee of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and since no individual could possibly possess all the necessary technical knowledge or know the entire story from personal experience, an Advisory Panel, consisting of representatives of all the railway engineering disciplines, was set up to provide information and guidance to the authors.
Many engineers who have been involved in the development of railway engineering have written of their experiences. It is difficult, however, to be personally associated with the making of history and, at the same time, to write objectively about the experience. That is why the two authors who were invited to write this book are not engineers. Both were, however, intimately involved in the development of British Railways since nationalization in senior appointments and worked closely with their engineering colleagues.
I have regarded my task as Editor as being to ensure, as far as possible, complete accuracy as to facts and I have had the closest possible co- operation throughout from both authors in accepting any suggestions which I felt it necessary to make. Opinions expressed and conclusions drawn are theirs alone.
The authors in their Preface have mentioned the work of the Advisory Panel, and I should finally like to add my tribute to the help and support which my fellow members have given throughout.

John Johnson joined the railway direct from school and from 1930 to 1940 was employed in the office of the District Locomotive Running Superintendent, Peterborough, on the LNER. He saw war service with the Royal Engineers, being demobbed in 1946 with the rank of Major. Between 1946 and 1955 he held various posts in the Peterborough area, finally as Chief Clerk in the District Motive Power Superintendent's office. In 1955 he joined Eastern Region HQ, as Assistant in the Planning Section, and was involved in the introduction of the first diesel main- line locomotives, in the development of electrification on the Great Eastern, London Tilbury & Southend, and North East London lines, and in other modernization projects in progress at that time. Later, he was appointed General Assistant to the General Manager and Secretary of the Eastern Railway Board.
In 1967 he moved to BRB Headquarters as Personal Assistant to the then Vice-Chairman (H. C. Johnson), becoming Principal Assistant to the Chief Executive (Railways) in 1968, a post he held until his retirement in 1976.

Robert A. Long, OBE, FCIT, FPWI, FRSA acquired an interest in railways early in life, and joined the LNER in the traffic department at Leeds in 1935. He worked in thirty-six stations and offices throughout the system, before going to the New Works Office at LNER Headquarters to work on building programmes and the development of plans for the future. He was Assistant to the Divisional Superintendent, Eastern Division, during the completion of the Liverpool Street-Shenfield electrification. With the advent of British Railways, he was Assistant to the Operating Superintendent, Eastern and North Eastern Regions when the first of the Class 7 Pacifies came into service.
Mr Long then moved to BTC Headquarters and was there at the time of the Statutory Reorganization in 1953 and the Modernization Plan in 1955. Back on the Eastern Region he was successively Economic Survey Officer and Commercial Superintendent, Great Eastern Line, before moving on to the Scottish Region as Assistant General Manager. For the rest of his career he was at British Railways Board Headquarters. As Chief Commercial Manager at the time of the Reshaping Plan he was concerned with the development of new commercial attitudes including marketing organization. At this time he was also Chairman of the BR side of the Channel Tunnel Rail Working Party. As Chief Planning Manager he was responsible for creating a planning organization and developing long term plans. In 1968 he chaired sessions of the International Railway Congress, Vienna, devoted to the economics of high speed passenger services. Mr Long's final position on British Railways was Executive Director, responsible initially for planning, development, and marketing of passenger services, and later for international policy. He represented BR on several UIC Committees.
Although he is now officially retired from BR, Mr Long remains active as a consultant and in this capacity has worked in the USA, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East. He was formerly an advisor to the Economic Commission for Europe (United Nations) and is currently a member of the Advisory Committee on Transport to the EEC Commission. He is a former Member of Council of the Chartered Institute of Transport.