Monday 20th January 2020
'Nationalisation v. Privatisation'
Alex had experienced British Railways from 1966 to 1997 but was also able to bring us up to date, dispelling a number of myths, including incorrect stories of new TOC owners making large profits.
He set out arguments of being publically and privately owned and pointed out that we currently have a hybrid of the two, with the Department for Transport involved in most of the day to day running, meaning that we don’t have a truly privatised railway. Alex stressed his belief that having good quality management with clear goals and funding was far more important than ownership arguments.
Alex argued that the railways reached a peak of efficiency just before privatisation with BR’s ‘Organisation for Quality’. John Major’s government had little knowledge of railways, and the model adopted led to a fragmentation of track and trains - the root of much of today’s poor performance.
Government funding, now incorporated into contracts with franchisees, has increased investment under privatisation leading to substantial improvements in infrastructure, and enormous amounts of private capital, have brought in 8 000 new coaches. Neither of these sources of funding had been available to British Rail.
This issue is a political one as well as a practical matter with popular opinion, powered by perceptions of a poorly operating railway, caused largely by the pressures brought on by a doubling of passengers and trains since 1997, swinging towards public ownership, whilst many of the operating companies are struggling to make money. Substantial changes to the organisations are imminent and Alex forecast that the Williams Review would be unveiled very shortly. We were likely to see the railways reverting back to a BRB-style chairman and board taking over from the DfT for day to day operation of Network Rail and the train operating companies. Concessions rather than franchises would be granted.
Alex held his audience in rapt attention presenting a complicated issue in a very erudite way, regaling us with a mixture of plain speaking and data analysis. This could have been a rather dry topic to some and controversial to others, but he contrived a lively style and a balanced approach to avoid these pitfalls.
It is difficult to adequately summarise such a large topic and for a fuller picture, you are referred to Alex Green.
Monday 16th December 2019
'Branch AGM & Members' Slides
At our AGM James Waite was installed as our first Branch President by unanimous vote. Jim was a founder member of the branch and has run it, almost single-handed at times, for years, stepping down as Chairman just two years ago. Not content with that, on his “retirement” he took on the role (with his wife Brenda) of providing our refreshments every month!
We then enjoyed a number of presentations from some of our members.
Geoff Brocket got us off to a great start with his recent pictures of the Isle of Man, including a 125 year-old steam loco, some newly built steam engines, horse-drawn and electric trams.
Guest David Johnson followed-on with a variety of shots from around 1965. Great Western and the S&D were a feature, plus a Scottish A4, scenes from the Isle of Wight, New Holland and Lancaster.
Mervyn Rogers treated us to Italian fayre. This ranged from steam in Tuscany (a Railway Touring Club tour in 2005), very interesting articulated electric locos and an ancient US switcher, followed by trains in Sicily including the train-ferry and onto Sardinia.
Alan Simpson’s theme was heritage and narrow gauge railways. This was a wide-ranging collection featuring many lines including the Bredgar & Wormshill, Sittingbourne & Kemsley, Mid-Suffolk, Old Kiln Light Railway and many others.
We finished with Rodger Green, our Chairman, who showed us some beautiful pictures drawn from recent calendars.
This rounded up an enjoyable evening with a nice range of material and seasonal food courtesy of the Waites and Smiths.
Monday 18th November 2019
'London to VelkeKapusany - A 21st Century Odyssey
One of the main attractions of going abroad is that things are different. As LP Hartley said in a different context “They do things differently there”. Vive la différence.
David Jackman led us on a tour from London through half of Europe – to Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, The Czech Republic and finishing up in Slovakia, at Velke Kapusany near to the Ukrainian border.
David is a frequent visitor to the Continent, making use of various good value tickets, and has an intimate knowledge of railway matters. He was able to regale us with facts and figures peppered with amusing anecdotes, many from his own experience. We learned about the mix of electrical supply systems and voltages that make life interesting – and challenging no doubt to the operators. His main focus is passenger trains and there were excellent illustrations of the wide variety of locomotives and stock to be found in these countries. In addition to the mainline trains we were shown several examples of branch lines, many of which have survived despite being poorly patronised; although the writing is on the wall for some of them. Differences inevitably strike one – double-decker trains, lack of fences, low platforms, driving on the right, strange looking signals, trains running through the middle of urban streets, and so on.
Although many things are different, there are parallels with the UK. For example: Class 810 four-wheeler Diesel units (“Wheelie bins”), equivalent to our Pacers are prevalent, especially in the last two countries covered where they evidently plod along rural lines at about 30 mph. Bustitution is not uncommon in these European countries, and in Germany cancellations due to driver shortage is a feature. We imagine perhaps that German trains are always efficient and on-time; evidently they are not.
David also took time so show us some museums, narrowgauge systems and ancient trams.
Monday 21st October 2019
'That Was the Year That Was - 1962'
Geoff Plumb was introduced to railways and to photography at a rather young age by his father Derek. Many trips were taken together, usually with the rest of the family, and great use was made of the railtours organised by the RCTS and SLS, etc.
The presentation “That was the year that was – 1962” started before 1962 and the first images were from the 50s when Geoff was four years old. Many of the pictures in this presentation were taken by Geoff, but his father’s work was also on show. Geoff and his father had many friends who were excellent photographers, well-known in the RCTS and to readers of RO and he was able to show some of their work.
Both Geoff and his dad had to make use of basic cameras, starting in Geoff’s case with a Kodak Brownie at 13, and film of limited range, and sometimes quality. So, capturing moving trains in the prevailing British climate was challenging. Later on Geoff was able to upgrade his equipment and film technology gradually improved.
It was wonderful to see the range of locos and rolling stock used on service trains and double-heading railtours and other specials. As Geoff pointed out, there was a lack of clutter in the railway environment, when compared to today. What could be more lovely than an A3 speeding along the ECML with beautifully maintained permanent way and semaphore signals?Plently of interesting items in the foreground and background, but no overhead wires. What a golden age of railways!
We look forward to his follow-up, on 1962.
Monday 16th September 2019
'The BR Blue Era'
We welcomed Robert Warburton from Peterborough presenting The BR Blue Era. He reminded us that blue was in use before, with the prototype Deltic for instance.A little further back, just after nationalisation, experiments were conducted with the frontline 8P locomotives of the former Big Four treated in this way – in some cases two different hues and linings.Who can forget the Kings so adorned!Colour is a matter of taste and the LNE A4s in garter blue with red wheels, perhaps demonstrated a happier combination.
At an exhibition at the London Design Centre in 1963 British Railways became British Rail and a new era of design was born.Blue was chosen as a modern looking colour for locos and rolling stock.In some case passenger stock was resplendent in two tones – blue and a sort of pale grey.Many found the new liveries agreeable with modern stock, but the sight of the blue Brighton Belle is surely best forgotten.The changeover took some time and there were trains with unfortunate combinations of old and new livery for a number of years.
Robert is widely travelled and treated us to slides from around the UK.It was interesting to observe the number of loco classes that made it into the blue era, including some of the Modernisation Plan diesels, although many were scrapped in their original green.We saw blue examples of Baby Deltics, Class 28s, Western NB hydraulics, as well as class 76 electrics.
In the current privatised Technicolor era we are unlikely to witness another standardised nationwide colour transformation..
Monday 15th July 2019
Visit to Mangapps Railway and Museum
A brand new three road building welcomed the South Essex Branch on their annual visit to Mangapps Railway and Museum on Monday 15th July.
This new structure provides a new entrance to the site and is covered accommodation for the shop/buffet coaches and for the newly acquired 1912 Gresley brake composite, which was a major star in the Jon Snow TV series on Restoration!.
Also now under cover is the rare elderly Great Eastern coach of 1863, which is resting on 4-wheel trucks of similar vintage, originally from the Shoeburyness Military Railway.
Latest of the recent arrivals are the yellow liveried Class 31s, 31105 and 31233. The former hauled the visitors in the CPR caboose along the “Branch” and on to the terminus at Old Heath.
To round off a most enjoyable evening, 03089 with modified 1910 GN carriage E43178E took the party on a “normal” run up the main line.
Another pleasant visit, favoured by beautiful sunny weather and we thank June and John Jolly for their hospitality.
Monday 17th June 2019
'Airport Railways - A Global Survey'
Our events-organiser Steve Hewitt likes to provide a varied programme; accordingly we had Andrew Sharp, International Air Rail Organisation policy advisor to present an overview of these links.
The introduction covered the benefits and problems of intermodality, planning issues and the work of his organisation IARO.This organisation aims to: - spread world class best practice; disseminate good practice ideas; provide information; research solutions in common problem areas.An “airport railway paradox” has been identified whereby there are ‘locals’ who live in the catchment area and tend to know the transport system, whereas ‘visitors’ don’t know the system and have a city centre destination.This is seen to be a ‘challenge for the marketing team’ and can lead to conflicts between the needs of commuters and air travellers.
Andrew gave many examples of best and sub-optimal practice within the six types of provision: -1) High speed dedicated links (airport expresses); 2) High speed networks; 3) Regional links; 4) Suburban, metro and light rapid transit; 5) People movers and shuttle buses; (6) Cargo.
One of the most interesting developments in intermodality has been ‘Mode sharing’, in which apassenger may fly from the USA to Paris say and then continue by rail to e.g. Brussels by train on the same ticket in a fairly seamless way.Long haul by plane, short haul by train. Some airport expresses offer an in-town check-in.
An interesting question is who should plan and pay for provision – the public or private sector, or some species of combined effort? Evidently, 42% of European airports make a loss or are subsidised in some way.
A most interesting topic all round, go to www.iaro for more information.
Monday 18th March 2019
Member Presentations and Quiz
Our booked speaker for 18 March 2019 was unavailable, so, at short notice, an improvised programme was implemented, in the form of a Members’ Slide Evening and a Quiz.
Our treasurer, Chris Ignatowicz, had us all racking our brains when he announced that the title for his short presentation was to be ‘From Venice to Rome by Narrow Gauge’. He had us all fooled. It turned out that Wenecja and Rzymu are the Polish versions of the Italian cities in question linked by narrow gauge, and we saw pictures of quaint locos, including a Pacific and 600mm gauge oddities in a TPO and snowplough at the museum.
Another stalwart, Geoff Brockett, followed on with one of his collections of high quality photographs covering special and unusual workings. His in-depth and inside knowledge enables him to capture many examples of locos and rolling stock turning up in surprising places – fortunately not surprising to Geoff. Most of his pictures in this presentation were taken around London, but Geoff roams far and wide and we were treated to rail tours, infrastructure trains, ECS – new stock deliveries and positioning workings. It is perhaps surprising how much non-revenue working there is. Many and varied were the combinations of locos and stock that were featured in all manner of corporate colours.
The evening was completed by a quiz that enabled members to display their encyclopaedic knowledge of trains and railways, which they did with much good-natured rivalry among the teams.
Monday 18th February 2019
CHEMIN DE FER DE LA BAIE DE SOMME
For our 18 February meeting we had a splendid presentation on the Chemin de Fer de la Baie Somme given by Michael Bunn.
We were taken on a virtual trip to Picardy and shown the result of some decades of dedicated work by volunteers to rescue a disused pair of branch lines. One of the many impressive features is the co-operative work carried out between the French and their English compatriots from the Kent & East Sussex Railway – a great example of entente cordiale. Michael is an active member of both organisations. He has been visiting since 1993 and the twinningoccurred in 1996.
The two branch lines lead separately from a junction with the Calais – Paris mainline at Noyelles-Sur-Mer, to the coast; one to Le Crotoy, the other via Saint-Valery Sur Somme to Cayeux-Sur-Mer. As the Somme silted-up over the years much land around the estuary was reclaimed, and it is along this terrain that the lines traverse, so gradients are fairly gentle.
French rural lines suffered like many in the UK, as traffic declined, from ‘bustitution’; however, these lines around the Somme have been redeveloped to provide a wonderful playground for gricers and the general public in search of an interesting day out.
The system has many interesting and in some cases, unique features, such as the mixed gauge (metre and standard) resulting in four rails. Another is the provision of turntables at terminal points.
A great amount of rolling stock has been acquired and renovated. These locos and carriages, wagons, etc. are all to be seen working along the lines giving a wonderful variety.
Festivals are arranged every few years during which a very intensive service is run.
A very significant factor has been the benign attitude of the local authority, which puts to shame that of some equivalent bodies in the UK. It is well worth a visit!
Last updated: 25th January 2020