Meeting Reports

Meeting Reports

Speaker: John Cartledge – former Head of Policy and Research at London TravelWatch

Title: Elstree & Borehamwood – the first 150 years

Our booked speaker was unable to attend so John stepped in to tell us about his home station of Elstree & Borehamwood (E&B) from its inception until the present day and beyond. Having introduced himself he briefly outlined his own railway experience starting with training at the BR staff college in Woking over 40 years ago. John explained that as a student his speciality had been geography, an interest he still retains. The presentation was based on material put together for an exhibition covering the history of E&B station rather than rolling stock, timetabling or any other of the many aspects of the railways.

With a selected history of both the Midland Railway and its rival GNR, John explained briefly how the line through E&B came to be. The routes into London were proving lucrative for the railway companies and as the Midland did not have its own route into London initially, it had to use the GNR lines. This became more of a problem as GNR would prioritise their own business which led to the Midland building its own route to London passing through Elstree and Borehamwood along the way. What is in a name? Elstree can trace its history back to being a settlement in Saxon times while Borehamwood largely grew with the advent of the railway line passing through between the two. The name of the station itself has had a number of versions being named after one or both settlements at different times and is currently known as Elstree & Borehamwood to acknowledge the importance of both.

When the station first opened to traffic in July 1868 there were 6 trains a day and John used some interesting sections of the 1868 OS map to show the very limited extent of the settlement and how the railway was placed in the landscape. There was little more than a handful of cottages with open fields around. A large scale map of 1872 showed the original lines with two tracks, the layout of the station, the station master’s house. The goods station shows up on the Eastern side with a passing loop to the West. There was plenty of allowance for goods traffic with two sidings to the North, a coal yard, and cattle pens amongst other facilities. The nearby Tilehouse Farm still exists but at the start of construction the company had to build a bridge as part of the development because the railway line bisected the farmland. The Midland also built one of the first mixed developments consisting of a row of shops with flats above – it was speculative then but it worked. They had the foresight too to build an extra span on the bridge to allow for future expansion. Clay materials excavated from tunnelling etc were used together with a local spring water supply to produce bricks for the railway building works leading to the set-up of a brickworks in an area that quickly became known as Brick Field.

A later map dated 1896 showed further development with more buildings and additional housing including six tied railway cottages, a school, a Baptist chapel and a gas works with its own sidings. On the railway itself extra lines can be seen including a relief line, and by this time an additional bore to the tunnel had been added and there is now a signal box. A 1912 map shows more houses, more railway cottages, a second signal box, a church, and an extension to the brickworks. There was also another railway track going up and over the mainline to facilitate access to the goods yard which continued in operation for nearly 100 years before finally closing.

The first of the Elstree film studios was built in 1914 on part of the area originally occupied by the goods yard. As the town grew and the nascent film industry thrived, other things were changing and the brickworks was closed down in 1915. Moving nearer to the present day, by 1960 the large post war housing estates were largely complete and the town had reached approximately its current footprint. The goods station closed in 1967, other businesses moved in and the brickworks site became an informal open space. The loading dock next to the station master’s house survived until the 1980s while the original tied railway cottages were not demolished until the 1990s to make way for new development. By now the goods sidings had been lifted, the old coal yard had become a car park and there was a new footbridge replacing the long gone Victorian one. Today the town has a population of around 40,000, approximately one eighth of whom commute to work by train now served by 6 trains an hour rather than the original 6 a day. Quite a contrast with the original small settlement surrounded by open fields, and rail traffic that was largely freight now almost exclusively passenger services.

John’s carefully researched maps and before and after photographs illustrated the enormous changes over time from a small cluster of cottages to a fair-sized town, the original wooden station buildings to later more substantial ones, removal of the main station buildings in the 1960s, changes to the platform numbering and a photograph from the 1980s showing overhead electric wiring – strangely enough with a diesel running through. Facilities for passengers, and transport access to the station were pretty poor but local lobbying prevailed to clear the old yard and put in a purpose built transport hub with good bus links. Soon after this a new prefabricated station building was erected - currently undergoing enlargement to improve passenger facilities including a café and some retail. The official 2011 opening of the remodelled forecourt and interchange was attended by a number of film characters including Darth Vader of Star Wars fame, with some memorable artwork on display as a more permanent celebration of local heritage. At least part of the success of the recent changes has to be attributed to the collaboration between rail operators, local authorities, film heritage and local people. With a fully accessible footbridge, extended platforms, enlarged and improved station facilities for passengers and staff alike, Elstree & Borehamwood station should be fit for the 21st century once all the current building works are complete.

It is nearly 100 years since the Midland Railway was subsumed by grouping and there is not much of the original left although the sharp eyed observer may still find a few original items in situ in forgotten and hidden corners. A fascinating illustrated history and It will be interesting to see what the next 150 years brings.

Tuesday 30 April 2019

Speaker: Steve Ollive

Title: The Anniversary Tour

Steve introduced himself and explained what the talk was about – a railway tour in Europe to celebrate three sixtieth birthdays and a silver wedding anniversary with five of the six participants present at the meeting. The presentation was divided into parts for the different sections of the journey. Part 1 took in the British Pullman from London Victoria; picking up the Venice Simplon Orient Express - with its beautiful interiors, superb service and great luxury, at Calais for the onward journey to Venice Santa Lucia. It was a good reason to dress up in fitting attire for such a setting. When asking for a more detailed itinerary for the VSOE, the answer was: depart London Victoria 10.45am on Sunday 24 June, arrive Venice St Lucia at 17.25 on Monday 25 June 2018! It was worth completing the questionnaire before travelling asking if there was any special reason for taking the VSOE as the Mâitre D came along just before dinner with a complimentary bottle of champagne to toast the birthdays and anniversary. This was followed by a superb dinner prepared by the on-board Michelin starred chef as we made a leisurely way across northern France to Paris Est and a change of locomotives from Sybic 26163 to another Sybic 26161 – neither matching the grandeur of the coaches. Each coach is different and has a history which is discretely on display. After leaving Paris it was off to the bar car for a night cap. This was the only communal vehicle on the train apart from the restaurant cars so it was really crowded but, along with the night cap, there was the pleasure of listening to the excellent on-board pianist.Early the following morning saw a locomotive change at Basel detaching the SNCF locomotive and changing it for SBB RE4/4 locomotives 11181 and 11199, before continuing on through Switzerland following the old Gottard Pass route to the Italian border at Chiasso having passed by the famous church at Vassen at least three times at different heights as the route climbs up through the mountainous Swiss scenery.

Part 2 covered three full days in Venice and the lagoon islands using the local transport which is mainly water buses with a three day vaporetto ticket proving to be an excellent idea. Most of the group spent the morning of the second day taking an early tram back to the mainland at Mestre to photograph trains and the VSOE as it prepared to return to Calais. The trams are interesting in that they operate on one rail with two pneumatics. Having discussed train times with the train manager on the way out to Venice, he greeted the group with the comment “I thought I would see you lot here”. Venice was a magical place with some wonderful sights and stunning views particularly from the top of the campanile (bell tower) of San Giorgio Maggiore, as well as visits to some of the islands including Murano - famous for its glass, and Torcello – slightly less touristy but well worth visiting with its old church, ancient remains and small lizards, and the heron perched on a post in the middle of a canal totally ignoring the tourists. Back on the main islands, some of the usual tourist attractions were visited – St Mark’s Cathedral, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs amongst them, and nothing disappointed. Lunch was taken at a café in St Mark’s Square where there was a surcharge of 6 euros – for the privilege of listening to what turned out to be a superb group of musicians playing gentle classical music. More exploring during the stay took in a waterbus to Tronchetto and the delights of taking the people mover back to the main island.

Part 3 covered the details of the rail journey from Venice to Vienna starting with a high speed Frecciarossa set 22 to Verona where there was 90 minutes of train watching while waiting for the OBB Euro City connection to Innsbruck via the Brenner Pass. At Innsbruck there was just enough time to catch the Railjet to Vienna with time to enjoy a meal onboard before arriving at the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) which is a remarkable building, and a short walk to the hotel. Vienna gave the perfect excuse to stop outside the railway station – a bus pulled up, without disembarking the driver got out his flask, poured a ‘cuppa’ and put up the sign on the front destination display of a cup of steaming tea/coffee and the text PAUSE (German for break). This was the prompt for the refreshment break during the presentation.

Three days in Vienna took in trams, the tram museum and the technical museum, as well as a day out using the ‘spare’ day on the Interrail Pass to travel over the Semmering Pass to Payerbach-Reichenau and the Höllentalbahn where there was access to the works at the top and the power plant on the way back down – available only on the first run of the day. On the round trip that day, there was also a visit to Műrzzuschlag and the Sűdbahnmuseum (southern railway museum) with its incredible display of works vehicles. Other visits in Vienna included the Donau (Danube) Park with its 15” narrow gauge railway, and magnificent views over the city and its environs from the top of the tower. From here it was on to Prater Park with another 15” narrow gauge railway operated by the same company as at Donau Park.Unfortunately, it was not possible to see the hydrogen powered locomotive as it was well hidden in the engine shed. It was a must to try all forms of transport including the famous Ferris Wheel so this too was enjoyed.

After an excellent stay in Vienna it was time to continue on to Prague leaving on RJ72 propelled by OBB 1216-240.With tram lines running directly outside the hotel in the Old Town, it was well placed for exploring the city, visiting the Charles Bridge, Castle and Cathedral as well as a specially privileged private guided tour of the Jewish Museum. There was a wealth of interest for transport enthusiasts with regards to trams (including vintage vehicles on some regular routes), railways and the technical museum. Delights included City Elephants – double deck EMUs, at the smaller Mazarykovo railway station just a short walk from the hotel. Also of interest were the huge numbers of Harley Davidsons, due to there being an international convention celebrating the 90th anniversary of the local chapter. The bikers were very friendly, were everywhere in the city and they used the tram system too.

All too soon it was time to return from Prague to London leaving one member of the group behind to visit with family there. The first train for this part of the journey was 193 290 from Prague to Dresden and here there was time to watch a plentiful supply of freight trains from various companies going through the station while waiting for the ICE Class 411 connection to Frankfurt. It was a short walk to the hotel for the night before catching a Class 406 ICE to Brussels the following morning. At Brussels it was an E320 Siemens Eurostar back to St Pancras and then UK suburban railways back home.

Questions and answers included distances travelled; any issues with taking photographs – answer: none; questions about the VSOE rolling stock; food on board the VSOE – sumptuous is the best answer here with the onboard chef holding 2 Michelin stars; comments about David Suchet and his research before filming on board the VSOE, as well as discussion about how to distinguish between various types of rolling stock seen during the journey.

There was a lot more detail during the presentation on the railway rolling stock seen, places visited and stories too, that added colour but there is not enough space to include everything in the report. As one of those who enjoyed being on the tour itself, all I can say is what a superb way to celebrate!

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Clan Line

Speaker: Chris Meredith

Chris gave a brief outline of his early contact with the Merchant Navy class of steam locomotives as a child living in Broadstairs, before providing an outline of the Merchant Navy Locomotive Preservation Society (MNLPS) formed at the end of 1965 by Tony Clare and brothers Maurice and Gerry Walker.35028 Clan Line was selected as being the most recent in the class to have undergone a major overhaul in 1959 and because it was regarded as being in the best condition.Initially BR quoted a price of £2500 with a number of conditions attached to the purchase but eventually Clan Line was bought in August 1967 for £2200 just over a month after being withdrawn from service in July 1967.It first entered service in December 1948 in malachite green livery and its working history ranged from the start at Bournemouth in 1948, through a colour change to BR blue, before ending up at Nine Elms for its last three months of operation.By this time it had done 794,391 miles in total, 393,386 of these since being rebuilt in 1959.The MNLPS initially housed it at the Longmoor Military Railway before that closed and after a number of other moves it is now based at Stewarts Lane where it was based in 1950.The prime objective was to keep the locomotive well maintained, and running on the national rail network.The secondary objective has always been for the Society to be self-financing and this has been achieved.

Chris moved very swiftly over his own railway history working for 41 years on the railways first with BR and later as Charter Timings Manager for Network Rail.He joined the Mid Hants Railway Preservation Society around 1998, is a working member of the MNLPS and is also currently chair of RCTS Croydon Branch.

Next came some excellent photographs to illustrate how Clan Line is now used, for example with the nameplate and regalia for The Golden Arrow and the British Pullman, working to recreate as far as possible both of these historic services.It is quite an impressive sight to see it at the head of an equally well maintained rake of historic coaches.There may be safety requirements such as having the back up of a diesel locomotive on the rear as ‘insurance’ although experienced drivers ensure that this is very rarely required.

The MNLPS usually work out timings for the charters themselves including allowances for watering stops, inspecting the facilities etc and some of the photographs showed exactly what this involves in preparatory planning.Where there is less time available in a schedule, then it is possible to double pump as the locomotive has two filling pipes and both can be used at the same time, and again Chris had an excellent photograph to illustrate this in practice.Where the locomotive has to be turned, these facilities too have to be inspected and checked in advance and Chris showed an instance where very careful measurements had to be taken because of a fence erected rather close to the turntable – just enough room on this occasion.Every detail has to be carefully worked out in advance.

Chris then moved on to preparation and disposal which means exactly what it says.There is much work to be done to prepare Clan Line every time before going out and the crew are there to make sure that the correct set of nameplates and matching regalia are in place – generally reproductions as the originals are quite valuable and have to be kept securely.There are the final touches to ensure that it is in pristine condition, that the coaling has been done properly – the original tender held about 5 tons but this has been extended to take approximately 7.5 to 8 tons with the extended section flat which means that the last of the coal needs to be shovelled forward.Then there are all the other tasks that need to be completed before it is ready for the next run out – the fitness to run checks, checking the support coach and checking that all systems are working properly.At the end of the journey, there is another set of tasks with the boiler having to be blown down to clear all the sludge before entering back into the shed for cleaning, servicing and any maintenance that is required. Chris provided information on the sort of work that might need to be done as routine and what is needed as more major levels of work are required, with photographs showing the attention to detail with regards to the engineering.He took great delight in describing the 6 monthly boiler wash out where the water comes out decidedly ‘yucky’ initially but eventually runs clear.There were details about protecting the bodywork, the water treatment used to prevent or at least reduce limescale internally in the boiler, plus the myriad of other jobs required to keep the locomotive in top condition and ready to work.

After the break Chris went on to talk about some of the charters – Clan Line will do approximately 20 in a good year and the experience can be quite magical in the right conditions.Some scenes today are very different from the past with skylines almost unrecognisable in places and a few older photographs as well as current ones were shown as illustration of some of the changes over Clan Line’s lifetime.He also gave an outline of the maintenance programme and the ingenuity required at times.Some of the final photographs showed Clan Line together with a 7¼” gauge working model with the correctly modelled non-standard oil box, together with an OO gauge model too – Clan Line in three sizes at once!

Questions and answers included how long would it be possible to keep Clan Line running: answer - as long as possible with efforts to earn enough for the next overhaul before it becomes due each time; there was discussion about younger people coming on to take over the work of keeping both locomotive and organisation going; the importance of volunteers and what job opportunities there are; did Clan Line ever have a Southern number: answer no, as it was built in 1948, so it only ever had a BR number.

The vote of thanks highlighted the excellent photographs, the interesting presentation including history and the work involved in running a steam locomotive and keeping it in top condition.Clan Line is credit to all who work on it whether directly or indirectly, and to Chris for his part in it all.

Thursday 14th March 2109

40 Years of Preserving the Legendary Deltics

Murray Brown - Deltic Preservation Society

Murray began with a brief resumé of his background in railways mentioning that his father used to work for ICI and knew Dr Beeching before he was asked to produce a report on UK railways. It was in childhood that Murray caught what he described as ‘the railway disease’ before going on to talk about his first encounter with a Deltic - D1093, in 1962 while travelling from Leeds to Kings Cross – his first really fast train journey. After leaving school he started his working life with BR initially in a position within the signalling and technical department, but his heart was set on working with Deltics. So when he saw an opportunity to work directly with them he took it. He worked his way up via experimental work, trialling new parts etc until there was a vacancy for the position he really wanted. Using some slightly unorthodox methods to make sure that he was noticed, he reached the interview stage for that post and achieved success. However, it was not long before the HSTs came into service, and Murray made a good argument for considering that the Deltics were in many ways a precursor for the HSTs that were now to displace them. The withdrawal programme and the Deltic Preservation Society (DPS) started at about the same time in 1977 although there was disbelief in some BR minds that the DPS would be able to run even one of these locomotives. Gerard Fiennes – BR manager and author of “I tried to run a railway”, was one who saw potential in the idea.

After the official withdrawal programme there were still 14 surviving Deltic locomotives and BR held an open day for them in February 1982 with around 8000 people turning up. DPS had a presence there producing an excellent boost to their fundraising and publicity and it also showed the popularity of this class of locomotives. They were popular with the staff too who had continued to maintain them well and taken good care of the spares available which eventually proved to be a real benefit for the DPS when it came to buying locomotives and sourcing the spare parts to keep them operating. By August 1982 they had two locomotives with an arrangement that the NYMR would house them. This wasn’t perfect because it was not possible to run them at anything other than the relatively low speed limits applying on heritage railways, and they were kept outside rather than under cover. The preservation era had truly begun by this time and the NYMR were the first heritage line to stage a proper diesel gala so having the Deltics there was a good opportunity. There were concerns about pollution and environmental issues with running diesel locomotives, but with experience and knowledge these were minimised although there were some funny stories about the learning process not least when the fire brigade was called out. Luckily on that occasion knowledge prevailed, the engine was not flooded with water that would have resulted in major damage, and they learned how to make sure that the same problem did not happen again. The DPS had access to an excellent workshop for bodywork restoration but they still did not have covered storage space which was an on-going issue for them.

The aim was to have the Deltics running on the national network rather than being confined to heritage lines but this had not been achieved under BR. However, the advent of privatisation changed this and opened up the opportunity for both of the DPS locomotives to run initially on the East Coast Main Line.This was taken up although they became acutely aware of the delay attribution penalties if one of their locomotives should cause a problem – it can be very expensive. The DPS moved their base from the NYMR to the GCR and then on to the East Lancashire Railway. It was during this period that a request came through for 2 Deltics to haul a luxury train. Initially they thought it was a joke but no, it was for real and provided real work that would pay. The DPS really wanted their own depot facility and once enough money had been raised they started searching for a suitable base. They are now based at Barrow Hill where the Deltics are housed under cover and can be looked after properly. They own the new depot but not the land so fundraising is on-going to buy the land that is currently leased. The depot will eventually have room for 6 locomotives on 3 roads with some limited space for displays in addition, and renting out ‘spare’ space in the meantime helps to provide funds for further improvements to the facility. It has been nicknamed “Finsbury Park” but that is another story.

The DPS has progressed and developed over time and now they “rent out” locomotives with the drivers being provided by the relevant TOC (train operating company).This works very well with the DB Cargo drivers mainly used now as they seem to take good care of the locomotives in use. The DPS strategy is very clear – to keep the Deltics going for as long as possible with proposals to do another Deltic hauled special around Scotland amongst other things, before they are ‘stuffed and mounted’. As with any project like this the key to on-going success is sufficient money and volunteers. Currently the Deltics are running well and have done more hours between intervals than was managed under BR! There are a number of future possibilities under consideration and the DPS would dearly like to get the prototype up and running again. This is owned by the NRM and based at Shildon but with no engines inside. However, the DPS have two possibly suitable Napier engines although there are a number of technical issues to be overcome before the prototype could be run on the national network, and it is unlikely that the NRM would sanction the idea. The DPS have some good working relationships both within railways and outside such as the link with the Green Howards – one of the Deltics carries that name, and there are many other proposals in the pipeline although not everyone who would like to hire the DPS working locomotives understands the cost of doing so.

With some really good photographs, Murray gave an excellent and well illustrated presentation on the Deltics from the prototype, English Electric engines and Napier engines, to the current state of preservation showing clearly the interest and fondness for this class of locomotives. Question time was all too short as Murray had to catch his train home but included discussion of the original English Electric engines being ‘swapped’ for Napiers, and had they tried the Coca Cola trick with a seized engine.

The vote of thanks highlighted the extent of enthusiasm for this classic locomotive and a mention of the ‘fabulous’ and atmospheric closing photograph of the Deltics in action in Scotland.

Tuesday 22nd January 2019
Railway Freight Group
Maggie Simpson - Executive Director, RFG

This is the first time that the branch has enjoyed a presentation from the Rail Freight Group (RFG) and we were not disappointed. Maggie gave a very brief outline of what would be included followed by a potted history of her own involvement. She has always worked in the rail industry starting with safety and risk assessment, working for Rail Track, followed by working for the government on franchising and contract management before moving to the Strategic Rail Authority and freight. She was asked to help out at the RFG for a few weeks in 2005 and has remained there ever since, where she is now Director General.

The RFG is a representative body for rail freight in the UK including operators, logistics companies, ports, equipment suppliers, property developers and support services, as well as retailers, construction companies and other customers. It is a trade association funded by its members. The aim is to increase the volume of goods moved by rail in the UK and work includes influencing policy to support growth, promotion and communication of the benefits of rail freight, member events, and networking.

At privatisation, the rail freight business was sold so there were no franchises. Today there are 5 main operators providing a range of services and they compete for business. One (smaller) company is government owned - initially for the movement of sensitive nuclear materials although there is a limited portfolio of other freight. Maggie showed a slide with some of their customers including ports, supermarkets, construction businesses, aggregates, steel, Royal Mail and many others. Then the question was raised – What is rail freight delivering? The answer – approximately £1.7 billion in economic benefits, carbon emission savings, lorry reduction savings amongst others. Historically the largest part of the rail freight business was coal, initially from the pits to the power stations, then when UK pits were largely closed down, moving imported coal from ports to power stations. This business too declined with the imposition of carbon taxation and for the 12 months to April 2018, coal movements comprised only about 8% of the total. A pie chart showing current movements is dominated by intermodal and construction traffic, a very different market from coal with coal tending to be northern, and intermodal and construction tending towards southern movements so the market has had to adjust to the changes. A line graph showing overall decline, if the line for coal is taken out, actually shows growth over the last decade. This highlights the work being done to increase rail freight business and how careful one has to be when reading graphs and statistics to find the business reality.

Intermodal growth is driven by port and retail customers and an area that the RFG is working towards is on-going improvements in the rail network in and out of ports and other large freight terminals as poor provision constrains growth. As an example, improvements already made have helped to increase rail freight movements in and out of Felixstowe from 10 a day each way up to 33 each way now. Other examples were given and there is still more to do.

A lot of work and investment is on-going with a view to future growth, and progress over the last few years is encouraging. Rail freight companies will be bidding for contracts for moving construction materials for the building of HS2 and the industry is constantly seeking new opportunities. Such major construction projects have the potential to provide a lot of business in moving materials by rail. Another example of future potential is the Chinese project of linking China with Europe by rail right through to the UK dubbed “The New Silk Road”. Some links are already in place with others being proposed and slotted in to start filling the gaps. Rail would be cheaper than air and quicker than sea so there is a sound logic to the idea. Maggie went on to explain other parts of the market where things work well, niche areas – eg moving small size but high value cargo on passenger trains, other problems that can be quite difficult to resolve but provide excellent opportunities, and looking for solutions where there is a clear need but no easy way to provide the services required. One new approach becoming more popular is packing goods in standard roll-cages making it easier to load them into containers for transporting by rail or even onto passenger trains, effectively a modular system enabling the movement of smaller quantities of goods and making for easy unpacking at the final destination.

There are a number of challenges including the Williams Review of the Structure of UK Rail and how freight will be included; Brexit; capacity on the network; emissions; and technical advances. Detail was provided in all these areas and the RFG will be involved to ensure that the rail freight industry is taken into account especially in the current political climate with the difficulty of the real mix of models of how the railway works that exists in the UK. While there is a lot of concentration on increasing capacity on the network for passenger traffic, there is a need to take account of the requirements of rail freight too. The environmental case for rail would be helped by further electrification especially with the introduction of more clean air zones that affect the movement of freight using diesel powered locomotives, with research on-going on how to resolve the issues. With recent technological advances in road haulage with regards to improved fuel efficiency and emissions standards for lorry engines, and proposals for platooning lorries, rail freight operators have to constantly look at ways to improve what they do and promote the economic, environmental and other benefits of moving freight by rail.

To summarise: the rail freight section is changing significantly; there are many opportunities ahead; it needs the right answers to the Williams Review to perpetuate growth; and investment in the environment and other technology to improve efficiency and promote that growth.

Questions and answers included who bought the rail freight companies at privatisation and who owns them now? Closed railways – which ones would be most useful to have re-opened – when the network gets congested new sections seems to be the most common option without proper consideration for the utility of the remaining sections for rail freight. Further questions included current business for Royal Mail, freight through the Channel Tunnel, container sizing and re-gauging, freight terminals being built with ‘nominal’ rail access in order to get planning permission, Brexit, HS2, light rail being jointly used for freight, double-headed freight trains on the West Coast Main Line to keep up with passenger traffic. All questions were answered without hesitation, with expertise and knowledge.

The vote of thanks highlighted an ‘absolutely fantastic evening’ showing that freight is often treated as the poor cousin of passenger traffic and also showing that RFG has made a big difference in changing perspectives. The final recommendation of the evening was to have a good look at the RFG website – it makes for very interesting reading.

Tuesday 18th December 2018
The Samaritans - preceded by Branch AGM
Helen Ranasinghe - Project Officer, Network Rail

The business of the Branch AGM was completed and we were delighted to welcome new committee member Richard Whitehead.

The evening continued with a presentation about the joint work between Network Rail (NR) and the Samaritans to reduce suicides on the railways in the UK. Helen introduced local ‘listening volunteer’ David before explaining who the Samaritans are and what they do with a few statistics to help illustrate this – for example, suicide is the biggest killer of young men between the ages of 20 and 34. The Samaritans listening volunteers are ordinary people who give freely of their time having received appropriate training. They are not professionals though and do not provide counselling, they listen. It was worthwhile hearing directly from volunteer David and his perspective on the work that he does. There are other equally important volunteer roles within the organisation but the listening volunteers are the most well-known. The organisation is rightly proud that they have recently achieved a long term goal of providing their helpline free to callers.

The initial focus with NR has been outreach and the current campaign focuses on ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ encouraging people to talk as this can go a long way to break a cycle of suicidal thought. There are many reasons why someone feels desperate and cannot see a way through their difficulties but the effects of such an attempt can go far wider. The Samaritans will provide someone to listen.

In 2014/2015 there were 286 rail suicides leading to nearly 400,000 delay minutes and costs to the industry of over £60million as well as the societal and emotional impact on witnesses and with the wider effects on staff, family, friends, other passengers. Prior to the partnership with NR, rail suicides showed an increasing trend and prevention might have been seen as too difficult, but by working together they have coordinated a national approach looking at who is at risk and what can be done by way of prevention. It may not be a surprise to learn that there is often an issue with mental health problems – some diagnosed, some undiagnosed, with socio-economic problems, relationship breakdown, deprivation and isolation as other major problems. Particularly when more than one issue is stacked up, people struggle to cope and cannot see a way out. An important part of the partnership involves training for staff in how to manage a suicidal contact with a focus on front line staff and mobile operations staff. This provides staff with skills and confidence to provide the right support and the one thing that stands out loud and clear is that feeling ‘listened to’ helps. This can be the first step in providing emotional first aid and possibly making the right kind of sensitive referral for on-going help and support. There is also trauma support training where this is needed.

The Samaritans campaign – they do not just hear, most importantly they listen and one focus of outreach is to encourage people to seek support, particularly those who are most at risk, with each campaign carefully thought through and tested before it is used. The campaign ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ has been successful – both for those who have started a conversation and for those who have been helped. Anyone can start a conversation if they are worried about someone they see behaving in what might be a slightly unusual manner, that conversation can break the thought train and make all the difference. There are other physical things that have been done such as the platform end anti-trespass guards, opaque bridge screens, gates and fencing on platforms adjacent to fast lines, mirrors to reduce blind spots, help points, behavioural recognition CCTV programmes and they are always looking at other mitigation measures.

The statistics include some good news on the railways as they show that the numbers are decreasing with 2,233 interventions in 2017/2018 mostly by the British Transport Police (BTP) with approximately 25% staff and around 10% from members of the public. The results show that with the right help suicide can be prevented and it is noteworthy that for every life lost, there are six saved.

Questions and answers included many subjects, for example - concern that train spotters with notebooks standing on the end of platforms are not considered as potential risks; comparisons with risks elsewhere – the highest incidence is in the home; how it is reported in the media to avoid escalation when people might relate to the situation; differences in risk in different areas of the railway network; why there are barriers at Wimbledon etc.

The vote of thanks was given by Alan Nichols (train driver and instructor – retired) who highlighted what a fantastic demonstration of what can be done and has been done. Helen herself saved a life at Ewell East and Alan has friends and colleagues who have suffered the experience of being close witness to an incident. An excellent presentation showing the good work being done to save lives.

Tuesday 27th November 2018
The Privatisation Disaster
Cliff Perry - Railwayman

“By three methods we may know wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; And Third, by experience, which is the bitterest.” (Confucius)

Cliff started with an apology about the title ‘Disaster’. The influence of privatisation on the UK railway system has resulted in more trains, more staff, more passengers and more safety! This is hardly a disaster and we should reflect on the safety achievements especially as the difficult question of safety is often cited when there are problems within the industry.

After the quote and the note about disaster, Cliff ran a brief quiz on railway safety with the correct answers highlighting improvements over the years and showing clearly how expectations of putting profit before safety with privatisation has not happened, and in practice safety has not been compromised. He went on to detail how this has been possible with a digital revolution helping to recognise problems before disaster strikes so that they can be fixed in good time, competence management, and much better management of interfaces within the industry. At this point he introduced some of his own background and history on the railways and his own experiences of privatisation as MD of Thameslink. After the proposed management buyout did not win the franchise, he lost what he described as the best job - through privatisation.

With more of his own background and experience he explained railway dimensions (product, places, politics, professionals) looking at the different aspects and how each is important for the whole to operate safely and efficiently. People are very important including those on the front line who show the culture and are the public face of the business. There have been some ups and downs but safety is improving towards a plateau. For the first time ever in the year 2016/2017 there were no fatalities on the railways in the UK which is something to be proud of. Graphs were used to compare railways within Europe and around the world (including the UK). In short those countries where every part of the system is integrated are doing less well on safety and the simpler the system, the better the safety statistics – although in the latter case, one disaster can move that railway much further down the charts as a safe system. One of the main reasons given is that private companies cannot afford not to be as safe as possible and this was explained clearly and succinctly in more detail. Running a railway is NOT risk-free so all risks need to be taken into consideration and ways found to mitigate those risks. This includes the use of technology both on trains and on the infrastructure as well as better training and building good experience for staff.

It has been a real benefit since privatisation that the railways are no longer subject to short term annual budgeting with the necessity of spending any money left towards the end of the year in a hurry or lose it from the budget in the following year. This is not the best way to plan ahead for the longer term or the best way to make the most of the limited finance available. Now it is possible to plan better for the future.

Cliff highlighted three top reasons for increased safety:

Digital Revolution, Competence Management, Interface Management,

and explained how improvements in each of these areas has related to great improvements in safety on the railways. The pillars of that improvement can be seen as good safety = good business with all parties trying to improve, small is beautiful (the railway has been separated into smaller more manageable areas), investment, and last but not least – business incentives.

The small amount of time left for questions and answers was equally interesting and informative, and included: timetabling problems; a case for breaking up Network Rail; poor performance on South Western Railway – the answer included several reasons for this; trades unions; the balance between training and experience; comparisons between European and Far Eastern railways.

A very interesting, fascinating and thought provoking talk.

Tuesday 23rd October 2018
HS4 Air - Heathrow to Gatwick in 15 minutes
Alistair Lenczner - Director, EXPEDITION

The subtitle for the talk might have been “UK Infrastructure – can we be smarter in Planning for the Future?” To answer this question Alistair began by providing the context for the subject of UK infrastructure particularly in the London area using photographs and maps to show the exponential growth over time even before the advent of the railways; in the process showing the need to build a suitable infrastructure to connect all the important areas for trade. In spite of its innovations and inventions (eg railways), the UK has been slow to pick up on high speed railways, continuing to rely on steam in the 1960s when Japan was already building high speed routes. Using examples he showed how Europe continues to develop a high speed network while the UK lags behind with only HS1 in operation and plans for HS2 showing a disconnect between HS1 and HS2 which will not allow for good connectivity. There was some constructive criticism about how the UK might plan its infrastructure better in a more joined up way which could provide better value for money and more respect for the environment. At the moment different parts of infrastructure seem to operate separately which does not make for an efficient and effective coordinated approach. The point was made that it is now harder to integrate separate systems due to the numbers of companies and organisations involved.

After providing the context, Alistair went through the details of the current problems for London Heathrow (LHR) and London Gatwick (LGW) airports showing how they are losing business to continental Europe as a result of the disconnections. The HS4 Air proposals would make a vast improvement to connectivity without having to cross London and would have a number of other advantages eg linking HS1 and HS2 with LHR and LGW and providing for a modal switch from air to rail with the environmental benefits that would accrue. There would also be possibilities for faster freight and for linking UK ports into the rail network more efficiently.

The project would use existing infrastructure for much of the proposed routes requiring only upgrades rather than starting from scratch and, with the cost of tunnelling becoming comparatively less expensive, this could be used cost effectively to avoid damaging sensitive areas of countryside. Other benefits of the project could include dedicated utilities alongside HS4 to plug various gaps in the national grid while at the same time avoiding unsightly intrusions into the landscape, and could include potential for additional utilities to be accommodated. There is also provision to link into the M4 corridor and to provide opportunities for much needed new housing. Money and politics too are factors that have been taken into consideration in such an ambitious scheme. So it would be possible to make this a multi-purpose project and the schematics and maps showed clearly how it could all work together.

Outline proposals demonstrating the estimated costs (a favourable comparison with other schemes under consideration) and economic and wider benefits of the project have been submitted to the DfT as part of the DfT’s wider planning for the future. These are only outlines at present as a response from the DfT is awaited before developing a more detailed proposal.

Questions and answers included rail freight issues, border controls, funding/costs, mitigation costs, better connections with UK regional airports, UK productivity and many other associated aspects.

The vote of thanks was given by Andy Davies who highlighted that while this may only be the early stages, we would follow any progress closely.

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Last updated: 1st July 2019