Windsor and Maidenhead

Meeting Reports

Monday 21st May 2018
The Docklands Light Railway
Mark Davis

At our May meeting Mark Davis gave a highly entertaining and informative talk on the Docklands Light Railway, charting its development from modest beginnings in the 1980s to the major transport network its has become today, with further developed planned for the future. This fully automated light metro system opened in 1987 to serve the redeveloped Docklands area of East London but now reaches north to Stratford, south to Lewisham across the River Thames, west to Tower Gateway and the Bank in the City, east to Beckton and London City Airport and to Woolwich Arsenal south of the river. It carried 6 million passengers in its first year and in 2016/17 carried 122 million. It has become essential in enabling economic growth, both commercial and private and in getting people off the roads and onto public transport and its development has involved massive investment, with expansion dictating the need to change stations, track layout and increase the number of trains. It now has 45 stations and 149 trains and plans are in hand for further expansion with new trains due in 2022 set to increase capacity by 30%. The Railways greatest triumph to date was the 2012 Olympics, when so many were predicting travel chaos, it proved its worth, carrying 500,000 passengers on one day alone.

Monday 23rd April 2018
The Patriot Project
John Hastings Thomson

At our well attended April meeting, John Hastings-Thomson, a director and trustee, gave a talk on the LMS Patriot Project to create the New National Memorial Engine, "the Unknown Warrior", dedicated to all those who fought and died in the Great War. The project was launched at Llangollen in April 2008 and hopefully the engine will be in steam in late 2019 with mainline running in 2020, the deadline of the centenary of the Armistice, November 2018, having been missed. The project has been a struggle as nearly everything had to be started afresh, all the Patriots having been scrapped after withdrawal from service in the early 1960s. So it was back to the drawing board with a search for expertise in engineering, as well as finance, sales and marketing and all that makes up a modern commercial enterprise. The Llangollen Railways Works has taken the lead in the assembly of "the Unknown Warrior" but other workshops around the UK have been involved in the manufacturing and supply of new parts including The Boro Foundry, The South Devon Railway, LNWR Heritage and Tyseley Locomotive Works among others, with some parts being sourced as far away as Turkey and South Africa. This has proved to be a complex project requiring firm control and management. Hopefully all that has been learned and the expertise acquired can be used on further projects.

Monday 26th March 2018
London to Velké Kapušany
David Jackman

At our March meeting, which was well attended, David Jackman, who is a regular railway traveller, gave a talk entitled " London to Velke Kapusany", which illustrated all the variety there is to be seen when travelling the railways of Europe. Velke Kapusany is in Slovakia close to the border with the Ukraine. He described railways in Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, dealing with the architecture of stations, engineering, with lots of different voltages, gauges and rolling stock dating from 1920s up to the present date. One of the highlights were the railways of Switzerland, with double decker trains, locomotives, some twice as powerful as our own and amazing feats of engineering producing extraordinary mountain views, whilst in Germany we saw locomotives known as "Rabbits" because the appear to have ears and double decker trains and carriages designed specifically for cyclists. Finally, the Czech Republic and Slovakia never experienced Beeching type cuts, so still have a rich network of branch lines, many single track with passing loops and very little traffic. They have no fast trains and some of the rolling stock has seen better days. However they have a lot more freight than we have but most unnerving is the way passengers wander all over the track without any supervision.

Monday 26th February 2018
Railways of Northern Ireland
Tim Morton

For the February meeting of the Windsor & Maidenhead Branch 34 members and guests braved the very cold weather to hear Tim Morton of the Irish Railway Record Society describe the history and current operations of Northern Ireland Railways. When talking about railway nationalisation, the national press seems to be unaware that we already have a nationalized system in the UK but across the Irish Sea.
He described the years of decline, following those of prosperity of about 100 years ago. Partition, wars, government policy and ‘the troubles’ all played their part to ensure that the system ended up at a pretty low ebb.
As a result, the majority of Northern Ireland is without a train service and only a handful of lines are left, all radiating from Belfast. But, on the back of the Good Friday Agreement that has brought peace and prosperity, matters have improved greatly with continued investment in infrastructure and new trains. Consequently, ridership has grown from four to 15 million since 2001.
Tim’s presentation covered all aspects of the day to day operation of NIR and covered all the improvements made and planned to ensure that the railways of Northern Ireland have an assured future.

Monday 22nd January 2018
Travels in Southern Africa
Adrian Palmer

Our first meeting of the year saw a well filled room entertained by Adrian Palmer’s presentation entitled “Travels in S Africa” providing exhaustive coverage of a month-long trip undertaken in October 1979, which cost him a year’s leave in one go! As we were shown things were rather different then under apartheid and with mainly steam locomotion though some now obsolete electric locomotives and a few diesels were seen. The trip covered much of the country on the 3ft 6 standard gauge and the 2ft narrow gauge around Port Elizabeth. The stars of she show were the Garratt locomotives of both gauges seen at many locations including long closed lines. The magnificent GMA class 4-8-2+2-8-4 articulated locomotives built by Henschel, Beyer Peacock and North British were seen hard at work on heavy trains. Some of the narrow gauge Garratts may now be seen on the Welsh Highland Railway. We learned the importance of conserving water and saw the class 25 4-8-4 condensing locomotives at work across the Great Karoo and around De Aar. There were very few tank engines because of the long distances. We learned that South African locomotives do not have buffers but holes where they might be in the buffer beams because they use buck eye couplings. Some classes were seen in industrial service on mining lines. A most informative and nostalgic evening with excellent photography.

Monday 18th December 2017
Branch AGM

We met on 18 December for our branch AGM. Branch chairman Steve Olive reflected on another successful year, with a full programme of varied, enjoyable and well-attended meetings, plus no fewer than four excellent outside visits, each with their own special attraction, and attracting good numbers. We had marked our 10th year very well indeed.

Steve thanked everyone for their support, especially the committee. Jim Tucker was standing down as Web Coordinator after 7 years, and was presented with a voucher in appreciation of his contribution. Secretary Sally Goddard reported on very strong membership and attendance numbers, and treasurer David Goddard updated us on the branch finances, which remain healthy.

The committee was re-elected en bloc, apart from Jim, with John Fitzgerald and Bob Horner being voted in for the first time. Then it was time for members’ presentations, starting with yet another brain-teasing quiz from Mike Gamble, questions ranging from mileage between various places to WR pannier tanks in the Highlands of Scotland.

After traditional seasonal refreshments, Mike Walker took us from Paddington to Reading in steam days, John Fowler updated us on railways in New Zealand, and Jim Tucker spoke about the Old Oak Common open day of September 2017. All three had copious illustrations, and were well received. Windsor and Maidenhead branch is eagerly looking forward to 2018!

Monday 27th November 2017
Chris Austin

For our November meeting we welcomed Chris Austin, who addressed yet another healthy attendance on “Disconnected: Broken Links in Britain’s Rail Policy”. Chris is a former railwayman with a distinguished record of service, having been with BR for 30 years, before spending over a decade with ATOC. He retired in 2009 as their Head of Public Affairs.

What is more, as chairman of the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust and the Avocet Line Railway Forum, Chris is ideally placed to speak on the evolving role of railways down the years, and into the future. This ability is, fortunately, being made use of in parliament, for Chris also acts as secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Railways, among other responsibilities.

It came as surprise to many to hear that the first railway closure, in Selsey, took pace 1827! Moving to the 20th century, plenty of lines lost services during the financial stringency of the 1920s and 30s, to say nothing of the occasional expedient closure of passenger lines to support the war effort.

By the time we get to Beeching and his “axe” so beloved of the media, the scenario has a far more political edge. In many respects, the good doctor’s work was absolutely necessary, eliminating poor use of stock, duplicate routes and so on. Yet the destructive approach, encouraged by biased politicians like Ernest Marples, has often served only to exacerbate 21st century road problems. There are now plenty of examples where poor decisions have been rectified, for example Marylebone and Birmingham Snow Hill.

An intriguing talk, expertly presented and illustrated, giving much to think about, as reflected in a wide-ranging Q and A session at the end.

Monday 23rd October 2017
Mail Rail
Chris Taft

It was “house full” in October, with Cox Green Community Centre having a near-record attendance to hear Chris Taft talk about Mail Rail. Chris is Head of Collections for the Postal Museum in Clerkenwell, central London, and told the background and history of the major new attraction which opened in July this year.

The Post Office Underground Railway, to give its official title, opened in 1927. A commission to look into such a scheme was set up in 1909, and reported two years later. An act empowering its construction was passed in 1913, but matters were inevitably delayed by the First World War. From 1917, part-constructed stations were used to store paintings and other artefacts from London’s museums.

The line opened throughout in 1927 with a gauge of 2 feet, running from near Liverpool Street station in the east, to Paddington in the west, and most important of several intermediate stations was Mount Pleasant. The trains were unmanned, operated from a series of remote control points. The initial rolling stock was updated in 1930, and replaced at various times, the last being Hunslet-built vehicles in 1980.

Use of the railway had already begun to decline, and the opening of the Railnet hubs, such as Willesden in 1995, sounded its death knell The line closed throughout in 2003. The Postal Museum has re-opened a one kilometre section at the museum, using part of the Mount Pleasant stop, which is proving extremely popular with the public. If you want to book a seat, you will be waiting well into next year!

Monday 25th September 2017
Crossrail Progress - The Elizabeth Line
Patrick Griffin

The first meeting of our 2017-18 indoor programme drew a large attendance for the visit of Patrick Griffin, Insurance and Information Manager of Crossrail, to update us on the Elizabeth Line, as the route is to be known. A civil engineer by profession, Patrick’s job will come to an end in 2018, when Crossrail’s task, completion of the route, has finished, with operations being taken over by Transport for London.

Crossrail is not a high speed line, of course, but an urban metro, one which will see a 10% increase in passenger capacity in central London. The company was founded in 1989, but early attempts to get things moving failed for lack of financing. The East-West study of 1997 foresaw the scheme we see today, and led to construction beginning in earnest.

There are three distinct sections; existing surface rail east and west of the capital, and the underground section linking the two. It is passengers travelling to Tottenham Court Road or Liverpool Street from, for example, Maidenhead, who will benefit from the biggest reduction in journey time.

The tunnelling is now complete, incorporating the pre-existing Connaught Tunnel in Docklands, and what remains is a plethora of relatively minor contracts; fitting out of stations and signalling, for example. The first of the Bombardier “Aventra” class 345 units have entered service into Liverpool Street, and will be seen east of Paddington in 2018. This informative and well-illustrated talk left members looking forward to the day when they can ride right through to deepest Essex without a change of train.

last updated: 05/06/18