Milton Keynes

Meeting Reports

Monday 20th November 2017
'Retford through the lens of Keith Pirt'
Rob Gallatly

Monday afternoon 20th November brought about one of the two yearly meetings held jointly with the Northampton Branch, with Bob Gellatly being the chosen presenter.
Bob commenced by saying that his programme “Retford through the lens of Keith Pirt” was a presentation of two distinct halves and it certainly was! Keith Pirt was a first class railway photographer and well-remembered for his photographs taken in the Retford area.
Retford, well known to rail enthusiasts for the crossing of the East Coast mainline on the flat by the Great Central Railway, until 1964 when a dive under was built.

   Class B1 no.61056. Footex with Norwich City flag on front of loco. Possibly Sheffield United v Norwich City in FA Cup on 17 Feb 1962. Built July 1946, withdrawn April 1964.   Keith Pirt Collection
The first half of the show concentrated on the flow of traffic to and from Manchester and Sheffield to Lincoln, Scunthorpe and Grimsby. The day to day operations on this line usually produced a variety of Classes B1, D11, K3, J11 and WD together with a whole gamut of what we called “Mexborough Pacific’s” (2-8-0s of Classes O1and O4 and their various sub divisions). A further highlight was a number of photographs taken at Thrumpton GC shed.
   Class V2 no.60858. Built May 1939, double chimney fitted Oct 1961, withdrawn Oct 1963. Retford (Thrumpton) shed.   Keith Pirt Collection
After the interval, concentration was on the ECML, with many excellent photographs of real Pacific’s in harness, and of course, a visit to the GN shed.
   E0315 Class A2/2 no.60502 Earl Marischal. Approaching Retford with the down "Queen of Scots". Replacement for a failed EE Type 4 at Peterborough. Gresley P2 2-8-2 built Oct 1934, rebuilt by Thompson as A2/2 in Sept 1944, withdrawn July 1961. Date August 1960.   Keith Pirt Collection

This magnificent show was produced from two magazine trays of cast off Keith Pirt slides, superbly edited and photo shopped by Bob himself.

Thursday 5th October 2017
'A Chapter of Accidents'
Phil Graham - former BR/NR Operating Manager

Phil Graham made a welcome return to the Milton Keynes branch for our October meeting with a fascinating evening tracing the history of railway accidents and the vital changes in railway safety that have followed. This was a talk peppered with facts, information and a detailed knowledge of the accidents themselves and how they drove the leaps forward in railway safety over the past two centuries. It would be impossible to capture every moment from what was a thoughtful and at times provoking and surprising talk so what follows is necessarily only intended to give a summary of the evening.
Phil started his talk by reflecting on the fact that the UK can today claim to have the safest railways in Europe; the last passenger fatality in a railway accident was at Grayrigg in 2007 and the last railway servant to be killed in the course of their duties was in 2014. Whilst a remarkable record, it should not be taken lightly, as the advancements in safety to the present day, have come about after some terrible accidents. The story begins (perhaps) with that most famously commemorated death of William Huskisson on the opening day of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830. But his was not the first recorded death in an accident on a railway, which can be traced back almost 200 years earlier to 1650 in County Durham, when two boys were killed by a runaway wagon on a wooden coal tramway.
Many early accidents were caused by mechanical failure, either of the locomotive hauling the train, or the infrastructure, as well as the reliance on the time interval system for keeping trains a safe distance apart from each other. Developments in signalling came slowly at first, and although the first absolute block section was introduced in 1841 at Clay Cross Tunnel, it wasn’t until 1889 that almost all lines were covered by this system.
Phil related how early signals displayed a white light to indicate ‘all clear’ this only being discontinued with the development of urban lighting which made the signals difficult to see. Other developments in these early years saw the Board of Trade acquiring the statutory powers to investigate railway accidents in 1871 and the recommendation in 1840 to install mileposts for the benefit of passengers so they could calculate how fast their train was travelling! 1840 also saw the introduction of standard time, a necessity as the railways expanded across the UK, for efficient and safe timetables. Bizarrely, despite clinging to the time interval system for so long, many signal boxes did not have clocks.
Whilst safety had generally improved by the 1850s there was still the risk of head on collisions on single lines. The development of the Tyer Electric Train Tablet in 1874 introduced a fail-safe means of ensuring only one train could occupy a single line at any one time. The No.6 tablet instrument was produced between 1890 and 1932 and four of the Tyer`s tablet machines remain in use on the Ayr to Stranraer line.

   5 car EMU Bury Bolton Street to Manchester Victoria, running at 35mph passed the Up Main (Connecting Line) Home Signal at Danger and was almost immediately in collision with the locomotive of the steam-hauled four coach 07.36 Manchester Victoria to Bacup train. The leading car of the EMU scraped against the loco wheels, collided with the first two coaches of the steam train and was diverted through the Down wall of Collyhurst No.2 viaduct.  
During the latter half of the nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, the railways have refined and developed new rules and equipment designed to mitigate against errors of omission on the part of employees such as the reminder collar for signal box levers and Welwyn controls, which prevented a line clear being given until a train had been proven to have passed through the section
More modern safety systems have included the introduction of AWS (Automatic Warning System) and TPWS (Train Protection Warning System). The latter is effective at speeds of up to 100mph and is normally installed approaching junctions and buffer stops to prevent collisions and SPADs. Overall it has reduced the risk from SPADs by 86%.
Despite all the advances that have been made, accidents still happen, and the learning from them can lead to changes in operating practice and cultural shifts. Following the Clapham Junction disaster which was in part due to the signal technician responsible for the faulty wiring leading to the signal failure having worked 13-weeks continuously, the Hidden Report recommended the introduction of maximum 12-hour shifts and no more than 13 consecutive turns of duty.

0In reflection, whilst noting how safe the UK railways are today, Phil outlined the five biggest risks as: level crossings; incursions on to the railway whether vehicles or animals; earthworks/drainage failures; structural failures; personal staff safety. As a final thought, Phil noted that railway safety is no accident.

Thursday 7th September 2017
'Railways in the Cornish Landscape'
Stephen Gay - Sheffield Branch Member

Stephen Gay made his fourth visit to the Milton Keynes branch in September with a glorious evening of railway photographs in the bucolic Cornish landscape delivered in his own inimitable style. This was very much a journey of epic backdrops, engineering triumphs and serendipitous composition. Accompanying Stephen on this journey from the Cornish border at the River Tamar to Truro was his faithful companion, Wrawby, a soon to be 15-year old German shepherd who was often mentioned and occasionally appeared in the photographs.
Many of the photographs presented were taken in the past five years, although there were some scenes dating back to the early 1990s. Those that might think depictions of single and two car DMUs, Voyagers and HSTs would be dull, were soon proved wrong, as Stephen’s photographs brought forth the full awesomeness of Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge, completed in 1859. Before crossing the Tamar via Brunel’s famous crossing, we first visited the line to Gunnislake, the terminus boasting the newest station in Cornwall, having opened on its present site in 1994. There was just time to visit the original terminus in the early 1990s before joining a preserved 1963 Western National Bristol Lodekka which works a Summer Sundays service between Okehampton and Gunnislake, allowing the possibility of a round trip from Exeter by bus and train. This was a journey that Stephen highly recommended, emphasising its excellent value.
Returning to the Tamar, as well as crossing by Brunel’s famous bridge, there was the first of a sprinkling of photos of the small ferries that serve Cornwall. The Cremyll ferry which links Plymouth with Cornwall is operated by a small passenger only vessel that was one of the famous little ships that helped rescue the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk in 1940.

   HST crossing the Forder Viaduct in Cornwall   Stephen Gay
Running into Cornwall itself and a stop at one of the 53 railway viaducts in the county – Forder Viaduct – a magnificent structure seen in glorious sunshine. All but one of the viaducts in Cornwall have been rebuilt; the original structures being timber built on stone bases. Stopping off at St Germans, we were taken to look at the camping coach that has been beautifully restored and provides, as the photos showed, an ideal place for the enthusiast to watch the trains go by! The coach itself was built in 1889 at Swindon Works to broad gauge for use as a travelling post office. Its last use as such occurred in the 1930s.
A brief pause at Menheniot, the only request stop on the Cornish mainline, before arriving at Liskeard with its ‘gallows’ lower quadrant signals. This is, of course, the junction for the Looe branch, which is curious in that the platform for the branch is at right angles to the main line. More enticing scenes at Sandplace before, all too soon, we were back on the mainline, alighting at Bodmin Parkway, for a visit to Bodmin General on the preserved Bodmin & Wenford railway. The former Southern Railway station at Bodmin Town has sadly been subsumed by a car park, but the stations at both Wadebridge and Padstow remain, the latter being one of the destinations for the Atlantic Coast Express. The milepost, measuring 259¼ miles from London Waterloo had been moved in 1967 to a new site outside a pub in the town.
Perhaps the best was saved for last as Lostwithiel brought us to scenes of the china clay traffic, hauled by Class 66 locomotives of course, running to Fowey. Describing these scenes does not do the quality of the images justice, the perfect combination of train, dramatic backdrop and stunning lighting combined to give a timeless image of the railway in the landscape. Then it was on to the Par Harbour branch, which features the only manually operated level crossing gates in Cornwall, before taking the other branch from Par, to Newquay. A Midland Mainline HST looked incongruous in its climb from Newquay back to Par, working a Summer dated service, a reminder of when “hire-ins” of HST sets to provide these services was common.
Our journey ended all too soon at Truro, with its magnificent Gothic Revival cathedral, one of only three in the UK to have three spires. There is the promise of more with a part 2 of this presentation, covering the remaining journey to the end of the Cornish main line in Penzance as well as more of the branches, which we had only visited briefly during the evening.

This is a highly recommended talk to other branches. An evening that will make you want to get the next train to Cornwall and discover for yourself this beautiful part of the UK.

Thursday 3rd August 2017
'Thrills & Spills - a Career in BR Operations & Beyond'
Chris Blackman - former BR & Virgin railway operator

Former BR Operations and Network Rail Manager, Chris Blackman, addressed our meeting on 3rd August with the title “Thrills & Spills – A Career with BR Operations and Beyond”.
His liking for railways he said was in the blood, as earlier relatives had been in the industry, so when leaving university and before starting on BR`s Management Training Scheme he was able to get a summer vacation job working in the Booking Office at Glasgow Central, where he came into contact with some of the local colourful characters which started to give him the wide experience he would need in future.

   Leicester, London Road, Station. The original station was built in 1840 by The Midland Counties Railway. It was rebuilt to its current late Victorian style in 1894 by the Midland Railway.   Mark Richards
When it came to choosing which of BR`s Regions where he would like his training Chris asked to be placed on the London Midland which was agreed, but his choice of which Division saw him sent to the one he least wanted i.e. Stoke on Trent. However, he still found it very interesting being initially based at Whitchurch on the Crewe-Shrewsbury line, where he was able to gain experience on both commercial and operating matters, especially learning to work the local signal boxes. Further moves saw him at Chester and Crewe before a spell with the Shipping Division where one day he was at Holyhead and inspecting the Custom`s Pen came face to face with 3 Daleks which were in the course of returning from Ireland after filming. Not the first thing you would find at such a location!!
After a spell at Manchester Victoria, his first appointment was at Willesden as Area Operating Inspector where, amongst his many duties Chris was asked to supervise 2 filming jobs, one with pop star P.J.Proby in South West Sidings using a P.Way trolley to carry the camera whilst the singer mimed to his latest hit. Another request came to film in some carriages in Wembley but after specially cleaning some, Chris was rather surprised to find the filming company wanted one of the old departmental coaches, which better suited their purposes.
Broad St was also mentioned and we saw the start of the rationalisation of the facilities there with certain platforms being taken out of use.
Another move took Chris to the Liverpool Division with spells at Northwich with all the then ICI traffic, including the 1937 built bogie hopper wagon trains for carrying limestone from Great Rocks, which by then were being hauled by Class 25 locos.
This appointment led to Garston where the amount of theft from trains arriving at the Freightliner Depot had to be seen to be believed. Later when acting as Area Manager at Leicester he was involved with the aftermath of an accident at Corby where a train had been divided and one half had run away only to collide with another following behind.
Later he became Head of Operations at Inter City and worked for both Dr Prideaux and then Chris Green with his formidable secretary Elsa who had to be seen to be believed!!
With privatisation Chris was Head of Timetabling with Railtrack, but later went on to work for Network Rail on sorting out procedures for Dispute Resolutions between the various TOC`s before eventually retiring 8 years ago to enjoy a life away from the railway which had given him a great experience which he fully appreciated.

All in all a very fascinating evening.

Thursday 6th July 2017
'On & Off the Footplate'
Bill Davies - former Bedford Driver

It was a welcome return for Bill Davies to our meeting in July. On what was a very hot evening, Bill kept an enthusiastic audience enraptured for almost two hours with his tales of life on the footplate and some of the amusing diversions off. Sadly, many of these stories are difficult to repeat in writing, even with changing the names to protect the innocent (!) and wouldn’t match Bill’s dry delivery. Thus this report will aim to give a flavour of the evening and it is highly recommended that if other branches want to hear an entertaining evening of tales about working on the railway, invite Bill along, you won’t be disappointed.
Bill knew from the age of three that he wanted to be an engine driver, started his railway career in 1967, ended up a driver, mainly on the Midland Main Line working out of Bedford, then latterly for Thameslink, which took him south of the river towards the end of his career. But this was not his first foray on to Southern metals, having spent a 4-year period in the 1970s as a driver at Charing Cross. What was clear from when he started speaking, was the enjoyment he had in his career and the passion for the railways, which remains strong today, noted by his cab ride in a Class 700 EMU, which seemed a world away from his own days driving. Characters like Bill are a rare breed on the railways today and the modern railway is perhaps poorer and certainly less entertaining for their absence.

   EMU 319014 on a Kings CrossThameslink operation   David Glasspool Collection
One of Bill’s repeatable stories from the evening concerned a day on the Sutton Loop, or the ‘Wall of Death’ as it is known to railwaymen. This fearsome name matches the reputation for mishaps and unsavoury characters on the trains. It was also historically an attempt by the Southern to frustrate any chances of the Underground extending further into South London. Returning to the story, a Chinese passenger who could speak only a little English was travelling from Sutton to Lewisham, but due to a range of engineering works blocking various routes, this involved a very circuitous diversion via the Sutton Loop to Wimbledon, thence on to Waterloo for Waterloo East… Bill wrote down the instructions and took the gentlemen concerned as far as Wimbledon. A few weeks later a letter arrived from the owner of a Chinese restaurant in fulsome praise for Bill’s help – the gentlemen was a chef who was catering for a special family occasion and they were very appreciative for the help he had received getting him there! This was apparently very untypical of the sort of characters Bill would deal with regularly as a driver and a sarcastic sign out on the ticket machine at Haydons Road as a joke about the amount of ticketless travel did not go down well with Bill’s superiors!
Many other unrepeatable stories kept the audience amused as Bill took us on to some of his adventures on the Midland Main Line. This included the rebuilding of Bedford station, which was always inconveniently sited and remains to this day a poor layout for the tracks it serves. The mid-1970s would see Bill move south to Charing Cross for a 4-year period, during which he claimed he never had a train fail in service once. The Charing Cross drivers had an extensive route card which included learning Cannon Street, Victoria and Holborn Viaduct, but apparently did not include driving an MLV on battery power as that was a duty reserved only to Victoria men! An incident during these years concerned the commissioning of the new Tanners Hill Flydown at Lewisham. Drivers were reporting losing power travelling over the line and it was eventually discovered that whilst the line had been opened, the third rail had not been energised!

This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the company of a lively storyteller and a reminisce about how the railways once were. It is undoubted that many of things Bill spoke about could not be got away with today. Perhaps the railway is a safer place today but this was a reminder that the commitment and passion to get the job done was just as alive then as it is now.

Thursday 1st June 2017
'Diesels in the Sixties'
David Percival

We were joined at our June meeting by well-known railway author David Percival who took us back to a time of transition and change on the railways. By the 1960s the BR Modernisation Plan of 1955 was already reaching maturity having delivered dozens of new designs of diesel locomotives to the UK rail network. David took us around the country to look at these many types and the different liveries that they wore, at a time when they were new.
One of the reasons that David could travel so extensively during the 1960s was because of his employment working for Ian Allan on various magazine titles and later with WH Smith on the staff magazine, which took him far and wide but not it appears to Scotland. Many of his 1960s photographs were taken on a Kodak Sterling camera and featured principally back and white images although there were some later colour images. Camera film was at this time very expensive as were developing costs so choosing the right subject was important as well as framing and composition to get the best image. David demonstrated throughout the evening through the wide variety of views he showed us of his expertise as a photographer and his eye for the perfect shot.
His work on film soon drew attention from his employer, Ian Allan, and he had his first image published in one of the ABC titles, featuring Class 40 D301 at Longsight. As David travelled about the country through his work, the camera was a constant companion, capturing scenes of the railway that were fast disappearing, such as a 9F working a ballast train at Langley Jn on the ECML on the last Saturday of regular steam working into King’s Cross. Later, in 1968 at King’s Cross a wonderful photo of a Class 15 and Class 31 double heading the ECS for the 18.15 to Hull, which was apparently a common sight at this time.
There was an understandable focus on the EMCL with plenty of scenes around David’s home territory of Stevenage and Knebworth although we were also taken to long lost scenes at Hull Dairycoates and Plymouth Laira, to name but two.

A well-illustrated and interesting evening highlighting many of the diesel types that were introduced in the 1960s including some that are still with us today. Whilst the absence of colour in some of the earlier photos was disappointing, the atmosphere of these photos more than made up for that.

Thursday 4th May 2017
'Half a Century of Railway Signalling Engineering - The Middle Years'
Charles Weightman - former BR/NR Signalling Project Manager

On 4th May Charles Weightman returned to the Branch to give a presentation on “Half A Century of Railway Signalling Engineering – The Middle Years.”
On his previous visit Charles had given an overview of his career both with BR, Railtrack and NR so this time was concentrating on some of the locations he had been involved with over the years from the early 60s which took him from the Nottingham area where we saw places on the former GC main line which had been previously very busy locations and by then had been completely closed, despite development work that had been taking place just beforehand to modernise a particular mechanical signal by starting to install a replacement colour light example! On a more positive note, we were shown examples of the modern PSBs such as Derby and Sandbach which have led to the opening of a ROC at Derby which covers the area of three previous PSBs.
Charles went on to illustrate a lot of the changes that had taken place, both due to Beeching and subsequent closures, which also reflected industrial developments with collieries, which were served by no less than 3 different pre-grouping companies, to country areas where, for example, the East Lincolnshire line from Spalding to Grimsby was almost closed completely, but had examples of some fine pieces of signalling equipment such as GNR somersault signals.

   Derby South Junction Down First Home signal   Charles Weightman
Other now rare items were shown such as NER slotted post signals, and at Stowe Park, two single level crossing gates operated by a gate wheel from the adjacent Box.
It was not all doom and gloom however, as Charles had developed the operation of a remote tokenless block system on the Whitby Branch which helped to reduce costs and keep the line open where his involvement at the Whitby end had led to help the NYMR to reach that Terminus from Grosmont with the restoration of a second platform and loco release line.
His involvement with the EROS resignalling scheme in the early 2000s saw a number of Box closures around the Railtrack Eastern Zone, with locations such as Castleford and Barnsley seeing one location taking over from 5 mechanical Boxes, as well as the abolition of a number of individual boxes at such diverse locations as Grimsby and Howden.
A number of incidents had led to interesting interruptions of services, such as at Goole, a ship colliding with the swing bridge located there over the River Ouse which occurred not once but twice(!!), and the flooding at Malton with pictures taken from a helicopter to show the devastation caused not only to the railway but also to adjoining properties.
The evening ended with a number of interesting developments such as the replacement of the GN main line bridge over the River Trent at Newark to changes at Newcastle Central Station and finally the recent changes to the original York Station terminus which sympathetically suits the surrounding original buildings.

An evening of a collection of most interesting subjects, professionally presented, together with some amusing incidents.

Thursday 6th April 2017
'A Life Working in the Railway Industryl'
Stephen Barker - Senior Chiltern Railways Executive

We welcomed back Stephen Barker of Chiltern Railways to present at our April meeting about his career so far on the railway. Stephen had been with us last April with his colleague Graham Cross updating us on the reopening of the railway to Oxford Parkway and East West Rail. There was more on East West Rail to come on a fascinating journey through the railways of the 1990s and 2000s.
This was a fascinating evening with a committed and passionate railway professional and it was interesting to hear how Stephen’s career had taken him to many various parts of the railway and across many different disciplines. Whether the same breadth and variety of career remains in the fragmented and privatised railway is another matter. It was an enjoyable evening richly illustrated with Stephen’s photographs from the last 25 years.
Upon joining British Rail Research, Stephen could continue with his University studies thus combining academic learning with hands on work. One of his earliest jobs was involved in the team that developed the stoneblower on-track machine. Later he became involved in concrete and building materials research and developed expertise in bridge structures. Perhaps the most impressive bridge of all – the Forth Bridge in Scotland – was the subject of what was clearly for Stephen a very enjoyable away day although your reviewer would baulk at clambering to such great heights!
Later work involved OLE structures and undertaking a corrosion survey on the gantries at Fenchurch Street ahead of remodelling. Staying on the Great Eastern, Stephen was also involved with track relaying and renewals based at Stratford. Testing was not just carried out on structures and bridges and Stephen spoke about work involving testing the stresses on axles from emergency brake applications for which a Class 313 was specially wired up. There was a fascinating Sunday morning photograph of the unit sat under the trainshed at an almost deserted King’s Cross, a scene unimaginable today with the constantly busy railway.
Upon privatisation Stephen moved to Railtrack Southern at Waterloo as a Bridge Engineer and his work here took him to some of the more remote parts of the network. Seeking new challenges, he applied to work for the new Chiltern franchise and despite not being successful at interview he persisted with his desire to work there eventually persuading Adrian Shooter to give him a job. However, this was initially on an abortive bid for the Wessex franchise. Starting work with Chiltern proper, Stephen was involved in the successive Evergreen projects, which started with the redoubling of the line between Bicester North and Aynho Jn.

   188219 at Bicester, showing the first driver training train to use the new curve from Bicester South Jct-Gavaray Jct after it had been opened.in November last year.   Stephen Barker
Further Evergreen work saw the reopening of the disused bay platforms at Birmingham Moor Street and the returning of the station to its former glory, new platforms 5 and 6 at Marylebone and the opening of Aylesbury Vale Parkway in 2008. The final stage of Evergreen saw works to improve line speeds raising it to 100mph for significant sections, the remodelling of Neasden Jn and the reopening of the railway via Bicester Village to Oxford. Stephen’s most recent work has been involved in writing a report for the Secretary of State for Transport recommending means by which the East West Rail project can be delivered more quickly. At the time of writing a decision is awaited on how this much-needed infrastructure enhancement will proceed. This was a fascinating evening with a committed and passionate railway professional and it was interesting to hear how Stephen’s career had taken him to many various parts of the railway and across many different disciplines. Whether the same breadth and variety of career remains in the fragmented and privatised railway is another matter. It was an enjoyable evening richly illustrated with Stephen’s photographs from the last 25 years.

Monday 27th March 2017
Stuart Cheshire - Passenger Services Director, Govia Thames Railway

The first of the 2017 two regular joint meetings between Milton Keynes and Northampton Branches took place on 27th March when we welcomed Stuart Cheshire, Passenger Service Director, Thameslink/Great Northern to talk on Metroisation, the development of Thameslink around the introduction of the new Cl.700 class of units, and all the infrastructure changes taking place especially around London Bridge, and the introduction of ATO signalling through the Core in London to enable a service of 24 trains per hour to travel over the line at peak times.

   700101 The first of the new Siemens Class 700 to be delivered to GTR to provide the services from Bedford for Thameslink and Cambridge for Great Northern. They consist of fixed unit configuration, 55 being 12-car and 60 being 8-car  
Stuart then showed his audience through a series of digital images of how GTR were working towards this goal, not only with motive power but changes to the timetable, which eventually will lead to 4 trains per hour coming into the Core from Peterborough and Cambridge using the new link from the ECML at Belle Isle outside Kings Cross. It was very interesting to see that Thameslink in the future will also cover services as far out as places such as Littlehampton and East Grinstead, with some of their trains going into London Victoria, taking over from services currently run by sister company Southern.
The introduction of the new Cl.700 units has not been without its troubles, as this is the first class to adopt the fly by wire operation, which has encountered a few problems which had not been anticipated by the manufacturer Siemans, and has resulted in a casualty figure of currently only 4,100 miles per fault. Stuart is confident that when both drivers and maintenance staff get more used to using this new type of unit, things will improve.
With the infrastucture changes at London Bridge coming to a conclusion at the end of 2017, it is hoped then to work towards the target of getting 24 trains per hour in 2019.

Thursday 2nd March 2017
'Ten Years with Iarnrod Eireann/Irish Rail'
Dick Fearn - Top BR Manager who took charge of railways in the Irish Republic

Our 2017 indoor season started in great style with Dick Fearn as our guest speaker who gave an engaging presentation on his time with Iarnrod Eireann. This was a talk peppered with lively anecdotes, some of which are unrepeatable in print, but are worth hearing first hand, in Mr Fearn’s own inimitable manner. Through the evening there was much to fascinate and interest about the changing Irish rail scene and how it has evolved over recent years.

Dick Fearn started the evening with an introduction to his background on the railway. Born in Matlock, Derbyshire, the family moved to Crewe from where Dick joined the operating department of BR straight from school. Dick’s career saw him working in both freight and Provincial sectors before being appointed by Chris Green to the role of Director of the Thames & Chiltern sector of Network South East. Deciding that he needed a bigger challenge, Dick moved to head up South Eastern and on privatisation led an unsuccessful management bid to run the franchise; there was clearly regret that this had not worked out as hoped. The franchise was won by Connex, who were in difficulties of their own by 2002 and subsequently lost the franchise the following year.

Dick joined Railtrack first in the North West and later the Midlands as zone director. In 2003 he was headhunted by Iarnrod Eireann to become Chief Operating Officer. Agreeing to take the job he moved to Dublin in 2003 and spent a decade with Irish Railways, becoming Chief Executive in 2006.

The history of Irish Railways bears some similarities to the UK, with the first line between Dublin and Kingstown being built to standard gauge in 1834. It was subsequently converted to Irish gauge of 5ft 3in in 1854. The railways of Ireland reached their peak in 1906 with the opening of the Rosslare to Waterford line with an extensive network that reached all corners of the country. Like the UK, the railways of Ireland went through a period of contraction and closure post-World War II. Between 1958 and 1962 significant sections of line were closed under the chairmanship of Todd Andrews, whose campaign of closures were compared to the Beeching Axe. In 1945 the Irish railways had been nationalised, some years ahead of the UK. The move away from steam locomotion was also accelerated in Ireland, largely driven by the fact that there are very limited coal deposits in the country. The first diesel railcars arrived as early as 1951.

Dick Fearn was pleased to report that under his tenure at Iarnrod Eireann he was able to open three new lines, whilst it was regretted that the Waterford to Rosslare route could not be saved and was closed in 2010. By the time of closure, it had been reduced to one train service in each direction with poor connections into other services.

In the 2000s Irish Rail saw expansion of services, delivery of new rolling stock which has predominantly been diesel railcars and upgrading and expansion of the DART network. DART – Dublin Area Rapid Transit – Dick described as being like the Merseyrail network although without the density of operation. Serving 31 stations, it links Connolly station with other city centre stations and the coastline.

Nearly all the railway in Ireland is now signalled from the Central Traffic Control which is located at Dublin’s Connolly station. There remain some smaller signal boxes in the more remote sections of the country.

   Irish Rail intercity DMU 22.204. These units have been built for Ireland in Japan/South Korea since 2007 and are assembled as 3, 4 or 5 car units. They are capable of travelling at100 Km/hour.   Dick Fearn
There has been the introduction of impressive new rolling stock, which Dick was keen to highlight, including the Hyundai Rotem intercity railcars. These it was refreshing to hear were designed with passenger comfort in mind with all seats lining up with windows and seats being arranged around tables rather than airline style. Locomotive hauled services do continue to operate albeit mainly confined to the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise service which is operated 50/50 with Northern Ireland railways.

Infrastructure improvement has seen new lines open and new stations built, some have been more successful than others.

Dick finally reflected on rail freight, which contrary to common misconception, does still exist in Ireland, although not to the quantities or varieties that we might see in the UK. The predominant traffic is intermodal and along with the passenger services, is operated entirely by Iarnrod Eireann.

Since returning to the UK, Dick has become chairman of the Bluebell Railway. The railway is of course home to examples of locomotives built by R E Maunsell and O V S Bulleid, both pioneers in the Irish railways! Maunsell served his apprenticeship at Inchicore whilst Bulleid spent the end of his career as CME of CIE, the Irish state railways and pioneered peat burning locomotives, a design that proved ultimately to be unsuccessful.

The evening was a fascinating and often amusing journey along Irish railways and their history during the 2000s. There is certainly a lot to discover about Iarnrod Eireann and it was pleasing to hear that the railways of Ireland continue to flourish.

last updated: 22/11/17