South Essex

Meeting Reports

Monday 18th February 2019
Michael Bunn

For our 18 February meeting we had a splendid presentation on the Chemin de Fer de la Baie Somme given by Michael Bunn.
We were taken on a virtual trip to Picardy and shown the result of some decades of dedicated work by volunteers to rescue a disused pair of branch lines. One of the many impressive features is the co-operative work carried out between the French and their English compatriots from the Kent & East Sussex Railway – a great example of entente cordiale. Michael is an active member of both organisations. He has been visiting since 1993 and the twinningoccurred in 1996.
The two branch lines lead separately from a junction with the Calais – Paris mainline at Noyelles-Sur-Mer, to the coast; one to Le Crotoy, the other via Saint-Valery Sur Somme to Cayeux-Sur-Mer. As the Somme silted-up over the years much land around the estuary was reclaimed, and it is along this terrain that the lines traverse, so gradients are fairly gentle.
French rural lines suffered like many in the UK, as traffic declined, from ‘bustitution’; however, these lines around the Somme have been redeveloped to provide a wonderful playground for gricers and the general public in search of an interesting day out.
The system has many interesting and in some cases, unique features, such as the mixed gauge (metre and standard) resulting in four rails. Another is the provision of turntables at terminal points.
A great amount of rolling stock has been acquired and renovated. These locos and carriages, wagons, etc. are all to be seen working along the lines giving a wonderful variety.
Festivals are arranged every few years during which a very intensive service is run.

A very significant factor has been the benign attitude of the local authority, which puts to shame that of some equivalent bodies in the UK. It is well worth a visit!

Monday 21st January 2019
Christian Wolmar relates the story behind one of his most popular books

We got off to a grand start to 2019. Our first meeting of the year consisted of a presentation by Christian Wolmar based on one of his many books, Engines Of War: How Wars Were Won & Lost On The Railways (2010), ISBN 978-1-84887-172-4.
The author covered most of the main conflagrations that have affected Europe and some other theatres of war since Waterloo. His thesis is that the development of railways enabled a prolongation of warfare, citing the Battle of Waterloo which only lasted about 8-hours and comparing it with other later battles that went on for months or even years. The Battle of the Somme for example lasted 10-months. So it can be said that railways enabled trench warfare. They also enable massive levels of casualties.
At the time of Waterloo the main limitation was the length of time that horses and men could go on for before they needed to be fed and watered. With the advent of railways, and their development into national and international systems, armies could be supplied almost indefinitely, depending ultimately on the resources that could be made available at great distances from the scene of the battle. In WWII the USSR waged war 5 000 miles away by means of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The vulnerability for any army fighting away from home lies in their lines of communication. Armies can live off the land for a limited period and secure some of their needs locally. If forces venture a long way from base the lines of communication get stretched and supplies are at risk from many factors such as the weather. Russian winters are a case in point.
The main theme therefore was about logistics. Christian did however give many illustrations of weaponry that used railways for movement – armoured trains and very large guns, right up to the Soviet missile trains.
Our speaker took us through a number of the more significant wars and battles to demonstrate the role of railways in them and show their contribution to the enormous casualties that modern warfare can wreak. One of the many enlightening insights was the way, in the American Civil War, that the “permanent way” was built and then torn-up very rapidly to suit military objectives. The industrialized destruction of the Jews (and others) relied heavily on railway transport. Many died building railways, especially in wartime, as on the Burma railway for example.

This is a very big subject and members are recommended to read his book to gain a more complete picture.

Monday 17th December 2018

A large audience attended the AGM at our December meeting where the business was efficiently conducted and the Committee re-elected en- bloc.
Two members then presented a selection of slides ; Geoff Brockett was first with various 'bits and pieces' from his 2017 travels, demonstrating his usual mastery in selecting photographic locations and David Thompson took us back to 1965/66 with some interesting shots in Scotland.
Seasonal refreshments provided by members' wives were very welcome during the break and then MC member David Jackman made a surprise presentation of life membership to our former Chairman Jim Waite in recognition of his part in setting up the branch and his 24 years (and counting) service to it. Ironically he also won the raffle prize which was a year's subscription to the Society!

Digital images followed with Rodger Green presenting recent high quality shots from calendars, mostly on heritage lines.
Bob Reeves entertained with views triggering memories of his driving days and of the results of a freight train derailment at Grays. The aftermath of a derailment of a B12 at Mountnessing during single line working and its recovery was of great local interest. He also showed a couple of recent videos on the Mid Norfolk Railway.
Iain Scotchman presented a review of his extensive 2018 travels, both in the UK and in France, Germany, Sri Lanka, Poland, Hungary and Sweden. A highlight was a 56/50 combination on the Barrington waste train seen at Foxton whilst 70013 with support coach at Shenfield, just 400 yards from our meeting place, was of local interest.

Monday 19th November 2018
Mike Robinson describes his work for BR, and a consultancy, around the world

A large audience greeted RO Editor Mike Robinson at our November meeting with his presentation 'On Companies' Service Overseas'. He had started as a junior clerk at Darlington Works in 1960, gradually working his way up and becoming involved in IT systems. This led to him leaving BR in the 80s and working for various consultancies advising railway administrations worldwide, principally on train planning issues.
On his travels a camera was always to hand and we saw shots of the then current scene in various countries as well as a run down on his work there. TGVs and gas turbines in France in 1983 were followed by a lengthy session in West Germany in 1986, Mike being based in Mainz for his work. All the classic DB power of the time was seen, often in very scenic locations, including the famous EC03 (103) electric locos and a few steam shots on heritage railways and railtours. This was the period of the remarkable interval IC timetable in Germany with its many cross platform interchanges at key points, a masterpiece of train planning.
He did a lot of work in the USA in 1996, where train planning techniques were not as efficient as in the UK. Involvement in a franchise bid in Boston was followed by long periods in New York where the numerous rail companies worked largely in isolation with sometimes poor economics. The area has a vast rail network constrained to some extent by the watery geography, whilst the Subway is also a very large undertaking, too. At that time there were lots of commuter type workings and we saw most of the power and rolling stock in use, some being old and badly maintained. Jamaica station was a very complex junction with some amazing and expensive to maintain trackwork. Great contrasts were evident in some very elegant station buildings versus some very ugly lifting bridges. Some of the giant legendary US steam power was seen in museums, including the impressive 540 tons of a Big Boy.
A brief look at Montreal and Toronto preceded shots in Denmark and Sweden in 1996 - 1999 when Mike had worked for the Copenhagen metro.
He was in Australia in 2008 in Melbourne where there is a large and busy local network plus the world's largest tram system. The very complicated history of rail gauges in Australia was explained but recent developments now mean that all state capitals are connected by standard gauge tracks.

All in all this was a fascinating show, Mike's pithy commentary adding to the enjoyment.

Monday 15th October 2018
Paul Chancellor

Paul Chancellor presented the 7th Colourail Illustrated Talk to a capacity audience at our October meeting. Colourail continues to grow and now has 92000 images available covering most aspects of railways both in the UK and abroad with Paul stressing the importance of leaving instructions about disposal of photographic collections to avoid the 'dumping' mentality.
The talk took the form of an alphabetical journey with the audience being invited to guess, with varying degrees of accuracy, the subject relevant to each letter. We started with 'A' for A4s and finished with 'Z' for the few Z class locos, in between covering virtually every form of motive power on Britain's railways both ancient and modern.
There were many fascinating early colour shots, some just pre-war and some just after, the experimental liveries being well recorded. Surprises abounded with the choice of subjects ; who would have guessed 'G' for Gateshead or 'V' for stations named Victoria?
Colourail is fortunate to have the Trevor Owen collection, his shots having an almost magical quality with superb lighting. Paul is to be commended for his work in maintaining and expanding the collection, his choice of images for our show and for his humorous and informative commentary. The variety and quality of the shots was outstanding contributing to a veritable feast of railway photography.

To round off the evening there was a selection of more recent images, many very atmospheric, on our heritage lines.

Monday 17th September 2018
Alan Neville, Customer Engagement Manager for Greater Anglia

Alan Neville, Customer Engagement Manager for Greater Anglia, spoke to us at our September meeting about his role in the organisation. This involves looking after 200 station adopters (at 93 stations), visiting groups and organisations with an interest in the service provided and sometimes visiting individual customers and also arranging VIP trips. Despite some poor and often false headlines in the media he spoke enthusiastically about the current state of play on GA, with the huge investment in a completely new train fleet being the main feature. Stations, increasing numbers of ticket machines and a system of 'talking' ticket machines had also received considerable attention. Performance had not been as good, however, but currently NR are responsible for 68% of delays.
Like many railwaymen he had had a varied 38 year career, his first job being an Area Relief Clerk in Derbyshire.
Unlike some TOC's GA had not experienced a drop in passenger numbers and future developments should see an increase. Overall he was very optimistic for the future of the railway in general and for GA specifically. There then followed an interesting Q & A session which ranged over many topics including the forthcoming contentious withdrawal of most 1st class accommodation.
As there was time to spare after the talk, a general discussion about Crossrail took place, a subject of great interest locally.

Monday 16th July 2018

A glorious sunny evening greeted the South Essex Branch for their annual visit to Mangapps Railway Museum on July 16th.
With the 47, the 33 and an 03 out on hire, locos were thinner on the ground this year but we were pleased to have 03089 as our motive power. New arrivals since our last visit were Peckett 0-4-0ST (2087 of 1948), replacing the very old Hunslet 'Hastings' which has moved on. Also new was the GUV which had languished at Ilford Depot for many years. Two Wickham trollies have recently been acquired ; LLPW01, a personnel carrier fitted with a Ford engine (PWM 3951) and a 2 seater inspection trolley, A14W (PWM 2786) still retaining its original JAP engine.
The extensive small items collection has also had interesting additions in the shape of nameplates with East Anglian connections, namely 'William Wordsworth ' off Britannia 70030, Castle Hedingham and Champion Lodge from Sandringhams 61614 and 61643 respectively.

Another splendid evening and we thank June and John Jolly plus son James for their hospitality.

Monday 18th June 2018
Chris Taft, Head of Collections at the Postal Museum,

At our June meeting Chris Taft, Head of Collections at the Postal Museum, presented an entertaining account of the history of Mail Rail, the Post Office Railway in London.
As early as the 1860's there were concerns about traffic congestion and its adverse effect on the movement of mail. Various underground schemes were mooted but the only one which got to the trial stage was a pneumatic tubular system. A trial was built, but by 1874 the PO decided it was too expensive and the concept was dropped. Ironically in 1929 an explosion occurred which proved to the result of a build up of gases in the abandoned tunnel ! During the investigation some lengths of the tube and a couple of cars were recovered and are now on display in the Museum.
By the turn of the century traffic congestion had become so serious that a Royal Commission was convened and in 1911 reported that an underground driverless electric railway was required. Authorisation followed in 1913 for the line to run from Whitechapel to Paddington servicing the intermediate District Offices and Liverpool Street station, with the hub at Mount Pleasant where maintenance facilities were located. The advent of WW1 impeded progress and in 1917 work ceased with valuable works of art being stored in the tunnels.
After hostilities ended progress was slow and it was 1927 before the Whitechapel to Mount Pleasant section was complete, with the western extension a year later. It was a 3rd rail system 440V DC, but only 150V at station approaches. Initial stock was short 4 wheel units carrying a single mail container which proved unsatisfactory and by 1930 the whole fleet was replaced with bogie vehicles capable of carrying 4 containers. Also included were 3 battery driven locos for emergencies and engineering work, all three of which are still extant and on display.
Fleet replacement came in 1980, but with the introduction of automated sorting and consequent reduction in DO's plus the opening of the Rail Hub at Willesden there was less need for Mail Rail and it closed in 2003.

Chris described how the system has been saved and a small section is now open for the public as part of the new Postal Museum. An excellent evening's entertainment and a definite venue for a visit.

Monday 21st May 2018
Terence Jenner,

Terence Jenner spoke about his '40 Years of service' at our May meeting. He was a lawyer and worked for BR throughout his career, starting in 1974, although after privatisation in 1997 his work was under the BRB Residuary mantle, but he always saw himself as a railwayman who happened to be a lawyer, a view which came to light many times during the talk. We learnt how BR's legal department worked, how it changed in the 80's and then how privatisation was dealt with.
The background legal work required for a big organisation like BR tends to be forgotten, but we were made aware of the sheer scale of this work, the department dealing with just about every aspect of BR's business. The 70's saw a period of 'managed decline' with both Government and the BR hierarchy being convinced that this was the future for the railways whilst the 80's brought a turnaround, with firstly the setting up of Intercity and then NSE and Regional Railways, eventually leading to a much leaner and highly efficient BR. Surprisingly the statutory powers held by BR permitted almost any physical changes to be made without challenge and this facility was much used.
Privatisation imposed a huge workload on his Department as well it might, as BR was split up into 112 separate parts, Terence being heavily involved and receiving an OBE acknowledging his big contribution. He reviewed the Government/ BR relationship over the years and how in recent times much more public money had been invested in the system enabling numerous improvements to be made.
Overall this was a fascinating insight into the work of the legal department, to most people very much an unknown quantity. During the talk we were treated to several apposite snippets e.g. referring to the forthcoming 24 tph on Thameslink, he pointed out that this figure was being attained (and still is) on the Suburban lines between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green at peak times in the 70's.

A lively Q and A session concluded the meeting.

Monday 16th April 2018
David Kelso

Our April meeting saw the welcome return of David Kelso with 'Steam and other things South of the Border 1948 to 1960'. We saw a huge variety of images which had been scanned into an excellent digital presentation, all in black and white and thus we were able to appreciate the subtle shades which this medium brings out. David had started photography at an early age, indeed the first shot, taken in June 1948 when he was 13, was a view from the very high water tower at Willesden shed.
Starting in Derby and the surrounding area produced some gems of the time, e.g. a 3F struggling up the Lickey banked by two Jinties and a very dilapidated Derby station in 1954. Many of the shots were very scenic and in some cases the background features were of more interest than the train itself.
A short session in the Carlisle/Penrith area was followed by some interesting shots in the North East, with Sentinel locos at Gateshead being quite a rare sight and a G5 on the Tweedmouth to St Boswells line showed the only use of this class in Scotland.
Some wonderfully atmospheric scenes in the North West included an L & Y EMU at Bury Bolton Street, scenes on the Liverpool Overhead and a C14 4-4-2T at the long gone Chester Northgate. In Wales the 4 ft gauge Padarn Railway was seen at work whilst on the Penrhyn a line of 4 stored locos was notable in that they are now all preserved.
Varied views in Yorkshire featured Scarborough, Harrogate and Bradford Exchange and a once common pigeon special double headed by a J39 and an A3. The famous 4 track section through Mirfield was seen and some lovely shots of various locos on the climb from Huddersfield up to Standedge Tunnel.
The GC was not forgotten with both steam and electric traction at Penistone and Sheffield Victoria, before a look at steam in the London area. Shots of Metropolitan electric locos, allegedly at Aldgate, caused discussion , the eventual consensus being that they were at Liverpool Street Met station. The show concluded with a look at the varied power on the Southern.

A very nostalgic presentation much appreciated by the large audience.

last updated: 23/02/19