Meeting Reports

Thursday 2nd November 2017
Hill Railways of Germany, Switzerland and India
Alex Green, Former BR Sector Manager

Former BR manager Alex currently works part time as a railway tour manager for Great Railway Journeys. He began by showing a map of the railways in the Harz Mountains in Germany going on to explain some of the local history, particularly the period immediately after WWII, and how the building of the wall during the Cold War cut the area in two. At this time the Russians were using The Brocken as a listening post to pick up communications in the West. Originally built to transport timber the line is now mainly used for tourists. It is a wonderfully scenic route and an excellent area for both railway enthusiasts, general tourism and those interested in history. Alex seemed to be particularly impressed with some of the steam locomotives, communist built and high maintenance, but very reliable when looked after properly. They present a very evocative picture when working hard up an incline with snow on the mountains all around. One of the things that he finds interesting is listening to stories from some of the tourists who have special reason to travel such as the former military signallers, adding colour and interest for other tourists and tour manager alike. The area is equally beautiful in the Summer months when good weather makes for a pleasant journey with time spent on the end verandah of the picturesque coaching stock. There is also easy access to the depot at Wernigerode for those with an interested in maintenance.

Part Two covered Switzerland starting with the Brienz Rothorn Bahn. This is a cog railway running up the mountain from Lake Brienz to Brienzer-Rothorn and it is here that road, rail, narrow-gauge and paddle-steamer on the lake, work together to provide an opportunity to enjoy a perhaps slightly less well-known area, but still with the magnificent scenery and stunning landscapes characteristic of Switzerland. This was followed by details of the Gornergrat - a line popular with skiers running up the mountain from Zermatt. This is another rack railway but this time electrically powered. Alex travelled there with his brother Chris prior to taking his first tour group to the area and there were photographs of them during this recce visit armed with briefcases rather than skis. He moved on to detailing the Glacier Express route, the historical context and the efforts to revive the line’s fortunes by marketing it to tourists, and to keep the railway in that part of Switzerland viable where there is an absence of mainline rail. This was followed by the Bernina Express, through the Alps to Tirano in northern Italy and the occasional problems with the mix of languages over the route. It was interesting to hear the views of a tour manager on how scary the behaviour of some tourists can be when trying to take photographs out of the carriage windows of the most spectacular scenery, while paying little attention to the danger of an approaching tunnel! Whether enjoying Winter snow or Summer sunshine, this is an stunningly beautiful country with some incredible feats of engineering important enough to be UNESCO listed.

After the break Alex moved on to Indian Hill Railways - from Kalka to Shimla, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway to Ooty. Using a map dated 2014 he showed Indian Railways as they are now and explained the British legacy that began with making it easier to move people around the country and why the British built the Hill Railways. India can be really unpleasantly and unhealthily hot and humid in Summer particularly in the large bustling cities so expatriates wanted to move to cooler areas in the hilly or mountainous regions. The hill railways were built to narrow gauge as this was deemed to be cheaper and easier. All three of the Indian Hill Railways that Alex covered have their own stories to tell and their own individual characteristics, remarkable feats of engineering and current challenges where they could do with more investment. Indeed some of the original equipment is still in use today including the original block instrument at Kalka, the old train register system, with many other systems and original equipment still in daily use. However, they all provide very cheap travel for locals as well as smarter trains for tourists who are looking for something more exotic. Alex highlighted that the staff are very good mechanical engineers who make the best of the limited resources available to them to keep the services running. There is plenty of evidence of the British Raj in the buildings and architecture, contrasting with the sight of trains passing through the towns following the roadway and barely clearing some of the buildings along those parts of the route. Nobody keeps away from the tracks and mobile market pitches seem to move out of the way for the train to pass, before moving back immediately afterwards as if there is no concept of danger from the possibility of being hit by a moving train. There is both organisation and chaos, and plenty of local colour. Alex’s advice is to visit India and enjoy it.

It is clear that Alex has some affection for all the railways that he talked about and recommended that everyone should visit them all if they have the opportunity.

With little time for the usual question and answer session at the end of a presentation, the vote of thanks was given by branch member Nick Williams who highlighted the wealth of interesting information on all the lines included in the presentation, the reflections and the history, and the British influence shown in many of the places both in Germany, Switzerland and India.

Tuesday 24th October 2017
London Underground Train Maintenance - a Century of Progress
Piers Connor, Railway Systems Engineer

Piers explained that the talk was based on part of a larger event on ‘Railway Work Then and Now’ with his part entitled “Case Study: Train Maintenance on the London Underground”.

He started work in the rail industry on 1 January 1962 as a clerk selling tickets at the London Office of Canadian Pacific but was soon bored as no-one there had been to Canada and the attraction for him was travel. He very quickly moved to London Underground where his first task was being given a broom and told to sweep the platform. He stayed there for 22 years and is now a self-employed railway consultant with a wide-ranging portfolio covering projects both in the UK and the rest of the world.

The first photograph showed a 1908 version of the London Underground map at the end of the major period of ‘tube lines’ construction and Piers explained the lines as they were then with their original names and colours. This was followed up with a description of rolling stock delivery between 1905 and 1972. Originally car bodies were delivered without equipment which meant that everything else was procured separately and fitted out in-house from electrical equipment to brakes, from lighting to bogies, and the commissioning too was done in-house. From 1972 onwards there was a move towards supplier equipped trains. Doing it yourself had advantages such as designing the trains to individual requirements, and staff learning all about the equipment making it easier in the long run when it came to fault finding. Disadvantages included the need for depot space and the requirement for in-house design and procurement people. Today, in 2017, commissioning is done by the supplier with long regulatory verification and client acceptance processes; in 1938 it took only 6 weeks. There is frequently a need for modification these days but whether this is due to poor specification, ignorance of operational requirements or other things is up for debate. There are, too, a number of issues related to political interference.

Using photographs as illustration, Piers went on to show several of the different types of rolling stock starting with a batch built in the USA, dismantled for shipping to the UK, and then being reassembled at the Wood Lane Depot (Central London Railway) around 1899-1900, following with a description of the testing programme. The first locomotive was too big for the tunnel which meant reducing its height by removing springs, and using shallower running rails on the whole route. This made for a poor ride and greater wear and tear, so the brave decision to scrap the whole fleet was quickly taken leading to new cars being introduced shortly afterwards. These were used for many years from approximately 1903 to the 1960s using the original motors throughout. Many lessons were learned about what did and did not work in practice, for example door operation. Originally air worked, doors on the District Line could slam shut catching the long skirts of women’s dresses which were fashionable at the time. As a result there was a move to hand worked doors. There was a wealth of interesting information about different rolling stock and the various manufacturers, together with the pros and cons of each type used, including some famous names such as Westinghouse which provided good brakes but comparatively poor motors at that time.

Next came comparisons between train maintenance in 1907 and 2017. Originally rolling stock was owned and maintained by the operator and the maintenance inspection regime required much more frequent checks. Today almost all the rolling stock is owned by one party, leased to a second (train operating company or TOC) and maintained by the operator or a third party with maintenance inspections required at increasingly longer intervals.

There were some excellent photographs and descriptions of early depots and the difficulties with particular aspects of the older rolling stock. The early Morden Depot from around 1925 was initially built without a roof which meant that any rolling stock stored in the open had a much faster rate of deterioration during storage there than when in use. The Central London Railway at their Wood Lane depot used an old locomotive fitted with a trolley pole to access the overhead power wires to shunt the vehicles around. Piers described one of his early jobs changing the cast iron brake shoes – surprisingly hard work with a very small space to work in, and if the job was not done correctly the result would be uneven wear and juddering. With practice the 28lb blocks could be fitted one-handed although testing the spacing using a finger would be forbidden today!

Originally the trains were all comprised of individual cars and could be anything from one to ten cars long with motor cars and trailers on a different maintenance cycle from the rest of the cars. Trains had to be reformed on a daily basis – a five stage process that had to be done correctly and in the correct order – quite a labour intensive working practice. There were issues too with some of the rolling stock that could only be coupled up one way so these had to be labelled to ensure they were coupled up the right way round. Eventually progress was made towards units ie groups of cars permanently or semi-permanently fixed together as well as the use of auto-coupling.

After the refreshment break Piers concentrated on modern maintenance depot practices, equipment and schedules, and improvements in safety and power supplies using overhead wires rather than the 4-rail power supply. The system still operates on DC rather than AC and, with all issues taken into consideration, there is no intention to change this. It has been considered but would prove to be both costly and very disruptive to the system whereas the current 4-rail system has some advantages.

From the early days to modern innovations, open air depots to carefully designed pits in modern depots, maintenance regimes with inspections periods greatly extended, and lifts from faults now averaging as far apart as 4 years, there have been distinct improvements.

The presentation was followed by questions and answers and showed the scale of Piers’ knowledge and interest. Queries included the cost of re-tractioning on the Central Line compared with buying new rolling stock; remote fault finding and predictive maintenance; has any consideration been given to Paris Metro style rubber tyres – a definitive no together with the reasons why; door opening delays; train speed on the Central Line; accessibility and costs; unmanned trains; and finally what would Piers do about replacing the 1938 stock on the Isle of Wight?

The vote of thanks was given by branch member Bob Ellison who highlighted a most interesting presentation showing a century of progress with a fascinating insight into engineering process and practice, all backed up by Piers’ personal experiences.

Tuesday 26th September 2017
First MTR - the New Southwestern Rail Franchise
A Senior Manager from South Western Railway

Phil has been a railwayman throughout his working career and has transferred over from the previous South West Trains (Stagecoach) franchise to the new South Western Railway (First/MTR – trading as South Western Trains Ltd) and is currently adjusting to the changes and the legacies left from the previous franchise including engineering, London Waterloo and other projects. He gave a brief outline of the new franchise holder highlighting the scope and size of the company and their current railway involvement in the UK as well as outlining the DfT objectives for the new franchise. It may not have been the easiest of starts especially as the handover was in the middle of major engineering works at London Waterloo, but plans are in place to bring improvements.

Phil went on to detail what the new franchise is about and what the plans are for the future including meeting customer needs, new markets, fares etc before moving on to rolling stock, station enhancements, London Waterloo – the busiest station in the country and in Europe when all the ancillaries such as the Underground are taken into account, and Clapham Junction which also ranks highly in terms of busiest stations in the UK.

Future challenges include capacity issues, planning for disruption, London Waterloo upgrades, new trains, rising passenger expectations and performance and he showed a short video at this point entitled “The Journey Starts Here” – the origin of the title for the presentation.

It was interesting to hear about the plans for the future and an outline of how the company expects to achieve these with a planned investment of £1.2 billion – a not inconsiderable sum. One of the first things is a public consultation on proposed changes to the timetable which should be accessible through the SWR website, and we were all encouraged to participate in this although there was a query as to when these changes would take effect. There will be a dedicated person to manage the consultation and the results are due to be collated during 2018 to take effect from December 2018. The proposed timetable changes will affect services and while some will have additional services others will have less convenient changes. Overall improvements for the new franchise should include better ticketing, and more integration with other parts of the transport system amongst other things. It was pleasing to hear about the investment programme in stations, working with other stakeholders and hearing that the company has the biggest rail operator apprenticeship scheme in the UK.

Phil spoke in more detail about the rolling stock – what is to be retained, refurbished, kept going in the short term until new units are ready and what is to be retired completely due to age. By 2019/20 when new units are introduced, the average age of the stock is expected to reduce by nearly 50% confirming that there really is some rather elderly stock out there. This part of the presentation included plans for current depots – all to be retained, plus a new site to be set up at Feltham. The new class 701s are due to come into service in 2019/2020 and will comprise 60 x 10 car and 30 x 5 car units to replace 455s, 456s, 458s and 707s. These will have a speed of 100mph, regenerative braking, wide doors, wifi, USB points, accessible wcs and all the other things that passengers expect from modern units. They should also be more energy efficient with improved technological innovations substantially reducing CO2 emissions in the process, as required by the DfT.

The next part of the presentation showed an entertaining speeded up short video of the re-vinyling of a 444 unit showing all the work involved in that process. Work on smartening up the interiors has already been started and over time all units will go through this process. This was followed by what Phil called ‘the teccy bits’ on energy metering, ethernet, media server, rolling out pro-active rather than reactive track monitoring on over 40% of the network, and other improvements that even include solar gain window film improving energy efficiency still further. There is much that has already been started and more to do and Phil ended this section of the presentation with a brief outline of the statistics from the London Waterloo upgrade and another time lapse short video of the work done. This was followed by details of the plans for improvements at the Northam Depot near Southampton particularly with regards to points and connections to the mainline, and plans to cope with the disruption that this will cause especially highlighting the effects on football match days while the works are carried out. Northam Depot is very close to the Southampton football ground at St Mary’s Stadium and the project will also affect shoppers in the area, cruise passengers sailing out of the port of Southampton as well as local residents and other passengers.

The presentation ended with a brief history of the Swanage Railway, the closure of the branch, the enthusiasts campaigning to restore, repair and reinstate services and the recent reinstatement of services between Swanage and Wareham. A lot of people have been involved in the project from the outset and Phil is immensely proud of his involvement in setting up the new service.

Questions and answers followed thick and fast after the break and were too many and varied to be detailed in this report with Phil noting every question that he could not answer immediately, promising to find out and report back when he has the answers. He mentioned that he too has a lot to learn about the new franchise and that his own role will be changing.

The vote of thanks was given by branch fixtures officer Tom Kolisch adding a little extra humour by suggesting that we will expect Phil to come back when he has risen to MD. Attendance was above average and the difficulty in prising Phil away from the questioners after the meeting had ended, to catch his train home, just shows the level of interest generated by this subject.

ILR 8-10-2017

Tuesday 23rd May 2017
LATE CHANGE to advertised meeting - Transport Focus - the Passengers' Champion
Mike Hewitson - Head of Policy & Keith Bailey - Senior Insight Manager both from Transport Focus (Professor Nick Tyler - presentation postponed until next season)

As happens sometimes a speaker is unable to attend as planned. This time we were lucky enough that Mike Hewitson and Keith Bailey were able to come and talk to us at short notice about Transport Focus (TF). The talk was divided into six sections giving an overview of what Transport Focus is and what they do; the National Rail Passenger Survey; Priorities for improvement; Trust; a specific case study; their research portfolio; to be followed by questions and answers.

Mike began by explaining that TF can trace its origins back to the 1940s with extensions to its remit to cover bus, coach and tram passenger representation in 2010 and users of the strategic road network in England in 2015. It is an independent accountable statutory body, sponsored by the Department for Transport (DfT), with a total of 40 staff based in London and Manchester, and deals with Network Rail and railway franchises amongst other responsibilities. The organisational structure changed from a number of regional units to a national structure in 2005. The main function is to use evidence based research to influence the people who make decisions including politicians, people in the railway industry, stakeholders, passengers and other interested parties and Mike explained something of the research and the importance of communicating this in the right way to make a positive difference. The National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) is carried out twice a year covering between 26,000 and 30,000 people each time, and evidence from this is used to help set franchise targets taking into account what passengers think, what improvements they would like and how they would like to be treated. There were some very enlightening graphs showing the outcome of the surveys giving plenty of food for thought. Trust is important as it is a key relationship between passengers and service providers and Mike clearly demonstrated this highlighting honesty, fairness and good communications. Challenges arise with passenger growth, crowding, and the disruptions that can occur because of investment in improvements.

Keith continued with more detail about the research, lessons learned and the specific case study of how the Bath Spa disruption was managed. It was very clear that informing passengers of what was happening and why, using all available forms of media, was very important to the success of the project and managing people’s expectations, allowing for the difference in priorities for commuters, business and leisure users. Surveys were carried out in three waves partly to see how effective the publicity was and to find out how the passengers felt about the whole process. Graphs and charts showing the outcome of the surveys were really informative and easy to understand and it showed how people had reacted over time with the publicity and information that had been provided. There are always lessons to be learned and a key lesson was the right kind of information at the right time in the right way, and two way communication.

TF make recommendations to the industry based on evidence and are involved or have been involved in a number of major infrastructure projects and other examples were outlined. The research evidence helps with planning future projects and focusses on the best ways to inform the travelling public about what is going on and the reasons for any disruption. Of local interest to Surrey Branch is the planned part closure of London Waterloo in August 2017 and the audience could confirm that information about the closure is already being disseminated quite widely which helps passengers to understand what is happening and enables them to better plan their travel during the disruption. Discussion on the research portfolio, including the list of key publications, helped to show the extent of the work carried out, all of which is published and available.

The questions and answers were equally interesting and began with a query about delay and repay. The answer suggested that there are likely to be changes to the current method of calculation which should lead to improvements in passenger satisfaction. There was discussion about complaints as a source of information for improvement leading on to the possibility currently under consideration for the setting up of a Rail Ombudsman. Further questions included provision of wi-fi and catering on trains, removal of first class on commuter trains and on-going problems with through ticketing. There were answers showing that the Greater London area is not covered by TF but by London Travel Watch; TF also support railway staff - both onboard staff and ticket office personnel and how important they are in providing a human link for passengers especially at difficult times; the transfer of good practice between road and rail; as well additional surveys covering, at least in part, both buses and trams.

TF is one of the independent statutory bodies involved in the administration of the rail network, amongst other things, and the excellent presentation made for a very interesting and informative evening.

Tuesday 25th April 2017
Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit:
Rory Dickerson, Senior Engineer - Electrical and Electronic Safety, Technical and Engineering, Traction and Rollling Stock, Network Rail

After introducing himself and briefly outlining his qualifications, Rory explained that he had come into the project at about the time the demonstrations were starting. He split the presentation into 6 main sections: concept and purpose; discontinuous electrification; technology benefits; project requirements; industry priorities; and alterations & engineering.

The concept is about modifying an existing EMU for independent electrically powered capability, a desire for more electric services as defined in the rail technical strategy and as included in the route utilisation strategy. Discontinuous electrification over short distances is less of an issue depending on the distance without a power supply, but other options are essential over longer distances, and it was at this point that Rory displayed a map showing diversionary routes explaining the pros and cons, and which lines are or are not electrified; and also relatively short lengths of track where for a number of reasons it is not possible to install alternative power supplies.

The benefits to industry of battery power when compared with electric or diesel were also clearly explained. A classic example is city centre locations where there is often an issue with poor air quality and where improvements are required. There has been plenty of publicity about diesel particulate pollution and nitrous oxide pollution recently and in these circumstances a battery powered EMU is an option as it does not pollute at the point of use. Any emissions would be produced where the power to charge the battery is generated. Battery power can potentially mean lower journey costs for passengers, increased ride comfort and quieter running. Another benefit to the industry would be increased route compatibility, particularly on diversion, and less infrastructure requirements.

Project requirements meant that an existing EMU had to be converted to independent power and that it would have to perform well and reliably as part of a regular service diagram. Converting an existing EMU requires more than an engineering solution because the owner and manufacturer of the EMU have to be satisfied that it would not be damaged, could be put back into original condition and that alterations would not invalidate any warranties. The converted unit would need to meet strict performance targets on range, speed, acceleration, duty cycles, independent power life time and not least, safety. Eventually EMU 379-001 was settled on as the unit for the project.

It was very interesting to learn about the technical details of various types of batteries and capacitors, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how a choice was made for the project once the initial research on what was available had been completed. It is important to note the requirement for a reliable product from a company that was likely to be around for some time, rather than an experimental power source where reliability and/or longer-term availability was unknown. A lot of batteries from different suppliers were considered along with the pros and cons of the different chemistries each with their own properties – comparing battery lifetime, short bursts of power eg for acceleration, longer periods of steady power, charging time, weight, practicality of fitting into an EMU. It was also important that there would be a sufficient quantity available for immediate use in the project. Much lab-testing took place and there were comparisons with projects in other countries eg Japan where the lines using this technology are kept separate, and China - using super-capacitors on a line in Guangzhou. The Chinese example has a route of 7.7 km with 10 stops, charging of 10-30 seconds at every stop, 85% braking energy recovered, and 70kph top speed with sufficient capacity for emergencies. Although the set-up and requirements in the UK are somewhat different lessons can still be learned from these and other examples. Descriptions of the batteries eg batteries wired in series with each battery pod containing many individual cells, how these were fitted into the unit, and circuit diagrams showing the wiring whether the power comes from an external supply or from the batteries including where you place the rectifiers, driving motors etc compared with before the conversion, were all included in the presentation.

Quite a lot of the research and experimental work was carried out in conjunction with Warwick University as practical engineering and science, and projects like this can also stimulate advances in railway technology. It is of benefit to the railway industry if there is a standard option to have battery as part of the power supply, and it helps the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) if the manufacturers have a product to offer. A battery power option can give greater flexibility in situations where other options are limited or unacceptable.

The outputs of the trial involved concept development, proof of concept, demonstration of an IPEMU (independently powered EMU), battery performance, franchise requirements, data models, best practice and a host of other considerations, not least the costs involved. One issue that came out of the project is the difficulty in measuring how much charge remains in a battery at various stages of use, and this is where the graphs that Rory presented showing voltage curves and energy outputs came in really useful as illustration. Sometimes the battery can still show adequate voltage but does not show how much charge remains. All the batteries were made up of smaller components and it was shown that different battery types with different chemistries may be easier to balance eg if some individual cells are less well charged, overall performance can still be maintained. It was also clear the issues that can arise as a battery cell ages eg changing voltage characteristics. Battery lifetime depends on use (or abuse), temperature, chemistry, number of recharging cycles possible, and variable charge times. A lot was learned and is still being learned about batteries and super-capacitors and improvements are ongoing.

Given a suitable route or application, batteries can form part of an integrated solution and what is appropriate depends on what is required. This can be with or without major infrastructure changes although charging points will be required. More charging built into the infrastructure means less is required on the EMU and quick charging while the unit is at rest would be helpful. Some of the lessons from electric cars were mentioned such as charging from an AC supply to DC batteries. Battery weight and location on the EMU are important considerations; issues with pantographs are being worked on where a unit can be powered in this way as well as using batteries; there are problems with limited receptivity on the 3rd rail system particularly in the southern area because of fluctuations in the 750volt DC supply. There will be different solutions for different situations and additional research is required.

Questions and answers covered a number of technical issues as well as practical considerations for IPEMUs in service and what technology can be translated from other spheres (eg the motor industry, mobiles phones) for railway use and vice-versa. There is clearly huge potential in the field and Network Rail are looking at the possibilities.

Although there were a lot of technical details these were presented clearly enough for the ‘layman’ to understand. The vote of thanks was given by Tom Kolisch who highlighted the good start made, the interesting conclusions and expressed the hope that the challenge will continue.

Tuesday 28th March 2017
Forty Years of Service
Terence Jenner, A Talk by the Last Chairman of the BR Board

Terence is a lawyer by profession and, as a railway enthusiast since childhood and working for BR, he described himself as a ‘hybrid’ combining both railways and the legal profession. In his career with BR one of the things he had to do was to persuade some people in the organisation that there are other ways to solve legal issues and it is not always necessary to resort to litigation. It was while in hospital recuperating from a heart attack in 1979 that his then boss (an RCTS member) brought him several bound volumes of the RO and he was hooked from then on and still reads them with interest. As a lawyer he likes structure and structured his presentation accordingly under the themes of: scale/scope – BR was a very large organisation; change – some good, some bad, some about keeping up to date; privilege – BR was a very privileged organisation with a statutory background giving it a great deal of freedom of operation. Terence then gave an outline of his career from May 1974 to September 2013 dividing it into 5 main periods and covering litigation, parliamentary and commercial, privatisation, SRA (another story), residual BR/channel tunnel matters.

Giving a fascinating insight into how the BR legal department operated, Terence described the work that he was responsible for and how this changed as he progressed through the organisation, as well as commenting on the railway scene more generally, briefly touching on his own personal circumstances where this was relevant. All the photographs are his own and were taken during his career, and with hindsight he has some regrets about the pictures that he did not take at the time.

During the 1970s there appeared to be managed decline on the railways but there was also the emergence of a ‘social’ railway and one bright spot was the introduction of the HSTs into service. It was during this period that Terence changed to the commercial side of operations moving office from Melbury House to Paddington, and had to manage the internal changes required to try and make the legal department a self-accounting unit charging other parts of the BR ‘business’ for their services. Highlights included a description of the fantastic BR legal reference library with a full set of law books that came complete with a librarian to keep it up to date and that was the envy of any railway in the world; the statutory framework providing a legal background for BR operations and the associated freedoms; and the successful use of the rulebook when working on claims against BR where the legal department appeared to be viewed very much as an ‘insurance policy’ dealing with and settling claims. Terence described his own journey into work – mostly by train of course, and the pros and cons of using alternative routes. Looking at photographs of some of the stations from then and now, a real difference can be seen some of which is attractive and some less so.

Terence outlined the five ‘Ps’ of parliamentary work - this included the annual BR parliamentary bill that could relate to any or all aspects of the railways whether land, harbours, operations etc and although now there are benefits to planning further ahead, operations can be a little more complicated; procurement eg of rolling stock was another interesting subject as were purchases, private sector involvement and privatisations. He then moved on to the three ‘Ss’ of the Serpell Report providing proposals for a much truncated railway network, sectorisation - the beginnings of the business railway with much clearer responsibility for profit and loss and with a view to improving the business focus, and last but not least safety.

Providing some interesting details of the period Terence described working on some key early privatisations including hovercraft, ships & harbours (Sealink was sold in 1984), hotels – all 33 were sold at a fairly low price and were sold on later by their new owners for considerably more, and land sales such as the former Doncaster wagon works. He explained that to run a successful railway business requires investment so part of the idea was to divest BR of non-core parts of the organisation and concentrate on the core business of running the railways. There were some stupid ideas but some good ones too and Terence was unafraid of constructive criticism. Unfortunately, the substantial involvement of external solicitors over the privatisation of BR led to what could be described as a very expensive exercise. He explained the difficulties and complexities of privatisation and the sheer amount of work that had to be done given the way that it was to be split up. But, as he pointed out, even with privatisation the trains continued to run. Was it a success or a failure – yes and no, but the clock cannot be turned back and things are very different now.

In his concluding remarks Terence confirmed that railways should concentrate on what they do best not forgetting who is the master and controls the purse strings, and that they should allow the professionals to run the business. BR was not a deeply inefficient monolith but there has been a lot of change and some of it was for the better such as the higher importance of and greater responsibility for safety. Questions and Answers covered a number of topics including the change to the South West Trains franchise, the Passenger Transport Executive, the benefits of an integrated transport system, increased taxpayer funding of railways, who pays if there is a social need for railways etc.

From his early days as an articled clerk Terence rose to be the last Chairman of the BR Board. He not only showed clearly how much has changed in the United Kingdom but also how attitudes have changed with increased demand for rail travel, more investment and better long term planning. This was a fascinating, well-structured and informative presentation.

Thursday 9th March 2017
The Life and Times of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway - A Personal Persective
Philip Benham, former Managing Director, North Yorkshire Moors Railway

On Thursday 9 March we welcomed Philip Benham to give a presentation on the North York Moors Railway (NYMR) to the first ever Surrey Branch afternoon meeting. Philip joined British Railways(BR) in December 1968 just after the last scheduled steam service starting in the Midland division, moving to Eastern based at Kings Cross before going on to InterCity. He was involved in setting up the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) before joining the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), finally moving to the NYMR before retiring. So he began with modern traction and ended with heritage. He divided the presentation under six headings: a brief history; the railway today; some achievements; Whitby and the Esk Valley; some other key projects; and personal reflections.

The railway opened in 1836 as the Whitby & Pickering Railway, designed by George Stephenson and was horse-powered for the first 9 years before being re-engineered for steam in 1845. Philip used some interesting old photographs to show the changes over time illustrating issues such as the Goathland diversion built to bypass Stephenson’s steep rope-hauled incline after a major accident in 1864 when the system failed and a train crashed right back down the hill. The railway was sold to George Hudson to link up with his other railway investments during the period of rapid railway expansion providing an important route into Whitby. This is why it is engineered to mainline standards proving very useful today as it means that the NYMR can accommodate larger locomotives than many other heritage railways. A lot of the old infrastructure has been lost but as much as possible is preserved and an interesting example is the original much smaller running tunnel at Grosmont that now provides pedestrian access and runs next to the current railway tunnel – an interesting contrast; and there are still the camping coaches at Goathland but with much better facilities than formerly! BR closed the line in 1965 and the preservation society formed in 1967 having persuaded BR not to dismantle everything in the meantime, reopening between Grosmont and Pickering in 1973 after they had demonstrated their ability to run it.

The rebirth of the railway saw the first locomotive running on the line again in February 1969 which required a ‘bucket line’ to water the small tank locomotive as the proper facilities for watering were simply not available then.

Currently the NYMR is owned by a charitable trust, while operations are carried out by NYMR Enterprises, and the railway celebrates its 50th anniversary this year having run public services for 44 years. They are the only heritage operator licensed on the national network currently although this could change as others may also achieve this status in the not too distant future. Some statistical information was provided to show the extent of operations, changes over time, and details on organisational structure, facilities, finances, and all the other facets of the operation. The railway runs on a mix of regular volunteers and paid staff – paid staff are required to ensure adequate staffing at all times as volunteers are very widely dispersed, but all are very important to the railway.

The NYMR was keen to tap into the tourist business at Whitby for a number of reasons - it was a big strategic opportunity and would take the railway to another level,. The track had to be upgraded in agreement with Network Rail (NR), and working with the SRA through their community rail development strategy. A lot was involved in the project including locomotive derogations, resignalling and taking over the ticket office at Whitby.

Other projects included the replacement of Bridge 30, an iron bridge built in the early 1900s and deteriorating to the point that it required complete replacement at a cost of £800,000! A substantial grant came from the local authority, another large amount simply from asking passengers to contribute to the project, and the rest from other fundraising. The work proved to be more difficult than expected but NR’s approval that a well-respected engineer who volunteers with the NYMR could project manage saved many thousands of pounds and without this cooperation it would have been a lot more difficult to succeed. This is just one of the examples of major projects either completed or in the ‘pipe line’.

Philip retired in October 2015 but still maintains links with the railway. The immediate outlook presents opportunities as well as challenges. Some keys costs are increasing which means that the overall income will be more modest; there are more bridges that will need attention; more volunteers are always needed; and renewals of infrastructure, locomotives and rolling stock are on-going. As demand increases, capacity must keep up but there are opportunities to link in with the large amounts of industrial heritage in the area particularly around Grosmont. It is also important to integrate both enthusiastic amateurs and professional volunteers, and paid staff, to the overall advantage of everyone and to the benefit of the NYMR, working side by side and remaining credible with other railway industry partners. Safety is important, as is good governance and well managed finances even if finance for investment and improvement is more difficult. It has been a fascinating and privileged position to manage what has been described as the world’s most popular heritage railway.

Questions and answers included investment in Whitby and plans for the future; the prospect of extending to Malton – unlikely as this could prove to be more a threat than an opportunity with big expense and small returns; expanding the Battersby service – more economic implications; where do the volunteers come from etc.

The vote of thanks was given by Gordon Pettitt who congratulated Philip on what has been achieved. He highlighted too that things have come full circle with little difference between then and now as, like the railway pioneers of the past, they are always seeking enough investment to develop the railway for the future. It is not just bridges or restoration, but keeping the railway running too - a big challenge, and Philip had shown the considerable work involved in management and maintaining good relations. He wished both Philip and the NYMR great success.

A well attended meeting with an excellent presentation enjoyed by all.

ILR, 23-3-2017

Tuesday 28th February 2017
The Role of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch
Neil Gove, Inspector of Rail Accidents, Rail Accident Investigation Branch

Currently based in Derby, Neil has been working as an Inspector of Rail Accidents for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) for nearly 10 years. He has a background in electrical engineering, although his interest in railways goes back much further.

He began with a brief history of Accident Investigation branches and, using a number of key examples and photographs as illustration, he showed how the RAIB fits in to the railways overall, looking at the causes of accidents and what safety lessons can be learned in the process.

Many hard lessons have been learned from accidents in the past and Neil detailed a number of well-known examples and some of the improvements that arose from the investigations such as Harrow (1952) AWS, Moorgate tube (1975) – train stops at dead ends, Clapham Junction (1988) – crashworthiness, Cannon Street (1991) – drug and alcohol testing. There have been issues with railway accidents since the early beginnings of the railway but the RAIB was set up largely as a result of the public enquiry into the 1999 Ladbroke Grove accident with findings including a recommendation to set up an independent organisation to investigate railway accidents. The setting up of such an organisation was enshrined in UK legislation in 2003 and 2005 and by EU legislation in 2004.

Neil described key facts about the RAIB, its guiding principles and its scope, explaining what is and is not investigated, and giving some insight into the techniques used to gather evidence and work out what went wrong, before a final report is published. It is very clear that this is not about apportioning blame but finding the causes of accidents, and making recommendations to prevent them from happening in the future. He went over what types of investigations are carried out, what safety lessons can be learned, and how to ensure that the potential for death and/or serious injury and damage that might occur under the same or similar circumstances can be prevented. He also described what is not investigated including accidents or incidents involving trespassers or suicides on the railway for example. The area covered is the whole of the UK and half way into the Channel Tunnel while their French counterparts cover the other half – necessarily working together, of course, with joint investigations as the Tunnel affects both the UK and France.

It was interesting to hear about the investigation techniques involved such as interviewing witnesses where the witness statements are kept entirely confidential and are not shared with other interested parties. Factual data can be shared but not the witness statements. As the RAIB is not about blame, this helps to ensure that witnesses feel confident and are more willing to provide accurate information without having to worry about being blamed for what has happened. Site surveys may be carried out and vehicles inspected; documents – eg industry standards and real time records may be considered; analysis of any available recorded data eg from trains, signalling systems and CCTV; historic records and statistics may be relevant; and then further testing and sometimes reconstruction if required. Once this has all been done and the evidence pieced together, the RAIB are then in a position to work out what went wrong before writing the final report providing details of the incident and recommendations to prevent it from recurring. If it becomes clear during the course of an investigation that immediate changes or improvements are required then an interim report may be issued before the full and final report is published.

There are a number of guiding principles that the RAIB works to not least independence and accuracy. Accuracy, consistency and traceability of evidence are very important. Other guiding principles include sharing evidence where appropriate and confidentiality where required as well as providing logically supported recommendations. It is also important to work with others in the industry to ensure that they ‘buy in’ to any findings and recommendations as they will be the ones to implement any recommendations.

Neil went on to talk about RAIB staffing structures, equipment and their work bases. There are currently two bases one at Derby and one at Farnborough although most of the administration is done from Derby. There are vehicles and workshops at both centres and an on-call roster at both locations at all times. He also provided details of how and when they are notified about an incident and the powers that they have to enter all railway property, seizing anything relating to an accident, access to records and asking questions – there is no right of silence in an RAIB investigation. After clearly outlining the processes he provided some statistics on investigations since the organisation was set up with some interesting photographs, charts and numbers as illustration. Some of the incidents that seem to cause regular problems are level crossings which involves understanding how the public use them and the surrounding environment. In the context of understanding he described how railway staff can be under real pressure in their work environment which might result in an accident, and how solutions can be found once the problem has been identified. Examples of other problems concern the safety of track workers, freight train derailments and passengers at station platforms and are there technical measures that can be taken to improve the situation?

A number of examples of current investigations were outlined with some details of what had been discovered and what positive changes could be made. He also mentioned some of the most recently published reports – they make very interesting reading, with a brief outline of the incidents and the outcomes; before moving on to some of the investigations that he has personally been involved with.

The evening finished with a lively and interesting question and answer session including what came before the RAIB; working together with the French on the Channel Tunnel; derailments; reports; qualifications for inspectors – and where to get an application form(!); level crossings; and do they always find out what has happened. If there is no clear answer then they will say that they do not know but the probability or possibility is….

With a lot of interesting detail including examples of past and on-going investigations, this was a fascinating and informative presentation giving a clear picture of the important and safety critical work done by the RAIB. The vote of thanks was given by Tom Kolisch.


Tuesday 24th January 2017
Growing the DLR
Mark Davis, Head of Contracts and Business Performance, Docklands Light Railway Limited

After a brief introduction Mark explained that the presentation would start with how the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) has grown from the beginning – with an early ITN newsreel from 1986 showing some of the initial construction. He progressed on to the first extensions followed by looking at how to deal with the challenges and growth on the DLR for the next 20 years.

The early lines linked Tower Gateway, Stratford and Island Gardens via a junction close to West India Quay with a planned extension into Bank to serve the heart of the City and connect with the London Underground. The original lines were built to aid the regeneration of the Docklands area and, after some derogatory reactions, it must have been pleasing to note that 6m passengers were carried in the first year of operation. The first extension to Bank was opened in 1991 with 10 new vehicles being put into service at the same time, this was followed by Beckton in 1994 when the signalling was upgraded to a moving block system, a new depot built and 70 new vehicles supplied. The 21 old vehicles were sold to Essen in Germany. The third extension to Lewisham opened in 1999 and was one of the first transport PFI (private finance initiative) deals with the fourth extension to King George V opening in December 2005. This was another PFI arrangement and provided a connection for London City Airport. The fifth extension to Woolwich Arsenal opened in January 2009 and included twin bore tunnels under the River Thames – also funded by a PFI followed by the extension to Stratford International.

With the increase in capacity in the DLR system and the growth in passenger numbers, further upgrades were required such as extending platforms to accommodate 3 cars and Mike explained the difficulties where it was not possible to extend and how they solved them eg using selective door opening at some stations while other solutions included remodelling or moving stations and modifying junctions for grade separation.

The DLR extensions and upgrades have all been central to the growth and redevelopment of East London and the DLR system was an integral part of transport for the London 2012 Olympics where a record of 501,000 people were moved in one day and there was 100% performance for 4 days with a headline performance overall of 98.87% - a splendid record.

Mike gave a brief pause under the heading ‘where are we now?’ covering a number of statistics on track, trains, stations, average speed, customer satisfaction, average daily numbers of passengers and the phenomenal growth over the last 30 years.

What challenges are there for the future up to 2021 when the current franchise ends and beyond? Using a graph to show expected growth and the brief period when growth is likely to reduce once Crossrail opens, Mike explained what is expected and also that the brief drop in passenger numbers from Crossrail opening will allow a ‘breathing space’ while new trains are awaited. A map showed where there are proposals for planned population and employment growth based on planning applications that have already been granted or are part of a completed masterplan for the area. This is a mix of domestic and office and will put pressure on the existing DLR system which will involve detailed planning to manage the growth. There is also likely to be additional potential growth from development schemes that have not yet reached the formal planning stage. All proposals and plans for essential upgrades, eg at Bank Station, require the system to remain operational with no shut downs during the works.

DLR’s future will include a number of things eg growth in the Royal Docks area, expansion at Canary Wharf, better access to the City, growth on the Isle of Dogs, a growing Stratford, and stations of the future and Mike went on to describe some of these in more detail. He also highlighted the role of the DLR as part of the whole transport network in the area for example if there are issues on the Jubilee Line, and some detail on the planned improvements and upgrades to cope even with just the known developments. He also explained how forward planning includes fitting DLR services with the opening of Crossrail to improve services and the environment overall.

Where do we go from here? DLR is committed to help deliver the Mayor’s commitment to the TfL (Transport for London) business plan and ‘a City for all Londoners’ – recommended reading. DLR will play its part in improving London in conjunction with the developers, and plans are already being drawn up to make the case for further investment - and the Docklands area development has barely begun. Mike presented another video clip to help illustrate what TfL is all about – there is nowhere quite like London and the people are special both passengers and staff. The TfL remit includes ensuring a joined up travel network in and around the capital, investing in improvements and upgrades, and integration of all parts of the transport systems for now and in the future.

Questions and answers proved to be equally interesting and wide ranging including operating hours, the possibility of extending these and providing all night services as on parts of the Underground; plans for further extensions; the complexities of further developments in the area and how the DLR system is used; issues with fare evasion – DLR currently has a very good record; new trains and some details of what is likely; could DLR stock use parts of the Underground system allowing greater integration; modifications at Bank Station. Also raised were issues such as celebrations for the 30th anniversary including repatriation of one of the original units; hindsight – the original part of DLR was ‘done on the cheap’ so would it be done differently now – answer yes as the DLR is no longer a ‘light railway’; annual costs – DLR is one of only 2 parts of the TfL systems that covers its running costs plus a little; was the success of DLR expected; what about Brexit and the DLR, and more. This session could clearly have gone on for longer.

The vote of thanks was given by branch chairman Andy Davies who moved to Surrey in 1988 and has seen the massive growth since that time. He highlighted not only the interesting and informative presentation but the equally interesting questions and answers. An excellent evening and clearly progress on the DLR is to be followed with interest.


Tuesday 20th December 2016
Disconnected! Broken Links in Britain's Rail Policy
Chris Austin OBE, former BR Director of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs

The business of the Branch AGM was completed fairly swiftly with the reports and accounts proposed, seconded and accepted by those present. The only change was that Alan Norris stepped down from the committee but he confirmed that he will continue to support the branch. While not part of the AGM, an appeal for additional volunteers to help with various activities at branch meetings resulted in a number of people coming forward.

The AGM business completed, Chris Austin was quickly introduced and gave a very brief outline of his railway career which began in September 1967 as a management trainee at Woking. This was at the start of a new era on the railways although he was unaware at the time of the amount of change still to come. The Beeching Report was raised but the main subject of the presentation was the gaps that were left following the closures; and the haste and shortsightedness of some of those closures was highlighted, particularly the later ones that came after Dr Beeching. Chris has co-written two books based on joint research with Richard Faulkner as well as his own experience, the first highlighting the social and political history of rail closures, while the second is about lines that have either reopened already or should be considered for reopening. While researching the books much truly astonishing information came to light not least on the number of lines and stations added to the closure list after the Beeching report. In many cases there was a lack of foresight, no coherent policy and sometimes simply an asset stripping exercise applied. It was not all Dr Beeching’s fault and he had been given an almost impossible task with insufficient information and an impossibly short timescale to do the job requested. This does not mean that some lines should not have been closed – they probably should never have been built in the first place as they were never economically viable. These tended to be closures that occurred before the Report. Unfortunately many of the later closures are of lines that are now being reinstated because those routes are needed today. For some of these lines the case for closure was never that strong and little or no attention had been paid to the longer term social and economic benefits of retaining them. It was clear, too, that the ‘road lobby’ was keen to promote road against rail although, luckily, proposals to turn Marylebone Station into a bus terminus and convert the first ten miles of track into a road did not succeed.

The railways were proving to be very costly to run but Chris described the value of the railways in supporting regional development, providing connectivity, sustainability, safe and reliable public transport – so valuable both economically and socially. The situation could have been considerably worse today if it had not been for the leaking in 1972 of a Blue Paper entitle ‘Rail Policy Review’ published in the Sunday Times together with a map showing proposals to cut the network from 11,600 miles down to 6,700 miles. It was some years after their research that Chris and Richard discovered the source of the leak and the courage it had taken to leak the information to the press. He provided details of a number of line closures that would have been of great benefit today had they remained open - providing shorter connecting routes and better freight pathways with lesser gradients or ways for freight traffic to avoid busy passenger lines for example.

Chris ended on a very optimistic note presenting a number of the incredible success stories on reinstating and reopening formerly close rail routes such as the Borders Railway that carried over 1 million passengers in the first year – much higher than the estimated 600,000. There are good business cases for a number of other lines to be reintroduced due to the growth in demand and the economic and social benefits that would result and he mentioned some of the schemes currently in the pipeline. He highlighted the change in attitudes, the new franchise specifications, campaigning local authorities, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships and others who have all worked hard to bridge some of the gaps where the greatest benefits would be achieved. Some credit too must go to ministers who are taking more of an interest and making better decisions. Given the current and forecast rise in passenger numbers alone, there is a bright future ahead for the rail network.

An equally interesting question and answer session followed the refreshment break starting with Tom Kolisch reading out a short biography of Chris’s career to date – although retired he continues to be actively involved in a number of railway groups at all levels. Questions included the way that information was obtained for some of the statistics used for the Beeching Report; specific line closures; budgeting and why the costs for railways in the UK appear to be so high; opinions of Dr Beeching – some good, some not so; and budgeting and improved forward planning amongst others. Questions could clearly have gone on for some time but the evening ended on a very positive note.

An excellent and very interesting evening with good slides to illustrate followed by an equally interesting question and answer session. As well as the subject matter, perhaps the publicity and reminding guests that they are welcome to come although they cannot vote at the AGM had something to do with this being the best attended Surrey Branch AGM yet.


last updated: 28/11/17