Thames Valley

Meeting Reports

Monday 21st January 2019
A Plug for Brunel
Colin Brading

With his reputation of being arguably Britain's finest engineer, Brunel possibly needs nobody to speak up for him.
However, in his talk Colin was referring to plugs of the electric variety. In his career as an engineer, Colin worked for the Great Western Electrification project on bridge modifications to allow the overhead lines to be erected. It seems an easy job to provide the necessary clearance by lowering the track, but this was impossible in many cases because of ground problems and problems in providing the necessary track gradients to effect the change. This meant that bridges needed to be modified in situ or replaced. Modifying masonry arches proved the hardest problem, since the forces held in equilibrium by the previous arch could go out of balance and severely damage, or in the worst scenario, cause the bridge to collapse. A way of dealing with the problems was found by using tons of concrete, which had the effect of spoiling the aesthetics of the bridge.
In the case of metal bridges, a method was found by using large vehicle-mounted hydraulic jacks to raise the deck to allow the extra abutments to be added. With reference to the jacking vehicles, if anybody thought that a JCB was a real "boy's toy" they're nothing in comparison!
However, sometimes there was no option but to replace the bridge. This was no easy matter, as local authorities, from parish to county councils, and also the local residents, all had to be consulted to find a solution that was acceptable to everybody.
All this extra work, some foreseen and some unforeseen, has resulted in years of delay and significant additional costs to the whole project.

Colin is to be thanked his talk which gave a comprehensive and fascinating behind-the-scenes look at this major engineering project

Monday 17th December 2018
'Thames Valley Branch AGM followed by Members slides and digital images'

The December meeting consisted of the branch AGM followed by members short presentations, offerings with Christmas fare being available at half-time. The AGM was a report of a year of reasonable success, with the members showing their confidence in the committee by voting them all back for 2019. There is a small cloud on the branch's horizon in that there is no person to arrange for the branch's sales and publicity stall to appear at exhibitions. If any member wishes to volunteer to do this job, please contact the branch at tv-chairman@rcts.org.uk and help the branch prosper in the future.

The members' presentations were many and various, taking the audience half way round the world and back in time to the 1960s.
The first to show was Murray Lewis, who took the audience to Western Canada, with big trains in the big country of the Rockies.
He was followed by Andy Vernon, who provided a sequel to his earlier talk on high speed trains by showing slow speed trains. His definition of slow speed trains was shunting engines, so the audience was treated to a range of shunters, both in the UK and Europe.
Stuart Hicks then took the audience on their travels again, this time to Myanmar (Burma).
Richard Antliff gave one of his characteristic humorous looks behind the scenes, this time looking at a Permanent Way Institution training in tracklaying held on the Great Central Railway.
The audience were then taken on their travels again, but this time in a Tardis to the end of BR steam. The guides for this time travel were David Evans-Roberts, who went to Scotland and North-East England in 1967, and Gordon Adams, who chronicled a day in Lancashire in 1968.
The evening finished with a quick tour of 2018 in digital images from Phil Darlaston.

Monday 19th November 2018
'Mardling along the Tilbury & Sweedy'
Chris Youett

Mardling is apparently a Norfolk dialect word meaning "leisurely gossip and chat" and we certainly did mardle. In fact, we mardled and meandered over much of East Anglia.
Starting off in Southend, we followed the LT&S into London, then headed out around Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk before eventually reaching Kings Lynn and Hunstanton.
We then returned south through Cambridgeshire to our final destination of Liverpool Street, time travelling by way of much glorious colour photography from the 1950s & 1960s (plus a few later "Ones"- forgive the pun) into all sorts of railway nooks and crannies, beating Dr Beeching to many of them. The GER was known as the “Sweedy” in connection with the major traffic in the area which was agriculture and he population being quite sparse.

We thank Chris for a most entertaining and informative evening, which gave an opportunity to explore an area of England normally off the beaten track to many of our audience.

Saturday 20th October 2018
'Eastleigh Works visit'

On the morning of Saturday, 20th October, a party of Thames Valley members met outside Eastleigh station for the short walk down to the erstwhile Eastleigh works which is operated by Arlington Fleet Services. After a safety briefing given by our host Norman Smith the tour commenced.
All of the works were accessible to the party apart from three areas that were rented out to contractors, although units inside these areas were visible.
Locomotives types noted on site included examples of classes 47, 50, 57 and 73 along with a varied assortment of DMU’s, EMU’s and Departmental vehicles. In addition, London Transport Locomotive “Sarah Siddons” was present together with the LT 4TC set.

Monday 15th October 2018
K1 62005 and the Jacobite
Paul Hutchinson (NELPG)

Paul is NELPG's "caretaker" for the locomotive and so was the ideal person to talk on this subject.
He started with a thumbnail history of the 2-6-0 wheel arrangement in Britain, concentrating particularly on the LNER K class constituents that ultimately led to the K1 and then reviewed the history of 62005 from its NBLC Queens Park Glasgow birthplace in 1949 up to the end of its BR service at North Blyth.
Following use for a time as a stationary boiler at ICI North Tees it was acquired by the owning consortium of K4 61994 (LNER 3442) for use as a spare boiler which in the event was not needed and it was donated by them to NELPG in 1972.
Paul detailed 62005's association with Thornaby depot, its restoration, its move to the North York Moors Railway in 1974, an appearance at the Stockton & Darlington 150 celebrations in 1975 and subsequently a long and distinguished career on the Main Line and in particular its association with "The Jacobite" steam service from Fort William to Mallaig which was covered in detail and supported by a host of excellent photographs and supporting detail.
At the time of writing this report, 62005 should be at Carnforth for winter maintenance.

Many thanks to Paul for his excellent and very entertaining talk and for giving our audience an insight into the successful maintenance and (daily!) operation of a steam engine on today’s main line.

Monday 17th September 2018
High Speed Trains
Andy Vernon and Richard Antliff

Double-headers are a fairly common sight on our railways but not for our Branch which had its first double header for the September meeting with two speakers talking on two different subjects.
The first was local member Andy Vernon, who took High Speed Trains as his subject. As could be expected, Andy featured HSTs in various guises throughout their long and distinguished career and despite not being exhaustive there was a sufficiency of livery varieties to keep everybody fascinated. European High Speed was also included with examples being shown from various countries around the continent.
He was followed by Richard Antliff, another local member who took as his subject recent developments at the Didcot Railway Centre; Richard is an appropriate person to do this being DRC's Civil Engineering Manager. His entertaining, and at times highly amusing talk incorporated the new signalling centre and the various displays of signalling throughout the ages, right up to the recently installed Swindon Panel which was only relatively recently replaced on the "big railway" by a new digital system. Richard also covered both the Carriage and Wagon workshops and Locomotives with particular reference to their oldest and newest locomotives, Shannon and Lady of Legend, the new Saint conversion which is now in its last phases of (re?) construction.

Andy and Richard are both to be thanked for their talks on two widely differing topics which made for a highly informative and entertaining evening.

Tuesday 21st August 2018
Observation at Didcot Parkway Station

Our meeting on August 21st was the annual outdoor observation evening at Didcot. One major change to previous years evenings was the appearance of electric passenger trains with Class 800 variants on the main line trains and Class 387s on the local trains to Reading and London. However, the Class 800s were not all operating in electric mode when observed passing through the station. A signalling fault meant that the up relief line was out of commission for some time which resulted in local trains having to use the Up Main running non-stop to Reading. This caused inconvenience to passengers for the stations between Cholsey and Tilehurst who were forced to travel to Reading and double back. In practice, the closure seemed not to delay passenger trains unduly but it did cause some up freights to be held pending a gap between the passenger trains. The closure also had a knock-on effect on Cross Country trains as at least one had to run through the station rather than use the avoiding curve. The fault was eventually fixed and normal working resumed during the evening.

In addition to the regular freight and container trains seen every year there was a mystery additional car freight (which was later identified to be an as required train from Castle Bromwich to Southampton) hauled by 66150 which was the longest freight train seen all evening with over 40 car transporter wagons of various types all filled with Range Rover cars bound for export.

Tuesday 24th July 2018
Observation at Banbury Station

The meeting had to postponed for one week due to the closure of all through lines at Oxford to enable Engineering Works including re-signalling to take place. This also resulted in diversions for all of the through traffic.

The object of the Banbury evening was to see the Chiltern Railways Class 68 hauled passenger trains. Of these, all the Kidderminster trains were noted passing through the station, and the Bicester short working was seen on the stabling point South of the station.
In addition, there was the customary freight trains seen, the majority of which were container trains in the hands of Class 66s. One of these was double-headed with a Class 70 leading.
One other Class 70 was seen heading North on an engineers' train. Your correspondent only saw one other freight during his observation session, and that was a train of Rover cars heading for export.

Thursday 21st June 2018
Observation at Reading Station

The Reading Station observation evening was held on its traditional Thursday of the Royal Ascot race meeting. This day is chosen so that the Northern Belle may be seen transporting race-goers back to Manchester. The train did not disappoint, appearing with top-and-tailed WCRC Class 57s, 57313 and 57314.
This was not the only special train seen, as a pair of Class 73s, 73962 and 73963, appeared top-and-tailing a GBRF Long Marston to Paddington "Rail Live" Event special. They reappeared later working the empty stock back to Eastleigh.
On the normal passenger side, Classes 387 and 800 (both the /0 and/3 variants) were noted on service for the first time at this event. As usual, there were few freight trains seen, your correspondent only noting one.

Monday 21st May 2018
The L&SWR in 1914
Alan Norris

The speaker for the final meeting of the indoor season was Alan Norris, whose topic was The LSWR in 1914.
Using a facsimile of that year's timetable as a guide, he outlined what services were available at the time, starting with the inner suburban routes. These had recently been electrified, and in a recast of services, the General Manager, Herbert Walker brought in an innovation he learnt from the LNWR. This was the principle of "clock face" schedules, where trains ran at set minutes past each hour and made the same standard stops. This system is of course in widespread use today, and not only for suburban services; but in 1914 it was regarded as quite revolutionary.
Moving on, Alan then dealt with the outer suburban services, before finishing with main line and international shipping services. In connection with these, Alan highlighted a map from the LSWR timetable of the North Atlantic Ocean which showed the USA to be a similar distance from Ireland as that is to the UK. Either plate tectonics have been extremely busy in the last 100 years or this was a large dose of artistic licence!.
Finally, he finished by showing miscellaneous advertisements to be found in the book, including one for a guide on a subject not connected to travel; until he pointed out that the publication concerned was also produced by the printers of the timetable, a cheeky example of free advertising!

All in all, Alan gave a fascinating insight into the rail services of 100 years ago, for which the group were most appreciative.

Saturday 19th May 2018
Visit to GWR Railway Centre at Didcot

A group of 13 RCTS members were met by Richard Antliff (Civil Engineering Manager) who explained how the day was planned, what we were going to see, and given the usual site safety briefing.
Richard had the first stint of the day. We travelled in the diesel railcar (No 22), built in the 1940s down the demonstration line to the Oxford Road station. Next on the route was Burlescombe station, which has both standard and broad gauge track. Stored on the broad gauge track are two broad gauge engines, Iron Duke built to celebrate “GWR 150” and demonstrated on a straight line in Hyde Park, London near to the Royal Albert Hall and also Fire Fly, built by members of the Great Western Society but is now sadly out of its boiler ticket.
Next on the tour was Frome Mineral Junction Signal Cabin (Cabin is indeed the correct name as the word “box” did not come in until much later in time). This gave us the opportunity to look at broad gauge track work and the signalling employed by Brunel. To complete the morning session a visit was made to the Radstock North Signal Box and Level Crossing. This box, and Frome Mineral Junction Signal Cabin are both fully operational.
What was impressive was the fact that genuine Great Western Railway artefacts have been used throughout wherever possible. Our guide, Richard, certainly had knowledge of where they came from.

After lunch next on the agenda was a visit to the Locomotive Workshops, our guide was Drew Fermor (Pendennis Castle Team Leader). His main duties are to take responsibly for the team overhauling Pendennis Castle, a locomotive with a very interesting history. We were also able to see close up the “new” locomotive “Lady of Legend” a rebuild to create a GWR Saint class locomotive. Drew described the processes required to be undertaken to rebuild/overhaul steam locomotives. This part of the day was finished off with a tour of the Engine Shed which on the day was very full.
After a cup of tea our next session took us to the Carriage Shed and workshop. Here our guide was Roger Horwood (Carriage and Wagon Manager) who is also a GWS Trustee. We were shown how carriage restoration was carried out outlining the process from receiving a “wreck” of a carriage to it being put back into service. Work could include replacement of the wooden carriage infrastructure, renewing electrics, replacement upholstery, varnishing and painting. Interesting to note is that any wood used is purchased some two years in advance so that it can dry and is stored on site.
This was the Thames Valley branch's second visit to the Didcot Railway Centre and judging by the comments there will certainly be a third. Such a lot to see, no hope of seeing it all in a single day.

On a very hot sunny day our thanks go to all our guides, Richard, Drew and Roger, who gave up their time to make it a very memorable day at the Didcot Railway Centre.

Wednesday 25th April 2018
Annual Quiz v. Reading Transport Group

The annual quiz against our friends from the Reading Transport Group, which was postponed on account of the "Beast from the East", was finally held at the RTG's venue on 25th April. The branch team of Phil Darlaston, Denis Horsman, Andrew Jenkins, John Temple and Dennis Brown duly girded their loins ready to do friendly battle against the RTG and the questions of Gordon Adams.
After going into an early lead, the RCTS branch team duly retained it to run out the victors by 25 1/2 to 18. This means that the branch holds bragging rights and the trophy until it hosts next year's battle.

After the quiz, the away team traditionally provides the second half entertainment.
This year proved no exception and John Hubbard gave a presentation on the Class 55 Deltics, following the iconic locomotives on their old stamping ground from Edinburgh to London, John ably showed them working to their best advantage.

The branch wishes to thank the RTG for their hospitality, Gordon Adams for his testing questions and last but not least John Hubbard for his excellent slide show which evoked many fond memories.

Monday 16th April 2018
Railways of Southampton
Gordon Adams

In a last-minute change to the programme, Gordon Adams stepped in to give a talk on the history of the railways of Southampton. Despite not being as important as it is today, Southampton was one of the first cities to have a railway from London promoted. Further additions were to Wimborne and Netley and both later evolved into major rail links.
When the railway reached Southampton, the docks only dealt with local sea-going traffic, but rail links to the rest of Britain were the catalyst for expansion. In order to help fund these extensions, the LSWR initially lent money to the docks company, eventually purchasing it completely.
Both the LSWR and, later, the Southern Railway (which had taken over from the LSWR at the Grouping) were responsible for further expansion up to the 1930s.
The traffic generated by the extended docks can still be seen today but without the Ocean Liner traffic which has disappeared, having been superseded today by Cruise liner, Car and Container traffic.
Many thanks are due to Gordon for his comprehensive and informative talk given at short notice.

The branch wishes to send best wishes for a speedy recovery to Malcolm Hills, who was originally booked to be the speaker for the evening.

Monday 19th March 2018
Heritage Railway Infrastructure
John Sreeves

The presentation commenced by outlining the development of heritage railways from the early pioneers such as the Talyllyn, Ffestiniog and the Bluebell Railways and then the subsequent increase in heritage lines following the Beeching Closures in the 1960s. These railways form a key part of the Tourist Industry and have enabled many Buildings and Structures to be preserved in addition to the rolling stock.
The remainder of the presentation looked at projects in which John has been involved, starting from the Ffestiniog deviation around the reservoir completed in 1978, being one of the earliest examples of major civil engineering work.
This was followed by a look at more recent projects where complete lines which have, or are being, rebuilt having been abandoned may years ago. Typical of these are the Welsh Highland Railway now largely complete, the Eden Valley Railway and Peak Railway where there are significant challenges still to be overcome. Apart from major replacement of bridges and viaducts, it was interesting to see the smaller infrastructure requirements, such as mileposts and bridge plates made out of weather resistant MDF for the Eden Valley Railway, to look realistic but not too attractive to be stolen!

We look forward to Part two of this presentation.

last updated: 25/01/19