In 1902, the Great Western Railway was meeting increased competition in suburban areas from electric streetcar trams and horse - drawn buses. To counter this the Great Western decided to introduce rail steam - cars so that more frequent services of small passenger numbers could be provided on both suburban and country branch lines. Trials took place in early 1903 with a Dugald Drummond rail motor which he had designed for the joint L.S.W.R. / L.B.S.C.R. East Southsea service. As a result of these trials the first Great Western rail steam car came into service on the 12 October 1903. They featured an open saloon type interior with seats on either side of a central aisle, however only one class was catered for and some of them had a section partitioned off for non-smokers. At one end of the car was the driving bogie whilst the other end was carried on a eight foot bolster bogie which, for the first time, replaced the Dean suspension bogie. The vertical boiler, working at a pressure of 160 p.s.i., was mounted on the underframe of the driving bogie. The outside cylinders were 12 inches diameter and 16 inches stroke and drove a pair of 3 feet 6 inch diameter wheels, whilst slide valve were operated by Walschaerts valve gear.
In the early cars there was a vestibule at the trailing end by which the passengers entered and left the car. There was also a position for the driver in the vestibule for use when the car was running with the engine in the rear.
The first two cars operated on the busy Stroud Valley line between Chalford and Stonehouse and at level crossings, folding steps were released at the vestibule end so that passengers could get on or off. Due to safety concerns, the level crossing stop was replaced by short platforms called 'halts' which had easy access from a public road.
The services became very popular and before long led to the construction or expansion of housing estates close to the halts. So many extra passengers were attracted that, during busy periods of the day, trailer cars were attached with seating similar to that of the steam cars and with a driving compartment at the end of the trailer car fitted with duplicate controls. The very popularity of the cars led eventually to their replacement as the engine was too small to tackle the extra weight of the trailer car on many of the routes. Auto-trains were therefore introduced from 1905 to replace the steam cars where the traffic had got beyond their capacity. An ordinary tank engine such as a Wolverhampton 517 class 0 - 4 - 2, was fitted with controls which could be extended as required. It had sufficient power to work four coaches, two in front and two behind and it could run at a higher speed than the 30 m.p.h. maximum of the steam car.
This was the early development of the auto - train which later used the '1400' 0 - 4 - 2 and '5400' 0 - 6 - 0 class engines.
Copyright © by John Daniel 2013.