DIESEL-HYDRAULIC MENU



The Western Region Archive



The Modernisation Plan and its effects on the Western Region


Before looking at the Modernisation Plan, we have to realise the condition of Britain's railway system at the close of World War 2 through a railway historian's eyes. In his book 'British Railways 1948 - 1973, A business history', T. R. Gourvish describes how . . . . . .
        "The results of war-time use and neglect were clear. By 1945, there was a large backlog of repairs and renewals, and this greatly impaired railway operations for the rest of the decade. Despite the considerable increase in traffic, renewal of the permanent Castle class number 5084 Reading Abbey
 at Paddington, 14 December 1956way in the years 1940-4 was reduced to under 70 per cent of pre-war levels, and by the end of 1945 the deficiency amounted to nearly 2,500 track miles, or about two years work under normal (i.e. pre-war) conditions. A similar reduction was evident in the work on structures tunnels, bridges, buildings, etc. Although motive power was maintained, largely because of the construction of over 1,300 locomotives in 1939-44, a great many engines were close to the end of their useful lives in the immediate post-war period. By December 1946, 7,981 or 39.3 percent of the total stock, were over 35 years old. . . . . . .
. . . . . . The problem of maintaining the passenger stock was no less acute. Very few vehicles were repaired during the hostilities: the L.M.S., for example, with a total stock of 22,000, renewed only 16 carriages a year during 1940-4. New construction as a whole fell to 16 per cent of pre-war levels in 1940-5, and as a result the total number of vehicles available for traffic was reduced by 13 per cent. At the end of 1946, 12,161 coaching vehicles, 21.6 per cent of the total, were over 35 years old. Everywhere, the queue for essential repairs lengthened and the average age of assets increased".

In addition, post-war years with shortages and rationing still in evidence, he writes;
        "A major cause of anxiety in the period 1945-7 was the patent inability of the companies to restore their physical assets to pre-war standards. Strenuous efforts were made to clear the arrears of maintenance and repair, but post-war shortages, of both raw materials and skilled men, greatly frustrated the work of restitution. Permanent way renewal never went beyond meeting urgent current requirements. For 1947 a target of 1,966 track-miles was set, just above the 1938 level, but it was only possible to deal with 1,434 miles and the 'backlog', based on renewals in 1935-9, remained at about 2,500 miles. Consequently, several sections were in such a dangerous defective state that severe speed restrictions were imposed on most routes. . . . . .
. . . . . The operational consequences of post-war austerity were soon made obvious to all by the glare of peacetime publicity. In early 1946, the railways attracted adverse criticism after a spate of accidents, including a serious collision at Lichfield on New Year's Day, when 20 passengers were killed. Further concern was expressed in October 1947, when two accidents in the space of three days, at South Croydon and Goswick (Northumberland), produced 60 fatalities. Indeed, the number killed in train accidents in 1947 - 121 was the second highest in railway history. Sir Alan Mount, the Chief Inspecting Officer, in his annual report, was bold enough to suggest that five of the serious accidents (in which 61 died) would probably not occurred but for the track maintenance arrears and the postponement of work on colour-light signalling".

On the 1st of January 1948, Britain's railway network was nationalised although this did not mean a spending boom for the new British Railways, as the Clement Attlee-led Labour Government at the time was under pressure for an improved road network across the country. T. R. Gourvish tells us that;
        "The early years of nationalisation were a bleak period in terms of investment, and many writers have traced some of the railways' enduring problems to this situation. Thus, the transport economist Denys Munby, examining the 'Economic Problems of British Railways' in 1962, isolated lack of investment as one of the major factors, pointing out that "when the Modernisation Plan was produced [in 1954] there had been net disinvestment on the railways for many years on a colossal scale." Ken Gwilliam, also a transport economist, emphasised the difficulties caused by the accumulated disinvestment of the war and early post-war years, the result, he thought, of both the inadequacy of the war-time financial arrangements and the attitude of the post-war Labour Government. . . . . . (Estimates) indicated that in the period 1938-53 the railways experienced a net disinvestment, at constant 1948 prices, of 440 million" (or about 7,000 million at year 2000 prices).

On the 25th of October 1951, a Conservative Government was elected into power (with a majority of just 16), with their own ideas on how to run Britain's railways. Michael R. Bonavia in his book entitled 'British Rail - The First 25 Years' tells us that;

        ". . . . . . A bill was introduced in July (1952) and became law as the Transport Act, 1953, in May next year. It provided for the abolition of the Railway Executive and required the BTC (British Transport Commission) to prepare a scheme of organisation providing for statutory Area authorities to be set up, which would manage the railways under the BTC. It also provided for a Road Haulage Disposals Board to be created with the task of de-nationalising British Road Services, thus putting the final nail in the coffin of road-rail integration.
        So far as the railways were concerned, the prospect of new management was welcomed in the Regions. The Western Region saw this as a victory for GWR traditions which had had some effect upon the thinking of the Conservative Party."

The infamous Modernisation Plan appeared in 1955, and as T. R. Gourvish describes;
        "The BTC's hopes for future financial viability were pinned on the Modernisation Plan of 1955, one of the most controversial elements in the history of nationalised railways. Published in 'Warship' class 42, number D825 Intrepid
 at Plymouth Laira, 18 July 1970January 1955, it aimed to establish a "thoroughly modern system", able fully to "exploit the great natural advantages of railways as bulk transporters of passengers and goods". The principal mechanism in this change was to be a long-term investment programme which envisaged an expenditure of 1,240 million over 15 years on the "Modernisation and Re-equipment of the British Railways". At its inception it received the warm support of the Conservative Government. R. A. Butler, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, paid tribute to its 'courageous and imaginative conception'. The press was also enthusiastic. The Manchester Guardian , for example, announced that 'the new programme stands for a new spirit which the public will welcome', and even The Economist  initially considered it to be 'carefully thought out' and 'a firm statement of good intentions'. Most observers accepted the Plan as a laudable attempt to rectify a lack of investment in the industry, which stretched back to the inter-war years.
        The honeymoon of enthusiasm was relatively short. The Plan soon came to be seen as a flawed response to the problems of railway investment. The Economist  was one of the most consistent critics. Before the Plan had been published it had struck a cautionary note, warning that 'there will be a tendency to pretend that this will make everything on the railways suddenly all right'. Then, in a leader entitled 'Millions for Cinderella', it observed that 'the mere spending of money does not ensure efficiency; it can be a convenient device for ensuring that inefficiency is chromium-plated' . . . . ."

The budget for the Modernisation Plan is described by Michael R. Bonavia;
"The summary budget of the Plan was described as follows:

First, the track and signalling must be improved to make higher speeds possible over trunk routes, and to provide for better utilisation of the physical assets; there will be an extended use of colour-light signalling, track circuits and automatic train control, the further introduction of power-operated signal boxes, and the installation of centralised traffic control where conditions are suitable, and the extended use of modern telecommunication services . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . 210 million

Secondly, steam must be replaced as a form of motive power, electric or diesel traction being rapidly introduced as may be most suitable in the light of the development of the Plan over the years; this will involve the electrification of large mileages of route, and the introduction of several thousand electric or diesel locomotives . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . 345 million

Third, much of the existing steam-drawn passenger rolling stock must be replaced, largely by multiple-unit electric or diesel trains; the remaining passenger rolling stock, which will be drawn by locomotives (whether diesel, electric or steam), must be modernised; the principal passenger stations and parcel depots will also require considerable expenditure . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . .285 million

Fourth, the freight services must be drastically remodelled. Continuous brakes will be fitted to all freight wagons, which will lead to faster and smoother operation of freight traffic; marshalling yards and goods terminal facilities will be re-sited and modernised, and in particular the number of marshalling yards will be greatly reduced. Larger wagons will be introduced, particularly for mineral traffic, and loading and unloading appliances will require extensive modernisation in consequence . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . 365 million

Fifth, expenditure will be required on sundry other items, including improvements at packet ports, staff welfare, office mechanisms, etc; and a sum of at least 10 million for development and research work will be associated with the Plan, making a total of . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . 35 million

TOTAL . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . .. . . .1,240 million



But as the old adage says, all that glitters . . . .
        "It was now proposed to spend a total of 1,170 million, which was increased to 1,240 million in the published report but, as the Commission explained in its Annual Report for 1954, 600 million 'would in any event have to be spent over the period of the Plan merely to maintain the existing equipment'."

One company with a long history of diesel locomotives was General Motors in America.
        "Decisions in detail were also influenced in part by political pressures. One of these was the Commission's rejection of the option of buying diesel locomotives from the United States and specifically from General Motors, the leading manufacturer with the greatest experience in the field. The decision was later condemned by Stewart Joy, who claimed that American firms had been 'expressly excluded by the B.T.C. on chauvinistic grounds'. In fact, the Commission was steered away from buying American by a combination of factors. The need to adapt American diesels to the British loading gauge meant that only a fairly large order would be economic, and it was also suggested that the 2-stroke engines had a high fuel consumption. The initial reluctance of General Motors to consider a licensing arrangement was another obstacle. But it is also apparent government restrictions on dollar spending through the imposition of import duties influenced the decision. Thus, although the Commission was greatly impressed by the proven reliability of the American diesels, particularly after Robertson's visit to the United States in late 1957, it argued that the economy case had to be 'overwhelming' if the political and economic objections were to be surmounted. In the end they were not. By the time Leyland came forward with a proposal to build General Motors locomotives under licence, late in 1958, the policy of purchasing British (with some German and Swiss engines/transmission) was well under way. A great opportunity to obtain a fleet of reliable, standard design had been lost. Political considerations can also be found in the BTC's choice of the North British Locomotive Co. of Glasgow as one of the British suppliers. This company was a local member of the L.M.A., and political influence was exerted through, inter alia, the Scottish Board for Industry. The Commission's several contacts with North British produced locomotives which were'Western' class 52, number D1056 Western
 Sultan at Plymouth Laira, 18 July 1970 expensive, technically deficient and subject to late delivery. The decision to buy them seems to have owed something, at least, to the fact that it satisfied government's concern to assist areas of high unemployment.
        It is not sufficient to blame the government for the adverse effects of modernisation spending from 1956. The Commission itself must be criticised for failing to control the investment programme properly. Here, the anxiety to secure quick returns was all important. Risks were taken; orders were placed with firms feeling their way in diesel manufacture; equipment was purchased without adequate testing of prototypes; long term contracts were entered into without full examination of prices. A prime example is the acceleration of the diesel programme in 1957. The initial build of 174 locomotives involved the placing of orders with seven manufacturers (including BR workshops) for frames/chassis, seven for engines and eight for transmissions. The policy could be justified as long as it was accompanied by a promise of a three-year test period prior to standardisation on a limited number of designs. But the plan was abandoned precipitately as the Commission tried to respond to its worsening financial position. . . . . At the Chairman's Conference on Modernisation in February 1957, the arguments for doing so were outlined:

The ultimate object was electrification of all main lines. Diesel locomotives were chiefly needed to replace steam on those parts of the system which could not be electrified under the present plan . . . . . . . . . By the end of the century the need for a big fleet of diesel locomotives would have disappeared. The need for diesel locomotives was immediate, in order that the commitments contained in the White Paper of 1956 (inter alia , a promise to break even by 1961/2) might be fulfilled. If their purchase was delayed until full experience was available, many of them would be redundant before their life was expired."



The fitting of brakes onto all wagons seemed a basic and common sense decision that Michael Bonavia commented that:
        "The decision that all wagons must in future be power braked was supported by what seemed unassailable logic. Operations would be vastly speeded up and the traditional brake van at the tail of the train could be dispensed with. Damage in transit from buffing shocks would be reduced, and another bonus would be the elimination of catch points on gradients designed to derail a runaway, saving maintenance and signalling and track costs.
        Yet when long and heavy mineral trains were fitted with the vacuum brake there were difficulties in starting and in releasing the brake after application. It was clear that the air brake would have been the right solution. But the total cost of fitting power brakes was enormous and in view of the limited life-expectancy of such a large proportion of the wagon fleet it could not be justified. Complete elimination of hand-braked wagons therefore had to be postponed. . . . . But as long as any unbraked wagons were included in a train, the main advantages envisaged in the Modernisation Plan could not be realised through the operation of trains with a 'fitted head' ie a number of braked wagons at the front of the train coupled together and adding to the brake power provided by the locomotive."

However as T. R. Gourvish relates of . .
        ". . . . . The anxiety to fit brakes quickly also led the Commission to tie itself to long-term contracts with outside manufacturers, often at high prices. One of the largest contracts involved an undertaking by Westinghouse to supply 295,000 brake cylinders at 23 each over a five-year period. The suspension of the mineral programme and government investment cuts caused the Commission to reduce its purchasing. The company submitted a hefty claim for damages in 1961, and this was eventually settled at 1.6 million. Sums totalling million were also paid to other manufacturers for cancelled contracts. Nor was this all. The Westinghouse claim produced the revelation that its 23 price had been too high, with both labour and material production costs over-estimated."

As time went by, criticism, according to T. R. Gourvish, of the Modernisatiom Plan grew louder . . . . . . .
        " . . . . . . with the passage of time. In 1956 and again in 1959 the Plan was subject to critical government review, and in the following year a halt was called. By this time Matthew Stevenson, Under-Secretary at the Treasury, was able to tell the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries that the Plan 'was merely a hotch-potch of the things that the Commission was saying it was desirable to achieve by 1970, ill-qualified and not really readily explainable'. Three years later the economist Christopher Foster, in his influential book The Transport Problem , referred to several defects in the Plan, and was particularly severe on the Commission's failure to calculate the rate of return on the investment with sufficient precision. For him the Plan 'as it was presented originally, should never have been accepted'. Later still, Stewart Joy could dismiss it briefly as 'the greatest shopping spree . . . . in railway history', while for supporters of road transport the modernisation of the railways was a waste of resources which would have been better spent on the improvement of Britain's roads."

The birth of the Western Region diesel-hydraulics, as decribed by G. Freeman Allen in his book The Western since 1948
        "The visionary was the Region's Assistant General Manager at the time, H. H. Phillips, a Great Western man born and bred. He had fully appreciated the operational transformation that could be wrought by application of continuous brakes to the whole BR wagon fleet (had it been carried out as the Modernisation Plan forecast, of course). The locomotive weight traditionally needed to add braking power to heavy loose coupled freights could be shed. The speed band of freight and passenger trains could be narrowed so much that given locomotives of high power/weight ratio and thus of significant speed capability on up-grades as well as good acceleration in the higher speed ranges, a previously inconceivable intensity of use would be possible with a multi-purpose design of traction unit. . . . . . .
         . . . . . . . The arguments in favour of diesel-hydraulics convinced both General Manager Keith Grand and the Western Board's Chairman, Reginald Hanks. With more than 30 years experience of the motor industry behind him, Hanks had long ago learned to live happily with high-speed engines and non-electric drives. Equally persuaded was the Region's Chief Mechanical Engineer at the time, R. A. Smeddle, despite the discomforts advocacy of hydraulic transmission would create in his relations with the mechanical engineering chiefs in the Marylebone Road Kremlin."
(The nickname given for the BTC's headquarters at 222 Marylebone Road.)

But Mr. Allen asks . . . . . .
        "But who was to build British diesel-hydraulics? No member of British industry had experience with anything but diesel-electric main-line locomotives and importation from Germany was unthinkable. British industry's energetic lobbying in the corridors of Whitehall power had already frustrated any hopes BTC Chairman Sir Brian Robertson cherished of buying diesel-electrics from the world's most experienced mass-production manufacturer, America's General Motors. Given the requirement to buy British, there was no option but to negotiate with the North British Locomotive Co., which in 1948 had taken out a licence to manufacture the Voith hydraulic transmission and, three years later, another licence to build MAN engines, including the German firm's high-speed engines of up to 2,000 hp output."

T. R. Gourvish comments on the locomotive builders . . . .
        ". . . The relationship between the BTC and the North British Locomotive Co., which produced 12 contracts worth 15 million to 1961, quickly turned sour. The files are full of internal qualms about inflated prices, late deliveries and technical defects. Shortly before the company went into liquidation, in April 1962, the Commission was contemplating an action to recover 300,000 in compensation for late deliveries. Other locomotives proved less than sound purchases. The Sulzer-engined Type 4s ordered for the London Midland Region were designed with weak crankshafts, and even the Deltics, which performed well on the Eastern, were expensive to operate and required careful maintenance. There is little doubt that had the initial policy of a three-year trial period been followed, many of these expensive mistakes would have been avoided."

Fortunately, G. Freeman Allen notes that there were other options than buying locomotives from NBL
        "Diesel-hydraulic main-line locomotives on BR might have stopped at the D600s and the first D6300s if the Western Region itself had not decided to cut the Gordian knot of British industry's disinterest, BTC distaste and antipathy to purchasing whole locomotives abroad by making direct contact with German industry. What Western emissaries learned only Krauss-Maffei V200 locomotiveintensified their conviction that German diesel-hydraulic concepts were the key to rational, economical dieselisation of a mixed-traffic railway. The Germans had found ways to develop a range of locomotive types from 800 to over 2,500 hp that standardised many components and in which, following collaborative discussion with engine and transmission manufacturers, different makes of high-speed engine and hydraulic transmission were fully interchangeable.
        As for the Western's immediate requirement, the Germans felt that the DB's by now proven V200 design could be scaled down to the BR loading gauge without insuperable difficulty. Sample engine-transmission sets could be provided, following which licences could be granted for manufacture to the same design in Britain, and every co-operation was offered - on terms - to shape and set up the production line of a BR-style V200 in Britain. This last proposition appealed to the BTC, by now nervous of the rate of work rundown in the main BR steam locomotive plants. Moreover, Sir Brian Robertson was reluctant to be seen refusing a well-reasoned Regional case so early in his administration at the BTC. And so, at the start of 1956, Swindon was ordered to build three prototype B-Bs around six German-built Maybach MD650 12-cylinder 1,400 rpm of 1,035 hp each and associated Mekydro transmissions."

Mr. Allen then describes signs of the replacement of the Regions hydraulics
        "Last of the Region's principal maintenance depots to be completed was London's Old Oak Common, begun in 1964 and fully commissioned in October 1965, though servicing was possible from the start of 1965. An Old Oak depot did not figure in the original Western dieselisation plan. Its last minute provision was forced on the Region by the unforeseen increase in maintenance workload that ensued from the BTC's determination not to let hydraulics win the transmission contest. The incursion of diesel-electrics was foreshadowed by the pointed assignment of BR/Sulzer Class 45 diesel-electrics to the Birmingham Bristol route in the 1961 summer, then unmistakably affirmed by insistence that English Electric Class 37s, not 'Hymeks' should complete the South Wales mixed traffic unit requirement, ostensibly because of their greater weight and thus superior braking power on unbraked freight trains in the coalfield areas."

G. Freeman Allen describes his own involvement through Modern Railways and the decision by BR to withdraw diesel-hydraulics
        "The well-orchestrated campaign against German-style diesel-hydraulics was seeking a public hearing by the time the 'Westerns' went into action. Solidly supporting the slow-speed engine, heavy diesel-electric partisans at Marylebone were the brass of the traditional British rail traction and electrical industries, who were affronted at being elbowed out of even a corner of a rich modernisation trough they held should be wholly theirs by prescriptive right. Moreover, Marylebone Road felt it was time the Western was brought politically to book. That had been made clear at the start of 1962 when the incoming Beeching regime installed Stanley Raymond in the Paddington chair as a mark of its intent to curb the independence, arrogance, branch line profligacy and all the other sins against conformity with which the rest of the system perennially charged the Western.
        Unexpectedly, I was the medium chosen to publish an unequivocal confirmation of gossip in the railway press that the curtain was being rung down on BR main-line diesel-hydraulic construction. I forget now the original reason I had an appointment with the BRB
(British Railways Board) mechanical engineering chiefs one November afternoon in 1962, but it certainly wasn't with foreknowledge they would tell me categorically the EE Class 37 diesel-electric order for South Wales and imminent announcement of a Class 47 order for the WR wrote finis to the hydraulics. And the reasons?
        Firstly, Class number 47121 at Exeter Riverside, 2 May 1994the apologia. Of course, they conceded, the Western had been right to press for hydraulics based on substantiated German evidence of first cost, performance and economical maintenance. But at such an early stage in the game the engineers at the centre had been equally sensible to play safe with unwieldy 1Co-Co1 diesel-electrics, given the civil engineers' misgivings about the effect of diesel locomotives on the track. Now experience had soothed the civils' nerves. Simultaneously, the traction industry had substantially increased the power/bulk and weight ratio of medium-speed diesel engines and lightened the traction motors. The upcoming Class 47, therefore, would offer 2,750 hp for only 114 tons weight. Waiting in the wings, moreover, was the Sulzer V engine that promised a 3,800 4,000 hp unit within the same Class 47 structure. That cancelled out the prime power/weight ratio selling point of the hydraulics. Anyway, failure to implement the Modernisation Plan's objective of brake-fitting the whole wagon stock made the lightweight four-axle 'Hymeks' and 'Warships' unsuitable for a great deal of freight work without the bothersome marshalling of brake-fitted train 'heads' behind the locomotive. Finally the clincher, this first cost balance, they said, had now veered sharply in favour of diesel-electrics for units of equivalent traction output. How specious that claim was, in face of vast question-begging difference between German V200 and British 'Warship' production run prices, I had no idea at the time.
        Then the boot went in hard. Sheaves of casualty returns were brandished to show that currently around a third of the Western's diesel-hydraulic fleet was immobilised on any one day, chiefly crippled by transmission failures. But the high-speed engines, I was told, were almost as much as a cost burden. True, they were cleverly designed and the British licensees had markedly improved their reliability and economy at considerable expense, but a basic problem persisted: the German pattern engines were complex boxes of tricks that expensively protracted many maintenance and repair operations, while one of the two breeds chronically leaked oil and was a serious fire risk. It wasn't only BR that was in the toils, they went on: the Germans were encountering just the same failings in their V200s. But should there be lasting merit in the high-speed engine there was no longer any need to buy German: the Paxman 12YJX Ventura engines installed in No. D830 (also in a Scottish Region NBL-built Class 29, No. D6112, as a prelude to later re-equipment of the whole class) were a delight 'extraordinarily reliable, rugged and simple to maintain', they claimed ecstatically. (Ironically, seven years later, No. D830 was to be one of the first 'Warships' withdrawn!)
        Publication of all this in the January 1963 Modern Railways  galvanised the hydraulic industry to immediate counter-attack. Within weeks a party of British technical journalists was flown over to Germany for high-level briefing and a very high-pressure tour of the Voith works and German Federal depots operating and maintaining the V200s. It wasn't just the implications for their British business that disquieted the Germans. The Modern Railways  piece had rung alarm bells among diesel-hydraulic Krauss-Maffei 4,000 hp diesel-hydraulic 
built for the Sothern Pacificcustomers around the world, and not least in the USA, where Krauss-Maffei had recently made a historic breach in the American traction industry's monopoly by the sale of 4,000 hp diesel-hydraulics to the Denver & Rio Grande Western and South Pacific. BR was the only major world system to embark on large-scale parallel applications of diesel-electrics and diesel-hydraulics; their conclusions if they were objective must be significant, it was felt.
        The Germans held pretty firmly that the findings were not objective. Yes, there had certainly been a spate of V200 transmission failures in the spring of 1961 concurrently with a peak of trouble on the Western. But that had been traced to inadequacy of the original lubricating system and lubricants following a substantial increase in V200 mileage at 80-87 mph from 1960. Once that had been rectified trouble was virtually eliminated. Throughout 1962 only three V200 transmission failures had been recorded, reducing the failure rate from a nadir of 8.5 to just one per million locomotive-km and this despite the fact the V200's workload had been intensified yet again. The class was now assigned to work that was 30% more taxing than the performance stipulated in the original specification and was spending 85% of its haulage time on full power with loads averaging 420 tons and averaging 400 miles a day. No inherent weakness could therefore be levelled at the hydraulic transmission.
        With the old guard at Paddington retired or reshuffled there was no longer anyone in BR's high places eager to press the hydraulic case. There was still rankling bitterness that the issues had not been dispassionately resolved, however. The fires were rekindled in the autumn of 1965 when the BRB published one of its Performance and Efficiency Bulletins setting out in detail of fact and figure the grounds for its policy. A few months later Modern Railways  published an unattributed article that was obviously an official rebuttal from diesel-hydraulic interests. The BRB's account of its experience was factually unarguable, but when the report came to make invidious comparisons its evidence was decidedly open to charges of bias. Was it fair to set the Class 47 and 37 diesel-electrics, both built with the benefit of extensive pre-production experience, against diesel-hydraulic 'Westerns' and 'Hymeks' pitched straight from the drawing board into mass production? Was the choice of the Class 47's first full-year performance data, before it plunged into serious trouble, for comparisons with the 'Westerns'' failure-plagued third-year results an absolute innocent injustice? And the likewise the unqualified juxtaposition of BR Workshops and private industry building costs to bolster the claim that the hydraulics had become significantly more expensive; wasn't that a mite disingenuous? Hadn't a great deal of the troubles stemmed first from inability to understand what the German hydraulic experts were talking about at the design stage or else indifference to their advice, then inadequate fault diagnosis and rectification training of BR's depot staff and very fallible lines of communication between ground and headquarters technical staff?
        Not a bit of it, countered Marylebone Road, this time in a signed article by the BRB's Chief Engineer (Traction & Rolling Stock), J. F. Harrison, which appeared in the June 1966 Modern Railways . Right from the start communication between BR, the German licensors and their British licencees had been detailed and continuous. 'The most serious, persistent and expensive troubles encountered on the diesel-hydraulic locomotives', he said flatly, 'have been with a complicated design of engine, two makes of transmissions, intermediate gearboxes, final drives and proprietary bogies, all of which, except the bogies, were purchased direct from Germany or their licencees in this country. BR engineers were not in any way responsible for the design of these components and their manufacturers were fully aware of how they were to be used.' Amen.
        Still wanting a convincing answer, though, was the marked disparity in the results secured from diesel-hydraulics by the German Federal and BR. New data published by the West Germans in 1966 showed that they were then setting a minimum service period of 16,000 hr between overhauls of engine-transmission sets, but that in practice the specification was being bettered by 50 to 100%. The 136 V200s, some of them now fitted with engines and transmissions boosting their output to 2,700 hp, had improved their mileage per transmission casualty from 660,000 in 1960 to an impressive 2 million. But when the WR's Assistant General Manager (Technical), T. Matthewson-Dick, occupied his 1967 Presidential Address to the Institute of Locomotive Engineers with an absorbing account of the Regions diesel traction upkeep and use, he had to concede that the target of only 12,000 hr trouble-free running between transmission overhauls was proving 'a stiff one'. It remains only to add that the majority of the German V200s outlived the Western 'Warships' and even the 'Westerns'."

G. Freeman Allen tells of the arrival of the Class 31 diesel-electrics
        "Determination to be rid of the hydraulics led to the early 1969 infiltration of a further diesel-electric main-line type, the Brush Class 31, the first of which found their Western feet on Old Oak to Paddington empty coaching stock shuttles and other humdrum London area work. These were the first 31s to be exported from the Eastern on a long-term basis. Initially the Eastern was loathe to release them at the expected rate and a number of 'Warships' and NBL Class 22s stored or condemned in anticipation of 31 arrivals had to be resuscitated for a further spell of work before 1969 was out. Eventually some of the 31s were dispersed to other WR depots and graduated to Inter-City work on the Paddington to Worcester line and the Paddington to Birmingham New Street services."

He then desribes withdrawals and extensions of the diesel-hydraulics
        "The last quartet of 'Warships' was officially withdrawn in late 1972, along with the surviving Class 22s, and further development Brush Class 31 number D5549 at Tinsley
 yard, Sheffield, 20 July 1969of the Inter-City services now hinged upon delivery of the English Electric 2,700 hp Class 50 diesel-electrics released by completion of the West Coast Main Line electrification from Crewe to Glasgow. But although the first two Class 50s were handed over for crew training at the end of 1972, the main body could not be surrendered until the spring of 1974, severely aggravating the Westerns power shortage. That kept the 'Westerns' busy throughout 1973 on all but the almost entirely air-conditioned Bristol services of the Region's Inter-City networks, and the dwindling 'Hymeks' in the front line on the Paddington Worcester Hereford route. The 'Hymeks' were billed for extinction too that year, but the critical situation made anachronism of an advertised 'Swansong' excursion from Paddington on 22 September and forced a reprieve of the last 10 survivors in 1974 not least because the diesel-electric Brush Class 31s were inferior performers on the Worcester Inter-City trains and the august Oxford/Didcot peak-hour commuter trains."

And the last words, again by G. Freeman Allen, on the withdrawal of the 'Westerns'
        "With the dawn of the HST age only the beloved Class 52 'Westerns' were left to defend the tattered hydraulic standard. Were they indestructible? Their doom had been pronounced at the start of 1975, but at year's end 37 were still defying sentence. In October 1975 they were supposedly dismissed from passenger work, yet in 1976 they were still accounted a valuable passenger service standby, especially at weekends and in the face of LMR reluctance to part with its remaining Class 50s and also of retarded HST deliveries (the transfer of the 50s was not completed until the spring of 1976). Another final execution date of end-1976 was confidently posted, but yet again there were a dozen survivors to greet a new year because of HST shortages and the latter's side-effects on the whole traction scene. After a flurry of valedictory excursions, one of which took Western Fusilier  to York, the hydraulic chapter of BR's main-line diesel-locomotive history was closed for good with simultaneous withdrawal of the last five at the end of February 1977".





Return to top of page



Diesel - Hydraulic Locomotive Menu
D600 Warship class introduction    D800 Warship class introduction     D1000 Western class introduction
D6300 'Baby' Warship class introduction     D7000 Hymek class introduction

Home Page    Western Region diesel engines

Sounds of Steam     Sitemap    Steam Locomotive Index




Copyright © by John Daniel 2013.