Tag Archives: racing trains

Take water

2018 is the 70th Anniversary of the creation of British Railways, and the Locomotive Exchange Trials, it is also the 50th of the ‘End of Steam’ and the 130th of the first ‘Railway Race to the North’, The ‘races’ started on the 2nd of June 1888 when the London North Western Railway made a last minute acceleration to their 10:00 “Scotch Express”, as a tit-for tat response to the East Coast route partners decision to allow 3rd class passengers to travel on the 10:00 ‘Flying Scotsman’  from London to Edinburgh.

What followed was a whole series of reductions in the timings, by both routes, on their London to Edinburgh services. We’re not talking a few minutes here either, the West Coast’s initial cut was 1hour and the subsequent acceraltions were of 30 minutes by the East Coast, and a further 30 by the West Coast in response.  And all of this is going on at the height of the Summer service schedule. Journey times, in just a few short weeks, on the West Coast route to Edingburgh fell from 10 hours to 8 and on the East Coast from 9 hours to 8.

When describing these events in his book on the 1895 Races, OS Nock comments, ” … there is no doubt that racing fever had taken complete hold of the West Coast companies. In countering the final East Coast acceleration of August 14th they threw caution to the winds, and without the flicker of an eyelid ran their train as far ahead of time as their engines would take it.” (Wilson, C.D.,Racing Trains, Sutton 1995 p33)

And what has this to do with ‘taking water’, I hear you ask. Well, in 1895, when the East & Wast Coast companies were, once again ‘Racing Trains’ the West Coast route had a not so secret weapon – water troughs, allowing their engines to refill the tender with water without the need to stop. Troughs were first used by the LNWR in 1860, on the North Wales route, to allow the acceleration of the Irish Mails, by cutting out the need  for water stops. In 1895 they were still the only one of the competing companies to have troughs.

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Seems like only Yesterday

1054gdsblkwhtVictorian England meets modern Britain, hot oil and sulphur cheek by jowl with flash cards and memory sticks. 0-6-2T No 1054, a.k.a. ‘the coal tank’ was, when new, the property of the London & North Western Railway; and at a time when the L&NWR was practically the largest company on the planet – the Microsoft / Amazon / Google of the 1880s. When No. 1054 was new, rivalry between railway companies for trade and traffic was intense – speed was an important factor in the competition equation. Not that I’m suggesting No.1054 is a speed machine, especially as she is a tank version of Webb’s 17″ Standard Goods engine.

However, in the year No.1054 was built a race, of sorts took place, between the companies operating the rival routes from London to Scotland – the East and West coast routes with the L&NWR and Caledonian Railway on the west coast and the Great Northern Railway, the North Eastern Railway and the North British Railway on the east coast. In the summer of 1888 the east and west coast routes began a series of tit-for-tat accelerations to their principal Scottish Express service – a quite definite precursor to the famous ‘Race to the North’ conducted by the same companies in 1895.

So that’s five companies, all kind of collaborating, to ‘race’ their trains against each other – seems like technology isn’t the only thing to have changed since 1888.

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This is the link to my book “Gricing: The Real Story of the Railway Children.  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Bobbies in their box by night


A huddle of churns await the milk train and the Bewdley Bobby is perusing his train register, during the all night running on the Severn Valley Railway – I know, the milk train is just poetic license. There’s something about the railway at night, the sprinklings of light from the home signals, or the dollies beside the track, distant sounds carried on the still night air, the firelight glow, from the locomotive’s cab, flickering and illuminating the exhaust steam.

Block bells ringing, a flurry of activity, calls sent, and received, a light changes from red to green. ‘The next train to arrive at platform 1 will be the 23.15 Bridgnorth service calling at …..’ so much for reverie. 120 years ago, in 1895, trains literally ‘raced through the night’ during the 1895 Railway Races to the North – thousands turned out, along the rival routes, to watch the racing train go by – the events, which went on for a month, were making headlines in the Times, no telly, smart phones or satnav then.

In the buffet, condensation coats the windows, a tea urn steams gently, India pale ale is being poured into a glass, the last, sad, growler, (pork pie), sits on a plate, under a plastic lid, tobacco smoke hangs in the air – a black and white movie from the fifties; the 23.15 service rolls into the platform, all sizzling safety valves, and more echoing announcements are made.

A whistle blows, a green lamp is waved, with a short pop, the driver answers – a jolt of couplings and a woof from the loco and the 23.15 rolls away into the night, the green goes back to red, the block bell rings, the bobby returns to his train register – only the pork pie and the faint whiff of sulphur remain.

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