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Then and Now

50 Years On
A reflection of the changing railway scene 

Below are a series of articles looking back at the British railway scene 50 years ago. This series starts in late 1965 and reflects news and opinion of the time. Many aspects of Britain's railways have changed beyond recognition whilst some things haven't changed over half a century. These articles won't take reference points from the music charts or general news headlines - you can find this kind of information elsewhere. I also don't intend painting a rose painted picture of the swinging sixties either. The main source of information are the contemporary railway magazines and society journals.

A  few months over 50 years apart.
London's Waterloo station - July 1965 and September 2014


  5.  The Preservation Movement Develops published 19 September 2016
4.  Modernisation, Rationalisation and Railway Safety published 19 September 2016
3.  Preservation news and locomotive failures published 17 April 2016
2.  The Changing Railway - early 1966 published 3 February 2016
1.  Railway Preservation - early 1966 published 3 February 2016



5.    The Preservation Movement Develops
It was reported (Railway Magazine – April 1966) that the former Kent & East Sussex line had been purchased following the payment of a £36,000 deposit and the signing of contracts. The plan was to open the line from Robertsbridge Junction to Tenterden and revert to the original name of the Rother Valley Railway.
50 years later the railway has not yet reached Robertsbridge and is known as the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

Moving to East Anglia, the May 1966 edition of the Railway World reports that Weybourne is to be the operational centre for the Midland and Great Northern line. The station is to be fully signaled and the old Great Northern signal box at Holt has been purchased for re-siting at Weybourne. They also plan to use the distinctive GN somersault signals. The line to Sheringham has been saved but services had not yet started. 

In the West Midlands, the Severn Valley Railway Society has had its offer of £25,000 accepted by the BRB. This sum enabled the society to purchase the line from Bridgnorth to a point just south of Hampton Loade station. It would be another four years before services started. 

On the locomotive front, the fund set up to purchase a Midland Railway 1F tank had raised £375 against the asking price of £875. The fund was ultimately successful with 41708 being purchased.

Steam on the Isle of Wight was to continue until December 1966, but thoughts had already turned to preservation. The Vectrail Society was formed with the aim of reopening the Cowes-Newport-Ryde route. They intended to operate with modern electric rail coaches, powered from overhead wires. They emphasised that this was not a preservation scheme as they believed this line could operate in a modern fashion sufficiently cheaply and attractively to pay its way. They were not against the idea of a preserved steam locomotive and vintage train running occasionally but secondary to their main service. Meanwhile, The Wight Locomotive Society was formed in 1966 by a group of enthusiasts in London, whose intentions were simply to acquire one of O2 tank locomotives to restore as a static exhibit. The whole Vectrail idea came to nothing but part of the line does operate as the Isle of Wight Railway – with steam as the main form of traction (and no unsightly overhead wires!)

Engine and coach liveries.
The debate on the ‘correct’ livery is alive and well in 2016. Should ‘Flying Scotsman’ be turned out in LNER Apple Green or BR Green, bearing in mind it’s condition with double chimney and German style smoke deflectors? Why is everything in BR livery – what’s wrong with pre-nationalisation (or even pre-grouping) colour schemes? Debates like this raged in 1966, often in the letters pages of the railway press.

The Publicity Officer for the Keighley & Worth Valley RPS, one Mr. R Povey, defended their policy of adopting a livery of royal blue and primrose for their rolling stock.
“It was felt on the whole that, as we aimed to run an efficient, business like railway, our trains should look efficient and not consist of a mixed collection of multi-coloured vehicles.”
Although he did concede that the Gresley Society’s coaches shouldn’t be in anything other than polished teak.

Meanwhile, the Hon. Curator of the West Midland District of the Railway Preservation Society, Mr. N Hadlow, was disturbed at the, “desecration of historical relics by painting them in colours other than their proper liveries”. He argues that one of the objects of a preservation society is to restore rolling stock to the condition in which it was built or was before nationalisation. Whilst Mr. J Godfry Berry thought that multi-coloured trains could be confused with those found on a fair ground!

Looking at trains today, are the class 47’s and 33’s owned by West Coast Railway preserved diesels? Or are they just operating under a different operator as working engines? If the latter, shouldn’t their steam fleet be similarly treated? And the Bluebell Railway, which has done so much to preserve vintage coaches, has admitted they are painting one of the Mk1 RMB coaches in the incorrect crimson and cream livery to match others coaches in that set? I suppose that’s ok as they are only BR Mk1s!

And Finally . . .
Mr E Lock of Lymington in Hampshire wrote to the Railway Magazine to complain about the shabby deal in locomotive nameplates. “I, like many other interested collectors, have had my name down for some Southern and Eastern Region nameplates for nearly six years.” He was apparently informed by BR that their current practice was that offers shall be invited and the nameplates sold to the highest bidder.
“Thus after waiting nearly six years, we are coolly informed that any queue jumper with a deep purse can step in and walk off with the plates that rightfully belong to us.” He complains that if this system is favoured by BR it should be by open public auction. 

He ends his rant by saying, “Needless to say, I have told BR what they can do with their plates.”

Published 19 September 2016

4.    Modernisation, Rationalisation and Railway Safety
The editorial in the April (1966) Railway Magazine suggests that the “all-electric locomotive is the ultimate in traction”.
They suggest that “diesels are but a half-way step between steam and electric traction”. They go on to say that the diesel locomotive in Britain is far from being an unqualified success and could logically have been treated as an interim measure between steam and electric. This follows the report of a speech the BRB Chairman, Stanley Raymond, made to the Institute of Transport. He expressed the hope that the experience of the West Coast electrification would persuade the Government to invest in further schemes. 

Electrification fell out of favour in the early 1960’s with the delays in the start of the ‘Blue Train’ service in Glasgow and misfortunes on the Great Eastern and LTS electrification schemes in East London. In contrast, the recent experience of the AL6 (class 86) electric locomotives and AM10 (class 310) electric multiple units had done much to restore confidence. Indeed 50 years ago a survey was authorised for the Crewe to Glasgow line with a view to extending electrification to Scotland. It was also suggested that electrification be extended to Sheffield and Gloucester. The Railway Magazine editorial argues that “this seems logical because this line carries exceptionally heavy freight traffic south of Derby and includes the notorious Lickey Incline of two miles at 1 in 38.”  

East Coast Main Line Electrification
Under the Modernisation plan published by the British Transport Commission in 1955, it was intended to electrify two trunk routes north from London. Precedence was given to the West Coast main line from Euston to Birmingham, Crewe, Liverpool and Manchester but is was expected that work on the East Coast line from Kings Cross to Doncaster, Leeds and possibly York would start in 1970.
Following delays with the West Coast scheme and against the background of British Railway’s massive deficit, the railway press reported that the East Coast scheme was deferred.

Pullman Services
50 years ago there were still a number of Pullman services using stock that dated back to the 1920’s and 30’s. BR introduced the Metro-Cammell Mk1 Pullman fleet in 1960 for use on the East Coast line but these carriages did not have the ambience or style of the original Pullmans (some of which survive today as part of the Belmond British Pullman). 1966 saw the introduction of electric locomotive hauled Pullman trains to Manchester and Liverpool. The exterior was painted grey and blue and its internal layout and decoration reflected the style of the Blue Pullman diesel multiple units. Although all carriages were first class, the seating was fixed single seats around tables for two or four. Most unlike the original first class Pullmans with armchair style seats and only around a table for two. Some of these vehicles survive today, in traditional Pullman livery, as part of West Coast Railway’s ‘Spirit of the Lakes’ set and the Belmond Northern Pullman train.

An Alien Observation
In the Railway Magazine letters pages, Mr G. Marsh wrote: "Sir, After arrival at Weymouth on the recent “A4 Victory Rail Tour”, a somewhat elderly lady, on noticing the large crowd surrounding our magnificent engine, politely asked, “Is this the new diesel?” “No madam” was the equally polite reply." The A4 in question was 60024 Kingfisher which visited the Southern Region for a couple of tours over the last weekend of March in 1966.

Railway Safety
The British Railway Board revealed that 105 railway workers were killed in 1965. The Railway World reports that, “a high proportion of the fatalities, over 80 per cent, arose through staff being struck by trains; a disturbing fact was that it was frequently older and more experienced men involved and it appeared that familiarity often bred contempt for such dangers.” 
BRB’s Chairman, Stanley Raymond, said that special measures such as the provision of high visibility clothing, yellow warning panels on the front of locomotives and flashing headlights on trains could do much to reduce track accidents. However it was noted that much needs to be done to improve matters, yellow warning panels on locomotives and train front ends are frequently obscured by a layer of grime.” 

50 years on, and for the eighth year running, there were no workforce (or passenger) fatalities in train accidents during 2014/15. According to figures from the Rail Safety and Standards Board, there were three worker fatalities in accidents connected to the railway. Two died in a road accident whilst the third was killed in an accident at a depot.

Railway Clos

March 1966 saw the closure of the Somerset & Dorset line but that wasn’t the only one to go. That same weekend (5/6 March), the Western Region closed the Seaton branch and various stations on the Salisbury to Exeter line including Wilton South, Semley, Chard Junction and Seaton Junction. Two other closures that day were subsequently re-opened, Templecombe and Pinhoe. The planned closure of the Okehampton to Bude and Halwill Junction to Wadebridge lines followed later that summer. 

In Manchester, the BR Board announced its intention to close Manchester Central Station with services transferred to the Piccadilly station. Central station was opened in 1880 and, like London’s St Pancras, forms a notable monument to Victorian railway architecture. The span of St Pancras’s arch is only 30 feet longer than Central station’s. Following BR’s closure announcement, Manchester Corporation earmarked the building for use as an exhibition hall and today we can still appreciate its magnificence.

3.   Preservation news and locomotive failures
One preservation scheme that gave up the ghost was the proposed reopening of the Westerham branch in Kent. The Locomotive Club of Great Britain (LCGB) reported in their January 1966 bulletin that the Westerham Valley Society merged with the Kent & East Sussex Society. Today one can travel on part of the route of the Westerham branch, using the M25.

In the March 1966 issue of Railway Magazine, it was reported that an offer of £25,000, made by the Severn Valley Railway Society was accepted by the BR board. This offer was for land, buildings and railway track from Bridgnorth to a point south of Hampton Loade station. 

Meanwhile in Sussex, the Bluebell Railway reported that over 200,000 passengers were carried over the original five mile section from Sheffield Park to Horstead Keynes in 1965. 50 years later, and now operating through to East Grinstead, the total visitor numbers in 2015 was 139,090. I am curious about these figures and have asked the railway for a comment on the differences. 

Right:  SECR P class no. 27 at Sheffield Park in 1968.

In 1965 the Merchant Navy locomotive Preservation Society was formed. In 1966, a ballot was organised amongst its members to decide which of four MN pacifics should be bought for preservation. The winner of the poll was 35022 “Holland America Line” (73 votes). However this coincided with its withdrawal from service so 35028 “Clan Line” was the chosen engine. The rest, as they say, is history.

For the record, the other two locomotives in the ballot were 35027 and 35030. Of the four engines, only 35030 was lost to scrap.

The MNLPS newssheet no. 4 reported that £500 of the targeted £3,000 had been raised to buy Clan Line and that fundraising was now a key activity.

Right: The original choice, 35022, on the Midlander rail tour in November 1965.

Letters (Railway Magazine) - Preservation of “King George V”

Mr M. J. Richards expressed concern that the officially preserved King, no. 6000, was to be put on static display outside Bristol Bath Road depot. He writes, “Surely this famous engine deserves proper preservation, not the fate of being left in all weathers to rot.” 

He suggested that if Bath Road wanted a King, there were two at a Barry scrap yard (6023 and 6024). Of course this did not happen, “King George V” was returned to steam in 1970 and with the Bulmer’s cider train brought back steam to the BR main line in 1971. 

Right:  6000 King George V at Bulmers in 1970.


The Isle of Man Railway was in the news following its temporary winter closure (1965/66) becoming permanent. The Railway Magazine, in its editorial in the March 1966 issue, notes that the railway had been unprofitable for many years but that there was considerable local opposition to its closure. Since then the network reopened in 1967 although the Peel and Ramsey sections closed completely in 1968. The railway was subsequently privatised in 1978. Today it connects Douglas with Castletown and Port Erin. At 15.3 miles long it is just a third of the original network. The railway uses original rolling stock and locomotives and there are few concessions to modernity.  

Train Failures
The Warship class diesel hydraulics were not renowned for their reliability. One spectacular failure took place on the 18 November 1965. D811 worked the 11.00am Salisbury service from Waterloo but gave up the ghost at Woking. A southern N class mogul took over as far as Basingstoke where BR Standard class 5 73092 took the train to its destination. At Salisbury D811 was then due to take forward a Brighton to Plymouth service. In its absence, Battle of Britain 34066 “Spitfire” took this train as far as Exeter.

Meanwhile on the 15 January 1966, Warship D823 failed between Hersham and Walton whilst working the 11.00am train from Waterloo. Standard class 5 no. 73043 was sent from Guildford to collect the disabled train which was reported to be an hour late at Basingstoke.

But it wasn’t just Warships that let the side down. On the 18 December 1965, class 47 (or a Brush Type 4 as they were known then) D1615 failed near Didcot whilst working the 8am train from Paddington to Swansea. Eventually the 8.45 to Bristol was brought up behind and propelled the South Wales train to Swindon, arriving over 90 minutes late.

The diesel on the Bristol train, Western class no. D1002 thus had 20 coaches and a ‘dead’ D1615 to move which, with its own weight, was nearly 1,000 tons. Despite this load, once under way, a steady 40 mph was held for a considerable distance.

The March 1966 edition of the Railway Magazine reported on plans to improve London’s commuter services. Demand had increased by 1% a year on average over the previous ten years. (In 2015 passenger numbers increased by 59% since 2005). A big bottleneck was Borough Market Junction and proposed timetable changes aimed to ease congestion. This problem is only now being dealt with following the current redevelopment around London Bridge station.

Published 17 April 2016

2.    Early 1966 - The Changing Railway.

The first main line electric trains from Euston was reported. The final stretch of 25kV power was energised with the first public train departing for Liverpool at 8.35am (with locomotive E3171). 


Another story illustrating the changing technology that we take for granted today - the Railway World (January 1966) reported that air-operated sliding doors were to be included in a Southern Region e.m.u. 

This unit was to be rebuilt as an experiment. Apparently the British Railways Board were in favour of this kind of door to speed things at station stops as well as safety as control of the doors lies with the guard. 

This might be new to the Southern Region but the LNER introduced this kind of EMU on the Liverpool Street to Shenfield line in 1949 and the Pennine line to Glossop. 

Staying with automation, the Railway World reported that the London Midland Railway was replacing conventional left luggage facilities with automatic luggage lockers. St. Pancras station was the first to become “all automatic”.

Gale Damage at Dawlish 

A familiar headline in 2013 which led to the closure of the main route from Exeter to Cornwall for many weeks. Late in November 1965 it seems that rough seas and an 85 mph gale breached a 60 foot length of the sea wall at Dawlish. The down line was closed for two days whilst repairs were undertaken. Whilst up trains were able to pass through Dawlish, down trains were diverted between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton. As I write this the Government and Network Rail are still considering options for an alternative route from Exeter to Cornwall and the long closed LSW route via Okehampton is considered the favourite for rebuilding and reopening. Beeching has a lot to answer for!

London Underground was also in the news. The Railway Magazine (January 1966) had a feature on the new station being built at Tower Hill. It tells the history of the area and the original station on the site (the short-lived Tower of London station), roman ruins used as building materials, the replacement Mark Lane station and the work building the current station close to the original below Trinity Gardens. 

Meanwhile proposals for a new underground were submitted. This was an extension of the Victoria Line from Victoria to Vauxhall and Brixton. Other proposed extensions, which came to nothing, was a line from the Aldwych to Waterloo and another from Baker Street to Lewisham via Green Park, Aldwych and the Embankment. If built, this would have been known as the Fleet Line.  

Published 3 February 2016

1.    Railway Preservation - Early 1966 (January & February 1966)


Flying Scotsman was in the news having hauled a record breaking train from London Paddington to Cardiff in November 1965. The report was written by the late O S Nock, suggests that on the down journey, the total running time was 130 min 21 sec – an average of 67 m.p.h. which he claimed was an “out-and-out steam record” for a London to Cardiff run. Interestingly, BR insisted on an 80 m.p.h. maximum speed. O S Nock commented that, "there was to be no opportunity of running continuously at speeds of 90 m.p.h. or more – which the engine could have done easily!" There was also a report that 4472 was to be fitted with air brakes in anticipation of a tour of North America. 

50 years ago, Flying Scotsman wore it's distinctive LNER Apple Green livery, a welcome splash of colour against dirt and grime of working engines at the time. 50 years on, Flying Scotsman has returned to steam and the main line but in BR lined green.

With less than three years left for main line steam, the preservation movement was getting underway. The Scottish Railway Preservation Society had an advert in the Railway Magazine appealing for donations towards the cost to by J36 locomotive 65243 “Maude”.

        This locomotive saw service abroad during the first World War, and is now one of the oldest remaining steam locomotives on British Railways. Its withdrawal is imminent. 
     Please help save this warrior from the breakers torch. £1,000 required.

In Railway Magazine’s letters pages, R. V. Davis (weren’t we formal in those days!) lamented the news that the van which conveyed Winston Churchill' body after his funeral, was sold “to the Americans” for £350. He wrote, "I feel sure that there are many societies and individuals, who would have raised this sum to keep this now-historic vehicle in this country." He suggested this vehicle merited a place at either Clapham or York Railway Museum. His suggestion finally became a reality – 49 years on.

The debate on preserved locomotive liveries was as lively in 1966 as today. Three of Maunsell’s engines were set aside for official preservation and Mr. Youldon from Exeter suggested they be restored in different liveries (Railway Magazine January 1966):

        King Arthur 30777. To be restored to Maunsell livery dark green lined, large numerals on tender. The condition to be exactly as delivered by the North British Company in 1925.
     Thus smoke deflectors would be absent, works plate would appear on side of smokebox, and the crosshead-driven vacuum pump re-fitted. 
     Lord Nelson 30850. To be restored to 1939 malachite green, lined. Bulleid’s modifications to chimney, smokebox and cylinders to remain. 
     Schools No 30925. To be retained in B.R. standard green, lined. Condition to remain as finally running complete with speedometer and a.w.s. gear.

He thinks that the suggestion for the Schools was likely to be met with indignation from enthusiasts. And on the subject of Southern engines, in the same letters pages, a Mr. Wilton wrote about a fund that had been launched to save a Bulleid West Country or Merchant Navy in original condition if “sufficient monetary support is forthcoming”, or cash to you and me. "It might be possible to purchase an existing engine, have it restored to original Southern Railway condition, and put in working order, for exhibition purposes." This was the beginning of the Bulleid Society who went on to buy and restore 34023 Blackmore Vale.  The costs and work involved of creating an original Merchant Navy was never a realistic option in those days.

But it’s not just the letters pages that considered the growing preservation movement. The Railway Magazine’s editorial (January 1966) gives its views on the proposed closure of the small exhibits section at York Railway Museum, "Such parsimony on the part of the British Railways Board is, by any standard, deplorable . . . the future of the museums at Clapham, Swindon and York is again in question. 
Furthermore, what is to happen to all the locomotives scheduled for preservation and now scattered around the country in varying states of deterioration?

Meanwhile the Railway World editorial in the 1966 January issue comments on the growing number of preservation societies seeking to take over recently closed sections of lines of BR. The editor (G M Kichenside) cannot see that "Railway enthusiasts alone, whatever the views of the promoters of these schemes, can provide sufficient financial support and volunteer labour to guarantee success." He also ponders the business model where a profit motive aims to pay a dividend on share capital with one West Country scheme planning this structure (Torbay & Dartmouth Railway). "Yet how is such a scheme likely to pay its way now as a business undertaking when clearly it lost money under BR."  I think the development of the preservation movement over the following 50 years answers that question.

In the same issue, an article “Rethinking Railway Preservation” suggests that preservation schemes might be worthy of state aid in much the same way that grants are advanced for archaeological surveys or the restoration of canals.

Published 3 February 2016

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