The last period of my duration in the erecting shop at Crewe Works included a time spent in the company of the Finished Work Inspectors ( FWI ). They conducted sequence testing of the electrical control systems on the locomotives. One Inspector I remember was Joe Beadle. The purpose of these tests was to ensure that electrical relays operated correctly including those associated with transducers such as those protecting against high water temperature, reduced air or low engine oil. I seem to remember that for some of the testing a sequence box was used. This was connected into the control system which had a control panel from which the FWI could operator switches which say simulated low oil pressure for example.
The relevant relay would then be checked and that the blue General Fault light had changed from dim to full illumination on the drivers desk. Locomotives, such as the Class 47s, also had a range of blue fault lights on the control cubicle. These indicated which particular fault had occurred such as low oil pressure or high water temperature. The control cubicle also contained numerous relays. These would be examined to see that the correct one had been operated.
The reverser which controlled the direction of current in the DC traction motors that power diesel electric locomotives in the direction selected by the driver would be checked that it operated the correct way round by operating the Forward Reverse control handle on the drivers desk.
With sequence testing complete, a locomotive would be drawn out of the Erecting Shop and onto the traverser. This moved at right angles to the ends of the roads between the Erecting Shop on one side and the Diesel Test Plant on the other. There were further roads over which locomotives were moved on and off the workshop.
A locomotive would be positioned on one of the diesel test roads alongside the test monitoring building. Output power cables from the engines generator would be disconnected and joined to external cables that were part of a load bank.
A load bank consists of resistances which are submerged in a water bath. This is so that the heat generated by the electrical energy can be dispersed. The output from the generator is checked at various loads which is done by increasing the resistance in the load bank. Current and voltage are measured on meters located inside the Test House. The horsepower of the engine could also be set.
A guy on the Diesel Test told me that on one rare occasion the governor linkage which controls the fuel rack had jammed and no adjustment of the power control handle could reduce engine speed. The engine was on ‘full chat’ as they say. That is on maximum power. The danger here is that the engine may fail by putting a connecting rod out of the side of the engine block. The technical term for this is ‘putting a leg out of bed’. No one would dare go into the engine room to free off the linkage because of the danger associated with this type failure. It was decided to wait until the locomotive ran out of fuel. The engine must have been assembled well despite the issue with the governor linkage because it did not fail. It may even have been a Class 50!
Class 40s and Class 47s
The two types of mainline diesel locomotive that were overhauled during my time on the test in 1977 were Classes 40 and 47. I’ve always had a soft spot for both since these locomotives were how I learnt about locomotives.
The Class 40 has a far simpler control system primarily because they predated the 47s by several years. I was able to get to grips with the principles and then develop them further with the Brush type 4’s.
A quantum leap in terms of complexity were the Class 50s. The overhaul had been transferred away from Crewe Works to Doncaster by the time I’d joined. Crewe Works staff had many memories of them though.
Apparently, a Class 47 could be sequenced tested in the Erecting Shop and would then be released on to the Diesel Test where a first start of the engine was initiated prior to a week of tests.
With a Class 50 it spend up to a week on the Diesel Test before a first start could be achieved and then at least a week of tests would follow.
I really enjoyed my time with the guys on the Diesel Test. My only disappointment was there were no Class 40s on test even though there are a number present in the Erecting Shop being overhauled.
I was only allowed to work day shift and then only between 08:00 and 17:00. The Diesel Test was manned around the clock with A, B and C shifts. There was a friendly rivalry between the teams. This meant I was able to meet all members from all three shifts.
It was it also meant I could follow the testing of a particular motive until it was completed. The thing is I am always keen to follow tasks until the completion, In this case I considered it would mean going out with a locomotive once it left the works on a test train.
Now I was employed by British Rail Engineering Ltd (BREL) which was a subsidiary of the British Railways Board (BRB). By going out on a test run it would mean I’d be leaving a BREL premises. When I asked the Training Officer John Evans about the possibility of going out on a test run it was initially rejected.
Prior to the establishment of BREL in 1970, it might not have been such an issue as all Works were wholly part of the BRB. Anyway I persisted and it paid off. One of the training officers was Bob Melling who was considered by many of the apprentices as one cool guy because he drove a Triumph TR3. In later years I think Bob along with Steve Blackburn from the Electrical Engineers office were main organisers for the excellent Crewe Works open days.
I reported to Locomotive Engineer Ian Shaw over at the Electric Traction Depot (ETD) adjacent to the works training school. Locomotives going out on test would in the 1970’s run over Eagle Bridge which straddled the Chester line between the Works and the ETD. The bridges name came from the fact it had 2 stone eagles located at each end of it. Sadly the bridge was demolished some years later but I believe that at least one of stone eagles has been saved.
There were two routes along which locos from the works were tested, Mainly it was from Crewe to Church Stretton and back, The load was several old BR Mark 1 coaches the external cleanliness of which was appalling. I think they were in a BR maroon which had faded but they were heavily soiled by brake dust. In later years, the vehicles used in the test train were painted in a brown livery that didn’t show up the dirt so much.
The second route was along the North Wales coast to Holyhead. Locos on test here would be on a service train. It would be put on the front of the train loco and the double headed combination would set off for the 100 miles+ journey. I managed to do this once. The ex-works loco would come off at Holyhead and run back light engine to Crewe. I remember sitting in the back cab for the entire return journey.
I preferred the runs out to Church Stretton which were through the beautiful Shropshire countryside.
On the first occasion Ian was showing me what to look for in the engine room with the loco bowling along the track. We both had defenders on. With these on the engine sounded like standing next to a bus at a bus stop. Ian indicated that I should momentarily lift the defenders off my ear lobes. As I did so the noise was like something being slammed against each side of my head. Needless to say I quickly let the defender spring back on my ears. The engine room was incredibly hot.
Being a non passenger train I was allowed in the front cab. This was at that time for me a rare opportunity which I enjoyed very much, The ride on the loco is so much different compared to travelling in the stock.
My previous cab ride was also not planned. I had gone up to Scotland with a colleague from the Works and we had arranged a visit around Haymarket Depot. One of the many great things about being on the railway is the shared kinsmanship between colleagues. The workshop maintenance supervisor not only took time to show us round but unbeknown to us had arranged a cab ride back to Waverley Station on a Deltic locomotive. It was the one and only time I’ve ever been in the cab of a production Deltic. In a word, Magnificent! I once had a personal tour by the late great Ray Towel when he was at the National Railway Museum of the prototype Deltic.
Once the test train had reached Church Stretton it was into a loop to clear the main line and for the loco to run round to the other end of the stock for the return to Crewe.
Perhaps one of the most memorable trips I had at that time on the footplate was when I had the opportunity to go from Derby Litchurch Lane Works to York and Darlington on the one of the brand new High Speed Trains (HST).
As many of you will know the power cars were built in Crewe Works and the coaching stock at Derby Litchurch Lane Carriage Works.
A pair of completed HST power cars would be coupled together in Crewe Works and run over the Crewe to Derby line to Litchurch Lane. On arrival at the works the power cars would be separated and coupled up to each end of a rake of brand new coaches.
When I reported to be the Church Lane I was met by John Forrest who was the riding inspector for the run up to York and Darlington. I have done a review of John’s book ‘I would have done the Job for Nothing’. I can still clearly remember standing in the doorway of the front power car cab feeling very proud and privileged as the HST set made its way through Derby Midland Station.
Of course all the facilities on the train had to be fully tested and this included the buffet where food in the shape of bacon sandwiches were provided!
Arrival at York with this brand new high speed train set was memorable too with many passengers on the platform looking at this impressive train set as we passed through.
Once we got a clear road we set off towards Darlington on this first trip and the driver took the speed up to 125mph. At the time was the fastest I’d ever been on a train and was quite spectacular. At a carefully chosen mile post John told the driver to make a full brake application.
The train had to come to a stand within a mile and a quarter this it did with ease stopping well within a mile. I remember looking out of the window and seeing the brakes coming on signified by a puff of Ferodo dust from the brake pads. This was followed by a release of air as the anti-slide protection operated to release the brakes on the associated wheelset. Anti-lock brakes had been used on railway vehicles well before this ever became the norm on cars.
On the second run on reducing speed from 125mph it felt as though we had slowed sufficiently that we were almost at walking pace, It was only when I looked at the speedometer that I noted we were at 100mph! It was a strange phenomena as it felt almost as though you could just step off the footplate, at 100mph – not recommended!
This trip was a fitting end to my time in the workshops at Crewe Works.
My last year was spent in each of the offices in BREL House. This office block replaced the original General Offices where I had my interview in 1974 for a position in Crewe Works.
I spent the first period in the Production Office with Jack Rice and Jack Lightfoot. Jack Rice smoked a curly pipe and had a very neat handwriting. He was quite tall as opposed to Jack Lightfoot who always wore a grey suit. The pair of them were great characters and were very helpful in showing me how the production paperwork was handled in terms of both new work material and repairs. I remember them handling a great number of pre-printed forms with red borders onto which were hand written information relating to materials or parts.
It was during my time in the works offices that I was introduced to Keith Herriman. He would have a major impact on me deciding my future career path. Essentially Keith advised that if I was to go up the career ladder within the rail industry I would have to leave Crewe Works.
In time he suggested I looked out for Senior Technical Officer vacancies at the regional Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineers organizations on the regions.
He said that if I spent some time out on the regions and climb the ladder so far I could perhaps, if I wanted to, apply for vacancies back in Crewe works in a more senior position. This was what he had done and been very successful.
One day in BREL House I was approached by Ray Clutton who worked in the design office. He was also the T.S.S.A. union rep. He advised me that there were Senior Technical Officer (STO) job vacancies in the drawing offices at the Railway Technical Centre in Derby. I said I was more interested in an STO job out on the regions. At the conclusion of my training I would be qualified at Technical Officer (TO) level.
New Fangled Diesels
Some time before the end of my time in BREL House I had chance to spend time with the Resident Engineer Alan Roberts. Alan’s role was to look after the interests of the British Railways Board (BRB) locomotives while they were within the works. So for example if during a repair of a piece of equipment there was a problem Alan could authorize additional work to be undertaken. BRB would then have to pick up the cost.
He had been a professional engineer for many years. He told me that during his early career not long after finishing his training he was stationed at Devon’s Road, Bow diesel depot in London in the late 1950’s. With being a fresh faced engineer the supervisors thought they would test him out. An English Electric Type 1(later Class 20 under BR TOPS) had been stopped for a few days at the depot because it would not start.
A number of fitters had tried to find the fault with the locomotive but being primarily used to steam locomotives this new-fangled diesel had beaten them. Alan said he was watched by the men as he walked over to the locomotive. He opened a number of doors along one side of the engine before going around to the other side to do the same. He was out of sight of the men for about five minutes before they saw him climb up into the cab. Moments later the engine roared into life before settling down to a steady tick over.
This then an incredible sight to and the men went over to congratulate Alan. For ever after during his time at Devons Road depot, and I’m sure for the rest of his career he was held in high esteem as an engineer. What was wrong with the Type 1? It was a blocked Zwicky fuel filter which could be scraped clean by turning a handle on the top of it.
Alan introduced me to the Brush Company resident engineer. His name was Sid but I cannot remember his surname. Everyone used to call him Sid Brush anyway. So if any of you reading this can remember his surname I would be grateful.
Sid used to wear a white lab coat his role was to deal with warranty issues on Brush electrical machines used on Class 47’s.
One tale Sid told me was about when he was a test engineer on the Brush/Hawker Siddley prototype HS4000 Kestrel. During one test run it was brought to a stand part way up Shap incline on the West Coast Main Line. It was hauling a freight train in excess of a 1000 tons. This 4000 horsepower single engine machine restarted the train and by the time it reached the summit it had reached 40mph. Impressive Recently I spoke with John Forrest who I had accompanied on the HST run related above, whilst reviewing his book as he had had a lot involvement with HS4000 Kestrel.
I asked him if he remembered Sid Brush and indeed the aforementioned test with Kestrel. He did and told me he had been present on that test run too. He also still had his personal log he had taken the time and when he checked he had recorded it as being 36mph by the summit.
My time in BREL House offices was drawing to a close so following Keith Herriman’s advice I began to check out the British Rail internal job vacancy lists for an STO job out on regions. In a future blog I will relate how I moved on in my Railway career.
I would like to recommend two excellent books about British Railways Workshops:
An Illustrated History of British Railways Workshops by Edgar Larkin
B.R.E.L Locomotive Works by John Vaughan both now very cheap as Amazon only has used copies
David Sproson says
Memories Memories. You tell a very brilliant insight into your time in Crewe Works that i can relate to as a mere Electrical fitter on Diesel Test (the best 10 years of my time in Crewe Works). I can relate to so much you speak of. I knew Keith in my youth and later crossed paths years later and can imagine him giving you that advice. True gent. Keep your story going Railway blogger. Great reading.
Thanks Dave for your kind comments
Nice reading about the HST. I have a huge piston sitting beside my woodstove (I use it as a hotplat for my kettle) which I believe came from a Class 43 HST. I got it from Crewe works about 25 years ago. I was told it had come from an InterCity loco with a V16 engine. However, I’m reading that only MTU did the V16 for the Class 43 and only four four Class 43 were fittrec with the MTU. If you’d have any knowledge regarding the MTU fitted Class 43 I’d be grateful. The piston is 11″ across and 15″ high. I’ve just had it cleaned and it looks like new again.