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Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

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Locomotive Performance and Load-Book

Mike Notley

14 March 2011

It was a full house as Mike Notley joined us to explain some interesting runs he had timed. Mike will be well known to many for his regular column in Steam Railway magazine. He kept the audience fully engaged with his anecdotes without recourse to slides, only referring occasionally to some distributed paper timing sheets.

He started his talk by giving his background. He is a third generation railwayman, his family coming from Derby which is where he followed his father and grandfather into the business. He had, of course, been a spotter in his youth, but on joining the Divisional Control Office at Derby in 1957, in the post of “assistant controller”, he found that his knowledge of locomotives didn't count for much. He quickly learned the ropes from the staff there, especially from the inspectors and with the ever-present threat of interrogations by the controller. He recounted several of his early encounters with the inspectors including the loaning by one of his prize chronograph so that Mike could make one of his first timings on a run from Kings Cross. Unfortunately the hand fell off! There were also amusing stories of operations, such as an investigation by one inspector of the unusual number of fatalities amongst consignments of chicks being sent from Derby across London to the southern counties. The inspector took the brave decision to travel all the way with them. He found out the problem when accompanying them across London in the back of a Scammell truck – the road was so bouncy that the cartons of chicks were thrown all over the truck, with most of the chicks droppings finishing up on him.

In his seven years in Divisional Control, Mike got to grips with handling train logging information which came in frequent staccato telephone reports from around the region, all having to be carefully logged by hand on large reporting sheets. These were analysed later for unexplained delays, each of which was queried via a letter to the responsible shed-master. Mike had the strong belief that the latter just had a set of four standard responses and sent a random one back! He often wonders what happened to the logs he and his colleagues generated, after they went for “archiving”. They would be rich sources of information for modern-day researchers of past railway performance.

The importance of operating rules was brought home to him on one day when he was deputising for a freight controller over lunch. There was a call from a line office requesting assistance for a heavily loaded train, the loco of which was steaming poorly. Mike saw that a light engine was in the neighbourhood and ordered its reallocation to this train to assist. He then relaxed in his belief of a job well done. A couple of hours later an irate call came in demanding who had disobeyed operating rules by putting two Garrets on a train which was routed over a weak bridge. Mike has never forgotten the consequences, but leant a strong lesson.

His subsequent career path was via the railway workshops, which went through a series of reorganisations and changes of ownership, before finishing with ABB Transportation. It was at this point, still working in Derby, that he took a redundancy package in the mid 1990s after 37 years as a professional railwayman. However, this meant he had more time to spend on this hobby as amateur train timer which then turned into his alternative career as author of the Steam Railway column.

Mike then turned to a few of his performance logs involving No 462229 Duchess of Hamilton. He started with a run on Saturday 14th August 1993 on the Cumbrian Mountain Express. This was the day when the loco claimed the “Blue Riband” for the climb from Appleby. The award is for the fastest climb from milestone 275 to 259¾ , hauling not less than 12 coaches and using only one fireman on that leg. On this day, the Duchess beat the previous record, held by A2 No 60532 Blue Peter by 14 seconds. The calculations show that the Duchess produced an average Estimated Draw-Bar Horsepower (EDHP) of 2300 and a peak of 2520 EDHP – the equivalent of a Deltic diesel.

Unfortunately, the big steam locos disappeared from the Settle and Carlisle shortly after this event, so there have been no more recent attempts on the Blue Riband. Until then, steam had been restricted to just three routes, the S&C, North Wales coast, and the Welsh Marches. BR then introduced “Open Access” and many more routes were possible. Mike attended meetings with Mel Chamberlain, of Days Out, who was one of those most eager to take advantage of this relaxation. He wanted to organise a trial of engines over the routes from Crewe to Carlisle, out via Shap and return via Settle, with Duchess of Hamilton, No 71000 Duke of Gloucester, and No 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley taking part. The Duchess was at a slight disadvantage since the other two locos were passed for 75 mph running, whereas she could only, officially, go to 60 mph. To create a level playing field, all operators agrees to restrict the runs to 60 mph. The winning target was the engine which produced the greatest total power output, through the summing of the average EDHPs on Grayrigg, Shap and Ais Gill.

First on was Sir Nigel Gresley on 30 September 1995 which, suffered a stuck whistle on the outbound trip through Preston. This was fixed during a water-stop but bad steaming due to poor coal, meant that power output was well down and the final count was a cumulative total of 4340 EDHP for the three banks. Two days later it was the turn of Duke of Gloucester which made a near perfect run on all three banks, actually accelerating up Grayrigg Bank, and maintaining well over 50 mph up Shap. The overall score was 6500, which became the Duchess's target to following day. Unfortunately, she suffered injector problems and water level in the boiler got so low on the Shap climb that she had to be eased back. This spoilt her running for the rest of the trip and she only managed a score of 5681.

In rounding off this section of his talk, Mike looked forward to the return of A1 Tornado to the main line so more performance records can be made of modern steam. In general, he considers that there are good reasons for every main-line steam-hauled train to be the subject of detailed performance logs – so there is an archive for future generation, to give recognition to the crews for their work, and to provide evidence if there are claims against the operators by Railtrack for compensation due to causing delays. On the latter, he pointed out that it is now just the responsibility of the crews in maintaining time; the stewards, and, indeed, passengers, can be the cause of delays simply be not boarding the train promptly.

Mike then turned to the second part of his talk, on the subject of load hauling guidelines for steam haulage. This goes back to BR and before, when trains, both passenger and goods, were made up along the route – vehicles being added as traffic demanded. This meant there was a need for load limits for each engine class so that the operations staff could roster the correct engine to ensure that the train ran to time. Times are slightly different now. Train loads can be guaranteed before the train leaves, removing one area of uncertainty. But the engine is very much on its own and readily available backup is not available. While most times, the operators get it right, there are occasions, perhaps due to poor coal, greasy rails and signal checks, when problems occur. A “load book”, giving the maximum train loads for particular locomotives could go some way to giving both the engine and crew a fighting chance to overcome these problems.

Rather than use the old BR tables, Mike suggests a new one is produced listing the loads for each of the steam routes and main-line certified locomotives. This will be necessary as modern locomotives range much wider than their old company territories – it is no longer the case that GWR locos work just in the west, or LNER ones in the east. Loads should be set on not what is possible but what is reasonable. This could have a marginal effect on the number of seats available on trains, but by avoiding delays, due to stalling or poor running, and the resulting Railtrack compensation payments, it could reduce the commercial risk to the operating companies. Mike gave some suggestions on how such a table could be prepared, using four haulage classifications over the Settle & Carlisle, North Wales, and Shap. This showed how loads could differ over sections of the route even for the same classification of locomotive. Mike suggests that an ad-hoc committee be established involving the operators and Railtrack, with some performance experts, to establish such a system and then review it regularly. This is not to say that train planners do a bad job – generally they do a good one, but a bit more cooperation and forethought could make the system better and avoid problems.