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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 3 (July 1, 1929)

Our London Letter

page 42

Our London Letter

The enterprise of the British Railways in the field of electrification and in the adoption of modern scientific methods in train signalling, gives them a premier place amongst the railways of the world. Our special London Correspondent gives interesting particulars of the latest electrification and signalling installations, and makes passing reference to the first all-British railway fiction “talking” film featuring thrilling scenes on the famous “Flying Scotsman” Express.

Leading the World

Electrification is a word to conjure with these days. New Zealand has now tasted something of the joys of clean and swift travel associated with the employment of electric haulage. In this age of record-making and record-breaking, it is pleasant to find that, in the electrification field, British enterprise leads the world. With the recent completion of the electrification of its Central Section, the Southern Railway of England becomes the happy owner of, by far, the greatest suburban electrification system in the five continents.

The Southern Railway is a combination of three pre-war lines, viz., the London and South Western; the London, Brighton and South Coast; and the South Eastern and Chatham systems. Prior to amalgamation under the grouping scheme, the South Western and Brighton lines had embarked upon a policy of electrifying their suburban systems. Since the coming of the “Southern,” this policy has been steadily pursued, and, after spending something like £10,500,000 on electrification, this go-ahead line now operates 875 miles of electrified track. Train services throughout the wide area south of London, covered by the electrification have been entirely remodelled and augmented, new signalling has been installed, stations and platforms rebuilt to accommodate longer trains, and much new rolling-stock brought into use. The Southern electrification is on the 1,500 volts D.C., third-rail system, this system being standard throughout Britain. The change-over from steam to electric working has been accomplished with remarkably slight inconvenience to the public, and the new electric services are greatly appreciated by all—a fact which is demonstrated by the very considerable increase in business handled over the electrified tracks.

Signalling Developments.

Electric train operation in itself is a big boon from the point of view of the traffic department, but not a little advantage also arises from the adoption of improved signalling equipment, which goes hand-in-hand with every conversion scheme. The signalling department seems likely, in the near future, to play an exceptionally important part in railway operation, for we are now on the brink of vast developments in signalling methods. Reference has previously been made in these columns to the utilisation in Germany of the metal selenium in connection with train signalling. Further developments in the use of selenium cells have now taken place in Germany, and, before long, this accommodating page 43 metal may be used on a large scale in train signalling.

In Bavaria a most interesting system of train control has been established, employing a mirror which, operated in association with selenium cells and an intensifying device, automatically applies the brakes to a train that has failed to pull up at a stop signal. When illuminated, selenium becomes a conductor of electricity. Making use of this property, there has been produced a many-faceted mirror of about four inches diameter, and, by placing this mirror in position on the semaphore, the light is caught from an approaching locomotive and reflected back to the engine where it strikes a selenium cell. The impulse is then communicated to a relay, furnished with an intensifier, this actuating the train brakes. The control arrangement is equally useful for lessening train speeds on passing first warning signals, or to prevent speeds above a set maximum being attained by trains passing over any particular length of track. Altogether, these developments with selenium cells promise to open up a most profitable avenue of study for the signal engineer.

Electrification in britain. Cannon Street Station, London (S.R.), shewing electric train and track equipment.

Electrification in britain.
Cannon Street Station, London (S.R.), shewing electric train and track equipment.

A Century of Signalling Progress.

Apropos the subject of train signalling, Mr. W. H. Deakin (who is eighty-two years of age and has had a life-long connection with railway signalling) recently read before the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers, a most interesting review of signal progress. In this review were described the first crude signal employed, in 1827, on the Stockton and Darlington Railway; types of early signals in use on the Liverpool and Manchester line about 1834, and several other early designs of signalling equipment on Britain's pioneer railways. About 1840, signalling consisted of two distant signals, and a two-armed home signal on the platform, the home signal arms being worked by hand-levers at the foot of the post, and the distant signals by two pull-over levers fixed on the station platform. The first signal frame was the invention of Sir Charles Hutton Gregory, and was called a “stirrup” frame. The signals were operated by wire connections from four stirrups, which the pointsman pressed down with his foot. In 1859, Austin Chambers contrived, in conjunction with this stirrup frame, the first method of interlocking. A somewhat similar patent produced about the same time was the interlocking device of John Saxby. This coupled the wire working the signal on to the point lever, so that, as the points were pulled over, the signal was at the same time lowered. Little by little train signalling has been perfected, page 44 and, to-day, the British railways, and those of the British Commonwealth of Nations generally, possess some of the finest signalling installations in the whole world, a factor which has gone far to make for railway safety and railway progress.

Rail-road co-ordination. Containers are now largely used on the Home Railways.

Rail-road co-ordination.
Containers are now largely used on the Home Railways.

Increasing Use of Containers.

In the endeavour to reduce risk of damage to merchandise, arising through rough handling, a great deal is now being achieved through the use, in Britain, of containers. These are now used by the L.M. and S., L. and N.E., and Southern Railways, and recently, the last-named line has acquired many new containers, largely of the insulated type. Chilled meat from New Zealand is regularly handled by container service between Southampton and London, and banana traffic is also dealt with. Of late, containers have been employed for handling egg traffic from France (the eggs being loaded through in containers from the French ports to London). In dealing with banana traffic, of which there is now a heavy tonnage passing from London to France, containers are proving most useful. The fruit is loaded in the containers at the London docks, and these are worked by express trains to Southampton where they are transferred to the Southern Railway steamer. The contents of the containers remain untouched until the arrival at Havre, at which port the fruit is distributed to the buyers. The container service provides an ideal means of handling perishable traffic, and in the course of time, equipment of this kind will no doubt be employed for the movement of miscellaneous freight which, when dealt with in the conventional manner, involves considerable handling.

Railway Timetables.

Two distinct sets of timetables, one for the use of the public, and the other for the staffs, are issued by the Home railways. The staff time-books are styled working time-tables, each book running to several hundred pages. Issued about twice annually, embracing the summer and winter periods respectively, the general principle in working time-table construction is for the main lines to be shown first in their geographical position, the branch lines following in similar order. Generally speaking, all stations, sidings and signal boxes, are shown in the tables, together with the distance between each station or signal box. Passenger and freight trains appear under suitable headings, e.g., fast freight, slow passenger, and so on. Conditional trains, running only as and when required, are usually shown in light type. Because of the magnitude of the task, there are only a limited number of printers who will contract for producing the Home railway working timetables. At the time of writing, the four group railways are busy producing their new Summer time-books, and, as a great many new trains are being put into traffic, the work of compiling the new volume is proving anything but an enviable one.

Beautifying Stations.

There are quite a number of ways in which railway working may be made of greater interest to the staff. Anything which may be accomplished towards achieving this is worthy of the closest consideration. Here at Home, the happy idea has occurred to the permanent way departments to encourage the subordinate forces in their tasks by awarding money prizes each year for the best-maintained stretch of page 45 track on the system. Certificates are also offered in this connection, and the awards are made only after keen inspection by experts. Marks are given for the sound and neat condition of the track, level and gauge of rails, state of joints and fastenings, and condition of the ballast. These annual inspections of the track are on very similar lines to the annual inspections which take place to determine which are the best-kept wayside stations. Money prizes also are awarded in connection with the latter contest, the prize money being divided among the staffs at the winning stations. Thanks to the working of this scheme, wayside stations throughout the country are kept remarkably spick and span, while here and there the most wonderful floral effects are produced by the enthusiastic railway gardeners.

“Shooting” Railway Scenes for the “Talkies.”

No train in all the world has attained such great fame as the “Flying Scotsman,” the daily “crack” express of the L. & N.E. railway between London and Edinburgh. The “Flying Scotsman” is really its own publicity agent, but, in these days of severe competition, no railway can afford to ignore any possible means of bringing its services before the notice of the public. For this reason the L. & N.E. authorities have gladly given every assistance to a film-producing house desirous of producing a real, live, railway drama based upon British scenes.

A prize-winning english railway station. Floral display at Barrow Station, on the Cheshire Lines (L.M.S. and L. and N.E. Joint Railway).

A prize-winning english railway station.
Floral display at Barrow Station, on the Cheshire Lines (L.M.S. and L. and N.E. Joint Railway).

As a result of this co-operation between the railway and the “movie” people, the “Flying Scotsman” now figures in the first British railway fiction film ever shot. The majority of the scenes in this new super film are being taken in and around the King's Cross terminal. The scenery on either side of the line between London and Edinburgh provides the film's background. “Joan Crow,” daughter of a driver of the “Flying Scotsman,” is the heroine of the drama, and a thrilling close-up shows a fight on the very footplate itself of the “Flying Scotsman” locomotive. The picture is of the “talking” type, and included in the sounds reproduced, will be the roar of the wheels on the rails, the hiss of escaping steam, the beat of the pistons, and the pulsating gasp of the open firebox. There is a big future for film publicity in the railway world. To railwaymen especially, this unique “Flying Scotsman” thriller should prove of rare appeal.