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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 12 (March 1, 1940)

Our London Letter

page 25

Our London Letter

The Railways Play their Part.

The wonderful work of the Home railways continues a matter of general comment. In normal times, there is always in every land a section of the public which delights in adversely criticising railway managements and railway ways. In Britain, now, however, not a breath of adverse criticism is heard concerning rail transport; indeed, one and all seem to have nothing but admiration for the manner in which national transportation needs are being cared for and public requirements met in every possible way.

Increased Freight Traffic.

In Britain the mistake is not being made of robbing the railways of their skilled employees to swell the fighting forces. Within limits, younger railwaymen are being permitted to take up service with the Army, Navy or Air Force, but there is no wholesale transfer of men from civil to military employment. About 35,000 Home railwaymen are now serving with the Colours, and the stage is being reached where further men will only be spared on trainees being available to take their places. We have seen the effects of robbing the railways of their skilled staffs in the case of the German railways. There, largely because of the withdrawal from their ordinary tasks of experienced workers, the railways are operated under considerable difficulties.

In normal days, the months from October to March, inclusive, saw freight business at its peak on the Home lines. During the present winter, freight business has not only shown normal expansion, but it has also increased to an even greater degree through circumstances associated with the war. In the first place, the railways are called upon to handle all the additional traffic represented by the needs of the supply branch of the services. This in itself spells a very big item. Then, because of the decline in imports of iron ore, home production has increased enormously, and already the traffic in home ore has grown at the rate of 2,000,000 additional tons a year. Rail-borne coal, too, is swelling the tonnage handled by the railways. Coal output generally is advancing, and in addition much of the coal which ordinarily passed by coasting steamer is now moving by rail; while, because of petrol economies, there has also been a big diversion of coal traffic from road to rail. Also in part responsible for increased freight business on the railways is the convoy system, which frequently involves longer hauls, but which brings compensation in the form of bulk movement.

Fortunately, the Home railways steadily improved upon their freight-handling equipment and working methods in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of war. More powerful goods locomotives were introduced on every line; goods wagons of higher capacities were acquired; marshalling yards were extended and modernised; goods stations were given efficient mechanical devices of every type for handling goods; and there was a big development of the system of running express goods trains fitted with continuous brakes throughout. These trains operate at passenger train speeds, and are, in fact, often given preference on the road over slow passenger services. They link up all the important centres, and ensure the rapid handling of freight of all classes.

Modern passenger station design on the Southern Railway of England.

Modern passenger station design on the Southern Railway of England.

Some years ago, when the grouping scheme came into being in the Home railway world, traffic streams were completely changed throughout the country. The war has again had a similar effect, and much ingenuity has been called for in time-table re-arrangement to meet the new situation. The convoy system has brought heavy freight business to many ports which once did not figure prominently in this connection, while the movement of supplies for the Forces has also called for great re-arrangement.

Improved Lighting.

War-time civilian travel by night has been wonderfully brightened up of late, thanks to the ingenuity of the lighting engineers of the four Home railway groups. After caring for the needs of the main-line passenger, attention has now been turned to the suburban traveller, and a great deal has been done to ameliorate his lot. The effort of the L. & N.E. system is typical. On this system, each compartment in suburban trains has been provided with a metal box, some twelve inches long and ten inches deep, which is fitted over the centre roof lamp. Slots are provided in the base of the box, so that a beam of light sufficient for reading is page 26 page 27
Streamlined petrol rail-car, Great Western Railway.

Streamlined petrol rail-car, Great Western Railway.

thrown on each of the six seats on either side. About 10,000 of these striplighting shades have been installed in suburban carriages running out of King's Cross, Liverpool Street, Marylebone and Fenchurch Street stations, and the equipment gives great satisfaction.

War's Effect on Long-distance Services.

Passenger train operation in Britain has not been affected by the war to any unusual extent, although train services have been cut down in the interests of economy and to make way for vital transportation needs. On the mainland of Europe, however, long-distance services have disappeared by the score. No longer are the great capitals linked by world-famous trains like the “Orient Express” (Paris Stuttgart MunichVienna-Budapest-Bukarest), and the “Nord Express” (Calais-Paris-Brussels Cologne Berlin Warsaw). All through trains routed via Germany are cancelled, and the Berlin authorities have withdrawn within their own frontiers all German locomotives and stock, at the same time purloining much equipment from sorely harassed Czechoslovakia and Poland.

French National Railways.

One of the brightest spots in the European railway picture is provided by the railways of our gallant ally, France. Our very good French friends are rightly proud of their National Railways, and in addition to there being operated splendid civilian services in all regions, outside the actual war zone, the Paris authorities are doing everything possible to encourage the valuable tourist traffic to and from the Mediterranean coast resorts. One of the most popular services is that provided by the “Blue Train.” This is a daily service which in normal times leaves London daily at 11.0 a.m., and is operated forward by the French railways from Calais and Paris to Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, Mentone and the Italian frontier, via Lyons and Marseilles. The French railways, it may be observed, are considering the abolition of first-class travel on all except the principal long-distance trains. This would give two classes of accommodation, as is usual in Britain. (In England, we have the two classes, first and third, second-class being dropped some years ago on all but a few suburban routes). Railcar services continue to expand in France, notable new additions being Bugatti cars on the Western system, each accommodating sixty passengers, and three-car trains accommodating 164 passengers. These units operate between Paris and fashionable Trouville-sur-Mer, among other points, covering the 137 miles in just two hours. Another important service is that between Paris and Cherbourg (230 miles in three hours 36 minutes).

British Locomotives in France.

Travelling through Northern France to-day, it is interesting to see British locomotives of various types working our military trains. In the 1914–1918 conflict, British Army locomotives bearing on their tender sides the letters “R.O.D.” (Railway Operating Division) were a common sight on the French lines, and to-day our engines are again assisting the French locomotive departments. In general, the same transportation procedure is being followed in handling our Army traffic in France as in 1914–1918. Certain routes, where our traffic predominates, have been taken
A fast passenger locomotive, London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

A fast passenger locomotive, London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

over entirely by the Army, while in other cases Britain merely supplies locomotives and rolling-stock and leaves the operating to our French colleagues. Our R.T.Os. are at work at all important stations, maintaining the closest touch with the local railway officials. Actually, the British locomotives operating over the French lines to-day bear the letters “W.D.,” instead of the old familiar “R.O.D.,” and they comprise machines of varying types, among which are many of the 2–8–0 and 0–6–0 wheel arrangements. In addition to the engines supplied by the Home railways, the Government has placed contracts with leading builders for the supply of 240 2–8–0 type freight tender locomotives and 10,000 20-ton covered goods wagons for service in France.

Light Railways in the War Zone.

Another interesting transportation development in the war zone is the building of light railways as feeders to the standard-gauge. During the last war, your correspondent held commands on many military light railways in France, and narrow-gauge railways were one of the biggest transportation successes of the struggle. They linked the standardgauge railheads with the fighting-line, conveying millions of troops, and millions of tons of ammunition, food, and supplies. In many cases these light railways penetrated right into our advance trenches, while at a distance varying from one to five miles behind the front there were trunk laterals connecting the light railway systems of the various armies. At the big bases, light railways again are performing fine work in handling stores of all kinds. As in 1914–1918, the men forming the construction and operating personnel of our light railways in France are being drawn from the Home and overseas railways.