Railways in Great Britain

David Bevan spoke about the British railways at our first April meeting. David is English-born, although he moved to New Zealand when he was only one year old. As a kid he had a book about trains, and developed a life-long interest in them, and has built up a collection of model trains and associated books.

David outlined the history of British rail, noting that it came out of an amalgamation of private rail companies. Until the First World War railways operated as a network of privately owned companies. During the War the British Government co-opted the railways for the war effort. From 1923 to 1947 was the company period, primarily with four companies operating. These were the Great Western Railway, which was engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It operated on a seven foot guage, and operated between London and southern and southwestern England. It also operated throughout the Welsh coalfields. The Southern Railway operated from London to Dover, Brighton and the south coast including Plymouth, and was the smallest of the "big four" rail companies. It relied almost entirely on transporting passengers for its income. The London, Midlands and Scottish Railway operated throughout Britain, and competed with Great Western for Midlands business. The fourth company was London and North Eastern Railway which also operated up into Scotland. In 1948 these four companies were nationalised to form British Railways. Steam trains ceased operation in the 1960s.

David explained how trains are classified. The classification is based on the wheel alignment - leading wheels (for guidance) the drive wheels in the centre - and the trailing wheels at the back. A locomotive that had 2 pairs of lead wheels, 4 pairs of drive wheels, and 2 pairs of trailing wheels, would be classified as a 4-8-4.

Four steam locomotive engineers, one from each company, all contributed significantly to the development of bigger trains. These were George Churchwood (GW), William Stannier (LMS), Nigel Gresley (LNER) and Oliver Bulleid (Southern). Bulleid was born in Invercargill, New Zealand. In 1923 the Great Northern Railway was subsumed into the London and Northeastern Railway, and Gresley was appointed the Chief Mechanical Engineer. He brought Bulleid back to Doncaster to be his assistant. During this period Gresley produced the majority of his famous locomotives and innovations, and Bulleid had a hand in many of them.

David had a display of model trains and relevant books to accompany his talk.