Steam Corner 15

And Science Marches On

A Production for Ryan Productions by B.L.Cann

Our thanks go to Mr. I. Fyvie, The Watercress Line, Mr. T. Knowles, Mr.S. Smalley, The North Norfolk Rly., Severn Valley Rly., and countless others for their assistance in this production.


The face of our railway system is forever constantly changing;  an undeniable proof of which being the major re-vamp to the permanent way of the West Coast Main Line, which we live near.  For the first time since the inauguration of the L.N.W.R., the town is to lose the use of it's station completely for a time of some two nine days periods.  Not only that, but a great expanse of the route at the same time.


How working practices have changed in that time;  for as late as the 60's, the pre-requisite was simply thus - keep the trains running!  Even during such major works as bridge replacement and permanent way work at such junctions as Newcastle, with it's complex crossover system, the trains still ran.  During W.W.2, despite heavy bomb damage, the trains still ran.  The reason for a major closure of the route is, in effect, a tame one.  A new Pendolino service  (tilting trains)   is what this is all about.

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Does anyone remember what occurred to the last "tilting" design?  An abject failure, to coin a phrase!  The train tilted, stayed tilted, and that was that.  With the limited clearances between bodywork of opposing trains, there's little room left for error.  Lets just hope that technology has advanced significantly since the original concept of this idea.

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But here we mighthave discovered the reason for such a grand route closure.  Is it in order to increase the clearance between the running tracks for this new service, most likely, to allow for failure of the mechanism?  For despite new track being employed, on inspection of a loaded lorry delivering the said, no appreciable design difference has been noted.  Yes,  I did say lorry!  Despite the heavier load capacity of the railways, the new trackwork is delivered by road.

It is therefore even more remarkable how some of the more daring engineering ventures were carried out, despite the lack of technology in the Victorian era;   Kilsby Tunnel being a prime example during it's construction.  Under the control of the contractor James Nowell, the 2432 yd. tunnel was the key feature of the London & Birmingham Rly.  (to be incorporated into the L.N.W.R. later).

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Robert Stephenson, the son of George, and the railway's chief engineer, was called upon to advise with this project when quicksand was discovered, and halted the exploits of 1200 navvies employed in the task.  Then part of the roof collapsed and the works filled with water.  Steam pumps were employed constantly for eight months to drain the tunnel.  After two years, and the loss of the lives of 26 navvies, at a cost of 300,000  (thrice the original estimate),  Kilsby Tunnel opened on September 17th, 1838, being at that time the world's longest tunnel.

The honour of Britain's biggest station goes to Waterloo terminus in London.  The once adjoining Necropolis station had a somewhat sinister past, running "one way" passengers to Brookwood Cemetery.   This was bombed in1941, and never re-built.  Waterloo, built in 1848, survived, being re-built from1900 to1922 to a design by J.W.Jacomb- Hood and A.W.Szlumper with a magnificent roof measuring 520 feet by 540 feet, an 800 feet concourse, and a grand total of 21 platforms.   The whole site covers an area of 24.5 acres, along with the underground links and the new International station under a 400 metre glass canopy.

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In conclusion, are we to consider that within the last 200 years of railway operation, progress has taken a backward step towards the ludicrous?  Chasing faster train speeds is, after all, nothing new - the Victorians have already been there, got the "T" shirt, etc.  The elegance of once proud stations has been replaced by soul-less concrete and aluminium.  To sum up, whilst waiting for a pass-by, by 6201 "Princess Elizabeth" in steam, a young boy, encouraged to wave at an electric loco by his mother, replied  "Mum,  when's the REAL train coming?"

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It's rather sad to think that with all the technical innovation of today's railway system, one so young expresses such a desire to see the technology of the past being used in the present.  Maybe this is the driving force behind "Steam buffs" - if so, all the better !

RIYAN Productions