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Sir Nigel Gresley - His work and what might have been

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by S.A.C. Martin, Dec 3, 2021.

  1. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    From reading Simon's book and looking at the situation by 1940, it seems to me that Gresley had possibly not adjusted to the situation he was in by continuing to build 3 cyl loco's with conjugated valve gear, when what we needed were large numbers of 2cyl mixed traffic loco's

    The Stanier report clearly highlights the deficiencies in the conjugated gear that apply in peacetime, let alone war.
     
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  2. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    The V4 was too expensive to build. Bottom line.

    If you go down the hypothetical route of removing WW2 and Gresley’s death you can justify anything, is what I’m getting from the various comments supporting the V4.

    Reality check required for the enthusiasts I’m afraid.

    Ten Thompson B1s become orders for another 400 rather quickly when the costs to build and maintain were analyzed.

    The idea that the Thompson B1, being designed to work for the whole of the LNER system, is somehow therefore inferior to the designed for Anglia V4 on that basis, is ludicrous. The truth is the opposite way round.

    I love Gresley and his designs but the desire to excuse everything or try to justify every decision he made seems at odds with an enlightened, analytical approach to railway history.

    The V4 a highly capable locomotive that was a Rolls Royce in cost and maintenance, when a Ford was needed.
     
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  3. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    A random question - from reading it appears that the LNER board exerted quite a lot of control over loco policy. Was this greater than elsewhere? Secondly, how important is Whitelaw as a decision maker?

    Why I ask is this - Whitelaw came from the HR (and NBR). The HR had their fingers severely burnt during WW1 with the fiasco of the Smith Rivers and the cost of the locos (and their replacements) to the HR. Would an incident such as this have made Whitelaw as chair more likely to exert stricter control over what is being built than other boards (since the HR board had taken their eye off the ball in the Rivers case)

    A second point perhaps in defence of Gresley's strategy of building niche fleets of locos rather than standardisation. At what point do economies of scale start to kick in with loco building? For example is it cheaper to build a niche fleet of K4s or P2s designed for a specific job where you have the perceived greatest need and carry on elsewhere with what you have, rather than to build a standard engine that might produce sub-optimal results on the routes where you have greatest need ie why not build more A3s to work the Scottish traffic, or a go anywhere 4-6-0 that might struggle on the West Highland?
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2021
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  4. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    But have you not taken this approach towards Thompson?
     
  5. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    No, because as is self evident from the book, I have evidence to back up my rationale.
     
  6. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    That's given me a chuckle. Thanks.
     
  7. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Have you read the book?

    It does beg the question of why you’re here if you don’t want to provide evidence to back up your claims.
     
  8. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    2nd point first. The Highland 'Rivers' were undoubtedly a fiasco and IMO the wrong official had to go. Smith's design was sound and it was hardly his fault PW boss Newlands was not only wrong concerning hammer blow, but earlier had clearly paid no attention to initial sketches, ahead of the ordering process. Legend has it that the Highland made a profit of £500/loco on their sale to the Caley. It's worth noting a very similar situation led to the B&CDR 'Baltics' being less than impressive machines.

    On the first point, I'd be intrigued to learn how the respective approaches of Stamp and Whitelaw stacked up. Reading between the lines, Stamp can't have been over the moon with Fowler's ethos. How else does one explain the LMS board sniffing around Swindon, in the wake of Launceston Castle's holiday on the LMS?
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2021
  9. MellishR

    MellishR Part of the furniture Friend

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    Some of us have speculated that (in a different world) there would have been more V4s. If so they might have been allocated more widely than East Anglia. But has anyone suggested that the B1 was inferior? Just a very different beast, designed for very different circumstances. It is hard to justify three cylinders for a loco of that size, and that was perhaps one of Gresley's poorer decisions, but a wide firebox does have some advantages. Would a 2-cylinder version of a V4 be significantly more expensive to build, or harder to maintain, than a B1?
     
  10. Llwyngwern

    Llwyngwern Member

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    There was an earlier Scots episode with the Reid Atlantics on the NBR where Bell was alarmed by reports of the effects they were having on the track. On that occasion it was due to be brought up at a Board meeting but Bell backed down for some reason.
     
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  11. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    Don't take things too seriously Simon. Some of us are indulging in a "what if?" scenario. Harmless fun but your reply was that "such speculation has no basis in fact". That's the nature of "what if?" discussions, there are no facts. If there were facts then it wouldn't be a case of "what if"? Maybe a session cleaning the smokebox of 35028 would help you chill. :)_
     
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  12. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Duly noted!

    I sometimes get caught up in the work of the thing, I happily admit.
     
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  13. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    There seems to be a belief among some enthusiasts that the CME worked away in his own bubble designing locomotives that took his fancy. The fact is that he was no more than a departmental head who answered to the board, they made the final decision on what was built. If we take the example of the A4s, competition for the Anglo Scottish Traffic and Intercity services to the West Riding was intense and the public imagination was being captured by streamlining. The board would have decided that the cost of introducing a high speed service to these destinations was justified and Gresley would have been asked to come up with suitable motive power and stock.
    There was a problem on a lot of railways with departments not talking to each other, hence Smith's unwise decision to build the Rivers without consulting the Civil Engineer and Bulleid's tender design being too high to use a lot of the coaling facilities. Some CMEs did seem to have a more persuasive nature than others, how did Bulleid convince the Southern board that they needed 30 Pacifics of a revolutionary and untried design in the middle of a war and later 110 Pacifics with the company committed to electrification? I assume he was high on some illegal substance when he came out with the idea for the Leaders!! Joking aside the CMEs must have been under considerable pressure with the responsibility of keeping the trains rolling within the budget set. Even Churchward was carpeted on one or two occasions, his comment about why his locos cost more than LNWR engines is well known.
    The LNER's financial position is well known and a lot of the top end expenditure was at the expense of the less important train services. There was no Stanier type scrap and replace policy and much of the freight and secondary passenger locos were rebuilds of older engines. Such expenditure could be allocated to the revenue account rather than as a capital expenditure. Secondary express and local passenger services were mostly appalling, East Anglia was a forgotten backwater until the Britannias came along in the 50s and I'm sure a lot of London commuters were relieved when the Piccadilly Line was extended to Cockfosters and the Northern Line took over the Northern Heights service.

    The position of LNER CME was initially offered to Robinson of the GC but he declined and suggested the post went to Gresley. There has been a lot of criticism of the man on here but all with hindsight, the conjugated valve gear worked well when maintained properly, it's shortcomings only became apparent when adequate maintenance fell by the wayside in WW2. He gave the LNER and later BR a large fleet of reliable and powerful Pacific motive power ( more than the LMS had) which must have been seen as a good investment. He was responsible for the design of the locomotives for the Woodhead electrification, a project postponed firstly due to financial constraints and then the war. Gresley was a CME for 30 years, received an Hon Doctorate from Manchester University and was knighted. Those are not accolades awarded to a second rate engineer.
     
  14. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    Doesn't casting Gresley as 'just an employee' seems to be in contrast to the narrative that all good things with the LNER emanate from Gresley.

    It is possible to be both a good designer and a bad designer. It is also equally possible for people who were previously innovators to become stuck in their ways.

    With regard to Gresley as an employee, here's the thing - I am sure we've all experienced different kinds of managers and managerial styles from managers who micro manage down the paper clips to those who are so hands off that if they were there we would hardly know it all. Not all boards are going to be the same or take the same approaches. Getting a sense of the board and how they managed the railway and how much control they exerted over loco policy will go a long way to explaining or not explaining some of the design choices made.

    Is the LNER board different in its relationship with Gresley than the GNR board for example? Are there different periods of board dynamics? 30 years is a long time and boards are going to come and go.

    That there are two small batches of locos for niche specific tasks in Scotland but just the B17 designed for the GER, is that evidence Scottish members of the board pushing their own local agendas? Is the traffic from the West Highland etc considerably more revenue generating than traffic from East Anglia or the Great Central?

    With the exception of the 220 V2s and A4s from 1931-1941 the LNER builds
    P2 - 6
    W1 - 1
    K4 - 6
    V3 - 10
    V4 - 2

    Whereas, 1911-1931 - with the exceptions of the P1 and U1, everything is built in large numbers (30+). That is quite a radical shift in approach and attitude. Saying 'the LNER had no money so this is all they could do' - fair enough after the Great Depression but I still think it is worth unpacking the relationship between CME and board and why the focus was on niche classes and express engines (did the A4 really do more than an A3 could do and did the PR boost translate into meaningful increases in revenue?) more than looking for a cheaper go anywhere design.

    Moreover, by doing a deeper dive and/or contextualising the LNER with the experience of other lines, it is entirely possible to advance Gresley's reputation even further that he achieved what he achieved despite the LNER's financial situation and the board.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2021
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  15. bluetrain

    bluetrain Well-Known Member

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    Good questions. A number of sources have suggested that the NBR Board kept tight control over their locomotive department throughout the periods when Reid and Chalmers were CME (1903-22), also that they minimized loco renewals in the lead up to Grouping. Whitelaw had been NBR Chairman since 1913.

    The RCTS "Locos of LNER" comments that in 1924 ".... the need for additional power had become urgent, particularly on the NBR where many old engines were due for early withdrawal". Gresley ordered 24 new engines of GC design, which became the D11/2 "Scottish Directors" and drafted a number of existing English locos to the NBR - 10x O4 and 25x J9 from GCR, 14x K2 and 15x D1 from GNR, 12x J24 from NER. That total of 100 engines equated to almost 10% of the NBR loco fleet.

    It is interesting to compare the impacts of the LNER & LMS on the Scottish company loco fleets. The LMS took the axe to the G&SWR fleet, most of which had gone by 1939. On the other hand, Caledonian engines mostly survived well under the LMS, at least as well as NBR engines under the LNER. The Caledonian and NBR locos were generally similar, having evolved from standards set by Dugald Drummond in the 1875-90 period. So we have a situation where LMS & LNER authorities, presented with similar loco studs, reacted in much the same way - some new building but many CR & NBR engines survived until the final years of steam. It was not invariably the case that the LMS went for "scrap and build" while the LNER held onto vintage engines. The full story was more nuanced.

    But to come back to William Whitelaw, he certainly had to sign-off some new construction as LNER Chairman that he had apparently resisted as NBR Chairman.
     
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  16. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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  17. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    I have noticed that even in a cash strapped organisation money can always be found for directors' pet projects.

    In the same way my experience is that money is much more likely to be found for a single high profile project than it is for a series of small initiatives, even if the small initiatives promise a better return at lower risk.

    I note with some admiration the Bluebell's 'Jewel in the Crown' appeal, which seems to me a splendid concept, labelling what is in effect routine BAU maintenance as a high profile project. Smart thinking there.
     
  18. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    Back in the 30s a lot of capital projects were financed by the government’s Loan Act, an attempt to kick start the economy after the Great Depression
     
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  19. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    I think it's unlikely many if any new locomotives were capital expenditure. The fleet wasn't expanding. Post general strike/depression era revenue was down for all lines .

    On the GWR they were seeking to reduce spending from revenue, and the locomotive department was tending where possible to use their renewals fund. In examples I've seen on the GWR a renewal would take a locomotive due for a heavy general repair and instead renew it "reusing suitable parts". In the case of an absorbed 0-6-2T the cost might be about half that of a new 56xx, and the end result an exceptionally thorough overhaul after which it would run well into the 1950s. Although this is often said to be just budget manipulation, those of the 5100 and 3150 classes that were renewed pre war had rather longer lives than their sisters which just had major overhauls with new cylinders.

    And in answer to the other post, yes indeed, but note that conditions attached to loans and guarantees act made it easier to spend on pet projects rather than BAU. Rather like lottery projects this days. It all comes round again...
     
  20. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Part of the furniture

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    Was this not the case that the NBR felt - give the future onset of the Grouping - why spend money when the company could cope with the existing fleet and leave the renewals to the new post-Grouping company. Cautious or canny but understandable to any company whose Board of Management was facing loss of its company to an enforced takeover.
     
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