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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. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    They weren't alone in that. Some of the Highland's choicer antiques seem to have lingered on an unusually swollen duplicate list, rather than being officially 'withdrawn'.

    Members of the 4-4-0 Skye Bogie, Clyde Bogie and Strath Bogie classes featured strongly on the duplicate list, a couple which were nominally renumnered actually being withdrawn before receiving LMS numbers. Methinks, come valuation time, Highland shareholders were were pretty well served by their board's (let's just say) commendably close attention to company assets!
     
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  2. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    Isn't that a bit perverse since Whitelaw was to become LNER chair and so he'd have to deal with his own failure to renew the NBR fleet? Or does he and the NBR board see this as a way to get someone else to pay for it?

    But I think @bluetrain's point is really interesting because it suggests that a lot of the issues facing the LNER and the impact on loco policy were the result of what took place in the pre-grouping period and so perhaps there is a fruitful avenue for @S.A.C. Martin to explore the pre-LNER history. Gresley at the GNR would be interesting to contrast with Gresley at the LNER.

    It can even add another layer to Thompson - for example the B1 is the go anywhere loco that the LNER didn't have. They didn't have because in the early years of the LNER Gresley was putting out fires caused by the pre-grouping companies kicking renewals down the road. The consequences of that meant that the LNER was in a weaker position when the Great Depression hit and so it couldn't be developed and/or the decision was made (by who?) to concentrate on high end passenger traffic rather than bread and butter needs. Then when WW2 takes place the external pressures of changing/increasing traffic demands means that it is no longer an option for the LNER not to have a go anywhere 4-6-0.
     
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  3. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    I think blaming pre-grouping management too much for the problems post-grouping ignores a massive factor, which was war time inflation.

    Take for example the cost of somewhat comparable 4-6-0s. In 1908, the LSWR paid £3,710 each for their G14 4-6-0s. Roll forward only ten years to 1918-19, and the mechanically simpler N15 4-6-0s cost between £6,740 and £7,765 each - in other words, the price doubled in ten years, whereas loco construction costs for comparable locos had varied very little in the forty-odd years from the 1870s to 1910s.

    The effect of that would be felt in renewal funds, which accrue in advance. Any railway which deferred renewals during the first World War due to pressure on traffic meaning they couldn't take old locos out of use to be renewed, would have found that their renewal fund was severely depleted by inflation, probably only buying half what they had planned. As a mechanism, renewal works best in times of relatively low inflation, and a steady state replacement rate. Deferring and then playing catch-up would be a disaster in times of high inflation, which is exactly what happened during World War I. So perhaps not surprising that all the companies inherited in 1923 fleets of superannuated Victorian relics that, in normal conditions, should have been renewed in the 1914 - 1924 sort of time frame.

    Tom
     
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  4. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    upload_2021-12-6_8-50-27.png

    So an example of the work I was doing a year or so ago - I wasn't quite finished with it, as it happens!

    Most things in red are pre-grouping. You can see the CMEs on the top row showing how long they were in charge for. This needs a lot of work to finish but it does help as a graphical illustration of the overall length of life of some loco classes on the LNER.

    I will get around to finishing it one day...
     
  5. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    But doesn't that need to be contextualised vs labour costs which during the same period were relatively static (and given the rise in the cost of living was a major source of anger in the immediate post WW1 period). Which is the bigger share of budget? What happened to revenues 1914-1923?

    Plus, isn't there a danger of over emphasizing WW1, how does renewal policy compare 1900-1914 with renewal policy 1918-1923? Is it different or a continuation? It is easy to blame wars/external shocks for the things that happen after them, but more often than not the practices and issues were already well in motion before the shock.
     
  6. 61624

    61624 Well-Known Member

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    What continues to surprise me (but probably shouldn't) is how polarised people's views are on characters like Gresley. As has been said before, they were heads of Departments and "their" designs were heavily influenced by their assistants such as Spencer and Bulleid on the LNER, Coleman to Stanier on the LMS. Gresley may have had his preferred "trademark" solutions for some aspects and his draughtsmen knew (or were instructed to) incorporate these, but there is evidence that he, or his team, were not averse to adopting design elements from elsewhere when there was a good case for doing so, the Kylchap exhaust being one such example. On the other hand, he undoubtedly took his enthusiasm for three cylinders too far, in applying them to smaller designs that really didn't need the extra cylinder, such as the V1/3s and the K4. He was a flawed individual. Most of us are, so it should come as no surprise to arrive at that conclusion!
     
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  7. 61624

    61624 Well-Known Member

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    Isn't the point that whatever the policies may have been, the options were limited?
     
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  8. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    If memory serves right, the railways were paid on a model that presumed continuity with pre-1914 income, but being asked to do significantly more for that income. That was a major reason why the railways worked hard to keep a lid on wages, despite the inflation being suffered by their employees, because they could ill-afford the rise in overall costs that would follow wage rises. So, while expenditure does have to be looked at in the round, the point made by @Jamessquared remains valid given the finite resources available to the railway companies, even before the personnel effects of WWI and the organisational disruption of Grouping were considered.
     
  9. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    But aren't they always? Every agent is constrained by structural conditions, no one ever has a free hand. Unpacking the limits and what it is that created those limits is the interesting thing.

    Moreover, there are still choices to be made

    For sure, but if you've been skimping on renewals pre-1914 then when faced with a shock to the system you are going to be less able to cope with that shock.

    Co-incidentally on the subject of Whitelaw and WW1 there is a quote from Eric Geddes (or the hated Eric Geddes to give him his full title).

    FWIW - according to Hamilton the NBR's claim at the end of control was for £10 million, says they got most of it.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2021
  10. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Of course - which is true of any company which has been under-invested in over a period, and then requires more capital investment. It's being said today about Boots.

    However, I find it interesting that this conversation is being had with particular focus on one of the smaller constituents of the LNER, on which the older designs were not especially quickly ousted. I suspect there is also an issue of critical mass, and whether a company has the scale to generate cash to support expensive capital investment, or simply lacks that scale to do so without an unachieved level of profitability.
     
  11. gwralatea

    gwralatea Member

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    Yes, and also circumstance. The GC had some dross in its fleet but the fact that it basically had its great leap forward with the opening of the London Extension at the turn of the century meant that overall it must have had one of the most up to date stocks of locomotives and rolling stock in the country, never mind the LNER. I go back to thinking 'what if Robinson had said yes?' They weren't making any money either, but at least they'd been losing money for not as long (unless you were an MS&L shareholder beforehand, obviously).
     
  12. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    But turn it around - why did the ex-NBR lines despite being a relatively small part of the LNER get the investment of the K4s and P2s? I think that we're looking at the NBR because Whitelaw was LNER chairman. And afterall, how many other discussions have their been about the NBR at the turn of the C20?

    We can move onto the GER, GCR etc and their pre-grouping loco policies if you like. Looking at it in the whole. Lots of different potential trajectories which may bring into sharper focus the crisis at the NBR (is it worse than all the other bits of the LNER?) and how NBR attitudes might have infused the board and subsequent LNER policies.
     
  13. Andy Williams

    Andy Williams Member

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    Another thing that affected renewals/new builds during WW1 was the fact that most loco works, including those owned by commercial suppliers. were partially or wholly turned over to munitions works.
     
  14. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    On the data presentation, not specifically the data itself: if you draw classes as solid bars, you run the risk that a loco that had one or two very long-lived classmates appears to be more important than it was. (An SR example would be the Beattie Well Tanks, which were a class of 85 locos; 82 of them had gone by the turn of the 20th century, but three lasted through to 1960. A class like that would look oddly long-lived on your chart). You kind of need a third access, based perhaps on colour density, related to how many of each were still in traffic at a given date. So in the Beattie example, they would be a solid red in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but fade to a very pale red from then until 1960: still there, but of trivial importance in relation to the overall fleet.

    I was playing round with charts like this (and which you could filter by class) - the total SR loco fleet shown as numbers built, removed, the differential (i.e. net change in fleet size) and the impact (right axis) on total fleet size. I quite like the heat map view though, but I think it needs a third dimension to reference the relative importance of that specific class as a part of the total.

    upload_2021-12-6_10-39-27.png

    Tom
     
  15. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    I always thought that Gresley was an engineer with his eyes set firmly on the image of the railway and what travelled on it whilst at the same time keeping a watch over what was happening up the west coast route to Scotland. Whilst I'll leave others to talk about the detail of how many cylinders may be best, there was a definite image dimension that shouldn't be ignored.

    Or is that too much of a simplistic view? (It was a luxury that Thompson who followed simply couldn't afford to consider.)
     
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  16. 5944

    5944 Part of the furniture

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    I know it goes way beyond the scope of what Simon is asking, but I think what @Monkey Magic has mentioned can be said about everything in this country, not just railways. Never go above and beyond, do just enough to save a few quid in the short term without considering the long term effects and costs.

    It does seem to be a UK specific thing though; penny pinching on infrastructure leading to small, bespoke classes of locos to operate services, rather than upgrading turntables, bridges, lengthening run round loops, etc. Then you get daft situations like B17s with tiny GER tenders that are barely adequate for the job required, or P1s which could haul far more wagons than would fit in the loops. How much would've been saved in the long run by improving the GE enough to allow a new batch of A1/A3s to be used? Yes, probably a bit oversized compared to what was needed at the time, but it would've saved designing another class of loco, and having one pool of spares rather than two would've helped. Would the P1s have been more useful if the railway was able to use large, fitted bogie wagons, instead of thousands of 9' wheelbase, unbraked, wooden-bodied open wagons? But then the collieries would need money spending on them as well to accept larger wagons.

    How much would it have cost to replace a smaller turntable with a 70' one, to allow bigger locos to be used? Surely less than the cost of designing and building yet another new class of loco that was ok for the current work, but didn't allow for any expansion or improvement in services.

    If you look to the continent, they had very few classes of locos compared to the UK. Why build a handful of little 0-4-2Ts that can only be used for a couple coaches on a branch line and little else, when you can upgrade the line and use 2-10-0s instead, which can be used on heavy freights as well. Did BR really need three different classes of 4MT, plus 2MT and 3MT tender and tank locos? Would they have been better off with 4MT tanks, 5MT 4-6-0s and 7MT 4-6-2s and spending the savings on upgrading the infrastructure?
     
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  17. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    That graph of yours is excellent Tom. I really like how it works.

    The heat map was simply created to get a rough idea of when classes were at work and between what dates - it sort of gives an overview for the longevity of some pre-grouping classes as well as noting how many were actually built. Ideally, it would show the numbers of the classes year by year too. In order to do that it would likely become overly complex, given the sheer number of classes I am dealing with (nearly 300 locomotive classes in reality, if we split apart the sub types too).
     
  18. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    The flipside of Tom's point is of course that the numerically larger classes didn't all appear on 'Day One', any more than most all vanished in the same year. Of the LNE fleet, I suspect Robinson's 2-8-0 design best illustrates that. It seems to me that including the average age of the fleet, year on year, would help to clarify the overall picture.

    Other variables, such as electrification or a set policy to eliminate double-heading likewise muddy the waters.
     
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  19. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    IIRC the LNER did have some high capacity bogey wagons for the brick traffic but without goods loops being extended, they only solved part of the problem.
     
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  20. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    They did indeed, and from what I can see, the LNER's two biggest issues were locomotives and infrastructure. Never quite married up during the Gresley era - in Thompson's short reign, there were significant new marshalling yards built for the war effort, albeit temporary, and in Peppercorn's reign he had little he could do as the writing was on the wall for nationalisation was beckoning.

    The finances and decision making, as ever, at the behest of the board, the government of the day, and politics!
     

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