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Sir Nigel Gresley - The L.N.E.R.’s First C.M.E.

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

  1. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Indeed - but the question is as others have said, what was the right decision for that company at that time.

    Personally, I'd have said any company that went for widespread electrification pre-WWII should not be criticised for failing to live up to the expectations set by visionaries like those on the Southern. If I'm going to criticise, it would be for the policy choices made in the decade after WWII - which long postdate Gresley, and for which Riddles is neither solely nor even necessarily primarily responsible.
     
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  2. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    As things panned out, that's irrefutably true. When we were discussing the LNER's options in regard to alternative CMEs, I found myself musing on how things might've developed, had the new company had a more 'North Eastern' flavour and retained the services of Sir Vincent Raven as CME.

    Just yesterday, I caught the last 30mins of the old Ealing Comedy 'The Ladykillers', with a wonderful selection of workaday LNER steam, but it really brought home why 'The Clean Air Act' was so desperately needed ..... and made me wonder, had mainline electrification reached KX by around 1930, just what difference it might've made to government measures to counteract the depression back then.
     
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  3. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    I'll just lob in that Woodhead was ex-GCR, and funded by the same government programme that gave us large chunks of the modern Northern and Central lines.
     
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  4. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Resident of Nat Pres

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    The potentil lowland Hudro resource in the UK is about 10% of current demand & its mostly in the form of very small schemes, the suggestion is that there is a further 2GW of potential capacity in addition to the current 4.7MW

    See https://www.hydropower.org/country-profiles/united-kingdom

    Nothing like the European resource
     
  5. bluetrain

    bluetrain Member

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    Noteworthy comments above. It would be interesting to know what additional locomotives Gresley might have built had finances and the LNER Board allowed, and what they would have replaced. I guess that if more of the pre-grouping engines had been withdrawn, it would not necessarily be the oldest ones, but those with poor performance, high maintenance or running costs, and those which existed only in small numbers or were otherwise non-standard.

    Regarding the position in 1941, it was hardly improved by the Government requisitioning 92 of Class O4, which were sent off to the Middle East, never to return.
     
  6. sir gilbert claughton

    sir gilbert claughton Well-Known Member

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    well , the LNER did get the O4s at knockdown price after WWI
     
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  7. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Its interesting, because traditionally water power was the preferred choice for mills, industry etc and wind power, being unreliable, was only used where water wasn't really an option. However lowland water power required a lot of land for reservoirs (=mill ponds) and would be difficult to find space for in modern circumstances.
     
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  8. maddog

    maddog New Member

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    Couple of points that come to mind, i may be wide of the mark.

    With regards to diesels, it's important to note the loading gauge restrictions too, especially in the 30s when diesels were of much lower power, advances in forced induction were made quite quickly during the war, which allows reduced weight and bulk. Even still the F units were A + B coupled together albeit US loads were larger.

    The development of the EMD 567 from the Winton was very extensive and possibly the first diesel engine designed thoroughly for Rail use?

    The economic situation in UK in the interwar period really wasn't exactly great (understatement), it would be interesting to see the price of fuels (and steel) compared between countries, UK coal miners suffered extensively with unemployment in the period, so presumably coal prices were very low, In Germany wasn't coal used as reparations, presumably increasing the price of it. Germany was famously badly affected in the period with hyper inflation in early 20s and by the wall street crash, but with the 1930s the Nazis with rearnament and national projects presumably lead to significant investment in development of both railways themselves and technologies that would be useful such as diesel engines for their boats, both U and S(/E) types, which happened several years before the UK.

    Was the Big four model very effective? Competition between them as opposed to a Nationalised system, but also with the creation of them they also were grouping of some competing lines so in other areas no competition and the common carrier burden and other restrictive regulation, leading them to be neither fully competitive commercial companies or a system to serve their country. Railways were only building and designing locomotives for their own lines, despite some large makers for the Empire such as North British they weren't really the equivalent in UK as to Baldwin or similar in USA.

    To sum up (TLDR), the lack of investment and research in Diesel locomotives by Gresley (and all others) in that period seems more like a result of the situation more than any wilful avoidance.
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2021
  9. 30567

    30567 Part of the furniture Friend

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    Somewhat more effective than the vertical separation and franchise model of the last 25 years. John Major was right about that. Indeed, isn't GBR a modern public/private version of the Big Four?

    Going closer to topic, and leaving aside whether the groups were formulated right, what were the credible alternatives to the grouping? If you assign primacy to the regulated private utility model, I'd suggest you end up pretty quickly with the Big Four. In a parallel universe with no great depression and no WW2 that model could have lasted even longer than its 25 years.
     
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  10. maddog

    maddog New Member

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    Hugely offtopic, but yes, either full nationalisation or free enterprise, Railways seem to work best in the extremes rather than the middle ground.
     
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  11. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    I can't help thinking that had there been web forums in the 1960s and 1970s, when BR was something of a national joke, anyone suggesting nationalisation had worked would be laughed off.
     
  12. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Conversely, it may just have been the case a concerted debate not unlike several we've had might have shed some light into the odd dark corner. For all it's faults (which were many), what BR accomplished in the 70s on a starvation diet was actually astounding. The prime example was the HST, without which I suspect UKPlc wouldn't have had enough railway left for the industry to stage the renaissance we've seen ..... well, up until covid, at any rate.

    Does anyone else remember the Serpell Report?
     
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  13. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Or remember that Serpell was one of Marples' Minions working with Beeching hence reflecting the Civil Service view (i.e. Department of Transport) that roads were the future of the UK's internal transport hence there was no need for railways. Sadly that belief seems to exist within the corridors of (DfT) power given the current mess it has created since privatisation but that's for another thread IMHO.
     
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  14. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    But the policy choices in the post war are influenced by policy choices in the pre-war. The success of SR electrification post WW2 was down to the work done in the interwar period.

    The cards people were playing post 1945 were dealt by the pre-1939 players who were dealt hands by the pre-1923 players. They have some agency of choice within the confines of structure.

    Here's the thing - at the end of WW1 the companies that are going to become the SR are pioneering electrification, this is followed up after grouping by the SR and then taken on by BR(S) building on what has gone before. Lo and behold one of the most successful bits of BR modernisation.

    The LNER inherits the efforts of the NER in terms of suburban and mainline electrification but ultimately doesn't really follow it up during the interwar period. BR (E) and BR (NE) end up dealt a bum hand. Lo and behold, unsuccessful modernisation during the BR years and it takes 60 years from the Weir report id-ing Kings X -Leeds for electrification to happen.

    The cards were there for the playing but were played badly. At the moment the defence of the LNER boils down the Eric Morecambe's defence of his piano playing 'I'm playing the right cards, just not necessarily in the right order.'


    I think it is more about opportunities missed and the failure to see into the future. While not everyone has the hands of a prophet, it is significant IMO that Maunsell, who is older than Gresley, does preside over electrification and is also developing diesel shunters

    On nationalisation - SNCF for example is created in 1937.

    One of the interesting things that has come out of recent research on the nationalisation of the coal industry is that although it changed the names, the internal structure remained the same, industrial relations for example didn't improve because the managers were still the same managers with the same attitudes and approaches to management. In other words, the profound structural changes did not occur as had been hoped. It would be hard to argue that nationalisation of the railways or grouping really provided the necessary structural change in how the railways were run. (Which takes us back to Geddes on Whitelaw - how can grouping change anything if you have an old skool feudal board who resent that it isn't the 17th century)

    German Coal Reparations were 1919-1929 I believe so by the 1930s they would not have been paying it. (Ironically the majority of it was going to France - so if cheap coal is a disincentive we'd have expected to see slower electrification there).
     
  15. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    I think you are right. It might be too much of a generalisation to say this but achieving significant change in public structures is really difficult as people in established roles with 'a way of doing things' are simply resistant to anything different or new.

    You really have to shake the tree hard to get things to move on. I know we are talking about a significant engineer here but look (very briefly!) sideways at politics and the structures supporting the system to see the best example there is. If the Houses of Parliament were to disappear tomorrow and had to be rebuilt then, for a start, it would be constructed in the round as the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.

    My point is that had he survived till after WW2 then as a relative youngster at 70, by modern day norms, and even given the inertia of systems SNG may well have surprised many with his thinking under BR ownership.

    We shall never know.
     
  16. 30567

    30567 Part of the furniture Friend

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    I'm not too sure what structural reform was really appropriate in the conditions of 1948-55. That's not the same as saying the BTC structure was optimal, but in post war conditions, the railways had the monopoly of lots of traffics, common carrier and regulated fares per mile were inevitable, as was a lot of cross-subsidy. What were the choices? Suppose Churchill had won in 45, maybe the Tories would have effectively made reparations to the Big Four, probably inadequate, to enable them to recover. But that would just have postponed the crisis to around 1960, by which time the market had changed and structural deficits except on the Southern were inescapable. The choice was between regulated private utility and regulated public enterprise.

    Re shaking the tree, I agree. Looking back on the BR era, I would say that only in the days of Bob Reid Mk 1 did they really come up with an organisation structure which got the tension between customers and operators and the incentives in about the right place. Quite a bit of that is because it took 20 years from 62 to get the politics and the money sorted out. In a curious way, the Serpell Report was actually helpful because it produced the catharsis which said 'No, we're not going to do that' after which the qn 'Right so what are we going to do?' just had to be addressed. Credit to Peter Parker, Reid, Bradshaw, Prideaux, Green, Welsby and all those guys.
     
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  17. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    As is the way with many threads, this one has gone right off topic. It does make a change though from reading posts trying to trash the great man's reputation.
     
  18. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    That's true of any reorganisation in any industry, private or public though. No matter how the executives are shuffled and reshuffled, reporting lines altered and job titles enhanced, on the ground the same people are going to be delivering the actual service to the customer/client before and after, because otherwise there won't be a service at all. I worked in IT in local goverment, so I've seen a lot of reorganisations, and my cynical observation is that before a reorganisation the business has structural flaws that are largely understood and it has workarounds for, and after the reorganisation these flaws have been replaced by new structural flaws that aren't understood and there are no workarounds for.
     
  19. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    I understand your point but I'm not certain the thread has gone off piste all that far.

    Without going back over old ground, we need to remember that the Thompson thread took a while to get real in terms of what happened internationally - i.e. WW2 and changed priorities - and what was needed - i.e. a new person with a different brief. Had SNG still been 'in the chair' throughout the war period then who can say what his masters may have said and done to lead him towards a more constrained appraisal of his brief.

    We just don't know. A honest appraisal of both men seems to be concluding that they each were great in their own way with the cards they were dealt.

    I am assuming that any considered review of the work of Sir Nigel will pin down once and for all how the transition from him to a different regime was simply a function of the time and not, as some previous commentaries seemed to imply, a trashing of his work.
     
  20. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Gresley may well have surprised many in a post-WWII BR BUT he would still have to gain financial approval from the Board - whether it be the "moribund" LNER Board or the Government-led British Transport Commission. As Simon has shown with his Thompson book - whatever the CMEE may aspire to produce he can only produce what his Board will finance. Notre that Gresley only produced his aspirational A4 Pacific (i.e Improved A3 Pacific) because his Board was prepared to finance it otherwise he would have remained faithful to his A3 Pacifics for ECML premier expresses.
     

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