Monthly Archives: October 2021

Buyers’ remorse: British Railways Class 14

PeakRail, Matlock, Derbyshire: British Railways Class 14 locomotive D9539

Apart from the profligate construction of untried and untested designs, the other problem with British Railways’ hastily ordered diesel fleet in the 1950s was the failure to visualise the changes that were about to overtake the transport industry.

When the order went out to replace steam locomotives with diesel, the British Railways Board ordered one-for-one replacements.

There seems to have been little appreciation that the growth of road transport and the government’s huge post-war investment in motorways would inevitably rebalance the opportunities for railways to make money into and beyond the 1960s.

So there was no long-term need to replace hundreds of small steam shunting engines with a diesel equivalent, and many of these new locomotives lay idle in store or were scrapped without being much used, whether or not their designs had proved fit for purpose.

British Railways Class 14, built at the BR works at Swindon (1964-65), was an attempt to construct a light shunter with better visibility than the steam locomotives it was intended to replace.

Twenty-six were ordered initially in 1963, followed by a further thirty before the first actual locomotive was completed.

Like the ubiquitous and highly successful 08 family of shunters, Class 14 had steam-locomotive driving wheels and connecting rods to provide adhesion and stability, but they were underpowered for some of the tasks that were available to them.

They were withdrawn from service from 1970 onwards, not because of design deficiencies but because the work for which they were intended – shunting single-wagon loads, pick-up goods trains and short-distance freight – disappeared in a very short time.

Unlike the lamentable Claytons, the Class 14 found a ready market among industrial users, particularly collieries, where many of them worked for twice or three times the length of time they were in the BR fleet.

Latterly, they have proved popular on heritage railways, where they are adept at hauling light passenger trains at relatively low speeds. Of the 56 locomotives built, nineteen still exist in preservation and another five have been exported.

Buyers’ remorse: British Railways Class 17

Ambergate Station, Derbyshire: British Railways Class 17 Clayton locomotive (1963)

Once when I was a teenager, out for a bike ride with my mates, I stopped to take a picture of the formerly triangular Ambergate Station, where the former Midland Railway main lines from Derby to Manchester and Sheffield bifurcated.

Decades later, I showed this image to an evening-class group in Matlock and, while the nice old ladies listened patiently, the rail enthusiasts in the audience began to make ecstatic noises.

It turned out that the locomotive in the picture was a considerable rarity.

Even I could see it was non-standard, painted in red ochre, with a centre cab and long bonnets concealing the engines.

This was an example of British Railways Class 17, known colloquially as “Claytons” after their manufacturer, one of a number of pilot designs commissioned after the decision was taken to replace steam traction with diesel under the 1955 Modernisation Plan.

The Claytons were a notorious result of indecisive and confused planning, undue haste to deliver untested innovatory designs, and the sheer stupidity of ordering off-plan without waiting for a prototype to be completed.

Built by Clayton Engineering Company and Beyer, Peacock & Company between 1962 and 1965, the design was an attempt to devise a single-cab locomotive with adequate visibility for the driver.  It failed.

Earlier prototypes had followed the pattern of the American “switcher” shunter, with a cab at one end behind a single large power unit.  Like the steam locomotives they replaced, which traditionally placed the cab behind the boiler and firebox, they gave the crew a limited view of the road ahead.

Providing adequate sight-lines from the Claytons’ single central cab necessitated twin power units, low enough for the driver to see past them, and these were inadequate and unreliable.  Indeed, the sightlines were still unsatisfactory because the length of the bonnets masked the track immediately ahead of the front buffers.

Some of the later deliveries of Class 17 were immediately withdrawn from the active list and stored.

After the last of 117 Class 17 locos had been delivered in 1965, the first withdrawals took place in 1968, and by 1971 they were all scrapped except one, D8568, which was sold for industrial use and is now based at the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway, Oxfordshire, where it operates from time to time.

Change at Matlock

Matlock Railway Station, Derbyshire

One of my very first adult-education lecturing jobs was at Tawney House Adult Education Centre, Matlock, in 1972.

At the time I was teaching in a Nottingham grammar school, so my weekly trips after a day in school began with a diesel railcar journey to Matlock station, by then the stub end of a singled branch line that had once been the Midland Railway main line from Derby to Manchester.

A persistent local rumour said that the town wouldn’t have retained this vestigial rail link had not Alderman Charles White secured the former Smedley’s Hydro as a county hall for Derbyshire in 1955.

In the mid-1970s Peak Rail [https://www.peakrail.co.uk] began to implement a scheme to restore the entire missing railway between Matlock and Buxton as a heritage line with scope to carry heavy freight through and out of the Peak District National Park.

In the years since, that scheme has been repeatedly revised.  The current railway runs from Matlock to just south of Rowsley, and its next development phase envisages extending north to Bakewell.

When in 1991 the Peak Rail services reached Matlock, they were obliged to terminate at the boundary with Network Rail, and a temporary station was constructed, a quarter of a mile north of the historic station, and named Matlock Riverside.

Eventually, in 2008, following completion of the Matlock A6 road bypass and the construction of a Sainsbury’s store in the former Cawdor Quarry, Peak Rail negotiated a fifty-year lease into platform 2, the former down platform of Matlock Station, so that it’s now possible to travel by National Rail to Matlock from afar, cross the footbridge and continue with Peak Rail north to Rowsley South.

The route along the wide Derwent valley is attractive, but nowhere near as spectacular as the old main line further north and west which is now the Monsal Trail. Peak Rail specialises in on-train catering [https://www.peakrail.co.uk/fooddrink], and the extensive former marshalling yard at Rowsley contains a number of interesting preservation projects, including the Heritage Shunters Trust – an entertaining memorial to one of the cheerfully loopy episodes in the history of British Railways.