Friday, 16 July 2010

The Finest Olde British Stone Age Technology on the UK Rail Network

These are my favourite locomotive starting videos from Youtube. First of all a Class 40. I reckon the only way they got this started at all was with ether (engine start). Must have had pretty good batteries, too:

And no, that was not flame coming out the top, it was the industrial lighting they have at the site… I think.

Next, as good if not better, another Class 40:

How do you know if a Class 40 is going, you can hear that infernal whistle. I think this clip would have been possibly more impressive at night, given some of the colouring probably is flame this time. Considering there are 16 cylinders, the fact it was managing to get going on probably only two firing to start with is some achievement of note.

Now here’s a class 37, you can see it was snowing that day:

Again, getting going on perhaps four out of 12 cylinders to start with, appears to be quite a notable achievement in the circumstances.

And here’s a more routine cold weather experience:

This particular example, compared to the other videos shown here, is a bit more representative of my memories on DG class locomotives being started at the Weka Pass on a cold winter’s morning.

Now, in writing this, I thought it would be interesting to compare other manufacturer’s products to see if this is typical of a diesel engined locomotive starting up in cold weather. I looked at Class 47 and Class 56 among others. But in fact there was nothing remotely comparable either in the modern day equivalent (56) or the contemporary (47) from a different manufacture, that I could find on Youtube.

To me this epitomises the essential crudity of the English Electric engine designs, as this particular characteristic must have been fairly well known since the 1930s when the K series was first produced, being developed as it was in the UK where cold weather conditions do exist. New Zealand had a clear opportunity to compare EE’s offerings with General Motors product back in the 1950s when the first orders for mainline diesels were being proposed. The engineers of the time expressed a strong preference for the EMD G-12, and while the NZR was compelled to buy 10 DF-class and 42 DG/DH-class mainline engines, this has to be compared against the 146 DA-class and 17 DB-class locomotives purchased in the same era. In the event, the engines of the DF and DH/DH class locomotives proved to be very troublesome, a similar situation to railways in other countries which had purchased similar locomotives. The electrics were on about a par with GM’s, but in the event the facts that the engine is the most expensive part of the locomotive and that EE did not have the expertise at the time to produce modern reliable and efficient designs inevitably put them at a disadvantage to competitors.

Now to finish off here is something of a similar era, yet a bit more refined:

This may be a very old aircraft, of rather a basic design, however in this case the Bristol company proved that they were able to compete on a world stage with their very advanced sleeve-valve designs, the reliability and performance of which helped to keep these aircraft operating for more than 50 years.

And here in a railway context is something of a similar degree of refinement:

It may be from the same EE stable, but the Napier division, drawing on their aircraft experience, clearly were appraised of the technological expectations of their era in the Deltic engine, although in the end its excessive complexity and resulting higher maintenance costs spoke against it.