Class 33 – ‘ Crompton ‘ – The Southern Diesel

As far as freight operations go in the South of England, there was only really one workhorse during the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s – the Class 33 “Crompton”.  The nickname came from the electrical equipment manufacturer used in the loco – “Crompton Parkinson”.  Very similar in looks to the class 26, the only difference being the inclusion of a 2 digit headcode indicator between the cab windows.

Originally for sole use in the South East of the region, Kent and Sussex, they rapidly became used throughout the southern region.  They were even used as passenger locos, most memorably on the Weymouth Harbour line.

These passenger services to Weymouth would be in a “push pull” configuration, starting at Bournemouth going down to Weymouth through the streets to the harbour, an example of this is seen below:

33119 - weymouth hbr - aug 1981

(c) Max Batten – Click Here for more.

The Class 33 has a top speed of 85 Mph, and frequently would work in pairs as “Double Headers” to facilitate longer freight trains.  In Kent, its speciality was primarily hauling freight, although it occasionally rescued failed passenger units.  Because of this, a few were stationed at some locations in the region.  Indeed, when the siding was still at Rainham (Kent), a ’33 could be seen stabled there during the 1970’s.  The loco’s would also provide freight runs further afield, notably cement trains from Cliffe in North Kent, up to Lanarkshire.

In this photo, taken by RMWeb member “eastwestdivide”, two 33’s are seen approaching Strood from the south with a Rake of empty stone carriers from ARC at Allington :

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 (c) eastwestdivide – link Here

These locomotives, along with the British Rail 411 Unit (4 Cep) and variants “Slam Door” were the first trains I saw as a youngster, and the sight of a Class 33 would be extra special.  The noise and smell of these locomotives would fuel my passion for the railway, and as such I have a great fondness for them. They were superseded by the Class 66 in the late 1990’s.

Currently a few remain at Heritage centres around England, and three are owned by the West Coast Railway Company , who provide railtours in the UK.


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British Rail 411 Unit (4 Cep) and variants “Slam Door”

I make no apologies for this blog.  These are the trains from my area of the country (North Kent) when I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  The familiar sound of these “Slam Door” trains were the soundtrack to the rush hour, with the sound of said doors ringing through the major London Termini of Charing Cross and Victoria.  So here is a short history of these workhorses of the North Kent and Chatham Main Line.

The 411 unit, also known as the 4Cep, were built for British Rail between 1956 and 1963, mainly ran on the Chatham/North Kent lines.  A total of 133 units were made, mainly just passenger based, although around 22 had buffet cars installed, these were re-categorised as 4 Bep units.  The 4 referred to the 4 car formation, two driving cars which also had standard seating, the middle two cars having a mix of 1st class corridor and standard class corridor coaches.  They had a maximum speed of 90 Mph.

Each area of seating contained a door, which was inherently dangerous as it could be opened at any time.  This lead to many doors being opened way before the stopping, and people would literally jump from a moving train onto the platform.  You really had to stand away from the platform edge when a slam door was coming in, otherwise you may had had a door in the head!

If you had ever ridden in one, or heard one you would not forget it.  They were dangerous, accidents such as the Clapham Rail Crash of 1988 with Vep and Rep variants would prove to be catastrophic.  Replacements such as the Networker and Electrostar would follow, with their automatic doors and safer designs.  But they never quite recaptured the feel and seating comfort of these trains.

A sample of these trains are below, with credit to the photograph takers.  I will look at other rolling stock and locomotives of the Kent region in further blogs.

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In Network Southeast livery (By Image by Phil Scott (Our Phellap) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=441072)

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In Connex livery (https://kids.kiddle.co/British_Rail_Class_411)

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As a 4 Rep, in British Rail Blue (https://www.flickr.com/photos/frinton/39402257412)


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Railway Stations Near Me – 2 – Higham

In the second of this series, I look at Higham Railway Station on the North Kent Line.  The station was 28 miles Down from its previous terminus at Charing Cross, however the Thameslink service no longer goes to Charing Cross, instead stopping at London Bridge before going though the London Core on its way to the its new end at Luton.

The first thing of note here is Higham Tunnel, at 1531 yards in length.  It originally was constructed in 1801 to serve the Thames and Medway canal, which acted as a passage for military traffic from Woolwich through Gravesend and Higham to the dockside at Chatham.  When traffic on the canal didn’t reach expected levels, the newly formed Gravesend and Rochester railway company acquired the canal and tunnel, putting a single track rail line alongside the canal.  This lead to the opening of Higham Station in 1845.

There are actually 2 tunnels, separated by what is locally known as ” the bomb hole”.  This was an area for the barges to cross.  The second tunnel is the “Strood” tunnel and at 2329 yards in length is the longest of the two.  The tunnels received extensive refurbishment in 2004 due to rock falls, and are now strengthened by steel and concrete.

A year later, the Gravesend and Rochester railway company was itself absorbed into the South Eastern Railway.  It is at this point the canal was drained fully, and a second rail line put in.  At this time the railway did not divert to the Medway towns, instead carrying on to Maidstone via the Medway Valley.  It was not until 1939 that a spur from Strood would carry trains onto the Chatham Main Line to Gillingham.

Higham would have a couple of sidings, both on the Up and Down lines, although both had been removed by the mid 1960s.  The most unusual piece freight unloaded by the station was a Swiss chalet in 1864 as a gift for Charles Dickens, who lived at nearby Gad’s Hill.

Although initially accessed by a foot crossing, platforms are reached via a lattice footbridge, a common sight throughout the Southern Region in the 20th Century.  The station building still survives, and was still heated by the original fireplace as late at the 1980’s.

The ticket office is open for only part of the day, at other times a permit to travel ticket must be purchased from a PERTIS machine, located by the bridge on the Up side. The station was served by SouthEastern until May 2018, when the new Thameslink Class 700 service to Luton/Rainham commenced and took over the 2 tph (each way) Stopping service.  Class 395 SouthEastern “Javelin” trains pass though, as well as various freight though the day, some heading for the nearby “Hoo Junction” Yard, around 2 miles further on the Up line.

Two pictures follow.  The first by me, shows a Class 66 hauling stone wagons exiting the Higham Tunnel on the Up line.  A train can also be seen passing through “The Bomb Hole” on the Down line heading towards Gillingham.

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The second is a view towards the station building, taken from the Down platform.  This photo by Nigel Thompson (credit under photo)

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Higham railway station, Kent
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Nigel Thompson – geograph.org.uk/p/3614705


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Railway Acronyms, Words and Sayings

Many acronyms words and sayings are used on the railway, they provide ease of communication when passing important messages, or just as a concise non cluttered way of getting across a meaning without ambiguity.  I use some of these in my blog, and provide this list (though not exhaustive) in a way to explain some of these terminologies.  Some do not require much explanation, some a little more so!

  • 3rd Rail – Electrification of the railway by means of a 3rd rail, usually beside one of the running rails.  Common in the UK in the South East of the country
  • AHBC – Automatic Half Barrier Crossing – a crossing which doesn’t go the full length of the roadway.
  • AOCL – Automatic Open Crossing – a crossing with no barrier, which is controlled by the train crew before they proceed.
  • AWS – Automatic Warning System – An in cab warning system for use in Block Signalling operations.  A disc inside the cab either shows black, which means the signal approaching is green, or is yellow/black (in the style of a sunflower) which indicates the next signal is at caution (yellow/double yellow) or stop (red).  A horn will sound inside the cab to indicate the next signal is not green, and the diver will have to push  an acknowledgement button within 2.75 seconds, otherwise emergency brakes will be applied. The indicator will then change from black to “sunflower”, and remain like this until a green signal is approached, where it will change to black again.
  • Catenary –  Overhead wires which power a train, via a Pantograph on the train.
  • DEMU – Diesel Electric Multiple Unit – a train which can use both diesel and electric power.  An example of which is the British Rail class 205 unit which worked in the South East of the UK between 1957 and 2004, and which were part of the British Rail “slam-door” stock.
  • DLR – Docklands Light Railway – a railway system in London which uses driverless trains.
  • DMU – Diesel Multiple Unit – a diesel only train, many in use today such as the 153 unit seen on many rural lines in the UK.
  • DOWN – Typically the railway line moving away from London.
  • DSD – Drivers Safety Device – a switch on the floor which the driver must keep depressed in order to enable the train to move.  Think of it as a dead mans switch, if it is not depressed then the train cannot take power.
  • EMU – Electric Multiple Unit – a train solely powered by electricity.
  • ERTMS – Part of The Digital Railway , Signalling within the cab, not trackside.
  • ETCS – Again, part of  The Digital Railway , a European signalling system.
  • HS (1,2 etc) – UK High speed lines.
  • Pantograph – Located on the roof of a train or locomotive, connects to a Catenary to provide power.
  • PERTIS – Permit to travel – usually in relation to machines at unmanned stations, these PERTIS machines would give you a ticket to enable you to start your journey.  You would then show this on the train to the guard to obtain a real ticket.  These are being superseded by self service ticket machines.
  • RAKE –  more than 1 coach or wagon coupled together will form what is known as a RAKE.
  • SPAD –  Signal Passed At Danger. When a train or locomotive passes a red signal, emergency brakes will be applied.  This generates a SPAD, which is reported to the relevant authorities.
  • TPWS – Train Protection and Warning System, advance system of the AWS.
  • UP – typically the railway line moving Towards London.

As previously said, this list is not exhaustive, I will update this blog page as and when new acronyms are used in my blog.


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Medway Stations 4 – Cuxton

Continuing my look at stations in the Medway area, this time I shall look at a small station on the Medway Valley line – Cuxton.

Cuxton Station was opened in 1856, and from the outset had two lines.  Two platforms served by an level crossing at the south end of the station allowed passengers to travel to Maidstone to the south, and Strood to the North.  In 1862, a signal box was erected adjacent to this level crossing, and is still there today (2018)

In 1931 a small siding was opened to the south of the station, trailing off the “down” line, which served a national business (Besto Co.) making fruit baskets. This was followed in 1939 with a goods loop installed to the north of the station.  Unfortunately, none of these sidings survive today, both having been removed by the end of 1990.

A footbridge was installed at the south end of the station in 1961, adjacent to the level crossing and the Signal box.  A note about the level crossing, as it is still manually closed  by the signalman at the time of this Blog (2018).  A really rare sight, and (unfortunately) I will assume this will become automated at some time in the future.

Two views from Cuxton in 2016 follow.  The first shows a light engine class 66, travelling on the “down” line towards Maidstone.  This view is to the north, and the bridges across the M2 can be seen, the nearest one being the HS1 line.

cuxton a

The second view is to the south, showing the signal box, overbridge and level crossing, as well as a stone train travelling on the “up” towards Strood.

cuxton b

Currently at Cuxton, there is only a PERTIS (permit to travel) machine installed here, the majority of the station buildings being disused for many years.  The station is served at this time by Southeastern, with 2 trains per hour (northbound “up” to Strood, southbound “down” to Maidstone (1 Tph continues to Paddock Wood, the other to Tonbridge). (correct as of June 2018)

A few freight trains run though the day, to or via Hoo Junction (to the north) or to the south, some of which come from or go to ARC sidings just outside Allington in Maidstone.  Freight is mainly hauled by class 66 locomotives, although some class 70’s have also been seen on the line.


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The Class 700

On Sunday 20th May 2018, new rail services were due to start between Rainham in Kent and Luton.  Unfortunately, as well publicised in the media (here) things didn’t go according to plan.  But this is not what this blog is about.  This blog looks at the workhorse of that service, the new Class 700 unit, most of which at the time of this blog were owned by Thameslink (although Great Northern will have some).

The trains were built between 2014 and 2018 by Siemens in Germany.  The initial order was for 60 Eight car trains and 55 twelve car trains.  They are scheduled to replace all the class 319s on the Thameslink Network.

Their maximum speed is 100mph, and are electrically supplied with a third rail shoe (750 V DC) as well as a pantograph for overhead operation (25 Kv AC).  They are fully fitted with air conditioning, and a regenerative braking system.

The units are capable of working as ATO (Automatic train operation), which means the train can drive itself.  This is already in operation along the “Thameslink Core” which  links the East Coast mainline to the network around St Pancras.  The usual safety AWS is installed, as well as the ability to upgrade this easily to the new Digital Railway signalling as and when it is operational.

Two shots of the exterior of the train are below, one is of the information plate :P1000809P1000811

Interior shots of the train taken by myself at Rainham are below:

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The images above show the standard configuration in standard class.  1st class carriages have slightly better seats and tables.  As you can see, the train is totally able to be walked through, although first class carriages are separated.  On the 8 car trains there are 3 toilets (1 disabled).  I believe this is increased by one each om the 12 car trains.  Luggage racks above the seats are large, plenty of space for a small case.

The new information boards show various information, including carriage loading indicators and information on the London transport network:

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They also show the time and the next station stop, as well as the usual scrolling information about the service you are on and its destinations.  Overall, these are very impressive and very informative.

As good and shiny as this train is though however, its glaring problem is the seating in standard class, which is well documented if you perform a basic internet search.  Having done a full 2 and a half hour journey from Rainham (Kent) to Luton, I can indeed say that these seats are not built for that length of journey.  They are quite hard, and realistically I see only around an hour and a half being the maximum journey time you would want on them.

This however is not a problem.  The train is really designed with the commuter in mind, so the core user would only be using it for a short journey, either up to London from Medway, or up to London from Luton.  As a modern train it really performs well, with good acceleration and the ride comfort in relation to bumps and jolts is really very smooth. All onboard announcements are clear and concise.

If the lessons from the seating can be learnt, then new variants of this train could be learnt and improvements made to what is in essence a very fine unit.  As an addition to the fleet roster in the south east it is very capable, and notwithstanding the seats, a very enjoyable ride.


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The Digital Railway

Last week (10th May 2018) , the British Government in association with Network Rail announced that it would be investing in a digital railway, but what is that?

Basically, for well over a hundred years, railway signalling in the UK is a “block” based system. That is, a pre defined area of railway ‘blocks’ divide up the network, and no two trains can occupy the same block at the same time. In recent years, if a train moves past a red signal in to an occupied block, the onboard safety system (TPWS) will apply the emergency brake. This system albeit very safe, is very inefficient. A better way would be to allow the trains to report their position, speed etc. This would allow trains to run safely at closer distances, and would increase the capacity on the network.

The cost would be high, but as many of the signalling systems in the UK are nearing an upgrade, the spend would not necessarily be in addition to works which have been already identified by Network Rail.

To better explain this, the following video from Network Rail shows the current system of signalling, and how the new digital systems would improve the UK rail network.


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