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.

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 They were superseded by the Class 66 in the late 1990’s.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.


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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.

P1000393

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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Stations Near Me – 1 – Sittingbourne

As a companion to my ongoing series of potted station histories in the Medway area, this blog subsection will concentrate on other stations near to where I live in Rainham (Kent). The first is Sittingbourne.

Sittingbourne station opened on the 25th January 1858, as part of the East Kent Railway (later to be merged with the South Eastern railway to form the South East and Chatham Railway). At this time, trains would terminate at Chatham and a horse and cart would transfer passengers to Strood, where they would join passengers on the South Eastern Railway.

The large and impressive station building is situated on the “up” line, with 2 platforms, the “down” side connected by a subway. Goods sidings at this time were adjacent to the “up” line, to the east of the main station building. In 1860, services to Sheerness-on-Sea commenced via a new line next to the existing down platform, making this platform an island type.

In 1899, a new footbridge linked the two platforms, complementing the existing subway. It was around this time that the station was also re-named “Sittingbourne & Milton Regis”, a name it was to retain until changed back to “Sittingbourne” in 1970.

The Southern Railway took over in 1923, The goods sidings on the “up” line were removed around this time. In its place, a small goods yard was installed to the side of the “down” platform. Serving primarily the paper mills, it also provided stabling for chemical trains going to Sheerness Steel in the late 20th Century.

Electrification at Sittingbourne came quite late in 1958 (the lines further west through Gillingham had been electrified since the late 1930’s). With electrification, the old semaphore signals were removed, with full electric light signals put in their place.

In recent history, a new bridge to the east of the station building was opened in April 2012. This included a lift for passengers. This was a great improvement on the situation before that, which required passengers who needed assistance to be taken across the tracks via a walkway with a member of station staff. A full refurbishment to the toilets and station building was also undertaken at this time, as well as new platform shelters. The subway was blocked in the early 2000s.

The station building is the oldest piece of railway architecture surviving in the area.

Incidents:

Three major incidents have occurred either in or near the station:

1861 : A derailment just outside the station causing 1 death.

1878 : A collision within the station as a passenger train ran into static goods vans. The fault for this was attributed to the goods shunter. 5 People died.

1966 : 18 vans of a freight train de-railed just past western junction on the “Down” approach to the station. This caused extensive damage to the infrastructure and closure of the entire line for two days. Thankfully there were no casualties.


Some information contained is this blog was obtained from the KentRail Sittingbourne Page .

Photographs (c) David Glasspool and Stacey Harris


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Many thanks for reading this Blog instalment – goodbye and I’ll Blog soon.

Sheerness-On-Sea Railway Disaster 1971

In this blog, I will write about the railway accident which occurred on 26th February 1971 at Sheerness-on-Sea railway station.  All relevant links to content are at the foot of this blog.

On the evening of 26th February, the 17:16, 10 car train from Victoria to Sheerness entered the station but failed to stop and the first carriage ended up careering into the station, demolishing most of the booking hall.  Unfortunately 1 person died and 13 injured, including the driver.  A more detailed look at the accident is contained below.

The train itself was a 2-HAP built for the Kent Coast line between 1958 and 1963.  This particular train comprised of 5, 2-car trainsets, all steel construction on standard BR bogies.  The power to these trains was via a controller in the cab which requires it to be depressed at all times in order to take power.  If this handle is not depressed, the brakes will apply automatically, with around a 2-3 second delay.  This so called “dead man switch” still applies today, in various forms.

As noted by various eye witnesses, many of whom were railway staff, the train appeared to slow correctly when entering platform one, but was seen to be going too fast as it ran along the platform.  Indeed one eyewitness – railwayman M.Gordon remarked to a colleague “that train is not going to stop”.

A few seconds later, the leading cab ploughed into the platform 1 buffer assembly, at what is believed to be around 10-15mph.  The upper portion of the front coach detached from the bogie assembly and carried on over the concourse, demolishing most of the ticket office and taking out a centre beam before crashing though the front of the building and coming to rest.

The fatality was a Mrs Joyce Carr, who had just bought a ticket from the office.  The 13 other injured were taken to Medway hospital, including a near term pregnant woman who gave birth 2 hours later.

The Official Report states the following conclusions to the accident.

The driver – Mr Rothwell, had suffered a head injury at Holborn Viaduct a year earlier, in which he was unconscious for around 8 minutes.  After extensive testing and evaluation, he was passed fit to drive again July 1970, and re-examined in October the same year.  Another test was planned for April 1971.

Mr Rothwell when interviewed stated that he remembered applying a slow brake to the train when entering the station, but that the next thing he remembered was being slumped over the cab after the accident.  This was in agreement with at least two other witnesses who found Mr Rothwell in the cab afterwards

The overall conclusion is that the driver had blacked out, slumping over the controls, thus still providing the connection with the controllers Dead-Man switch.  The train carried on at 10-15 Mph, before connecting with the buffers. This caused immediate application of the emergency brake, slowing the rest of the train.  Indeed, only the second carriage was further damaged, most of that ending up on the detached bogie of the leading carriage.

Following the disaster, the station building was demolished, and a new one built to the side.

The following are links to the original source for this blog:

KentOnline – Sheerness train crash remembered

Sheppey Website – Sheerness train crash

KentRail – Sheerness-on-Sea

Runaway Train – YouTube Video (c) Graham White

Official MOT Report 1971


Please visit my YouTube channel – Rainham Rail Enthusiast for videos of modern and vintage railway action.

Many thanks for reading – I’ll blog again soon.

Medway Stations 3 – Chatham

Part 3 of my small potted history of my local stations contained within the Medway area.

Chatham station on its current site opened on the 25th January 1858 by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway.  This only took the line towards Faversham initially.  The station at this time comprised of 3 running platforms, one serving the ‘down’ line towards Faversham.  The other was an island platform serving 1 ‘up’ line and the other serving trio of loop sidings.  Above the lines, a road bridge crossed, which has stairs down to the platforms and the station building, at this stage at platform level.

The station is situated in a tight cutting, and flanked either end by the Chatham and Fort Pitt tunnels.

Full running from Victoria to Ramsgate was realised from 5th October 1863.  Around this time a major remodelling of the station took place.  The main change was the addition of a main booking hall over the tracks on the road bridge, and the demolition of the original booking hall on the platform.  The sidings were mostly removed at this time, however two still remained adjacent to the ‘up’ and ‘down’ platforms respectively.

Electrification arrived in July 1939, including electric lighting to the platforms.  The mechanical signals were removed in 1959, replaced by 3 colour aspect signals, controlled from the new power box at Rochester.  Two years later, new buildings on the ‘up’ platform were completed and the station has not really changed since, except the replacement of the signals during 2013-2017.

For more detailed information on Chatham Station, head to Kent Rail Website.

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WW2 – Upchurch railway disaster

A short re-telling of a local story.

On August 16th 1944, a V-1 ‘doodlebug’ rocket was chased by a Spitfire pilot from Dover.  After many unsuccessful attempts to shoot it down, he eventually managed to tip it with his wing, but unfortunately instead of landing in an empty field, the missile landed under the bridge of the railway line at Oak Lane, Upchurch.

It was found that a railway worker sheltering under the bridge was killed instantly.  The bridge was totally demolished in the explosion, and unfortunately the 1535 Victoria to Ramsgate was speeding towards it, having just left Rainham.  Despite the best efforts of the driver, the train encountered the now demolished bridge.  Amazingly the main cab jumped the gap but the tender fell into it and the first few carriages were heavily damaged.  In fact the 4th coach ended up straddling the gap completely.

In total 7 passengers lost their lives, they came mainly from the from the front two carriages.  Many were severely injured, and were taken to several nearby hospitals.  Miraculously the driver and fireman survived.

Being as this was the mainline through to the coast and up to London, after the investigations and clear up were completed,  a new bridge was constructed in November 1944 at a cost of £3,800.

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Many thanks – I’ll blog again soon.

Medway Stations 1 – Rainham

A small potted history of the Railway stations in my home area, Medway, Kent.  I will start with my “Home” Station, Rainham.

The station was opened on 25th January 1858, as “Rainham & Newington”.  It formed part of the London to Dover route of the “East Kent Railway”.  The Station comprised of two platforms and two sidings adjacent to the “up” line platform (for those new to railway terminology, the “up” line is towards London, and the “down” away from London).  The station was re-named “Rainham” in1862 when Newington station was built to the east.  A further 400 yard siding was introduced beside the “down” platform in 1897, and a signal box was also added at this time, enabling the removal of the manual point system.

Ownership by the Southern Railway commenced in 1923.  This was to bring a few cosmetic changes to the station furniture, as well as a footbridge next to the level crossing to the east.

The next major change would not come about until 1957. The “Kent Electrification Scheme” was initiated in the area throughout what was now known as the “Chatham Main Line”. This comprised on a 750V third rail system, with line speeds up to 75mph initially, although this was raised to 90mph around 1962.The advent of British Rail meant changes for Rainham, many not very good.  The major change was the demolition of the original station building, which was replaced by a one story prefab.

New automated level crossing gates were  installed in December 1972.  At sometime in the early 1980’s the remaining siding was removed from behind the “down” platform.

When “Network South East” took over in 1986, the station was revamped in the familiar red and white chevrons, and in 1990 a new station building was opened.  This one was a modern brick structure with a glazed arched roof, and was a vast improvement on the 1970’s prefab.

As part of the 2014-2017 “East Kent Re-Signalling Project”, it was decided that Rainham would have a bay platform added adjacent to platform one on the “up” side.  This involved lengthening platform one considerably to accommodate 12 car trains in this new bay, which was given a designation of “Platform 0”.  New pointwork to the west of the station was installed to service the platform, and new SPAD (Signal Passed At Danger) signal was placed at the eastern end of platform 1.  The new platform arrangements are seen below, facing to the west with the new platform 0 to the left of the picture :

Rainham_Bay_Platform_1

The future of Rainham Station is bright.  Since 2009, “Javelin” 395 units have stopped here, giving access to high speed services to St Pancras International.  In 2018 a Thameslink service started from the bay platform to Luton via Abbey Wood and St Pancras.  This will enable passengers to access the new Crossrail “Elizabeth Line” via Abbey Wood.

A video I have taken of  37 800 travelling through Rainham Station can be found on my YouTube channel, just click the link below :

37 800 passes through Rainham Station

Thanks for reading, I’ll blog again soon.