The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Alan Pegler OBE, FRSA; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

Last Update

Talk Synopsis

25 May 2009

The Preservation of Electric Traction
Mr Peter Staveley, Chairman of the Southern Electric Group
10 September 2007

Peter began by outlining the history of electric traction in the UK, beginning with the Volks Electric Railway along Brighton front in 1883 and slowly spreading northwards to include the Waterloo and City railway in 1898, the Newcastle area in 1904, the district line to Wimbledon in 1905 and the LBSC‘s overhead system to Brighton in 1909. But it wasn‘t until the major SR electrification programme of 1933 that serious inroads were made into steam traction. And just as Sir Edward Watkin‘s ”Metro-land• had transformed the ”Chiltern uplands• of NW London, so the SR electrification brought new development to the south of the city, albeit in a different way as the railway were not acting as developers in their own right.
With the completion of electrification on the West London Line in 1994 (for Eurostar) and the Weymouth extension in 1998, the SR system became the largest electrified railway in the world.
In many ways the system is so successful that it is taken for granted. Peter pointed out that 33% of route miles are electrified, 49 % of train movements are under electric traction, but only 21% of the NRM‘s vehicles relate to electric traction (that may also have something to do with relative ages).
Peter discussed the difficulties of electric preservation, particularly the desire to be able to run preserved electric units somewhere — but where? There are no suitable NR lines available nor are there preserved lines willing or able to install electric equipment. One solution that has been floated is the Ardingly branch of the Bluebell, but even this is something of a pipedream.
And there have been some disasters of non-preservation: the SR double-deckers, the initial problems with the 2-BIL at West Worthing; the Liverpool 506 units Œ..etc.
Ultimately the problem seems to be that electric trains don‘t have quite the ”pulling power• of their dirtier, noisier rivals. One of the great ironies of the modern railway!

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