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!