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A Beginners Guide to Plausible Steam Era Scenarios

David Gibbons (longbow) thugs@pacific.net.sg

October 2010


The objective of this tutorial is to help those who dont know much about the subject to produce plausible steam-era scenarios in Railworks or MSTS. This means activities with stock of the right period and livery, marshalled in the right formation and running on the appropriate route at the right speed. It is not a guide to Scenario creation there are already plenty of guides to that. Each steam era railway had its own way of doing things so Im going to make many sweeping generalisations, but if you follow this your UK steam activities will pass muster with almost everybody. I claim no particular expertise on this vast subject so if anyone has corrections or suggestions do contact me at the email address below. Periods The many independent UK railway companies merged in 1923 to form the four companies of the Post-Grouping era - GWR, LMS, LNER and SR - and these companies were nationalised in 1948 to form British Railways (BR), which operated as regional entities corresponding roughly with the pre-grouping boundaries, plus a Scottish Region. Liveries Liveries is far too big a subject to cover here but Ill just comment briefly on BR practice. BR adopted several different liveries in steam days although some rolling stock ran for a time in pre-grouping livery. BR steam locos started with plain BRITISH RAILWAYS lettering, quickly switched to the Lion and Mangle roundel until 1957 or so and carried the totem and bar thereafter. BR diesels were green until just before the end of steam in 1968, adopting the blue livery and double arrow insignia thereafter. BR corridor coaches were initially painted carmine and cream (blood and custard) with non-corridor stock painted crimson, and electric stock painted green. Non-electric stock was repainted in maroon from early 1957 until the end of steam, and blue-grey thereafter. During the BR maroon era, the Southern region repainted its loco-hauled coaches green and the WR painted some of their express coach sets usually Mk 1 by that time - in GWR chocolate and brown, although most of their coaches were painted maroon. BR painted its fitted goods stock bauxite and its unfitted wagons grey. Loco Types Steam locos were broadly segregated by usage Passenger, Mixed Traffic, Goods and shunting - and by type - tender and tank. Passenger locos were designed for speed and acceleration, and freight locos were designed for maximum haulage ability. As loads and speeds increased, locos got bigger and more diverse to deal with them.

By the 1930s, slower freights would typically be hauled by tender 0-6-0s with heavy trains being handled by 2-8-0s. Mixed traffic locos (2-6-0, 4-6-0) had become commonplace by this time, handling both passenger and faster freight services. Because of their limited fuel and water capacity, tank engines were used primarily for short distance and branch line trains, and for shunting. Long-distance passenger work was typically the province of 4-4-0s until the 1920s and later 4-6-0 and 4-6-2 classes as trains got heavier. Express loco classes would usually be limited to express passenger and freight work, although it was common to put old express classes out to grass on more menial duties, especially in the final days of steam. Goods locos would sometimes appear on passenger workings, especially on summer Saturdays. Most routes had limits on axle loadings, so big engines would not usually be allowed on minor routes. Branches would thus often be restricted to tanks or small tender locos. As far as possible, tender locos avoided working any distance in reverse due to the lack of rear-facing protection from the elements and coal dust. Thus turntables were common features at larger terminus stations. Locos tended to stick to their companys lines so it would not be common to see locos of one company running over the lines of another. Exceptions were generally route specific and occurred where lines were jointly run (eg the SDJR), where different railways met (eg Carlisle) or where running rights were granted to another operator. Through coaches did travel onto other companies rails, whilst wagons travelled much more widely. Rolling stock, especially BR standard stock, travelled more widely in later BR days but pre- nationalisation stock generally remained in the same area as its originating company. Heavy trains could be double-headed with an assisting loco (pilot) at the front of the train. Use of this practice varied widely, with some companies such as the Midland Railway making a habit of it. However, it grew less common in later years, becoming confined to gradient sections or unusual loads. Sometimes engines would be attached as pilots in order to reduce light engine movements down a busy line. Banking (ie assisting engine at the rear) was used only for short distances. A pilot was also used to describe a loco used for marshalling trains at passenger stations or yards; this might be a dedicated loco at a large site, or more often a task shared by locos between other duties. Steam locos did not have the range of diesels or electrics and crews could only work certain hours and routes, so long-distance trains frequently changed crews and/or engines. Locos would usually need to be turned, watered and coaled before their next duty, and might to run some distance to the nearest shed. Solo (Light) engine movements to and from engine sheds or fuelling points were therefore very common in the steam era, especially in station areas.

Steam locos consume in the region of 10 gallons of water per mile and would typically need to replenish water on a long journey. Timetables usually provided time for water stops en route, but loco crews could request unscheduled water stops if required. It was not uncommon for steam locos being worked hard to find themselves with insufficient boiler pressure to maintain an adequate speed or the vacuum necessary to keep the train brakes off, and therefore in need of an unscheduled stop for a brew-up to recover boiler pressure.

Goods traffic
Goods (freight) traffic was far more commonplace and varied in steam days than it is today. Most wagons were unfitted (ie handbrake only) until near the end of steam. Fitted wagons (usually vans or specialised vehicles) had vacuum brakes connected to the engine and became increasingly common in later years. If it has vacuum pipes, its fitted. Goods trains were categorised as follows: Goods Train types Fully fitted (BR Class C) goods generally ran between major centres behind large mixed traffic or passenger locos at passenger speeds, often as scheduled services and sometimes with one type of load (eg meat, perishables). Crack fitted freights were sometimes given official or unofficial names. Semi-fitted goods ran with both fitted and unfitted wagons at intermediate speeds, with fitted stock usually marshalled next to the engine so that their brakes could be powered. Class D goods were required to have at least onethird of their wagons with brakes operative: Maltese Cross goods required at least four wagons with operative automatic brakes. Unfitted Goods relied on the locomotive and brake van for braking, which typically limited them to 15-25mph. Most mineral traffic fell into this category. Unfitted trains would have to stop at the top of steep gradients so that the Guard could apply handbrakes to an appropriate number of wagons (pinning down the brakes). Trip Freights transferred goods traffic on an as-required basis to or between major yards, often over short distances. These trains were usually assembled adhoc as required and would often require the controller to scratch around for a spare loco and crew. Goods train Formations Tank wagons and dangerous cargo would usually be marshalled in the centre of the train with empty barrier wagons either side. Fitted wagons and wagons carrying livestock would be marshalled behind the loco. Brake vans (or a carriage with a guards compartment) to carry the guard were still required for fitted and semi fitted trains until the end of steam in 1968, after which time the guard sat in

the rear loco cab. Brake vans came in various sizes to match the weight of the train and were marshalled at the rear of the train; rarely, a second brake was attached at the front. Open and Private Owner (PO) wagons predominated for much of the steam era. For example, in 1920, 80% of the GWR goods stock was open wagons, falling to two-thirds by 1934. GWR wagons in 1936 by type were 58% open, 29% vans, 4% cattle. Only 1% of the GWR stock was mineral wagons: at that time, 97% of its originating mineral traffic went in PO wagons. PO wagons comprised almost half of all wagons in service in 1918, mostly for coal traffic, but they were pooled during WW2 and soon disappeared under BR. Of course, some wagons usually travelled in like company so these percentages would not be typical of any particular train. In 1929, the most common types of goods trains on the GWR were mixed goods (47%), minerals (coal and other) 21%, coal empties 17% and goods and merchandise 13%. Short journeys were overwhelmingly comprised by mineral traffic. Minerals accounted for 80% of GWR traffic by weight in 1929. The Railways were designated as Common Carriers and thereby required to accept any goods within reason, so almost any load could be carried. Milk tanks were passenger-rated vehicles and due to their delicate glass tanks were not conveyed in goods trains. They were usually attached to passenger trains or dedicated milk trains, which could often be only a few vehicles in length. Goods Traffic Flow Unlike today, much traffic was carried in single wagon loads. Most general goods trains ran on a hub and spoke system with individual wagons passing through numerous staging points to their final destinations. The process was further complicated by the need to exchange wagons at company borders. BR took many years to rationalise this duplication of yards by different companies. For example, Carlisle had no less than six Goods yards until the 1960s, requiring much inter-yard trip freight traffic. Goods yards would primarily serve local traffic. Arriving trains would be broken down into individual wagons and positioned by the train loco (or at large stations by a dedicated yard pilot) as required for unloading eg vans to the goods shed, cattle to cattle dock, coal to the coal staithes. Transit sidings were provided at major junctions (eg Ruabon, Hellifield) to allow goods traffic to be stored and sorted, if required, prior to transfer from one line to another. At marshalling yards, whole trains would be assembled and broken down. Larger yards might conduct all three activities. A wagon from a local branch station would typically be taken by a Pick-Up goods to a transit siding at the local junction, then by other trains to one of more marshalling yards and would then repeat the process in reverse en route to its

final destination. At each transit point, wagons would usually be marshalled in the correct station order to minimise subsequent shunting, but were generally handed over rough (unsorted) between companies. Most goods trains would be scheduled to stop at intervals so that the guard could inspect the train for loose loads or covers, overheating axle-boxes or other defects. Shunting was a ceaseless activity as trains were remarshalled. Arriving goods trains would be placed in designated sidings (reception roads). Based on each wagons waybill (paper or sometimes just chalked on), the shunters would decide where a train should be split (cut) and the parts would then be separated with as few moves as possible. Yards sometimes practised fly shunting (wagons uncoupled from the loco at low speed and allowed to freewheel under control of the handbrake). Shunting in a large yard might be performed by a dedicated loco (Yard Pilot) or more often by the train locos in between duties. Goods train length was a function of loco class, route and type of train. A typical loaded 4 wheel wagon weighs 8-12 tons (note that references to eg a 12T van refer to the tare or unladen weight). Between 20 and 40 wagons was a typical load for main line goods trains, but loads of 100 wagons were recorded as early as 1909 behind large freight locos on easily graded routes. Pick-up goods could be anything from a brake van up. A greater allowance was made for mineral loads: for example, the SR reckoned these to be 1.5x a normal wagon load. Pick-Up Goods trains would collect and drop off wagons at stations between marshalling points, or along branch lines. Often the disposition of sidings meant that stations could be shunted only by trains in one direction, so a wagon bound for an Up destination might have to travel first some way in the wrong direction on a down Pick Up train. Private sidings were common in steam days, with large industries often operating large private yards with their own wagons and shunting locos. At busier sidings, exchange sidings would be provided where wagons could be dropped off or await collection by the railway operator, either as part of a pick-up freight or by a dedicated service if the traffic warranted it.

Passenger trains
New express stock generally appeared first on express trains, with older stock being progressively demoted to local and branch work. Bogie carriages displaced 4 and 6 wheel coaches from the late 19th century; corridor stock appeared on long distance trains from the early 20th century. Short haul, branch and suburban trains remained primarily non-corridor stock. The attachment of fitted parcels, milk tank, horsebox or other vans was not unusual even on express trains, especially in earlier periods. These were usually marshalled at front or rear for ease of handling. Mixed passenger/goods trains appeared on some minor branch

lines, with wagons and a brake van (if needed) being attached behind the carriages. From the early 20th century until the 1950s, trains offered 1st and 3rd class (later renamed 2nd class) compartments. Formations varied widely by company, but typically ran with brake coaches for the guard marshalled and at the rear, with the brake compartment trailing at the front, and sometimes also with another brake at the front. Full brakes (no seats) generally went at the front of the train: first class coaches typically went at the end nearest the ticket barrier. Long distance expresses would provide dining cars or sleeping cars where appropriate. Formations for each train were specified in the Carriage Workings which were intricate documents designed to ensure coaches were in the right place at the right time and that best used was made of the fleet. Even so many coaches were rarely used, with large numbers of older units kept on standby for peak season. Coaches frequently travelled empty in dedicated services (ECS Empty Carriage Stock). Many trains dropped or picked up coaches en route. For example, the SRs down (away from London) Atlantic Express was essentially an assembly of short trains that were dropped off at various West Country junction stations for attachment to local branch trains. Some companies, especially the GWR, used slip coaches that would be uncoupled from the rear of the train as it passed at speed through the station and allowed to roll into the station under the control of the guard. On some routes restaurant and sleeping cars were also picked up and dropped off at intermediate stops. The SR ran their carriages in fixed sets of varying sizes, but train formations might be assembled from individual coaches. BR Standard Mk1 coaches progressively displaced pre-nationalisation coaches from the early 1950s, but the latter remained commonplace on all but crack expresses until the end of steam. For PR reasons BR was a big supporter of named expresses, such as the Royal Scot, which would carry headboards on the engine.

Broadly, a Special was any train not scheduled in the railway working timetable. These often involved unusual train formations and movements, and should be a rich source of inspiration for scenario writers. Common types included:
Racing, sporting and exhibition events (often producing very intense traffic) Fresh Produce eg Bananas (usually tied to boat arrivals and running as fast fitted freights) Enthusiast Specials (already common in the 1960s, often with immaculate elderly or unusual locos) Military Trains (conveying soldiers and sometimes heavy vehicles)

Out of Gauge Loads (these often required adjacent tracks to be cleared) Royal Trains (often requiring a cessation of other traffic and the running of a pilot loco ahead of the train) OCS (eg ballast, PW, engineers, breakdown) Racing Pigeon trains

Operating issues
Up trains run towards London, Down trains run in the opposite direction. On double track, UK trains drive on the left (I did say this was a basic guide!). All scheduled train movements and timings were set out in a detailed and periodically revised book called the Working Timetable (WTT). The Appendices to the WTT would specify in great detail how services were to be operated. From the WTT were compiled loco and carriage working notices which specified train compositions. Train movements were then regulated by signalmen (bobbies) and supervised by traffic controllers whose job was to ensure that traffic ran on time despite the inevitable delays, breakdowns and unscheduled trains. Locos would usually work a diagram - a set roster of services (turns) matched to that engines capabilities that could span several days and take the loco many miles away. BR steam locos were classified for power (0 through 9) and purpose (P)assenger, (F)reight and MT (Mixed Traffic) although these were not strictly observed - thus the 9F class, BRs most powerful steam freight loco, became a well-known performer on passenger turns. Sheds would often keep one or two unassigned locos in steam as cover for breakdowns or delays. Loco crews were expected to keep time whilst observing all regulations, speed limits and safety measures and driving as smoothly and economically as possible. Loco men would generally start in their teens as cleaners, passing up the links (grades) to become firemen and eventually drivers. Drivers would be required to spend some time becoming acquainted with a route before signing for the road. If their duty took them far from home or there was no return working they might return home as passengers (On the cushions) Most AI traffic runs much too fast. As a rough guide, cruising speeds for main line steam era trains under clear signals was as follows. Average journey times would be a lot slower once time for stops, shunting etc was included. Express services 50-60mph Fitted Freight 35-50mph Local Passenger 30-40mph Unfitted Freight 25mph Passenger trains usually took precedence over freight and faster trains took precedence over slower ones. Refuge sidings (and later passing loops) were provided to allow slower trains to be bought inside so that they could be passed. An express could thus expect to pass many trains.

Many train journeys would experience unscheduled slowdowns or stops, due most commonly to late-running trains ahead or to temporary speed restrictions associated with track repairs etc. Trains with low precedence would suffer most from such delays. Timings would often allow some slack (Recovery time) to provide for this. Train Identification Various methods were used to identify train type and/or routing, most commonly lamp or disk combinations (head codes) carried on the front of the loco, sometimes supplemented by reporting numbers for special or unusual trains. BR from 1960 adopted the current 4-character alphanumeric train reporting number which specifies train type and routing. BR Southern continued to use a 2 digit code. Until the mid-1970s, many diesel and electric locos carried this code in display boxes on the cab front. Signalling Drivers were expected to make themselves aware before departure of temporary speed and other restrictions. Various special signs were employed to mark these restricted areas. There were special rules to cover temporary single track working, which often required the presence of a human token on board to ensure only one train on section at a time. The red tail lamp carried at the rear of every train was a vital safety device as its absence might indicate a divided train. Signalmen were required to stop any train not displaying it. Rule 55 covered a lengthy set of rules designed to ensure that a signalman could not overlook the presence of a train halted at a signal. Basically it required the driver to contact the signalman after a set period of time, if necessary by sending the fireman to the signal box. Increased used of electrical train detection equipment (indicated by a white diamond on the signal post) had gradually obsoleted this Rule by BR days. On single track sections, a token system was usually employed to ensure that only one train could be in the section at any time. This required the loco crew to slow down and to pick up and drop off tokens at the entrance to each single track section, either by hand to the station master or signalman, or by means of lineside mechanical apparatus. Many areas operated a system of whistle codes (crows) so that engine crews could communicate with signalmen and other operators; communication the other way was by means of flags, lamps or hand signals.