Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers

Let me paint a picture on this one before I present the photo – it is a personal and a simplified view of a major change in the world that has happened almost as a backdrop to our daily lives. And I make no apologies for the occasional jaundiced swipe at certain political figures of the past.

As early as the 1920′s problems in the movement of goods by rail were recognised – though the use of containers predate the railways by at least 50 years! A consignment of parts for farm machinery dispatched to a remote farm could take three or more weeks to arrive. Imports by sea could take days to get from the docks to the wharehouses. The issue was, in modern parlance, too many hand-offs. A ship would berth and the individually packaged goods items would be unloaded onto the quay by crane. They would then be manually loaded onto wagons for movement to a marshalling yard where the wagons would be sorted before being sent on to other marshalling yards around the country. From those marshalling yards they would be sent to goods facilities at stations where they were unloaded ready to be reloaded into lorries or other wagons for the onward journey to the recipient. As you can see – all the unloading, reloading and also shuffling around in large yards where it was all too easy to lose a single wagon amongst the thousands of others present was an issue.

The first steps in the 1930′s were experiments with wooden containers that were around the size of a standard railway box van. The idea was simple enough – flatbed lorry carries the loaded container to the local goods depot. The container is transferred to a flat wagon ( known logically on BR as a Conflat) and hauled by train (still visiting those marshalling yards) to its nearest depot where the container was transferred back to a truck for onward delivery. This was the first major step in this transport revolution in the UK and among the earliest companies who seem to have taken it up were Pickfords Removals, along with Birds Eye frozen products.

In the fifties a number of RoRail schemes were tried in the UK, US and Australia – vehicles that could run on road as a trailer and convert to a wagon for transportation by rail. These proved to be an evolutionary dead end. Meanwhile, the experiment with containers had gone well but the issue of the marshalling yards remained. From a UK point of view two things hastened the changes that result in our system of freight distribution today. The closure of a huge majority of branch lines in the 1960′s by Beeching spelled the end of the railway acting as a common provider of wagon load goods services – from that point all local freight would have to go by road, though wagonload traffic would struggle on into the early 1980′s before it finally died. The other was the expansion of the motorway network by Marples’ policies – these drove the growth in the national transmission of freight by road.

It was also in the 1950′s that the first standardised steel containers of the modern type appeared. These allow easy transportation by ship, road and rail with no on and off loading of goods during the journey. British Railways bought into the idea and launched the Freightliner brand in the late 1960′s but with government policy favouring road transport it was never as successful as it could have been. By the 1980′s just about everything entering the UK was carried in containers and a new wave of public opposition to putting everything on the roads was growing – everybody wants to use their car without sitting in queues of trucks shifting containers from Dover to Glasgow. Actually, the truck companies could see the issue too in longer journey times, increased fuel consumption and the need for more drivers to meet the hours regulations. (and that’s not including the cost to the nation in road repairs!) The sensible way forward was that containers arrive by ship, are transferred to waiting trains which take them to container depots around the country where they are transferred to trucks for onward distribution – and that is the system we largely have today. Unfortunately the standardisation has gone out of the window and the UK rail network is having to adapt to containers built for the more generous European loading gauge (one of the problems in being the inventor of the railways – you find that your loading gauge is a bit small). Perhaps we should route everything up the old Great Central mainline which was built to the European Loading gauge? – Oh! we can’t… Beeching closed that to justify Marples building the M1 and I don’t doubt that loadsamoney was made for those in the fold ;-)

By the by.. Container services are now referred to as Intermodal services – gets around any potential legal claims from companies with the word Container in their name. Below is an image of Freightliner class 66, 66590 with the 4L31 Bristol Freightliner Terminal to Felixstowe North Freightliner Terminal service on the climb up to Willesden Junction High Level from Old Oak Junction. The empty wagon in the foreground is a standard container wagon whilst the one with the Maersk container is a pocket wagon designed to handle oversized European gauge containers.

Containers

You can read about this Weekly Photo Challenge at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/containers/

Steaming to Stranraer (Part 2)

A met-Camm dmu stands ready to depart Castle Douglas with an evening service for Kirkcudbright

A met-Camm dmu stands ready to depart Castle Douglas with an evening service for Kirkcudbright

Departing from Castle Douglas, the Kirkcudbright Branch diverges to the left and heads off to a crossing of the River Dee and Bridge of Dee station. The Dee flows out of Loch Ken of which more shortly. The Stranraer line turns northwest and becomes single track. Passing in an almost straight line through flat farmland it reaches the next station at the village of Crossmichael with its unusual church. The track bed and station here have been encroached upon by new housing and should a decision to re-open the railway be taken it would probably have to be rerouted around the northeast side of the village.

From Crossmichael the line followed the shores of Loch Ken towards the hamlet of Parton which did have a station – now in use as a private dwelling. The line curved to the west here and descended to cross Loch Ken on a 3-arch Bowstring viaduct, one of the most elegant structures on the line and still there to be enjoyed from the shores of the loch.

Fowler 4F 44179 crosses Loch Ken with a mixed freight.  This image is a bit naughty on my part as the loco depicted was a Tyseley engine and that yellow stripe indicates that she was cleared to work under the overhead wires south of Crewe - so she really has no place in 1960's Scotland!

Fowler 4F 44179 crosses Loch Ken with a mixed freight. This image is a bit naughty on my part as the loco depicted was a Tyseley engine and that yellow stripe indicates that she was cleared to work under the overhead wires south of Crewe – so she really has no place in 1960′s Scotland!

From Loch Ken the line begins to climb steeply at around 1 in 70 up to the station at New Galloway. Actually the station was at Mossdale, a hamlet on the A762 – the Town the railway purported to serve was over 5 miles to the north! This was not an uncommon occurrence on lines struggling to find a reasonably level path through difficult terrain. The famous Settle to Carlisle route is littered with stations located far from the communities that share their name. Departing New Galloway the line continues to climb steeply, crossing the outfall of Stroan Loch, until it reaches the halt a Loch Skerrow. The halt is as you would expect, a pair of wooden platforms only capable of serving a single carriage. Why have a halt here where there are no settlements for miles around? Well, being at the summit of the climb it has two large water tanks to replenish any locomotives that are running low of that precious commodity. But the Loch itself was a tourist attraction for keen hikers so the halt did have a purpose beyond servicing the needs of thirsty locomotives!

Here, far above the plains of Dumfriesshire, I’d like to take a quick moment to discuss some of the ambience within this simulation. Firstly, the scenery is wonderful – it suggests that when the line was closed we lost a national treasure no less beautiful than the Settle and Carlisle or the West Highland lines. But there is something else. When you’re slogging up those gradients all you can hear is the breath of the locomotive, diesel or steam, deafening you to the world outside. As you hit the downslopes with the throttle closed and only the brake to mind you have the time to stick your head out of the window and enjoy the view. You can enjoy the rhythmic clank of Stanier Knock if you’re driving a Jubilee or a Black 5 and you can hear birdsong – Blackbird and Chiffchaff are readily identifiable. It’s one of those points in a computer simulation when you suddenly feel really at one with the world – it brings a moment of peace and self awareness far beyond what you’d expect from playing a game!

Big Water of Fleet Viaduct.

Big Water of Fleet Viaduct.

From Loch Skerrow Halt the line descended to cross Little Water of Fleet on a viaduct that was blown up by the military in an exercise soon after the line closed in 1965 prompting the local suspicion that this was ‘engineered’ to make sure that the line stayed shut. It then crossed the massive Big Water of Fleet Viaduct – an impressive if slightly ugly structure that still strides proudly across the landscape and is now a nature reserve as it has become home to bat colonies. The elegance of the original 20 arch structure was ruined when the pillars were strengthened with brick surrounds during the second world war to allow it to support heavier trains to and from the Navy yard at Cairnryan.

After crossing Big Water of Fleet the line climbed briefly to a summit at Gatehouse of Fleet station – this time around 6 miles from the town it was supposed to be serving! Passengers would have used the B796 and the Old Military Road to get to Gatehouse of Fleet. The station building is still in existence and once again is now a private dwelling.

Unkempt Stanier Black 5 45440 gets a heavy freight moving out of Newton Stewart with a long and arduous climb in prospect including the slack to 15mph through Creetown.

Unkempt Stanier Black 5 45440 gets a heavy freight moving out of Newton Stewart with a long and arduous climb in prospect including the slack to 15mph through Creetown.

From here the line descends steeply towards the station of Newton Stewart, passing through Creetown on the way. It is here that some of the most awkward speed restrictions are encountered – especially if climbing the 1 in 70 average with an east bound train. Traffic is expected to slow to 15mph through Creetown station which is itself on a steep slope – hard work in a steam engine with a heavy load and not especially easy with a diesel either! If the other stations on this section of the route have failed to provide traffic for the railway, Newton Stewart acted as a hub for local timber and livestock traffic. It was also the junction for the branch to Whithorn which closed to passengers in 1950 and was closed to freight in 1964 – that branch is not represented in the simulation.

Part 3 will cover the final (easy?) section of the line to Stranraer. As in the previous post I will leave you with a ‘what might have been’…

Northern Rail class 158, 158839, calls at Loch Skerrow with a service from Newcastle to Stranraer - Loch Skerrow Halt is only open for the summer timetable period and trains stop on request

Northern Rail class 158, 158839, calls at Loch Skerrow with a service from Newcastle to Stranraer – Loch Skerrow Halt is only open for the summer timetable period and trains stop on request.

Fictional Intruder

I read a lot of books – a mix of fiction, history, technical and political. Since the requirement is Fictional, I guess I should discard the Tech and Political from my selection although both can contain elements of fiction… (though maybe not the adventure element)! So…

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson… A wonderful adventure in my father’s homeland. I’ve read it several times and come away each time smelling the heather that I’ve hidden in with the hero. A joyous piece of story telling for young and old alike :-)

Night Without End by Alistair MacLean… The chill in this story is emphasised from the start as is the dependence on each other of any group of people stranded in the conditions found on the Greenland Icecap. I’d have loved to have joined that journey down the glacier, not knowing which of our companions was a killer.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman… I’d love to have enjoyed Richard Mayhew’s adventure, especially as it is on my home territory. Falling between the cracks of the pavement in London is a real possibility for the unwary. Currently being read by my 12yo :-)

Idea suggested in the daily post – see http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/fictional-intruder/

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