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Bizarre British Locomotives

Updated on March 10, 2015
The longest and most powerful steam engine in the UK, the Nigel Gresley designed locomotive was a one of a kind and over its 30 year lifespan only ever helped coal trains up a steep incline in South Yorkshire.
The longest and most powerful steam engine in the UK, the Nigel Gresley designed locomotive was a one of a kind and over its 30 year lifespan only ever helped coal trains up a steep incline in South Yorkshire.

LNER Class U1

The LNER Class U1 was the longest and most powerful steam engine to appear on British rails, a 2-8-0+0-8-2 Beyer-Garratt design it was commissioned to be built especially for banking coal trains over the Worsborough Bank, a steeply graded line in South Yorkshire and was originally meant to be one of a pair but in the end, only one was ever built. Designed by the famous Nigel Gresley, It was the largest of the few Garret locomotives to appear in the UK but was unpopular with crews who thought it "Twice the work but the same sodding pay". The U1 also gave its crews problems in tunnels with the steam and smoke generated by the U1 as well as from the two engines it was pushing ultimately required the issue of gasmasks to the crew.
Withdrawn on 23 December 1955, the U1 was cut up during early 1956 at the Doncaster Works after 30 years of service.

A little known oddity that never advanced past the trials stages. In fact the trials seem to have lasted for almost 30 years before it was finally abandoned then scrapped in 1940.
A little known oddity that never advanced past the trials stages. In fact the trials seem to have lasted for almost 30 years before it was finally abandoned then scrapped in 1940.

Reid-MacLeod Steam Turbine Locomotive.

An oddity that remains an undiscovered gem, It was the first British attempt at a turbine locomotive. Built in 1910 and entered trials soon after, it would seem that although the trials were described at the time as successful it had it’s own problems as dispute numerous modifications and a full rebuild, it never entered full production, in fact it was still being trialled as late as 1927 when it finally ended its days abandoned at the back of a locomotive works then suffered a scrapping in 1940, probably melted down to help the war effort.

Also known as the Fell Diesel Locomotive, this 'blocky' looking diesel was built with the aim of saving as much weight as possible. Never entering production, a major fire then a gearbox failure sent it to the scrap yard.
Also known as the Fell Diesel Locomotive, this 'blocky' looking diesel was built with the aim of saving as much weight as possible. Never entering production, a major fire then a gearbox failure sent it to the scrap yard.

British Railways 10100

Also known as “The Fell Diesel Locomotive”, British Railways 10100 was an unusual-looking experimental diesel design by the LMS, it addressed a perceived weakness of diesel locomotives of the time with weight issues – the 10100 tackled this by being fitted with several small engines. It proved to be exceptionally well-powered but never went into full production. The prototype ran a mainline service from London to Manchester for 4 years until a major fire and then a gearbox failure sealed its fate – being scrapped in 1960.

An ambitious project that eventually bankrupted its inventor, George Bennie. The futuristic Railpane would have seen propeller-driven carriages suspended above existing rail lines and provide a high-speed passenger service.
An ambitious project that eventually bankrupted its inventor, George Bennie. The futuristic Railpane would have seen propeller-driven carriages suspended above existing rail lines and provide a high-speed passenger service.

Bennie Railplane

Almost steam-punkish in looks, the Bennie Railplane was an ambitious project intended to make use of the space above an existing railway track – the idea being that the Railplane ran a faster service for passengers while the track below serviced the freight sector. Looking rather like a monorail, the Railplane was powered by a large propeller in the nose. A prototype line of only 130 yards was built in Glasgow, Scotland, a lack of funding and the eventual bankruptcy of George Bennie ended this inventive plan in 1937. The prototype line was scrapped in 1941 and the Railplane itself lay rusting away until it too went to the scrap yard in the 1960’s.

A clever project that used a vehicle running on a single rail and balanced by gyroscope. Initially backed by the British Army, it was incredibly popular at its public unveiling in 1910 but ultimately failed to gain the investment needed.
A clever project that used a vehicle running on a single rail and balanced by gyroscope. Initially backed by the British Army, it was incredibly popular at its public unveiling in 1910 but ultimately failed to gain the investment needed.

Brennan's Monorail

This ambitious but clever monorail was first devised in the early 1900’s when Louis Brennan managed to get the British Army to invest in his single track transport system. When the money from the Army dried up, the India Office stepped forwards and invested more money with the intention of using the system in the Indian North West Frontier. Brennan built working prototypes using gyroscopes to balance the locomotive and the finished article made its public appearance at the Japan-British Exhibition at the White City, London in 1910 where it was a huge success as it transported up to 50 passengers at a time around a circular track at 20 mph. Even the likes of Winston Churchill were taken by the unusual train and the successful appearance at the show spawned spin-off toys. Eventually though, further investors failed to appear and the project stalled to a permanent stop.

As its name suggests this locomotive was designed to run on both diesel and steam and was expected to retain the advantages of both types of fuel systems. It fell foul of ineffective fuel costs and was scrapped soon after the trials finished.
As its name suggests this locomotive was designed to run on both diesel and steam and was expected to retain the advantages of both types of fuel systems. It fell foul of ineffective fuel costs and was scrapped soon after the trials finished.

Kitson-Still Steam Diesel

This hybrid railway locomotive was built with a piston engine which could run on either steam from a boiler or diesel fuel. The experimental engine was trialled from 1926 to 1934 and operated by heating the boiler with oil instead of coal, it would then move of using steam power but then switch to diesel at around 5 miles per hour but the steam power could be brought back in to supplement the diesel engine. High fuel costs made the hybrid design impractical.
Kitson & Co went into receivership in 1934 and the engine was scrapped at the behest of their receivers.

Also known as the 'Steam Horse', this early engine bizarrely was propelled by the pistons giving power to a pair of mechanical legs that gripped the rails rather than to the wheels and gave it a top speed of around 3 miles an hour.
Also known as the 'Steam Horse', this early engine bizarrely was propelled by the pistons giving power to a pair of mechanical legs that gripped the rails rather than to the wheels and gave it a top speed of around 3 miles an hour.

Brunton’s ‘Mechanical Traveller’

This unusual creation comes from right at the beginning of steam locomotion and solved the problem of propulsion by having the piston connected to mechanical legs rather than to the wheels, Two rear-facing legs pushed the engine forwards at a stately 3 miles per hour with a pair of feet that gripped the rails. Little is known about its operational history but it appears to have been successful enough for another, larger version to have been built. Unfortunately, during a demonstration in 1815, the boiler exploded as people crowded around the machine, killing at least 13 people and causing the first recorded railway disaster.

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