GWR steam rail motors
The steam rail motors (SRM) were self-propelled carriages operated by the Great Western Railway in England and Wales from 1903 to 1935. They incorporated a steam locomotive within the body of the carriage.
In the first years of the twentieth century, railway managements turned their attention to the need to provide better local passenger services and to reduce costs, in the face of increasing demand for convenient travel and the competitive threat posed by urban tramways.
The original strengths of railways—a fixed track, multiple vehicle passenger trains, highly structured and staffed stations—had limitations in responding to changing needs. The London and South Western Railway had successfully operated a railmotor, consisting of a self-contained passenger vehicle with its own steam power unit, on its Southsea Railway, and the Great Western Railway arranged to borrow one unit for trials on its Golden Valley Line in Gloucestershire. The trial proved successful and a steam rail motor was designed by the Chief Mechanical Engineer George Jackson Churchward. Two units were manufactured, and they entered service on the same route on 12 October 1903. A further 44 were built during 1904 and 1905 and by the time production finished in 1908 the fleet numbered 99 carriage units. There were 112 power units which could be changed between carriages to suit maintenance needs.
On this rural route with a scattered population along the rail corridor, the new vehicles enabled a more frequent service to be operated at lower cost. Stops were made at new locations, and passengers joined and left the train at cheap and simple ground-level platforms using power operated steps on the vehicles. Six new stopping places were provided between Chalford and Gloucester for this service. The guard issued tickets on the train, avoiding the need for staffing at the halts. The vehicles could be driven from either end, so time was not lost in running round at terminals.
The relatively limited accommodation led to problems at busy periods, and driving trailers were constructed with a mechanical facility to control the main unit, so that the train could be driven from the driving trailer, maintaining the avoidance of running round at terminals. However the available power in the small steam engine was a limitation, especially on routes with steep gradients. Maggs records that on the Wrington Vale Light Railway it was frequently necessary for the rail motor stop on the 1 in 50 gradient to raise enough steam to continue.
Steam engines need frequent servicing, and while this was being undertaken the coach unit was not available for use; steam engine maintenance is also exceptionally dirty, and keeping the passenger sections in an acceptable state of cleanliness was an issue.
Most rail motors were converted into driving trailers for push-and-pull trains (sometimes referred to as autocoaches) serving a separate steam locomotive, and the original power units were scrapped. Autotrains offered many of the benefits of rail motors but, because they were operated by separate locomotives, were much more flexible in operation and easier to maintain. The first of the original rail motors was withdrawn in 1914 but sixty-five survived until 1922 and the last was withdrawn in 1935.
Accidents and incidents
- On 16 November, one of the rail motors overran signals at Ealing Broadway, Middlesex and crashed into the signal box.
All of the fleet were built with four-wheel vertical-boiler power units and a four-wheel trailing bogie under the carriage. Driving wheels were from 3 ft 5in to 4 ft (1,041mm to 1,219mm); cylinders were from 9in × 15in to 12in × 16in (229mm × 381mm to 305mm × 406mm).
Some dimensions were ¾ inch larger than shown in this table where figures have been rounded down to nearest inch.
|A, A1||2||1-2||1903||57 feet (17 m)||8.5 feet (2.6 m)|
|B, C, D||12||3-14||1904||59.5 feet (18.1 m)||8.5 feet (2.6 m)|
|E||2||15-16||1905||56 feet (17 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|F, G, G1||12||17-28||1904||59.5 feet (18.1 m)||8.5 feet (2.6 m)|
|H, J, J1||8||29-36||1905||59.5 feet (18.1 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|K, K1||4||37-40||1905||70 feet (21 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|L||2||41-42||1905||59.5 feet (18.1 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|M, M1, N||10||43-52||1905||70 feet (21 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|O||18||53-58, 61-72||1906||70 feet (21 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|P||2||59-60||1905||70 feet (21 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|Q||8||73-80||1906||70 feet (21 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|Q1||3||81-83||1907||59.5 feet (18.1 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
|R||16||84-99||1908||70 feet (21 m)||9 feet (2.7 m)|
In February 1908 a steam rail motor was turned out from Swindon railway works and given the number 93. It was one of sixteen built to Diagram R, the last batch of steam rail motors These were 70 feet (21 m) long and 9 feet (2.7 m) wide. After running 479,006 miles (770,885 km) it was withdrawn in November 1934, the power unit removed and the carriage portion converted into an auto trailer. Now renumbered 212, it operated in this form until May 1956. It was then put into use as a "Work Study Coach" and later as an static office in Birmingham.
In 1970 it was sold to the Great Western Society and moved to their base at Didcot Railway Centre but it was not until 1998 that they were able to make a start on returning it to original condition as a steam rail motor. The frame of the new power bogie was erected in November 2000 at the Tyseley Locomotive Works and was then mounted on wheels and fitted with a boiler. In March 2008 the power bogie was put on display at Didcot. In January 2009 it was moved to the Llangollen Railway where the carriage portion was restored and the two portions brought together. Work was completed in 2011 and number 93 has since been operated at Didcot and on various railway lines.
- Maggs, Colin G (2004). The Wrington Vale Light Railway. The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-620-5.
- Trevena, Arthur (1980). Trains in Trouble. Vol. 1. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 41. ISBN 0-906899-01-X.
- Harris, Michael (1966). Great Western Coaches From 1890. Newton Abbot: David and Charles. pp. 145–147. ISBN 0-7153-8050-8.
- "Railmotor No. 93". GWR Steam Railmotor and Trailer Project. Retrieved 2013-03-20.
- "The New Power Bogie". GWR Steam Railmotor and Trailer Project. Retrieved 2013-03-20.
- "GWR Steam Railmotor and Trailer Project". Retrieved 2010-10-08.
- Casserley, HC; Johnston, SW (1966). Locomotives at the Grouping, Volume 4 Great Western Railway. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0-7110-0555-9.
- Davies, F.K. (May 1956) . The Rail Motor Vehicles (etc.). The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway. Part 11. Railway Correspondence and Travel Society. pp. L4–L11. ISBN 0-901115-38-X.
- Davies, F.K. (May 1974). A Chronological and Statistical Survey. The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway. Part 12. RCTS. pp. M120; M124–M125; M127–M128.
- Davies, F.K.; White, D.E. (December 1983). Preservation and Supplementary Information. The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway. Part 13. RCTS. pp. N16–N18; N35. ISBN 0-901115-60-6.
- Davies, Ken (April 1993). Names and their Origins; Railmotor Services (etc.). The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway. Part 14. RCTS. pp. P30–P36; P75; P82–P84. ISBN 0-901115-75-4.
- Lewis, John (2004). Great Western Steam Railmotors: and their services. Wild Swan Publications Ltd. ISBN 1-874103-96-8.
- Parkhouse, Niel; Pope, Ian. "The Rise and Fall of the Steam Rail Motor". Archive (Lightmoor Press) (3): 39–46. ISSN 1352-7991.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to GWR steam rail motors.|
- GWR Steam Railmotor and Trailer Project
- The Great Western Archive - Railmotor Introduction
- History of GWR railmotors and autocoaches
- Encyclopedia of Plymouth History – GWR Railmotor Service