Olney Model Railway Club - Articles

This is a site for people who want to improve their knowledge of equipment and modelling technique and who would like to join a club of like minded people within the Milton Keynes, South Northants and North West Bedfordshire area.

1. Electrics and Model Railways


Editor's Note.
This article was written some years ago by one of our ex-members, Dennis Bradley.

It has been edited in parts to bring it up to date, but the bulk of the article is original.

The author's preface is as follows:-

In order to build a successful model railway, it will be essential that you have a certain amount of electrical expertise. It is one of the most important and probably one of the least understood areas of the hobby. This short article will help you to understand some of the basic principles that will assist you to develop your skills, in order to produce a working layout.


The objective of the hobby is to create and operate a model railway system, in which the owner derives enjoyment from working points, signals and trains. There has always been scope for some degree of automation on a model railway, and in this day and age, with electronics, even more so. This article does not attempt to address the subject of electronics in any way. Electronics can be extremely seductive and it is easy to end up spending 90 percent of available modelling time exploring the potential of the microchip! Starting from scratch as a beginner then, layout wiring and electrics should be a means to an end and not the end in itself, the end being to accurately simulate a full size railway system. At this stage it may be worth giving you a couple of points worth keeping in mind.

1. Try to keep the electrics simple.
2. Plan your electrics before hand and make a drawing.

You will find that this approach pays dividends when you have to trace faults (and I'm afraid you will).

Electrification of a model railway is not difficult nor is it hazardous since it employs low voltages, which are completely safe. It can however damage your precious equipment, if you fail to observe some basic rules and apply a bit of common sense. Having understood the basics of wiring a model railway, I cannot say more than "you will learn to wire a model railway by wiring a model railway". There is no substitute for getting stuck in and having a go. One final point from the safety side. Power sources are usually mains (240v ac) driven and I advise the uninitiated to resist dabbling into this side of the subject. Obviously mains electricity is potentially lethal and should only be looked at by competent people, who are aware of all the regulations. There are lots of commercially available controllers to choose from, so do not attempt to construct your own power supply, elect instead for one of these very reliable and safe units. All electrical equipment comes with a pre fitted 13 amp fused plug, one thing to remember though is, that if a replacement fuse is required, be careful to use one of the same value as the one you remove, this will normally be no more than 3 amps.

Wiring Principles

The majority of model locomotives require a certain kind of electricity to move them, known as direct current or D.C. and for the purposes of model railways comes from a power controller. Most commercially available controllers come with one or two 12volt d.c. outputs, which vary the voltage applied to the rail, by turning a knob on the front to vary the speed of the locomotive. They may have one or two outputs which are not variable (constant 12volts d.c.) to enable a second or third speed control to be added later. There may be switches on the front for reversing the direction of the current, thus reversing the direction of the locomotive, and there should be some devise for protection against overloads or short circuits. There will be other terminals on the rear of the box marked "16v ac" or "Auxiliary". I shall discuss this later in the article.

Consider the very simple layout in Fig1. Here you have a straightforward oval, typical of the Father/Son first train set type. Power is fed to the track along two wires, which are connected to the power controller and are normally referred to as Feed and Return. Get used to this concept and try to forget positive wires and negative wires, for each time you change direction (see reverse switch figure 3) on the controller), the polarity of the running rails will be changed. We are of course, dealing with the two rail systems here, where the running rails are insulated from each other; it is simple, effective and virtually trouble-free and nearly universal throughout the hobby. There used to be systems in the early days that ran on three-rail track systems. These are no longer commercially available but are still very much indulged by specialist collectors. Getting back to the two-rail concept, all you have to do now is connect your feed and return wires to the track, switch on the mains power, turn the knob on the controller and theoretically away you should go. Now you need to make it a bit more interesting.

If our layout were to stay as in Fig.1 an oval, it would soon become boring. What we need to do is to exercise a bit more control over what happens and thus move towards a more convincing railway. What about adding things such as points and sidings, or the ability to control more than one loco at once. Maybe you would like to provide some means of holding a loco on a dead section of the track. The addition of a few gadgets and tricks of the trade will allow you to achieve this level of control.

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In Fig.3 I have given you some simple representations of the different types of toggle switches that are available, and what the terminology means. In Fig.4 I have shown you some of the standard symbols you will come across on various layout diagrams given in most books and magazines. It is standard practise to represent both rails of the layout as one single line as it makes life easier.
Reading from left to right you have the symbols for:-
An isolating section - this is no more than a break in one rail and a single pole switch connected across the gap. (See inset at ZZ Fig.2). It does not matter which rail you break, the end result is the same i.e. the section of rail beyond the gap is dead until the switch is made.
A double rail break - Here both rails are broken, an essential feature on layouts using live frog points, and also needed where more than one controller is to be used.
A feed point - This is the recognised symbol to indicate a feed point.
A reverse loop feed point - Reverse loops are another subject which require special attention and I do not propose to discuss these except to tell you that this is a symbol for a feed point on a reversing loop.

Let us now consider the layout shown in Fig.2 I have included some turnouts or points to the basic oval and also a few SPST switches (SPST 1 - 5). This now opens up a whole different ball game if you use a bit of imagination. For example, sidings A and B could be a goods yard or even a bay on an urban station. Sidings C could be the beginning of a motive power depot or if you want to be more ambitious, some other remote part of your layout like a branch line. The possible combinations are limited only by your ingenuity to create your own personal railway. You may however, decide to model some real location, right down to the smallest detail, but the point of all this is to show you how it impacts on the electrical aspects.

First of all, you need to know that there are two different types of points, "dead frog" and "live frog" types. Since this article is aimed at the beginners amongst you I mention this now to warn you that live frogs electrically speaking have to be treated in quite different ways to dead frogs and I do not intend to elaborate further than that. I am going to assume that you will be using dead frog points and leave you to graduate on to live frogs on the wings of experience. From the drawing you will notice that all the feed wires are taken to various points on the layout via a single pole switch and that all return wires are common i.e. joined together. This is always good modelling practice where you are controlling your layout from one controller. The switches enable power to be fed to different sections of the layout and therefore allow you to have more than one loco on the tracks at the same time but only one actually moving. If you also include an isolating section switch (See the symbol at ZZ Fig.2) you will be able to perform simple shunting manoeuvres and park locos or whole trains in station platforms or storage sidings. If you want to control more than one loco at once, then you will obviously require another controller which will need to be added to the system. There are several ingenious ways of doing this and on our layout in Fig.2 I have shown one simple way. By adding double rail breaks at YY and ZZ, you could connect feeds 1 and 2 to a second controller. You now have control over, what is essentially another section of your layout where other locos can be run. There are several other ways of achieving this sort of layout control, about which some very good books are available. This sort of article is not the platform to deal with the subject in any great detail, but I hope to whet your appetite.

Always keep feed and return wires electrically isolated from each other and never allow feed and return wires associated with separate controllers to become connected together. If this happens you will have all kinds of problems. It is always a good idea to have a double rail break on any continuous loop, especially if you have facing points or points that are back to back, as on a double crossing or a passing loop.

I strongly suggest that any wire you are going to connect to your track for either feed or return are soldered directly onto the rail. Do this by first "tinning" a section of rail where you are going to make a connection and also the pre-bared wire ends. Hold the wire in place and apply the soldering iron to the joint until the solder on the two surfaces begins to run. At this instant remove the soldering iron but continue to hold the wire without disturbing the joint, until the solder has solidified. A good joint will have a shiny silver appearance.

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Try to use a soldering iron that has a fine needle point as opposed to a flat end, this will make it easier to get the wires soldered into the web of the rail. Do not solder wires onto the inside of the rail, because the wheel flanges will not pass this joint and do not leave great blobs of solder on top of the rail where the loco wheels run. Do remember that most soldering irons get very hot and are capable of doing irreparable damage to the plastic parts of your rolling stock and other equipment; it can also deliver a nasty burn! Keep them well out of reach if you have small children around. If you have opted to purchase a controller of the electronic variety, it is probably a good idea not to attempt any solder connections to the track whilst a controller is live. It is very possible that you will damage vital components if your soldering iron is not earthed correctly.

Electricity suffers from properties known in the trade as "volt drop" and "resistance". Without going into technicalities the resultant effects of these two phenomena on the layout will be seen as the manifestation of unexplained stops and starts or mysterious speed variations in certain sections. One way to minimise the effects is to permanently solder rail joints, i.e. at a fish plate joint. When you are satisfied that the joint will not be disturbed again, run a small amount of solder into the joint on the outside of the rail only and do not simply rely on the surface contact of the metal fish plate.

Where you have to make double rail breaks I strongly recommend that you use insulated rail joiners and do not simply leave a gap or take a hack saw to the rail and cut a gap in the rails after they are laid. A single rail break can be made by simply cutting one rail. It is always a good idea however to pin the track in front of and behind the break to provide extra stability. You may now begin to appreciate the advantages of an electrical plan before you start laying the track.

When you are taking wires underneath the base board from one position to another, it is good practice to secure or support them from time to time and always leave a small amount of slack just before terminating them. If you can afford the expense of the extra wire it is even better if you can use a domestic wiring type of plastic trunking to try and keep the wiring altogether. Another good idea is to use different coloured wire for different functions. For example, you could use red and black for feed and return wires; white and green for your section switches; yellow and blue for turn out operation. The point I am making here, is that if you adopt some sort of colour scheme to your wiring it will help identify where the wires are going when you have to trace a fault.

I would like to conclude this brief introduction to the hobby by discussing the means by which a locomotive changes track. I am, of course, referring to points or turn outs. I have given a diagram of a typical point in Fig.5. Please note that it is meant to be representative of the insulated (dead) frog variety. They can be operated by various methods but for the sake of this short article I am briefly going to discuss doing it electrically.

There are devices known as point motors on the market, which are no more than two electro-magnets that operate a common armature. This armature is designed to be mechanically connected to the "tie bar" of the point or turn out. With the application of a suitable electric current to one coil or the other, the armature is made to travel in one of two linear directions. This force is transmitted to the point blades which subsequently change position.

At the very beginning of this article I mentioned the fact that some power controllers provide auxiliary terminals. It is not unusual to find that the output from such terminals is in the order of 16 volts a.c. This may be used to connect a slave controller or in fact provide the current to operate your points. Most point motors are quite happy operating at this voltage level, but may tend to be a little sluggish, dependant on the mechanical load that is connected to them. Point motors can be mounted above or below the base board, but whichever you decide upon, make sure that they are very securely mounted, otherwise you may not achieve a positive operation (there is nothing worse than a loco negotiating a point whose blades have not made positive contact with the stock rail; the result always ends up in a derailment!). The emphasis on positive point operation will save you a lot of frustration in the long-term. One way of ensuring this is to employ the use of an electronic (capacitor) discharge unit. This is a device which, for a few milliseconds will give point motors a dose of volts four times that which they were designed for, the net effect is quite a dramatic "whack", absolutely positive and completely harmless to the point motor. Point motors do not like being permanently connected to a source of current as they get quite warm. It is usual therefore, to contrive a method which is only going to connect the current for a brief period, just long enough to achieve operation. This can be done by using a spring-loaded S.P.D.T. switch where the off position is biased to the centre, or by special passing contact switches specifically designed for the operation of points.


I hope that I have been able to enthuse you enough to give you the confidence to have a go at model railway electrification. Please understand that this very brief article does not purport to deal with the subject in any great detail. There are many good books available on the subject, full of useful ideas and information. Another way of course is to become a member of a model railway club or society and avail yourself of the plethora of experience that exists in such organisations.

Olney Model Railway Club E & OE
March 2010.

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2. Keeping Our Trains Running.

As a way of maintaining our track it needs initially to be relatively clean, but clean track doesn't necessarily stay clean, likewise locomotive wheels and wheels of our rolling-stock should also be clean. Keeping track and wheels clean is time consuming and apparently for some an endless task, which ultimately has a bearing on running performance.

Clean track and wheels is not what we are trying to achieve, what's required is maintaining good electrical conductivity between wheels and track and that's what is going to enhance performance. It is also dirty wheels and oxidation of the rail head that makes for poor performance. In order to achieve our goal, we need to replace all plastic wheels with turned steel one's and sell on those locomotives that still rely on traction tyres. Wheels are responsible for laying down dirt on our track, and this is especially so if you’re running a digitally controlled system.

Traditional abrasive track rubbers such as those manufactured by Peco and similar for example are not helpful in cleaning track and ideally should not be used, they score the rail head, where microscopic particles of dirt can then build up, effectively damaging the track and likewise when using a wire wheel cleaning device. Having said that the latest rubbers supplied by DCC Concepts and Gaugemaster are made from aluminium oxide which are softer, less abrasive and feel more rubberised when handled and maybe kinder to our rail head although leaves more debris to hoover up, improved conductivity is short lived.

Solvents such as WD40 may clean the track but leaves a residue that will gum up mechanisms. Some prefer methylated spirits or even vinegar which have been known to be effective cleaners and that's alright, if you don’t mind your layout smelling like a fish and chip shop. Track Majic is a more up to date solvent and is widely used, plus it gives a certain amount of protection to the rail head for a period of time, but demands frequent re-application to achieve improved conductivity, one thing to be aware of, it may be susceptible to sub-zero temperatures if your layout is situated in the loft, garage, shed or garden.

IPA (Isopropyl alcohol-70%) should not be used, it is basic anti-bacterial hand wash and it actively promotes oxidation, it contains 70% alcohol, 29% water and1% additive to prevent folk from drinking it and actively absorbs water when exposed to oxygen. Do we really want to apply water to our track? Probably not.

On the other hand IPA (Isopropyl alcohol - 99% ) still has the additive to prevent ingestion but is a different animal altogether and has proved to be a very effective cleaner of both rail head and wheels, which makes it the cleaner of choice, but still lacks what we are all looking for and that is lasting improvement in conductivity.

In order to create better performance of our trains we must improve the electrical conductivity between locomotive wheels, rolling-stock wheels and track and reduce the effects of oxidation on metal parts, ie wheels and rail head. There are two products on the market that have been around for some years that will eventually see a relaxation to the endless wheel and track cleaning chore, one of which I have used for a while with good effect, which in time will render wheel cleaning a thing of the past. Both products clean and lubricate the rail head which in turn is picked up on locomotive wheels and that of rolling-stock, a thin film of conductive lubricant encases both wheels and railhead which cannot be easily removed, keeping trains running and improving performance.

There are three items I know of which fit the bill.

Inox EMX3 - 125 which is a spray container of 125 mls (cost - £10.99)

Inox MX3 - FG which is a lubricant injector needle of 60mls (cost - £7.50). Only a small mount is necessary so one purchase may last a lifetime, used to good effect in slot car racing. ( I use this product and get it from" PSR slot racing " in Lancashire). Made in Australia.

CRC2 - 26 anti-corrosion protector comes a 500ml container, costs £12.56 from Amazon, ensure you get the description right, as CRC make several similar products. Made in the USA.

Have a look at these products if you are interested, but to use one of these products you may need to abandon previous practices. As modellers we make our own choices, what works for one may not be so for another and in the end its all about what works for you.

Good luck


May 2024.

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3. An Afternoon at Wolverton Station

Many members of the club have a special interest in the West Coast Main Line, some, indeed, having grown up alongside it. I grew up in Banbury and knew it only from day trips, by train to Bletchley, by bicycle to Roade, or, once or twice a year, by hitching a lift to Wolverton in my aunt's car when she went to see a friend in Newton Blossomville. For some reason, on one such occasion, on 23 August 1956, I kept a complete record of all the trains that passed, from the down 'Royal Scot', which must have been around 11.00 to the down 'Midlander' that passed at about 18.30. The list appears below. Readers will come to their own conclusions about it, but perhaps the most striking feature is the complete absence of diesel traction.


An afternoon at Wolverton Station, 23 August 1956.

46236 City of Bradford. Down 'Royal Scot'.
49433 Up chalk empties.
44867 Up local.
40660 + 45527 Southport. Up 'Shamrock'.
46125 3rd Carabinier. Down Glasgow.
45603 Solomon Islands. Down goods.
46132 The King's Regiment, Liverpool. Down 'Manxman'.
48385 Up minerals.
42966 Up goods.
46240 City of Coventry. Down Carlisle.
48195 Up coal.
49249 Down chalk.
45737 Atlas. Down Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
46169 The Boy Scout. Up Manchester.
45735 Comet. Up Blackpool.
48639 Up coal.
46144 Honourable Artillery Company. Up Blackpool.
70033 Charles Dickens. Up Manchester.
90634 Up goods.
90532 Down goods.
46147 The Northamptonshire Regiment. Up 'Emerald Isle Express'.
45591 Udaipur. Down 'Welshman'.
45025 Up goods.
45738 Samson. Up 'Midlander'.
48020 Up coal.
46205 Princess Victoria. Up 'Merseyside Express'.
45536 Private W Woods VC. Down Manchester.
45532 Illustrious. Up Colne.
45528 (Unnamed) Down 'Lakes Express'.
45588 Kashmir. Down Crewe.
48416 Down coal empties.
46142 The York & Lancaster Regiment. Down 'Red Rose'.
44867 Down local.
44061 Up local.
45733 Novelty. Up Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
45439 + 45514 Holyhead. Down Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
44761 Up goods.
45623 Palestine. Up Liverpool.
44768 Down parcels.
44758 Up parcels.
48649 Up coal.
42783 Down local.
46134 The Cheshire Regiment. Up Blackpool.
48350 Up coal.
45686 St Vincent. Up Llandudno.
46201 Princess Elizabeth. Down 'Midday Scot'.
48007 Up coal.
45529 Stephenson. Down Perth.
48423 Down chalk.
45517 (unnamed). Down goods.
90634 Down goods.
45631 Tanganyika. Up Manchester.
48376 Up ironstone.
40046 Up light (ex-works, Willesden loco).
46148 The Manchester Regiment. Up Carlisle.
92057 Up coal.
45709 Implacable. Down Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
45128 Up goods.
45534 E Tootal Broadhurst. Down 'Manxman'.
48953 Up chalk empties.
45606 Falkland Islands. Up Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
70044 Earl Haig. Down Manchester.
48312 Up coal.
45004 Down parcels.
48601 Up goods.
44750 Down goods.
48658 Down coal empties.
44909 Down local.
48625 Up iron ore.
45523 Bangor. Up Barrow and Windermere.
48422 Up light.
44834 Down goods.
45310 Down Northampton.
45510 (unnamed). Up local.
70037 Hereward the Wake. Down Manchester.
48657 Up chalk empties.
42948 Up goods.
46229 Duchess of Hamilton. Up 'Royal Scot'.
45044 Down goods.
45521 Rhyl. Up 'Manxman'.
48171 Down goods.
46111 Royal Fusilier. Up Manchester.
42885 Up light.
46151 The Royal Horse Guardsman. Down Manchester.
45736 Phoenix. Up 'Welshman'.
45737 Atlas. Down Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
80037 Down local.
45272 Up relief.
45527 Southport. Down 'Shamrock'.
44831 + 45740 Munster. Up Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
92081 Down coal empties.
46254 City of Stoke-on-Trent. Up Glasgow.
46106 Gordon Highlander. Down Blackpool.
49002 Down goods.
70049 (unnamed). Up 'Irish Mail'.
45410 Up local.
45106 Up goods.
46239 City of Chester. Up Perth and Barrow.
46212 Duchess of Kent. Down 'Emerald Isle Express'.
45381 Down local.
90185 Up goods.
44915 Up Birmingham.
45738 Samson. Down 'Midlander'.

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4. Recollections of the Great Central line to Banbury.

These recollections are written in the hope that they will be of use in the history of Northamptonshire railways project. Most of the Great Central line from Woodford to Banbury was in present-day Northamptonshire (only two short section are in Wardington in Oxfordshire) and until 1888 most of the GWR main line through Banbury was also in Northamptonshire. Much of this material appears in a more academic form in my Junctions at Banbury (2017). These are personal recollections of how it all happened.

Soon after I became interested in railways, in the summer of 1948, I suddenly became aware of the Great Central line into Banbury. I had purchased a platform ticket, perhaps for the first time, in order to see, with friends, what was happening at Banbury station. Just after half-past two a locomotive wholly different from those at the nearby ex-GWR shed arrived from the north, pulling coaches bound from York to Bournemouth. It was strikingly elegant, in a livery of stained apple green, bearing the number 60049, with British Railways spelled out on its tender, and the name Galtee More above its central driving wheel splashers. It had a banjo dome rather than a brass safety valve cap, and outside valve gear more complicated than that on a Western engine. A few days later I saw the same train arrive behind a locomotive of similar appearance, except that it had a blue livery, rather like the Rev Awdry’s Edward, and it bore the name Prince Palatine. These locomotives, I learned, were A3s. They came from the shed at Leicester (38C), and after arriving in Banbury handed over their trains to locally-based 'Halls', then turned at the shed and took out a single coach local to Woodford at about 3.45 pm. They returned tender-first just after five o'clock with three coaches, and took them back to Woodford at about 5.45 pm after the station pilot had placed them in the down bay. On summer evenings I regularly went to watch trains from Spiceball Park, immediately north of the station, and on one occasion arrived to find my friends excited that the 5.45 was headed by No 60103 Flying Scotsman, then at the start of a short stay at Leicester, and in 1953 there was a similar reaction to the appearance of No 60800 Green Arrow, which was briefly based at Woodford.

In the spring of 1950 this train provided me with my first journey on ex-Great Central metals. My father was a Methodist local preacher who cycled to his services. He had an appointment at Chacombe on the Sunday evening of a great storm. His host, a local farmer, brought him back to Banbury by car and it was arranged that I should travel to Chacombe the following evening and ride back on his bicycle. I duly caught the 5.45 and enjoyed the wonderful experience of a three-mile ride in a three-coach train behind Galtee More. By then I knew that the A3s were named after racehorses, but it was not until the summer of 1963 in central Ireland, after a morning's exhausting cycling to the summit of a mountain pass, that I learned that Galtee More was the principal peak in that range.

This was my final year at primary school and many boys in my class were interested in railways. We soon became aware of the principal workings from what we usually called the LNER line, although railwaymen knew it as the GC. The York-Bournemouth arrived early in the afternoon and might bring other A3s, 60054 Prince of Wales or 60102 Sir Frederick Banbury. The northbound train was brought to Banbury by a ‘Hall’ and was usually taken over by a locomotive from Woodford (38E), similar in appearance to Galtee More, but with a pony truck instead of the leading bogie, and usually a black livery below a covering of grime. I learned that this was one of Sir Nigel Gresley's V2 or Green Arrow class. The successor to the pre-war Ports-to-Ports Express, from Swansea to York or Newcastle via Didcot, arrived just before 1.00 pm, and also departed with an engine, usually a V2, that worked light from Woodford. The return working, usually with a B1 from Sheffield (Darnall), arrived just after 4.30 pm. The Western Region motive power on the 'Cardiff' as it was usually called, was of more interest to young spotters as, in due course, it brought to Banbury most of the beautifully-maintained 'Castles' from Cardiff (Canton) shed (86C), and later those from Landore (87E).

We learned that spring and summer of another train that could be seen in daylight as the season progressed, the one-time Aberdeen-Penzance Express, which arrived in Banbury just before nine o’clock. It had the air of a romantic overnight train, the Orient Express or the Ost-West Express, although it included neither sleeping cars nor Royal Mail coaches, and it ran at a very modest pace only from Swindon to Sheffield, where it arrived at 12.29 am, too late for connections to distant frontiers. It arrived in Banbury with a Swindon engine, usually, in the summer of 1950, No 2927 Saint Patrick, but in the years that followed it was often a spotless ex-works locomotive. The train went forward with a locomotive that brought back to Banbury the single coach that had been taken to Woodford at 15.45. In 1950 this was usually an A3 from Neasden that had reached Woodford during the afternoon on a stopping train from Marylebone (an 'Ord' in GC parlance), and the working produced such wonderful machines as 60051 Blink Bonny and 60111 Enterprise. Another train followed the same course after midnight. The two balancing southbound workings passed through Banbury in the hours of utmost darkness. I gained acquaintance with them only in later life.

Two fish trains also passed southwards in the middle of the night but two others stopped in Banbury station between 7.00 and 8.00 pm. The first was the 1.02 pm from New Clee, carrying Grimsby fish to destinations all over southern England and South Wales. Its nominal terminus was Whitland in Pembrokeshire but only one or two vans went that far. The 'fish' usually followed into the station the 4.35 pm Shrewsbury-Paddington express which reached Banbury a few minutes after seven o'clock/ Almost always the 'fish' was hauled by a K3 2-6-0 from Immingham (40B) shed which gave way to a Swindon engine, and then clanked its way to the shed to be turned and returned through the station to the down yard to pick up a load of fish empties with which the Swindon engine had arrived earlier in the evening. The Grimsby was followed after a brief interval by the Hull fish, brought in by the engine that had gone to Leicester with the Bournemouth-York, a Woodford loco before September 1954, and a Western Region 'Hall' afterwards. The Grimsby fish was an exceptionally long train that, in the early 1950s usually filled Banbury's lengthy up platform. Plops of water from melting ice could be heard from every van, and the station was pervaded by odours from the harvest of the ocean.

The local service between Banbury and Woodford conveyed few commuters and was of limited use as a connection between long-distance trains on the GC and GWR routes. One regular user I remember was a rather angular lady who was senior assistant at the Banbury shop of W H Smith. The service was known at Woodford as the 'Banbury Motor', probably because in the early days of the branch it was worked by a push-and-pull train. The first train from Woodford arrived in Banbury just after 8.00 am, and returned for some years at 10.04 - the timings were altered slightly in the late 1950s. This was usually a three-coach set, worked by a Woodford engine, which returned with the same coaches, arriving just before 1.00 pm and departing at 1.16 pm. The 15.45 departure was a single coach worked by the engine off the York-Bournemouth which returned with the three-coach set, departing at 17.45. The final service was the return of the single coach with the locomotive for the Swindon-Sheffield running tender first. The first working of the day produced a variety of motive power and I was able to observe it on most days from September 1950, initially from the bus that took me to school. From May 1953 I cycled to school and made sure that I saw it every day. When I first knew the train it was worked either by one of the four B17 'Football' class from Woodford, all of which were in a notoriously bad condition (described by the late Dick Hardy in Steam in the Blood) or by the locomotive allocated for the purpose, the ex-Great Northern N2 class 0-6-2T No 69560, which, according to Dick Hardy, was unpopular with its crews. It was replaced in 1952 by a Great Central engine, a C13 4-4-2T No 67408, which was followed in 1953 by a Great Eastern engine, N7 class 0-6-2T No 69621. A variety of other engines appeared on this turn, B16 4-6-0s from York, the huge Great Central 2-6-4Ts of class L3, the Pom-Pom 0-6-0s of class J11, the Great Central class N5 0-6-2Ts that normally shunted the yards at Woodford, an occasional class A5 4-6-2T from Neasden, and, later, class L1 2-6-4Ts and Ivatt class 4MT 2-6-0s, (see Junctions p 145).

Summer Saturdays saw an increase in services from the Great Central. There were several southbound overnight services to the south coast. The return working of one of them was the 08.05 from Bournemouth Central which ran non-stop from Oxford to Leicester with a WR engine. A group of southbound trains arrived in mid-afternoon, the Bradford-Poole, the Newcastle-Bournemouth which ran every day of the week, its Saturday relief the 12.10 Sheffield-Bournemouth, and, rather later in the afternoon the 10.08 Newcastle-Swansea. Most of the equivalent northbound trains also passed through Banbury between 2.30 and 4.00 pm. One or two southbound trains continued to Oxford with their GC locomotives, and several WR engines took their trains northward to Leicester Central or Nottingham Victoria. There were usually additional workings, especially at the conclusion of the Leicester and Nottingham holiday weeks.

Many varieties of excursion trains used the branch. The outstanding football specials arrived in the small hours of Saturday 8 March 1952 taking Newcastle United supporters to a cup tie at Portsmouth. The locomotives remained on Banbury shed later in the morning, Three B1s, a V2 from Heaton, and the ungainly No 60501 Cock o'th North, the rebuild of Sir Nigel Gresley's 2-8-2. Reputedly the latter was too long for the turntable at Banbury and had to go to Woodford to turn on the triangle. There were always summer time excursions to Oxford, Windsor or Bourne End for trips on the River Thames, and usually specials for Royal Ascot. There were several regular excursions from the Southern Region to Leicester and Nottingham. One, from Bournemouth, usually ran on the last Sunday of July and, at least in 1956 when I travelled on it, was headed by a King Arthur all the way to Nottingham Victoria. Some troop specials also used the branch. My outstanding memory of such a working must be from 1952. With friends I was on Banbury station when porters assembled a long line of parcels trolleys on most of which refreshment room staff placed mugs, with urns on another. A friendly inspector told us that an RAF special was due, running from Oldham Mumps to Lymington, and Bert Wells, one of the friendliest of Banbury drivers backed into the down bay with a 'Hall'. Signals went down and a huge train appeared with 15 or 16 coaches filling Banbury's down platform, and B1 No 61185 and A3 No 60102 Sir Frederick Banbury at the head. RAF men swarmed out of the train for their cups of tea. As one of the GC firemen was uncoupling the locos from the train Bert strolled over and cheekily asked the driver 'Why do you need two engines for this train?' He later told us that he proceeded with his 'Hall' to Brockenhurst (for Lymington} without assistance, turned his engine at Eastleigh, and drove it home.

All of the above activities could be viewed at Banbury station, but there were more workings from the former Great Central line that could not be seen there. About a mile north of the station the GWR main line is crossed, about half a mile south of the junction with the Woodford branch, by Old Grimsbury Road, which was within easy reach of my home. The bridge carries the road across the mid-point of the reception sidings of the hump yard opened by the GWR in 1931, and the road beyond runs parallel to the ends of the sidings of the down yard. From the bridge it was possible to see passenger and fish trains from Woodford joining the main line, and freight trains making their way into the reception sidings. Trip workings arrived from Woodford approximately every hour, and were hauled by WD 2-8-0s, usually tender-first. They ran round their trains to pick up return workings, either from the down yard, or from sidings alongside the branch near the junction. There had been up to 20 WDs at Woodford since 1946 and they almost monopolised the trip workings. Just one train that arrived just after noon and included wagons from the North East that were put on a fitted train for Bristol that left Banbury at about 2.30 pm, was sometimes hauled by another class of engine, a J39 or a K3. Much of the southbound traffic from Woodford was coal, but the trip workings usually included wagons carrying steel and some vans, as well as chemical wagons and hoppers carrying gypsum from East Leake to the Bletchingdon cement works. These workings continued with little change until into the 1960s after the takeover by the Midland Region in 1958. Return workings chiefly consisted of empty wagons including fish vans working back to Grimsby or Hull.

I'm not sure when I first went to Woodford, but it was probably in 1951 or 1952 while the Great Central class N5 0-6-2Ts were still shunting the yards and before the arrival of diesel shunters in the autumn of 1953. I probably travelled by train but from the summer of 1953 it became a gentle afternoon excursion by bicycle. It was fairly easy to see most of the locomotives in the yard, but to penetrate the interior of the shed without being challenged was difficult, and scarcely worth the effort since most of the locomotives there were familiar WDs, J11s or V2s that frequently came to Banbury. The only engines that were unfamiliar were the O1 2-8-0s from Annesley working the 'Windcutters' which turned on the triangle before returning north.

I saw something of the Northamptonshire section of the GC London Extension in the 1950s and early 60s. A trip to Brackley, only nine miles by bus or bicycle, was not difficult, but what could be seen was not especially exciting, familiar A3s, V2s or B1s on the expresses, Woodford’s WDs on the infrequent freight workings, and just a little interest in the semi-fasts (Ords) from Marylebone which might produce an A5 4-6-2T or a new Standard class 4MT 2-6-0. On August Monday 1953 I cycled to Mixbury (strictly in Oxfordshire), principally to look at Beaumont Castle, whose presence on the OS map had always intrigued me. I was rewarded by the sight of B1 No 61105 hauling northward two dead locomotives, L1 No 67770 and Ivatt 4MT 2-6-0 No 43065. My friend and I made increasing numbers of excursions by bicycle to the West Coast Main Line and customarily halted when crossing the London Extension, usually by the bridge on the B4525 just south of Helmdon in the hope of seeing some movements. We were often disappointed. We did occasionally, as we became more interested in photography, visit various locations alongside the Woodford-Banbury line. We were impressed to see the depth and width of the great cutting near Thorpe Mandeville, where my own attempts at taking photographs were always disappointing. We happened to be on the platform of Eydon Road halt on 21 May 1956, about seven weeks after its closure on 2 April, when we were delighted to see Leicester's newly-acquired A3 No 60106 Flying Fox bound through with the one-coach 15.45 from Banbury.

The Great Central lines passed into the control of the London Midland Region from 1 February 1958 and by the summer of that year Black Fives were bringing the York-Bournemouth to Banbury, and the Woodford locals were being worked by ex-LMSR 2-6-4Ts. An ex-LNER presence remained however, and one curiosity in the summer of 1958 was the regular appearance on the York-Bournemouth on Thursdays of a Heaton (52B) locomotive, usually a V2 but on 18 Sep 1958, the A3 No 60069 Sceptre.

Most of my journeys on the Great Central took place after it had passed under the management of the London Midland Region. On Saturday 13 August 1960 I enjoyed a round trip from Banbury General to Banbury Merton Street via Leicester Central, Leicester Midland, Peterborough North, Peterborough East, Northampton and Bletchley. I left Banbury on the local, then timed to depart at 09.35, with a two non-corridor coaches labelled 'GE Branch Set' headed by L1 No 67743. At Woodford, Standard 5MT No 73157 brought in a terminating northbound local, and a southbound passenger left with V2 No 60864 piloted by B1 No 61085. I went north behind Standard 5MT No 73158, and saw several Black Fives and 9Fs, a K3 and LMS 2-6-4T No 42556 at Leicester Central. I made several other journeys on the GC that summer and in 1961 and while I don’t have detailed records, the picture was much the same, with many ex-LMSR locomotives in evidence, together with B1s, L1s, K3s and the occasional V2, and Standard class 5MT 4-6-0s, 4MT 2-6-0s and 9Fs, with J39s and even a J10, No 65158, dead on Woodford shed. WDs continued on the diminishing number of Woodford-Banbury trip workings until the cessation of through freight operations on the GC in 1965.

In the winter timetable of 1961-62 the curtailment of services included the reduction of the York (or Newcastle)-Bournemouth to an out-and-back working by dmus from York to Banbury. I spent the spring term of 1962 doing teaching practice at Tadcaster near York and had occasion to use this service twice. I travelled north for the first time on the Midland from Birmingham New Street since there was no convenient GC service, and returned by the 18.40 York-Swindon which reached Banbury just after midnight. I returned on the dmu service, but, departing at about 15.15 from Banbury in February, the journey was largely in darkness. I travelled home at the end of term on a sunny Saturday morning, which proved a delightful journey, passing through the entrails of the huge coking plant at Manvers Main, and enjoying views of springtime scenery across Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.

I saw just a little of the last days of the cross-country services on the Woodford-Banbury branch, some of which produced ex-LMSR express locomotives, Royal Scots and Jubilees, usually ill-maintained. I have a photograph of No 45739 Ulster from Holbeck arriving in Banbury on 12 August 1961 with a train for Poole with a large red patch on the front of its smokebox.

The chronology of the last years of the Great Central is set out on pp 179-82 of Junctions at Banbury. That account is drawn largely from secondary sources since I saw very little of operations at Banbury in 1965-66 after taking up a new job in Shropshire.

I learned much about Woodford and the Great Central over many years from working with the late Dr Jeff Cox of Wolverhampton University. Jeff was the son of an engine driver at Woodford and had the luxury of travelling daily to and from school at Brackley behind V2s and A3s. He was always keen to convey the idea that driving an engine was a craft, and to express some resentment that Woodford was perpetually short of cleaners, which meant that its locomotives were never well-maintained. In 1996-97 one of my students at Northampton University undertook a small project at Woodford, and was astonished at the hostile feeling still felt in the railwaymen's club towards the London Midland Region whose managers had laid waste a national asset.

I have two abiding sound memories of the Great Central. We lived on the east side of Banbury and through my teenage years I was accustomed to go to sleep to the sound of WDs being thrashed up the gradient through the great cutting several miles away at Thorpe Mandeville. I realised how I missed this sound many years later in 1986 when I was at Sanok in the eastern part of present-day Poland and heard from my hotel room the distant exhaust of a large steam locomotive working hard to take a freight train into the USSR. The other memory is of a stop at Helmdon on the return leg of an exhausting return journey by bicycle from Banbury to Wellingborough. Looking south there was a wisp of exhaust and a sound whose volume gradually increased, the three-beats-to-a-bar rhythm of a V2 heading for Bradford with the South Yorkshireman. Few railway sounds were more dramatic.

Barrie Trinder

May 2020

The map shows the railways of Northamptonshire pre the 1923 grouping. Click for a larger view

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