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A Beginner’s Guide to Plausible Steam Era Scenarios

David Gibbons (“longbow”)

October 2010

As loads and speeds increased.and these companies were nationalised in 1948 to form British Railways (BR). BR adopted several different liveries in steam days although some rolling stock ran for a time in pre-grouping livery. and freight locos were designed for maximum haulage ability. adopting the blue livery and double arrow insignia thereafter. but if you follow this your UK steam activities will pass muster with almost everybody. Periods The many independent UK railway companies merged in 1923 to form the four companies of the Post-Grouping era . I claim no particular expertise on this vast subject so if anyone has corrections or suggestions do contact me at the email address below.and by type . plus a Scottish Region. Passenger locos were designed for speed and acceleration. This means activities with stock of the right period and livery.A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO PLAUSIBLE STEAM-ERA SCENARIOS The objective of this tutorial is to help those who don’t know much about the subject to produce plausible steam-era scenarios in Railworks or MSTS. LNER and SR . BR steam locos started with plain BRITISH RAILWAYS lettering.GWR. Goods and shunting . 2 . Liveries Liveries is far too big a subject to cover here but I’ll just comment briefly on BR practice. LMS. which operated as regional entities corresponding roughly with the pre-grouping boundaries. quickly switched to the “Lion and Mangle” roundel until 1957 or so and carried the totem and bar GWR chocolate and brown. 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 . Non-electric stock was repainted in maroon from early 1957 until the end of steam. although most of their coaches were painted maroon. and electric stock painted green. and blue-grey thereafter.tender and tank. It is not a guide to Scenario creation – there are already plenty of guides to that. marshalled in the right formation and running on the appropriate route at the right speed. locos got bigger and more diverse to deal with them. BR painted its fitted goods stock bauxite and its unfitted wagons grey. Each steam era railway had its own way of doing things so I’m going to make many sweeping generalisations. Loco Types Steam locos were broadly segregated by usage – Passenger. BR diesels were green until just before the end of steam in 1968. During the BR maroon era. Mixed Traffic. BR corridor coaches were initially painted carmine and cream (“blood and custard”) with non-corridor stock painted crimson.

Heavy trains could be double-headed with an assisting loco (‘pilot’) at the front of the train. 3 . so long-distance trains frequently changed crews and/or engines. especially in station areas. Thus turntables were common features at larger terminus stations. Goods locos would sometimes appear on passenger workings. slower freights would typically be hauled by tender 0-6-0s with heavy trains being handled by 2-8-0s. Exceptions were generally route specific and occurred where lines were jointly run (eg the SDJR). Express loco classes would usually be limited to express passenger and freight work. Sometimes engines would be attached as pilots in order to reduce light engine movements down a busy line. A pilot was also used to describe a loco used for marshalling trains at passenger stations or yards.nationalisation stock generally remained in the same area as its originating company. so big engines would not usually be allowed on minor routes. or more often a task shared by locos between other duties. especially BR standard stock. Steam locos did not have the range of diesels or electrics and crews could only work certain hours and routes. However. and for shunting. this might be a dedicated loco at a large site. As far as possible. Most routes had limits on axle loadings. Solo (‘Light’) engine movements to and from engine sheds or fuelling points were therefore very common in the steam era. especially in the final days of steam. watered and coaled before their next duty. Mixed traffic locos (2-6-0. where different railways met (eg Carlisle) or where running rights were granted to another operator. with some companies such as the Midland Railway making a habit of it. travelled more widely in later BR days but pre. it grew less common in later years. Use of this practice varied widely. Banking (ie assisting engine at the rear) was used only for short distances. tender locos avoided working any distance in reverse due to the lack of rear-facing protection from the elements and coal dust. and might to run some distance to the nearest shed. “Through” coaches did travel onto other companies’ rails. Branches would thus often be restricted to tanks or small tender locos. Rolling stock. whilst wagons travelled much more widely. Because of their limited fuel and water capacity. 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. Locos tended to stick to their company’s lines so it would not be common to see locos of one company running over the lines of another. although it was common to put old express classes out to grass on more menial duties. becoming confined to gradient sections or unusual loads. 4-6-0) had become commonplace by this time. handling both passenger and faster freight services. especially on summer Saturdays. Locos would usually need to be turned.By the 1930s. tank engines were used primarily for short distance and branch line trains.

Unfitted Goods relied on the locomotive and brake van for braking. 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. with fitted stock usually marshalled next to the engine so that their brakes could be powered. Fitted wagons (usually vans or specialised vehicles) had vacuum brakes connected to the engine and became increasingly common in later years. but loco crews could request unscheduled water stops if required. Timetables usually provided time for water stops en route. perishables). These trains were usually assembled adhoc as required and would often require the controller to scratch around for a spare loco and crew. Brake vans (or a carriage with a guard’s compartment) to carry the guard were still required for fitted and semi fitted trains until the end of steam in 1968. Most wagons were unfitted (ie handbrake only) until near the end of steam. Most mineral traffic fell into this category.Steam locos consume in the region of 10 gallons of water per mile and would typically need to replenish water on a long journey. 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. Trip Freights transferred goods traffic on an as-required basis to or between major yards. 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. it’s fitted. often as scheduled services and sometimes with one type of load (eg meat. Goods traffic Goods (freight) traffic was far more commonplace and varied in steam days than it is today. Semi-fitted goods ran with both fitted and unfitted wagons at intermediate speeds. If it has vacuum pipes. 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”). and therefore in need of an unscheduled stop for a “brew-up” to recover boiler pressure. often over short distances. Fitted wagons and wagons carrying livestock would be marshalled behind the loco. Goods train Formations Tank wagons and dangerous cargo would usually be marshalled in the centre of the train with empty barrier wagons either side. after which time the guard sat in 4 . Crack fitted freights were sometimes given official or unofficial names. which typically limited them to 15-25mph.

For example. which could often be only a few vehicles in length. Short journeys were overwhelmingly comprised by mineral traffic. minerals (coal and other) 21%. 4% cattle. much traffic was carried in single wagon loads. requiring much inter-yard trip freight traffic.the rear loco cab. rarely. in 1920. prior to transfer from one line to another. Larger yards might conduct all three activities. if required. coal to the coal staithes. Brake vans came in various sizes to match the weight of the train and were marshalled at the rear of the train. whole trains would be assembled and broken down. BR took many years to rationalise this duplication of yards by different companies. Minerals accounted for 80% of GWR traffic by weight in 1929. Only 1% of the GWR stock was mineral wagons: at that time. Goods yards would primarily serve local traffic. 80% of the GWR goods stock was open wagons. coal empties 17% and goods and merchandise 13%. Milk tanks were passenger-rated vehicles and due to their delicate glass tanks were not conveyed in goods trains. so almost any load could be carried. Goods Traffic Flow Unlike today. 97% of its originating mineral traffic went in PO wagons. They were usually attached to passenger trains or dedicated milk trains. a second brake was attached at the front. Carlisle had no less than six Goods yards until the 1960’s. the most common types of goods trains on the GWR were mixed goods (47%). A wagon from a local branch station would typically be taken by a Pick-Up goods to a transit siding at the local junction. GWR wagons in 1936 by type were 58% open. Open and Private Owner (PO) wagons predominated for much of the steam era. The process was further complicated by the need to exchange wagons at company borders. falling to two-thirds by 1934. Hellifield) to allow goods traffic to be stored and sorted. Transit sidings were provided at major junctions (eg Ruabon. mostly for coal 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. some wagons usually travelled in like company so these percentages would not be typical of any particular train. PO wagons comprised almost half of all wagons in service in 1918. In 1929. but they were pooled during WW2 and soon disappeared under BR. The Railways were designated as Common Carriers and thereby required to accept any goods within reason. Of course. For example. cattle to cattle dock. Most general goods trains ran on a hub and spoke system with individual wagons passing through numerous staging points to their final destinations. At marshalling yards. 29% vans. then by other trains to one of more marshalling yards and would then repeat the process in reverse en route to its 5 .

with older stock being progressively demoted to local and branch work. or along branch lines. milk tank. 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. A greater allowance was made for mineral loads: for example. Arriving goods trains would be placed in designated sidings (“reception roads”). Pick-Up Goods trains would collect and drop off wagons at stations between marshalling points.5x a normal wagon destination. Shunting was a ceaseless activity as trains were remarshalled. especially in earlier periods. Often the disposition of sidings meant that stations could be shunted only by trains in one direction. Between 20 and 40 wagons was a typical load for main line goods trains. Private sidings were common in steam days. corridor stock appeared on long distance trains from the early 20th century. but were generally handed over “rough” (unsorted) between companies. The attachment of fitted parcels. branch and suburban trains remained primarily non-corridor stock. 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. Yards sometimes practised fly shunting (wagons uncoupled from the loco at low speed and allowed to freewheel under control of the handbrake). These were usually marshalled at front or rear for ease of handling. route and type of train. Bogie carriages displaced 4 and 6 wheel coaches from the late 19th century. Mixed passenger/goods trains appeared on some minor branch 6 . exchange sidings would be provided where wagons could be dropped off or await collection by the railway operator. At each transit point. At busier sidings. Pick-up goods could be anything from a brake van up. Short haul. with large industries often operating large private yards with their own wagons and shunting locos. Based on each wagon’s waybill (paper or sometimes just chalked on). Shunting in a large yard might be performed by a dedicated loco (Yard Pilot) or more often by the train locos in between duties. either as part of a pick-up freight or by a dedicated service if the traffic warranted it. 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). wagons would usually be marshalled in the correct station order to minimise subsequent shunting. the shunters would decide where a train should be split (“cut”) and the parts would then be separated with as few moves as possible. but loads of 100 wagons were recorded as early as 1909 behind large freight locos on easily graded routes. the SR reckoned these to be 1. Goods train length was a function of loco class. Passenger trains New express stock generally appeared first on express trains. horsebox or other vans was not unusual even on express trains.

Coaches frequently travelled empty in dedicated services (ECS – Empty Carriage Stock). On some routes restaurant and sleeping cars were also picked up and dropped off at intermediate stops.lines. and sometimes also with another brake at the front. with large numbers of older units kept on standby for peak season. with wagons and a brake van (if needed) being attached behind the carriages. Some companies. Even so many coaches were rarely used. a Special was any train not scheduled in the railway working timetable. 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. but the latter remained commonplace on all but crack expresses until the end of steam. which would carry headboards on the engine. These often involved unusual train formations and movements. For example. often with immaculate elderly or unusual locos) Military Trains (conveying soldiers and sometimes heavy vehicles) 7 . with the brake compartment trailing at the front. 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. trains offered 1st and 3rd class (later renamed 2nd class) compartments. BR Standard Mk1 coaches progressively displaced pre-nationalisation coaches from the early 1950s. Many trains dropped or picked up coaches en route. but typically ran with brake coaches for the guard marshalled and at the rear. For PR reasons BR was a big supporter of named expresses. From the early 20th century until the 1950s. Specials Broadly. The SR ran their carriages in fixed sets of varying sizes. such as the Royal Scot. Formations varied widely by company. and should be a rich source of inspiration for scenario writers. but train formations might be assembled from individual coaches. the SR’s 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. especially the GWR. Long distance expresses would provide dining cars or sleeping cars where appropriate. Full brakes (no seats) generally went at the front of the train: first class coaches typically went at the end nearest the ticket barrier. 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.

breakdown) Racing Pigeon trains Operating issues “Up” trains run towards London. Sheds would often keep one or two unassigned locos in steam as cover for breakdowns or delays. The Appendices to the WTT would specify in great detail how services were to be operated.thus the 9F class. Average journey times would be a lot slower once time for stops. 8 . shunting etc was included. Refuge sidings (and later passing loops) were provided to allow slower trains to be ‘bought inside’ so that they could be passed.• • • • 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. On double track. speed limits and safety measures and driving as smoothly and economically as possible. Loco men would generally start in their teens as cleaners. Loco crews were expected to keep time whilst observing all regulations. became a well-known performer on passenger turns. Drivers would be required to spend some time becoming acquainted with a route before “signing for the road”. PW. “cruising speeds” for main line steam era trains under clear signals was as follows. 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. 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. passing up the links (grades) to become firemen and eventually drivers. UK trains drive on the left (I did say this was a basic guide!). (F)reight and MT (Mixed Traffic) although these were not strictly observed . “Down” trains run in the opposite direction. BR’s most powerful steam freight loco. BR steam locos were classified for power (0 through 9) and purpose (P)assenger. As a rough guide. engineers.a set roster of services (“turns”) matched to that engine’s capabilities that could span several days and take the loco many miles away. From the WTT were compiled loco and carriage working notices which specified train compositions. Locos would usually work a “diagram” . An express could thus expect to pass many trains. All scheduled train movements and timings were set out in a detailed and periodically revised book called the Working Timetable (WTT). breakdowns and unscheduled trains. 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.

Increased used of electrical train detection equipment (indicated by a white diamond on the signal post) had gradually obsoleted this Rule by BR days. communication the other way was by means of flags. many diesel and electric locos carried this code in display boxes on the cab front. BR Southern continued to use a 2 digit code. Signalling Drivers were expected to make themselves aware before departure of temporary speed and other restrictions. which often required the presence of a human “token” on board to ensure only one train on section at a time. if necessary by sending the fireman to the signal box. Basically it required the driver to contact the signalman after a set period of 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.Many train journeys would experience unscheduled slowdowns or stops. On single track sections. due most commonly to late-running trains ahead or to temporary speed restrictions associated with track repairs etc. The red tail lamp carried at the rear of every train was a vital safety device as its absence might indicate a divided train. or by means of lineside mechanical apparatus. Timings would often allow some slack (“Recovery time”) to provide for this. either by hand to the station master or signalman. Many areas operated a system of whistle codes (“crows”) so that engine crews could communicate with signalmen and other operators. lamps or hand signals. Various special signs were employed to mark these restricted areas. 9 . most commonly lamp or disk combinations (“head codes”) carried on the front of the loco. There were special rules to cover temporary single track working. BR from 1960 adopted the current 4-character alphanumeric train reporting number which specifies train type and routing. a token system was usually employed to ensure that only one train could be in the section at any time. sometimes supplemented by reporting numbers for special or unusual trains. Trains with low precedence would suffer most from such delays. Train Identification Various methods were used to identify train type and/or routing. Until the mid-1970s. 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. Signalmen were required to stop any train not displaying it.