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[ Overview | Part 1: First Schemes | Part 2: Horncastle | Part 3: Louth & The WRR | Part 4: Consolidation & Connections | Part 5: The Final Links | Part 6: Growth & Union ]
Part 4: Consolidation & Connections

Within a year of completion the West Riding was in danger of being overwhelmed by traffic. General freight & passenger traffic grew steadily, iron & steel for the growing manufacturing industries of Lincoln, Gainsborough and Grantham doing particularly well, but it was the ironstone traffic that threatened to choke the line. Iron mining and quarrying was unusual, since unlike most British mines and quarries they were owned by their major consumers and did not sell the raw material but supplied it directly to a specific iron or steelworks. This meant that there was a degree of stability in traffic flows absent in other commodities (where price and distance dictated flow) but these flows were not always logical. On the SLMR for example, it was not unusual to see loaded ore trains crossing each other, as ore from the Stanton & Staveley owned Caythorpe North quarry headed for Nottinghamshire via the tipplers of Navigation Yard would pass stone from Appleby's Barkston quarry bound for Frodingham. The exchange sidings at Lincoln were soon expanded, several additional stations on the WRR main line given passing loops, more locomotives & wagons ordered and more staff taken on.

Some, wise after the event, argued that the line should have been standard gauge from the start. It was true that the traffic levels would have provided a nice income for an SG line of comparable length & probably for lower operating costs given the greater productivity of SG equipment, but against that the higher profits would have been spread across a vastly greater shareholding (given the higher construction costs of SG) yielding to lower dividends. Besides, all the hypothetical arguments about "if it had been standard gauge" ignored just how big that "if" was, conveniently forgetting the long hard struggle to fund the line. If what was known in 1876 had been known 10 years earlier, maybe things would have been different, but arguing from hindsight is as easy as it is pointless. The WRR was narrow gauge and had neither time nor space to convert- the traffic had to be moved now. One useful cost-saving measure was adopted, though. It was apparent to all that duplicate boards, managers and engineers were a wasteful luxury and that merging the WRR, NLNGR and L&ECR into a single entity was desirable. In the event, while the first two companies' shareholders had no objections, there was sufficient bad blood remaining in Louth and the marshlands to keep the L&ECR out of the expanded company, which came into being in March 1878 and kept the name West Riding Railway.

The LGLUR had the benefit of operating on both standard and narrow gauge, and really wished it didn't. While it could serve both its most important monopoly destinations, Market Rasen (SG from Lincoln) and Caistor (NG from Grimsby) without break-of-gauge trans-shipment was required for through traffic making it slow and expensive, and passengers to Cleethorpes faced break-of-gauge twice. In other circumstances the location of the break of gauge would not have mattered, through goods would still have to be trans-shipped, but the Union served many exporting manufacturers directly and through narrow gauge services from Lincoln would have eliminated the problem. Already, certain special loads were having to be sent Lincoln-Grimsby via Glentworth to make the entire journey on one wagon, since they were too much for the cranes at Market Rasen. There was one compelling argument for keeping the Northern section of standard gauge, the money earned from through MS&L excursions, but this was under threat. Faced with ever-growing excursion traffic and a cramped LG&L Cleethorpes station, in 1879 the MS&L sought powers to build their own independent route from the East entrance of Grimsby Docks, round New Clee to Cleethorpes. The Lindsey Union objected, more in hope than expectation, but did succeed in getting an amendment inserted, to the effect they could lay a third rail throughout the Northern Section (which they duly did) and that the MS&L's running powers (and their obligation to maintain standard gauge track) would lapse from the opening day of the new line. The day arrived in October 1880, when on the openingof the new Cleethorpes line all reciprocal running powers between the MS&L and the LGLUR lapsed . The standard gauge connection remained though only for exchange of goods traffic or transhipment for consignments travelling beyond Laceby, and the goods shed was extended to permit dual use as a transhipment facility. The Union's Cleethorpes station was rebuilt again to suit its new all narrow gauge traffic though still remained cramped and difficult to work, not helped by the decision to relocate locomotive sheds there, an operationally sensible move but difficult to accomplish.

By 1881 the railway map of Lindsey was settling into a stable network formed of three large companies (one of which was partially standard gauge), three smaller independent lines and one joint line- plus of course the isolated Spilsby line. The system had secured enough profitable goods traffic to be assured of some stability and prosperity, enough that the evil of break-of-gauge could reluctantly be tolerated for the present. The idea of unifying the whole LGLUR had been suggested but dismissed: the prospect of not being allowed to charge anything for trans-shipment made the whole idea uneconomic, until that March when a sales team arrived from Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian empire. They had recently developed rollbocke, narrow gauge bogies with folding cradles to carry standard gauge axles, thus permitting the movement of wagons without transhipment following a quick and easy shunt over a dual-level siding. The system was untried in Britain but showed great promise. The LG&L decided to try it for themselves on a small scale, building a rollbockegrube (referred to in English as a "transfer pit") siding at Grimsby and ordering forty bogies and four weighted, braked adaptor vans designed to couple to narrow or standard gauge stock. Since the Laceby line still had standard gauge track loading gauge was not a major problem, though some adjustments were needed since wagons on transporter bogies rode both slightly higher and offset (since they were running on the off-centre narrow gauge portion of the mixed track). The new equipment arrived that July and was tested, cautiously at first with a single empty wagon moved dead slow under the watchful eye of the chief engineer, then with trains of 2 or more wagons and steadily more adventurous speeds, and finally a month-long attempt to move all of Laceby's through traffic over narrow rails. This was judged to be almost a complete success, the only problem being shortage of bogies due to too many wagons waiting under load despite the Laceby statiomaster enforcing demurrage charges rather more strictly than in the past. So that September standard gauge goods trains resumed, pending the arrival of more bogies at the end of October. When they came, they were placed straight into service and the Northern Section's standard gauge operations came to an end. Some wagons were transferred to Lincoln but all but one the elderly locomotives went for scrap, the survivor being used to shunt Grimsby yard and work transfer trips to the MS&L for a few years before that company took over the work. The third rail was not in the way so left for the present. Odd sections were removed as points were renewed in simplified form, or to facilitate resleepering using narrow gauge timbers. The rest was used by the permanent way department as a source of spares, being taken when needed from anywhere convenient. Isolated fragments were still visible in the main at the turn of the century, and sidings lasted even longer.

One problem with transporter bogies was their incompatibility with continuous brakes. While many trains on both gauges did not have these, the narrow gauge companies soon worked out that the more effective the brake, the greater the load that could be worked with safety and the fewer trains would have to run to shift the traffic. While the Laceby run had no disasters, there were enough moments of excitement to convince the Union management that the system was not suited to the much heavier traffic of the Southern section. However, eighteen months after their first visit the Austrian salesmen were back with a new and improved product. The transporter wagon was an improvement on the bogie in that it was large enough to be fitted with the continuous brake allowing heavier trains to be hauled safely, and would couple directly to narrow gauge locomotives using long bars, making it unneccessary to haul the dead weight of adaptor vans. A trial order was placed in September 1882, and deliveries took place at the end of November. Since the line beyond Cherry Willingham was not mixed gauge testing was confined to the Lincoln area and, with those companies' interested co-operation, the WRR main line as far as Welton and the NLER to Waddington. When testing was declared complete the following March & the new system proved completely satisfactory it was decision time; stick with standard gauge, lay a third rail to Market Rasen or go over entirely to narrow gauge?

In truth, the latter option only applied beyond Lincoln since many on-line customers there dispatched goods Westwards, and not even transporters could offset the inconvenience of break of gauge for such dense traffic. The rest of the original main line was another matter. The narrow gauge trains were strong and fast enough to cope with what traffic there was, and any growth from completing the through route could only occur on narrow rails since widening the twisting hillside section around Caistor would be prohibitively expensive. The decision was made in favour of narrowing the line between Market Rasen and Greetwell Mines Junction, mixed gauge to remain beyond. With what to do settled, it remained to decide how and when. With only fourteen miles to regauge a single weekend might be sufficient (as the Great Western was to prove a decade later over a much greater length of run) but as a smaller company the LGLUR didn't have vast numbers of men to draft in from elsewhere on the system. A staged approach would be managed more easily from the limited resources available, but would prove both complex (as the break of gauge point moved Westwards successive stations would become temporary transhipment points) and expensive (the need to install mixed gauge pointwork and associated interlocking only to remove it shortly afterwards). In the end the all-at-once approach was judged to be the most practical and economic, risky as it was.

The risks of the work overrunning were reduced as far as possible by doing much of it beforehand. Since the line would be classed as a "new work" it would have to be re-inspected so new signalling would be required, but the signalboxes at least could be built and tested weeks before they would be needed, and the associated equipment designed, bought and delivered to site needing only final installation, testing and adjustment. New narrow gauge rolling stock was also ordered well in advance. This would be to different designs than were in service North of Market Rasen, since while the expensive complexities of articulation were a requirement on the hilly Northern section, the easier grades and gentle curves of the standard gauge alignment would permit locos of conventional design, and the expense of changing engines at Market Rasen was judged less than that of having an all-articulated fleet .Since the Fairlies had limited fuel capacity the only way to allow through running of locomotives would have been a complete re-equipment of the whole line, a prohibitively expensive undertaking. A third rail was laid in a few places, mostly over the many level crossings so as not to require these to be taken up during the work. Pointwork was built up, trial-assembled and delivered to site. Platforms were reduced in height to suit the smaller coaches (level being maintained by temporary wooden platforms for the last few weeks of standard gauge service) and station buildings suitably modified. Goods sheds needed complex alterations to suit both narrow and standard gauge wagons, the latter on transporters. This was generally done by digging out the formation to lower the rails and providing split-level loading platforms. The most complex job was at Wragby, where two adjacent stations at an awkward angle on two gauges had to be transformed into a narrow gauge junction. In the end, while Rasen trains continued to use the original line a temporary terminus served Horncastle trains and a complete new station was built in the goods yard, re-using the original building which had been built to suit the planned standard gauge junction and was awkwardly sited away from the standard gauge platforms. The old SG platforms and buildings would be demolished when regauging was complete.

With every possible preparation in place, the last standard gauge passenger train left Market Rasen in the early evening of the last Friday in October (the last train each way having being cancelled to allow more time for the work). It was closely followed by a special goods train tasked with gathering up every last item of standard gauge stock, in the personal charge of the superintendent of the line who walked every siding to find every vehicle, and handed a written authority to each ganger to start work. The local gangs were supplemented by men drawn from the Northern section and other departments, who were unskilled but willing and certainly boosted the available numbers. Points and running lines in station areas were done first, since this gave the gangers a datum to slew the plain line to, and enabled the S&T gangs and contractors to start their installation work. All of this work was done by noon on Saturday, enabling the BoT inspector to at least test it, shaving valuable hours from the all-line inspection scheduled for Monday. With the most difficult part of the job done by the 6am shift change it was now a case of steady continuous hard work, unbolting rails and unscrewing chairs, barring the rail inwards still keyed to the chairs, locating the pre-drilled holes, finally screwing the chairs down and rebolting the fishplates. Just enough was done to make the line usable- nonessential tasks like plugging the old screw holes were left for another day. As the light faded on Sunday the first completion report came in as the Reepham and Cherry Willingham gangs met. Further reports trickled in through the night, the last at a quarter past six as the Lissington and Market Rasen gangs met near Bleasby. Light engines crept cautiously out from Wragby, Market Rasen and Lincoln to test the work as the final shift change took place, the local men beginning work on their station sidings which had been left till last since they wouldn't affect the outcome of the inspection. The special 1-coach train conveying the inspector left at half past seven, as soon as the light engines completed their examination and possession was given up. While no passenger trains were scheduled to run that day, goods did not have to await the inspector's verdict and two heavy trains followed his special down the line, in an attempt to catch up with the backlog of traffic. The inspection itself was maddeningly thorough, and while the urgency was understood the man from the BoT was never going to cut corners. Market Rasen was not reached until 3pm and required a thorough examination since the junction had been completely remodelled. Eventually approval was given at 5.10pm, and the news was telegraphed down the line just in time to make the final edition. The first LGLUR train from Lincoln to Cleethorpes left early the following morning, nearly four decades after the line was first suggested.

Go back to Part 3: East, West, South and North | Continue to Part 5: The Final Links

[ © 2012 Tim Lockley & Rebecca Jane Lockley ]