Train and locomotive working: general aspects


Push-pull train operation on the Steyning (SR) line










Coaching stock rostering:

Although the L.M.S/L.M.R. maintained fixed formations for its main-line services and the S.R. kept numbered fixed rakes of coaching stock, there were generally few attempts to standardise the formation of express trains. The maintenance of a great variety of train formations reduced the availability of all stock, because it restricted the planning of balancing and replacement services, increased the number of E.C.S. movements and complicated seat reservation arrangements. Mixed liveries and coupling arrangements and the necessity to provide adaptor-fitted coaches gave additional complications in the early 1960s.

Couplings and drawgear:

The drawgear, whose function is to transmit motive force to the vehicle, may be described as continuous or discontinuous (self-contained), depending on whether the couplings of the vehicle are connected by sprung drawbars or not. In the former case, the tractive force is distributed more evenly through the train.

The main types of coupling are as follows:

Buckeye (Gould) type: comprising knuckle-shaped hooks which interlock in a horizontal plane. Used on passenger stock and was standard on the L.N.E.R. and Pullman coaches, also later S.R. vehicles.

Chain link: 3-link used on unfitted freight stock.

Instanter type: a form of 3-link coupling with a triangular central link, permitting a long and a short coupled position. Used on fitted and unfitted freight stock.

RIV screw type: a form of screw coupling used on international freight stock.

Screw type: comprising two forged links coupled by an adjustable screw thread. Used on fitted freight stock and passenger coaches (exclusively by the G.W.R. and L.M.S.).

In addition emergency couplings for defective buckeye stock include emergency screw and emergency link, the latter for L.N.E.R. coaches.

Driver’s position in steam locomotives:

Before the grouping of 1923, the cab layout was such that the right-hand side of the cab was the driving position for most companies. The G. & S.W.R. latterly adopted left-hand drive which was then standard for the C.R., G.N.S.R., H.R., L.B.S.C.R., L.N.W.R., L.Y.R., and N.B.R. The L.S.W.R. and S.M.J. used both left-hand and right-hand drive. After 1924/5, the major companies, excluding the G.W.R., adopted left-hand drive as standard but in some cases only for new designs.

Notable batches of new locomotives which persisted with right-hand drive included L.M.S. 1045-84, 4027-4206, 4302-11 and the 3F 0-6-0Ts. Similarly some L.N.E.R. locomotives were so fitted initially: of classes A1, B12, J72, K3, P1 and T1.


Loading of trains:

In B.R. days the calculation of engine loads was based on the following approximate tare weights:

Type Weight in tons
Horse box, carriage truck, etc 10
4 or 6-wheel coach or brake van 20
8-wheel coach or brake van 30
Dining car, sleeping car or 70ft coach 40

Standard 4-wheel freight wagons were classified and given a notional weight according to priority and load:

1: coal, coke or patent fuel: 16 tons per wagon

2: other minerals: 13 tons per wagon

3: general merchandise : 10 tons per wagon

-: empty stock : 6 tons per wagon

Wagon labels were overprinted with the appropriate numerals. Certain dense mineral and bulk commodity loads were regarded as Class 1 for the purposes of calculating the lading of trains.

In 1964 a new method of load reckoning was introduced because diesel and electric traction was less tolerant of overloading than steam. The new scheme also served to avoid uneconomic underloading. Wagons were coded as follows: H for a wagon loaded to more than three-quarters of its capacity, M between half and three-quarters and L, for less than half. The load of a train was calculated in 'Basic Wagon Units' in conjunction with a ready reckoner. Some examples are:

Type of wagon and load No of BWUs Tons






13-ton L 1 10
13-ton H 123 10 17˝
16-ton H 2 14 21˝
24˝-ton H(coal) 3 10˝ 23˝ 34
27-ton H

(iron ore)

3 26˝ 34
42-ton H 19 33 52

Thus a Basic Wagon Unit is equivalent to between 10 and 11˝ tons gross weight.


Locomotive interchange trials:

In 1925 the G.W.R. and the L.N.E.R. interchanged Castle Class 4074 and Gresley Pacific 4474.

In 1926 the G.W.R. and the L.M.S. interchanged Castle Class no 5000 and a three-cylinder compound 4-4-0, no 1047.

The more well-known interchanges of 1948 involved a number of locomotives:

Express locomotives

Locomotive class Region of test
W.R. King W.R., E.R.
L.M.R. Rebuilt Scot W.R., E.R., L.M.R.’ S.Region
L.M.R. Duchess W.R., E.R., L.M.R., S.Region
E.R. Class A4 W.R., E.R., L.M.R., S.Region
S.Region Merchant Navy W.R., E.R., L.M.R., S.Region

Mixed traffic locomotives

W.R. Hall W.R.,E.R.
L.M.R. Class '5' W.R.,E.R.,L.M.R.,Sc.R.
E.R. Class B1 W.R.,E.R.,L.M.R.,Sc.R.
S.Region West Country W.R.,E.R.,L.M.R.,Sc.R.


The selected routes were as follows:

W.R.: Paddington-Plymouth (express), Bristol-Plymouth (mixed traffic)

L.M.R.: Euston-Carlisle (express), St Pancras-Manchester (mt)

E.R.: King's Cross-Leeds (express), Marylebone-Manchester (mt)

S.Region: Waterloo-Exeter (express)

Sc.R.: Perth-Inverness (mixed traffic)

Freight locomotives were also tested and these were W.R. Class 2800, E.R. Class O1, L.M.R. Class '8F' and 'Austerity' 2-8-0 and 2-10-0.

The selected routes were as follows:

W.R.: Acton-Severn Tunnel J.

L.M.R.: Toton Yard-Cricklewood

E.R.: Hornsey-Peterborough

W.R./S.Region: Bristol-Eastleigh


Locomotive power classification:

From 1920, G.W.R. locomotives were classified for power and weight by a letter as follows:

Ungrouped, A, B, C, D, E, Special, in order of increasing starting tractive effort. The upper limits of the groups in pounds were as follows:

16,500, 18,500, 20,500, 25,000, 33,000 and 38,000, with ‘Special’ above.

This system persisted on the Western Region after Nationalisation with the addition of classes DX and EX. 

Similarly the Western Section of the Southern Railway applied a 'haulage classification' mark: 'K' to 'A' but in order of increasing power. This classification was stated to be based on tractive effort combined with boiler and braking power. 

In 1924, the L.N.E.R. applied a scheme, primarily for freight working, which ultimately placed classes into nine groups numbered 1 to 9 in ascending order of power. This was used in the Southern Area, whereas in the North Eastern Area the complex N.E.R. scheme persisted. In the Scottish area, the N.B.R. scheme was eventually replaced by the L.N.E.R. classification. On the former G.N.S.R., a scheme of passenger and freight loads was published in 1928. 

The L.M.S. power classification system was based on that of the Midland Railway, using continuous tractive effort, at 50 mph for passenger classes and at 25 mph for goods (boiler power was considered but discarded as of questionable utility). The original groupings were: 

Passenger classes       Goods classes

Tractive effort (lbs)  Tractive effort (lbs) 

1    3,360 - 4,479           6,385 - 8,064

2    4,480 - 5,599           8,065 - 9,744

3    5,600 - 6,719           9,745 - 11,424

4    6,720 - 7,839           11,425 - 13,104

5    7,840 - 8,959           13,105 - 14,784

6                            14,785 - 16,464 

It became necessary to add groups 6 and 7 for passenger and 7 for goods: 

6    8,960 - 10,079

7    10,080 - 11,199         16,465 - 18,144 

Tank engines on the Midland Division were listed with P or G added, but all other classes were given only the number.

In 1928 the system was modified by adding P or F to the numbers and the smallest unclassified locomotives became 0P or 0F.

In 1937 the most powerful goods class was extended from 7F to 8F i.e. above 18,145lbs.

British Railways continued to use this system but introduced ‘MT’ for mixed traffic engines. The commonly published figures are however the higher starting tractive efforts.


Tractive effort

The effort exerted by a locomotive in moving a given load is known as the tractive force, or effort, and so is the propulsive force exerted by the driving wheel at its point of contact with the rail. The starting tractive effort is calculated for a steam locomotive by:

T.E. = d2 x s x p


where T.E. = tractive effort in lb, d = diameter of cylinder in inches, s = piston stroke in inches, w= working pressure in lb per square inch and w = diameter of the driving wheel in inches.

In practice the figure obtained is reduced to 85% to accommodate the commonly accepted average pressure which allows for the fact that the steam supply is cut off before the piston has made its full stroke.

For three-cylinder locomotives the final value is multiplied by 1˝, and by 2 for four-cylinder engines.

It must be emphasised that tractive effort is largely a theoretical value dependent on wheel adhesion, the weight of the engine and climatic conditions.

Movable platforms:

Space considerations sometimes necessitated the provision of movable platforms to bridge rails, particularly at termini such as at Waterloo (1864-1922). Other examples include those where road level crossings intersected platforms and here movable platforms were integrated with the crossing gates.

Oil-burning scheme for steam locomotives:

Coal shortages after the last war caused the G.W.R. to convert 18 freight locomotives to burn heavy fuel oil, early in 1946. Following success with these engines and with a Hall class loco, the Minister of Transport announced a scheme to convert 1217 more, of the four major companies. However, the fuel situation changed and the scheme was abandoned in 1947 after 93 conversions. Prior to this, the L.M.S. converted some locomotives during the General Strike of 1926.

'One-way' stations:

Certain stations had an advertised service in one direction only. Some were effectively ticket platforms (q.v.) whereas others provided school, market or other special services. Examples include Scafell (ex-Cam.R.), York Rd (E.R., London) and various halts.

Push-pull operation:

In this system, some of the locomotive controls were linked mechanically to a control set in the autocar/driving trailer of a push-pull steam passenger train for use by the driver when the train was being propelled. The L.M.S. and L.N.E.R. favoured a system which gave the minimum of controls in the driving trailer, namely a communicating bell (to the fireman), a vacuum brake valve which could close the regulator and a linkage to the whistle. In the G.W.R. auto-trains, all routine operations could be carried out by the driver and locomotives were provided with two regulator operating rods to front and rear buffer beams for 'sandwich' operation. The S.R. adopted the L.B.S.C.R. system which used compressed air from the Westinghouse pump to operate the control linkage.

Push-pull trains were developed by the G.W.R. after 1905 and these progressively replaced the steam railcars (which last ran in 1935), in which the locomotive and passenger car were integrated into one unit. The last regular scheduled push-pull service was that between Seaton (L.M.R.) and Stamford in 1965.

Push-pull fitted locomotives

Locomotives fitted at various times include some representatives from the following classes:


Classes 517 (initially), ‘Metro’ 455, 655, 1076/1134, 2021, 4500, 4800 (later 1400, all members), 5400 (all members), 6400 (all members)

Southern Railway group

L.S.W.R.: (C14, S14 0-4-0T, experimentally), M7 (all with extended front overhang, 22 locos), O2. T1, 0415

L.B.S.C.R.: A1, D1, D3

S.E.C.R.: H, P, R/R1

L.M.S. group

L.N.W.R.: Webb 4’6” 2-4-2T (6515 series), later Webb 5’6” 2-4-2T (6601 series), 0-6-2 Coal Tank (7550 series)

L.Y.R.: Class 2P 2-4-2T (10621 series)

M.R.: Johnson 1P 0-4-4T (1226 – later 58030 series)

L.M.S.: 2P 0-4-4T Fowler 3P 2-6-2T ((4000)1 series, 12 locos), 2MT 2-6-2T (41210-29, 41270-89, 41320-9), 2P 0-4-4T ((4)1900-9, all members), Fowler 3F 0-6-0T (474XX series, 5 locos)

L.N.E.R. group

G.C.: C13/14, F2 (all, post-1923), N5

G.E.R.: F4, F5 (6 locos after 1949), F7, N7

G.N.: C12 (post-war)

N.B.R.: C15 (8 locos)

N.E.R.: G5, G6

British Railways

Class 2 2-6-2T (all members)

Class 73 Electrodiesel (all members) E6001 series


Route availability of coaches:

Because of tight clearances of overline structures on parts of the S.R., route restriction numbers were applied to the locomotive-hauled coaching stock: 0, 1, 2A, 2, 3, 4, 6 in order of increasing restriction, particularly with respect to former S.E.C.R. lines.

Route availability of locomotives:

Restrictions on the working of locomotives over the routes of the former G.W.R. were denoted by a colour code: uncoloured, yellow, blue, red and double red (special) in order of increasing restriction.

Similarly Route Availability numbers were used over former L.N.E.R. lines, (R.A.) 1-9 in order of increasing restriction.

Shed facilities and duties:

Locomotive running sheds fell into four broad categories: straight road, either through or single ended, roundhouse or semi-roundhouse. The layout of tracks and facilities varied according to space considerations and local requirements. In addition to the provisions for coal. water and sand and the disposal of ash and sludge, water softening plant was installed at some larger depots.

Duties of firemen: coming on duty

Sign on; look at notice boards and see number of engine booked on sheet. Get the keys and lamps (of two shades), flags and detonators. Examine water level in boiler, fire in firebox, smokebox door, ashpan, tube ends, brick arch, firebars, and try the injectors. See that there is a full set of fire-irons, comprising clinker shovel, dart, rake, pricker, pinch bar, set of tools, oil bottles, feeders, bucket, fire shovel, quarter hammer, handbrush, and scoop. Make the fire up, using some broken brick or wet sand to prevent the bars burning. Check that the coal is placed safely and that the destination boards, discs and lamps are in good order. Then work to the driver's instructions.

: return to shed

See that there is a proper supply of coal, water and sand. Go with engine over the ashpit and fill up the boiler, before dropping the fire, to reduce excessive cooling stresses. Clean out the smokebox, with firehole door and dampers closed, using jet as little as possible, then drop the fire and clean out the ashpan. After arrival in shed, open the cylinder drain cocks; put the reversing lever in mid-gear; lock up tools, etc., and see that the handbrake is hard on.


The shunting methods fall broadly into four types:

fly by uncoupling the locomotive from the stock to be shunted while they are in motion
gravity by using the presence of an incline with or without the additional momentum provided by a locomotive
horse the last shunt horse was retired in 1967 at Newmarket (E.R.)
loose by propelling wagons which have been uncoupled while stationary


Slip coach working:

This practice was initiated in 1858 by the L.B.S.C.R. or S.E.R. (history is unclear), whereby a rear section of a moving passenger train was detached and the (slip) guard applied the brakes to halt the detached section at the destination station. Latterly the release operation was provided by a hinged coupling hook on the front of the slip portion of the train, normally held rigid by a sliding bar passing in front of it, but caused to drop when this bar was withdrawn by the action of a lever under the slip guard's control. Automatic sealing of train-heating and vacuum brake pipes took place after the 'slip'. Corridor connections were not normally fitted on slip coaches.

Small lineside signals informed the slip guard when to effect the detachment, which he completed after applying his hand-brake slightly to ensure that the slip would draw well behind the rest of the train. A shunting locomotive was required to be attached in places where the slip had insufficient momentum, e.g. Heywood Road J., Westbury where The Cornish Riviera took the cut-off line.

The G.W.R. was the principal exponent of slip coach services and, after the last war, only the W.R. reintroduced these services. The last slip coach service was that for Bicester from Paddington on 12.9.60. On other railways, the last S.R. slip coach services were withdrawn in 1932 after electrification of the Brighton line. In Scotland all the pregrouping companies, except the H.R., operated slip services but these were not reinstated after the first world war. Other operating companies included the G.E.R., M.R. and L.N.W.R. On the L.N.E.R. the last surviving service prior to the last war was that from Liverpool St to Marks Tey.

Through working of passenger trains:

The longest through coach working was that inaugurated in 1921 between Aberdeen and Penzance (785mi), via Edinburgh, York, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Banbury, Oxford and Bristol. The longest regular working of complete through trains was that of the naval specials which worked daily between Euston and Thurso (c721mi) during the last war, for personnel travelling to Scapa Flow. The journey of The Royal Highlander from Euston to Inverness (568mi) was the longest train working in post-war years.

Ticket platforms:

The placing of special platforms for ticket collecting purposes outside the larger stations was a common feature of Victorian railway practice. In the London area it was customary to stop trains at a station shortly before the terminus at what was virtually a 'ticket station'. Although this practice largely died out in the early part of this century, the northern one at Perth lasted into post-war years.

Train classification/identification of locomotive-hauled stock:

Trains were classified as below. These codes/classifications were used in working timetables and were directly related to signal box bell codes (q.v.). They were also used to cross-refer train loads to the train-engine of appropriate power.

In addition the usual method of train identification was by headlamp codes (see figure). These early B.R. codes were applicable to all but the Southern Region. Train tail lamps are described in one of the signalling files.




Class of train

A Express passenger, newspaper, or breakdown train, express diesel car, snowplough on duty, light engine proceeding to assist disabled train, fire brigade train proceeding to fire.
  Officers' special train not requiring to stop in section.
B Ordinary passenger or mixed train, loaded rail motor train, ordinary or parcels diesel car, breakdown train not on duty, fire brigade train not proceeding to fire.
  Branch passenger train where authorised.
C Parcels, fish, fruit, livestock, meat, milk or other perishable train, composed entirely of vehicles conforming to coaching stock requirements.
  Express freight, livestock, perishable or ballast train, pipe-fitted throughout and with the vacuum brake operative on not less than half of the vehicles.
  Empty coaching stock (not specially authorised to carry class A headcode) or empty rail motor train.
D Express freight, livestock, perishable or ballast train with not less than one third of the vehicles vacuum braked and piped to the engine.
E Express freight, livestock, perishable or ballast train with not less than four vehicles vacuum braked and piped to the engine.
  Express freight, livestock, perishable or ballast train of limited load not fitted with the vacuum brake.
F Express freight, livestock, perishable or ballast train not fitted with continuous brakes.
G Light engine or engines coupled.
  Engine with not more than two brake vans.
H Through freight or ballast train not running under class C, D, E, or F regulations.
J Mineral or empty wagon train.
K Freight, mineral or ballast train stopping at intermediate stations.
  Branch freight train where authorised.
  Freight, ballast or officers' special train, requiring to stop in section.

The term 'rail motor train' includes push-pull trains and motor trains.

Some additional subordinate codes used in working timetables include:

ECS: empty coaching stock train

M: mails delivered or received at lineside apparatus

Q: runs when required (colloquially a Q train)

R: stops when required

U: stops only to take up

The train classification codes were revised in 1962 and the general grouping was as follows:

Class Type of train
1 Express passenger, newspaper, or breakdown train, snowplough on duty, light engine proceeding to assist disabled train.
2 Ordinary or branch* passenger train, mixed train, breakdown train not on duty.
3 Parcels, fish, fruit, livestock, milk or other perishable train composed entirely of vehicles conforming to coaching stock requirements, empty coaching stock (not specially authorised to carry class 1 code).
4 Express freight train, pipe fitted throughout and with not less than 90% of vehicles fitted with operative vacuum brake.
5 Express freight train with automatic vacuum brake operative on not less than half the vehicles in it.
6 Express freight partly fitted, with the automatic vacuum brake operative on not less than 20% of the vehicles.
7 Express freight train not fitted with the automatic brake.
8 Through freight train not fitted with the automatic brake.
9 Pick-up, branch freight or ballast train requiring to stop in section.
0 Light engine(s) with not more than two brake vans.

* where authorised

These codes were altered again in 1969, in response to the increased availability of fitted stock.

To supplement the headcode system some pre-group and later companies used destination boards or 'reporting numbers' in densely trafficked areas. The L.M.S gave some cross country services, excursion and relief trains numerical codes. The number was made up from paper stickers applied to a backing board attached to the 'B' or 'G' lamp iron (see figure above). In some cases the divisional identification letter was incorporated in the code:

W: Western (L.N.W.R.) lines

M: Midland (M.R.) lines

C: Central division (L.Y.R.) lines

N: Northern (Scottish) lines

This practice lasted into B.R. days.

The G.W.R. and later the W.R. identified specific express, relief and special trains with three figure numerical codes, displayed on large frames on the boiler front. Excursion trains were given a two digit number prefixed by 'X'. In general each code related to a unique departure time and journey. In 1959 the scheme was rationalised so that the first numeral (0-9) related to the destination.

The Southern Railway/Southern Region followed pre-grouping practice and used 1, 2 or 3 disc/lamp codes to identify groups of non-conflicting routes.

In 1961 B.R. introduced four-character headcodes for use on all regions except the Southern. The first digit indicated the class of train (1-9 and 0) as above. The second digit showed the destination operating district, division or region:

E: Eastern Region

M: London Midland Region

N: North Eastern Region

O: Southern Region

S: Scottish Region

V: Western Region

For intra-regional services the remaining letters were used as follows:

E.R. (prior to May 1967):

A: East Coast main line

B: King's Cross/Hitchin/Cambridge

C: Hitchin/Grantham

D: Doncaster

F: special to East Coast main line (not via L.M.R.)

G: Sheffield (G.C.)

H: Sheffield (L.M.R. area)

J: March/Boston/Lincoln

K: Firsby/Skegness/Louth

L: Grimsby/Cleethorpes

P: Barton/New Holland/Immingham

T: not normally used

X: special to or via L.M.R.

Z: special operating within E.R.

Great Eastern lines:

O: fast or semi-fast train

L: stopping train

A: special operating within G.E. section

North Eastern Region (prior to May 1967)

A: East Coast main line

B: York Division

C: Wakefield Division

D: Middlesborough Division

G: Newcastle Division

H: Hull Division

L: Leeds Division

London Midland Region (at introduction)

A: Euston and London (Western)

B: Rugby (and Euston)

C: St Pancras and Marylebone (Midland) or Manchester (West)

D: Nottingham/Chester

F: Leicester/Liverpool

G: Birmingham

H: Manchester (South)

J: Manchester (North)

K: Stoke-on-Trent (including Crewe)

L: Barrow-in-Furness

P: Derby/Preston

T: special trains operating within L.M.R.

Western Region (1963)

A: London District

B: Bristol District

C: Exeter and Plymouth districts

F: Swansea District

H: Birmingham and Gloucester districts

J: Shrewsbury District

T: Newport and Cardiff districts

Z: Excursion, military and special trains operating within W.R.

Scottish Region (the scheme was not fully implemented and few intra-regional trains carried the full code):

A: Glasgow or Edinburgh to Aberdeen

G: Aberdeen to Edinburgh or Glasgow

N: Northern lines (to or from Inverness)

The third and fourth characters identified the route and/or destination and here there were marked variations between the regions in the systems used.

From 1976 the practice of displaying reporting numbers was discontinued.