Another lavishly illustrated book from a publisher with a special commitment to transport. The author has a long established reputation in writing on the subject of rail transportation. A concise history of every prototype and class of British-built main line locomotive is provided, supported by some outstanding colour photographs. It is difficult to see this book ever to be displaced as the definitive book on its subject.
NAME: Main Line Diesel Locomotives, The Rise and Fall of British Railways Main Line Diesel Locomotives
CLASSIFICATION: Book reviews
AUTHOR: John Vaughan
PUBLISHER: Haynes Publishing
BINDING: Hard back
SUBJECT: steam, engines, railtrack, technology, reproduction, diesel, feeder lines, main lines, decline
DESCRIPTION: Another lavishly illustrated book from a publisher with a special commitment to transport. The author has a long established reputation in writing on the subject of rail transportation. A concise history of every prototype and class of British-built main line locomotive is provided, supported by some outstanding colour photographs. It is difficult to see this book ever to be displaced as the definitive book on its subject. Rail history in Britain has been chequered. The first railways were established by competing commercial companies and safety often took the back seat. The early accident rate was horrendous. The motive force was provided by steam locomotives covering a wide range of sizes and power. Although that is now a nostalgic era, it is surprising that an efficient railway service emerged from the chaos. Lines were built without much overall planning. Stations were often added to suit the convenience of local landowners in consideration for selling land to the railway companies, smaller landowners securing an unmanned halt where they could flag down a passing train. However, rail rapidly began to outclass the canals and the stage coaches. As the industry emerged into the Twentieth Century, there was a more ordered service, safety improved, but commercial companies still competed with each other and the motor vehicle began to take some of their traffic. Before 1948, road transport did not make heavy inroads into the business of the railways because the main road system was not well suited to the motor vehicle, having been established to suit the horse. It was often more convenient to travel a short distance by road to take a train and travel some distance by changing trains periodically. This was aided by efficient timetables that allowed a journey to be planned. After 1948 that was all to change and there were several reasons. The Labour Government that came to power after WWII was determined to promote national socialist dogma and decided to nationalize a wide swathe of industries, with transport at the top of the list. Some industries benefited greatly because they received huge injections of public money, only to be de-nationalized by the next Conservative Government before bureaucracy could eat into them. The railways were not so lucky. They remained in public ownership almost into the Twenty First Century and even then ended up with the vital track nationalized. The pros and cons of a nationalized railway system have been hotly argued for decades and each new Government say that it wants to encourage the public to return to the railways to relieve road congestion. That is the framework into which particular elements fit. Some will argue that the steam locomotive was prematurely replaced by the wrong type of motive power. Diesel enthusiasts have argued that main line diesels were the best option. It is difficult to escape the belief that the steam engine was replaced by the diesel too quickly and without giving much thought to the options. The reality was that Britain was almost bankrupt in 1948 with the debt burden of a world war to pay off and a rapidly contracting Empire. The Government was wedded to the ideas of State Ownership and Central Control. In the event, the directive to introduce diesel power to the railways did not succeed in completely replacing the main line steam engine until 1968. Governments ignored the potential benefits of electric power, largely because of the costs for electrification. A further influence was introduced when politicians decided to scrap a large mileage of feeder track, without thinking about its impact on main line traffic. Motorists began to use their vehicles for complete journeys, travelling when they wanted and how they wanted. That pattern has not changed much with the privatisation of the railways. Politicians continue to argue about the best way to reduce private road travel and promote public transport. The author has covered the rise and fall of the British Main Line Diesel very effectively with the right balance of text and illustration. Many of the photographs are in colour and many have never before been published. The book will delight rail enthusiasts, particularly those too young to have seen the heyday of the diesel main line locomotive, but it is also a social history, recording a way of life and landscape that has much changed.