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The General Manager's Report

Discussion in 'Bullhead Memories' started by Ploughman, Feb 27, 2018.

  1. Ploughman

    Ploughman Part of the furniture

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    Thought it may be worth while posting this wartime report considering the current weather conditions.

    THE GENERAL MANAGERS REPORT


    This event that took place during wartime conditions in the North East. This is a verbatim copy of the report by Jenkin Jones.


    Mr. Jenkin Jones, former Divisional General Manager of the North Eastern Area of the LNER. Wrote a report Dated 4th March 1941, which gave a factual account of a really bad storm which started on 19th February. This story needs no embellishment, except to note that it occurred in wartime which increased the difficulties, and is hereby reproduced in full.


    Before dawn on Wednesday, 19th February, a snow storm started in the North Eastern Area. In the Southern half of Northumberland, in County Durham and the extreme North East corner of Yorkshire the snow continued to fall for 56 hours, until about midday on Friday 21st February, and caused widespread havoc to railway working and railway communications. The snowfall varied from 1 to 4 feet, but was, of course, very much deeper where drifting occurred reaching in some cases a depth of 14 feet. The worst damage was caused within an area bounded by a line drawn in a South West direction from the coast near Alnmouth, through Hexham and Wearhead to Kirkby Stephen; then East through Darlington to Yarm; then South West to Northallerton, and thence North East to the coast near Saltburn. By Noon on Wednesday points were getting blocked with snow and rail traffic began to suffer serious delays; the snow was of the wet and heavy kind which clings to telegraph and telephone wires, and in the course of Wednesday and Thursday, 19th and 20th February, through the weight of snow wires were breaking and telegraph poles falling, often across the lines, throughout the affected area. It was found impossible to keep points clear of snow, and shunting movements in Newcastle Station were occupying as much as an hour and a half, the points over which a train had passed being again snowed up before the movement could be completed. This congestion of traffic was caused outside Newcastle Station as platforms could not be provided for trains waiting to come into the Station from all directions. By Thursday morning, block telegraph communication, telegraphs and telephones had failed throughout the whole area defined above, consisting of approximately 600 route miles, and no communication was possible from one signal box to another or between signal boxes and the District or Central Controls. Trains had in consequence to be worked on the time interval system, being stopped and warned at each signal box. As a result of the extreme slowness of the movements in Newcastle Station trains bunched up on every line approaching Newcastle. In the blinding snowstorm many trains became derailed and some collisions occurred. At one time on Thursday afternoon the main line and all alternative routes between Darlington and Newcastle were blocked as well as the lines into Newcastle from the West, North and East. On some lines, as many as eight trains were standing one behind the other, and it is a conservative estimate that at least 50 trains were at this time standing at different points waiting to proceed towards Newcastle and unable to make a forward movement of any kind. Steps were at once taken to terminate all trains from the South at Darlington and to stop the despatch of any further trains from Scotland; the through service to Scotland was provided by the West Coast route through the ready help of the LMS. Company. Skeleton services were maintained on most branch lines, including an emergency steam service on the electrified lines. Throughout Thursday afternoon and night and Friday morning the slow process continued of disentangling the trains and bringing them to some station at which the passengers could detrain. It was realized early on Thursday that serious delays to passenger trains were inevitable, and an organisation was set up to get food delivered to stranded passengers, particularly to those held up in positions difficult of access to the South of Newcastle. Meanwhile, roads as well as railways becoming impassable, and all means of travel became practically impossible. Goods and mineral traffic throughout the area affected was practically at a standstill on Thursday and Friday. In addition to the Main Line and the principal alternative routes between Darlington and Newcastle no less than 32 branch lines were blocked and 37 different passenger train services were entirely disorganised.


    It was decided that the Superintendent, Engineer and Signal Engineer should remain in York and that their Assistants should go to Newcastle to direct operations from there. The assistant Superintendent was fortunately in Newcastle on Wednesday night, having been stranded on the way to Carlisle; the assistant Engineer left York for Newcastle by road at noon on Thursday and arrived at midnight, the Great North road being strewn with derelict cars; the assistant Signal Engineer left York by train at 6.00 p.m. on Thursday and reached Newcastle at 6.00a.m. on Friday.


    Meanwhile the Permanent way staff were working under appalling conditions endeavoring to release trains blocked in the snow and to keep open access to the principal stations. 10 pairs of snowploughs were at work on 20 different branches, in the case of some branches for the first time in living memory. Tool vans were called out on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to deal with no less than 25 cases of derailments. In addition to large numbers of the Engineers own staff about 1,000 soldiers were occupied for several days clearing snow and removing poles and wires from the lines.


    The complete lack of ordinary methods of communication made it impossible to ascertain the exact location of trains, but it was possible to keep a general check on the position by comparing the number of trains which had left Darlington with the number which had reached Durham or other places to the North by the different routes, and similarly between other places. The only means of communication available were an emergency trunk telephone line which the Post Office had agreed by prior arrangement to place at our disposal in case of need and a second trunk line which the Post Office most helpfully gave us in view of the magnitude of the dislocation with which we had to deal. These gave communication between York and the principal District Headquarters affected by the storm but could not be used to any intermediate points. It was known on Thursday morning that there were three passenger trains stranded in the neighbourhood of Durham, and arrangements were made with the Military Authorities to send 18 buses from Newcastle to look for the trains and endeavour to bring the passengers to Newcastle. The buses got as far as Plawsworth, 4 miles North of Durham without finding the trains; they were unable to get further South on account of the snowbound roads and returned empty to Newcastle. As it was thus found impossible to bring the passengers to the food which had been prepared for them at Newcastle it was decided to endeavour to get the food to them where they were stranded, so at 2.15 p.m. a 4 ton motor left Newcastle with a crew consisting of a Cartage Clerk in charge, 2 Motor Drivers, 4 Checkers and a Loader; and also a 2 ton motor with one Motor Driver for emergencies. The 4 ton lorry carried sandwiches, pork pies, biscuits, cakes, tea and milk for 600 passengers; the party was armed with picks, shovels, chains and mats, and instructed to find the trains at all costs. The experiences of the party were so remarkable that I describe them in full.


    At Low Fell 3 miles South of Newcastle, the 4 ton lorry ran into a snowdrift and the crew dug it out; they then came up against a derailed and snowed up tram – they helped to rerail it and get it on its way – and out of theirs; a quarter of a mile further on they found a bus across the road; they dug it out and with the help of their mats got it on its journey. They reached Durham – a total journey of 14 miles at 6.45p.m. After 4 ½ hours hard going. Here they got their first news of one of the trains one mile further South. The 2 ton lorry was then sent back to Newcastle (where it arrived at 9.40 p.m.) to report that the trains had been located. The 4 ton lorry finding the direct road to the train blocked by 3 stranded buses and 2 army Lorries, made a detour and by 7.15 p.m. reached a farm, the nearest point accessible by motor, half a mile away from the train which had left King’s Cross at 10.25 p.m. on the previous night. The party then waded across fields through half a mile of snow waist deep, going to and fro carrying the food to the train and sliding the hampers down the embankment. The urns of tea – of course stone cold – and milk were too heavy to carry, but the men were not to be defeated – they borrowed suitable receptacles from the farm and got the liquids as well as the solids to the train; by 9.00p.m. they reached the second train, the 8.20 p.m. from King’s Cross the previous day, and delivered food and drink to the passengers. The third train – the 10.05 a.m. from York – was discovered 1 ¾ miles further South and supplies of food and drink were eventually delivered to this train also with the help of the station staff at Durham. The lorry, with its 8 men, set out on its return journey at 12.30 a.m. and got back to Newcastle shortly after 2. A.m. 12 hours after it had set off. The resource and determination of the men concerned were beyond all praise; but they are only typical of the spirit and devotion shewn in this great emergency by all members of the staff within the limits of their opportunities.


    Meanwhile 5 other L.N.E.R. lorries and 6 Northern General buses had rescued passengers from Low Fell and Bensham and taken them to Newcastle. The Hotel Manager at Newcastle stocked up all his platform trolley cars with food and drink, and trains from the North were fed as they arrived in Newcastle by the Hotels staff, who were on duty in some cases for 16 hours. The Refreshment rooms were also kept open all night, and passengers were informed in the Refreshment Rooms of the times of their forward services.


    Meanwhile the work of rescuing the stranded trains went on ceaselessly. Some trains eventually moved forward to Durham or Newcastle while others were drawn back to Darlington. By 9.00 a.m. on Friday all passengers had been brought to stations at which they could detrain, some after journeys which had taken them well over 24 hours. In the Down direction the trains which suffered worst were the – 7.15 p.m., 8.20p.m., 10.15 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. trains from King’s Cross on the Wednesday night. They reached Newcastle at 12.38 a.m., 9.25 a.m., 10.37 a.m. and 12.12 a.m. on Friday, their journeys having occupied 29 hrs. 23 mins. 37 hrs. 5 mins. 36hrs. 22 mins. And 36 hrs 42 mins.


    The passengers in the 11.30 p.m. train from King’s Cross on Wednesday night experienced exceptional vicissitudes. The train reached Darlington at 6.08 a.m. on Thursday morning and went on to Aycliffe, 5 miles further North, where it was stopped behind a derailment. The train was drawn back into Darlington station between 9.30 and 10.00 a.m. and sent forward towards Eaglescliffe in an attempt to reach Newcastle by the coast. The Eaglescliffe line was found to be blocked by falling telegraph poles, and the train was again drawn back to Darlington. It was then sent forward soon after noon via Bishop Auckland with the intention of rejoining the Main Line at Durham, North of the derailment at Aycliffe. The train was, however, again blocked behind other trains on the Bishop Auckland branch, and ultimately the passengers were removed from the train and brought back to Darlington at about 3 o’clock on the Friday morning.


    In the Up direction, the effect of the delays was not quite so serious as passengers had the opportunity of getting rest and refreshment at Newcastle before proceeding on their journeys. The most protracted journeys Edinburgh to Newcastle were those of the – 10.00 p.m. and 10.20 p.m. trains on the Wednesday which reached Newcastle at 5.17 p.m. and 7.26 p.m. on Thursday, namely journeys of 19 hrs. 17 mins. And 21 hrs. 6 mins. Respectively. The Company’s Newcastle Hotel was packed with stranded visitors on the nights of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, as many as 120 people sleeping in the public rooms.


    On Friday the work of repairing the damage at once began concurrent with the rerailing operations of the breakdown gangs, and the clearing work of the snowploughs. It was agreed that the most urgent task in the interests of safety was the re-establishment of block working on the more important lines; and it speaks well for the energy of the Engineer’s and the Superintendents staff that by Thursday the 27th February, nearly half the destroyed mileage of block working had been restored, and by Tuesday, the 25th February, the Main Line was working at 70 % of its normal capacity.


    By Today (Tuesday 4th March) 75% of the block telegraph has been restored and time interval working is now confined to a few comparatively unimportant branches. It is a matter for congratulation that in spite of the absence of the usual safeguards in the running of trains, the collisions which occurred were of a comparatively minor nature and that there was an almost complete absence of injury either to passengers or to the company’s staff, the only exception being 5 or 6 passengers in a collision at Scotswood who sustained very slight injuries. Up to the present it has only been found possible to restore about 20 % of the control telephone circuits; and practically none of the other telephones. The traffic of the area is consequently being worked in a somewhat haphazard way with little direction from the District Controls or from Headquarters. This absence of communication seriously reduces the capacity of the line, and a strict rationing of both passenger and freight traffic is essential if we are to avoid serious congestion which would quickly lead to a state of immobility. The Northern Command has helped very materially in the passenger problem by cancelling all leave affecting Northumberland and Durham. The measures taken, which must continue for a week or two longer, have kept the position fluid and are enabling us gradually to deal with the great accumulation of traffic in this area and the loads stopped back in other areas waiting our acceptance. If we are not pressed to deal with traffic beyond our immediate capacity, we expect within a comparatively short time to get back to a full service of trains. Next week we should be able to improve substantially on the programme to which we are at present working.


    The work of repair – or even of surveying the amount of damage – was retarded by the hard frost which continued unbroken until Wednesday 26th February. The fallen telegraph poles and wires were buried under frozen snow and could not easily be located. A thaw set in on the 26th February, with such rapid change of temperature that both operation and repairs were further delayed by floods caused by the melting snow. The organisation of the repair work has necessitated the adoption of special measures. The principal need has been for wiremen and semi skilled staff who are practised in dealing with the repair of telegraph and telephone lines. In the necessary expansion of staff we have received from all quarters the readiest help. The North Eastern Area staff whom we have been able to put on this work totals about 80 men. Last week this was supplemented by about 120 men lent to us by the Royal Corps of Signals and by the Southern and Scottish Areas. With the departure of the snow it is possible to employ more staff on repairs, and this week the total numbers will be about 200, further additional aid having been supplied by all the sources mentioned above with additional substantial and most valuable help from the L.M.S. Company. The L.M.S. Company and the other areas of the L.N.E Company have also given great help in the matter of material. In order to avoid the loss of any hours of daylight six special trains have been brought into use with feeding and sleeping facilities to house the Engineer’s repair staff on the site of their work. In both the Newcastle and Darlington districts, Committees consisting of Engineers and Traffic Department representatives have been set up to organise the repair work, to agree on priority, to control the working of the special trains and to arrange the food supplies.


    No detailed survey of the damage has yet been possible. The best that the Engineer can say on the time required for complete reinstatement of the damaged facilities is that, even if he is able to retain the services of all the men now on loan and experience no shortage of material, it will be impossible for the whole of the work to be completed before the end of May at the earliest. The absence of facilities for such a long period is a very serious matter, but we are of course, concentrating on the most urgent work and we hope that by the end the present month we shall have completed restoration of the block telegraph and of about 55% of the telephones specially used for Control purposes. The remainder, which consists of extensive damage in scattered areas, is less vital but, in view of the importance of shortening the total period as far as ever possible, the Engineer has again been in touch with the Military Authorities and is pressing them for the loan of a further 80 skilled men. If we are able to obtain the services of these the total period required for repair will be somewhat reduced. It is not, however, possible at the present time for the Engineer to give any more definite estimate than that quoted above. Even so many of the repairs will be of a temporary nature but their completion on a permanent basis will be a matter of less urgency. Some idea of the amount of work to be undertaken may be inferred from the Signal Engineer’s very rough estimate that he will require not less than 10,000 insulators and 4,000 miles of copper wire to complete the work.


    We have experienced what is without question the greatest dislocation of railway facilities which has ever occurred in this country. The emergency has been faced by all concerned with resolution, with skill and with good temper. Men voluntarily remained on duty for as long as they could be of service – in many cases for 30 hours – in some cases over 50 hours. There are so many cases of outstanding service that it would be invidious in this report to single out any for particular mention. It is perhaps sufficient to say that the staff of the Area by the determination and endurance with which they faced a great devastation have quickly brought it within manageable limits, and that by their spirit f service to the public and to the country they have shewn an example of the highest conception of the duty of Railwaymen.

    This is a verbatim extract from a chapter in:-

    RAILWAY SNOW FIGHTING EQUIPMENT AND METHODS.

    By G Richard Parkes (Self published in 1961)


    C M Jenkin Jones who was the author of the report was at one time the Assistant General Superintendent of the NORTH EASTERN RAILWAY and as stated later became the General Manager of the NE area of the LNER

    He was also the author of “The North Eastern Railway “A Centenary Story. Dated 1954 and published by British Railways (NE Region)
     
    John Baritone, 2392, 242A1 and 8 others like this.
  2. StoneRoad

    StoneRoad Active Member

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    Good grief - that is one tremendous effort, fighting against nature, like that. Brings modern day problems into perspective ...
    .
    Byran, I presume your pride and joy was one of the paired snowploughs "mentioned in dispatches" in the third paragraph. Am I right in remembering you saying that it was in the snowdrift at Bleath Gill film ?
     
  3. Ploughman

    Ploughman Part of the furniture

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    My Plough 18 was the timber one in the film appearing under its alter ego number.
    Unusually though the other plough, one of the steel bodied versions, was standing in for its usual partner No 20 which also still exists at Beamish in long term store.
    The Steel one was not so lucky.
     
  4. StoneRoad

    StoneRoad Active Member

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    Waiting for a reunion ?
    But without the snow !
     
  5. John Baritone

    John Baritone New Member

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    It's also worth bearing in mind that all concerned were doing it on war-time food rations, which were pretty sparse by 1941!
     
    CH 19 likes this.

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