How good was Gresley?

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60041
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How good was Gresley?

Post by 60041 » Mon May 26, 2008 9:00 am

Things have been quiet on the forum for a bit, so I thought that I would liven it up with the question: "How good was Gresley?"
The recent failure of 60009 on a special working, and the discussion on these pages about the shortcomings of the J39 made me wonder how good an engineer he actually was. The mechanical weaknesses of his 3 cylinder designs (particularly the conjugated valve gear) are well known, but other designs such as the W1, J39, K4 and V4 also had problems. The A1/A3 design needed modification before it showed it's true potential.
There is no doubt that he produced some of the most beautiful locomotives ever built, but how good was the engineering?

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Post by Pyewipe Junction » Mon May 26, 2008 10:55 pm

I'm glad you've raised this topic, 60041. I've been thinking about this myself.

When it all boils down, a lot of Gresley's designs (apart from, it seems the A1/3s) had niggling problems. Nothing earth-shattering, but things that detracted from the overall potential of the designs. Contrast Gresley with designers like Stanier and Collett and you get the picture.

My own view is that Gresley was too much of a fiddler and was also easily distracted in search of the 'Holy Grail' of performance - rotary valve gear, boosters etc. Innovation and experimentation are fine, providing not too much is at stake if they fail. He also appears to have been quite autocratic and stubborn. Given the LNER's parlous financial situation I'm surprised the Board let him get away with it for so long.

Please don't get me wrong - I'm not anti-Gresley by any means. But it must always be remembered that railway companies were run as businesses, not for the benefit of railway enthusiasts, and I can't help thinking that all the money spent on experimentation and extra maintenance could have been put to better use.

Is there a book on Gresley that analyses his work without becoming a hagiography? =18][/size]

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Post by 60041 » Tue May 27, 2008 12:55 am

I agree with you. Gresley's pacifics and the V2 were extremely successful designs (although the A1 did need a redesign of the front end and an increase in boiler pressure) and they were capable of extremely hard work, but there was always an underlying reliability problem with the resultant high maintenance costs. When you compare Gresley's designs with those of Stanier, the superiority of the Black5, 8F and 8P is immediately obvious.
Thompson recognised these weaknesses, and lost no time in starting a rebuilding programme, but his designs also displayed serious shortcomings and it was only when Peppercorn came along that the LNER got the express motive power that it deserved.
I am surprised that the board allowed him to experiment as much as it did, but then again one of Gresley's assistants was Bulleid and look what he got away with at the Southern!

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Post by brsince78 » Tue May 27, 2008 8:33 pm

the A1 did need a redesign of the front end and an increase in boiler pressure
The A1/A3 design needed modification before it showed it's true potential
It must be remembered that his original A1 design was on the drawing board in 1922 and probably a year before that. Contrast that to what his contempories were producing (Churchward excepted) at that time. Locomotive design was far from a precise science in those days. In fact Gresley was one of the most vociferous campaigners for the Loco Testing station that was eventually constructed at Rugby. Sadly he died before he could use it to perfect his later designs.

Sure enough the conjugated gear of which he was so fond was found to be unsuitable for the maintenance conditions during the war and post war periods. I think I recall reading somewhere that Freddie Harrison, who worked as Peppercorn's deputy at Doncaster, was quoted as saying that the Peppercorn A1 Pacifics were engines that Gresley himself would have designed if he had lived.

You can also trace Gresley's influence in the last Class 8 Pacific built for use in Britain, 71000 "Duke of Gloucester". The design for this was drawn up by the Derby drawing office during Harrison's time there as CM&EE for the London Midland Region. The experiments in rotary cam gear, originally tried by Gresley, finally paid off. The original design was only marred by the use of the "Dean Goods" chimney (I've never seen a satisfactory explanation as to why this was chosen) and mistakes in construction of the air spaces around the ashpan. Both of which would have been sorted out had the modernisation plan not halted steam development in 1955.

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Post by Flamingo » Wed May 28, 2008 8:56 am

Pyewipe Junction wrote:I'm glad you've raised this topic, 60041. I've been thinking about this myself.

When it all boils down, a lot of Gresley's designs (apart from, it seems the A1/3s) had niggling problems. Nothing earth-shattering, but things that detracted from the overall potential of the designs. Contrast Gresley with designers like Stanier and Collett and you get the picture.
This thread seems to me like revisionism in the making. Not uncommon in this day and age in a wide range of topics both on and off the railway.

The early Stanier Pacifics certainly had problems and needed significant improvements to the boiler before they performed consitently. Likewise his 3-cylinder Jubilees.

Turning to C B Collett it could be said that all he really did was to enlarge G J Churchward's design of 4-cylinder 4-6-0 engines and reduce the wheel diameter of his 2-cylinder ones. Both varieties had already proved successful for many years prior to Collett's period at Swindon. The GWR had developed and standardised proven components to a fine art so any inherent weaknesses in Collett's designs had already been overcome. Their only long-lasting weakness, if it could be called one, was that they needed Welsh steam coal to perform at their best and were not so successful in later years when the fuel quality was less consistent. Thus in the 1950s BR introduced double chimneys and other improvements which kept them on top of their work.



wchange thes

Odid not get his Pacifics

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Post by Pyewipe Junction » Wed May 28, 2008 11:14 pm

Hi Flamingo:

If by 'revisonism' you mean taking a hard critical look at things with the benefit of the perspective of hindsight, then I'll put my hand up for that. And you are right, few designs are perfect from the word go.

Yes, you are correct thatollett benefited from the legacy of Churchward, but he was wise enough to proceed by a process of evolution, not revolution.

As for Stanier, again I have no argument with you. There were problems with his early designs, but like the Japanese with their cars of the 60s and 70s, he made sure they were ironed out quickly.

I am not anti-Gresley. I'm just puzzled as to why it was so hard to fine tune some seemingly minor aspects of his designs. After all, you can hardly call the J39s the most complex of locomotives can you.

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Post by pete2hogs » Thu May 29, 2008 12:32 pm

I suspect the structure of LNER management had something to do with the situation as well. The line of communication between running people and Gresley was much less direct than on the GWR.

It does seem the Gresley was somewhat reluctant to make minor design changes, but there are arguments for that as well - it's easy to end up with a whole plethora of changes half of which never get applied.

The fact is, almost all steam loco designs had minor annoyances, and often fixing one causes another to break out. And they aren't an exact science, either - no-one, it appears, was able to track down the reason for the problems with the J39's, although a partial cure was found for the symptoms. Bear in mind that they contained only very slight changes from the J38's that apparently didn't have the problem.

I seem to remember reading that Gresley would have preferred a Mogul with outside cylinders, but that was vetoed on cost. He was never given the cash to replace half the existing loco stock with designs of his choice as were Stainer or Churchward/Collett.

It is scarcely reasonable to criticise the W1 or V4's - the W1 was purely an experiment, and it fact modifications were persevered with for years before it was given up, and the board were no doubt satisfied that it was an avenue worth exploring. Clearly they (the board) were interested in possible economies in coal consumption and presumably supported Gresley in experiments that he undertook to that end. The fact that none of them were particularly successful does not mean they shouldn't have been investigated.

I'm not aware of any particular problems with the V4's except there was only 2 of them and no-one took any interest in them after Gresley died.

I'm not sure the situation with the K3's was so bad either - as I understand it the reason for their withdrawal was essentially that they were replaced by B1's that were newer as the B1's were replaced by diesels. By 1961/2 BR had a positive surplus of medium sized mixed traffic locos, many less than a dozen years old.

Gresley could hardly have predicted the changes in maintenance that ocurred post war, and no doubt he would have taken action, but as those who have read Peter Townend's book on the Pacifics will know, sometimes the alleged solutions implemented by others were no overall improvement on the original problem.

The others weren't perfect either - LNER designs showed it was entirely possible to produce a round firebox/parallel boiler configuration that was just as effective as the more expensive to build and maintain taper boiler - the LMS trained folk after nationalisation weren't having that! The taper boiler on the Pacifics was I believe at least partly to give some sort of line of sight for the driver , not particularly for efficiency.

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Post by Flamingo » Thu May 29, 2008 1:11 pm

Pyewipe Junction wrote:Hi Flamingo:

If by 'revisonism' you mean taking a hard critical look at things with the benefit of the perspective of hindsight, then I'll put my hand up for that. And you are right, few designs are perfect from the word go.
I've never found hindsight a particularly useful approach to problems when the hindsight is exercised too long after the event to be able to do anything about it.

Consider for example Mr.O V S Bulleid, - I don't know the exact title of his post at the LNER but he was Gresley's principal assistant. In 1937 he moved to become the CME of the Southern Railway with the opportunity to use his experience of Gresley's designs, including all their faults and weaknesses, in his new designs on the Southern. Hindsight at very close quarters, in other words, in time to do something about it. He did do something about the conjugated valve gear but what he replaced it with could hardly be called an improvement or an unqualified success. In their original form Bulleid's Pacifics were so problematic that more than half of them were rebuilt, some of them after less than 10 years service. As for Bulleid's abortive 'Leader' design, I think the official BR opinion when the project was abandoned was that it could never have been made to work satisfactorily.

Edward Thompson on the other hand, much closer to the actual events than we are today, also tried to do something about the inherent weaknesses of Gresley's designs. On the whole history has not given him a favourable reaction.

Hindsight? No, it's not for me. But seeing as there are now currently 3 working A4s I suppose one of them could be de-streamlined and mechanically tweaked to see how far Gresley's design was capable of improvement. -

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Post by CVR1865 » Thu May 29, 2008 2:03 pm

It seems to me that the 'problems' that are running through the Gresley's are in the most part only seen post war. It should not be forgotten that Silver Link ran trouble free when first introduced and until the second A4 entered service it recorded zero failures. The biggest problems come with the LNER locos when the servicing is reduced by the war. There is also the increase in train weights meaning the streaks were now pulling 10 steel bodied carriages not 8/9 wooden bodied ones(today and in BR days). The A4's were also built to pull the luxury expresses not the heaviest ones so their delicate nature can perhaps be attributed to this.

Any problems incurred with Flying Scotsman or Green Arrow are very harsh to condemn a whole class or design as they are the only examples we have. The A4's were known for reliability in pre WW2 days and the damage to the components caused by the grit of reduced maintenance along with heavier loads in WW2 mean that their later problems can perhaps be traced back to this common cause. To criticize Gresley in the light of these uncontrollable events is very tough going on one of the greatest mechanical engineers of the 20th century.

I realise this is only my opinion and I am not critisizing others just voicing my two pennies.
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Post by f4kphantom » Thu May 29, 2008 6:10 pm

It has been quoted in previous articles that the only successful Thompson designs were those that used Gresley's original ideas, albeit with only two cylinders.

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Post by Bill Bedford » Thu May 29, 2008 8:44 pm

CVR1865 wrote:It seems to me that the 'problems' that are running through the Gresley's are in the most part only seen post war. It should not be forgotten that Silver Link ran trouble free when first introduced and until the second A4 entered service it recorded zero failures. The biggest problems come with the LNER locos when the servicing is reduced by the war.


I suggest you read the Garret chapter in Great Central in LNER Days by Jackson and Russell, which gives a good insight into what Gresley was about.

Any problems incurred with Flying Scotsman or Green Arrow are very harsh to condemn a whole class or design as they are the only examples we have. The A4's were known for reliability in pre WW2 days my
But even then they had a much worse availability than the LMS Pacifics. This meant that the LNER needed 10 engines to do the same work the LMS used eight for.

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Post by brsince78 » Thu May 29, 2008 9:41 pm

But seeing as there are now currently 3 working A4s I suppose one of them could be de-streamlined and mechanically tweaked to see how far Gresley's design was capable of improvement. -
You don't need to...... Sometime later this year a new Class 8 Pacific locomotive will take to the rails, "Tornado". Although incorporating some modern improvements, the basic design was from the Doncaster drawing office under the leadership of Arthur Peppercorn and built upon the principles laid down by Gresley with the changes necessary to operate steam in the post WW2 period.

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Post by pete2hogs » Fri May 30, 2008 11:29 am

But even then they had a much worse availability than the LMS Pacifics. This meant that the LNER needed 10 engines to do the same work the LMS used eight for.
Unfortunately a statistic like that in isolation means nothing. What was the average age of the locos at the time? How much was spent on their maintenance? Was the maintenance regime comparable? What were the locos used for and how were they manned?

Again I would suggest the different management and organizational practices between the LNER and LMS account for any percieved differences in dealing with minor problems that may have caused extra maintenance cost - if indeed there was a real difference if comparison is made on a level playing field. LMS designs such as the Fowler 4F and 7F and both Stanier and Fowler 2-6-2T's had their problems as well, after all. No attempt was made to do anything about the 7F's even though there was about 200 of them, and Stanier continued to build the 4F's throughout his reign.

The LMS focused, from board level down, on availability and maintenance cost achieved by the maximum level of centralization and standardization, even if that meant rebulding depots and works and replacing large parts of the loco stock - the LNER clearly believed an increased level of local autonomy and extreme economy on capital expenditure was the better overall solution. In modern terms the LMS was target driven while the LNER was cash-flow driven. Which approach was actually better for the shareholders and users at the time is difficult to now assess, especially since we cannot exclude external economic factors which affected the different railways unequally.

BR may have made changes by introducing LMS management concepts, but really they barely had time to take root before the modernisation plan kicked in.

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Re: How good was Gresley?

Post by byegad » Tue Jan 20, 2009 1:15 pm

How good was Gresley?

He designed some of the best looking locomotives of his age. 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever.'

The Pacifics streamlined or not and the V2s were good looking and effective. The pacifics being among the fastest in service locomotives of their day. Even without Mallard's record they were fast for their day.

Yes they could have been improved and more suited to changed cicumstances. Had he lived longer maybe the next generation of Gresley locomotives would have been even better looking and more suited to the available servicing of the war and post war years. Sadly we will never know.

Thankfully we have film and preserved locomotives for future generations to see their grace.

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Re: How good was Gresley?

Post by vcltel » Mon Jun 29, 2009 8:28 pm

20-20 hindsight is a wonderful thing, it is amazing how easy it is to criticise the efforts of those in the past who made some errors. Ask yourself if you would have done better with the knowledge available at the time. I am not sufficiently knowlegeable on railways in particular or engineering in general to comment in detail on Gresley's ability but at the end of the day he produced some of the best looking and, let's not forget, the fastest steam loco ever.

My grandfather worked most of his life at the Plant and my father did his apprenticeship and afterwards worked there as a fitter upto the start of the Second World War. Both of them thought a lot of Gresley and not much of Thompson - grandad's verdict on him was best not repeated on a public forum! Apparently he was a mean spirited creature to put it mildly where Gresley was a gentleman.

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