About the blog

British railways are run on a foundation of paperwork. Everything must have an instruction; a list; a rule. The railway was once such a huge, chaotic system that the only way to manage it was with reams and reams of paper. Today the system is much more compact but the mountain of literature upon which it is run is greater than ever. This is simply a collection of pages from railway documents. They may be old or new, interesting or tedious, large or small. Most are obscure and esoteric. Many feature interesting diagrams and all share the same strange mix of dry railway language and exotic nomenclature that has hardly changed in 200 years. I love these documents and have a large collection to share. If you want to see more of something or less of another, please get in touch or leave a comment.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Sleep on it..

From - Mark III Sleeping Coaches Working Instructions; BR33076/2, British Railways Board, 1981

The Mark 3 sleeping coaches were introduced between 1981 and 1984 to allow the withdrawal of the Mark 1 sleeping coaches, dating from the late 1950s. The need to replace this ageing fleet was brought into sharp focus by a disastrous fire which occurred on an overnight train near Taunton in 1978, in which 12 people were killed and a further 15 suffered serious smoke inhalation. Lacquered wood interior panelling contributed to the intense conflagration; foam mattresses were used in the berths, which produced toxic smoke when burned and the vehicles lacked smoke alarms or any form of emergency lighting. The designers of the Mark 3 sleeping cars were determined to learn the lessons of Taunton and a great deal of emphasis was put on preventing fire occurring, through clever use of modern fire retardant materials, and preventing the spread of any fire which did occur. The new vehicles were also designed to be very much more robust than their earlier counterparts - they were built as a monocoque shell rather than simply as a body stuck on a separate underframe by a couple of spot welds. Over 200 such coaches were built in Derby but even as they were rolling out of the works, sleeper services across the UK were being scaled back or withdrawn entirely and the fleet never fulfilled its potential. Today 102 Mark 3 sleepers remain in use on the national network, with sleeper services being operated by First Great Western (London Paddington to Penzance) and Scotrail (London Euston to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fort William, Glasgow and Inverness).

This booklet dates from the beginning of production of the Mark 3 sleeper coaches - it is marked "Preliminary edition" on the cover. The various features and systems are described in excruciating detail and there are numerous illustrations throughout. The drawings are all signed by one David Gibbons, who illustrated many of the BR33056 series driver's manuals of the same era. While researching this post, I discovered that there is an award winning British comic book artist by the same name*. At the risk of adding 2 and 2 together and coming up with 19, I wonder if he did a bit of light industrial work on the side in the 80s?


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