Wickham Railbus no DB999507 history

Original Wickham publicity photo (location unknown) 

This vehicle has a rather unusual history, starting life as the Elliott high speed track recording car and later being used with a trailer to monitor the effect of the advanced passenger train (APT) tilting at speed.

The original intention was a high speed track recording system that could achieve similar levels of accuracy to manual methods but without seriously delaying traffic.  The resulting vehicle was designed by Elliott Brothers of London (a pioneering computer firm although the track recording system was purely electro-mechanical).  The mechanical parts were subcontracted to Wickham of Ware and above the frame it was very similar to the passenger railbusses they built a year earlier.  The chassis was a massive construction and unlike the passenger vehicles had conventional buffers and draw-gear although (as with the passenger design) there was no train brake or any form of multiple working control.  Note also the windscreen wiper on the side window and the subframe that carried the measurement probes.  

Drawing as built (from Model Railway News November 1959)

The track recording system was mechanical and used probes running against the rails that could be raised and lowered pneumatically to allow the vehicle to run at speed when not recording.  Measurements were possible at up to 30mph and the railbus had a top speed of 55mph when not recording.  Little data appears to have survived after the initial publicity in 1959 and it appears the system was not successful as no more vehicles were built.  It is not clear who operated the vehicle at first (I have a photo taken in the Buxton area when it was very new) but it was with BR Research at Derby by the early sixties.  All that remains from this period is the layout of the floor hatches and the switchboard panel that also contains the auxiliary generator controls.

Interior as built (from Elliot bros press release)

By 1964 (based on dates on the drawings that came with the vehicle) the original concept had been abandoned and it was converted to an optical system that used a trolley and a system of telescopes and reflectors for measurement, this however was a distinctly low speed system, a log book with the vehicle stating that 2 or 3 mph or less.  This system was in use by 1966 and one cab retains an accurate low speed speedometer from this period.  Interestingly the operating instructions state that the vehicle should be driven from the rear cab when measuring and only one end was converted to tow the trolley.

By 1974 the difficulty of driving at slow speed must have been causing problems as the final drive was modified to allow a slow speed mode (top speed about 18mph), this ratio can only be altered from underneath. Strangely the low speed speedometer does not work in this gear.  Also around this time the auxiliary diesel generator that powered the recording equipment appears to have failed and correspondence indicates that the delivery delay for the replacement alternator now fitted was over a year.

A logbook included with the vehicle covers 1974-5 and indicates that measurements were carried out on the research department test tracks and on the West Coast main line, not surprisingly given the low speed system now in use this testing took place in the small hours of the morning and was associated with tilt testing of the APT.

The measurement system was updated in 1984 (still for APT testing) and the fire safety log suggests it was last used in around 1991.  The vehicle (by then owned by Serco) was offered for sale in 1997 and initially went to the East Lancs railway who used it for occasional driver training before it was sold to a Middleton railway member in 2003.  Most of the recording equipment had been removed by this time but the interior still retained a toilet and mess area, all in fairly poor condition.  A complete interior redesign to a very high standard was carried out at Middleton with a new floor and seating from a Derby Lightweight DMU fitted to give 28 seats and a disabled space.  The original part partitions to the cabs were filled in to provide a full width cab (the original passenger railbusses had half cabs with inward facing passenger seats next to them).  Following a change in the owner's circumstances it was offered for sale at the end of 2008 and bought by myself as the opportunity to own such a vehicle was unlikely to be repeated and I had been looking for a DMU for some time. None of the original passenger Wickham railbusses  survive and only four others of any make still exist.

Interior  today as converted to passenger use




Contact me (remove the [ ]):

Copyright R. Hingley (2002-2010)