Posted on Leave a comment

#VE75 – Engines at War – Commemorating 75 Years since VE Day – Austerity 2-8-0

Robert Riddles and The Austerity 2-8-0

Perhaps during these unsettled time’s, it is appropriate that we talk about The Austerity Locomotive. Of all of my husband’s collection of 7 ¼” gauge engines I often feel that “The Austerity” is his favourite.

Let us first consider this auspicious locomotive designer Robert Riddles a man of considerable talent and foresight. The WD (War Department) 2-8-0 Austerity was designed by Robert Riddles who was the first chief mechanical engineer for British Railways.
Riddles was born in 1892 and started his career at the Crewe works of the London and North Western Railway as an apprentice in 1909, whilst training in the Mechanics Institute classes he also attended a course in electrical engineering.

He completed his apprenticeship in 1913 and then joined the Royal Engineers in France to serve in the Great War. He was badly wounded in France but returned to the LNWR at Crewe to become “The Bricks and Mortar Assistant ” with responsibility for building the new erecting shop in 1920.

On completion of the erecting shop he was put in charge of a small production progress department, and was sent to Horwich to study the methods used by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. During this time Riddles gained a lot of experience which enabled him to make a significant input and have a major influence over the re-organization at ” The Crewe ” works between 1925 and 1927.

During 1923 The LNWR became part of The London, Midland and Scottish Railway, hence on completion of the re-organisation at Crewe, Riddles was sent to re-organize the ex-Midland works at Derby that had by now become part of The LMS Railway. In his task here he was aided by the then Derby works manager H.G. Ivatt.
Interestingly during the general strike in May 1926 Riddles volunteered as a train driver, taking trains between Crewe, Manchester and Carlisle, he later claimed that this experience was an invaluable aid to his design work later.

In 1933 Riddles moved to Euston becoming assistant to Sir William Stanier (Chief Mechanical Engineer). Prior to the Second World War he moved to Glasgow as Mechanical and Electrical Engineer for Scotland. This was the first time that the two engineering disciplines had been combined in one title.
It was in 1939 at the start of the Second World War, that Riddles moved to the Ministry of Supply, becoming Director of Transportation Equipment. It was here that he later designed The WD Austerity 2-8-0 and The WD Austerity 2-10-0.

The Austerity 2-8-0 was first developed as a heavy freight war steam locomotive. The need to move heavy freight efficiently and quickly during the war effort was at first met by the LMS class 8F (A version sharing many common components with the Black Five) designed by Sir William Stanier.
The need for a simpler, more cost-effective heavy freight locomotive, which was quicker and easier to build gave rise to the Austerity. During 1943 Riddles modified the original design of the 8F to prioritise lower production costs.

The Austerity has a boiler of much simpler construction being parallel rather than the tapered boiler of the 8F and a round topped firebox rather than the 8F Belpaire firebox
He redesigned the fire box from the complex structure of the copper Belpaire fire box in the 8F, to a round topped steel construction fire box, castings and forgings were replaced by fabrications, cutting costs and production times.

As an added consideration some of the 2-8-0’s that were bound for Europe, were fitted with an air compressor on the front of the engine to make the engines compatible with the continental rolling stock that depended on air brakes. After the war, and on their return to Britain, these compressors were removed, in most cases. Some exceptions being certain locomotives used on the Southern Railway (later to become Southern Region) which ran a mix of air and vacuum brakes in some areas. Some merry-go-round wagons used on bulk coal deliveries to power stations also required compressed air to operate their bottom doors.

A further modification was also made to allow the engine to pull freight on less robust rail track. Riddles Austerity design weighted the driving wheels to balance the load of the coupling rods and connecting rods in the vertical meridian only, ignoring the horizontal force of the piston rods, pistons and Connecting rods (reciprocating mass).
Accepted practice was to add a third of the reciprocating mass to the rotating balance weights on the wheels, this reduced the fore and aft hunting at speed but introduced hammer blow into the cycle vertically. This kept the balance weights equal to weight of the motion in the vertical plain only.

The weight of the balance weights on the wheels was therefore considerably reduced and the effects of ” wheel hammer,” as the extra compensating weight built into the wheel (positioned opposite the crank pin) pounds down on to the track at each rotation, like a heavy hammer hitting the track at every cycle.

There is of course a drawback to this concession the engine will have a tendency to “Hunt” surging forward and back ( rather like a car with kangarooing petrol) as the horizontal force is unbalanced, fortunately this only seemed to become an issue above the speed of 40 to 45 miles per hour. There are tales of driver and firemen hopping onto the tender plate until engine speed dropped and curtailed this phenomena, as heavy freight trains rarely if ever exceeded 40 mph this was not a big drawback.

Riddles actually produced two very successful Austerity designs. As well as the 2-8-0 he also designed a 2-10-0, and the Hunslet Engine Company produced a third an 0-6-0 ST. All were designed to be cheap, easy to build and maintain and to burn indifferent coal.

They proved to be powerful for their size and could run-on poor-quality track. During the war these WD locomotives were used both in the UK and in Europe. It might be prudent to add at this point that these engines were designed and built during a crises with a service expectancy of only two years, however so many 2-8-0’s were produced that they had to be pressed back into freight service after the war due to shortages and the depleted state of the railways. Incredibly many Austerity’s remained in service until the end of steam, in normal use on British Mainline Railways

The individual railway companies knew that they would inherit The WD engines once the hostilities were over. They, of course, would have preferred to have the Stanier 8F’S but it was the Austerities that were built to aid the war effort.

It was the LNER which obtained the Austerity 2-8-0’s in large numbers after the war, reclassifying them 07. They of course went on to be inherited by British Railways after nationalization, and many of the 732 engines went on to give good service on slow heavy freight traffic almost to the end of steam.

In total 935 “2-8-0’s” were built making “The Austerity” one of the most produced classes of British Steam Locomotive. They were built at the North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow and The Vulcan Foundry in Lancashire.

Sadly, they were withdrawn from service between 1959 and 1967. None of the 2-8-0’S were preserved, however one survivor of its type, originally built at the Vulcan Foundry in 1945, was returned to Britain from Sweden via The Netherlands in 1971.

As to Riddles himself he continued to influence the design and structure of the railways even influencing the appearance of the BR fleet. He believed like Ford that you could have any colour you liked as long as it was black. For the livery selection board he paraded a perfectly turned out LMS 5MT in LNWR black which stole the show. Riddles retired from BR in 1953 and died on 18th June 1983 aged 90 years.


Here is a link to a lovely image of the North British Locomotive Company drawing office staff lined up in front of a 2-8-0 completed locomotive.

Read more about Robert Riddles

Read more here:

Posted on Leave a comment

#VE75 – Engines at War – Commemorating 75 Years since VE Day – Austerity 2-10-0

Robert Riddles and the Austerity 2-10-0

At the start of WW2 in 1939 the Railways faced a huge challenge. For the best part of a century, railways had monopolised most of land based transport apart from the tram systems in larger cities, however, after the Great War Buses, Coaches and Lorries had encroached on the Railways business. At the start of WW2 with fuel rationing looming much of this traffic would return to the Railways. This would place a great burden on a system that at the time was under-resourced. This differed from the period immediately prior to the Great War when the Railways were prosperous. Unfortunately in 1938 The railways had not had time to recover and repair after the Great War and the regrouping of the Railways in 1923 into The Big Four, The London North Eastern Railway (LNER), The Southern Railway (SR), The Great Western Railway (GWR), The London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS). All the Railways in 1938 had a backlog of maintenance and were in dire need of modernisation.

1938 had also been a grim year for the British economy and most of the Railway’s shareholders were ordinary working people, with very modest portfolios who had hung onto their shares during the lean years of worldwide depression.   Receiving little in the way of dividends but retaining their faith in the Railways as an institution that was central to the life of the nation. It was in this spirit of faith and support that the Railways entered the war years, with an expectation that they could rise to the challenge but reality woefully undercapitalized and behind in maintenance and overdue modernization. However, the British Railway men and women rose to the challenge.

The Railways estimated that they would need £5million to prepare them for war. The government offered £4million a pattern of underfunding that continued throughout the war.   On September 24th, 1938, the Railway Executive Committee (REC) was established, to run the Railways if war broke out, and answering directly to the Minister of Transport. This would effectively nationalise “The Railways” for the second time in the 20th Century. Chamberlain’s pleas for appeasement afforded The (REC) some extra time to prepare for war but in August of 1939 the Emergency Power Defence Act was passed handing the government powers to seize the assets of transportation providers to aid the war effort.


At this point however a fresh crisis loomed as the railway unions pressed for a pay rise with the threat of a strike. The threat was withdrawn after an emotional plea from Ernest Brown (Minster of Labour) who stated “We may need you to get the children to safety” and also he negotiated a small pay rise.

All the railway locomotives built to service the war effort had economy and speed of build as a premium consideration. Theses engines were built to run on poorer fuel and substandard track when required. They needed to be built quickly and cheaply to meet the demands of the countries needs and the requirements of the armed forces at war.

You will find that there is a small essay already in the system about The WD Austerity 2-8-0. A fantastic locomotive designed to be economical to build and operate only throughout the duration of the war. In fact, these engines continued to give good service for many years after the end of hostilities, and in fact the end of British mainline steam. Two other British War Department Locomotives were specifically built for the war effort and operated during the war years.

All three Locomotive types were called Austerity one was a larger version of the 2-8-0, the Austerity 2-10-0, the subject of this article. There was also a smaller version, the Austerity 0-6-0 designed by “The Hunslet Engine Company” still immensely powerful for its’ size, but more suited to shorter trips and shunting. The Hunslet 0-6-0 is dealt with in the next article.

The WD Austerity 2-10-0 was the logical evolution of the Austerity 2-8-0. It spread its’ load over more wheels and for economy and to facilitate easy maintenance was built to have interchangeable parts with the 2-8-0. Its lighter axle load made it more suitable to run on secondary lines. The 2-10-0 was designed with a parallel boiler, a rocking grate and a larger round topped wide fire box which was positioned over the driving wheels. This arrangement was very common in the United States but unusual in Britain where wide fire boxes were only fitted if the locomotive had a trailing pony (Cartazzi truck), in 4-4-2- and 4-6-2-wheel configuration locomotives.


The WD Austerity 2-10-0’s were the first of this type to run in Britain and the first major 10 coupled engine design. They were proceeded only by three 0-10-0 locomotives. These were the Great Eastern Railway aptly named “Decapod”    and The Midland “Lickey Banker”  The 2-10-0 wheel arrangement was later employed by Riddles when he designed for British Rail, The BR Standard 9F (freight) engine, this also had a wide fire box distributed over the rear driving wheels.

The build of the Austerity 2-10-0’s was undertaken by The Northern British Locomotive company.   At first 100 2-10-0 Locomotives were introduced between 1943 and 1944 these were given the War Department numbers 3650-3749 (later revised to 73650-73749). A second consignment of 50 engines were introduced during 1945 their War Department numbers were 73750-73799. 20 of the first wave of production were shipped out to the Middle East, the remainder were all pressed into service with the British Army in France after D Day.

At the end of the war these locomotives were distributed to the Netherlands, Greece and 4 were sent to Syria. British Rail acquired 25 Austerity 2-10-0’s, (73774-73798 later changed again to 90750-90774). These engines were mainly operated by British Rail’s Scottish Region pulling heavy freight trains until they were withdrawn from service between 1961 and 1962. Two Austerity 2-10-0’s numbers 73651 and 73797 remained in War Department service, after the war years, at Longmoor Military Railway. In 1952 these proud engines were renumbered to 600 and 601 respectively they were also given names “Gordon” and “Kitchener”.

Images of Gordon:

Video of only known 7 ¼” gauge model of GER Decapod

Note: Images obtained under creative commons via Google.