Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Railways at Crewe in the '50s

When I was young, Crewe was the Mecca for railway enthusiasts. My own interest was in signalling and general railway operation, so I spent some time trying to compile my own track and signalling diagrams of the area. The immediate station area was one thing, but the extensive yards were very difficult to survey and my own sketches remained incomplete. However, I learnt a lot during the attempt!

The original line South to Birmingham was, of course, extended to London and the Trent Valley line gave a more direct route from Stafford to Rugby. The original line north to Earlestown (on the L&MR) extended through to Carlisle and Scotland, with a major branch to Liverpool. In addition, four other lines diverged at Crewe:

- The line to Chester, North Wales and Holyhead headed North West.
- The line to Stockport and Manchester headed North East.
- The line to Shrewbury, Hereford and South Wales headed South West
- The line to Kidsgrove and Stoke-on-Trent headed South East.

The sketch above is one of the many rough diagrams I did at the time and shows the area immediately south of the station in simplified form (Crewe South M.P.D. is barely represented at all). The four-track main line from Stafford appears on the lower left edge (top to bottom: Down Slow, Up Slow, Down Fast, Up Fast). The diagram commences near the small signal box called Basford Wood. In the middle at the bottom is the double track line diverging to Stoke. In the middle at the top of the diagram is the double track line to Shrewsbury, in the vicinity of Gresty Lane No. 1 box. Towards the bottom right of the diagram, the Stoke, Stafford and Shrewsbury Lines converge at Crewe South Junction and then fan out into the various lines passing through the station, shown lower right edge (principal roads, top to bottom: No. 1 Down Through, No. 1 Platform, Bays 1 & 2 usually used by Shrewsbury line trains, No. 2 Platform, No. 2 Down Through, Platform 3 (reversible), Bays 3 & 4, No. 4 Up Platform, Up Through, No. 5 Up Platform, Bays 5 & 6, No. 6 Up Platform).

Because Crewe was a major freight interchange point, it was well-served by 'Independent' goods lines. The four tracks appearing on the middle left edge are the Goods Independent Lines (top to bottom: Down Fast Independent, Down Slow Independent, Up Slow Goods, Up Fast Independent). These diverged from the main line further South at Basford Hall Junction, diverged to embrace the massive fan of sidings past Sorting Sidings South box and Sorting Sidings Middle box and re-combined as four roads paired by direction adjacent to Sortings Sidings North Box, which also controlled the junctions allowing freight trains access to and from the Shrewsbury line at Gresty Lane No. 1 box. Near the middle right edge of the diagram is Salop Goods Junction. Here the four Independent Lines paired by direction from Sorting Sidings North are transposed to paired by use (top to bottom: Down Liverpool Independent, Up Liverpool Independent, Down Manchester Independent, Up Manchester Independent). A branching pair of lines formed the Chester Independents. Salop Goods Junction box also controlled connections allowing freight trains access to and from the Shrewsbury line at Gresty Lane No. 1 box.

When I started visiting Crewe, the junctions of the Stoke, Stafford and Shrewsbury lines were controlled by the 'Air Raid Precautions' style power box at Crewe South Junction and colour light signals. I would have loved to have seen the earlier Webb box with the 'Crewe' All-electric system miniature lever frame and electrically-operated semaphore signals. A few of these early frames were still in use. When invited into Gresty Lane No. 1 by a kindly railwayman, I was amazed to find, instead of the 'Webb' mechanical frame I had expected, a two-tier 'Crewe' All-electric system miniature lever frame. There were three Station Boxes which I think also had the Webb miniature lever frame. Crewe Station 'A' box controlled the crossovers in the middle of the old platform 1, Crewe Station 'B' box controlled the crossovers in the middle of the old platform 2 and Crewe No. 3 (a bridge structure, astride the Up Through) controlled the crossovers between the Up Through and the old platforms 4 and 5. Crewe Station 'A' Box has been rebuilt in Crewe Heritage Centre, complete with its frame. Pictures of Crewe Station 'A' Box.

The footbridge at the North End of the platforms provided a safe walking route for enginemen between different platforms and between platforms and the legendary Crewe North Shed. This bridge was usually thronged with 'spotters' who would periodically be shooed away by staff, only to return later. The number of movements can be judged from the following snippets:-

10.53 a.m.: 'Black 5' 45042 passes on the Up Liverpool Independent with a 17-wagon freight.
10.54 a.m.: 'Jubilee' 45587 'Baroda' leaves Platform 1 with ten bogies for the Manchester Line.
10.56 a.m.: 'Scot' 46101 'Royal Scots Grey' leaves Platform 2 with 7 bogies for the Down Fast.
11.00 a.m.: 'Black 5' 44711 shunts light engine.
11.00 a.m.: 'Black 5' 44941 leaves via No. 2 Down Through Road with 5 bogies for the Manchester line.
11.02 a.m.: 'Jubilee' 45633 'Aden' arrives Platform 2 with the 6.40 to Barrow and Workington.

Although I didn't realise at the time, those passenger departures at 10.56 a.m. and 11.00 a.m. look very much like a single arrival from Euston which had split in Platform 2.

Things are no more sedate later on when I noted:-

1.30 p.m.: '8F' 48550 from Up Chester to the Up Chester Independent with a freight.
1.32 p.m.: 2-6-4T with 2 bogies from Bay 8 to the Down Chester (calling-on signal).
1.34 p.m.: 'Black 5' 44679 light engine from Up Chester to Bay 10.
1.34 p.m.: 2-6-4T 42575 light engine from Up to Bay 8.
1.35 p.m.: 'Austerity' 2-8-0 90342 passes on the Up Liverpool Independent with an empty wagon train and is detained at Salop Goods Junction.

Whilst the trackwork through the station has now been almost totally remodelled, much of the massive network of overall roofing and platform canopies I remember from the '50s survives. See Crewe Station.

For more detailed layouts of Crewe in the 1950s, refer to the series of publications from the Signalling Record Society 'British Railways Layout Plans of the 1950's'.
Crewe (Main Lines) are in 'Volume 1: ex-LNWR main line, Euston to Crewe' (ISBN: 1 873228 00 7).
Crewe (Goods Lines & Loco Sheds) are in 'Volume 11: LNWR Lines in the West Midlands' (ISBN: 1 873228 13 9).

For details of the remodelled layout of Crewe in 2005, refer to 'Railway Track Diagrams Book 4: Midlands & North West', Second Edition, published by Trackmaps (ISBN: 0-9549866-0-1). The First Edition of this book was published by Quail in 1988.