Electric Traction

PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS – A.G.M. – 20th September, 1989.
by H,B. Calverley.

The President began by thanking the members for electing him as President and said he did think they were entitled to know something of the status of their President in his particular field of engineering. He proposed to meet this by moving quickly through his career, so supplying some of the missing information and at the same time outlining the developments in railway electrification which he had seen, and to some extent contributed to, over the last fifty years.

After graduating in electrical engineering at London University and apprenticeship with English Electric at Stafford and Bradford he was privileged to be offered a six month exchange with a student from Brown Boveri. After a few weeks in the Traction Design office in Baden, Switzerland, where he was impressed by the disciplined application to the work, the war broke out and he returned home some weeks later.

He found himself in a reserved occupation and his first job was to design and test a large electro magnet to blow up magnetic mines when towed behind a boat. After several tests with Thorneycrofts on Southampton Water the project was discarded in favour of a large coil, about 20 ft. diameter, mounted under a Wellington bomber. This was successful until the enemy started putting time delays on the mines.
English Electric had several war related contracts for rectifier equipment, on which much development was needed. Harry Calverley was transferred to Stafford to take part in this work. Mercury arc rectifiers were very interesting devices based more on physics than engineering, requiring extreme cleanliness, very high vacuums and involved currents flowing in ionised vapour – invisible in the steel tank.
Solutions to problems were empirical and intuitive and testing had to be done on full current and full voltage and for prolonged times as failures (back fires) were random events which happened instantaneously without warning. This work continued throughout the war years – for months on end working 12 hour shifts night and day – very arduous- graduates helping – air raids interfering. All were in the National Fire Services or Home Guard as well. It was technically a very rewarding experience. One design was a 4000A 900 V water cooled 12 anode steel tank for production of aluminium by electrolysis. The speaker spent several months helping to keep the 40 KA S00 V British Alumunium plant at Swansea working. Another design was a 15 KV d.c. 50A six anode air cooled rectifier for radio stations.

During gaps in the war related work the 3 KV d.c. 3000 KW water cooled 12 anode rectifier for South African Railways was made to function well on test – a complete change of anode designs being needed and the author was sent to supervise erection and commissioning. He related how for some twelve months he furthered the English Electric activities in that lovely country – in railway substations, down gold mines and industrial power plants.

On returning to U.K. he moved back to the Traction Division and was at the hub of a controversy between 3 KV d.c. and 15 KV 16.2/3 Hz for the New Zealand Railways main line Wellington to Aukland. The E.E. Co. recommended the former bu the NZR engineers tended to favour the latter and the author was sent to New Zealand to continue advising the General Manager on the matter. During the fifteen months of New Zealand work he visited Australia in connection with the sale of 1.5 KV d.c. locomotives to Victorian Railways. A change of N.Z. government settled the matter by dieselizing the railway but it is now being electrified on 50 Hz 25 KV.

An exciting time was now beginning in railway electrification
– that in 1953. The author’s talk to the R.C.E.A. in 1986 dealt at some length with the choice of system: 500 V, 1.5 KV or 3 KV d.c.; 3 Ph.a.c.; single phase a.c. at 16.2/3 Hz or 50/60 Hz —- all in use somewhere. The problem is to find the best electrical fit between the power supply system and the motor. The technical arguments are fascinating – the solution lay in not allowing the frequency of the distribution to affect the frequency of the motor – and the use of a rectifier on the train allows 50 Hz distribution and zero Hz (i.e. d.c) on the motor.
There were going to be problems with the new industrial frequency system:
– Rectifier on train – oscillations, vibration causing mercury splashing etc,
– Motor – a 100 Hz ripple current added to the d.c. current , causing commutation problems.
– Supply – single phase load, all odd harmonies etc.
– Telecommunications – noise and dangerous voltages.
– Signalling – interference with track circuits etc.
Experts in all these disciplines were horrified but experiments went ahead, then trial lines, and it was shown problems could be solved or accommodated. We now know this system is very successful – the moral is do not take “too much” notice of experts – they can be wrong.

As a little light relief the speaker read out several real life examples e.g. Thomas A Edison 1889 – “There is no plea which will justify the use of high-tension and alternating currents…….my personal desire would be to prohibit entirely the use of alternating currents …. they are unnecessary as they are dangerous.” Also Admiral William Leahy to President Truman 1945 – in referring to the atomic bomb – “That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives”.

Very belatedly British Rail offered the Lancaster-Morecambe- Heysham line to manufacturers to experiment and three 3-car ex 600v trains from London suburban use. English Electric was the only firm willing to collaborate and designed, installed and commissioned all three trains at their expense – as well as the sub-station. Exactly twelve months after decision to proceed the first train arrived at Lancaster for static tests. Within eighteen months from the word ‘go’ the three trains were in service, the first 50 Hz electric railway in U.K. and ran well until the line was closed down – about 1965. The speaker was the project engineer for the trains equipment and he related several amusing incidents on the commissioning of the trains.

The other B.R, trial lines at Styall and Clacton followed and then the full electrification – on dual voltage 25 KV/ 36.25 KV. The lack of experience resulted in major failures – e.g. the withdrawal of electric trains at Glasgow and reinstatement of steam after a few weeks. The English Electric investment in development paid off handsomely on Eastern Region of B.R,

About 1963 English Electric commissioned a 50 Hz locomotive using transductor control – giving the advantages available 15-20 years later with thyristors but without some of the drawbacks; BR did not adopt it and E.E. Co. tried to sell it abroad. The speaker paid several visits to the USSR; their engineers were interested and a trip of some 3000 miles in the Tsars old coaches was arranged during which those engineers hoped to gain information from E.E.Co. engineers. There were many interesting episodes during this journey.

After 30 years with E.E. Co, finally as Chief Electrical Engineer of Traction Division the speaker left them, due to Mr. Weinstock, and with a firm of consulting engineers contributed to most E. & M. aspects of the Hongkong Mass Transit Railway – this is a very interesting high capacity system proving very safe and economic. It was the first such railway in the tropics. Other jobs on railway projects included the Australian Urban Passenger Train (for the Federal Government), passinger train studies in East Africa, a long tunnel for electric railway in Yugoslavia, the main line electrification in Taiwan and the Urban Transport System Feasibility Study for Taipei. All these involved project engineering design work overseas for periods of 2 to 15 months.
Mr. Calverley has presented several papers to the I.E.E. and I. Mech.E. on different aspects of electric traction.
For over ten years as Chairman of Committee PEL 44 of BSI., the source of the main British standards relating to electric railways (and of diesel where appropriate), he led the British team to five conferences of the International Electrotechnical Commission where the IEC Standards are finalised.
The President retired in 1983 and joined the Association in 1984. He concluded his address by stressing the need for inter-action in the R.C.E.A. between – on the one hand, the officers and committee and on the other the members. The latter to make known their wishes and the former to put them into effect. He was sure this would be the case, as in the past.