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Lighting & Heating of Railway Vehicles

On the British railways enclosed passenger stock and some goods vans were fitted with oil lamps from about 1810 up to the 1840's, after that gas lighting was brought in. Oil lamps did not disappear however, in 1930 there were over five hundred oil lit coaches on the GWR, the LMSR had more than seven hundred, the SR had over a thousand and the LNER had nearly two thousand. Gas lighting used standard 'town gas' (coal gas from a conventional gas works) or, after 1871, 'producer gas' made by passing air over hot coke. Water gas was a variation on this made by heating coke and then blowing super-heated steam through it (see Volume 2, Appendix ___ Fuels; Gas).

Gas lighting on railway stock usually involved iron gas cylinders slung under the vehicles, however there were variations; the Altrincham & Manchester South Junction Railway used a leather bellows in the guards compartment which was re-filled at stations along the route and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway initially used a small coal-gas generator and storage tank mounted in the guard's van at the rear of the train. The gas lights used were initially simple open tubes with a flame coming out of them and gave a very poor light. The 'gas mantle' (a small heat-proof cloth bag mounted on the end of the pipe which heats up and glows brightly) was not invented until 1885 but this produced a greatly improved light.

By the turn of the century electric dynamos and batteries were available, the batteries could be slung under the coach and topped up by a dynamo which used a belt-drive from the axles. The cost of a gas installation was lower than for the battery and dynamo, and with the gas mantle the light produced was nearly as bright, so gas lighting remained popular on non-passenger vehicles. Gas also remained in use for cookers in restaurant cars and the LMS continued building gas lit dining cars into the early 1930's. As with everything on the railway the change took time to complete and in 1930 only the SR had more electrically lit coaches than gas but this was in part because of their extensive use of electric traction, A few gas-lit coaches survived on remote outposts of British Railways until about 1961.

Tubular metal 'foot warmers' were a feature of railway travel from the later nineteenth century up to the 1920's. These used a chemical reaction to generate heat and were activated by a railway porter shaking them vigorously (reputedly the origin of the term 'breaking the ice' as it disrupted the compartment enough for the reserved British passengers to start talking to each other). They remained in use on the Isle of Man into the 1940's. The first properly heated coached in Britain were the Pullman coaches bought by the Midland Railway in the 1870's but the idea did not catch on for some years. Steam heating of passenger rolling stock supplied by the locomotive was patented in the 1850's but only appeared on British built coaches in the 1880's (after some unsuccessful experiments using hot water supplied from the engine). Steam heat was not used for goods stock until the advent of the specialised Banana Van and some Fruit vans in the early twentieth century.

The introduction of diesel locomotives caused some problems as these had to have a steam heating boiler added if they were to work with passenger or steam heated goods stock. The original selection by the British Railways Board was the Spanner Mk I type which was never a great success (I believe it was this type that caused the fire that destroyed the Fell Locomotive during its trials). Subsequently improved, or at least a lot more reliable boilers were developed. BR then decided to switch to electric heating, fitted as standard on diesel multiple units and for a time engines had to have provision for both steam and electric heating. I believe it was the 1990s before the last steam heated Mk 1 coaches were finally withdrawn, although by this time there were few locomotives left with the boiler fitted.

Air conditioning was first used on British trains in the Blue Pullman series of DMUs, introduced in the 1950s, however it did not reappear until the 1980s.

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