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wilwahabri

Formation of GWR TPO trains

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Apologies if this has been asked before, I did try searching but nothing exactly matched what I wanted. 

Can anyone suggest a formation for  GWR mail train running in the thirties from London to Penzance - if such a train ran. 

 

Many thanks

 

Bill

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Posted (edited)

I suggest you get  a copy of "Train formations and Carriage workings of the  Great Western Railway,"  by W S  Beckett  Xpess publishing  ISBN 1-901056-08-2

Swindon Library has a copy!

 

It has a suitable train on page 70.   22.10 Paddigton to Penzance via Bristol.  Winter 1931/2

  

It has a non corridor full brake,   4 X TPOs (one a 70' vehicle)  Non Corridor Brake Van and a Siphon G for Bristol and a Siphon G for Exeter.

 

It gives running numbers for the first 5 vehicles as there seem to have been 3 vehicles f each type, leaving one spare.

 

No idea what locos but it was operated by an Exeter loco initially a Saint and prior to the LNER non stop running to Edinburgh it was the return of the longest through loco working in the UK as I think the loco was changed at Exeter and then ran to Penzance before running the up TPO to Paddington and back to Exeter next day.   

Edited by DavidCBroad
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Several trains carried TPO's between London and Penzance. Xpess publishing has a couple of books that mention different bits. 

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See also Great Western Railway Travelling Post Offices - J G Hosegood - Wild Swan.

The 1929 formation is given as:

Siphon G (Kingswear)

Brake Van

PO Carriages:

2 of 830-1/2

2 of 847/8/9

2 of 834/5/6

3 of 850/1/2/3

2 Brake Vans of 1063/4/5

Siphon G (Exeter)

(I hope I've interpreted this correctly).

 

The booklet quotes the coach numbers but doesn't actually give details of the coaches themselves.

 

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Thanks gents, being new to this could someone explain the meaning of the brake van numbers and PO coach numbers. Are these actual serial numbers or are they diagram numbers?

Another question PO coach is obviously a type of coach, how did it differ from a regular coach? are these the ones with mail catchers?

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Hello wilwahbri

 

The numbers are the 'running numbers' that would be found on the sides of the vehicles. The PO vehicles were Royal Mail vehicles. The two Brake Vans were originally Diag.K40 Passenger Brake Vans.

 

What Robert shows above is a 'mail train' per se - not to be confused with a 'parcels train'.

 

If you want to look into the subject, this book will help. Mail By Rail. Peter Johnson. Ian Allan Publishing.

 

Brian

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

TPO vehicles come in 3 basic types, stowage or bag tenders, which contain bags either yet to be sorted or those already sorted, sorting coaches, with ‘fittings’, racks of cubby holes to sort letters into, and collection vehicles, with the gear for collecting or dropping pouches at the TPO pick up points without stopping; these are the ones most familiar to modellers of my age from the Triang and Hornby Dublo operating models.  

 

Some sorting coaches had letter boxes let into the side, offering a ‘later than last collection’ service for snyone who could get to the station in time; this cost a penny surcharge, in the form of a penny stamp!

 

TPOs ran to contract between the railways and Post Office, with the vehicles owned by the Post Office and maintained by the railway.  The contracts included severe penalties for late running caused by either party, and a lot of effort was put into ensuring that these trains ran to time.  Hence, TPOs had their own toilets and facilities for boiling water and warming food. 

 

TPO services could be dedicated trains or run as part of passenger trains.  Most ran overnight, and the TPO portion was separate from the ‘ordinary’ parcels and mails traffic carried elsewhere on the train, by which I mean that the trains had ordinary parcels vehicles carrying ordinary traffic as well.  The siphons mentioned above probably come into this category.  TPO vehicles proper had offset gangways for security, and the staff could not access the ‘ordinary’ part of the train. 

 

Check out the classic ‘Night Mail’ film on YouTube.  Many of the scenes in this are mocked up in studio, but give an accurate picture of how things worked.  Little changed in the way they operated right up to the end of the TPO service.  

Edited by The Johnster

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23 hours ago, The Johnster said:

TPO vehicles come in 3 basic types, stowage or bag tenders, which contain bags either yet to be sorted or those already sorted, sorting coaches, with ‘fittings’, racks of cubby holes to sort letters into, and collection vehicles, with the gear for collecting or dropping pouches at the TPO pick up points without stopping; these are the ones most familiar to modellers of my age from the Triang and Hornby Dublo operating models.  

 

Some sorting coaches had letter boxes let into the side, offering a ‘later than last collection’ service for snyone who could get to the station in time; this cost a penny surcharge, in the form of a penny stamp!

 

TPOs ran to contract between the railways and Post Office, with the vehicles owned by the Post Office and maintained by the railway.  The contracts included severe penalties for late running caused by either party, and a lot of effort was put into ensuring that these trains ran to time.  Hence, TPOs had their own toilets and facilities for boiling water and warming food. 

 

TPO services could be dedicated trains or run as part of passenger trains.  Most ran overnight, and the TPO portion was separate from the ‘ordinary’ parcels and mails traffic carried elsewhere on the train, by which I mean that the trains had ordinary parcels vehicles carrying ordinary traffic as well.  The siphons mentioned above probably come into this category.  TPO vehicles proper had offset gangways for security, and the staff could not access the ‘ordinary’ part of the train. 

 

Check out the classic ‘Night Mail’ film on YouTube.  Many of the scenes in this are mocked up in studio, but give an accurate picture of how things worked.  Little changed in the way they operated right up to the end of the TPO service.  

Not quite right so let's get it right.

 

There were what amounted to three categories after the signing of the 1928 Letter Mail Contract between 'the Railway's and The Post OFFice.  But all the trains in those catgories were exactly the same in terms of priority as far as the GPO because they were all 'Controlled Trains' and could only have any timetable alterations made by agreement with The Post Office.  The purely mail trains were very obvious and some contained TPOs although some a didn't and one was actually a Southern Railway motor lorry which ran at contracted times between Barnstaple and Lynton in the years after the railway had closed.

 

Passenger trains did - as you say - in some instances convey TPOs but they were still Controlled Trains under the terms of the contract they were ususally show and Mail/Passenger in WTTs although no doubt practice varied.  Not all necessarily carried ordinary (railway parcels traffic as well as mails and as you said the mails and parcels traffic were segregated and the TPO section was locked off from the passenger section.   The final subdivision or category were what appeared in the timetable as either passenger or parcels trains and looked just like any other passenger or parcels train but were still Controlled Trains.  On these trains, as on most other trains conveying mails in any quantity separate vans pr van areas were used for mail and railway parcels etc traffic.  

 

In addition mails could be carried on any passenger train subject in many cases to joint agreement of the quantities between 'the railway' and The Post Office  but such trains were not listed as Controlled although veru often the Post office could take a very 'strong interest' in the punctuality of particular trains and their Inspectors tended to keep an eye on those.  there was nothing to prevent Controlled Mail trains carrying Parcel Post if the Post Office agreed it internally - that was up to them but under the BR era Parcel Post contract the quantities involved were subject to agreement with BR because BR station staff handled Parcel Post whereas Post Office staff handled Letter Mail.  And of course Letter Mail bags and Parcel Post bags were different so it was easy for anybody who n knew the difference to know which was which at a glance.

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7 minutes ago, The Stationmaster said:

And of course Letter Mail bags and Parcel Post bags were different so it was easy for anybody who n knew the difference to know which was which at a glance.

 

What was the difference? (Somebody was bound to ask :D)

Were they different colours or did one have ‘Parcels’ on it and the other ‘Letters’ in big writing?

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Chapter and verse, Mike.  The Transport Police 'kept an eye' as well, as it was possible for anyone who understood the labels to identify which bags carried registered mail, items of value.  I was once told by a Post Office Inspector that Hatton Garden diamond merchants posted their stock over weekends and Bank Holidays in registered mail because the Post Office guaranteed replacement value if anything went missing and the cost of postage, while enormous, was less than insuring the goods in secure warehouses, and considered safer.  I would not care to comment on the veracity of this; he may have been trying to wind me up.

 

 

 

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3 minutes ago, Banger Blue said:

 

What was the difference? (Somebody was bound to ask https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/uploads/emoticons/default_biggrin.png)

Were they different colours or did one have ‘Parcels’ on it and the other ‘Letters’ in big writing?

All the same colour (they were made in the same prison workshops using the same material) sometimes Parcel post bags were lettered Parcel Post but that was unnecessary really.  Simple difference - Parcel post bags had flat bottoms with a seam all the way round where the bottom was sewn on.  Letter Mail bags didn't have flat bottoms (and as far as I know they didn't necessarily have seam at the bottom either.

 

BTP would sometimes be around if there were Letter Mail bags containing value packages - there was normally nothing on the labels to say which bags did contain value items unless you happened to understand the address shown on the label.  Oddly there were at times far more valuable consignments passing as ordinary (railway) Parcels traffic and the BTP didn't seem so interested, they only seemed to be about when bullion was involved. 

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Just now, Banger Blue said:

 

What was the difference? (Somebody was bound to ask https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/uploads/emoticons/default_biggrin.png)

Were they different colours or did one have ‘Parcels’ on it and the other ‘Letters’ in big writing?

We could tell you, but we'd have to kill you and all your friends and families.

 

Basically, Mail is items in the care of the Post Office, technically the property of the Queen while in the system.  This is handled exclusively be Post Office staff and carried in mailbags,  The bags may contain letters, packets, or a mixture, and will be labelled to a destination.  The labels, if you understand the 'code', tell you how many bags are for that destination and if they are to be opened and resorted into other bags at another sorting office, or sorted off into the 'walks' for delivery.  The 'final' bag has a special label and the others have to be ticked off against it on arrival; of course, the exact order in which the arrive is unpredictable.  This 'final' bag will be used to carry registered and other high value items if there are any.  Theft from such bags is almost always an 'internal job'; the system is not widely known or understood outside of the Post Office.

 

Parcels are items taken to the railway's parcel office by a customer or collected by a railway vehicle and handled by railway staff.  They have to be below a set size and weight of course, and are carried as individual items, not bagged.  Livestock can be sent this way, including boxes of day old chicks, going cheep.  They can be delivered by the railway by a railway road vehicle or 'TBCF', to be called for at the parcel office by the recipient.  The 'Red Star' express parcels service was a feature of later years.  Parcels traffic travels in passenger trains or dedicated parcels trains, which is what differentiates it from general merchandise goods, a whole nother subject.

 

Mailbags were, as Mike says, traditionally produced in prisons; I believe this practice was started at Dartmoor by the Napoleonic French prisoners of war that prison was originally built to house.  They were replaced in later years by the grey nylon bags still used today.  The bags get very dirty and sorting offices have large industrial type washing machines to keep them from contaminating the contents; one still experienced 'bag fleas' in hot weather or during the xmas rush though.  The nylon bags are notorious for storing static electricity; for something static, it don't 'arf make you jump if you earth it!  

 

Over and above this is the railway's own internal mail service, carried in the guard's compartment.  The guard is supposed to lock the van if he is away from it, or the cage part of a corridor van so that passengers can access toilets and catering.  A parcels BG, without secure cages, could be a problem if marshalled as an intermediate vehicle in the passenger portion of a train, and they generally weren't.

 

Bullion and cash transfer by the Post Office is a matter dealt with at inspector level and the rank and file are not involved; AFAIK (and I wouldn't) it does not go through the normal sorting and despatch system.  One (not the only one) of the reasons for the stiff sentences given to the Great Train Robbers was that their booty, used banknotes being sent back to the Bank of England by TPO for destruction, was the property of the Queen at the time they it stolen because they it in the care of her Post Office, which is within the remit of the Crown and not part of the Civil Service, and  the judiciary do not take kindly to this sort of thing.  

 

All this is to a variable extent overseen by the BTP, and both the Railway's and the Post Office's internal investigation people keep a covert and spooky eye as well, particularly on their own staff, and no doubt liaise with each other in ways wot man ain't won't to wot of, but anything of really high value was probably a lot more closely monitored than might first appear.  Most big stations have secret 'lookout points' for these characters to hide in; at Cardiff Central there was one on the railway side of the station's rooftop clock, with louvres apparently for ventilation but actually spy holes.  This is now boarded over.  You could always get your garden dug over for free and you house cleared out just by acting suspiciously...

 

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I'm trying to relate all this cloak and dagger stuff to a far more prosaic situation of an item of normal mail. Let's imagine a small bag of mail travelling in a guard's compartment of a train. The bag gets unloaded onto a station platform, and it is transferred by a member of the station staff to the Parcels Office, where it can be kept secure. Who is then allowed to collect that bag and take it to the nearest PO Sorting Office? And in very small villages and towns, could a local Post Office act in a 'Sorting Office' mode?
 

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14 minutes ago, Miss Prism said:

I'm trying to relate all this cloak and dagger stuff to a far more prosaic situation of an item of normal mail. Let's imagine a small bag of mail travelling in a guard's compartment of a train. The bag gets unloaded onto a station platform, and it is transferred by a member of the station staff to the Parcels Office, where it can be kept secure. Who is then allowed to collect that bag and take it to the nearest PO Sorting Office? And in very small villages and towns, could a local Post Office act in a 'Sorting Office' mode?
 

From my experience of rural lines, the postman/woman would be waiting for the train to arrive. Mail would already be sorted into 'walks' at the Sorting Office. Mail wouldn't need to go back to the local sub-Post Office, which wouldn't have facilities to sort it.

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Posted (edited)

Pretty much; a small postal van or even a red bicycle by the gate makes the point.  Postal staff handle mail, railway staff do not (which isn’t to say the don’t give each other a hand when there’s a big pile of bags to unload, departure time os closing, and whistles are being blown). 

 

In very small locations, the postie did everything from emptying the bags to delivery; amounts were smallenough for this. 

Edited by The Johnster

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16 hours ago, Miss Prism said:

I'm trying to relate all this cloak and dagger stuff to a far more prosaic situation of an item of normal mail. Let's imagine a small bag of mail travelling in a guard's compartment of a train. The bag gets unloaded onto a station platform, and it is transferred by a member of the station staff to the Parcels Office, where it can be kept secure. Who is then allowed to collect that bag and take it to the nearest PO Sorting Office? And in very small villages and towns, could a local Post Office act in a 'Sorting Office' mode?
 

In all my experience (both 'outside' and 'inside' the railway fence) at smaller stations a Postman would be on hand to deal with Letter Mail (and in some respects with Parcel Post - see my earlier comment as this changed over the years).  If a Postman was delayed no doubt railway staff would do something to secure the mail but they were not contractually obliged to handle it or do anything else with it under the terms of the Letter Mail Contract.   The GWR General Appendix was quite specific that if a Postman failed to arrive in time  'Receptacles (i.e. mail bags and Parcel Post receptacles) should be kept under observation until placed in the outgoing train or taken possession of by Post Office staff'.   Interestingly, and unusually unlike many other Instructions, the railway's general Instructions for dealing with, and the security of, Letter Mail grew in content and detail over the years - particularly in respect of the responsibilities of Guards

 

I know there were some stations where there was an official exception to the standard contract but I have always understood they were very few and far between and in any case there was General Appendix Instruction regarding security and handling of Mail.

 

On our local branch the Postmen always attended at the terminus to both despatch and receive Letter Mail although in some cases it would be no more than a couple of very thinly loaded mail bags.  Similarly at our branch junction officially all letter Mail handling was the responsibility of the Post Office although I'm sure that at times there was a bit of 'local practice'.  Larger stations had considerable numbers of Postmen permanently based on railway property and of course they also had their own trolleys which, by the 1950s, were very different from railway owned 4 wheelers.  By the mid 1960s Parcel Post was no longer despatched by train from our local station but went to/from the nearest District Office by PO road vehicle (officially described by the Post Office as 'OMV' - Own Motor Vehicle).

 

Having done more than a bit of mail handling and sorting during my Christmas holidays spells of working for the Post Office the handling and sorting really depended on the size of the office and the amount of mail involved.  In some cases smaller offices would forward their mail via a District Office for sorting but it all depended on the size of the place.  Our local PO served a town of c.10,000 plus various rural areas and a number of Sub-Post Offices (from which the mail was collected and brought in for sorting prior to onward despatch).  Despatch would be direct to destination office in some cases but normally was to various District Offices for resorting or delivery and if bag was booked to go daily to a particular District Office it went - even if it only contained one or two letters.  Inwards mail was of course sorted for delivery - which was often where I did sorting for my own round, outwards sorting need a lot more knowledge than a part-timer would have apart from shifting bags and seeing what went on.

 

The normal procedure with Sub-Post Offices was that mail would be collected by their relevant (and therefore fairly local) Post Office and be delivered to them by that Office - in our case locally that would be by van.  The two Sub-Offices in the town didn't have post boxes so there was not much to collect from them and the main pick-up was from pillar boxes (which needed keys so part-timers didn't do that.

 

Both the villages served by the intermediate stations on our branch had Post Offices although one was definitely a Sub-Post office so none of its mail was transferred to or from rail at that station (although it probably was in much earlier days when the Post Office didn't have so much motor transport) .  I'm not entirely sure about the status of the Post Office in the other village but by the 1960s it definitely wasn't sending or receiving mail by train.

 

I hope that helps a bit

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One final question before I wrap this up. Did all of the sorting vans have bag handling equipment or are there some vans which only had sorting facilities?

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Not all vehicles were fitted with pick up and drop equipment etc. The steel stock of the 1930's, all had recesses built in to take a net should it be required at a later date.

 

Note there were specific vehicles with either a net only on the offside (either L13/4 cannot remember which), or additional pick up nets on the offside (L15/L23) as there was no triangle to turn the entire train at Penzance, for the return to London.

 

Mike Wiltshire

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What locomotives would haul long distance GWR/WR TPOs?

Presumably a King was overkill. Castle or Hall?

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TPOs ran to a fast timetable and it was specified in the contract with the Post Office that there were swingeing penalties for delays that were attributable to the railway (this was a two way street with the Post Office having to pay heavily if they delayed the train).  In consequence, top link locos and top link crews were the norm, Kings where they were allowed and Castles everywhere else.  The trains, even when they did not have passenger accommodation. ran to express timings are were usually on or close to the limit for loads, so you needed a loco and crew on top of the job!

 

Delaying a TPO was a hanging offence.

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Did the GWR TPOs have offset corridor connections like the LNER?

 

My late father told the tale of being able to secure an after hours drink in return for helping to handball mailbags on and off the midnight mailtrain at Normanton in the immediate postwar years.

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The West of England postal was a complete postal train.

 

It changed gradually over time. 

 

While it may be pointed out that the old clerestory stock was long retained - perhaps as a spare set - the coach working timetables (CWT) represent the evolution.

 

The stock was updated in stages during the early '30s with the last clerestory having seemingly left the regular formation by the mid-'30s, leaving it a thing of Colletts and a brace of 70' Dreadnoughts.

 

Formations given in the Winter 1932-33 Coach Working Timetable:

 

10.10 pm Paddington to Penzance: Bk. Van 1063/4/5 (K9) / TPO 850/1/2/3 (L15) / 70’ PO Van 834/5/6 (L13) / TPO 806/7/8 (L18) / 70’ PO 830/1/2 (L14) / N-C Bk. Van

 

9.16pm Plymouth to Paddington:    Bk. Van / 70’ PO 830/1/2 (L14) / PO 847/8/9 (?) / 70’ PO Van 834/5/6 (L13) / TPO 850/1/2/3 (L15) / Bk. Van 1063/4/5 (K9)

 

Formations given in the Winter 1935-36 Coach Working Timetable:

 

10.10 pm Paddington to Penzance: 50’ Bk. Van (PO Stowage) 812/3/-4 (L23) / 57’ TPO 793/4/5 (L21) / 70’ PO Van 834/5/6 (L13) / 57’ TPO 806/7/8 (L18) / 70’ PO 830/1/2 (L14) / Non-Corridor Bk. Van

 

6.48 pm Penzance to Paddington:  Non-Corridor Bk. Van / 70’ PO 830/1/2 (L14) / 57’ TPO 806/7/8 (L18) / 70’ PO Van 834/5/6 (L13) / 57’ TPO 793/4/5 (L21) / 50’ Bk. Van (PO Stowage) 812/3/-4 (L23)

 

Introduction of New Stock:

 

3 57’ TPOs (sorting vans with delivery arms and a nearside net) to L18, Nos. 806-8, were completed in 1929 for the WoE Postal/GW TPO (Harris p125).

 

3 57’ TPOs (collecting vans with full gear), Nos. 793-5, were introduced to Diagram L21 in October 1933 for service on the WoE Postal/GW TPO (Harris p125) to replace elderly clerestory vehicles (presumably those to L15) (Russell 2, p188).

 

The 1935-6 CWT show this was indeed the case.  Picture of 795 at Harris p125.

 

3 50’ “PO Stowage” vans, Nos. 812-4, were introduced to Diagram L23 in December 1933 (so too late for the 1932-33 CWT).  According to Harris (p125) they were for the GW TPO. Russell (II, p175) shows this vehicle.  Though they were fitted with nets for picking up (both sides) and setting down (one side) they were also built with a Guard’s compartment and they are listed in the 1935-6 CWT as a “Bk. Van” in place of the K9 Brake.  Presumably the K9 was replaced from December 1933.

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22 hours ago, Coach bogie said:

Not all vehicles were fitted with pick up and drop equipment etc. The steel stock of the 1930's, all had recesses built in to take a net should it be required at a later date.

 

Note there were specific vehicles with either a net only on the offside (either L13/4 cannot remember which), or additional pick up nets on the offside (L15/L23) as there was no triangle to turn the entire train at Penzance, for the return to London.

 

Mike Wiltshire

As an aside the West Coast/Aberdeen Postal, after processing, headed north to Kittybrewster depot where the individual coaches were turned (as necessary) on the loco turntable - due to no available triangle.

This would've been LMS stock, giving way to Mk1 by the '60s, I think.

 

If the relevant train was a 'self-contained' whole rake it would make sense to have nets/arms on both sides to save turning the train.

Where it gets awkward is where the train drops/gains coaches en-route, so it's more important that they are in the right order for this (and hence may be impractical to have pick-up/drop coaches facing both ways)

 

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