MILWALL EXTENSION RAILWAY: RAIL-MOTORS
Port Talbot Railway steam rail-motor No.1 seen here in action at an unidentified location. This machine became, in 1920, Port of London Authority (PLA) No.3. This view possibly shows the rail-motor still in Port Talbot livery; it is certainly two-tone and it is not known if it ever received GWR brown and cream but at the time it was sold to the PLA the GWR rail-motors had switched to lined crimson lake livery so the livery seen here is most likely that of the Port Talbot Railway. At Millwall the rail-motors wore the PLA red livery, sometimes described as 'brick red', and it is assumed the PLA so-treated all three. When at Port Talbot, this rail-motor carried a plate bearing the number '1' on the Hawthorn Leslie locomotive portion together with a crest above the waistline, both these features being present in this view. The numberplate may have doubled as a lid for the water tank filler but would seem too low on the bodyside for this purpose. The Hurst Nelson carriage portion, when at Port Talbot, bore the company crest roughly midway along the bodyside, below the waist, together with 'No.1' towards each end. The rail-motor therefore bore 'No.1' in no fewer than six places, an overkill not uncommon at the time. As far as can be seen in this view the carriage portion has apparently lost its bodyside embellishments as well as appearing rather battered, although this may in reality be damage to the photograph. The driving ends of this rail-motor bore a resemblance to those of the later GWR railmotors, probably mere coincidence. Other features visible are the unique, for a British steam railmotor, 0-6-0 engine portion with cylinders and associated valve gear at the inner end, the retractable steps for use at ground level or low platform halts, the vacuum brake equipment beneath the underframe towards the trailing end. The two long cylinders slung beneath the underframe are assumed to be gas tanks for the interior lighting. The PLA would have had no use for the retractable steps so it is assumed they were eventually removed but this detail is unconfirmed. To add to the mysteries, the PLA numbering system is open to question and is more appropriately described with the photograph of No.49. Like the other two rail-motors, PLA No.3 remained in service until the North Greenwich branch closed and was scrapped in 1928.
Photo from Dave Marden collection
Here is ex--GWR steam rail-motor No.49 posing with apprehensive-looking staff somewhere on the Isle of Dogs. This rail-motor, along with GWR No.42, had the standard, for the GWR, 0-4-0 vertical boiler engine unit but the carriage portions differed in that No.42 was shorter. No.49 became PLA No.2 and this number can be seen painted on the solebar. A larger version of this photograph shows the number was repeated at the other end of the solebar but herein lies a mystery. Some sources claim the PLA numbered its railmotors RM1 - 3 but clearly this was not the case. That said, it does some strange that while both the Millwall Dock Co and the PLA gave the Manning Wardle locomotives cast numberplates, the rail-motors had to make do with numbers painted onto the solebars. Perhaps the answer is the solebar numbers were a temporary expedient while proper plates were cast but in the absence of other photographs of the rail-motors in PLA service this question has to remain unanswered. Livery, seen here, is PLA red and apparently without any lining. Given that the two GWR rail-motors would presumably have been delivered in GWR lined crimson lake, repainting by the PLA would seem rather pointless as the two shades of red would not have been dissimilar. Note there is only one single passenger doorway per side; both Nos. 42 and 49 were 'suburban' type cars and presumably provision of a single door per side allowed for more seating. It should perhaps be pointed out that 'suburban' did not mean these rail-motors could be found chuffing in and out of Paddington during the rush hour, passengers squashed in, but that they were intended for local services in and around provincial towns and cities. Nevertheless, in practice the GWR appears to have used 'suburban' and 'branch' type rail-motors indiscriminately. The 'branch' type rail-motors broadly speaking had a wider, or two-leaf, doorway located more towards the centre of the car body. The interior of No.49 had a longitudinal seating bay at each end with a transverse seating bay in the centre. In GWR days the bay nearest the engine unit was a smoking compartment, separated from the remainder of the interior by a doorway. This rather odd arrangement meant passengers entering or leaving the non-smoking sections had to pass through the smoking section. In this view the entrance door is marked '1 & 2' (First and Second Class) but there is no obvious reference to the smoking section. Internal layout of No.42 (PLA No.1) was similar but with less transverse seating. The open hatch in the bodyside was the lid for the water tank filler and presumably it has been deliberately opened for the photograph. On the roof of the engine unit the chimney and whistle are visible while above and beside the central cab window can be seen the small brackets which, in GWR service, carried destination boards. Like Port Talbot No.1/PLA No.3, No.49 appears somewhat battered, including the outer casing of the valve gear. The PLA's steam rail-motors would have been ideal for the very short, high frequency service on the North Greenwich branch in that they eliminated the monotonous running-round of a locomotive every few minutes but all three were to last a mere six years at Millwall. Other drawbacks of steam rail-motors, namely lack of power, torrid conditions for the crew and a tendency to oscillate at speed would have been of no concern at Millwall. One final mystery is why PLA did not or could not obtain three ex-GWR rail-motors with standard engine units rather than lumber themselves with the one-off ex-Port Talbot 0-6-0 contraption, the purchase of which was possibly the reason for the need to further strengthen bridges along the line. Just visible at extreme left is the rear of a steam locomotive. Too little is visible for identification but it is possibly one of the Manning Wardles which the rail-motors replaced.
Photo courtesy of the Industrial Locomotive Society