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Fig 1: Oil burning facilities (far left) were installed at Kirkby-in-Ashfield MPD in 1947 but never completed. Photo Credit: Kirkby Heritage Centre

Oil Firing on British Railways

Oil was first produced in England at Tibshelf, Derbyshire in 1919.   Later during the Second World War a larger oil-field was developed at Eakring in Nottinghamshire.

During the 1930’s a plan was drawn up to electrify the Great Western main line west of Plymouth as part of the Government’s scheme to relieve unemployment. The thinking behind this plan was that Devon & Cornwall where the furthest places on the Great Western Railway (GWR) from the South Wales coalfield and therefore the most expensive to supply coal locomotive fuel.  This plan was abandoned due to the outbreak of World War Two.

YouTube short video clip on GWR engines being converted from coal firing to oil firing as part of the 1946 scheme.

After the end of the war and with the added problem of a coal shortage, a plan was drawn up in 1947, to convert the same area to oil burning for locomotive fuel.  Various types of steam locomotives were converted to burn oil and records exist of Castle class locomotives putting in good performances on ‘The Cornish Riviera Limited’ express using oil burning. (See You Tube clip below).  The GWR’s plan to convert Devon & Cornwall to oil burning were gaining ground when the Government intervened and planned a national scheme for oil burning to relieve the coal shortage.

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Fig. 2: LMS Class 4F 0-6-0 converted to oil firing during the trials of 1946-47. Photo Credit: unknown.

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Fig. 3: The oil plant at Kirkby-in-Ashfield loco is on the left of the photo. The coaling stage (2nd left) and ash plant had been newly constructed in 1958.   Photo Credit: East Midland Railway Trust

Many locomotives were converted and supply points installed when the plan fell apart due to a shortage of foreign currency which was need to finance the project.   All oil burning plans were then abandoned,    Perhaps if the GWR had been left alone they might just has made the scheme work, but we will never know, despite the large investment which had been made.

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Fig. 3: Despite the proposed installation of oil firing, coal firing still dominated at Kirkby-in-Ashfield Loco Sheds until the end of steam in early 1967. Photo Credit: Kirkby Heritage Centre

At the back of Kirkby-in-Ashfield Loco Shed there were oil tanks and supply equipment which I understand where never completed or used and are likely to date from this 1947 scheme.

From this, it is interesting to not how differing schemes in different periods are drawn up to try and solve the same recurring problem.


Blog by Ian G. Handley

Posted by SB2K Admin

3rd January 2023