The Week in 1960

Road-rail freight vehicle: did it turn to train in vain?

As the debate about how to optimise the UK’s transport infrastructure rages on, here’s an intriguing idea from The Engineer’s archives that may be worth revisiting: the road-rail freight vehicle.

Developed to reduce expensive handling costs and time penalties incurred when ‘interchanging freight between road and rail vehicles’, the UK-designed ‘road-railer’ prototype was, wrote The Engineer, ‘equipped with a road and rail-wheel assembly by which the appropriate set of wheels can be lowered into an operative position to adapt the vehicle for road or rail travel’.

Based loosely on a vehicle designed by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in the US, the UK prototype, developed by ‘the engineers of British Railways and the Pressed Steel Company of Oxford’, featured an interesting design: ‘The axle of the vehicle was carried on a beam structure pivoted at the centre.

‘Hydraulic jacks are used to pivot this beam structure to lower the road wheels and raise the rail wheels and vice versa in accordance with the class of duty. A special coupling is fitted at the leading end of the vehicle chassis by which it is coupled to the trailing end of a similar trailer when making up a train.’

Commenting on how such a vehicle might be used, The Engineer wrote: ‘With this arrangement, individual road-hauled trailers can be loaded at industrial establishments and hauled to a yard where they are coupled up into a train for high-speed rail haulage to a yard near the destination. At this yard the road wheels are let down for the trailers to be hauled to their final destinations for unloading. The system will thus combine the flexibility of collection and delivery by road with the speed of direct transport by rail.’

Although the article goes on to mention forthcoming trials between Bishop’s Stortford and Braintree, the technology appears to drop off The Engineer’s radar. We wonder what became of this innovative solution? If you can shed any light on the fate of the ‘road-railer’ we’d love to hear from you.