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Town pays tribute to visionary rail man; High-speed train plan in 1918.

Byline: Tony Henderson

ATOP railway engineer who envisaged high speed electric trains running between York and Newcastle as early as 1918 has been commemorated on Tyneside where he started his career.

Sir Vincent Lichfield Raven was perhaps Britain's most powerful advocate for high speed electric trains at a time when the rest of the nation was totally focussed on the steam locomotive.

He foresaw 90mph express electric trains by the 1920s which would have put the country at the forefront of world technology and, potentially, would have re-written railway history.

Now a blue plaque to commemorate his work has been installed by Gateshead Council on a building which was once part of the town's Greenesfield works of the North Eastern Railway, where Sir Vincent worked as an apprentice.

Gateshead Mayor Joe Mitchinson said: "Even now we think of electric trains as something modern, high tech almost.

"Raven was well ahead of his times. If circumstances hadn't changed, the North East would have been a world leader in high speed electric trains. It's pure speculation now sadly, but just think of how different world railway history would have been now if Britain had remained at the forefront into the age of electric trains."

Council cabinet member for culture Linda Green said: "Railways play a big part in the history of Gateshead and Sir Vincent Raven left a long lasting mark."

Sir Vincent was chief mechanical engineer of the North Eastern Railway from 1910 to 1922. He became involved with the pioneering work in 1903-04 to electrify the commuter railways between Newcastle and the coast that today forms the core of the Metro network.

The steep freight railway that ran to Newcastle's quayside was also electrified. But that was just the start of his ambitions for in 1915-16 a freight line from Shildon in County Durham to Teesside was electrified too and he began to formulate plans for high speed passenger services.

In 1919 he submitted a plan to the North Eastern Railway's board to electrify the line between York and Newcastle.

He proposed to order 109 electric locomotives to replace 209 steam locomotives on passenger and freight trains and in 1922 a prototype electric express passenger locomotive, the first ever to be built in Britain, was finished.

But in 1923 the NER became part of the London & North Eastern Railway. At the same time Raven retired, although continuing as a technical advisor. Nigel Gresley, who would design the fastest steam locomotive in the world, became LNER's chief mechanical engineer.

He was focussed on advancing steam locomotives and the tide turned against electric trains.

Locomotive No 13 was placed in store, even though nobody seemed willing to consign it to the history books completely until it was cut up for scrap in 1950. It would be the late 1980s, over 70 years after Raven's plans had been shelved, before high speed electric trains finally began running between London and Edinburgh via York and Newcastle.

Raven also developed designs for steam locomotives, some of which continued into the 1960s.


HISTORIC MOMENT Mayor of Gateshead Joe Mitchinson and Coun Linda Green at the plaque's unveiling
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 17, 2012
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