How Did they Cope?

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PeterC

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Browsing through some old timetables I found a number of services with capacity limited to available seats either through seat specific reservation or, on major holiday routes through the issue of "regulation tickets". As most people here seem to put mandatory reservations into the "too difficult" category how did they cope back then?
 
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StephenHunter

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The 1949 Western Region timetable required you to make the reservation in person at the starting station. Otherwise, telegraph and later telephone or telex. If you went to a quiet rural station and wanted to reserve some tickets, they would make the request to the central office. That could even be done internationally if required.
 

Gloster

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I think that the booking office at the starting station maintained a sheet of paper for each such train starting there. As reservations were made they would record which seats had been allocated, which was also indicated on your reservation ticket, or, when it was purely a case of numbers of passengers, keep a tally of the numbers. As said above you could go into the booking office yourself or write to it. If you went in to another station you would have to wait while the clerk telephoned or used the telegraph to contact the office holding the list. All somewhat time consuming, but it would probably only be once a year for your annual holiday.

For the return journey I have read of two methods: either booking your return place at the same time as the outward or going into the station you would be returning from during your holiday. People had a lot more patience then and were used to queuing.
 

MP33

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I have a book about the LTSR. One August Bank Holiday they were overwhelmed with people from East London visiting Southend on Sea. That night and there was good weather, the beaches were full of people camping out waiting to get a train the following morning.
 

LSWR Cavalier

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I thought seat reservation meant one was allocated a particular seat, while seat regulation ensured that the number of people travelling did not exceed the number of seats on the train without a particular seat being reserved.
 

Iskra

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Of course, adding an extra carriage into a formation in those days was a lot easier too. It could even be done en route and platform lengths were taken less seriously too, so capacity tolerances were greater. The railway was much more flexible than it is now.
 

StephenHunter

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Of course, adding an extra carriage into a formation in those days was a lot easier too. It could even be done en route and platform lengths were taken less seriously too, so capacity tolerances were greater. The railway was much more flexible than it is now.
Relief trains and Summer Saturday services were more common too.
 

Ken H

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I saw them doing reservations in Leeds Travel Centre. Each train had a sheet with seats on it. The person booking picked seat(s) and the clerk cancelled the seat on the sheet and wrote out the reservation. I assume each station had some seats allocated and were on that stations sheet, so the same seat could not be booked at (say) Leeds and Bradford. I think Leeds had an allocation of seats for trains from London to Leeds. I assume if someone wanted to book a Carlisle - London seat at Leeds, the clerk would ring Carlisle travel centre. How they coped with cross country trains which stopped in lots of places i dunno.
The joys of a paper system!

We went to Gambia some years ago. At gatwick checkin was all computerised. But at banjul, the baggae tags were pre printed, brought out on the outbound flight. The seat allocation was done with a sheet of little sticky labels, one for each seat. When you checked in she peeled off a label and stuck it on your boarding card, and wrote your name on it. Then crossed you off the list of passengers booked on the flight. It worked.
 

Snow1964

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Relief trains and Summer Saturday services were more common too.

And part of the reason for getting the booking was some of the summer Saturday reliefs departed before the main train.

There was also the luggage in advance option, could book your suitcases in day before and they would be at your holiday destination when you arrived

There was much more flexible attitude of adding carriages (and whole trains), if bookings were high then, (rather than modern trend of trying to price people off)
 

Taunton

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Regulation tickets worked better than one might think nowadays. On summer Saturdays into the 1960s many of the long distance services through Taunton had them, particularly returning from the resorts, and "most" long distance passengers had them. The railway knew what they were in for and provided more seats than there were regulation tickets for, they would add coaches or arrange relief services. Having said "full" in advance passengers would then be supplied with regulation tickets for later services. Broadly, it all worked out. The key aim was to avoid the most popular 10am homeward departure being overwhelmed while the later 1pm was half empty.

By the 1960s the normal WR express formation was Mk 1 stock, with a GWR Hawksworth corridor second or two stuck on the rear as strengtheners if required.

But at Banjul ... The seat allocation was done with a sheet of little sticky labels, one for each seat. When you checked in she peeled off a label and stuck it on your boarding card, and wrote your name on it. Then crossed you off the list of passengers booked on the flight. It worked.
Probably bought secondhand from British Airways, who used exactly this in the 1980s at Heathrow airport.
 
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Dr Hoo

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Notwithstanding the undoubted resourcefulness of railway staff of yore, one answer to the OP's question is that actually they 'didn't cope'.

Passengers on summer Saturdays were sometimes left behind, wedged in corridors, treated to non-corridor suburban stock on long journeys, etc. and swore "never again". They were the ones who bought cars as soon as they could, were early adopters of foreign holidays and so on.

British Railways and Dr Beeching in particular eventually realised that there was a lot of infrastructure and rolling stock that was hardly used for about 355 days per year and that places like Mablethorpe and Ilfracombe actually had very little regular rail business.
 

Taunton

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British Railways and Dr Beeching in particular eventually realised that there was a lot of infrastructure and rolling stock that was hardly used for about 355 days per year and that places like Mablethorpe and Ilfracombe actually had very little regular rail business.
In fact there was very little that was only used for the stereotypical "10 trips a year", and what there was on summer reliefs etc was distinctly marginal in its costs. You also found the "holiday stock" was what was turned out for Sunday excursions, midweek "mystery excursions" from the resort (typically on Thursdays, by which time boredom had set in, and every year the PR team found someone for a press story about one having taken a couple to their home town), Christmas week reliefs, specials to the Motor Show or the Ideal Home Exhibition, etc.

Fact was that BR costing systems of the era (like other pre-computer age industries) just averaged vehicle costs across the whole fleet. There was no analysis of usage of light bulbs or brake blocks by vehicle. Depreciation of the older vehicles used was typically written down to zero, and there was nevertheless a general understanding of "marginal costing". It was however good for the mainstream operations like the early Inter-City services, as it masked their substantial additional costs, and helped them to justify buying new stock. It is disappointing that Stewart Joy, Beeching's Chief Economist, never got a proper costing done of a sample of the different uses stock was put to.

Nowadays we have different inefficiencies. We have time after time trains incapable of service in the first 18 months after their delivery (in the 1950s stock was in use the day after it arrived, and it worked). We have MML services twice a day from Leeds to London which departed daily at 0530 and 0630, and which thus left there as empty stock. We have Orcats raids with trains which run back and forth empty but pulling in revenue from passengers who all have gone on a different service. And so on.
 
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Ostrich

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Fortnight family holidays mainly at Rhyl or Bournemouth in the 1950's meant travelling on the Summer Saturday specials to and from Birmingham Snow Hill. If I recall correctly, my father would book the "reservations" in advance at Snow Hill and the coach number and seats were specified. How far in advance they were booked, I don't know, but there never seemed any angst over obtaining them.

Birmingham Snow Hill on a Summer Saturday, with just four through platforms and trains following each other seemingly nose to tail, was joyously chaotic to put it mildly! Highlight of the journey was our Dining Car luncheon; there were two sittings, again if I remember correctly, and the restaurant staff would come down the train taking reservations, and call you to your table at the appropriate time.

About the Thursday before we were due to travel, our luggage was picked up from home (presumably by the railway?) and it would be separately transhipped and waiting for us to pick up at our destination station on arrival. It was then a taxi to where we were staying. I think we brought it all back with us on the return journey rather than sending it back, but it's all a long time ago now .....
 

StephenHunter

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Passengers on summer Saturdays were sometimes left behind, wedged in corridors, treated to non-corridor suburban stock on long journeys, etc. and swore "never again". They were the ones who bought cars as soon as they could, were early adopters of foreign holidays and so on.
IIRC, weren't 402s/2HALs used on Brighton services in summer?
 

Taunton

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Luggage in advance -
Gerry Fiennes has a great story about Luggage in Advance. A whole vanful from London to Skegness in August went missing. After multiple telegrams all round, a reward, no less, was offered for finding it. A shunter got it. Fiennes later worked out the man must have previously shunted it down an obscure siding himself ...
 

Iskra

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In fact there was very little that was only used for the stereotypical "10 trips a year", and what there was on summer reliefs etc was distinctly marginal in its costs. You also found the "holiday stock" was what was turned out for Sunday excursions, midweek "mystery excursions" from the resort (typically on Thursdays, by which time boredom had set in, and every year the PR team found someone for a press story about one having taken a couple to their home town), Christmas week reliefs, specials to the Motor Show or the Ideal Home Exhibition, etc.

Fact was that BR costing systems of the era (like other pre-computer age industries) just averaged vehicle costs across the whole fleet. There was no analysis of usage of light bulbs or brake blocks by vehicle. Depreciation of the older vehicles used was typically written down to zero, and there was nevertheless a general understanding of "marginal costing". It was however good for the mainstream operations like the early Inter-City services, as it masked their substantial additional costs, and helped them to justify buying new stock. It is disappointing that Stewart Joy, Beeching's Chief Economist, never got a proper costing done of a sample of the different uses stock was put to.

Nowadays we have different inefficiencies. We have time after time trains incapable of service in the first 18 months after their delivery (in the 1950s stock was in use the day after it arrived, and it worked). We have MML services twice a day from Leeds to London which departed daily at 0530 and 0630, and which thus left there as empty stock. We have Orcats raids with trains which run back and forth empty but pulling in revenue from passengers who all have gone on a different service. And so on.
Your first two paragraphs are excellent and informative. Your third however is wildly inaccurate, there were loads of well documented issues with new rolling stock delivered in the 1950’s. Perhaps they weren’t as noticeable however due to more spare locomotives around?
 

30907

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WR were major users of Seat Regulation on summer Saturdays, and ISTR intermediate stations such as Teignmouth (which we used 3 years running) had allocations for the main departures. Normally, though, reservations from intermediate stations were problematic - the link provided by Ken H shows that from eg Preston you basically couldn't reserve a seat - and I recall my father arranging for us to travel First from Bromley S to Westgate with a baby in a carrycot, and a year later from New Milton to Waterloo, to give us a chance of finding seats together. (I know now we could have afforded it anyway, but I have inherited his thriftiness...)
 

Taunton

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Your first two paragraphs are excellent and informative. Your third however is wildly inaccurate, there were loads of well documented issues with new rolling stock delivered in the 1950’s. Perhaps they weren’t as noticeable however due to more spare locomotives around?
The discussion was about coaching stock, used "10 times a year" etc. The 1950s passenger stock, Mk 1, worked straight out of the box, no well-documented issues.
 

Ianno87

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The discussion was about coaching stock, used "10 times a year" etc. The 1950s passenger stock, Mk 1, worked straight out of the box, no well-documented issues.

Well, apart from their general lack of crashworthiness.
 

Iskra

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Well, apart from their general lack of crashworthiness.
To be fair, they were actually an improvement in that regard compared to the pre-grouping stock they replaced. It was only later on that their crash-worthiness declined when they were being compared to mk3 based stock.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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Regulation Tickets were used heavily on services connecting with ferries (then mostly operated by "the railway", ie Sealink) at peak holiday times (Easter, Christmas, school holidays), particularly to/from Ireland.
Presumably this was keyed to the legal ferry capacity rather than that of the connecting train(s).
Today it's the now-private ferry companies that effectively do that, as there are hardly any dedicated "boat trains" any more.
 

chorleyjeff

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Notwithstanding the undoubted resourcefulness of railway staff of yore, one answer to the OP's question is that actually they 'didn't cope'.

Passengers on summer Saturdays were sometimes left behind, wedged in corridors, treated to non-corridor suburban stock on long journeys, etc. and swore "never again". They were the ones who bought cars as soon as they could, were early adopters of foreign holidays and so on.

British Railways and Dr Beeching in particular eventually realised that there was a lot of infrastructure and rolling stock that was hardly used for about 355 days per year and that places like Mablethorpe and Ilfracombe actually had very little regular rail business.

That's also what I remembe. In particular a holiday trip to LLandudno when our non corridor train crawled along the coast from signal to signal on a very hot sunny Saturday. Both thirsty and in need of toilet. Still etched in my mind. Mind you traffic jams on roads around Preston at holiday and bank holidays were epic and it must have been awful to be stuck in a hardly moving car or bus with bored fractious children. Folk today have it easy - no M6/61 or 55 to speed us on our way then !!!
 

Taunton

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To be fair, they were actually an improvement in that regard compared to the pre-grouping stock they replaced. It was only later on that their crash-worthiness declined when they were being compared to mk3 based stock.
In fact, the crashworthiness of each generation progressively improved, just like road vehicles. It's notable how in accident reports of the 1950s-60s when there was still plenty of pre-nationalisation stock around, it is regularly commented on by the inspector what an advantage current (Mk 1) vehicles showed in this respect.
 

WesternLancer

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Well, apart from their general lack of crashworthiness.
I wonder how cars of the early 50s compare for crashworthiness vs cars today? Of course a daft question for me to ask really - like comparing a Mk1 with a more modern design...
 

Ianno87

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I wonder how cars of the early 50s compare for crashworthiness vs cars today? Of course a daft question for me to ask really - like comparing a Mk1 with a more modern design...

Was responding to a comparison with modern stock in that they "worked out of the box". So doing a comparison with modern stock for crashworthiness.
 

Taunton

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The only ones I know of were non-corridor hauled stock, which was simply surplus to requirements.
The withdrawls did follow a logical progression by age, all the pre-war stock, then the substantial postwar/post nationalisation company designs, and then some early Mk 1 stock began to be withdrawn which was 15-20 years old. This was more driven by the general reduction of stock requirement, and substantial continued building, for example all the Mk 2 stock turned out, operated at a much higher utilisation, pretty much displaced all the Mk 1 stock from Inter City service. There were corrosion issues with these early all-steel vehicles, but nothing that couldn't be repaired on overhaul (which was done on specialist stock like Hastings dmus), but it was determined they were just surplus. It applied even more so to modern BR wagon stock.
 
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