Way back in 1959 a team of British Railways engineers set up a research test house in a redundant sub-station in Willesden, just across the DC lines, close to Willesden TMD, then still home to crack express steam locos, The building had previously contained the mercury arc rectifiers that converted the national grid supply to DC traction current. Once emptied the vast interior space meant the building became known as the Willesden Cathedral. Inside was a 100ft test track powered by the 4 rail DC system. The purpose of this facility was to investigate rail adhesion and the science of what exactly caused a powered wheelset to slip. Their test train was nothing more than a reclaimed bogie from an old LNWR Oerlikon unit built around the time of WW1. A few years later the opening of the Railway Technical Centre at Derby rendered this facility redundant and it was simply abandoned.
In late November 2022 Network Rail were presented with an opportunity to demolish this building which was becoming unsafe due to a possession on the DC lines meaning the rail locked site could finally be accessed. A survey of the forgotten building revealed that all the long abandoned test equipment was still inside and Network Rail's Chair, Peter, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill was determined that it should not all be lost and used his network of connections to find someone to take the 'Willesden Bogie'.
The trail led to LTTG Chairman, Graeme Gleaves, who went to the site with permission from the NR project team and surveyed the bogie. It was in remarkable condition. NR offered to gift it to the LTTG and deliver it to Cynheidre, home of the Llanelli & Mynydd Mawr Railway who happily gave their blessing for the project to proceed.
The Bogie in its final days in the Former Substation tuned testing Centre which is now Demolished
Photo - Graeme Gleaves
The bogie is lifted out of the Cathedral in the small hours of December 11th, leaving its home of nearly 60 years.
Photo – Nick de Bellaigue
A couple of weeks later on December the 12th 2022 the 'gift' was unloaded into the care of the LTTG. We will keep you updated with our work to restore it as a static exhibit where it will not only tell about the theory of current collection (four rail) but also the story of those early pioneers of rail research working in that 'Cathedral' in North London, with the building now demolished this is the last testament to them and their endeavours.
We'll leave the last words to Lord Hendy, as he was asked to sum up about how he viewed the need for Network Rail to preserve the bogie, he offered the following:
"Having been made aware of the presence of some historical railway items at Willesden Cathedral sub-station by my Network Rail colleague Nick de Bellaigue, which I knew was due to be demolished, I wanted to make sure that they weren’t lost to the wider railway community. As a trustee of the Science Museum Group, which includes the National Railway Museum, I am a passionate supporter of the heritage railway sector and of the need to preserve artefacts that speak to our shared past. I knew that the London Transport Traction Group shared this passion and had the expertise to support the rehoming of these artefacts so I put them in contact with Network Rail colleagues who worked in partnership to save these important historical pieces. I’m delighted that we were able to successfully work together on this project. We are a nationwide organisation and it is easy to represent us as big and uncaring; this shows that we and the people who work for us care about the environment we work in and the wider heritage railway sector."