THE first passenger train to be pulled on a main railway line in Britain by a diesel hydraulic locomotive was operated on November 13, 1953, on a demonstration run between Glasgow and Edinburgh and back.

The two 625hp locomotives used for the run were made by the Glasgow-based North British Locomotive Co for Mauritius Railways.

Locos of that type had recently been made by North British for Tasmania, but because they were not of the standard gauge, they could not be run in Britain.

A few were also used by British Railways purely for shunting, and more were on order.

The two 51-ton locomotives on the Glasgow-Edinburgh run were later transported to Mauritius, where they operated between Port Louis Central Station, in the town of Curepipe, and Mahebourg, a distance of 32 miles rising from sea level to 1,840ft at Curepipe.

Their main feature, explained the Glasgow Herald, was their transmission.

Normally a diesel engine used gearbox transmission but, in this case, it was hydro-turbine, or fluid transmission, that gave automatic gear change.

For passengers, the key merits of diesel-hydraulic locomotion were the smooth starting and stopping of the train, and cleaner and quieter travelling.

For the driver, the workload was lightened. There was no gear changing and only one throttle and brake lever to look after.

“It is said,” the paper added, “that driving this locomotive is as easy as driving one of the latest types of modern cars. It is claimed, too, that an experienced steam-engine driver can learn to drive a diesel hydraulic locomotive in half an hour.”

Among the people on the demo run were representatives of the Railway Company of Ireland and the Ulster Transport Authority, which were considering switching from steam engines to diesel hydraulic – a “desirable and attractive proposition because of the high cost of coal in Ireland”, the Herald said.

Read more: Herald Diary