For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

5. Responsibilities

The primary responsibility for ensuring that an adequate supply of wagons was available to carry the traffic on offer and properly maintained was that of the directors. In this they were assisted by the officers who put the decisions of the Board and its committees into practical effect and looked after the day to day running of the system.

The Directors

The Board of Directors, elected by the shareholders, was responsible for running the railway as a viable business that would hopefully pay dividends to the shareholders.

The provision of wagons was financed in two distinct ways. Firstly, when an overall addition to the total number of wagons was required this was financed from capital expenditure. This money was raised through the issue of new shares, a decision that required the agreement of the shareholders.

Secondly, when existing wagons reached the end of their economic lives they were replaced by new ones of modern design.   These were paid for out of revenue, that is, the money earned from day to day trading.

The Eastern Counties Railway had particular difficulty with this simple concept and was the cause of one of their many financial problems. It further confused itself, and everyone else, by continuing to include wagons in their half yearly returns that had been long since been broken up. The GER inherited some of the aftermath of this doubtful practice and was obliged to remove from the half yearly returns several hundred wagons that had gone missing, been out of use for years or been broken up.

In the early years the Board and individual directors tended to get involved in extraordinary and mundane detail and interfere in matters which the officers were employed to handle. As time when on it increasingly let the various standing Committees exercise powers delegated to them by the Board and to trust the officers to run the railway. These committees were composed of directors and advised by the relevant chief officers.

The Board and Committees

The Board, as well as keeping control of capital developments, was also involved in the introduction of what we would now call 'new technology' and development of new services. Examples are the expansion of wagon building at Stratford and repair facilities, either side brakes for wagons and new forms of construction.

There does not now seem to be any comprehensive record of the actual responsibilities delegated by the Board to the various standing Committees. Their purpose is fairly evident from their titles and as time went by their responsibilities were modified to reflect changing circumstances and practices together with the development of new services.

The Locomotive Committee controlled the running of the Locomotive, Carriage & Wagon Department and its expenditure. It was authorised by the Board to take decisions on the ordering, supply and maintenance of locomotives, carriages, wagons and road vehicles as well as associated equipment. But, as already noted, the final sanction to add to capital stock rested with the Board. The committee was advised by the Locomotive Superintendent who was responsible for all aspects of the detailed design and construction of stock.

The Traffic Committee was responsible for ensuring that the passenger and goods traffic was conveyed in the most effective and economical way. Station buildings and the facilities provided for the travelling public and traders, wagons and plant had to be adequate to conduct the business on offer.   Thus the committee had a strong influence on the wagon types provided but not the details of their design and construction.

The committee was especially concerned to identify and canvass new traffic and secure trade from other carriers. In this the General Manager was assisted by all the station masters who had, as part of their responsibilities, the job of keeping an eye open in their areas for any developments which might provide a source of new and increased traffic.

The Stores Committee also had a role to play in the supply of wagon stock through its overall task of purchasing materials and stores for every facet of the railway's operation. This included raw materials and manufactured components used in the construction and maintenance of stock at Stratford. Later it was also responsible for issuing tenders for new rolling stock designed to the Locomotive Superintendent's specifications.

Finally, the Way & Works Committees, which had prime responsibility for keeping the permanent way, structures, and buildings in good order, also had occasional need to become involved in wagon supply. Ballast and rail wagons, designed by the Locomotive Superintendent, were paid for by this Committee as were weighbridge maintenance vans and fire engine trucks.

A straightforward increase in the volume of existing traffic was met by adding more wagons of existing types to stock through capital expenditure. Some new traffic demanded a new type of wagon; for example, the import of eggs, landed at Parkeston Quay from the Continent, gave rise to the need for the egg truck. It was the responsibility of the Locomotive Superintendent to design a suitable wagon, in consultation with the General Manager and Goods Manager, which could carry the new traffic cheaply and economically.

Specifying, Building and Maintaining

As already noted the responsibility for the detailed design, construction and subsequent maintenance of the wagon stock was that of the Locomotive Superintendent, retitled Chief Mechanical Engineer in April 1915. Other chief officers had an influence on what stock was provided, in what quantities and some elements in their design so he did not have a free hand.

The General Manager had overall responsibility for running the system and ensuring that traffic was carried quickly and efficiently. In this he was assisted by the Goods Manager and together they had a strong influence on which wagons were required.

The Locomotive Superintendent was responsible for providing these wagons as cheaply as possible, taking advantage of the materials and manufacturing techniques available. Practical experience and the availability of new materials and machinery would result in design modifications being introduced.

These changes varied in importance and impact, ranging from wood giving way to steel for underframe construction to modifying brake lever guide design to save on the use on iron.

It is important for us to remember that our view of wagon stock, as historians and modellers, is very different to that of the General Manager or Goods Manager.   Their requirement was for a basic range of wagons, suitable in dimension and design to carry all types and volume of traffic that could be encouraged onto the line and to ensure sufficient numbers were available. They were not concerned in the slightest whether they had steel or wood underframes of if the buffer guides had plain or ribbed shanks.

It is also as well to put into perspective the relevant importance of the Locomotive Superintendent on the GER. Unlike a few railways, such as the London & North Western, this post was never occupied by an overpaid demigod. It was on a similar level to that of the Chief Engineer and Superintendent of the Line and it was the General Manager who was the highest paid officer of the Company and rightly so.