Ian Blair was involved in the research programme in the 1970s when 18000 operated on the continent for research into wheel-rail contact and has kindly provided some information and photos relating to that period.
At that time BR, and almost all other European railways, participated in the Office for Research and Experiments (ORE) of the UIC, the International Union of Railways. ORE sponsored technical activities of general interest to the railway industry, such as research and standardisation. The activities themselves were carried out by experts in the participating railways and certain other technical institutes. In those days the suppliers of railway equipment were hardly involved, they also had an entirely separate organisation to coordinate activities they considered relevant and useful.
In the 1960s ORE had installed an international working party to investigate the parameters which influence the adhesion between wheel and rail. One of the themes to be researched was the effect of vehicle design parameters on adhesion. When 18000 became surplus to BR’s requirements a proposal was developed to convert her to a test vehicle in which a number of traction design parameters could be varied.
18000 was completely rebuilt in the Bellinzona workshops of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) for this purpose. Almost all of the original technical equipment was removed from the body and from the bogies. The wheel arrangement was changed from A1A-A1A to 1A1-3. That is, one bogie was fitted with one driving wheelset and two carrying wheelsets, the other was provided with three carrying wheelsets. The new driving wheelset and its associated test equipment required a major reconstruction of that bogie, and local remodelling of the vehicle body, leading to the ‘blisters’ on the underframe. It was possible to fit different types of traction motor, and to vary the axle load, transmission stiffness, sanding parameters, etc. The traction motor was fed by the equipment of another specially adapted locomotive, which ran in tandem. The choice of a suitable tandem locomotive made it possible to investigate the effect of different traction control systems and catenary voltages. Part of the original engine compartment of 18000 was occupied by the traction motor and mechanical transmission, which projected above the floor; the rest of the compartment was fitted out as room for the measuring equipment and for meetings of the test team.
Trials with various traction configurations took place between 1970 and 1975. The test team was manned by personnel of the Vienna Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (where 18000 was displayed before being repatriated) and, as required, by traction experts of the SNCF, DB and SBB. BR played a major role in the statistical evaluation of the measured data. Interestingly, the test team affectionately bestowed the name Elisabetta on their unique vehicle, as a reference to her British origins.
The photos were taken during a test run on the French-German border in late 1972. For these trials 18000 had been fitted with a Monomoteur type DC traction motor of the SNCF, which was fed by the thyristor traction equipment of the tandem locomotive of the SNCF series BB15000. The international character of the trials was underlined by the use of a multi-current DB locomotive (series 181) to haul the composition back to its starting position after each measuring run.