Testing Days

The line was used for numerous tests, most of which are lost in the mists of time, but one or two stick in the memory.

Photos are the author's unless otherwise credited


BR's automatic train operation system (BRATO), which used the ex-Scottish Region 2-car battery railcar (re-numbered RDB 975003/4 and named Gemini) as its test vehicle, was extensively tested here between 1968 and 1975. Known as the 'wiggly wire' system this was the forerunner of what was developed by many other companies into what is now known as Automatic Train Protection (ATP).

The original wiggly-wire was laid on the Down line between Friargate and Etwall stations - a distance of approx. five miles.

In the yard

A trial system laid in the yard at the RTC pictured on March 10th 1965, with RDB999507 the Elliott track recording car in the background. The wire was bonded to plastic sheets fixed to the ground.

Author's collection

Trial fitting

Here's a close up of the system installed on a short length of track circa 1967. The wire here is stapled to plywood boards fixed to the sleepers

Author's collection

Battery railcar Gemini

The unique battery railcar Gemini (Lab 16 RDB975003 and RDB975004) was used exclusively by the Train Control Group and is shown just west of the Mickleover depot site heading towards Egginton Jcn, sometime in the late 1970s.

It was originally BR Sc79998 and Sc79999 and was used on the Ballater branch where it began its working life in 1958 and was acquired by the R&DD in 1966. It is now at the Deeside Railway where its restoration is being completed having been originally undertaken on the East Lancs Railway. For more information look on the Deeside Railway site  - and for some original pictures in BR service look here.

Author's collection


First day of operation at Ballater in 1958 complete with pipers

BR official


A nice colour shot of the 2-car set Gemini at Bury on the ELR on 5th October 1991during its restoration

Simeon Gaskell


This is an early train simulator and driver's cab display (right) under test in the lab.

Author's collection

In the cab

The view from the cab with the extra equipment visible on the right hand side. I don't think BR drivers wore sports jackets when driving so I suspect it's a member of the Research team at the controls - circa 1970

Author's collection

Another day

Another view with a slightly different set up - the scale I assume to be 'distance to target' indication - note that the same piece of track is being traversed. Yes it's the same sports jacket too!  The location is at the top of the climb past the present Mackworth estate and the bridge in the distance is one the author used to play on as a child! (and the sun's shining!)

Author's collection

Setting up

And a technician adjusts the underframe receiving equipment

Author's collection

Location cabinet

The trackside equipment was positioned in the S&T location cabinets alongside the line - which at this stage was still open to traffic. There was a tone generator linked to the signal which altered depending upon the aspect.

This is outside one of the GNR warehouses at the Friargate end of the line

Author's collection

Linear Motor

Further tests were carried out with a linear motor, which was mounted on a Class 101 DMU. The trials were to evaluate the difficulties of laying the aluminium/steel reaction rail, which the linear motor would utilise, down the centre of the track. The motor never provided propulsion but was used to test the practicalities of the system.

Linear motor test unit

This is the Class 101 DMU in mid 1975 pictured standing on a piece of track equipped with the linear motor test facility.

Author's collection

Linear motor test unit

Around 260 yards of the line were equipped with the aluminium/steel reaction rail including joints and crossings.

Author's collection

Hydraulic Drive DMU

Single car unit No: RDB 975385 (formerly M55997 a Cravens-built parcels car) was converted as a test bed for hydrostatic transmission in 1974 and was known as Lab 9 'Hydra'. Although it was tested at Old Dalby on a number of occasions it is pictured here at Mickleover, which was a convenient line due to its proximity to Derby

Hydra at Etwall

This picture of Hydra was taken in August 1984 adjacent to Etwall station - the A50 road ran over the bridge in the background. It is adjacent to this spot that the new A516 Etwall by-pass road divides the remains of the track bed

Tony Woof

Hydra at Mickleover

Hydra sits on the main test line just under the overbridge adjacent to the depot at Mickleover. Note the 'wiggly wire' ATO system in the four foot

Colin Marsden

Track Defect Tests

Further wagon testing conducted at the track included running a test vehicle over a known track defect. A length of the line was connected via turnbuckles to the adjacent line which was braced with additional lengths of rail for stability. These turnbuckles could be moved by the application of a large spanner to introduce a kink into the running line. This feature was introduced in the early days of the Research Department and was used extensively during pioneering investigations into wagon suspensions and wheel/rail interaction.

Test length

The test site - running line on the right. Note the extra rails in the LH four foot and the turnbuckles connecting the two running lines.

Author's Collection

Hopper tests

A test train with the DM&EE's Test Car 1, ADW150375 the former WR autocoach, and a 21 ton hopper wagon pass the track defect site on the Mickleover test track on 25th July 1974.


A closer view of the misalignment

Author's Collection

Hopper tests

Seconds later the test train is past and heading for Egginton Jcn

Wind Tunnel

Later a miniature wind tunnel was constructed on the track bed of the old Up line in which aerodynamic modelling in connection with research into shock waves caused by the Advanced Passenger Train and high speed trains was carried out. 

Wind tunnel

The miniature wind tunnel

Colin Marsden

Aerodynamic tunnel

Inside the miniature wind tunnel

BR Official

Railbus RB004


Railbus RB004 sits alongside the wind tunnel at Mickleover during its commissioning tests in the spring of 1984. This vehicle is preserved at Telford Steam railway. Look here for a picture of the unit at Telford and here for another at Shildon.

Basil Hancock

Class 151 trials

During the acceptance testing of the Class 151 Metro-Cammell built Sprinter units in the summer of 1985, the Twin Disc gearboxes proved to be rather troublesome. Their 'hot shift' characteristic imparted unacceptable longitudinal shocks to the trains and hence to the passengers and made for an uncomfortable journey.

In order to address the problem the first unit spent a few weeks at the test track where the Twin Disc engineers carried out numerous adjustments until an acceptable gear change characteristic was achieved. 

151 001 en route to Mickleover

In March 1985 Metro-Cammell-built DMU 151001 is pictured passing Stenson Jcn being loco-hauled en route to Mickleover

John Tuffs

151 at Mickleover

The prototype Metro-Cammell Sprinter No: 151001 stands at the Mickleover end of the track in March 1985. The wind tunnel is to the left of the unit.

151 at Mickleover

Unit 151001 rests outside the workshop at Mickleover during its shakedown running at the test track in the spring of 1985. The workshop, which housed the battery railcar etc is behind the unit and the original GNR station can be seen in the left background.

Matt Harrison

Speed Limit Signs Evaluation

The prototype Class 150 Sprinter DMU's also visited the site and one of the tests which they carried out was the evaluation of the new reflective speed limit trackside signs in the mid 1980's. As most modern traction was then being fitted with high intensity headlights the cut-out type speed signs which had served the railway for many years were to be replaced with more modern reflective devices. These of course are subject to being obliterated by graffiti. Progress?

These trials were carried out at night, much to the annoyance of the locals, no doubt.

Class 60 commissioning

The early class 60 locomotives were commissioned at Mickleover (and at Old Dalby) over a  lengthy period.

Class 60's at RTC

Here is 60015 in the company of an unidentified sister loco about to depart RTC for Mickleover

Author's Collection

60001 outside the workshop at Mickleover in the late 1980s. Note the battery railcar in the shed and the Networker prototype behind the loco made up from redundant stock from the class 210 DEMU.

Paul Hadfield


60001 at Egginton Jcn with TC6 about to come off the test track - photo taken from signalbox


Class 155 Publicity shots

The Leyland-built class 155 DMU visited the test track for some publicity shots prior to entering service

Class 155 301

Leyland Class 155 unit 155 301 at the top of the straight at Mickleover. Next to the train is the original track - known as the 'Long Siding'

Author's Collection

Class 155 301

Another shot - this time positioned under overbridge 116 at the top of the straight 

Author's Collection

In the yard

Stabled at Mickleover next to the shed with the Eliot track recording car behind

Chris Ward

Derailment Detection Device

At the end of 1974 the line was used to demonstrate a 'derailment detection device'. This was thought necessary since a large number of 4-wheeled vacuum braked wagons were still in use on BR and derailments were not uncommon. If after derailment the brake pipe remained complete, the derailed wagons could run for miles damaging the track and often the loco crew didn't even know they had a derailed wagon, the power of the modern diesels was unaffected by the extra drag. The device was connected to the braking system and consisted of one ceramic pipe above the vehicle's leaf springs and one attached to the axlebox. When the vehicle de-railed the gap above the spring was closed thereby breaking the element and venting the brake pipe, alternatively the one on the axlebox would come into contact with the rail head. Although successfully tested by deliberately de-railing a van the system was not really a practical proposition and was never developed any further.

The device The devices are shown attached to the suspension of a 10ft wheelbase 'Vanfit'. The white parts are the frangible elements, one between the spring buckle and the solebar and the other placed so as to break when it came into contact with the rail. All a bit unbelievable after 40 years

Author's Collection

The switch The switch was designed such that when a bar fixed to the leading wagon came into contact with the lever it would open thereby derailing the trailing wheelset. It worked!

Author's Collection

The result The aftermath: The van derailed and the brake pipe vented. All filmed from the train and from the trackside.

Author's Collection


In the summer of 1971 an unusual development was tested in the shape of a vehicle which carried a single container and which was self-propelled. Known as the 'Autowagon' it was proposed that the vehicle would be able to park itself, and thereby save on motive power but not surprisingly the idea didn't take off. It did feature on the TV programme 'Tomorrow's World' but was pushed into the shot by the 08 shunter giving the impression that it was self-propelled.


The 'Autowagon' is seen here approaching the unloading facility alongside the workshop at Mickleover

Author's collection

Remote controlled shunter

Another idea trialled at Mickleover was a radio-controlled class 08 350HP shunting loco. Withdrawn in 1978 and formerly 08267 it was used by the Train Control Group and named 'Pluto'. Although it was taken into stock as RDB968020 it was later re-numbered 97 801.

remote shunter

This shot is taken outside the Depot looking west

Colin Marsden

Side Pull Tests

Tests to assess the lateral stiffness of vehicle's suspension were undertaken at various places including the test track.

Side-pull tests

An interesting shot from 1976 taken from the old signal box base. This shows a side-pull test under way next to the workshop using the Warflat sleeper loading vehicle RDW160207. It is loaded with the rail-packs usually associated with HSFV1

Of note are the Portakabins in the background, the Train Control loops in the four foot of the main running line in the foreground (the wind tunnel was built over this track much later).

Author's Collection

Side-pull tests

A close up of the arrangements. In the background is the overbridge at the exit from the sidings from where a lot of photographs were taken over the years but is now no longer standing

Author's Collection


In addition to its "in house" projects, the R&D maintained close links with the plastics industry. One such development to result from this connection was the use of Mathweb GRP structures.

BP Technical Developments had developed a technique for producing GRP lattice structures more as a speculative general development than with any specific application in mind. The Plastics Development Unit (PDU) recognised the potential of this technique for producing emergency structures for overhead line equipment where the lighter weight of the GRP (approx 1/3 wt of a steel structure) could considerably reduce erection time and equipment, and ease transportation to site.

Accordingly the PDU and the CM & EE Overhead Line Engineer stimulated a joint development programme with BP carrying out component design and production. PDU provided the loading criteria and performed site trials to assess suitability and link theory with practice thus providing valuable information for both parties.

A system for a simple support structure to resemble the level crossing case has been devised and further work is being undertaken on the assessment of a full portal frame structure.

Emergency structure

The Mathweb  temporary GRP OHLE structure erected at Mickleover - view looking towards the station. It was also trialled at Old Dalby.

Author's collection

More pictures will be added

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