Uses for Beebs at British Rail

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Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by jms2 » Thu Feb 12, 2015 8:06 pm

I think I mentioned before that I work in the railway industry in the UK.

The other day I bumped into a former colleague, now retired, who back in about 1998 gave me my first "retro" BBC micro (by that point I had been without one for about 10 years). He asked me if his old machine was still working ok and told me a story about what he used it for back in the mid eighties, as part of his job then.

UK readers may be aware that the government is currently pledging to get rid of the very unpopular "Pacer" trains which are used in the Welsh vallies and in the north. There about 200 of these things, and they are essentially the body of a bus bolted onto a railway freight wagon. Anyway, my friend told me that in 1985ish, BR was planning to build a further 700 of these crude and noisy vehicles, and he undertook to demonstrate, using his BBC and Viewsheet, that this would not in fact be cost effective (the low purchase cost being outweighed by high maintenance costs).

Apparently the bit of BR that he worked in had no machines with a spreadsheet program on them at this time, so the chap had to take all the relevant paperwork home and figure it all out on the Beeb. He managed to do it, and the nation's railways were spared from a vast bus-based apocalypse.

It's nice to think that I now own this slightly historic machine! :D I also have the discs which came with it, which i had not previously taken much interest in. I will try to preserve the spreadsheet, although I suspect it would only be interesting in a work context, rather than on here.

I've also been looking through the archives to see if there were any official uses for the beeb at BR. It seems there were: I have found various manuals for certain programs used to calculate obscure things such as wheel/rail dynamics etc. All very specialised and confined to BR Research rather than the everyday engineering bit.

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by poink » Thu Feb 12, 2015 9:06 pm

jms2 wrote:I've also been looking through the archives to see if there were any official uses for the beeb at BR. It seems there were: I have found various manuals for certain programs used to calculate obscure things such as wheel/rail dynamics etc. All very specialised and confined to BR Research rather than the everyday engineering bit.
On the customer facing side, judging by various pictures I've seen, I think the train times screens used to be generated by a BBC Master.

edit: Image
Last edited by poink on Thu Feb 12, 2015 9:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by Wookie » Thu Feb 12, 2015 9:07 pm

jms2 wrote:I've also been looking through the archives to see if there were any official uses for the beeb at BR. It seems there were
I can remember the timetable/trains arriving/departing display at the station being driven by Beebs back in the very early 1990's, it was defiantly in use at Lancaster station and most of the North-West of England looked just the same.

How do I know a Master was used at Lancaster Station ? well because one day the system had crashed and I recognised the familiar switch on screen of the Master being displayed instead of the train info :lol:

<EDIT>
Drat! poink beat me to it :D

So I've managed to find just such a pic \:D/

Image
Last edited by Wookie on Thu Feb 12, 2015 9:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
cheers Wookie
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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by sweh » Thu Feb 12, 2015 9:13 pm

Wookie wrote:I can remember the timetable/trains arriving/departing display at the station being driven by Beebs back in the very early 1990's, it was defiantly in use at Lancaster station and most of the North-West of England looked just the same.
They were actual Beebs? I thought they were just using a teletext compatible display (equiv to mode 7).
How do I know a Master was used at Lancaster Station ? well because one day the system had crashed and I recognised the familiar switch on screen of the Master being displayed instead of the train info :lol:
So I guess they were :-)

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by Wookie » Thu Feb 12, 2015 9:24 pm

Arrgh! poink has now just found the same pic as me :lol:

We must have been both looking & editing our posts at the same time.
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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by 1024MAK » Fri Feb 13, 2015 12:28 am

Never mind that, the railways are far better known for their for H&S...


Although the UK railway has now moved on, having introduced red zones and green zones, and then gone off using those terms (now preferring "line block") and publishing the railway rule book in a new smaller but thicker form factor...

Anyway, you should read these important rules: Linky

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by 1024MAK » Fri Feb 13, 2015 1:00 am

jms2 wrote:UK readers may be aware that the government is currently pledging to get rid of the very unpopular "Pacer" trains which are used in the Welsh vallies and in the north.
Officially known as class 142 and class 143 DMUs (there are others that I have a lack of knowledge about).

Unofficially known by various names like bouncy buses, nodding donkeys, plus a few more :lol:
If they are travelling over jointed track (60 "foot" bullhead rails) and the track is not being maintained to a high standard, the joints (fishplated joints) dip causing a rough ride :(

Also they can catch fire (a 143 unit caught fire near Nailsea and Backwell station in October 2004). After hearing of that, I made sure that I did not nod off when travelling on them!

Mark

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by 1024MAK » Fri Feb 13, 2015 1:19 am

poink wrote:On the customer facing side, judging by various pictures I've seen, I think the train times screens used to be generated by a BBC Master.

edit: Image
Not all the old BR CIS (Customer Information Screens) systems used Beebs. Some used a RS232 link from an old PC (never did get my hands on one, so can't tell you any more) to single board computers that lived in the back of the VDU "screens" on the platform. Then a limited number of "slave" screens were linked in using composite video via co-ax cable.

These single board computers were also available in separate cases, for use in buildings (booking offices, station staff areas etc) driving standard monitors (TV standard 15625Hz type).

There were a number of RS232 serial links so that each platform could have it's own information display. The RS232 links could run for up to about 500m.

Here's a picture of the SBC
IMG_0826.JPG
And the test output of it when powered up:
IMG_0825.JPG
The more modern CIS systems are PC based systems (you can tell when they crash :lol: ).

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by george.h » Fri Feb 13, 2015 10:22 am

1024MAK wrote:Unofficially known by various names like bouncy buses, nodding donkeys, plus a few more If they are travelling over jointed track (60 "foot" bullhead rails) and the track is not being maintained to a high standard, the joints (fishplated joints) dip causing a rough ride Also they can catch fire (a 143 unit caught fire near Nailsea and Backwell station in October 2004). After hearing of that, I made sure that I did not nod off when travelling on them!
Ah yes, the dreaded "railbus". The "plus a few more" names mostly being utterly unprintable :lol: Awful things they were, and the flange squeal going round curves was on a par with fingernails on a blackboard!

I wonder if some of the design staff went on to work on bendy-busses in London? Perhaps that is where they inherited their halt-and-catch-fire tendencies....
:?
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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by cmjones01 » Fri Feb 13, 2015 12:40 pm

I'd often wondered back in the 80s whether BR departure displays were driven by Beebs, but the display, though teletext-ish, didn't look like it could have come from a Beeb: the colours were too subtle and the character font was wrong. This was in the Network SouthEast area, though. Presumably different areas did their own things, with Beebs in the north west.

Perhaps that Bristol board was what was used around here, though I definitely remember the displays being colour.

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by george.h » Fri Feb 13, 2015 1:59 pm

cmjones01 wrote:I'd often wondered back in the 80s whether BR departure displays were driven by Beebs, but the display, though teletext-ish, didn't look like it could have come from a Beeb: the colours were too subtle and the character font was wrong. This was in the Network SouthEast area, though. Presumably different areas did their own things, with Beebs in the north west.

Perhaps that Bristol board was what was used around here, though I definitely remember the displays being colour.

Chris
I've often thought the same thing - they look "Beeb mode 7'ish" but there was always something that caused that nagging doubt... As you say, colours a bit too subtle, font not quite the same, characters a little too smooth... Trouble is I can't remember the time frame so I could have been looking at one of the single board generated displays or later PC driven ones....
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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by 1024MAK » Fri Feb 13, 2015 2:17 pm

The SBC type I posted about above was monochrome only and used at Bristol Temple Meads. Only after they renewed the complete system (Windows PC based) did we get colour CIS for the first time. This was done during the time of the first First Great Western franchise.

I think the old Bath Spa and Bristol Parkway CIS systems used a slightly different system to the one at BTM, but I don't know any details (well the screen displays were not the same as at BTM).

Smaller stations under BR did not have any CIS. But the regional railway franchise operator (I forget what it was called at the time) installed brand new colour systems on the larger of the smaller stations. But this system is different again to the First Great Western system at BTM!

There appears to have been lots of variations over the years within regions, let alone across the country.

I should also say that during BR ownership, each region operated separately to all the other regions. As a result, a lot of equipment was region specific.

Edit: I forgot to say, that a couple of years ago, FGW ripped out all of the CRT based CIS displays in the Bristol area (including BTM, BPW, Bath, WSM) and replaced them with orange LED type displays. There are also a small number of flat panel displays, they look like LCD types, but I'm not sure if they are 15625Hz TV standard types or VGA or what.

Mark
Last edited by 1024MAK on Sun Feb 15, 2015 10:41 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by george.h » Fri Feb 13, 2015 4:20 pm

Can you make out what the CPU is on the SBC? I can't quite make it out.... 8)
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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by cmjones01 » Fri Feb 13, 2015 5:17 pm

My guess is a 68B00 - it's got 40 pins, and I'm fairly sure the big chip on the far left is a 68B21, so the speed rating would match up. There's a Hitachi 46505 CRTC, too, which makes sense architecturally. The odd one out is the Zilog SCC serial chip at the bottom.

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by jonb » Fri Feb 13, 2015 6:07 pm

george.h wrote:
1024MAK wrote:Unofficially known by various names like bouncy buses, nodding donkeys, plus a few more If they are travelling over jointed track (60 "foot" bullhead rails) and the track is not being maintained to a high standard, the joints (fishplated joints) dip causing a rough ride Also they can catch fire (a 143 unit caught fire near Nailsea and Backwell station in October 2004). After hearing of that, I made sure that I did not nod off when travelling on them!
Ah yes, the dreaded "railbus". The "plus a few more" names mostly being utterly unprintable :lol: Awful things they were, and the flange squeal going round curves was on a par with fingernails on a blackboard!

I wonder if some of the design staff went on to work on bendy-busses in London? Perhaps that is where they inherited their halt-and-catch-fire tendencies....
:?
Hate to say this, lads, but there you have it: yet another good reason to live "Dahn Sarf". We never had any of this junk clagging up our lines!

:lol:

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by 1024MAK » Fri Feb 13, 2015 6:11 pm

cmjones01 wrote:My guess is a 68B00 - it's got 40 pins, and I'm fairly sure the big chip on the far left is a 68B21, so the speed rating would match up. There's a Hitachi 46505 CRTC, too, which makes sense architecturally. The odd one out is the Zilog SCC serial chip at the bottom.
Nearly :wink:

Actually:
HD68B09P CPU
HD63B21P PIA
HD46505SP-2 (HD68B45SP) CRT Controller
and yes a Zilog SCC serial chip (Z0853006PSC).

IIRC (I’ll check later) it has one parallel port (25 D connector) and two serial ports (again 25 D connectors). I think the boards did have an option for RGB colour (via a not fitted DIN socket), but were only fitted for monochrome.

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by 1024MAK » Fri Feb 13, 2015 6:18 pm

jonb wrote:
george.h wrote:
1024MAK wrote:Unofficially known by various names like bouncy buses, nodding donkeys, plus a few more.
Hate to say this, lads, but there you have it: yet another good reason to live "Dahn Sarf". We never had any of this junk clagging up our lines!

:lol:
Is Weymouth not "Dahn Sarf" then? :lol:
Regional Railways/Wessex/First Great Western sometimes ran 143s on that route.
The Portsmouth-Cardiff service got the 158's with (sometimes working) air con, and the other lines got a mix of 153s, 150 Sprinters and 143 buses...

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by 1024MAK » Fri Feb 13, 2015 6:47 pm

Here is a pic of the separate box
image.jpg
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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by BeebMaster » Fri Feb 13, 2015 9:57 pm

I believe the BBC micro based display screens were still in use in Hull station last time I went, that was about 7 years ago. I'm going in May so I'll see if they still use it.
Image

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by poink » Sat Feb 14, 2015 5:47 am

BeebMaster wrote:I believe the BBC micro based display screens were still in use in Hull station last time I went, that was about 7 years ago. I'm going in May so I'll see if they still use it.
My commiserations on your upcoming visit to 'Ull.

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by jms2 » Sun May 03, 2015 10:44 am

Here is the Mode 7 pseudo-Powerpoint presentation I found on the old ex-BR floppies that I have.

It was clearly intended to be some kind of rolling demo, because the pages were designed to flip automatically. I have changed this to make them advance with the space bar, otherwise it is a bit slow to read!

The purpose of it is to explain how BR developed its fleet of diesel units in the 1980s. Not massively interesting, but here it is anyway.
br dmus.zip
(9.66 KiB) Downloaded 119 times

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by BeebMaster » Thu May 07, 2015 4:19 pm

poink wrote:
BeebMaster wrote:I believe the BBC micro based display screens were still in use in Hull station last time I went, that was about 7 years ago. I'm going in May so I'll see if they still use it.
My commiserations on your upcoming visit to 'Ull.
All new, no Beebs.

It's a disgrace.
Image

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by flibble » Fri Jun 07, 2019 2:09 pm

*casts thread reanimation*

I've seen the picture of the crashed beeb in this thread before, but I was wondering does anyone have a picture of one running? I'd quite like to recreate its style for a train project.

A google image search suggests even railfans in the 80's wern't obsessive enough to photo the departure and arrival boards :)

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by BigEd » Sun Jun 09, 2019 6:46 pm

I'm told https://www.railforums.co.uk/ might be able to help.

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Re: Uses for Beebs at British Rail

Post by flibble » Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:22 pm

Cheers for the suggestion, I was able to find some more images. I've had a quick play and here are some recreations. I am not sure if they're 100% accurate, but they seem very familiar!
railscreen1.png
railscreen2.png

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