Model Rail (UK)
Factfile: NER Autocar
The importance of the NER petrol-electric Autocar cannot be overstated. It was the forerunner of modern traction, though arguably not the ubiquitous diesel-mechanical DMU but the diesel-electric system commonly seen in locomotives and some of the more recent multiple units. Around the turn of the 19th Century, electric tramway technology had reached the point where street tramways were drawing substantial amounts of short-distance local traffic away from the main line railways. The economy of the electric tramway was an attractive proposition for branch lines and lightly used services, but not if it involved expensive fixed infrastructure to supply power.
The answer lay in a vehicle which could generate its own power supply. The North
Eastern Railway came up with the first viable vehicle, the Electric Autocar, in 1903. The 53ft 6in long (over body) vehicle had a driving cab at each end and a Napier petrol engine driving a flywheel which, in turn, powered a Westinghouse dynamo, producing electricity at 550V for the bogie-mounted traction motors. Two vehicles were built, numbered 3170 and 3171. They had reversible tram-type seats for 48 passengers, a vestibule area and an open engine bay above the powered bogie. The end with the engine, power bogie and larger cab was the ‘front’ of the car. There was a smaller cab at the rear. The Napier engine quickly proved unsatisfactory and in 1904 was replaced by a 92hp Wolseley flat-four engine. A small dynamo, driven by a belt from the flywheel, provided charge for accumulators which enabled electric starting of the engine, carriage lighting and starting current for the main dynamo.
The railcars worked between Hartlepool and West Hartlepool, where they completed the journey in half the time of the parallel tram service, before moving to North Yorkshire for the rest of their careers, working Scarborough-filey shuttles and around Harrogate and Selby. No. 3171 was withdrawn in May 1930 and No. 3170 in April 1931. However, the body of No. 3170 was grounded as a holiday home near Kirbymoorside in North Yorkshire for 70 years before being acquired by noted carriage restorer Stephen Middleton in 2003. Between 2011-18 the Autocar was restored and fitted with a recycled GNR underframe and a Cummins diesel engine to comply with modern regulations. It now operates at the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway.