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Edward J. Houghton

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Edward J. Houghton (1844-1918) of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway


1919 Obituary [1]

EDWARD J. HOUGHTON was born in 1844 and was educated privately in London.

He entered the service of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in his fifteenth year, and occupied successively several junior positions in the telegraph department under Mr. E. G. Bartholomew, F.R.S., at that time the Telegraph Engineer of the Company.

When Mr. Bartholomew left the Brighton Railway he was succeeded by Mr. Cripps, and Mr. Houghton was appointed his Chief Assistant. On the death of Mr. Cripps in 1875 Mr. Houghton was appointed Chief Telegraph and Electrical Engineer of the Railway, which position he held until the time of his retirement. His name was known in the railway world principally as the pioneer of the lighting of railway trains by electricity.

In 1881 he fitted up with electric lighting a Pullman car train which ran between London and Brighton. It is believed by the writer that this was the first attempt to light a train by electricity, and it was considered a sufficiently remarkable event to form the subject of a leading article in the Daily Telegraph in October 1881. The lighting for this train was supplied in the first case from accumulators only, which had to be charged each night during the time the train was shunted in the sidings.

A little later, however, Mr. Houghton designed apparatus whereby the accumulators were charged by a dynamo placed in the guard's van and driven by belting from the axle. This apparatus, with various improvements introduced from time to time, was the subject of some 14 patents taken out between the years 1885 and 1892. The working was found so satisfactory that its use was considerably extended, until eventually nearly 400 coaches were equipped with the apparatus on the Brighton Railway. A number of trains, also, were similarly equipped on other railways both in this country and in the colonies. There are still several trains, including the Royal train, running on the Brighton Railway fitted with, Mr. Houghton's apparatus.

In addition to his work with train lighting apparatus, Mr. Houghton was the inventor and patentee of a number of appliances in connection with railway telegraph and signalling apparatus. He was one of the first to experiment with track circuiting for controlling the signals and block apparatus. In the early eighties a section of line on the Brighton Railway was track-circuited and fitted with apparatus for locking the signals and controlling the block instruments, and was in regular use for some time. It was eventually abandoned, mainly owing to the fact that at that time a large proportion of the wheels of vehicles were unbonded and consequently failed to short-circuit the rails.

During the time Mr. Houghton was with the Brighton Railway he was responsible for an extensive development of the electric lock and block system of train signalling and the installation of a number of electric lighting and power plants at various stations and depots on the system. During the last year of his service with the Railway the South London Line was equipped for electric traction.

He retired from the service of the Railway in September 1909, and passed away at his residence in Croydon on the 16th December, 1918, after a short illness.

He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1876.


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