Arrival of the Sentinels

Here at Ribble Steam Railway, we’re well known for celebrating our large collection of industrial steam and heritage diesel locomotives but we have three extremely important locomotives, which work tirelessly to keep Preston’s Dockside traditions alive.

These locomotives arrived in the North West 50 years ago, in a period of great social and economic change. Brought in to replace some nine steam locomotives, one of which survives in the form of the Lakeside & Havethwaite’s ‘Princess’, these stalwartlike characters are responsible keeping bitumen trains rolling and the employment of four full time operational employees. These characters, of course, are Ribble Rail’s three diesel shunters, built by Sentinels, and aptly named ‘PROGRESS, ENTERPRISE & ENERGY’.

SENTINELS, with their Rolls Royce engineer suppliers, turned out diesels for dying industries in the 1960s, and are now represented in higher quantities by heritage railways than their industrial counterparts.

Specially restored for the exhibition, ‘ENTERPRISE’ forms the key part in telling the story of the past 50 years, socially, environmentally, culturally and economically. Summing up our nation’s last 50 years, on the side of a Sentinel!

We want YOU to come and share in this one-off, exciting story. Learn about our Sentinel locomotives, in our Preston-based museum, now!

The first known use of the word Sentinel was the French version Sentille meaning vigilance. The word itself is defined as ‘an action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties’. The word sentinel was used to describe soldiers protecting forts, towns, and places of strategic value.

How did this word then come to be the name of diesel locomotives?

In the early 20th century, two brothers in Scotland had established the Sentinel Steam Waggon manufacturers. The brother’s spelt ‘waggons’ differently to indicate the superiority of their product to other ‘wagon’ producers. This superiority would continue throughout the 20th century when Rolls Royce in 1958 took over the Sentinel
Company and produced the Sentinel Diesel Locomotives.

Sentinel Waggon Works Ltd was a British company based in Shrewsbury, Shropshire that made steam-powered lorries, railway locomotives, and later, diesel engined lorries and locomotives. The prototype Sentinel diesel locomotive was built and ready to commence trials in 1959. Before the end of the year, 17 locomotives had been sold and delivered. The company was ready to produce a maximum of four locomotives a month. By 1963 four different Sentinel diesel models were being produced. These Sentinels demonstrated their suitability for heavy work despite being smaller than the steam locomotives they replaced. More importantly, by being cheaper and more efficient to run, the sentinel diesels saved the traffic on the dock, reviving the industry.

The first sentinel diesel-hydraulic locomotives were produced by Rolls Royce in January 1959. They all carried the emblem of the long sword that Sentinel Waggon Co. had placed on all their locomotives since 1905. This practice was dropped in 1964 when the sword was replaced for Rolls Royce’s familiar badge.

‘Good looks and driver comfort were
important factors in the new designs by Mr
L. F. Hamblin’. 1.

The new locomotives were fitted with modern design aspects to provide comfort for the driver, and also boast its innovative technology. Here are some of the new specifications Mr Hamblin fitted: electric windscreen wipers, flood lights, fold away seats, heater that provided warmth in winter and the circulation of cool air in summer.

“It’s easy to drive, only four levers to get it into gear and go.”

– Phil Preston, Sentinel Driver for Ribble Rail.

Overall, 292 diesel locomotives were built by Rolls Royce in the 12 years from 1959-1971, the production of new locomotives dropping alongside the demand for industrial locomotives which had been declining steadily throughout the ‘70s.

During the early 1960’s the world was changing. From music to politics, the public were thirsty for a renewed and refreshing way to live life away from wartime living. With the country searching for a new identity away from the empire, national identity shifted massively in the 1960’s. Culture and society were not the only change, industry too was transitioning
from heavy to light. The UK moved from building ships, mining for iron and coal, to focussing on producing smaller products and shipping in the ‘heavy industry’ products from overseas (places like China/India etc). Harold MacMillan stated in 1963 that if ‘New Britain were to prosper, it would need to be forged in the white heat of the scientific revolution’.2  This signified not only the change from industrial to scientific technological advances, but also government policy change in investing in science, education, and the ‘promotion of innovation-driven economic growth’.3
“The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.”4 This change from the traditional to the modern was evident on the railway too. At Preston Docks, since it’s opening in 1846, only steam engines were used to haul the goods delivered by ships from all over the
globe to its destination. The line passes under Christian Road and through a cutting, the single line enters Fishergate Tunnel, emerging a short way from Strand Road, which is crossed on the level. In 1968, the 9 steam locomotives at Preston were replaced with 3 Rolls Royce 4-wheeled diesel sentinels. These were Nos. 10281, 10282, and 10283. These locomotives took the names of those they replaced: “Energy”, “Enterprise”, and “Progress”.

The decision to change from steam to diesel is perhaps reflected in the post-war economy of the time. In order to cut costs and switch from a war time economy to a consumer economy, the money had to be saved anywhere it could be spared. Workers were no longer expected to shovel coal in the early hours of the morning, instead they could drive in a locomotive specifically designed for comfort. Instead of taking 3 hours to prepare for running, the diesel engine took 15 minutes. Therefore, in a time of austerity, the Transportation department had to find ways of making the heart of Britain – the railroad – more affordable to run.

As austerity began to pass, Britain had the opportunity to focus on trade and manufacturing within its own boarders, as well as promoting a cosmopolitan economy (trading goods to and from other countries). The Sentinels were made entirely in Britain. Every piece of metal, nut, bolt and screw manufactured and produced here in the UK at the Shrewsbury plant. The merger of Sentinel Waggon Co. into Rolls Royce in 1956 meant that Rolls Royce could facilitate and update the current plans for sentinel locomotives and produce something even greater – the
supercharged diesel engine. This massively powerful engine created opportunities: An opportunity to renew the dwindling traffic on the docks, create a new style of engine, and renew interest in the railway heritage. In a backward sort of way, the replacement and progression from the old steam engines to the modern diesel engines renewed an interest by steam enthusiasts to preserve the soon to be scrapped steam locomotives rendered obsolete by the more powerful diesel locomotives. (Add date and link to museum).

This need to preserve and maintain is at the heart of Ribble Steam Railway. Ribble Steam Railway is the registered charity that is run by a Board of Directors (who are all volunteers). There are two paid staff at Ribble Steam Railway who report to the Board, manage and run day-to-day business. However, Ribble’s volunteers preserving and maintaining engines began much earlier than 2005…

Around this time, Steamport registered as a charity and began to reopen the old L&Y Railway Shed. The Liverpool Locomotive Preservation Group (LLPG) were the first group to move their locomotive collection to Steamport. Steamport set out with the aim to ‘preserve and exhibit for the benefit of the public steam locomotives which may include road steam engines, railway rolling stock and other ancillary railway equipment in particular those originating from or associated with Merseyside and the surrounding areas’. The group of volunteers started to tidy the derelict Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Locomotive shed which had been stripped of all recoverable materials by British Rail in 1966. This meant the group of volunteers had to turn a shell – no windows, doors, water, and electricity – into a fully functioning railway museum.

They accomplished this and opened the museum with a track only 80ft long on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend of 1974. The organisation gained momentum and attraction from all over the North West.

Closing in 1997, the majority of the close- knit volunteers moved with the stock from Steamport to Ribble Steam Railway, Preston.

The charity Ribble Steam Railway Limited was registered in 2005, the volunteers built the warehouses to store our engines, the platform and improved and maintained the existed track. The aim the charity set out with was updated from Steamport: ‘To encourage and promote public interest in the preservation of steam and other railway locomotives…’ This update meant that diesel locomotives could also be preserved and maintained to working order. This important amendment meant that the sentinels could be purchased and transferred to the business Ribble Rail who operate the Bitumen Tankers throughout the week here at Ribble. Ribble Rail consists of four people and three locomotives: Energy, Enterprise and Progress. The three sentinels are used regularly (weekly) and keep the traffic on the dock alive 50 years later.


From Energy and Enterprise, the next step is Progress.

During the period 1940-1970, some of the biggest advancements in Science were made. For example, in 1952 Jonas Salk developed and tested the first polio vaccine, Rosalind Franklin discovers the helical structure of DNA founding the study of molecular biology, Penzias and Wilson detect CMBR (cosmic microwave background radiation) providing experimental evidence for the big bang. This advancement would never have been possible without a global effort in advancing and supporting the Scientific Technological Revolution as it meant the advancement of humanity. The very existence of a scientific revolution meant a growing affluent generation was emerging due to more accessible further education, the government investing in furthering science, technology, engineering and math. This is evident in the technological advancement from steam powered locomotives to diesel powered locomotives.

The Sentinel locomotives represent progress. They represent change without completely abandoning the past. This change comes from adapting and learning from past innovations and how to improve upon them. More importantly, the Sentinels signified an advancement, a move forward in the Railway industry from industrial technology to innovative mechanical engineering. This advancement was needed as steam locomotives were cost-heavy and resulted in more expense to both the environment and the economy. Therefore, in the 1960’s diesel was seen as a better choice, less

workers meant less pay and the engine ran off fuel rather than burning coal (which in the past seemed ‘cleaner’ than coal). Even with this advancement, not everything from the past was abandoned as the process and job were still the same: picking up the wagons, emptying them and shunting them onto the sidings.

“I used to watch the unloading of the wagons on the docks. They used to pull them down the sidings by rope, tip out the coal and send it down another siding full of empties [wagons].” – Phil Preston, Sentinel Driver for Ribble Rail.

The Sentinels are intrinsic to the Ribble Rail business, and the money that is generated through their hard work has enabled the Ribble Steam Railway charity to prosper. It has created the opportunities to expand the museum running list, overhaul old engines which may never have ran again, and fund the shop, café and buffet car for open days. Although the Sentinels are vital to the operation of the organisation, Ribble Steam Railway could not operate without its volunteers. This statement may seem like an exaggeration, but every single aspect of the organisation – from the maintenance of engines to the organisation of events, Ribble could not function without its volunteers. The progress and advancement of Ribble Steam Railway is inextricably bound to the wellbeing, motivation and passion of our volunteers.

Although society changes and progresses, we never truly abandon the past because we learn from the past. This represented the best with the Sentinels, although they were a progression they hold the names of the Steam locomotives they replaced therefore holding onto the past and keeping it alive. The Sentinels kept the traditional railway operation alive by continuing the work of the steam locomotives before them, progressed traffic on Preston Docks ad still continue to do so to this day.

For more details, please email

“Labour’s Plan for Science”, October 1, 1963. See

more at: [Accessed: 01/03/18].

3 The Guardian, September 19, 2013. See more at:
technology-speech [Accessed: 01/03/18].

John Lennon.