Institution of Locomotive Engineers


The Institution of Locomotive Engineers (I.Loco.E.) was an independent professional association and learned society headquartered in London, United Kingdom, that represented locomotive engineers from all over the UK and overseas between the years 1911 and 1969 when it merged with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers to become the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Railway Division. Its purpose was the dissemination of information concerning locomotive engineering and its allied sciences.

Several local and overseas “Centres”, or associations, were formed in the interwar years, including Leeds (1918), Manchester (1919), and Buenos Aires (1920) which became the largest overseas. Other Centres included Glasgow (1920), Newcastle-on-Tyne (1928), Birmingham, India (1929), and Australia.


The Institution of Mechanical Engineers was founded in 1847 by a group of railway engineers, who represented the cutting edge of engineering science at that time. Indeed, the institution’s founding president was none other than the father of the steam railway, George Stephenson.

By the 1890s, the institution represented many other interests beyond that of railways, and papers on locomotive engineering were only occasionally read and discussed. However, a number of technical advances in locomotive engineering were being introduced to the UK, one of the most important of which was the introduction of superheating. At the same time, the provision of corridor carriages, dining cars, etc. was increasing train weights, which in turn required the development of larger and more powerful locomotives.

In the absence of an industry forum of their own, railway engineers and technicians began forming local, often company-based and often informal, self-help groups, one of the first being the GWR Engineering Society, formed in Swindon in 1893, immediately following the abandonment of its broad gauge system. Similar small-scale societies were formed within other railway centers, notably Derby and Horwich, however, they only catered for the technical staff of the railway concerned.

Formation of The Railway Club and the Stephenson Society

A more encompassing organization called the Railway Club was formed in 1899. Membership was open to both engineers and laymen, its meetings were held at the homes of its members until its own premises were secured in London. However, after a few years, some of its senior members (most notably L.E. Brailsford of Croydon and G. F. Burtt of the L.B. & S.C.R. Works in Brighton) began to feel that the Club was becoming too general in its scope and that locomotive matters were no longer the prime focus of its activities. This led in 1909 to the formation of a break-away society devoted entirely to locomotive matters, which called itself the Stephenson Society, of which Brailsford became Chairman, and Burtt the Secretary. No qualifications for membership were necessary, but new members had to be introduced by an existing member, Burtt recruiting a large contingent from Brighton Works.

By 1910, the society’s meetings were being held at the Cripplegate Institute in London with numerous visits being arranged, and by the end of that year, membership stood at 75.

Formation of the Junior Institution of Locomotive Engineers

A further division then developed between the “amateurs” who held a general interest in locomotives and the “professionals” who sought a more technical organization that would help to advance their knowledge. This resulted in a split early in 1911, Brailsford heading the Stephenson Society (which altered its name to ‘‘The Stephenson Locomotive Society”), while Burtt set about enlarging his faction by bringing in members from his own and other railways, from consulting engineers, and from firms associated with locomotive supplies and accessories. The new organization adopted the title “The Junior Institution of Locomotive Engineers”.

The inaugural meeting of the Institution was called on 4th February 1911. The first President was J. H. Adams, Locomotive Superintendent of the former North Staffordshire Railway, while the Honorary Secretary was T. H. Baxter, and the Honorary Treasurer was F. Burtt, both of the LB&SCR (London Brighton and South Coast Railway). Many of the original members of the Institution were also Brighton men.

Dropping “Junior” from the Institution’s name

Baxter resigned on 16th September to take up a post in Uganda, whereupon Burtt took on the dual post of Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, a position which he held for many years after. Early meetings were held at St. Bride’s Institute in London. Because of the readiness of senior engineers to become members, and an objection from the Junior Institution of Engineers to the assumption of the name prefixed, the word “Junior” was dropped from the title which became “The Institution of Locomotive Engineers”.

The Institution’s First Paper

The first Paper was read by J. P. Maitland from the LB&SCR on “French Locomotive Practice”, and a few months later a visit to France was arranged by Maitland for Institution members to see the locomotives that he had described in his paper.

Presidents and Office Holders

The names of Presidents and Office Holders are listed below (so far as their names are currently known). Membership numbers are also given where known, most being found in references.

Changes resulting from the 1923 Grouping

The 1923 “Grouping” under the Railways Act 1921, which involved the amalgamation of around 120 small and medium-sized railways into the “Big Four” – viz. the Great Western Railway (GWR), Southern Railway (SR), London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) and the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) – resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of leading railway officials available to fill main offices of the Institution. Furthermore, those few had much greater responsibilities than formerly, so had less time to devote to the Institution’s affairs. Perhaps this was reflected in the appointment as President for the 1925/26 Session, R. W. Reid who was the first president to represent the rolling stock side of railway activities (being carriage and wagon superintendent of the Midland Railway). [Note: R.W. Reid was the son of the better-known W.P. Reid, one-time Locomotive and Carriage Superintendent of the North British Railway.

The Heyday of Steam

1927 saw Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LNER, appointed president of the Institution. He was the first CME of the post-grouping railways to be so appointed. He was also the second, being reappointed seven years later in 1934. Thereafter the role was held by two other equally famous CMEs: William Stanier of the LMS in 1936 and 1938, and Oliver Bulleid who held the post through the entire period of WW2.

In addition to its 1911 outing to France, the Institution organized other visits to inspect railways overseas. Several members, including Cecil J Allen and the then President, William Stanier visited Nazi Germany in 1936, and in 1958 a delegation visited Ireland to inspect Bulleid’s Turf Burner.

The Post-War Years

Following the nationalization of the railways in 1948, the better-known presidents of the Institution included R.A. Riddles, British Railways (BR) Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer in 1950; R.C. Bond, BR Chief Officer (Locomotive Construction and Maintenance) in 1953, and E.S Cox, BR Executive Officer (Design) in 1957.


The eradication of steam from British Railways in 1968 presaged the end of the Institution. Railway locomotive design departments and manufacturing facilities quickly disappeared from the responsibilities of an individual or even national railway organizations, becoming instead the provenance of specialist private companies. In this changed world, there was no longer a role for locomotive engineers of the old order, nor a need for them to congregate and share information under the auspices of their institution. As a consequence, in 1969, the Institution of Locomotive Engineers was integrated into the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as its Railway Division.

The Last Paper presented to the Institution

The very last paper presented to the Institution – No 721, delivered in Manchester, England, in March 1969 – was presented by none other than Livio Dante Porta, who could claim to have been the last proponent of steam traction in commercial operation, and perhaps the last CME of a commercial railway operated by steam outside of China – namely the Rio Turbio Railway in Patagonia. His paper was titled “Steam locomotive development in Argentina — its contribution to the Future of railway technology in under-developed Countries”.