Aspinall, Sir John Audley Frederick

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b. 25 August 1851 Liverpool, England
d. 19 January 1937 Woking, England
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English mechanical engineer, pioneer of the automatic vacuum brake for railway trains and of railway electrification.
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Aspinall's father was a QC, Recorder of Liverpool, and Aspinall himself became a pupil at Crewe Works of the London \& North Western Railway, eventually under F.W. Webb. In 1875 he was appointed Manager of the works at Inchicore, Great Southern \& Western Railway, Ireland. While he was there, some of the trains were equipped, on trial, with continuous brakes of the non-automatic vacuum type. Aspinall modified these to make them automatic, i.e. if the train divided, brakes throughout both parts would be applied automatically. Aspinall vacuum brakes were subsequently adopted by the important Great Northern, Lancashire \& Yorkshire, and London \& North Western Railways.
In 1883, aged only 32, Aspinall was appointed Locomotive Superintendent of the Great Southern \& Western Railway, but in 1886 he moved in the same capacity to the Lancashire \& Yorkshire Railway, where his first task was to fit out the new works at Horwich. The first locomotive was completed there in 1889, to his design. In 1899 he introduced a 4–4–2, the largest express locomotive in Britain at the time, some of which were fitted with smokebox superheaters to Aspinall's design.
Unusually for an engineer, in 1892 Aspinall was appointed General Manager of the Lancashire \& Yorkshire Railway. He electrified the Liverpool-Southport line in 1904 at 600 volts DC with a third rail; this was an early example of main-line electrification, for it extended beyond the Liverpool suburban area. He also experimented with 3,500 volt DC overhead electrification of the Bury-Holcombe Brook branch in 1913, but converted this to 1,200 volts DC third rail to conform with the Manchester-Bury line when this was electrified in 1915. In 1918 he was made a director of the Lancashire \& Yorkshire Railway.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted 1917. President, Institution of Mechanical Engineers 1909. President, Institution of Civil Engineers 1918.
Further Reading
H.A.V.Bulleid, 1967, The Aspinall Era, Shepperton: Ian Allan (provides a good account of Aspinall and his life's work).
C.Hamilton Ellis, 1958, Twenty Locomotive Men, Shepperton: Ian Allan, Ch. 19 (a good brief account).
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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