Three factors dictated the type of locomotive that could run on the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR): increased freight and passenger train loadings, poor track quality, and weak, lightly built bridges. An increasing number of passengers used the SECR to reach the cross-Channel ferries at Dover and Folkestone between 1910 and 1913, and heavy goods trains between Tonbridge and Hither Green marshalling yardstretched the capabilities of existing locomotives and infrastructure. On the lines of the former London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR), flint beach pebbles on a bed of ash had been used for ballast.Conventional track ballast has irregular shapes that "lock" together to keep the track in place, whereas the smooth pebbles used by the LCDR failed to prevent track movement under strain. The economies in construction meant that only locomotives with low axle loadings could run safely on the track.These restrictions meant that the SECR was unable to follow a coherent locomotive strategy that reduced costs and increased serviceability. The railway's Operating Department had to use mismatched classes of underpowered and obsolete 4-4-0 and 0-6-0locomotives because they could run within the restrictions imposed by the infrastructure. This meant frequent double-heading that increased operational costs.
Richard Maunsell was appointed CME of the SECR in 1913, following the retirement of Harry Wainwright due to ill health. Wainwright left a legacy of competent but unspectacular locomotives that struggled to cope with the increased train lengths and loadings.Maunsell took control of the short-term situation by improving existing designs, and he introduced new engines to progressively replace obsolete classes. New designs could also cut costs on the SECR, as one capable mixed-traffic locomotive could undertake the work of two separate passenger or freight types. The first new design was to become Maunsell's N class 2-6-0.
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