Old Kiln Light Railway


Motor Rail & Tramcar Co. Ltd., Bedford, England

A short History


For 77 years The Motor Rail and Tramcar Company Ltd. and its successors produced a highly innovative and successful range of tramcars and small internal combustion locomotives, thousands of which were sold in the United Kingdom and in many other parts of the world.

The company founder, John Abbott, had interests in the East India Tramways Company, who were operating horse trams. In 1907 experimental work began on a scheme to motorise these trams using petrol engines combined with mechanical and later electrical transmission.

The Motor Rail & Tramcar Co. Ltd. was formed in 1911. The intention of the new company was to manufacture and sell railcars and tramcars utilising petrol engines and the Simplex gearbox. The first vehicles were built at the Phoenix Ironworks at Lewes, Sussex. The arrangements for the use of these works cannot have been ideal because by 1914 the company was looking for new premises and several enquiries were made and sites visited. However, at a board meeting of October 1914 it was agreed that in view of the uncertainty of matters generally created by the war, the idea of a new works was to be abandoned for the present. However, the matter became urgent in 1916 after a meeting with the consulting engineers of the War Office. The War Office required "Petrol Trench Tractors" of 600-mm gauge that were capable of drawing 10 to 15 Tons at 5 miles per hour and the MRTC tendered for and was successful in gaining a contract to build the Tractors.

Early in 1916 the MRTC entered into an agreement with the Bedford Engineering Company to use its premises at Houghton Road, Bedford. At the start of 1918, a new site was purchased in Bedford, this being a former laundry in Elstow Road, a site they operated from all their life.

In 1931, the name was changed to Motor Rail Ltd., although their locomotives have always, and still are, known under the name of "Simplex". In 1972, the name was changed again to Simplex Mechanical Handling ltd. Their main product has always been locomotives, although they have built, as the original name implies, tramcars and have also dealt in quarry dumpers. In later life, a major part of their business was in forklift attachments. They ceased building locomotives in 1987, but Alan Keef Ltd, now deals with their products and spares for all the MR locomotives.