Setting a standard for autocouplers
Sir - It is good to see attempts being made again to introduce autocouplers into Europe on a large scale. The pattern described in your March issue (RG 3.97 p135) appears to be an unhappy compromise. It seems to have all the excessive weight and complexity of the drop-head buckeye coupler and retractable side buffers of Britain’s loco-hauled coaching stock. Moreover, side buffers are in themselves arguably the greatest danger in coupling operations.
There seems no reason why the former Soviet SA3 Willison derivative should not become the universal European autocoupler. It has been around for most of this century and was the basis of the over-complex - and abortive - UIC Unicupler. Unlike the latter the Willison appears more suitable for a phased conversion, as happened in the former Soviet Union - initially retaining side buffers and using a simple link to marry with the drawhook of screw-coupled stock. What is more, the design of European rolling stock has long made provision for the Unicupler.
Roger Calvert notes (RG 7.96 p417) the desire of English Welsh & Scottish Railways to adopt autocouplers. However, the standard North American knuckle design is incompatible with the Willison, which would become especially relevant when EWS takes over Railfreight Distribution.
Adopting the former Soviet design would result in an autocoupler universal throughout the vast, contiguous area of Europe and the Baltic republics and Commonwealth of Independent States - surely a worthwhile economic and technical long-term objective.
Putney, London, Great Britain