Saturday, August 2, 2008

Britain's first new steam engine for 50 years puffs out of locomotive works

The first new steam engine built in Britain for almost 50 years pulled slowly out of Darlington Locomotive Works yesterday to loud applause, a blizzard of camera flashes and a guaranteed future running the length of the national rail network.

Tornado, a replica of the A1 Peppercorn Pacific class, has taken 18 years to build and cost almost £3 million. With sponsorship from some of Britain’s leading engineering companies, funds have come from steam enthusiasts across the country through deeds of covenant and a bonds issue.

About 250 people made the journey to the shed where it was built to see the engine, belching steam and blowing its whistle, move for the first time under its own power.

Numbered 60163, it has been built according to the blueprint for one of the last classes of engine built in this country, with up-to-date modifications and electronics to comply with today’s regulations for mainline running.

The A1 was designed by Sir Arthur Peppercorn. His 92-year-old widow, Dorothy Mather, is president of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, set up in 1990 to re-create her husband’s famous engine. She rode on the footplate and said: “I think it is wonderful. My husband would not have believed it. He would be very, very proud.”

The A1 Trust had hoped to finish Tornado in 2000 to mark the millennium. But soaring costs, delays in getting the myriad individually engineered parts and difficulties in commissioning and testing the huge boiler set back the project.

Tornado will steam down to the Great Central Railway at Loughborough, where inspectors will see how it performs. It is due to begin chartered tours on Network Rail this autumn and will be the star attraction for the thousands who book excursions on weekend specials. It will be able to run at a top speed of 90mph.

The trust needs £66,000 more to pay for trials. Appealing for the money, Mark Allatt, the chairman, said that he saw the engine as a living creature: “It has almost got a soul. The steam locomotive is the nearest thing Man has ever created to a living thing. You can’t turn it on. You can’t turn it off. You sort of coax it along and it hisses and it bubbles and it fizzes and that is not like a modern machine.”

Powerful memory

— The A1 was designed by Sir Arthur Peppercorn for the express service on the London and North Eastern Railway and 49 were built in 1948 and 1949 in Darlington and Doncaster

— The 164-ton A1s were among the most powerful and versatile locomotives ever built. Huge 50ft grates allowed them to use poor-grade coal, important in postwar austerity

— The final five engines were equipped with roller bearings to enable them to travel for an average of 118,000 miles between heavy repairs

— After British Railways’ decision in 1960 to all scrap steam working, the end came swiftly for the A1s. All efforts to save the last engine failed, and all 49 were broken up

No comments: