Saturday, 1 December 2012

NRM Post 2: A Rant About "Flying Scotsman"...

Hi guys. As part of our visit to the NRM at York; as mentioned in the previous post; we passed through The Works. The Works is exactly what it sounds like; the main engineering workshop of the NRM. It houses a wheel drop, milling machines, lathes, fitting benches, cranes and everything else you would expect from a railway workshop. The project stood in the centre is none other than the famous Gresley A3 Pacific No4472 "Flying Scotsman", built in 1923. Often billed (even in my book) as the most famous locomotive in the world, 4472 has had more owners than one cares to mention and has hardly experienced plain sailing during her preservation career. Now for my rant. Everybody else seems to be giving their unadulterated opinion about this locomotive and its restoration with the NRM and now, justified or not, heres mine.
 
Firstly, we must look at what this locomotive is. She is a 3-cylinder pacific, she is unique, she is big and powerful and indeed she is no stranger to main line running, with speeds of up to 75mph allowed when certified. All of these qualities make her a must for the enthusiast. What better than travelling behind a unique Gresley pacific on the main line at 75mph? A nice treat ay? Her power will also make her attractive to train operating companies as she can haul large loads, carrying many passengers at once. However, we must also look at the fact that she is famous...very famous. This quality is perhaps "Flying Scotsman"s nail in the coffin. This fame has bought her a massive army of followers; the young, the old, the enthusiasts, the families. She has fans worldwide, of all ages and they all want a piece of her. Before ownership by the NRM you may have found "Flying Scotsman" on the odd railtour, the odd preserved railway visit and even on the British Pullman from time to time. When the NRM purchased her for the nation for that pricely sum of £2.3 million in April 2004, the loco was 'treated' to running countless railtours to Scarborough, with leaflets I saw at the time seeing her doing that job a few times a week, with two round trips per day, despite the poor mechanical condition of the engine. Reports in various railway tabloids at the time reported that the loco failed on most of these journeys with a variety of ailments.

Are we surprised? No. Later, in October 2005, the locomotive was briefly loaned to Tyseley Loco Works where it hauled (to my memory) five railtours. As far as I know, under the care of the experienced staff at Tyseley, it successfully managed to complete all five trips. Indeed, I travelled on the 2nd of the 5 runs. The A3 took us from Solihull to Didcot, via Oxford. The poorly A3 tore along the main line, apparently achieving 82mph at one point, according to one on board enthusiast with his speedometer. Indeed it clanked and banged like an engine needing overhaul but it did do the job. On return to the NRM the loco entered the workshops for overhaul...an overhaul that has been ongoing for the past 6 years. Over £2.7 million (400k more than the purchase cost of the loco!) has been spent so far, with the overhaul not complete as yet! One of the debacles with the A3 has been its boiler. The NRM purchased the loco with an A4 boiler, along with a spare A3 boiler. The plan was to patch up one of the boilers, and then sell off the other to perhaps an A4 owner as a spare.

However, with all that money spent, why patch up a boiler of that age? The argument I heard was for originality purposes. Originality? Ha! "Flying Scotsman" is no more original with an A3 boiler than with an A4 one. No doubt almost everything on this iconic engine has been patched up or replaced over its long, hard life and therefore a brand new boiler would be nothing more than an improvement. If they think running this locomotive in LNER Apple Green with German Smoke Deflectors and a chime whistle is original then in my mind they are incorrect. The locomotive would have never ran in that condition. The only time the smoke deflectors would have been right is when Pete Waterman owned the engine and ran it as 60103 in BR Green. Though attractive in the same state in LNER Green, it is about as original as "Tornado" is. A recent debate with this locomotive has seen Tyseley supremo Bob Meanley; a much respected engineer; get involved and release a damning report about the state of the engine when the NRM purchased it and continued to run it: and rightly so. I can't think of anyone who would not trust Mr Meanleys opinion, particularly with his track record and the condition of the Tyseley stable of engines. A prime example is 5043: the double-chimney Castle. She won Engine of the Year and was restored entirely at Tyseley to a beautiful standard, with enthusiasts saying she is the 'one to watch' in the performance stakes. It would be my honest opinion that 4472 should be owned by the NRM, but not restored or operated by them. Somewhere like Tyseley would seem the ideal choice, giving 4472 mainline access to preserved railways and various mainline destinations, whilst also preventing her from being abused. One could speculate that, as before, the locomotive will be expected to complete mile after mile of mainline performances with minimal maintainence and resting periods whilst under the control of the NRM. I appreciate that the public want to see the engine, experience her and ride behind her but, in honesty, sometimes you need to sit back and appreciate the health of the engine. Currently, yes, she is safe in the fact that she is non operational. However, I do worry that the engine will be thrust straight into alot of hard work once complete: which would not be fair at all. I understand that the NRM probably do have the best interests of the engine at heart but in the past it has been proved that 4472, unless properly looked after, is no more reliable than any other engine, despite being the most famous locomotive in the world.
The overhaul has been a long and painstaking one, costing a massive amount of money for what seems very little gain. Though I do think 4472 should be ticketed and indeed main line certified (under the right operator/care taker) the locomotive is no longer owned by/run by steam railwaymen - it is owned by a public museum. The previous owners like Marchington, Waterman, Pegler, McAlpine etc all had backgrounds in steam engineering and maintainence and were fully aware of what the locomotive could do, how it should be treated and what maintainence should be carried out. The damning report sent out by Tyseley can only highlight the poor mechanical condition at the time and the fact that it continued in service with those ailments can only be classed as abuse in my book. Indeed, this is the "peoples engine". It is without a doubt the most famous locomotive in the world and without it, British railway preservation would be nothing. The one household steam locomotive name, if there is one, is "Flying Scotsman". I do feel however that unless she is going to be properly looked after then she may as well remain stuffed and mounted inside the NRM. At least there the sight and grace of her could be enjoyed. The unveiling of the loco at Railfest 2004 where it ended up being pushed through its banner by a diesel due to it failing was nothing less than undiginifed. I am by no means small minded with my opinions on "Scotsman". She is a true gem of railway preservation. I simply feel that, judging by what has happened with her condition in the past, she should be a sort of 'high days' and holidays locomotive. Daily running can do little to help an elderly engine, let alone one that is expected so much of. It would be brilliant to see "Scotsman" travel around to various preserved railways so that people could enjoy the sight of her again once completed, perhaps undertaking a few railtours as well. The worlds most famous locomotive deserves much more than this. Sam.

2 comments:

Petensue said...

Hear hear Sam. Agree with every word of your blog. Article in Railway magazine this month (page 68) reports that NRM silent on steam date. So far 4472 has cost more than A1 Tornado which is now supporting BR express blue.
Hope it's warmer for our new year steam up!!!
Pete W

Anonymous said...

My My! We are in a mood over this aren't we! Still what you say is largely true and there has been a huge waste of money on this locomotive. I like Scotsman and the A4s but we have to remember they are now getting on for 80 years old, and thrashing up and down the mainline at full speed is something we have to be careful about. Designed for about 40 years of service, they are on borrowed time and need TLC. Eddie J.