Controversy Surrounds Withdrawal of GWR ‘King’ King Edward 11 at Didcot After a 22 Year Restoration

The blue liveried Great Western Railway ‘King’ No. 6023 King Edward 11 is at the centre of a blazing row at Didcot following boiler leaks.

King Withdrawn from Service

The blue liveried Great Western Railway ‘King’ No. 6023 King Edward 11 was withdrawn following a series of boiler leaks while in service at the Mid Norfolk Railway two months ago.

The intervening period has seen claim and counter claim made between the restoration team headed up for 22 years by Dennis Howells MBE and the owners, the Great Western Society (GWS) at Didcot. The damage to the boiler happened during the course of the running in turns which were curtailed after covering 1500 miles in 22 days running, averaging 90 miles a day.

Only 1500 Miles Running Before Withdrawal

The engine was crewed by members of the restoration team who are also official steam crews at the MNR, in fact Mr Howells drove the engine for 1000 miles himself. So after a 22 year project, it is absolutely safe to assume the engine was operated correctly, after all, Mr Howells owns the black liveried GWR Pannier Tank No. 9466.

He restored it from Barry Scrapyard condition and has operated it for several decades on the main line and heritage lines without incident between London Plymouth and Wolverhampton. He also supervised the Steam Railmotor project completed this year which is in the running to win a prestigious prize.

So when the boiler leaks forced the withdrawal of the engine, an investigation began as to why it had failed. The withdrawal was due to many leaking stays, a leaking lap seam and the requirement to replace patch screws after some heads had fallen off. One report suggests that they were not drilled into the firebox at the correct angle of 90 degrees but some were 10 degrees out which meant that the screw head was not flush with the firebox side. There was a similar problem with many stay heads, also not finished flush with the side of the firebox.

Stormy Meeting At Didcot on September 24

There was a GWS Members meeting at Didcot on September 24 where the Chairman and the Ruling Council elected by Members, supported the boilersmith when he claimed that the leaks were due to the way the engine had been used in Norfolk.

This implied that the crews, many of whom had actively worked for decades on the restoration project under Dennis Howells, who is also the MNR’s footplate Inspector, were at fault.

Mr Howells instigated boiler repairs using a different boilersmith but the GWS ordered this work to cease after about 60% of it had been carried out and the engine returned to Didcot.

Boilersmith Reverses Stance

Following the dispute, the first of two independent boiler inspections was carried out and amongst public claims at the September 24 meeting by Peter Gransden, that the footplate crews were to blame for the leaks due to poor enginemanship. He had worked on the boiler under contract from the GWS at Didcot, and when robustly and often challenged about his allegations, suddenly reversed his stance and offered to carry out all repairs at his own expense.

The second independent report carried out by Mr Gransden’s nominated inspector 100% exonerated Mr. Howells’ crews and driving and firing techniques and said that faulty workmanship was suspected, thus laying the blame firmly with Mr. Gransden.

Media Reticence by Didcot

His employers, The GWS at Didcot really did not want to speak to rail.co.uk about this and it took half a dozen phone calls to extract a very reluctant statement from Chairman Richard Croucher saying that that there were minor mechanical lubrication issues such as a stiff vacuum pump and a broken oil feed pipe but would not speculate on the boiler problems until repeatedly pressed.

Mr Croucher also did not want to talk about the claims about the quantity of leaks despite the September 24 debate at Didcot at which Mr Gransden spoke about the leaks.

Given that the trains the engine pulled only six carriages weighing about 220 tons, this was said to be an interesting claim as this represents no real work for such a powerful engine limited to 25mph on the preserved line!

So when the boilersmith changed his mind and offered to carry out repairs at his expense, this offer was accepted by the Chairman despite his claims that he is not an expert on boilers.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) in the shape of their Railway Inspectorate may become embroiled in this matter as it is thought the independent report has been submitted as required under boiler safety legislation.

Stop all Work

The GWS is has instructed Mr. Gransden, according to Members, to cease all work on their other engines GWR ‘Castle’ No. 4079 Pendennis Castle, ‘Saint’ No. 2999 and ’Prairie’ No. 4144 which are under restoration or rebuild. Quainton members have told rail.co.uk that Mr Gransden, who was working on Quainton’s GWR ‘Hall’ No. 6989 Whitwick Hall and the GWR heavy freight loco No. 7200, to stop all work on these locomotives as well.

The disagreement and consequential bitterness may well prompt a change in personnel at the GWS after completion of the 22 year project. This would be a great shame given the magnitude of the project’s achievements completed in the GWS’ 50th anniversary year.

The restoration team are said to consider themselves completely let down by the GWS’ Council’s position on the boiler and are absolutely devastated with the condition of it.

Dennis Howells, awarded his MBE for services to railways a few years ago and has worked for over 50 years on the railways in a distinguished career.

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6023 King Edward 11

Posted on Tuesday 3rd January 2012 | 11:13 AM

I feel that I must comment on this article on two points, that I have known Peter Gransden for a number of years, I have not always seen eye to eye with him, but I believe that he is good at his job, and to see him spoken down as he is in this article is a bit off to say the least, the second is, that although Denis Howells owns his own engine, this does not make him a 'Good Driver', he may well be, I have never seen him drive a locomotive, and I also think the GWS should allow Pete Gransden to continue his work on the other GWS loco's, especially Pendennis Castle or we probably wont see it on the main line for another 15 years.

Sid Tarrant

RE: Sid Tarrant

Posted on Monday 23rd January 2012 | 4:06 PM

Phil Marsh spoke to Peter Gransden, Richard Croucher & several members of the 6023 restoration team who wish to remain un-named. They showed him photographs of the failed items as well as the components. The two independent assessments were made & concluded that remedial work should be carried out before the engine could legally be steamed again. Mr Gransden is not deemed a ‘competent’ person to sign off boiler work as is the person who started repairs to the engine in Norfolk. Richard Croucher & Peter Gransden both admitted to Phil that their systems & methods had been revised by the safety authorities & that they would make a statement in January. This has not yet been issued & nobody involved has suggested anything reported is incorrect. So far as Dennis Howells is concerned, Phil has fired to him in the past & he was also in charge of the railmotors' restoration which Mr Gransden was not involved in & has had no boiler faults.

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