Flying Scotsman’s Continuing Expensive Delay

In late September it looked increasingly unlikely that iconic steam locomotive No. 4472, Flying Scotsman would be steaming anywhere this year with indications it could be well into 2012 before the A3 turns a wheel under its own power.

False Hopes for Return to service Last Spring after Millions Spent

When its private owners put No. 4472 Flying Scotsman up for sale by Tender in February 2004 the NRM launched a ‘Save our Scotsman’ appeal aimed at buying the iconic locomotive for the national collection. The appeal caught the public imagination and raised in excess of £3million. Most importantly, it enabled the NRM to successfully bid for the locomotive, said by many to be the most famous engine in the world, and it was secured for the nation at a cost of £2.2million.

Flying Scotsman last worked in December 2005 (a series of main line Christmas lunch specials) and entered the Works at the NRM in January 2006 for what was then projected as an 18-20 month overhaul which would include fitting the ‘spare’ A3 boiler instead of the A4 boiler which it had previously carried.

As projected completion dates passed and costs rose, the NRM launched a £250,000 ‘Steam Our Scotsman’ Appeal in 2009 to raise more cash.

The Grand Unveiling – or a False Dawn?

The wait seemed to be over when the A3 was unveiled – painted black – on the turntable at York amid much celebration on May 27. It transpires this was a false dawn and private donors, corporate sponsors and the Heritage Lottery Fund might now reasonably be asking, ‘Where’s our Scotsman?’

In a literal sense, being dismantled in a Bury workshop is the answer. But there are serious questions as to just why the locomotive is not merely absent from running again after years of work and huge expenditure, but apparently in the process of being virtually dismantled again. The accompanying picture was taken in York in August 2007 – a cynic might suggest it is beginning to seem as though five years later the locomotive is back to roughly the same appearance but in a different location.

The last estimate provided put the overhaul cost at £1.6million but it is thought more than this has been spent. “We are unable to confirm an exact figure at this time”, commented an NRM press officer in mid-July.

The first surprise following the May unveiling in York and transfer to Bury, where trials were expected to be undertaken on the East Lancashire Railway, was the NRM’s July 7 announcement that ‘essential remedial work’ was required. It transpired cracks in the horn blocks had been discovered. To deal with this, the locomotive had to be lifted to enable removal of the wheelsets.

What followed was a major surprise – the wheelsets were sent to the Severn Valley Railway for attention. Not only does this appear to have no relationship to correcting cracked horn blocks, but one of the many delays in this overhaul saga occurred in early 2010 when the driving wheels, thought to have already been dealt with, were found to have a back-to-back measurement discrepancy requiring rectification. At least one tyre was replaced and the rest of the wheels skimmed.

The latest problem has yet to be clarified. One source refers to attention needed to the crank pins, while an NRM press officer has referred to work being done on the journals and thrust faces.

Can it Get Worse?

Oh yes. News started filtering out that the boiler was going to be lifted from the frames, that the cylinders may be removed and there are unconfirmed tales that a frame stretcher has found to be cracked.

An NRM press spokesman has confirmed that the museum does anticipate a boiler lift, “to ensure that all possible defects have been identified and repaired,” but did not expand. A press briefing has been arranged at Riley & Son (E) Ltd in Bury on September 30 “to provide an update on the restoration of Flying Scotsman”.

This has all the hallmarks of being a hurried arrangement in the face of mounting pressure and embarrassment. We shall see whether true illumination as to just what is going on emerges – but as things stand it seems increasingly unlikely Flying Scotsman will steam until well into 2012.

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