City of Truro at Glous-Warks GWR175 May 2010 courtesy of Cliff Thomas

City of Truro steam locomotive withdrawn – has it steamed for the last time?

Published 6th March 2013

The NRM’s iconic GWR ‘City’ was withdrawn from operations and looks to be heading for retirement

In mid-February the National Railway Museum announced its GWR 4-4-0 City of Truro was being withdrawn from service and being prepared for static display.

That the loco was struggling to complete its current 10-year ticket was already well known. It was failed at the Bodmin & Wenford Railway’s September 2011 gala with doubts raised at the time over whether it would be returned to action for the remaining two years of its boiler ticket. However, the decision was made to fit new tubes, although on arriving in late January 2012 at the NRM’s Works in York further examination raised questions over whether full re-tubing was actually needed and it was decided to bead over the existing tubes.

Back in limited action - for a while

City of Truro was hydraulically tested on March 5 last year following this attention and returned to steam in the NRM’s South Yard for Easter. It worked during last June’s NRM Railfest but plans for it to spend the remaining 14 months of its ticket at the East Lancashire Railway from the end of July were dropped after a technical assessment concluded the ELR would only be able to make limited use of the locomotive.

The loco remained at the NRM but was failed with a leaking tube during preparation for February half term holiday steam rides. A hydraulic test to 50p.s.i. confirmed the presence of a hole in the wall of a tube. Several options were considered, including a full retube, but the final decision was to withdraw City of Truro.

They said:

“At present the locomotive is in good mechanical and cosmetic condition and can be withdrawn and conserved for display with minimal investment,” explained Senior Curator of Railway Vehicles, Anthony Coulls. “A further two years of operation would certainly result in the need for repainting and additional mechanical work, particularly as the tyres are thin and that additionally its tender tank is in poor condition.”

Great Western speed icon

City of Truro is famed for its run hauling the ‘Ocean Mails’ from Plymouth to London Paddington on 9 May 1904 – and the speed it achieved descending Wellington Bank, Somerset. Whether the loco managed 100mph, 102.3 mph, or fell a shade short of the magic ton, is an issue which will probably be debated for ever, but on that day City of Truro carved out a very special place in railway history.

New life after retirement

City of Truro was withdrawn in March 1931, initially being preserved at the LNER’s Museum in York. It was returned to operation (carrying ornate 1904 livery as No. 3440) by BR(WR) in 1957 and ran until 1961 when it went into the GWR museum at Swindon where it reverted to No. 3717 in plain green livery with black frames. In 1984 the loco was returned to operation again to participate in the 1985 GWR 150th anniversary celebrations and hauled occasional main line specials.

The last overhaul to full working order was in 2004 to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1904 record-breaking run (and was appropriately completed as No. 3440) and the 4-4-0 has been a hugely popular visitor to many heritage railways during the currency of this ticket. The livery was changed again (most noticeably the frames were changed from red to black) and the No. 3717 adopted again in 2010 to mark the 175th anniversary of the founding of the GWR.

This seems to be the end of Truro in steam

Although City of Truro has been overhauled to be seen in action several times since ‘retirement’ in 1931, the NRM now appears to be drawing a line under operation. A request to the NRM press office asking if any future overhaul and return to operation was ruled out simply drew comments repeating the contents of the original release issued on 18 February.

This included the statement (attributed to the Senior Curator of Railway Vehicles), “It is a very elderly iconic locomotive and we must remember its place at the heart of the National Collection and our obligation to preserve it for the long term benefit of the public. Therefore, we have agreed that we should withdraw it with dignity now and put together a carefully thought out conservation management plan to make it ready for public display.“

Cancelled appearances

The most immediate effect of withdrawing City of Truro was cancellation of its planned appearance at the Mid-Hants Railway’s March 1-3 Spring Gala. It had been booked to join LSWR T9 ‘Greyhound’ No. 30120 (visiting from the Bodmin & Wenford Railway) and MHR-based SR ‘Schools’ No. 925 Cheltenham to produce a trio of NRM-owned 4-4-0 locos.

As it happened, the MHR had already added the NRM’s Great Central Railway-based No. 777 Sir Lamiel to the gala roster - the ‘King Arthur’ had been booked to appear at the MHR’s ‘Maunsell Gala’ last September but was unable to make it to the event, hence the offer for it to visit this gala was welcomed. In addition, when it became apparent City of Truro was not going to be available a visit by Large Prairie No. 5164 from the Severn Valley Railway was arranged.

In addition to dropping out of the MHR’s gala, anticipated appearances by City of Truro later this year at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway and Locomotion are also cancelled.

Written by Cliff Thomas

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