Published 10th April 2013
The world famous steam locomotive, LNER ’A3’ No. 4472 Flying Scotsman has been undergoing what has turned out to be a highly controversial and expensive overhaul for the last seven years. Rail.co.uk has been following the story but the history of the engine’s fall from grace has not been really been documented. Here is a brief history from when it was sold in 1996.
The locomotive was sold along with sundry other items by Pete Waterman and Bill McAlpine in 1996 to a company called Sovco owned by Tony Marchington. The locomotive as at this time looked after by Roland Kennington as its Chief Engineer and Project Manager. Sovco was a shelf company used to purchase Flying Scotsman and nine Mark One Pullman carriages and five other miscellaneous items of Rolling Stock.
The first payment of £100k was made in January 1996 followed by the balance of £1.3m. The purchaser was Dr Tony Marchington who owned the Oxford Molecular company. Roland Kennington had been the full time Chief Engineer for over 10 years and has accompanied the locomotive to America and Australia as well as all over the UK. David Ward, the former InterCity Charter Train Unit Manager was also heavily involved in restoring the Pullman coaches.
At this time, the restoration of Flying Scotsman was estimated as costing up to £300,000 and the Pullman carriages another £450k and operations were expected to start in May 1998. The owner did restore the engine and took it to some curious events on the back of a lorry, such as to traction engine rallies. It then it worked out its 10 year ‘boiler ticket’ on preserved railways but gained a poor reputation as its boiler and mechanical condition deteriorated.
The owner sadly died and the engine was bought by The NRM in April 2004 with the aid of a lottery Grant and fundraising supported by Railway Magazine readers. Following repairs, it was used for a year on charter trains before failing and withdrawn for overhaul at the end of 2005. This is when the latest round of troubles commenced expected to cost no more than £1m.
The NRM has commissioned several reports to find out why the overhaul has been so painful in every aspect and in fact, it is now reported as costing £2.77m as at October last year. Two years ago the engine was launched ’ready for service’ in wartime black at the NRM but then faults emerged and the engine taken to pieces again.
The report was authored by First Class Partnerships, a rail consultancy with some well regarded people working on the report. The NRM did own up to some what they described as “typos” though concerning the qualifications of one person interviewed who is not a steam driver they admitted. Curiously, no [steam] train operating company was interviewed. Much of the work was carried out by the NRM in its workshops and the boiler at the Ian Riley workshops in Bury.
Notwithstanding this, the report said that the work required to complete the overhaul had been split into 85 packages. One of the main findings was that the centre cylinder is out of alignment and that the bogie frames have not been non destruct tested as required for main line use. The engine was used with a high pressure boiler in its last operational phase and this caused the engines poor condition and resultant problems also due to the cylinder misalignment.
This misalignment meant that the main connecting rod was ¼ inch out of true which creates vibration and therefore, stress. This has also more than likely created more stresses on other parts of the engine the report indicates. The cylinders were found to measure 20 inches rather than the design of 19 inches. This increases the tractive effort (power) by around 33% and the current boiler has a working limit of 220psi rather than 250psi. This combined with correct cylinders should mean that the engine does not get run into the ground again.
Many parts of the report are ’redacted’ but sources have told rail.co.uk that these relate to financial details of work carried out under contract during the overhaul. The report says that some of the work packages should be contracted out to specialist contractors experienced in locomotive engineering. And crucially, to make sure the NRM has the skill and experience to monitor work undertaken which should take no more than six months once the contracts are awarded.
The original contracts did not include testing and commissioning of work carried out and this will now have to be rectified. A lack of equipment and suitable staff expertise have also been identified as a problem relating to the overhaul. But, the engine will take an estimated 60 weeks to return to service including testing, commissioning and running in, meaning that it will be the middle or end of 2014 at the earliest before it pulls a train.
While the engine was in private ownership, many modifications were made which have now surfaced to the detriment of the locomotive’s condition. It had also been overworked in terms of trailing load and timings which also damaged the engine. It has been recommended that once operational, these mistakes are not repeated.
The NRM is not equipped to manage and handle overhauls on this scale in technical, engineering and financial terms the report says. For any further main line locomotive overhauls, steam or diesel, the NRM is recommended to have call-off contracts with chartered engineers, operations specialists and specialist contractors.
The report suggests that future operations are carefully considered. Preserved railway use is far more onerous than main line running as the engine stops and starts gets hot and goes cold causing disproportionate wear and tear.
An annual mileage limit of 6500 to 7000 miles should be imposed with each train between 250 `and 350 miles. This would allow around 25 main line trips a year satisfying demand and conserving the engine for maximum long term use in terms of wear and tear. An old fashioned load book should be created with trailing loads over routes should be created to ensure the engine is not over-worked the report suggests. This could be limited to 10 carriages over the Settle Carlisle route and 11 carriages on the East Coast main line for example.
The NRM is also recommended to create appropriate maintenance periods for the engine when it is not available for traffic on a planned basis. Steam raising and post trip cooling down is also mentioned as being critical, but this is of course already well-known. Several other obvious operational suggestions are made including planning and the use of diesels on the rear of the train. Crewing and support crewing recommendations are also made but this is not rocket science and one has to wonder why they are in the report!
The Tyseley Locomotive Works Chief Engineer Bob Meanley is quoted at length in the report as best practice and the proof is that his fleet of engines have an operational record second to none over the last decade.
In short, the report is highly critical of previous owners and the way they operated the engine almost literally flogging the old iron horse to death. The NRM is now picking up the cost.