by Geoff Marsh

Great Western Railway preserved steam fleet to expand in 2015

Published: 20th February 2015

Four much needed engines due to return to service

There is generally a shortage of steam locomotives in our preserved railways so the planned return to steam of two tank engines and two express locomotives in 2015 is something for railways, crews and passengers to look forward to.

First off the blocks was at The Didcot Railway Centre when on February 18, No. 4144, a 2-6-2T tank locomotive was inspected by the boiler inspector acting for the insurance company. The Railway Centre is pleased to report that the engine passed the exam and then went for a spin on their demonstration line crewed by the restoration team. After a few runs, the engine was taken into the lifting shop to complete the final jobs in the loco's restoration including painting before being returned to passenger service at the Didcot Railway Centre this year.

Steam on the Underground engine to be based in Norfolk

Not far away is the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre (BRC) which is the maintenance home for privately owned Hawksworth 0-6-0PT No. 9466 which is a year into its overhaul. Owner Dennis Howells invited to visit him and his overhaul team to view progress.

The engine has been a regular performer on the ‘Steam on the Met’ and ‘Steam on the Underground’ events since the late 1980s and always turned out in pristine condition. The overhaul, as with all steam locomotives, is required every 10 years to check the boiler and associated fittings. It is planned to complete the overhaul and return the engine to steam in late 2015 and it will also be reregistered for main line operations.

The engine will be based for most of the time at the Mid Norfolk Railway but will, if plans work out, return to London for more Steam on the Underground’ events and also carry out some mainline work probably in several stints of a couple of weeks at a time next year.

First train in half a century?

A second locomotive at the BRC due to be operating in 2015 is GWR ‘Hall’ No. 6989 Wightwick Hall. This has not steamed for 50 years and a small team has been working on the engine for at least 30 years restoring it from scrapyard condition.

Where this engine will operate is open to question given that the BRC only has a short section of track to run shuttle services on. Given that most preserved railways would suit this type of engine which will pull eight carriages all day, could mean that the engine will go out on hire to earn the BRC much needed income.

The boiler was passed by the boiler inspector in late 2014 and it now has to be reunited with its frames and some work on the tender completed. Wherever it operates, it will be the first time in half a century when its restoration is finally co0mpleted and it returns to steam.

Record breaker in Birmingham

The largest of the ‘GWR 4’ is ‘Castle Class’ No. 7029 Clun Castle which is in its final stages of overhaul at the Tyseley locomotive Works in Birmingham. These Great Western Railway engines were built for express trains and 7029 was built in 1950 based at Newton Abbot hauling the “Cornish Riviera Express” amongst others.

She was modified a decade later to improve performance and was selected for a special fast run from Plymouth to Bristol in 1964 reaching 96 mph. That journey ensured her preservation as the founder of the Tyseley collection and has since operated as far north as Carlisle and east as Peterborough, west as far as Penzance and the Welsh Borders.

Stay a while?

Here is a glimpse into what work has to be carried out in a steam locomotive overhaul. Boiler stays and tubes need replacing and in ‘Clun Castle’ there are 737 short five inch stays (£5.50 each) to be replaced 230 seven inch long steel stays (£7.50 each), 611 copper stays (£15 each) and 340 steel crown stays (£28 each) to be replaced to ensure safety tolerances are adhered to.

A boiler stay is an internal strengthener which looks like a bolt, inside a steam boiler and they separate the inner (copper) firebox and outer (steel) wrapper and different stays are required depending on their location, function and associated pressures they are subjected to.

It is all dirty, expensive and tough work, not the romance of steam at all! Ask anyone involved. But returning four Great Western Railway locomotives to service will provide a boost for many steam fans.

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