by Phil Marsh

National Railway Museum reveals just how much its cost taxpayers to return Flying Scotsman to operation

Published: 30th September 2016 takes you behind the scenes to explain the expensive overhaul of a national icon

The Sir Nigel Gresley designed ‘A3’ Flying Scotsman is back, wowing the crowds around the country in glorious steam action, to the relief and delight of all, especially the National Railway Museum (NRM).

As the locomotive appeared in Severn Valley Railway’s long awaited ‘Pacific Power’ showcase with ‘youngster’ A1 Tornado (completed in 2008 following a three-year £3million construction project) the NRM announced the full cost of restoring Flying Scotsman as being £4,537,892.

Bought for the nation

Flying Scotsman was built at Doncaster Works, being outshopped as No. 1472 on 27 February 1923. Saved for preservation being purchased from British Rail by the late Alan Peglar, it subsequently passed through the hands of several high-profile private owners until being purchased by the NRM for £2.3 million in 2004. The NRM’s appeal to secure the locomotive for the nation was supported by a £1.8 million National Heritage Memorial Fund grant and public donations.

After working a series of main line Christmas lunch specials Flying Scotsman was withdrawn in December 2005, entering the Works at the NRM in January 2006 for what was then projected as an 18-20 month overhaul estimated to cost £1.6million. As the need for ever more work was uncovered, costs spiralled and timescales for completion lengthened.

Problems heap upon problems

The locomotive was unveiled on the NRM’s York turntable in May 2011, apparently ready for tests and commissioning operations. Then cracks in the hornblocks were discovered and the need for ‘essential remedial work’ was confirmed by the museum. Further questions arose concerning the frames and cylinders (including identifying misalignment of the middle cylinder) and a major report into the project was prepared by Tyseley’s Chief Engineer Bob Meanley and published in October 2012.

The NRM pressed on and a contract was placed with Riley & Son (E) Ltd of Bury in October 2013 to see the troubled, and now massively expensive, overhaul through to a conclusion.

Success at last as ‘FS’ returns to operation

The restoration to steam was finally achieved early this year, generating massive interest and excitement when in February it hauled its inaugural post-overhaul main line train from London Kings Cross to York. The NRM observes that over 200,000 people have now seen the locomotive at the museums York and Shildon sites and at heritage railway events, ‘many tens of thousands’ during its first main line trip and millions more worldwide watching it on television.

Flying Scotsman’s return to mainline operation was completed under a commercial partnership agreement with Riley & Son (E) Ltd, which will continue to manage operation of the locomotive for two years. This includes a programme of on-going maintenance. The locomotive is scheduled to return to the NRM in York for winter maintenance and will be available for viewing over the Christmas period.

They said:

“Saving Scotsman for the nation has been a complex project but eminently worthwhile,” commented NRM Director, Paul Kirkman. “Since its return this year, the spectacular sight of this most famous of steam locomotives has captured the imagination and been a life enhancing experience for thousands, possibly millions of people.” Visitors to our museums have been able to get up close and experience the most famous locomotive and express train service in the world first–hand, through our free innovative exhibitions and displays. This globetrotting screen star and multiple record-breaker will continue be seen around the UK, demonstrating the engineering science behind steam traction to new generations of fans.”

“This is certainly the most famous journey and most famous locomotive in Britain,” commented Michael Portillo when he travelled on the inaugural main line train as part of filming the BBC documentary series ‘Great British Railway Journeys’, going on to describe Flying Scotsman as an “engineering triumph.”

Behind the media spin…………..the real story

The NRM’s engineering team started the FS overhaul but soon ran into difficulties as their capability for completing such a huge task were quickly found to be ‘wanting’. Several staff left as a result and this left the NRM bereft of the engineering and project management skills needed for such a project.

Because the NRM is in essence a Government department, it had to follow tight procurement rules. These possibly work fine for most projects but there are limited firms that have the ability to restore a main line express steam locomotive. This meant the tendering process could not follow the normal system where there are many potential suppliers.

First Class Partnerships (FCP) was engaged to manage the overhaul by the NRM. FCP is an organisation of experts in the rail industry and through Partner Tony Roache, they appointed another former Wolverton Works’ manager Mike Corbett to manage the project.

The over-arching restoration contract was awarded to Ian Riley and Sons who are well known for their high quality locomotive restoration and main line operation. Several main sub-contractors were also engaged such as the Severn Valley Railway, South Devon Railway and Heritage Painting Ltd. Many more contractors were engaged, many very small companies with just one or two staff.

The value of the work meant that some smaller contractors had to be paid up-front for their work which was against NRM procurement rules.

Other tensions were caused by pre-Flying Scotsman contracts that had to be honoured by contractors but with a limited talent pool to draw from for the overhaul. Several apprentices were employed on the project which was based in a Century old workshop using vintage equipment which still delivered the engineering requirements being skilfully used by the engineers.

NRM media demands and blocking

The NRM then decided on a launch date for the engine from Kings Cross which artificially compressed the overhaul time. This, combined with the East Lancs Railway who wanted Riley and Sons to vacate their Works as the lease expired, at Bury brought more pressures.

And the NRM media team also banned specialist trade access to the engine after Steve Davies left the NRM and never managed to explain why when asked about their change of policy. Perhaps they could not bring themselves to admit at the time that they could maintain operational locomotives but did not have the tools, equipment, knowledge and staff for such an overhaul.

There were some very tense moments in the overhaul between FCP and the restoration team who did not always agree on the way forward. These ‘issues’ were compounded by various locomotive components being delivered out of sequence for the overhaul leading to some tense moments.

The end result is for all to see, a triumph but as with all these things, the PR spin masks what went on behind the scenes. tells you the real story!

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