Steam train to the rescue

Steam shows superiority to diesel and electric. Old technology triumphs over modern.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

When during the cold snap in London and the Home Counties in December 2009 the electric trains too and from Kent ceases to work leaving hundreds of commuters stranded in London it was a train pulled by a steam locomotive that rescued a large number of them and got them home.

The train was on an excursion trip and is owned and operated by the A1 Steam locomotive Trust who have rebuilt the locomotive, a Tornado, and when they chanced into Victoria Station on that evening and seeing all the stranded commuters space was made available on the train for them and they were invited on board with a “jump on, we take you home” message.

The “Tornado” locomotive, the first new main line steam locomotive to be built in Britain for almost 50 years, defied the arctic weather on Monday, December 21, 2009 and hauled two of only a handful of trains operating in the county of Kent.

The new Peppercorn class A1 Pacific's 1940s technology was able to withstand the snow and ice that brought much of Southern England to a standstill and hauled ‘The Cathedrals Express’ from London Victoria to Dover and back. On the second trip Tornado was able to rescue around 100 commuters who had been left stranded by more ‘modern’ trains, dropping them off at stations en-route.

While the “Tornado” steam locomotive was able to perform perfectly all electric trains were not. Due to the ice and snow they could not make contact with the electrical connectors.

At the same time six trains of the Eurostar service which uses the Channel Tunnel also failed miserably and broke down due to moisture caused by temperature changes leaving people stranded do hours on end, some of them in the tunnel itself.

The new £3m Peppercorn class A1 pacific steam locomotive was built over almost 20 years by The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, a registered charity, at its Darlington Locomotive Works. Frequently headlined in the national and international press and on TV and radio, No. 60163 Tornado was the subject of a BBC documentary ‘Absolutely Chuffed: The Men Who Built a Steam Engine’ broadcast on Christmas Eve on BBC2 last year and now available from the Trust on DVD. The locomotive was officially named Tornado by HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall in February of this year and has since entered regular service on excursion trains on the Network Rail main line.

Mark Allatt, chairman of The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, commented as regards the rescue of the stranded passengers that those Cathedrals Expresses were Tornado’s last main line trains of her first year of operations.

Not only, he said, are the Trust delighted that she was able to brave the arctic weather to haul two of the few trains to run in Kent on that day but also that the Trust are very pleased to have been able to help some of London’s stranded commuters to get home in style.

While coal may not be the greatest and greenest way to power a train (anymore) there might be other ways that steam trains could, once again, prove much more useful and reliable than the modern locomotives.

It should also be possible to create steam turbine locomotives, fired by gas, for instance, and I mean here gas as in methane and such from sewage and landfill, though using biomass could also be a feasibility.

The more we see of some modern technologies and their failures the more it appear to me that it might be a good idea to have a look at some of the old technologies, once again, and the reliability of steam trains over the more modern ones proves this, I think.

© 2009