lördag 5 december 2009

A Patriot for me?

The past few years have seen a spate of attempts to build new steam locomotives in Britain. Tornado, Mostly the aim is to construct examples of types that were never made it into preservation, such as, Tornado, the brand new A1 Pacific completed last year, the culmination of a twenty year project. It seems to be performing particularly well, perhaps because the construction is to a higher standard of precision than was usual when the original locomotives were built in the last 1940s, and possibly also because the machine receives more care and attention than was possible in the days of British Railways.

Following this have come two further projects for large main line locomotives to fill preservation gaps: a Clan class British Railways standard Pacific and a Patriot class 4-6-0, a type designed in the 1920s. A third new build project is for the construction of a small tank locomotive to the North Eastern Railways G5 design, introduced in 1893. Yet a fourth is to build an example of the extinct British Railways class 3 2-6-2 tank locomotive numbered in the 82000 series. There is also a project to

Of course people can do what they like with their money but the first two projects seem a bit pointless. There was nothing wrong with the Clan class but as soon as they were built it became clear that there was little need for a locomotive intermediate in size between the class 7 Britannia and the class 5.

The Patriot class was a scaled-down version of the Royal Scot class, which was designed and built in a hurry, and introduced in 1927 for main line services on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. The railway actually wanted Castle class locomotives, following a successful test in 1925, but the Great Western Railway refused the request, and got the Royal Scots designed and built by a private company. Construction of the the Patriot class continued until 1934, when a new design, the Jubilee class was introduced, with various improvements based on Great Western practice. The Royal Scots, as originally built, suffered from a variety of problems and all were eventually rebuilt, the intention being to create one standard design with the rebuilding of all the Patriot and Jubilee class as well; about one-third of the Patriot class and two Jubilees were rebuilt to this scheme. Some of the faults of the Royal Scot class, notably the inaccessible inside cylinder, were inherent to the design of all three classes. Designated power class 6P in British Railways days, performance of the Patriot and Jubilee class seems, on the whole, to have been inferior to that of the similar sized Castle class which were designated 7P. The Patriots cannot, therefore, be regarded as a high point of locomotive design. I suppose that if a group of people want to recreate a piece of the past, good luck to them.

The third proposal, for a small locomotive, is altogether more practical. It is intended specifically for heritage line use and it will be interesting to see how the project fares.

The most promising, however, is the fourth scheme. It is the promoters' belief that a BR Standard class 3 tank engine is the ideal locomotive for everyday timetabled services on many of the UK's heritage railways. Being precisely the right size for the kind of trains that heritage railway actually operate, it has been suggested that this type could be an ideal candidate for limited series production. Whilst the promoters of the scheme say that this is well beyond their own scope, they believe that making their breakthrough could encourage others to take over in the future. Batch production would drastically reduce the unit cost of building new examples, estimated (2007) at between £1,250,000 and £1,500,000.

On the basis of 1950s costs, a figure of under £500,000 per unit should be achievable, given a reasonable of production run. But one must then ask whether some of the features of the original represent value for money? Are the advantages of the complicated boiler worth the extra cost? Should the locomotives not be fitted with advanced features which have been developed and proven since the original locomotives were built? Examples include energy conservation features such as super-insulation, and more up-to-date multi-fuel combustion and exhaust systems, and features to facilitate and reduce maintenance, such as water treatment and external heating by off-peak electricity.

What would one end up with? A locomotive that would satisfy the enthusiast, since it would look, sound and handle much like the originals. But it would have significantly improved performance, needing less hard work to keep it on the road. It would, for example, have cleaner emissions than a diesel and if Swiss experience with new steam locomotives is any guide, it would use less fuel as well. Such a machine would in fact be a serious challenger for miscellaneous duties on the national system, for example, to run passenger trains on non-electrified lines, presently operated by 1980s railbuses, for leaf-clearance operations and possibly for permanent way trains, for which large diesels are presently used inefficiently.

This is a project that deserves to go forward, since it could pave the way for the return of an undeservedly neglected technology.

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