September 04, 2011

"Rant of the Week: Railway Preservation"

This is all your fault Mr Walker! I really liked the idea of a "rant header" picture. So I'm nicking the idea and using a rather mad Sir Ralph Wedgwood as mine! (Which you penned, and extremely well at that!)

My rant this week generally relates to the sheer amount of diatribe that always gets aimed at 4472 Flying Scotsman - for those of you who haven't heard, the latest news as reported by a particular railway magazine is that 4472 won't now be in service until 2012. This has led to the Barrow Hill lineup of the four different classes of LNER designed Pacifics to be postponed until April next year.

My complaint is the manner in which this has all been reported. Generally it is not difficult to get a straight answer out of the National Railway Museum - they have been very upfront with all of the problems of the overhaul since it began, all the way back in 2006. It was never going to be a straightforward restoration: the locomotive has been utterly pulverized on the mainline, overseas, and on preserved railways for nearly fifty years now. That is before we take into account that the engine had a working life of forty-ish years before that, starting in 1923...!

It's by no means the same engine it was when built in 1923. It's had a plethora of boilers, probably replacement driving wheels, new chimneys, cabs, tenders and various other components and pipework that make up the entity known as 4472 Flying Scotsman. When bought for the nation by the National Railway Museum, she was a very tired engine even then - failing on her Scarborough trips every so often, until a decision to overhaul was made, and do it properly.

I've said it a few dozen times - this is the Rolls Royce of Rolls Royce overhauls. Everything is being checked, checked, and double checked, components are being renewed or replaced, and the whole thing is building up to what will undoubtedly be a fine locomotive which will earn its keep when completed. Yes, there have been setbacks - but would you prefer the setbacks now, before it is in service, or a Royal Scot style saga that ends up with the engine appearing "in service" before failing to turn a wheel for two years, and being dismantled for overhaul (again) so soon after...?

This particular locomotive is absolutely necessary for railway preservation. Forget the total cost of the overhaul (which people keep comparing to 60163 Tornado's cost to build - forgetting of course that Tornado's build was made artificially lower than it could have been through the various sponsors and goodwill of her covenators), remember that the ability of this particular steam locomotive to draw in crowds - wherever she goes - is something beyond the reach of many locomotives in preservation.

Yes, I'm calling it - railway preservation, particularly the smaller preserved railways, where she will undoubtedly visit in her first period of operation after this overhaul, absolutely needs her. 4472 will bring the visitors in their droves to these railways/centres/museums, and the simple fact is that she will almost pay for herself in her first period of operation, whilst directly benefiting many preserved railways simply through turning up.

So give the good people of the National Railway Museum, Ian Riley's Works, and the many more hard working volunteers besides, a break. They have worked unbelievably hard to overhaul a locomotive which by all accounts just kept giving up new and dark secrets of previous overhauls, and their dedication to the cause, which is the absolute gem in our railway preservation - a locomotive of immense beauty that touches the hearts of the general public in a way no other locomotive - bar perhaps Tornado most recently - has ever done.

Her importance to railway preservation as a talisman and figurehead should never be understated or underestimated, and we should all be sincerely grateful to those people putting her back on the mainline, and visiting a preserved railway near you sometime in the future.

That's why she's dual braked, after all.

Until next time!

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