Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Big Bang

I must acquaint Laura and Matt on the footplate with my latest findings!

After posting the previous article, I was intrigued by Iain Robinson’s comment about loco 377 King Haakon having had a boiler explosion in the past.  Fired up (pun almost intended) with Poirot style detective skills – now I’m glad I watched Orient Express (!) – I did a little digging on the internet to find out more.  And I’m pleased to say that Iain’s recollections are correct; on 7th March 1976, whilst hauling a train on the Great Central Railway near Loughborough, 377 experienced an explosion in the firebox resulting in the cab being enveloped in steam, water and burning coal.  It must have been a terrifying moment for the crew, as three out of the four men in the cab received serious injuries.

Although information is scarce about the accident, I was fascinated to come across this original typewritten report by The Railway Inspectorate of the London Midland Region.  It is well worth a look; as well as a detailed inquiry with drawings and diagrams, the report ends with conclusions and advice on how to prevent a recurrence.  The most interesting line is, and I quote, ‘that it should be remembered by all who have dealings with steam locomotives that when steam is raised to a pressure of 170 lbs, its temperature is not that of a boiling kettle’.  So much for making a brew on the footplate then!

King Haakon at Yarwell in a timeless scene. on 2 January.

Perhaps the biggest difference between 1976 and now is that the report examined the accident, reported on it, discovered the cause and provided a simple remedy.  What would happen if the same accident occurred today?  Health & Safety would close the line down for investigation; all steam locos would be placed under house arrest; Quangos and committees and inquiries would be set up and take years to come to the conclusion that a steam loco is hotter than a kettle and needs a bit of TLC; footplate crews would dress like The Stig and attend Fire Safety Courses whilst having to travel in the first coach for health and safety issues.  Think I’m joking?  Well, a few years ago the company I worked for at the time sent me on an expensive full day course in Birmingham to teach me how to change a lightbulb in a shop.  The conclusion after the day long course (with a very nice lunch I must give them credit for) is that it is too dangerous for shop floor staff to change a lightbulb and the maintenance team should be called in.

I think that says it all.

The new H&S aware steam loco uniform makes its debut at the NVR.

Thanks to Iain for raising the issue that provided an interesting insight into the history of our visiting loco.  Iain's informative and entertaining blog may be read here.

A Warm Winter?

King Haakon arrives at Wansford, 2 January.

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything here, which has been due to an array of difficulties that arose in the traditional manner all at the same time and which are taking some considerable time to sort out.  On top of this, December was an extremely hectic month both on and off the railway, so something had to give.  And that something was me.  But new year, new start and all that – so what’s new?

Well, in the run up to Christmas I worked on the Santa Specials on the NVR.  I was sent to First Class in the Wagon-Lits, renowned as the hardest task on the Santa’s.  It is an extremely hectic job, as five trains run each day and on each service, passengers are served with food and drink, sweets, presents, a visit from Santa, mince pies, coffee and tea – it’s more like working on the Gatwick – Paris shuttle.  When the train returns to Wansford, there is a window of 25 minutes to turn the train round ready for the next load, so it really is something of a production line.  So why volunteer?  Simple – working in first class means that there is unlimited access to mince pies and coffee.  No contest.

The trains finish on Christmas Eve, allowing us all to go and enjoy the traditional falling-outs and skirmishes of the festive season, which this year put Apocalypse Now into the shade, so I was pleased when New Year’s Day came round and I could return to the railway for a bit of sanity as passenger services resumed on the Winter Warmers.

Most of the home fleet is currently out of action with swine flu or whatever illness is in vogue at the moment, so the NVR has hired in the Norwegian 2-6-0 King Haakon from Bressingham to fill the gap.  This unusual loco is required as the braking system is compatible with the Wagon-Lits coaches currently in operation on the line for the next couple of weeks.  Whilst it is willing, and has cracking steam heat, it struggles to haul anything much over three coaches so for New Year the train was top and tailed with one of our trusty class 14 diesels. 

Behind every successful NVR steaming is a ...?

The Christmas break had done King Haakon about as much good as it had done me, and the loco failed before the first service train departed from Wansford.  Eventually the class 14 departed alone, with a very chilly Winter Warmer service!  By the time I got back to Wansford I was looking very much like Scott of The Antarctic and dived straight into the cafĂ© for several coffees.  Still, the engineering bods had been busy during our Siberian adventure and repaired King Haakon so that the rest of the day was much more to my liking.  I even removed one or two jumpers and a scarf at one point.  It’s good to be back.

Edited to try and create a photo that looks as 
though it could have been taken in 1919 when the loco was first built.

This weekend I was back at the railway to help out on private charter on Saturday.  The event was a surprise 70th birthday party with around 60 guests who hired out a whole train for the day.  The Wagon-Lits rake was booked, as it offers luxurious accommodation for the at-seat meal service that would be served on board during the two full-length non-stop trips up and down the line.  

The day began with shed tours that were very popular if a tad on the cold side before everyone boarded the train.  The atmosphere on board was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed the day.  At the run-rounds I was able to nip out for photos of the rostered loco, the Polish tank 5485, in glorious winter sunshine – my favourite lighting condition.

Next weekend is Haakon’s last one at the NVR, so all being well I’m hoping to pop down and get some photos.

By the way, if anyone out there saw the Christmas Day showing of Murder on The Orient Express on ITV; well much of the exterior shots were filmed at the NVR and superimposed onto various backgrounds.  Personally, I thought that this remake was totally pointless even though it was pleasing to see our Wagon-Lit coaches in action behind the BR Standard 5 loco - how this loco came to be in Istanbul is a bigger mystery than the actual murder!

More playing around to create a moody 
Orient Express scene on New Year's Day.

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