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.


  1. Thanks very much for the mention, Martin. I'm glad that my thoughts proved the stimulus for some more information...and the proof that I'm not totally "losing the place" in my late fifties...
    I am sure that the King has a very sound boiler now and that boiler inspections today are a lot more rigorous...having witnessed a steam test on a traction engine recently for insurance purposes I can tell you that every possible component and area of weakness is explored. I suppose everybody is scared to death of litigation now, so due process has to be followed. A bit different to when my Dad had a steam lorry in the sixties, when a cursory inspection was made and the inspector was bought a pint...not such good old days!

  2. It was a very interesting snippet of information to follow up and I look forward to regaling the tale to the other NVR volunteers when I see them!


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