Think tank

Steam Railway (UK) - - Down Main -

Frankly, tank en­gines are a bit of an in­dul­gence, but the way we run the pan­niers, with a cou­ple of de­cent rail­tours you can bring in more than enough - and if you’re not run­ning them too much, you’re not wear­ing them out.” So says Bob Meanley, Ty­se­ley chief en­gi­neer and the man who, since BR rid it­self of the last 0-6-0PTs in 1966, prob­a­bly has more ex­pe­ri­ence of run­ning them on the main line than any­one. “For short haul, of course, it’s what they’ve al­ways done.” Which is also just what Ty­se­ley nor­mally does with its duo of Nos. L94 (7752) and 9600; a spin through the ‘back yard’ to Strat­ford here, a ram­ble around the East Mid­lands there… and with a water car­rier, all well within the abil­i­ties of these rugged lit­tle ma­chines. Not that they haven’t done more am­bi­tious stuff - over the years No. 9600 has run to Princes Ris­bor­ough, whizzed along the Dawlish sea wall, and even taken empty stock to Peak Rail. Then there is Den­nis How­ells’ post-war Hawksworth ‘souped-up’ ver­sion (No. 9466), which Bob de­scribes as be­ing “in a slightly dif­fer­ent league, eas­ier to fire and with more water in the tanks.” Yet as won­der­ful as they are, that doesn’t mean pan­niers are top of the list of po­ten­tial main line ‘tankies’ - it’s just that they hap­pen to be what we have. At this point, per­haps your mind is drift­ing back to a BR ‘4MT’, or even to the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum’s LMS ‘Til­bury

Tank’ No. 42500 (as once mooted dur­ing Steve Davies’ time as direc­tor). Stop there - for Bob has an­other can­di­date. Given his of­fice looks out over what was once 84E, it’s maybe no sur­prise that Ty­se­ley’s man has some­thing more cop­per­capped in mind; some­thing that once rat­tled round the Western with start-stop sub­ur­ban trains; some­thing that has the same sized driv­ing wheels as a ‘Manor’. “I guess other than a ‘4MT’ 2-6-4T, the ones ev­ery­one thinks of are a ‘51XX’ or ‘61XX’. Com­pared to a pan­nier, they’d laugh at it.” “A big ‘Prairie’ is as re­li­able as any­thing else Great Western, you’ve got 2,000 gal­lons in the tanks, and three to four tons in the bunker.” The 5ft 8in di­am­e­ter driv­ing wheels (not only ‘78XX’ but also BR 2-6-4T-sized) stand more than a foot clear of the lit­tle 4ft 7½in ones on an 0-6-0PT; they’re also 5in big­ger than the 5ft 3in of that other new main liner, Stan­dard ‘4MT’ 2-6-0 No. 76084. It’s some­thing the ‘Large Prairies’ used to good ef­fect - as any­one who rode home with them in West Lon­don or the West Mid­lands would know. Even so, ‘Large Prairies’ are still tank en­gines, not ex­press run­ners - so what about lu­bri­ca­tion? “You’re not re­ally con­strained by that, to be hon­est. A ‘5101’ has the same axle­boxes, cylin­ders and sight feed lu­bri­ca­tor as a ‘Hall’, with very slightly less power, so I think you can say there are no wor­ries in that depart­ment. “They’re very, very ca­pa­ble en­gines.” There’s an ob­vi­ous ‘but’. With all such things, Bob points out that you need “to have some­thing within your gift that’s ac­tu­ally within its abil­ity to do.” Yet it’s not hard to en­vis­age a ‘Large Prairie’ on, say, some­thing like the ‘Shake­speare Ex­press’, or a lo­cal in the South West. Sounds good to me…

A big ‘Prairie’ is as re­li­able as any­thing else Great Western BOB MEANLEY


One of the most re­mark­able sights of main line steam in the 1990s was Mike Lit­tle’s sprightly ‘14XX’ No. 1450, which ran a se­ries of ‘Dawlish Don­keys’ on the Great Western main line in Devon. On April 4 1998, the Col­lett 0‑4‑2T emerges from Horse Cove tun­nel with its pre‑spe­cials trial run.

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